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The present Bishop of Winchester, in fulfilling the duty that was honourably imposed upon him, of editing a posthumous production of England's greatest Epic Poet, makes the following observation :—" There is much reason for regretting that the prose works of Milton—where, in the midst of much that is coarse and intemperate, passages of such redeeming beauty occur—should be in the hands of so few readers; considering the advantage which might be derived to our literature from the study of their original and nervous eloquence."
Several obvious reasons may account for this neglect; and the first of these is, that a somewhat repulsive influence obstructs the inquirer at the very threshold of this rare but almost unexplored cabinet of British literature.
The very names of many of Milton's prose works present themselves to all but the learned, as an array of quaint forms, which frown upon the uninitiated. Their style, like the waters of the fabled stream, is turbid with the grains of classic gold; and the literary habits of the writer were so closely connected with ancient and foreign literature, ;is to deprive his writings of that strictly national character which is essential to a wide popularity.
But a further and a still more potent cause has concealed the writings of Milton from the careful inspection of his countrymen. It has been said of the Puritans, that, like the victorious lion, they were depicted by their opponents. And so it has fared with Milton. His most eminent biographers, as members of the Church of England, have had no sympathy with their illustrious subject in the grandest phase which his character and his writings present.
Milton, unequalled as a poet, and memorable and exemplary as a statesman, was most especially a Nonconformist, an advocate of religious freedom, unshackled by secular and political interference;—in a word, a Puritan, in all but those excesses of untempered zeal which historians and satirists have combined to exaggerate, in order to dim the historic lustre they cannot hide, and to throw contempt on a cause which must rise proportionately with the elevation and advancement of mankind.
It is the purpose of the following pages to present Milton afresh to the public as the champion of political, and especially of religious liberty; and, while delineating the few incidents of his life, to present such passages from his prose writings, especially on ecclesiastical subjects, as may invite the attention of the public to the whole of those much neglected but immortal productions.
All the circumstances of the present times, and particularly the events which, in the religious world, have of late been thickening around us, compel the attention of society to those fundamental principles which Milton so sublimely developed and illustrated.
To assist in guiding this movement of the popular mind to the study of the works of Milton, is the earnest aim of this biography: and if it should subserve this end, its author will be con tap* ibitt'Bffl own labours should be disregarded or forgotteftr"
Milton's Sonnets—Domestic Incidents—Conduct of the Pres-