Page images
PDF
EPUB

In 1648-9 he published “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates : proving that it is lawful, and hath been held so through all ages, for any, who have the power, to call to account a tyrant or wicked king, and after due conviction, to depose and put him to death, if the ordinary magistrate have neglected or denied to do it; and that they, who of late so much blame deposing, are the men that did it themselves.'

This tract was a defence of the execution of King Charles, against the objections of the Presbyterians.

The very title of this treatise is surely in the highest degree objectionable, and does not in these days require any refutation. To say the truth, this is a part of Milton's character which puzzles me--and no other. This bloodthirstiness does not agree with his sanctity, and other mental and moral qualities. I will not say that kings may not be deposed: but Charles I. ought not to have been deposed, much less put to death. In the poet, however, posterity has forgotten the regicide.

In 1648-9 came out his “Observations on the Articles of Peace between James Earl of Ormond for King Charles the First on the one hand, and the Irish Rebels and Papists on the other hand : and on a letter sent by Ormond to Colonel Jones, Governor of Dublin: and a Representation of the Scots Presbytery at Belfast in Ireland,' &c.

“Such,” says Milton, “were the fruits of my private studies, which I gratuitously presented to the church and to the state, and for which I was recompensed by nothing but impunity, though the actions themselves procured me peace of conscience and the approbation of the good; while I exercised that freedom of discussion, which I loved. Others, without labour or desert, got the possession of honours and emoluments; but no one ever knew me, either soliciting any thing myself, or through the medium of my friends; ever beheld me in a supplicating posture at the doors of the senate or the levees of the great. I usually kept myself secluded at home, where my own property, part of which had been withheld during the civil commotions, and part of which had been absorbed in the oppressive contributions which I had to sustain, afforded me a scanty subsistence. When I was released from these engagements, and thought that I was about to enjoy an interval of uninterrupted ease, I turned my thoughts to a history of my country, from the earliest times to the present period.”

In 1649, Milton says, “I had already finished four books of the history, when after the subversion of the monarchy, and the establishment of a republic, I was surprised by an invitation from the council of state, who desired my services in the office of foreign affairs. A book appeared soon after, which was ascribed to the king, and contained the most insidious charges against the Parliament. I was ordered to answer it, and opposed the Iconoclast to the Icon.”

The title is " EIKONOKAA ETHE: in answer to a book entitled EIKON BAŽIAIKH, the portraiture of his majesty in his solitudes and sufferings.'

A question has been raised, and fiercely battled of late, as to the genuineness of the Icon Basilike. The circumstantial evidence seems strong that it was composed by Bishop Gauden.*

Besides that every reader must be curious about this exordium, it would be doing great injustice to Milton's prose works to omit the following extract from the preface to this extraordinary production:

“ To descant on the misfortunes of a person fallen from so high a dignity, who hath also paid his final debt both to nature and his faults, is neither of itself a thing commendable, nor the intention of this discourse. Neither was it fond ambition, nor the vanity to get a name, present or with posterity, by writing against a king. I never was so thirsty after fame, nor so destitute of other hopes and means, better and more certain to attain it: for kings have gained glorious titles from their favourers by writing against private men, as Henry VIII. did against Luther; but no man ever gained much honour by writing against a king, as not usually meeting with that force of argument in such courtly antagonists, which to convince might add to his reputation. Kings most commonly, though strong in legions, are but weak in arguments; as they who ever have accustomed from the cradle to use their will only as their right hand, their reason always as their left. Whence unexpectedly constrained to that kind of

* See Todd's Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 1825.

combat, they prove but weak and puny adversaries : nevertheless, for their sakes, who through custom, simplicity, or want of better teaching, have no more seriously considered kings, than in the gaudy name of majesty, and admire them and their doings as if they breathed not the same breath with other mortal men, I shall make no scruple to take up (for it seems to be the challenge both of him and all his party) to take up this gauntlet, though a king's, in the behalf of liberty and the commonwealth.

“ First, then, that some men (whether this were by him intended, or by his friends) have by policy accomplished after death that revenge upon their enemies, which in life they were not able, hath been oft related : and among other examples we find, that the last will of Cæsar being read to the people, and what bounteous legacies he had bequeathed them, wrought more in that vulgar audience to the avenging of his death, than all the art he could ever use to win their favour in his lifetime. And how much their intent, who published these overlate apologies and meditations of the dead king, drives to the same end of stirring up the people to bring him that honour, that affection, and by consequence that revenge to his dead corps, which he himself living could never gain to his person, it appears both by the conceited portraiture before his book, drawn out to the full measure of a masking scene, and set there to catch fools and sillygazers; and by those Latin words after the end, · Vota dabunt quæ bella ne

garunt;' intimating, that what he could not compass by war, he should achieve by his meditations: for in words which admit of various sense, the liberty is ours, to choose that interpretation, which may best mind us of what our restless enemies endeavour, and what we are timely to prevent. And here may be well observed the loose and negligent curiosity of those, who took upon them to adorn the setting out of this book; for though the picture set in front would martyr him and saint him to befool the people, yet the Latin motto in the end, which they understand not, leaves him, as it were, a politic contriver to bring about that interest, by fair and plausible words, which the force of arms denied him. But quaint emblems and devices, begged from the old pageantry of some twelfth night's entertainment at Whitehall, will do but ill to make a saint or martyr: and if the people resolve to take him sainted at the rate of such a canonizing, I shall suspect their calendar more than the Gregorian. In one thing I must commend his openness, who gave the title to this book, Eikwv Baorden, that is to say, the King's Image; and by the shrine he dresses out for him, certainly would have the people come and worship him. For which reason this answer also is entitled Iconoclastes, the famous surname of many Greek emperors, who in their zeal to the command of God, after long tradition of idolatry in the church, took courage, and broke all superstitious images to pieces. But the people, exorbitant and excessive in all their motions, are prone ofttimes not

« PreviousContinue »