« PreviousContinue »
as we have given him in charge to communicate to your Majesty and what credit you shall give to him in this his employment, we request your Majesty to believe it given to ourselves. God Almighty grant your Majesty a happy and joyful deliverance out of all your difficulties, and afflicting troubles under which you stand so undauntedly supported by your fortitude and magnanimity.
"WILLIAM LENTHAL, Speaker of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of ENGLAND.
"Westminster, May, 15, 1659.”
In the Advertisement "To the Reader," prefixed to these "Letters of State," printed in London, 1694, it is said, "To question the truth of those transactions to which these following Letters have relation, would be a solecism which ignorance itself would be ashamed to own. The dates, subscriptions, superscriptions, render every thing authentick. So that were it only for their character of truth which must be allow'd 'em, that alone is sufficient to recommend 'em to posterity; at least, to those who may be am
bitious to be the English Thuanus's of succeeding ages, to whom the verity of these Letters will be a careful clue, so far as it reaches, to guide them through the labyrinth of forgotten history. Honi soit qui mal y pence."
THE Parliament having concluded their negociations with Charles II. at Breda, MILTON was discharged from his office as Latin Secretary; and in order to secure himself from the probable vengeance of the restored king, he left his house in Petty France, where he had lived for more than eight years, and where he had been visited by all the foreigners of note who came to England, by several persons of rank, and by the intelligent of every persuasion and party. During that period, from 1652 to 1660, he had kept up a large correspondence with learned foreigners, especially with his admirer, LEONARDUS PHILARAS, who, on one occasion, paid him a visit at his house in Westminster.
MILTON was now obliged to secrete himself at a friend's house in St. Bartholomew's Close for some time after the Restoration. In a proclamation at this time, it is said, as may be seen in
Kennet's Chronicle, p. 189, "the said JOHN MILTON and John Goodwin, are so fled, or so obscure themselves, that no endeavours used for their apprehension can take effect, whereby they may be brought to legal trial, and deservedly receive condign punishment for their treasons and offences." It is reported, that for the purpose of saving his life, some of his friends gave out that he had died, and contrived for him a sham funeral! Thus, while some of his old companions were expiating their alleged offences by the most cruel executions as regicides, and others by assassinations, he was secured from the fury of the raging, pitiless storm; it being thought he had become a resident of that house, where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest."*
* One of his historians says: "By this precaution he probably escaped the particular prosecution which was at first directed against him. Mr. Warton was told by Mr. Tyers, from good authority, that when MILTON was under prosecution with Goodwin, his friends, to gain time, made a mock funeral for him; and that when matters were settled in his favour, and the affair was known, the king laughed heartily at the trick." This circumstance is also related by Cunningham, in his History of Great Britain, who says, that MILTON "pretended to be dead, and had a public funeral procession, and that the king applauded his policy in escaping the punishment of death by a seasonable shew of dying."
Some idea of the danger to which, at this time, he was exposed, may be seen from the fate to which some of his books were condemned. His work, entitled Eiclonoclastis, and his Defensio Pro Populo Anglicano, were proscribed on the 27th of August, 1661, and several copies of them were publicly committed to the flames by the common hangman. Impotent malice! Would not the divine right of kings and bishops have preserved the nation, as by a charm, from the contagion of these pamphlets? But the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people has been thought epidemical ever since the times of Charles II.
The Act of Oblivion was passed on the 30th of August. In this, MILTON and JOHN GOODWIN, both of whom had written in justification of the nation, for having put Charles I. to death, were included, with the understanding they were no more to bear any government offices. There are differences of opinion as to what particular cause MILTON Owed his escape from the fate to which even his noble friend Sir Harry Vane, "religious freedom's eldest son," was subjected. Toland says, "MILTON had many good friends to intercede for him, both in the Privy Council and the House of Commons; nor was Charles II. such an enemy to the Muses, as to have required his being destroyed; though some are of opinion that