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entirely excused, because that minister was deficient in almost every quality necessary to a statesman: his want of high talents, his profligacy, his profusion, his deficiency in all the grand principles of a sound government, his corruption, his reckless indiscretions,-offered a mark for the revolutionary passions of the age, which they could not miss. But the system of favouritism was then the general fault of monarchs; and Charles had a warm and friendly heart, which could not easily give up an attachment. On the contrary, the unfortunate prince has been blamed for sacrificing Strafford: for that afflicting charge nothing less than extreme duresse can be an excuse.
When once the sword of civil contest is drawn, neither party thinks itself safe till it has destroyed the other: this is the excuse the parliamentarians plead for putting Charles to death. I shall never cease to consider it a bloodthirsty and unpardonable act. All my veneration for Milton, and all the power of argument of his mighty mind, will not alter that opinion.
The opposition to the rule of Kings had been secretly brooding and fomenting through Europe for near a century, but had been kept down in England by the magnanimous and prudent spirit of Queen Elizabeth: but the Puritans had been constantly at work against her throne, while the Jesuits beset it on other principles, and with other views. At Milton's birth, the imbecility of King James had encouraged that spirit in the former growing sect, which struck at the root of all ancient institutions. Milton probably drank in these schisms with his earliest breath; but for a time his classical and romantic studies, the glories of his poetical imagination, his neighbourhood to the feudal hospitalities of Harefield, the smiles of Spenser's patroness, the noble and splendid pageantry of Ludlow Castle, and his travels among the seats of the ancient arts, the heroic fablings of Tasso, and the glowing recollections of the Marquis Manso in the Elysian scenery of the sunny bay of Naples, suspended, and nearly expelled them.
But when the discordant trumpet of open civil strife was once sounded, and by an unhappy spell excited all the early predilections which had been instilled into his childhood, the Muse, for whom nature had best fitted him, was for a long time forgotten; and all the crabbed lore of puritanical gloom overshadowed the native fire of a heavenly imagination.
In whatever turn his mind took, he had power and force to go beyond other men. When his gigantic strength entered the field of battle, like Samson, he would lay all prostrate before him; and like him, rather than submit and give triumph to his foes, would have grasped the columns, and brought the tumbling roof of the theatre * on the heads of all; willing to fall himself in the common
* The building was a spacious theatre,
Agon. 1.1607, seq.
ruin, rather than let the proud and the mighty prevail over him. Here lay his ambition; here he had something of the spirit of his Fallen Angels. To him all monarchs of the ordinary vigour of human intellect appeared but as children of the dust: in the conscious vastness of his intellectual supremacy, he met them, when they put on the armour of assault, with scorn and defiance.
Milton's Controversial Writings.
On March 15, 1648-9, the council of state appointed Milton secretary for the foreign tongues. In 1652 the poet's eyesight was intirely lost; but he was still continued in his office, and allowed an assistant, Mr. Philip Meadowes. About this time his first wife died, leaving him three daughters. He did not re-marry till 1658. This second wife was daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney: she died in childbed the next year, and was buried at St. Margaret's, Westminster, 10th February, 1657.
On April 17, 1655, it was ordered that "the former salary of Mr. John Milton of two hundred eighty-eight pounds, &c, formerly charged on the council's contingencies, be reduced to one hundred and fiftie pounds per annum, and paid to him during his life out of his Highnesse's exchequer."
Bishop Sumner says it is presumed that from this time Milton ceased to be employed in public affairs: but Todd gives proofs that he continued to be employed long afterwards, first with the aid of Philip Meadowes, and afterwards, in 1657, of Andrew Marvell, the poet, whose noble panegyrical verses are prefixed to the Paradise Lost.*
As late as the 25th of October, 1659, there is a warrant of state for the payment to John Milton and Andrew Marvell of £86 12s. each, at the rate for each of .£200 per annum.
A little before the king's coming over, Milton was sequestered from his Latin secretaryship, and the salary.
In 1658 he amused himself by editing from a MS. 'the Cabinet-Council of Ralegh.'
Whatever merit Milton might have in the able and learned discharge of his political services, it is deeply to be lamented that his brilliant and sublime faculties were so employed. He had a mind too creative to be wasted in writing down official dispatches, or turning them into classical Latin: humble talents would have done better for such laborious and technical tasks. How the slumbering fire of his rich and every-varying fictions must have consumed his heart and his brain !—How he must have fretted at the base, intrigues of courts and councils, and the turpitude of human ambition!—While immured within dark and close official walls, how he must have sighed and pined to be courting his splendid visions of a
* A curious letter of Milton's to Lord President Bradshaw, as early as 1653, recommending Marvell as an assistant, is given by Todd, then lately discovered in the State-Paper Office.