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It reminds one very forcibly of the predictions indulged in by a famous English chancellor that England's sun would infallibly set on the day that her parliament should decide on doing justice and loving mercy. The last court for the trial of witches sat at Charlestown, February 17, 1693. The judge said: "That who it was obstructed the execution of justice, or hindered those good proceedings, he knew not, but thereby the kingdom of Satan was advanced, and the Lord have mercy upon the country!"' Increase Mather does not give the name of this indignant justice; but the important part of the business, that all the witches in custody were discharged, and no more prosecutions permitted, is duly and circumstantially set forth in his history of New England witchcraft, compiled at the request of the New England divines.
The material progress of the colony meanwhile was unprecedented-marvellous. New England had attained a giant growth; whilst other settlements on the same continent, with much greater advantages as to climate, soil, and previous organisation, were still in a condition of doubtful vitality. The Puritan emigration amounted from first to last, according to Mr Bancroft, the historian of the United States, to 21,200 individuals, who, says the same authority, by the time the Long Parliament met in England, when the movement, as a peculiar and distinctive one, may be said to have ceased, had marked out and commenced fifty towns, and thirty villages, built between thirty and forty chapels, begun to export furs and timber, carried grain and cured fish to the West Indies, and in 1643, had ships upon the stocks of 400 tons burden! The youth and manhood of New England have, it is well known, amply realised the dazzling promise of its infancy. It was chiefly with reference to the astounding commercial enterprise of this state, that Mr Burke and others in the British House of Commons in 1775, uplifted their hands with astonishment, exclaiming: 'What in the world was ever equal to it!' It was in Boston the flame burst forth which, kindling the rifle-flashes of Bunker's Hill, taught the astounded ministers of George III., that the old spirit which had vindicated English liberties at Marston Moor and Naseby-and in so doing, prepared the way for the yet far-off constitutional and beneficent monarchy under which the people of these islands have now the happiness to live-glowed as brightly as ever in the hearts of Englishmen, wherever upon the earth's wide surface they might chance to have been born! New England, too, was the first state in America, in the world, to declare the slave-trade piracy-capital felony; and her free schools, set on foot in the early days of the colony, were the type and precursors of the public educational establishments throughout the Union. Neither can there be any question, that although the Virginian city of Washington is the governmental, and New York the commercial capital of the republic, New England is its intellectual metropolis. Above all, the soul and centre of the great moral agitation which will ultimately pull down the huge
enormity that, like the hideous intolerance whose doings we have faintly recited-and inherited, let us never forget to acknowledge, from the same source as that-mocks by revolting contrast the liberty with which it is associated, as well as drowns in its chain-clankings and muttered slave-curses the triumphal hymns to freedom and the natural rights of humanity that resound throughout the vast, and, in so many aspects, glorious republic of the West. Let but New England lead the way to the suc cessful accomplishment of this high and imperious duty, and the sun-bow glory of that great achievement will obliterate, to the eyes of the dazzled world at least, the dark spots that still linger too plainly visible in the great, heroic, humiliating story of the PILGRIM FATHERS.
OETRY, strictly speaking, is absolute and universal; it appeals to the soul throughout all ages, and throughout all the revolutions of social life. But the Poem which contains that ethereal spirit belongs to the epoch that produced it; it speaks in its language; it is an emanation of its taste, and exemplifies its prejudices and peculiarities. This is the reason why the reputation of a great poem may survive, when the book has become practically obsolete. This is the reason why Chaucer is eulogised as the well of English undefiled even by those who are hardly able to recognise it as English at all. This is the reason why the readers of the Paradise Lost-to take that divine work as the type of the class-become fewer and fewer while editions continue to multiply.
Milton shared, to a very large degree, in the polemical spirit of his age. In his thirtieth year, we are told, when journeying in Italy, he was with difficulty withheld from attacking the tenets and forms of the Church of Rome within the verge of the Vatican; and on the news of the Civil War breaking out in England, he abandoned the plan of his travels, and returned home to mingle in the strife of disputation rather than battle. But
although his warm, fearless, and stubborn nature led him into another arena, he was not the less deeply impressed as a poet with the pageantry of war and the clang of arms in the midst of which he lived. To these his imagination had been accustomed from boyhood by the romances with which he delighted to alleviate his severer studies; and thus when at the mature age of fifty, while one of the Latin secretaries of Cromwell, he commenced his immortal work, he allegorised the good and evil principles as warring armies of fiends and angels, diluted the sublime simplicity of the inspired Hebrew, in order to sing in verse the genesis of the world, and diffused over large portions of the poem the mingled dryness and rancour of polemical divinity. His heaven is defended by bastions, outworks, and sentinels; his preternatural personages encounter with swords, syllogisms, sneers, and even puns; and his sociable angels converse with the first pair like Puritan preachers.
These things identify the work with the epoch that produced it, and they no doubt contributed greatly to its popularity at the time; but in our age, when taste and bigotry alike have assumed new phases, they are blemishes which, in so far as the great majority of general readers are concerned, render its genius little more than a blind faith or a popular tradition. The Paradise Lost, however, notwithstanding every possible deduction, is the noblest treasury of poetry in the world; and he who makes that poetry patent to all, by clearing it from what are mere exhalations of its epoch, will deserve well of mankind. For our own part, it is obvious that, with so circumscribed a space, we cannot even make the attempt. Yet the following abstract of the poem, with the finest passages interwoven, will probably suffice for a very large portion of the people of all classes; while it may lead to a more complete work for a smaller portion executed on the same principle. Both, it is to be hoped, will eventually enlarge the numbers of that fit audience who, being able to abstract themselves from the present world, and throw themselves back into the first half of the seventeenth century, listen with rapt spirit to the whole unabridged strain-and who perhaps, in their enthusiasm, condemn as profanation such attempts to render the genius of our great poet something more than a popular superstition.
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
Rose out of Chaos: or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook, that flowed
Say first what moved our original parents to their revolt against the Creator. The infernal Serpent it was who deceived the mother of mankind: he who had been hurled headlong from heaven for his ambitious pride, and falling nine days and nights with all his host of rebel angels, found himself rolling in the fiery gulf, confounded and dismayed, but obdurate still.
At once, as far as angels ken, he views
The dismal situation, waste and wild.
As one great furnace, flamed; yet from those flames
Served only to discover sights of wo,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades where peace
There, overwhelmed with floods and whirlwinds of fire, he saw
The seat of desolation, void of light,
Save what the glimmering of these livid flames
where at rest--if any rest there be-they may consult
If not, what resolution from despair.