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repentance, to be weary of your life, and hang yourself, and burst asunder as he did; and to send beforehand that faithless and treacherous conscience . . . to that place of torment that is prepared for you.109
In 1652, the royalist party opposed to Milton the Regii sanguinis clamor ad cœlum, which consisted mostly of a personal attack upon him. In June, 1654, Milton replied in his Defensio secunda pro populo Anglicano. This is perhaps the best of all Milton's prose works; it can be read through with pleasure. Fine passages are numerous; an important part of the work is autobiographical; another part is made up of portraits of the best known characters of the republican party; and the end develops Milton's fundamental principles in political theory. This we shall have to use in our study of Milton's ideas (in Part II); for the rest, it is impossible to quote here even a small part of the many beautiful pages of the Defensio secunda; they are so well known and so easily accessible that it is needless to draw attention to them.
Let us note only Milton's warning to Cromwell and again to the English people.
Milton was not pleased with Cromwell's religious policy. His pamphlets written in 1659 abundantly show why: he wanted the Church to be disestablished, and he wanted the suppression of all paid clergy. But Cromwell, for his own ends, went the opposite way. Milton warns him in the Second Defence:
Then, if you leave the church to its own government, and relieve yourself and the other public functionaries from a charge so onerous, and so incompatible with your functions; and will no longer
109 Ibid., I, 210-11. "Beforehand," probably because the body will only be sent to hell at the Last Judgment. It may seem that Milton was still a dualist in 1651; but perhaps little weight can be allowed to such a rhetorical passage.
suffer two powers, so different as the civil and the ecclesiastical, to commit fornication together, and by their mutual and delusive aids in appearance to strengthen, but in reality to weaken and finally to subvert, each other; if you shall remove all power of persecution out of the church, (but persecution will never cease, so long as men are bribed to preach the gospel by a mercenary salary, which is forcibly extorted, rather than gratuitously bestowed, which serves only to poison religion and to strangle truth,) you will then effectually have cast those money-changers out of the temple, who do not merely truckle with doves but with the Dove itself, with the Spirit of the Most High.110
Besides, Milton was suspicious of the coming tyranny. He asked Cromwell to surround himself with the old republicans, the faithful companions of his wars; and Cromwell was successively to cause to be arrested — on some ground or other - Bradshaw, Vane, for whom Milton had a great regard, and Colonel Overton, who was a private friend of Milton's. In 1654, things had not yet gone so far. Cromwell was still the hero; but already too many things are being asked of him in that Defensio secunda; Milton surely has his doubts, only too amply confirmed later. He has his doubts also of the people's steadfastness, and in his conclusion very neatly "washes his hands" of it, and claims that, anyhow, "whatever turn things take " he has done his duty. He openly tells his fellow-countrymen: "If the conclusion do not answer to the beginning, that is their concern. I have delivered my testimony." No great signs of trust in this conclusion:
With respect to myself, whatever turn things may take, I thought that my exertions on the present occasion would be serviceable to my country; and as they have been cheerfully bestowed, I hope that they have not been bestowed in vain. And I have not circum
110 Ibid., I, 293.
scribed my defence of liberty within any petty circle around me, but have made it so general and comprehensive, that the justice and the reasonableness of such uncommon occurrences, explained and defended, both among my countrymen and among foreigners, and which all good men cannot but approve, may serve to exalt the glory of my country, and to excite the imitation of posterity. If the conclusion do not answer to the beginning, that is their concern; I have delivered my testimony, I would almost say, have erected a monument, that will not readily be destroyed, to the reality of those singular and mighty achievements which were above all praise. As the epic poet, who adheres at all to the rules of that species of composition, does not profess to describe the whole life of the hero whom he celebrates, but only some particular action of his life, as the resentment of Achilles at Troy, the return of Ulysses, or the coming of Æneas into Italy; so it will be sufficient, either for my justification or apology, that I have heroically celebrated at least one exploit of my countrymen; I pass by the rest, for who could recite the achievements of a whole people? If after such a display of courage and of vigour, you basely relinquish the path of virtue, if you do anything unworthy of yourselves, posterity will sit in judgment on your conduct. They will see that the foundations were well laid; that the beginning (nay, it was more than a beginning) was glorious; but with deep emotions of concern will they regret, that those were wanting who might have completed the structure. They will lament that perseverence was not conjoined with such exertions and such virtues. They will see that there was a rich harvest of glory, and an opportunity afforded for the greatest achievements, but that men only were wanting for the execution; while they were not wanting who could rightly counsel, exhort, inspire, and bind an unfading wreath of praise round the brows of the illustrious actors in so glorious a scene.111
So Milton's thoughts turned to literature again. After the Defensio tertio, which calls for no special comment, he wrote no more under Cromwell. Things were not going well. But Milton obviously did not see what he 111 Ibid., I, 299–300.
could do. He kept up his rather loose connection with the government; but his heart was no longer in it. In 1658, he began work again on Paradise Lost, evidently thinking his political rôle was over.
Cromwell died in September, 1658. Milton once again interrupted the holy work, now begun, and tried to bring light and reason into the troubled time. He first of all attempted to prove whether the new leaders would be wiser than Cromwell. The two pamphlets published in 1659 are directed against Cromwell's ecclesiastical policy and ask for the disestablishment of the Church and, in fact, the suppression of the clergy.
In February, 1659, he submitted to Parliament again (alas, poor Milton!) his Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical causes, showing that it is not lawful for any Power on Earth to compel in matters of Religion. He comes back to his old idea that Christ established liberty. Neither blasphemies nor heresies much frighten him:
But some are ready to cry out, what shall then be done to blasphemy? Them I would first exhort, not thus to terrify and pose the people with a Greek word; but to teach them better what it is, being a most usual and common word in that language to signify any slander, any malicious or evil speaking, whether against God or man. . . . But we shall not carry it thus; another Greek apparition stands in our way, Heresy and Heretic; in like manner also railed at to the people as in a tongue unknown. They should first interpret to them that heresy, by what it signifies in that language, is no word of evil note, meaning only the choice or following of any opinion, good or bad, in religion, or any other learning. . . .112
He vigorously condemns all persecutors, especially Protestant ones; and then develops a curious theory that Catholicism is no religion but a survival of the Roman government:
112 Ibid., II, 526-27.
How many persecutions, then, imprisonments, banishments, penalties, and stripes; how much bloodshed have the forcers of conscience to answer for, and protestants rather than papists! . . . But as for popery and idolatry, why they also may not hence plead to be tolerated, I have much less to say. Their religion the more considered, the less can be acknowledged a religion; but a Roman principality rather, endeavouring to keep up her old universal dominion under a new name and mere shadow of a catholic religion.
He then explains how Christ governs the church himself 111 and ends by apologizing for having been too short:
The brevity I use, not exceeding a small manual, will not therefore, I suppose, be thought the less considerable, unless with them, perhaps, who think that great books only can determine great matters. I rather choose the common rule, not to make much ado, where less may serve; which in controversies, and those especially of religion, would make them less tedious and by consequence read oftener by many more, and with more benefit."
In August of the same year, he went on with his Considerations touching the likeliest means to remove Hirelings out of the Church. "The likeliest means " fall but little short of suppressing the clergy entirely. Tithes are to be done away with; priests can be fed by their flocks, or preferably they can have some other profession. His real thought is that any of the flock can play the part of the pastor. Priests are not necessary to the Church. This is Milton's ultimate revenge for having been "church-outed by the prelates." He is here "churchouting " not only the prelates, but all varieties of priests whatsoever.
Temples and churches are also declared to be unnecessary; houses and barns are much preferable.
... they may be trusted to meet and edify one another, whether in church or chapel, or, to save them the trudging of many miles 118 Ibid., II, 532. 114 See below, pp. 174 ff. 115 Prose Works, II, 548.