« PreviousContinue »
OBSERVATIONS ON THE ARTICLES OF PEACE-MANIFESTO OF THE PRES
BYTERY AT BELFAST-MILTON COMPOSES FOUR BOOKS OF HIS ENG-
SONNET ON THE MASSACRE IN PIEDMONT.
Milton's next work was entitled “ Observations on the Articles of Peace with the Irish Rebels, and the Representation of the Presbytery at Belfast.” On the humiliating articles of peace concluded by the Earl of Ormond, in the name of the king, with the monsters who had murdered in cold blood forty thousand of their Protestant fellow subjects, his opinion is thus expressed :-“ As for these articles of peace made with those inhuman rebels and papists of Ireland by the late king, as one of his last masterpieces, we may be confidently persuaded, that no true-born Englishman can so much as barely read them without indignation and disdain, that those bloody rebels, and so proclaimed and judged of by the king himself, after the merciless and barbarous massacre of so many thousand English, (who had used their right and title to that country with such tenderness and moderation, and might otherwise have secured themselves with ease against their treachery,) should be now graced and rewarded with such freedoms and enlargements, as none of their ancestors could ever merit by their best obedience, which at best was always treacherous; to be enfranchised with full liberty equal to their conquerors, whom the just revenge of ancient piracies, cruel captivities, and the causeless infestation of our coast had warrantably called over, and the long prescription of many
years, besides what other titles are acknowledged by their own Irish parliament, had fixed and seated in that soil with as good a right as the merest natives."
The manifesto of the Presbytery at Belfast is scarcely less offensive to the generous nature of Milton; it breathes throughout a spirit of sanctimoniousness, bigotry, and arrogance. One only of their charges against the Parliament shall be noticed here, for the sake of the admirable sentiment it elicited from Milton in reply. The charge is, that they laboured “to establish by laws a universal toleration of all religions, which is an innovation overturning of unity in religion, and so directly repugnant to the Word of God.” “This,” he replies, “ touches not the State; for certainly, were they so minded, they need not labour it, but do it, having power in their hands; and we know of no Act as yet passed to that purpose. But suppose it done, wherein is the covenant broke? The covenant enjoins us to endeavour the extirpation first of popery and prelacy, then of heresy, schism, and profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness. And this we cease not to do by all effectual and proper means : but these divines might know, that to extirpate all these things can be no work of the civil sword, but of the spiritual, which is the work of God. No man well in his wits, endeavouring to root up weeds out of his ground, instead of using the spade will take a mallet or a beetle. Nor doth the covenant any way engage us to extirpate or to prosecute the men, but the heresies and errors in them, which we tell these divines, and the rest that understand not, belongs
* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 180.
chiefly to their own function, in the diligent preaching and insisting upon sound doctrine, in the confuting, not the railing down, of errors, encountering both in public and private conference, and by the power of truth, not of persecution, subduing those authors of heretical opinions.
And whereas they affirm, that the tolerating of all religions, in the manner that we tolerate them, is an innovation; we must acquaint them, that we are able to make it good, if need be, both by Scripture and the primitive fathers, and the frequent assertion of whole churches and protestant states in their remonstrances and expostulations against the popish tyranny over souls.
And surely, when we put down bishops and put up presbyters, which the most of them have made use of to enrich and exalt themselves, and turn the first heel against their benefactors, we did not think, that one classic fraternity, so obscure and so remote, should involve us and all state-affairs within the censure and jurisdiction of Belfast, upon pretence of overseeing their own charge. We very well know, that church-censures are limited to church matters, and these within the compass of their own province, or, to say more truly, of their own congregation : that affairs of state are not for their meddling, as we could urge even from their own invectives and protestations against the bishops, wherein they tell them with much fervency, that ministers of the gospel, neither by that function, nor any other which they ought to accept, have the least warrant to be pragmatical in the state."*
The publication of this treatise closed the controversial campaign, and Milton again retreated to the more serene and congenial pursuits of literature. He had long devoted himself in intention to the production of a complete history of his country, from the earliest times of which any records had descended to posterity. This work he now commenced, and completed four books of it, conducting the narrative to the union of the Heptarchy under Egbert. This work was
* Prose Works, vol, ii. pp. 189, 193, 194.
never completed, though two more books, extending the narrative to the Norman conquest, were written in a subsequent interval of literary leisure. Of this earlier portion the historical value assigned by himself is exceedingly small. The period it embraced was the twilight interval of myths and phantoms between the night of unknown antiquity and the rise of history. “I have therefore determined,” he says, bestow the telling over even of these reputed tales, be it for nothing else but in favour of our English poets and rhetoricians, who by their art well know how to use them judiciously."
This labour was interrupted by the great event of Milton's life. A political and spiritual despotism had terminated with the life of the treacherous and misguided Charles I. ; and England had entered on that brief period of renovation which had been hailed by Milton with the enthusiasm we have seen animating his eloquence. The executive government under the republic was committed to a council of state, consisting of thirty-eight members of the legislature; and as the diplomatic correspondence of Europe was then conducted in Latin, it became necessary to appoint a foreign secretary, who combined with other qualifications of the highest order, the most familiar acquaintance with that language. Among the many wise measures by which this period was rendered memorable, the appointment of Milton to this office was one of the most important. The date of the Commonwealth has often been indicated as the culminating point of England's greatness. This has been popularly attributed in a great measure to the administrative genius of Cromwell; but it is impossible not to believe that the intellectual and moral majesty of Milton contributed materially to the boasted pre-eminence of this country in the scale and the homage of contemporary nations.
It is difficult to characterize Milton's Letters of State in terms of extravagant eulogy. Uncorrupted with the finesse of vulgar diplomacy, they are instinct with a philanthropy
which extends its embrace far beyond the conventional limits of nationality, and in imitation of the Divine benignity recognizes the brotherhood of mankind. Their style is stamped with a majesty that fully represents the mightiest of earthly empires, and with that pacific courtesy, with that tender care for the oppressed, and that profound recognition of the King of kings, which are the most glorious insignia of imperial sway. Happy will it be for this country when these productions shall be reverenced by its rulers, as the great ensamples of national behaviour.
It is obvious that these productions of Milton's pen do not admit of an analysis; a selection, therefore, from a few of the most characteristic letters, must suffice to exhibit the poet, the polemic, and the patriot in the new phase of the states
The following letter, written by Milton in the name of the Protector, to Gustavus of Sweden, affords a specimen of the conciliatory spirit infused by Milton into the foreign intercourse of his government :“OLIVER, Protector of the Commonwealth of ENGLAND, &c.,
to the most Serene Prince CHARLES GUSTAVUS, King of
the SWEDES, GOTHS, and VANDALS. “ Most Serene King, our dearest Friend and Confederate,
“BEING assured of your majesty's concurrence both in thoughts and counsels for the defence of the Protestant faith against the enemies of it, if ever, now at this time most dangerously vexatious; though we cannot but rejoice at your prosperous success, and the daily tidings of your victories, yet on the other side we cannot but be as deeply afflicted, to meet with one thing that disturbs and interrupts our joy; we mean the bad news intermixed with so many welcome tidings, that the ancient friendship between your majesty and the States of the United Provinces looks with a dubious aspect, and that the mischief is exasperated to that height, especially in the Baltic Sea, as seems to bode an unhappy rupture. We confess ourselves ignorant of the causes; but we too easily foresee, that the events, which