Imágenes de páginas
PDF

received (he said) harsher measure from the judges of the so-called Commonwealth than he had from the prelates and lords of the Stuart tyranny. And thus, having conquered all, the energies of the victors seemed exhausted, and their very success was dashed with some of the bitterness of failure.

When Bacon insisted on the necessity of experientia' to the restoration of the lost commercium mentis et rerum,' he did not foresee that his watchword would have a double translation. As experiment,' it would reveal a new world of science; as experience, it would open a new chapter in the religious history of England. In vain he had tried to give an exclusively physical character to the movement he had inaugurated; to set apart all things spiritual in a region, safe if remote, where they should enjoy immunity from all examination similar to that which he set forth as the only method of attaining true and certain knowledge. His warning did not deter men from enquiring into these subjects, whilst it apparently fortified with his authority their abandonment of the cautious balancing spirit which inspires the pages of the Novum Organon. They laid the phantoms of education and of custom only that they might listen with more attention to the suggestions of their own minds, the oracles of the cave. The infallibility denied to official representatives of the Christian Church was claimed or assumed on behalf of individual Christians. Each man's spiritual intuitions were not merely a law to himself, but, where the force (or weakness of his character made him a leader of some section of the 'godly party,' they were imposed as a law on others also. If in his eyes hockey and bell-ringing were perdition, and wearing his hat at unusual times a testimony to the truth, they were so not only for him but for all. And so extreme licence of religious thought and extreme intolerance went hand in hand.

It has been said that incessant differentiation is the law of progress. It was certainly the law of Puritanism, and began to operate from the earliest days of the Commonwealth. The history of the time is the history of the wranglings of the army with the parliament, and of the parliament with itself or the Protector.

Milton was for years Latin secretary, in contact with Cromwell and the leading statesmen. Yet we learn little more from his writings, as to their characters and actions, than as if he had watched the operations of government from a distance, instead of himself moulding the expression of the 'State's august decree.' His eulogies on Cromwell, Bradshaw, and the rest, are cordial, but in terms too general to be graphic. They lack all those happy minuter touches which give life to Clarendon's portraits. We cannot attribute this to Milton's want of descriptive power, but rather to his want of personal sympathy. His isolation grew upon him as he became more decidedly Puritan, and called out and strengthened the self-reference in which Coleridge found the chief interest of his works. His 'soul was as a star and dwelt apart;' his mind,' we are told, was 'one not condescending to little things. His seclusion was not interrupted by the appreciative enthusiasm of the Puritan leaders, and his neglect of his own interests was not counteracted by the kindly solicitude of those who employed him. While the chief men were securing for themselves lands and lordships, the money grant to Milton for his ' Defence' was cancelled, and a barren vote of thanks substituted. When his declining sight impaired his usefulness, after a short-lived show of compassion and consideration, no especial favour was extended to Milton. He himself wrote to Heimbach that he had no influence at the Protector's court.

The Sonnets link the earlier to the later poetic period. In them we see an epitome of Milton's characteristic qualities, and of the circumstances affecting him during this time. The first alarm of the civil war, the victories of the Commonwealth, the persecution of the Vaudois, are there commemorated. Cromwell proved the sincerity of his professed admiration of Elizabeth by voluntarily assuming the position (which she had been partly forced to take, but had so gloriously maintained) of headship to Protestant Europe. The author of the Sonnet on the Massacre in Piedmont was the ready writer of the remonstrance which Oliver sent to the eldest son' of the persecuting Church. On the death

of the Puritan King, says Carlyle, Puritanism ‘fell loose naturally in every fibre—fell into anarchy--proved by trial that a government of England by it was henceforth an impossibility. Amid the general wreck of things, the reminiscence of Royalty rose again, all government threatening now to be impossible.' It would be more accurate to say that the relaxation and disruption were only made palpably evident at the death of Cromwell. His hand alone sustained the crumbling fragments of Puritan ascendancy; and when it was removed they instantly fell to ruin. The dissensions of his own party, and the increasing desire of the nation to retrace its course, were a burden and strain too heavy for even his inflexible will and iron frame. Local Royalist insurrections broke out every winter: his last parliament was dissolved just in time to prevent a wider catastrophe; 'all would have been in blood on Charles Stuart's account had they but sat two or three days longer.'

Dryden, as his wont was even thus early, prophesied smooth things on Cromwell's death-'faction now by habit does obey;' and Marvell hopefully proclaimed 'calm peace succeeds a war.'

But those about Oliver's deathbed had their forebodings and anxieties not wholly selfish. Their greatest fear was lest they should commit themselves in the delicate and hazardous business of the succession; but they had also some solicitude about the fate of the 'godly party' and the 'good old cause.' • Their hearts seemed as if sunk within them. They exhausted what remained to them of energy and opportunity in a blind and desperate struggle for power. When their weakness became evident, it was easy for a man like Monk, with some power and no conscience, to bring about a consummation which most Englishmen desired, and for which nearly all were prepared. The turning tide had carried with it men of all parties. Prynne, whose ears had been twice cut off by order of the Privy Council, advocated the restoration of the old order of things in his Prescription, published in Oct. 1659. Although he does not expressly plead for the revival of monarchy, 'the King' is repeatedly named, and his office assumed to be an essential part of government. Milton's own words, in his Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth, shew that the 'greater part by far of the nation' concurred in, or rather insisted upon, the Restoration.

On the wickedness of the succeeding time there is no occasion to dwell. But there is no more powerful or more melancholy lesson in history than that the reign of the saints' should have led to this result.

The revenge of the returned Cavaliers was gratified by the execution of some of the foremost adherents of the 'good old cause' in circumstances of peculiar horror. But those who escaped such extreme severity were often harassed by the petty malignity of their triumphant adversaries. Cromwell's dead body was exhumed and hanged at Tyburn; his widow was exposed to loss and violence' under pretence of searching for jewels belonging to the late king, and her remonstrance was docketed by Secretary Nicholas as 'Old Mrs. Cromwell's, Noll's wife's, petition. Henry Cromwell, to retain his Irish estates, extenuated the part he had taken in affairs under the Commonwealth as 'out of natural love to his late father,' not out of malice to his majesty. Milton was less harshly dealt with. The proclamation against him and others appears to have remained a dead letter. The formal custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms was the only restraint to which he was obliged to submit. But he did not regard his position as one of security ; rather as

In darkness, and with dangers compast round,

And solitude.' By an allusion in one of Marvell's controversial pamphlets we learn that at least one adherent of the Cavalier faction was eager to turn the rage of his party against the blind poet, whose house he had haunted incessantly,' and in whose hearing he had used such expressions as to the government of Charles as his host was too generous to remember.'

III. And now Milton's time was come for fulfilling the promise he had long since made to the world, and what was of more importance, to himself. More than twenty years since he had covenanted with his knowing readers to go on trust with them for the payment of his debt. The work he had in view was not to be raised from the heat of youth or from the vapours of wine,' nor to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and her siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom He pleases.' To this he would add 'industrious and select reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly and generous arts and affairs;' and till this preparation was completed (he had said) 'I refuse not to sustain this expectation from as many as are not loth to hazard so much credulity upon the best pledges I can give them.'

He had mourned when the time's dissensions had “interrupted the pursuit of no less hopes than these,' and had compelled him to leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes, put from beholding the bright countenance of Truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies.' But he had looked forward with full assurance to the day on which a great deliverance should remind the nation of the solemn thanksgivings when for us the northern ocean, even to the frozen Thule, was scattered with the proud shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada.' "Then,' he had said, 'then, amidst the hymns and hallelujahs of saints, some one may perhaps be heard offering at high strains in new and lofty measure to sing and celebrate Thy divine mercies and marvellous judgments in this land throughout all ages.'

It was otherwise ordered, as we know. The presentiment of blindness which had haunted Milton even before the Italian journey (as Mr. Masson has noticed) was at length fulfilled. The inward vision was not dimmed, and ‘he who excelled most in the treatment of external nature composed his best descriptions from the images retained in his memory when the knowledge of nature was at one entrance quite shut out.'

« AnteriorContinuar »