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sneer, calls “his wonder-working academy.From the testimony of his nephew Phillips, he appears to have attempted, as far as possible, to reduce to practice the plan contained in his letter to Master Hartlib. That nephew speaks affectionately of the diligence of the distinguished teacher, who appears to have succeeded better, in every way, than Johnson, himself a schoolmaster ; but, apparently, an impatient, irritable, and unsuccessful one.The superior genius descended most easily and gracefully to the inferior labour, apparently only desirous to do that one duty well. But politics soon attracted the attention of Milton. He returned to take part in the strife going on in his country between freedom and servility; this was the thought of his whole life. “For me,” says he, “ I have endeavoured to lay up as the best treasure and solace of a good old age, if God vouchsafe it me, the honest liberty of free speech from my youth, where I shall think it available, in so dear a concernment for the Church's good.”
The history of Milton's marriage is known to us. It is not necessary here to enumerate the various literary productions of the years of his middle life. On March 15th, 1648, the Council of the nation appointed him Latin
secretary; his salary was £288 per year; but upon his blindness, this salary was reduced to . £150., in consequence of his having an assistant—that assistant was Andrew Marvel, recommended for the office by Milton himself. It is interesting to notice this fact, the introduction of the pure-minded patriot to public service, by his great compatriot. We may now contemplate Milton as Foreign Secretary, frequently in close intercourse with Cromwell, constantly writing, from his dictation, the letters to foreign princes; and thus, although indirectly, advising, doubtless, in the affairs of England, and of Europe. Sir Egerton Brydges has made some remarks upon Milton, in this office, which betray great ignorance of the real character of the poet.
We have had occasion to speak of Sir Egerton Brydges' imperfect knowledge of Milton's character ; but he has not exhibited this ignorance more strikingly in any part of his volume, than in his remarks upon Milton's appointment as secretary to the council.
“ Whatever merit Milton might have in the able and learned discharge of his political services,” says he, “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. While immured within dark and close official walls, how he must have sighed and pined to be courting his splendid visions of a higher and more congenial world on the banks of some haunted stream! The woods and forests, the mountains, seas, and lakes, ought to have been his dwelling-places. The whispers of the spring, or the roaring of the winter winds, ought to have soothed or excited his spirits. In those regions aërial beings visit the earth; there the soul sees what the concourse of mankind puts to flight; there the mean passions that corrupt the human bosom, have no abode.”
All this is very well to those who believe that the poet should seal himself hermetically from the world. We hold no such idea; the poet has duties to his country, and in times of perplexity and alarm, these duties should be of prime importance. Great poets, it has been said, are unfitted for business. We fancy Shakspere must have been a good business man, prompt, sagacious, and attentive. The record goes that the State papers in Milton's department are perfect models of diplomatio
composition. Nay, the reader may look at them for himself; they are models of energy and wisdom. The character of the writer cannot be obscured by the fact of being merely a ministerial organ; we discern in them the perception and the expression of his immortal works. Johnson speaks of his flattery to Cromwell; his panegyric upon him is indeed very noble, one of the finest pieces of his writing. But had Johnson read it attentively, he would have seen faithfulness more predominant than flattery; what Johnson calls flatteries are facts. But what shall we say to this? “ You cannot be truly free unless we are free too; for such is the nature of things, that he, who entrenches on the liberty of others, is the first to lose his own, and become a slave.” The whole of the paragraph is very faithful, and enhances our idea of the moral courage and consistency of Milton.
On September 3, 1658, the mighty Protector Oliver Cromwell died, and then followed sad confusions; but Milton, although cast down, neither lost heart nor hope. We cannot doubt that one who had mingled so much with the active leaders of parties, and who in his “ Lycidas,” when quite a young man, had pro
phecied the execution of Laud,* saw tolerably clearly the tendency of events ; but he addressed a letter to General Monk, with proposals for establishing a free commonwealth. He was not without some hope that it was not yet too late to save the nation from the horrors anticipated by the Stuarts' return.
But the nation had struggled for selfish ends. Cromwell was the Hannibal of England, and with his death the popular eye turned back again to the wild vanities of the court; and so Charles returned. How it happened, when Vane and Peters were executed with such barbarity, and Bradshaw's, Ireton's, and Cromwell's bones were torn from their graves with ignominy, that Milton's life was spared, is wonderful; it is difficult to attribute it to any noble sentiments upon the part of such a king and such a government. The “Paradise Lost” and “Sampson Agonistes” hung, for their performance, upon the thread of a wicked king's whim or will. Certainly Milton deserved to suffer martyrdom for his actions, rather than the peaceful Vane, or the somewhat fanatical Peters, not to mention innumerable less offenders.