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Milton is looking for the cause of his failure. He finds it in the ambition and avarice of the Presbyterians. They, as well as the prelates, are "blind mouths." The political test of "passion triumphing over reason" is not yet formulated (it will be at the end of the Defensio secunda and will give him the light whereby to see and judge the failure of the Commonwealth), but it is clearly realized, and, in 1647, applied to the Presbyterians in another

sonnet:

ON THE NEW FORCERS OF CONSCIENCE UNDER
THE LONG PARLIAMENT

Because you have thrown off your prelate lord,
And with stiff vows renounced his liturgy,
To seize the widowed whore Plurality
From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorred,
Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword

To force our consciences that Christ set free,
And ride us with a classic hierarchy
Taught ye by mere A. S. and Rutherford?
Men whose life, learning, faith, and pure intent
Would have been held in high esteem with Paul,
Must now be named and printed heretics
By shallow Edwards and Scotch what d'ye call:
But we do hope to find out all your tricks,
Your plots and packing worse than those of Trent,
That so the Parliament
May, with their wholesome and preventive shears,
Clip your phylacteries, though balk your ears,

And succour our just fears,
When they shall read this clearly in your charge,
New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ large.

Thus did Milton find out his friends the Presbyterians:
they are no better than the Bishops; as he condemned the
ones, he now condemns the others.

But not only will not men follow reason, they try to

A

muzzle her. Milton is once more on the walls: he attacks censorship and publishes the Areopagitica, appealing again to Parliament, in 1644. He is still young and full of hope. He has received heavy blows, but he has not lost his trust that the Kingdom is coming and that the Saints will presently set things to rights. Parliament, it is true, has taken no notice of the Doctrine and Discipline. But, on the other side, the House of Lords does not at all encourage the Presbyterian plans against the liberty of the press. Milton has been left unmolested. Therefore he has not yet given up hope. Tetrachordon will again be addressed "To the Parliament."

The Presbyterians show themselves to be enemies of liberty, "Forcers of Conscience." But what of that? They will not belong to the Kingdom. The hope of England is no longer in them. Cromwell's power is growing. His army is being organized, and he is beginning to speak firmly to the Presbyterians. After Marston Moor, he has the right and the power to do so. And his voice is in favor of liberty. The Independents, all men who needed liberty, like Milton, are gathering round the new chief. The Areopagitica is therefore full of hope and ardor. Milton opens fire upon the Presbyterians.

The Areopagitica is admittedly the best sustained of Milton's pamphlets. But it is less interesting for us here than the last pamphlets against the Bishops, than the divorce treatises, than the Defensio secunda. It teaches us less about the man Milton or his ideas; it is rather, as its name indicates, a fine piece of eloquence than a personal or even strictly polemical effort. Also the most sublime passages in Milton's prose are not here; the tone is more sustained, but hardly rises to the greatest heights

74

of Milton's power. It is, however, for its general ideas, calculated to please the modern mind, and for its qualities of style, the most praised prose work of Milton's; and certainly we cannot grudge it its reputation.

Many points in it are of interest for the purposes of this study. At the beginning, Milton complains of the English climate, a grumble that will be re-echoed in Paradise Lost; he speaks of

the industry of a life wholly dedicated to studious labours, and those natural endowments haply not the worst for two and fifty degrees of northern latitude; 74

and later he will sing thus:

Higher argument

Remains, sufficient of itself to raise

That name, unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp my intended wing.

The praise of books is famous:

for books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a progeny of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon's teeth: and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. It is true, no age can restore a life, whereof, perhaps, there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse."

Thus highly does Milton think of his trade.

74 Prose Works, II, 53.

75 Ibid., II, 55.

Again a principle is expressed which will become one of his chief ideas:

"To the pure, all things are pure"; not only meats and drinks, but all kind of knowledge, whether of good or evil: the knowledge cannot defile, nor consequently the books, if the will and conscience be not defiled.76

Another celebrated formula sets Spenser above Aquinas: our sage and serious poet Spenser, (whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus and Aquinas)."" Milton is not yet an Arminian, but Arminius already is "the acute and distinct Arminius," 78 and Milton insists on the idea of free will, which is now deeply fixed in him in its definite form." A few months before, in his treatise on divorce Milton stood for predestination and against free will.80 We find here, therefore, in the very year 1644, a new departure in his thought. Milton frees himself at one blow from both Presbyterian discipline and creed. Plato's Republic is treated slightingly, Milton little realizing that most of his ideas were just as baseless as Plato's. Then comes a formal attack against the repressive principles of the Puritans, and a vindication of the rights of nature; here again Milton goes further than ever before, as far as he will ever go:

81

Wherefore did he [God] create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue? 82

Here is his opinion of contemporary Italy:

when I have sat among their learned men, (for that honour

I had,) and been counted happy to be born in such a place of

76 Ibid., II, 65.

77 Ibid., II, 68.

78 Ibid., II, 70.

80 Prose Works, III, 223-25.

81 Ibid., II, 71–72.

82 Ibid., II, 74.

79 Ibid., II, 74. See below, pp. 123-31.

philosophic freedom, as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing but bemoan the servile condition into which learning amongst them was brought; that this was it which had damped the glory of Italian wits; that nothing had been there written now these many years but flattery and fustian.88

But here is his opinion of England:

Lords and commons of England! consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit; acute to invent, subtile and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of learning in her deepest sciences have been so ancient, and so eminent among us, that writers of good antiquity and able judgment have been persuaded, that even the school of Pythagoras, and the Persian wisdom, took beginning from the old philosophy of this island. . .

Yet that which is above all this, the favour and the love of Heaven, we have great argument to think in a peculiar manner propitious and propending towards us. Why else was this nation chosen before any other, that out of her, as out of Sion, should be proclaimed and sounded forth the first tidings and trumpet of reformation to all Europe? And had it not been the obstinate perverseness of our prelates against the divine and admirable spirit of Wickliffe, to suppress him as a schismatic and innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Husse and Jerome, no, nor the name of Luther or of Calvin, had been ever known: the glory of reforming all our neighbours had been completely ours.

Now once again by all concurrence of signs, and by the general instinct of holy and devout men, as they daily and solemnly express their thoughts, God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in his church, even to the reforming of reformation itself; what does he then but reveal himself to his servants, and as his manner is, first to his Englishmen? 84

Such were the hopes of the time; here is the reason why Milton had left literature, to help to found the coming Kingdom:

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