Page images


By your wife, I suppose, who, they say, exercises a kingly right and jurisdiction over you; and whenever she has a mind to it (as Fulvia is made to speak in that obscene epigram, that you

collected some centoes outof, page 320) cries, “Either write, or let us fight;" that made you write perhaps, lest the signal should be given. Or were you asked by Charles the younger, and that profligate gang of vagabond courtiers, and like a second Balaam called upon by another Balak to restore a desperate cause by ill writing, that was lost by ill fighting? That may be; but there is this difference, for he was a wise understanding man, and rid upon an ass that could speak, to curse the people of God: thou art a very talkative ass thyself, and rid by a woman, and being surrounded with the healed heads of the bishops, that heretofore thou hadst wounded, thou seemest to represent that beast in the Revelation. But they say, that a little after


had written this book you repented of what you had done. It is well, if it be so; and to make your repentance public, I think the best course that

you can take will be, for this long book that you have writ, to take a halter, and make one long letter of yourself. So Judas Iscariot repented, to whom you are like; and that_young Charles knew, which made him send you

Judas's badge; for he had heard before, and found afterward by experience, that you were an apostate and a devil. Judas betrayed Christ himself, and you betray his church; you have taught heretofore, that bishops were antichristian, and you are now revolted to their party. You now undertake the defence of their cause, whom formerly you danned to the pit of hell. Christ delivered all men from bondage, and you endeavour to enslave all mankind. Never question, since you have been such a villain to God himself, his church, and all mankind in general, but that the same fate attends you that befell your equal, out of despair rather than repentance, to be weary of your life, and hang yourself, and burst asunder as he did; and to send beforehand that faithless and treacherous conscience of yours, that railing conscience at good and holy men, to that place of torment that is prepared for you.*

And now * In the above recapitulation of the crimes of Charles I., which are mixed up with denunciations against his defender, it is unnecessary to offer any remarks. I refer the reader to the Eikonoklastes, and to my notes on that treatise. Towards poor Salmasius, Milton is much too fierce here, in the conclusion of his work, since he dismisses him into that warm region

the purse,

I think, through God's assistance, I have finished the work I undertook, to wit, the defence of the noble actions of my countrymen at home and abroad, against the raging and envious madness of this distracted sophister; and the asserting of the common rights of the people against the unjust domination of kings, not out of any hatred to kings, but tyrants : nor have I purposely left unanswered any one argument alleged by my adversary, nor any one example or authority quoted by him, that seemed to have any force in it, or the least colour of an argument. Perhaps I have been guilty rather of the other extreme, of replying to some of his fooleries and trifles, as if they were solid arguments, and thereby may seem to have attributed more to them than they deserved. One thing yet remains to be done, which perhaps is of the greatest concern of all, and that is, that you, my countrymen, refute this adversary of yours yourselves, which I do not see any other means of your affecting, than by a constant endeavour to outdo all men's bad words by your own good deeds. When you laboured under more sorts of oppression than one, you betook yourselves to God for refuge, and he was graciously pleased to hear your most earnest prayer and desires.

He has gloriously delivered you, the first of nations, from the two greatest mischiefs of this life, and most pernicious to virtue, tyranny and superstition; he has endued you with greatness of mind to be the first of mankind, who after having conquered their own king, and having had him delivered into their hands, have not scrupled to condemn him judicially, and, pursuant to that sentence of condemnation, to put him to death. After the performing so glorious an action as this, you ought to do nothing to which controversialists are too apt to consign their adversaries. Of course we are not to understand our author too seriously; he could joke at times, grimly, it is true, but yet he could joke; and the comparison of Salmasius to Judas Iscariot is one of those harsh pleasantries in which none but a vehement and energetic man could indulge. Late in life Milton evidently experienced regret for the warmth into which he was betrayed, while writing this book. But men of sincerity and high principles, who are earnest in their love of liberty, and ready to do and suffer all things for its sake, are easily betrayed into excesses while combating for the principle they love. The foreign sophist, hired to advocate the cause of tyranny by a hundred Jacobuses, must necessarily have appeared an odious and contemptible person in the eyes of Milton, who, though afterwards rewarded by the gratitude of his country, voluntarily undertook its defence, and required no recompense but the consciousness of having done well. -Ed.

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 ainbition, 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, Par| ricides, 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

3 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

And you will find in a little time, that God's displeasure against you will be 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.








[ocr errors][ocr errors]

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 Commonwealth, 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.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »