Page images
[ocr errors]

served ; nór is there much else very well worth preserving. It is in this production too, that he attacks not only the bishop bimself, but his Toothless Satyrs," in a manner which is not very urbane; and panegyrises the first acts of the Long Parliament-passages which are also retained. This work for the present closed the controversy.

In all the above productions, Milton will be found the advocate of the Puritanical or Presbyterian doctrines. After he had reason to secede from the Presbyterians, he superadded the peculiar ténets also of the Independents, with whom he became associated in politics, though it does not appear, that he was ever in the habit of free quenting their churches.

In the interval between Croinwell's death and the restoration, the presbyterians advanced in power, and Milton apprehending their intolerance, was intent to ward it off. With this view, he published his “ Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes :" and his “ Considerations touching the likeliest Means to remove Hirelings out of the Church.” The first of these is addressed to the

parliament convened by Richard Cromwell; and the object of it is to prove, that the interference of the magistrate in religious matters is unlawful, &c. The second was inscribed to the Long Parliament after its revival by the army. Milton is here a very

powerful antagonist to the asserters of the divine right of tythes, and on scriptural principles, though he likewise denies their political expediency. The best title of the clergy tô tythes is clearly founded in the law of the land.

His last tract on the subject of religion, was called " A Treatise of True Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and the best Means to prevent the Growth of Popery." This was printed in 1678.

For some time after the accession of James I. the puritans aimed at no more than liberty of conscience, and indulgence in their peculiar modes of worship. But after the meeting of the long parliament, the presbyterians, who were by far the majority of the commons, were emboldened to attempt the overthrow of the established religion. The commencenient and progress of the civil war produced a considerable change in the religious sentiments of the nation.. Controversy. became more and more fiery. In. our times, we can scarcely imagine to ourselves the zeal, not to say the ferocity, which animated the combatants; nor can we well wonder at this, when we consider that the highest interests, both temporal and spiritual were at stake. As success therefore declared for the parliamentary forces, the opposition to the hierarchy increased in vio. lence; and the prelates themselves, by their want

of discretion, hastened their own fall. They paid no regard to the public interest; they promoted the designs of the monarch, without scruple or shame. They might otherwise, perhaps, have preserved their chief privileges, and their seats in parliament. It does not appear, however, that they were the mere tools of the king. They perceived that their own interests, or rather their exorbitant privileges and pretensions, must stand or fall with him; hence, while they supported Charles, they thought they were providing the most effectually for their own interests. They were otherwise sufficiently disposed to proclaim the inde pendence of the mitre upon the crown. Cozens, dean of Peterborough, is accused of having said, "The king has no more authority in ecclesiastical matters, than the boy who rubs my horse's. heels." The friends of the constitution, who must necessarily condemn the arbitrary measures of Charles, must also reprobate the conduct of, the bishops in that critical period; and even admit that their secular power was inconsistent with sound policy.

Many of the topics discussed in these theological tracts of Milton have now lost much of their dangerous interest. The productions, however, will not be read without advantage, and without frequent admiration. They contain all the learning requisite to elucidate the subjects

treated; they abound in noble and generous sentiments, and in passages of great and independent excellence; and are pervaded with that lofty and magnanimous spirit of freedom, so peculiarly distinctive of the genius and writings of Milton. The early reformers, and their bigotted and fanatical successors, for many generations, had no liberality of sentiment. They would none of them allow that freedom of opinion, which they claimed for themselves. Every error, not their own, was damnable, and to be suppressed at any rate. Here · Milton is a conspicuous excep-tion. He would extend toleration to all denominations of religionists--all but the catholics; andi if we consider the age in whieh he lived, we may well excuse his intolerance in this single in-' stance.

From all the religious tracts I have rejected largely; and particularly from the « Animado versions on the Remonstrant's Defence," &c. and the “ Apology for Smectyinnuus," which are the least valuable of the whole. In the rest, it will be found that the arguinent is sufficiently connected; and that all those passages are retained which are remarkable for their eloquence, or their excellence in any way. Indeed, though muchx has been omitted, I think the real value of the pieces is little diminished; perhaps there are few persons who would not be disposed to thank me

for saving them the trouble of perusing them entire.

The productions on the subject of divorce, &c. originated, as is well known, in personal resentment to his wife, and may hence be thought to have had an unworthy origin. But we may ask, who is more likely to understand the extent of a grievance, than the man who feels its pressure ? The indifference of mankind to evils they have never felt, and especially which they are never likely to feel, is proverbial ;--an indifference which Milton does not fail to notice in his address to the parliament. Nevertheless his principleshis eloquent pleadings on this subject, are to be admitted with great caution.

Milton had been married, only one month, when his wife deserted him, on a plea of a visit to her relations for a time specified. The time being elapsed, he wrote repeated letters without receiving any answer. Last of all, he dispatched a messenger to her father's house, who was also dismissed with some marks of contempt. Exasperated, as we may suppose, in a high degree by such treatment, he instantly determined on a divorce; and wrote “ The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” in justification. Of this, two editions were published in 1644, one anonymously, the other with his naine ; and which he addressed to the parliament:

« PreviousContinue »