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mean soul, may celebrate and approve the excesses of men in au. thority ; of all, in fact, who have anything to give : but the poet, whose lips the seraphim have touched with fire snatched from the altar, will never mistake for greatness the mere possession of the trappings of state, or confound regal pomp with genuine grandeur, which can have no existence independently of virtue.
The spirit of poetry is a spirit of power, which, in him who is pos. sessed by it, cannot fail to engender a consciousness of dignity. He feels that he bears within him mines richer than those of gold or diamonds, which, so soon as art shall supply the proper tools for working them, must place him among the peers of intellect, or, rather, prove his title to a kingdom in the realms of thought, by subduing into praise and admiration whole masses of those whom fortune may have blindly thrust before him. And therefore the true poet scorns to be a parasite, scorns to owe anything to insolent wealth ; or, if distress and Jack of virtue sometimes lead such a man to prostitute his divine gift, rather than eat the sweeter bread of indigence, and herd with his misfortunes in a cottage or a garret, we may be well assured that he abhors whom he lauds, and burns to give birth to the vituperation and satire which he feels struggling to leap forth from his brain, and strangle his ill-paid eulogies. Nature never designed the muses to be the handmaids of despotism ; nor can their servant, without betraying his high trust, touch the lyre they have placed in his hands for any but who practise virtue.
Milton, as he ought, experienced that noble pride and enthusiasm which the consciousness of genius inspires. He could, therefore, not behold without abhorrence an order of things in which the accidental possessor of wealth, or place, or a title, assumed the air of a superior, or of a master; while he acknowledged no master but God, no controlling power but the law, which, when just, is God's minister. He never forgot that man was created in the image of God; that by putting on the human form, Christ had raised and sanctified it; and, therefore, that whoever sought to debase and vilify human nature, -and what can do this more effectually than oppression ? in fact, the enemy of God and Christ, and to be opposed accordingly.
Such were the considerations which led Milton to engraft the politician on the poet, and caused him to employ all the energies of his gifted mind in effecting the overthrow of a government fatal to the interests of society, and in which civil precedence was obtained on other grounds than virtue and public services. He saw not, nor is it very clear what useful or worthy purpose could be served by considering the religious, the learned, the able, inferior in the scale of society to court-sycophants, or the routine intermeddlers with poli. tics. His indignation was roused at beholding the tranquillity of three kingdoms disturbed by the perverse ambition of one man; and, afterwards, when the contest was terminated, by the insolence of a hired sophist, who, for a paltry bribe, brandished his mercenary
tropes and figures against the people of England, overwhelming with contumely our illustrious countrymen, whom the poet justly considered the most pious, faithful, and valiant nation in Christendom. In the government of the church, also, he discovered principles analogous
to those operating in the state, and tending to the same end; and against these, in like manner, he conceived it to be his duty to lift up his voice. Such, I repeat, were the reasons that snatched Milton from the muse's bower, to convert him into a controversialist and a politician ; and nobler sources of inspiration no man ever found.
But upon the notion that they who would effectively exercise the poetical faculty should hide themselves in sullen seclusion from all active or political pursuits, I may, perhaps, be permitted, by the way, to hazard another observation. The idea seems to have arisen from the practice of ordinary verse-makers in comparatively refined ages, whose timid sensibilities unfit them to shine or struggle among the throng. Pope, indeed, says,
“ To grottos and to groves we run,
To ease and silence, every muse's son:” that is, whoever feels his mind big with great thoughts, and reflections, and imagery, which trace their origin to his commerce with experience, desires, when he would give birth to them, some calm and tranquil retreat, where he may compose himself, and for the time be free from contention and solicitude. But a wholly retired and contemplative life is fatal to poetry of every kind. For even he who would bring before us a picture that shall delight and interest, of the inanimate world, must pour over it traditions, legends, superstitions, connecting it with man; in other words, must clothe it with human sympathies. For, after all, landscapes are only valuable as a background to human action : they are nothing in themselves. And the utter inability of mere brute matter to call forth the energies of poetry, is evident from the writings of those doctores umbratici who in every age have wooed the muse; their representations, like nothing in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth, being but so many wild dreams, and their sentiments and language every way worthy of the matter. None have ever yet benefited by setting at nought the wisdom which pronounced it not good for man to be alone; and we exhibit a disposi. tion to approach this unblissful state, when, snapping in twain the link which binds, and should bind us, religiously and politically, to human society, we skulk, like wolves or wild dogs, to some den of our own making, to gnaw the bones of our pitiful fancies in secret.
Whoever loves mankind will love to be among them; and poetry, above all things, is impregnated with love. No fear that the great poet should ever lose, in courts, or camps, or senates, or crowded cities, the spirit which makes him what he is. It constitutes the very essence of his nature. He cannot lose it. Over whatever he
does it will cast a glory that shall dignify the meanest duties, and inspire a soul into actions deemed by the dull and commonplace incapable of elevation. Epaminondas was a poet, when he said he would render illustrious the humble office contemptuously appointed him by his countrymen : and every one whose mind contains the seeds of this divine fire, passes uncontaminated through the worldin it, but not of it-finding in every situation, but chiefly where the brethren of his race are most numerous,“ books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” In fact, I never could understand how he who professes to represent human passions and human manners,—which are the great staple of poetry,should hope to qualify himself for the task by escaping, as far as possible, from human society. And what is there in vast assemblies of men—what in those momentous transactions of peace and warin seditions, in tumults, in the fierce and uncouth struggles for freedom, which nations, long injured and oppressed, make at length, when their burdens have become intolerable ;-what is there in all this, I say, that can scare the Epic or the Tragic Muse, whose busi
I ness it is to describe such phases of humanity ? Throughout the Paradise Lost, as well as throughout the Iliad, - which, as far as can be conjectured, was likewise composed immediately after a great political crisis—the irruption of the Dorians into Peloponnesus, and the consequent migrations of the Ionic inhabitants to Asia Minor,— evident traces are discoverable of the times of trouble and commotion in which its author vaticinated : an irrepressible love of independence, a mind thrown by an unexampled political catastrophe into that condition in which its most hidden and secret powers, like the fountains of the great deep, were broken up, and fiercely agitated, and impelled, as by a hurricane, to pour all their dazzling and tumultuous waters into the broad channel of poetry. Such circumstances, indeed, are not inspiration, or they would operate on every breast alike; but over minds fitly disposed they sweep as over a lyre, calling forth divinest music.
The affairs of the world, according to the character of him who views them, are either an assemblage of coarse contrivances, intended to enable a certain number of human creatures to eat and drink, and grow fat at their ease ; or they are a set of laws and operations, noble in their nature and tendency, and designed to conduct a being endowed with lofty intellectual faculties towards that high and glorious moral condition, which constitutes here below the perfection of his nature, and the ultimate aim of his existence. Now they who conceive as a brute, if it could think, might conceive of public business, may be excused for supposing that a poet should on no account meddle with it; but if, with the wisest of men, we regard politics as the master-science; as the fruitful source to millions of happiness or misery; as the instrument by which nations are plunged into bestial degradation, or elevated to the rank almost of
gods; it will then be manifest that the most poetical, or, in other words, the most energetic and creative minds, should eagerly engage in the great concerns of the public.
With such views, it will be evident that my desire is not to disparage an art to which, if the avowal may here be made-I have been from my youth upward devoted : but, could be proved that poetry necessarily indisposes men towards freedom, inculcating a slavish abandonment of our rights, to be trampled on by the first tyrannical foot that might itch to tread on them, it were far better that a millstone were tied about every poet's neck, and that he were cast into the sea. For what true relish can there be in the life which is held, not enjoyed, by the permission of another? Who, under an evil government, can feel any upsophisticated thirst of glory, or be desirous that posterity should know he tasted the bitter cup of servitude under this or that tyrant ? Or, worse still, that while myriads of his nobler countrymen were smitten and pining in secret sadness, at beholding the abomination of desolation in the Holy Place of Freedom; or were, perchance, carried forcibly away for imaginary offences into exile beyond the seas, he could tune his slavish lyre for the amusement of courtiers, or insolently celebrate his private pleasures ?
By such considerations, as I have already observed, was Milton actuated, when, laying aside for a time the poetical character, he entered upon the composition of those works of which I am now to give some account. In performing this duty, besides the difficulties which may be inherent in the subject itself, I feel that I shall have to encounter others of a peculiarly stubborn kind. To the public generally, many at least, if not most of his prose writings, for reasons hereafter to be explained, are scarcely known to exist; and how can they be persuaded that things which have lain so long in obscurity, are not only worthí reviving, but distinguished for the most rare eloquence and powers of reasoning ? Hazlitt used to say that Coleridge had a trick of preferring the unknown to the known. Will not this, in certain quarters, be said of me? Not that in this country the number is small of persons far more intimately acquainted than my. self with whatever Milton has written ; but so much can hardly, perhaps, be said for the great majority of those engaged in the study of English literature, for whom, and not for those already deeply versed in his writings, the present discourse is intended.
Another obstacle to the diffusion of Milton's prose works among the present generation is the uncouth titles which several of them bear. The less courageous reader is stopped at the threshold. He cannot be persuaded that a man who stands at the door of his treatise, quaintly disguised in a muffler of hard words, and brandishing a syllogism in his fist, can intend very gentle or pleasant treatment to those who enter; and, accordingly, passes on to others who smile and speak him more fair at the outset. Doubtless, too, he has heard
from various quarters hints unfavourable to the character of the author; who, in the language of certain writers, though they acknowledge him to be a great poet, is a fanatical, malignant commonwealthsman, the advocate of doctrines fatal to the peace of society, of doubtful piety, dishonest in politics, a bad husband, a worse father. His style, too, is said to be scarcely English. The subjects he loved to treat are spoken of as out-of-date topics, from the consideration of which, however handled, no good could now, in the universal blaze of knowledge that surrounds us, accrue to any man. To the smatterer in literature he is rendered odious by being represented as a monster of pride and overweening self-conceit; who, in proportion as he learned to entertain lofty notions of his own intellectual powers, grew to despise and undervalue those of others, praising penuriously and seldom, because he knew that one good word from his pen was a passport to immortality.
Had nature, however, gifted me with but a tithe of the eloquence which the author of these now obscure works possessed, I should not despair of making good his claim to stand at the head of our prose literature, instead of confining myself, as I must, to maintaining that he deserves to be read ; and that, so far from being a harsh and crabbed controversialist or politician, he is an exquisitely sweet and pleasant writer, in whom the most original and uncommon thoughts are clothed with language always manly and proper, and in many cases of surpassing beauty. To those who already appreciate Milton justly, or who may be much better acquainted than I am with all his merits, I can of course have nothing of value to offer, unless they should be pleased to accept for such my humble but earnest admiration of the man, and my resemblance, so far, to themselves : I address myself to the prejudiced, the unconvinced, and those whose course of reading may hitherto not have brought them to the knowledge of those golden treatises, wherein so much wisdom, and eloquence, and true taste, and whatever is most excellent and admirable in literature, is to be found. And if these remarks should so far answer my hopes as to direct some slight degree of attention to the vast storehouse of wisdom contained in these volumes, I shall certainly, in prefacing and commenting them, esteem myself to have been neither unprofitably nor unhonourably employed.
The spirit of our age has often been described, and sometimes without any design of complimenting it, as the spirit of utility; and by this I profess, in the present case, to be actuated. Utility is my object : but under this term I include whatever can benefit the life of man, public or private; whatever can improve his virtues, or enlarge his thoughts, or lift him above the clouds of prejudice, or provide for the innocent entertainment of his leisure. Milton was pre-eminently an utilitarian. In all he wrote he had a view to the public good; and, in fact, regarded the promotion of this to the utmost as so much his duty, that, in his contest with the bishops, he urges as his principal