« PreviousContinue »
religion, which were the first objects of our care, would exert a salutary influence on the manners and constitution of the republic; and as I had from my youth studied the distinctions between religious and civil rights, I perceived that, if I ever wished to be of use, I ought at least not to be wanting to my country, to the church, and to so many of my fellow Christians, in a crisis of so much danger. I therefore determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my talents and my industry to this one important object. I accordingly wrote two books to a friend, concerning 'The Reformation of the Church of England.'"
Here we have Milton's own account of his own early life, of which we cannot doubt the accuracy.
This treatise ends in the form of a prayer, "piously laying the sad condition of England before the footstool of The Almighty," than which there is not a more sublime patriotic Ode in any language. Thus:
"Thou therefore that sittest in light and glory unapproachable; Parent of angels and men! next, thee I implore, Omnipotent King, Redeemer of that last remnant, whose nature thou didst assume, ineffable and everlasting love! And thou, the third subsistence of divine infinitude, illumining Spirit, the joy and solace of created things, and Tripersonal Godhead! look upon this thy poor and almost spent and expiring church: leave her not thus a prey to these importunate wolves, that wait, and think it long, till they devour thy tender flock; those wild boars that have broken into thy vineyard, and left the print of their polluting hoofs on the souls of thy servants. O, let them not bring about their damning designs, that stand now at the entrance of the bottomless pit, expecting the watch-word to open and let out those dreadful locusts and scorpions, to re-involve us in that pitchy cloud of infernal darkness, where we shall never more see the sun of thy truth again; never hope for the cheerful dawn; never more hear the bird of 4moming sing. Be moved with pity at the afflicted state of this our shaken monarchy, that now lies labouring under her throes, and struggling against the grudges of more dreadful calamities.
"O thou, that after the impetuous rage of five bloody inundations and the succeeding sword of intestine war, soaking the land in her own gore, didst pity the sad and ceaseless revolution of our swift and thick-coming sorrows; when we were quite breathless, of thy free grace didst motion peace and terms of covenant to us; and, having first well nigh freed us from anti-christian thraldom, didst build up this Britannic empire to a glorious and enviable height, with all her daughterislands about her; stay us in this felicity: let not the obstinacy of our half-obedience and willworship bring forth that viper of sedition, that, for these fourscore years, has been breeding to eat through the entrails of our peace; but let her cast her abortive spawn without the danger of this travailing and throbbing kingdom, that we may still remember in our solemn thanksgivings, how for us the northern ocean, even to the frozen Thule, was scattered with the proud shipwrecks of the Spanish armada; and the very maw of hell ransacked, and made to give up her concealed destination, ere she could vent it in that horrible and damned blast.
"O, how much more glorious will those former deliverances appear, when we shall know them not only to have saved us from greater miseries past, but have reserved us for greater happiness to come! Hitherto thou hast but freed us, and that not fully, from the unjust and tyrannous claim of thy foes; now, unite us entirely, and appropriate us to thyself; tie us everlastingly in willing homage to the prerogative of thy eternal throne.
"And now we know, O thou our most certain hope and defence, that thine enemies have been consulting all the sorceries of the great whore, and have joined their plots with that sad intelligencing tyrant that mischiefs the world with his mines of Ophir, and lies thirsting to revenge his naval ruins that have larded our seas: but let them all take counsel together, and let it come to nought; let them decree, and do thou cancel it; let them gather themselves, and be scattered; let them embattel themselves, and be broken; let them embattel, and be broken, for thou art with us!
"Then, amidst the hymns and hallelujahs of saints, some one may perhaps be heard offering at high strains, in new and lofty measures, to sing and celebrate thy divine mercies and marvellous judgments in this land throughout all ages, whereby this great and warlike nation, instructed and inured to the fervent and continual practice of truth and righteousness, and casting far from her the rags of her old vices, may press on hard to that high and happy emulation to be found the soberest, wisest, and most Christian people at that day, when thou, the eternal and shortly-expected King, shalt open the clouds to judge the several kingdoms of this world; and distributing national honours and rewards to religious and just commonwealths, shalt put an end to all earthly tyrannies, proclaiming thy universal and mild monarchy through heaven and earth; where they, undoubtedly, that, by their labours, counsels, and prayers, have been earnest for the common good of religion and their country, shall receive, above the inferior orders of the blessed, the regal addition of principalities, legions, and thrones, into their glorious titles; and in supereminence of beatific vision, progressing the doubtless and irrevoluble circle of eternity, shall clasp inseparable hands with joy and bliss, in overmeasure for ever."
It would be quite impossible to give an adequate account of Milton's life and character, were I to omit here to insert the whole of the Preface to the second book of his 'Reason of Church Government urged against Prelates,' of which parts only have been hitherto extracted by former biographers:—
"How happy were it for this frail, and, as it may be called, mortal life of man, since all earthly things which have the name of good and convenient in our daily use, are withal so cumbersome and full of trouble, if knowledge, yet which is the best and lightsomest possession of the mind, were, as the common saying is, no burden; and that what it wanted of being a load to any part of the body, it did not with a heavy advantage overlay upon the spirit.
"For, not to speak of that knowledge that rests in the contemplation of natural causes and dimensions, which must needs be a lower wisdom as the object is low, certain it is, that he who hath obtained in more than the scantiest measure to know any thing distinctly of God, and of his true worship, and what is infallibly good and happy in the state of man's life; what in itself evil and miserable, though vulgarly not so esteemed; he, that hath obtained to know this, the only high valuable wisdom indeed, remembering also that God, even to a strictness, requires the improvement of these his entrusted gifts, cannot but sustain a sorer burden of mind, and more pressing than any supportable toil or weight which the body can labour under; how and in what manner he shall dispose and employ those sums of knowledge and illumination, which God hath sent him into this world to trade with.
"And that which aggravates the burden more