Page images

that is mean and little, not so much as to think of, much less to do, anything but what is great and sublime. Which to attain to, this is your only way: as you have subdued your enemies in the field, so to make appear, that unarmed, and in the highest outward peace and tranquillity, you of all mankind are best able to subdue ambition, avarice, the love of riches, and can best avoid the corruptions that prosperity is apt to introduce, (which generally subdue and triumph over other nations,) to shew as great justice, temperance, and moderation in the maintaining your liberty, as you have shewn courage in freeing yourselves from slavery. These are the only arguments, by which you will be able to evince, that you are not such persons as this fellow represents you-— Traitors, Robbers, Murderers, Parricides, Madmen ; that you did not put your king to death out of any ambitious design, or a desire of invading the rights of others; not out of any seditious principles or sinister ends; that it was not an act of fury or madness; but that it was wholly out of love to your liberty, your religion, to justice, virtue, and your country, that you punished a tyrant. But if it should fall out otherwise, (which God forbid,) if as you have been valiant in war, you should grow debauched in peace, you that have had such visible demonstrations of the goodness of God to yourselves, and his wrath against your enemies; and that you should not have learned by so eminent, so remarkable an example before your eyes, to fear God, and work righteousness; for my part, I shall easily grant and confess (for I cannot deny it) whatever ill men may speak or think of you, to be very true. And you will find in a little time, that God's displeasure against you will he greater than it has been against your adversaries, greater than his grace and favour has been to yourselves, which you have had larger experience of than any other nation under heaven.







EDITOR'S PRELIMINARY REMARKS. When the reply to Salmasius made its appearance, a kind of stupor seems to have seized upon the defenders of absolute monarchy throughout Europe. Milton was so much of an orator, and so skilfully and successfully roused the passions of the European public, that no man of character or political eminence would sully his own reputation by attacking him. It was felt that he had the good sense and passionate predilections of mankind on his side. Already was the dawn breaking upon Christendom of that great day, the noon of which has not yet arrived. And Milton, with the spirit of a political propagandist, was making in his works the tour of the civilized world, rousing the Germans and the French, the Italians and the Spaniards to shake off the yoke of centuries and assert their liberty. He imagined he saw them rising and girding their loins for the great enterprise. But it was imagination only. It required two centuries more of thought and toil to imbue the public mind of Christendom with the love of liberty, to awaken it to the consciousness of its birthright, and to confirm it in the belief, that to be subject to despotic authority is to be altogether false to the cause of humanity.

But if no man of ability or respectable character stepped forward in defence of the kings of those days, there were not wanting miserable scribblers who, for money, would prop up any tyrant. Salmasius had not found his account in composing lumbering pamphlets for Charles II. On the contrary, he had forfeited his claim to the praise of judgment and moderation, and an honest attachment to the cause of civil and religious liberty, and had been overwhelmed with contempt and obloquy for his signal failure. From persons of his class therefore, no aid was to be expected by the wandering Stuarts. At length, however, a man was found who, under the shelter of a false name, consented to brave the indignation of Milton and the scorn of the English nation. This was an obscure clergyman of the name of Dumoulin, who, assisted by Alexander More, a Scotchman settled in France, put forward a second attack on the English Commonwealth, the judges who had sentenced Charles Stuart to an ignominious death, and Milton who had defended that act.

Further than this it is unnecessary to enter into the history of the causes which produced the Second Defence of the People of England. With the exception of Salmasius, there is not one of Milton's adversaries who does not owe the place he occupies, such as it is, in history, to the contemptuous notice of the great poet. Meanwhile it may be regarded as fortunate for us that such men existed, and had the temerity to sting the English republic and Milton at the same time, since it is to this fact we owe the

splendid compositions called the First and Second Defences. In the former Milton does not enter into personal details. But in the latter he is driven by the malice of his enemies to take a retrospect of the events of his life, to explain and justify the motives of his conduct, and to sit, as it were, in judgment on some of the most illustrious of his contemporaries.

For this reason the Second Defence may be regarded as among the most interesting of Milton's Prose Works. Tainted it no doubt is in parts by fierce personalities, and by outbreaks of implacable resentment against the enemies of the Commonwealth and his own. But these bursts of passion, much less out of place than those which disfigure the First Defence, serve as a sort of seasoning to give zest to the political declamation. Nothing is more agreeable than to hear a great man speak of himself. Some, rendered fastidious by their own sensitive vanity, often affect to blame writers for being communicative respecting themselves, their feelings, their opinions, and the events of their lives. But no man is worthy of these confidences who does not know how to appreciate them. We are all vain, whether we reveal it to the world or not, and the vainest perhaps are those who put the thickest mask upon their feelings. Milton had far too much self-reliance, and was too buoyant and expansive to mumble anathemas to himself, and refuse to make the world a witness of the anger he felt at being aspersed and calumniated. Proud of his own genius, and of the celebrity it had acquired him, he speaks frankly of himself and of his glory, dilates with extraordinary delight on the mighty audience, consisting of the whole civilized world, which he had the honour to address, and commemorates the tumultuous applause with which his eloquence was greeted by mankind.

In the course of his work, he finds it necessary for his purpose to delineate the characters of the principal regicides and patriots of the Commons wealth, Cromwell, Bradshaw, Fleetwood, and others. I have elsewhere remarked on the extraordinary felicity he displays in this part of the undertaking; with what wit he opens to you the intellectual peculiarities of the men; how he exalts their virtues ; how he investigates their claims to admiration, and throws out their moral grandeur into stronger relief. Clarendon, it is well known, in what may be termed the introduction to his History, draws elaborate characters of those who are to figure in the course of it; and there is undoubtedly no part of his narrative which we read with so much pleasure. Yet, in my opinion, Milton succeeds in describing the internal organization of men much better than he. That this is not the received notion, I am aware; but it is easy, without suspecting Milton of inferiority, to explain the reason why he has produced an inferior effect upon the public mind. Clarendon, after the Restoration, belonged to the dominant party, among whom there existed the most bitter prejudices, for indulging which, they had many reasons against Milton, and the Puritans generally. Besides, history in itself is always more popular than oratory, and English more popular than Latin. While it became therefore the fashion to read and laud Clarendon, it became equally the fashion to neglect and disparage Milton. At present, the tables may be said to be turned, since, at least, ten thousand are now familiar with the works of the poet, for one who toils through the lumbering pages of the historian; and the probability is, that even the Prose Works of Milton will acquire popularity as liberalism increases, and tyrannical doctrines are despised and thrust into the background.




A GRATEFUL recollection of the divine goodness is the first of human obligations; and extraordinary favours demand more solemn and devout acknowledgments : with such acknowledgments I feel it my duty to begin this work. First, because I was born at a time when the virtue of


fellowcitizens, far exceeding that of their progenitors in greatness of soul and vigour of enterprise, having invoked Heaven to witness the justice of their cause, and been clearly governed by its directions, has succeeded in delivering the commonwealth from the most grievous tyranny, and religion from the most ignominious degradation. And next, because when there suddenly arose many who, as is usual with the vulgar, basely calumniated the most illustrious achievements, and when one eminent above the rest, inflated with literary pride, and the zealous applauses of his partisans, had in a scandalous publication, which was particularly levelled against me, nefariously undertaken to plead the cause of despotism, I, who was neither deemed unequal to so renowned an adversary, nor to so great a subject, was particularly selected by the deliverers of our country, and by the general suffrage of the public, openly to vindicate the rights of the English nation, and consequently of liberty itself. Lastly, because in a matter of so much moment, and which excited such ardent expectations, I did not disappoint the hopes nor the opinions of my fellow-citizens; while men of learning and eminence abroad honoured me with unmingled approbation; while I obtained such a victory over my opponent, that notwithstanding his unparalleled assurance, he was obliged to quit the field with his courage broken and his reputation lost; and for the three years which he lived afterwards, much as he menaced and furiously as he raved, he no further trouble, except that he procured the paltry aid of some despicable hirelings, and suborned some of his silly and extravagant admirers, to support him under the weight

gave me


of the unexpected and recent disgrace which he had experienced. This will immediately appear.

Such are the signal favours which I ascribe to the divine beneficence, and which I thought it right devoutly to commemorate, not only that I might discharge a debt of gratitude, but particularly because they seem auspicious to the success of my present undertaking. For who is there, who does not identify the honour of his country with his own ? And what can conduce more to the beauty or glory of one's country, than the recovery, not only of its civil but its religious liberty? And what nation or state ever obtained both, by more successful or more valorous exertion? For fortitude is seen resplendent, not only in the field of battle and amid the clash of arms, but displays its energy under every difficulty and against every assailant. Those Greeks and Romans, who are the objects of our admiration, employed hardly any other virtue in the extirpation of tyrants, than that love of liberty which made thein prompt in seizing the sword, and gave them strength to use it. With facility they accomplished the undertaking, amid the general shout of praise and joy; nor did they engage in the attempt so much as an enterprise of perilous and doubtful issue, as in a contest the most glorious in which virtue could be signalized; which infallibly led to present recompence; which bound their brows with wreaths of laurel, and consigned their memories to immortal fame. For as yet, tyrants were not beheld with a superstitious reverence; as yet they were not regarded with tenderness and complacency, as the vicegerents or deputies of Christ, as they have suddenly professed to be; as yet the vulgar, stupified by the subtle casuistry of the priest, had not degenerated into a state of barbarism, more gross than that which disgraces the most senseless natives of Hindostan. For these make mischievous demons, whose malice they cannot resist, the objects of their religious adoration: while those elevate impotent tyrants, in order to shield them from destruction, into the rank of gods; and, to their own cost, consecrate the pests of the human race. But against

* I have somewhere else, I believe, in the course of these notes, referred to the famous lines of Pope

" Who first taught souls enslaved and realms undone

The enorinous faith of many made for one ?

« PreviousContinue »