« PreviousContinue »
ed languages he was without a rival; but he wanted that philosophical spirit, which gives a methodical and systematic form to the materials of knowledge, and which alone can enable a man to take large and comprehensive views. Hence the Royal Defence, though containing nearly all that is to be urged on the subject, and not deficient in occasional passages of striking description, is said (for I do not pretend to have read it) to be ill-arranged, and to be as little luminous as the dark cause it undertakes to defend*.
But the celebrity of Salmasius, and the inflammatory nature of the subject, showed the English government the necessity of a reply. Milton was present in the council when the question was agitated, and all directed their eyes towards him as the fittest antagonist for this redoubted foe. He accepted the commision with alacrity, undismayed at his physicians, who prognosticated the loss of his sight, as one certain consequence of the undertaking; and early in 1651 appeared " The Defence of the People of England.”
It could be of little utility to attempt here a regular analysis of this great work. Its funda
* It seems, however, that Mr. Burke, in some of his political writings on the French revolution, has been indebted to Salmasius. Dr. Symmons has collected a good number of passages in which the English statesman may very clearly be traced. See Life, p. 307, note, et seq.
mental doctrines are (in opposition to Salmasius, who had asserted the divine right of kings and their consequent irresponsibility to any earthly tribunal) that all civil power emanates from the people ; that the magistrate as well as the people should be alike subject to the laws, and has actually been so in all the most celebrated commonwealths which have appeared in the world; that the regal power itself is merely a trust committed to the king by the people on certain conditions either expressed or implied; that he is therefore accountable to them for that trust, and if he betray il, is liable to be cashiered, or even punished capitally, should such be the will of the community; hence that Charles I, being guilty of misgovernment and breach of trust, was justly and lawfully put to death. These positions he illustrates and confirms by an appeal to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, to the most eminent political writers and historians of antiquity both Grecian and Roman, to the laws of nature and nations, and lastly, to our own municipal laws. In respect of the first principles of government, we may consider him as having exhausted the subject; and the developernent of these principles has given birth to sentiments which could be conceived only by the most lofty and magnanimous spirit, inspired by an enthusiastic fervous for the best interests of man. Profound
in principle, copious and learned in illustration, in diction pure, elegant, lofty--never was there a nobler defence of liberty and truth against sophistry and despotism.
As to the justice or injustice of Charles's execution, I shall say little, as for the most part, I could only repeat what Milton has said before, and particularly towards the conclusion of the Second Defence. That his death was the work of a faction, not of the community, that it was hence violent and illegal, cannot be disputed; but we are to consider that that faction was victorious, and that by the same right as they opposed the king in arms were they authorised to put him to death. Besides, it was necessary for their own security. It was the will of the presbyterians, if they had had the power, to extirpate all sectaries; and the invitation of the Scots, and the insurrection in England, taught them that conspiracies would never be wanting at home, nor in. vasions from abroad, to restore him to power while he remained alive. On such an event, Cromwell and Ireton found by an intercepted letter from Charles to the queen, that their doom was fixed: and says Cromwell," If the king's head or mine is to fall, can I hesitate which to prefer?" who, in Cromwell's situation, would not have reasoned in the same way? But this portion of our history has recently received such new and
copious illustration as to render it idle for me to dwell upon it.
Prior to this great effort, Milton was comparatively little known, except in his own country. He now became the theme of conversation throughout Europe. The surprise of mankind was equal to their admiration, that a man should be found capable of contending with the redoubted Salmasius! His victory, however, was complete. Congratulations poured in upon him from all quarters. All the ambassadors in London either complimented or visited him. And what was of far less suspicious sincerity, he received letters of the most flattering kind from many of the most eminent men in Europe for talents and learning; who, “ actuated,” as it is said, " by a similar spirit with the spectators of the old Olympic games, threw garlands on the conqueror of Salmasius.”
It is asserted by Toland, that Milton was rewarded by the council with a present of a thousand pounds. Yet Milton, in his Second Defence, which was not published till 1654, three years after the First Defence, affirms, in contradiction to More, that he had “ not so much as touched those good things—that wealth" (illas opimitates atque opes) with which he was reproached; and that he was not made“ one halfpenny the richer by that name,"on account of which
he was chiefly assailed*. This donation, however, might nevertheless have been subsequent even to this period. But his great reward consisted in the rapid sale of his work, which passed speedily through many editions. Its celebrity was moreover assisted by its being burnt both at Paris and Thoulouse by the common hangman.
The humiliation of Salmasius was proportioned to Milton's triumph. On the appearance of Milton's Reply, he was on a visit to the court of Sweden, where he was treated with the most flattering distinction by the queen Christina, who had procured his visit by importunate solicitations. The queen is even said to have honoured him with looks of a tenderer nature than those of admiration. On discovering, however, his inferiority to his antagonist, her attentions became cold and formal ; and she was so malicious as to mortify him by praising Milton's work to his face, which touched the quondam favorite to the quick. But it was not from Sweden alone that he had to feel mortification. The numerous enemies he had made by his arrogance now exulted in his fall; and his book was suppressed in Holland by the states-general. His pride was so wounded at all points, that there can be little doubt it accelerated his death, He retired from the court of
* See vol. 2. p. 368.