« AnteriorContinuar »
majestic elevation beneath the inclemency of a dreary sky, and assailed, in the same moment, by the fury of the ocean at its feet, and the power of the tempest above its head.'
Long specimens of Milton's Latin poems, with translations annexed, some by Dr. S. himself, and others by his friend Mr. Wrangham, are interwoven in the narrative; and it is obseryed that
• Immediately conversant with the great masters of composition, he adopts their taste with their language ; and, with the privilege, as with the ease of a native, assumes his station in their ranks. For fluency and sweetness of numbers ; for command and purity of expression ; for variety and correctness of imagery, we shall look in vain for his equal among the latin poets of his age and his country. May, the continuator and imitator of Lucan; and Cowley, whose taste and thought are English and metaphysical while his verse walks upon Roman feet, will never, as I am conhdent, be placed in competition with our author by any adequate and unprejudiced judge.'
To the sentence of this critic we subscribe : but we are sorry to add that, as a poetical translator, his verse is defective. Such lines as the following cannot be praised :
• All my day is study or is song.'-
“ Dividuumque Deum genitorque puerque tenemus."
Your power shall snatch the parent and the son.' As a poetical translator, we are constrained to give the preference to his friend Mr. Wrangham.
In adverting again to the republicanism of Milton, his pro. fession of which is regarded by some, and his supposed dereliction of which is deemed by others, as fixing a deep and indelible stain on his character, Dr. Symmons first invites us to contemplate the blessings of the British Constitution as settled at the Revolution, and then enters on the apology for his hero by reminding us of the different political principles which were cura rent in his time :
In Milton's days the political prospect was far less alluring; and, from the spectacle before him, a wise and a good man might very justifiably surrender himself to the impulse of different impressions.
• Some of the great component parts of the British constitution, (for the liberties of England are not the creatures of yesterday.) had, long before, been in existence: the Parliament, with all its pre-emipences of power, could boast, in fact, of its Saxon pedigree ; the common law of England subsisted in its mature vigour ; and the trial by jury, with an origin to be traced to the remotest times, offered its equal justice to the criminal and the innocent : a concurrence of un
fortunate circumstances had, however, disordered the machine, and reduced it, in the middle of the seventeenth century, to little more than a ruin and a name. The impetuous power of the Tudors, springing from the disastrous consequences of the wars between the factions of York and Lancaster, had overleaped every barrier of the constitution; and the ambition of the Stuarts, at a period less fa. vourable to the exertion of lawless prerogative, had diligently followed in the track of their insolent and tyrannical predecessors On whatever side he looked. Milton saw nothing but insulted parliaments, arbitrary taxation, illegal and sanguinary tribunals, corrupted and mercenary law, bigotted and desolating persecution. With that ardent love of liberty, therefore, which always burns brightest in the most expanded and elevated bosoms; and fresh from the schools of Greece and Rome, which had educated the master spirits of the world ; it was natural for him to turn, with delight, from the scene, in which he was engaged, to those specious forms of government, the splendid effects of which were obvious, while the defects were withdrawn, in a great measure, by the deception of distance from the sight. He preferred a republic, (and who can blame him ?) to that unascertained and unprotected constitution, which on every quarter was open to succesful invasion, which gave the promise of liberty only, as it were, to escite the pain of disappointment, and which told men that they had a right to be free in the very instant in which it abandoned them to oppression.
In the idea of Milton, liberty was associated with the perfection of his species ; and he pursued the great object with the enthusiasm of benevolence, and with the consciousness of obedience to a high and imperious duty. Against tyranny, or the abuse of power, wherever it occurred and by whatever party it was attempted, in the church or the state, by the prelate or the presbyter, he felt himself summoned to contend. From his continuance in office under the usurpation of Cromwell he has been arraigned of inconsistency, and a dereliction of principle. But, not to repeat what has already been advanced upon the subject, his office did not, in any way, blend him with the usurpation; he had no connection with the confidence or the counsels of the Protector; and he conceived, with the most perfect truth, that he was the servant of his country when he acted as the organ of her intercourse with foreign states. We have see: his magnanimous Address to the Usurper; and from some of his private letters we may collect his acute feelings of mortification and disappointment in consequence of the allicted state of the commonwealth, and the abandonment of that cause which was always the most near to his heart.'
Dr. Symmons's extracts from the “ Second Defence of the People of England,” including the above-mentioned Address to the Usurper,' speak very strongly to this point. The passage in question has generally been considered as forming a panegyric on Cromweil: but in this very foundation of the charge against Milton, the refutation of that charge is perhaps to be obtained. It commences, indeed, with an apparent encomium on the services and abilities of the Protector, and more especially on his rejection of the title of King : but in what follows, in the manly tone of advice and exhortation in which Cromwell is addressed, in the energetic display of those acts against which the writer so strenuously cautions the man who then stood at the helm of the state, so far is sycophancy from being dicoverable, that suspicion is rather betrayed lest Cromwell should adopt the line of conduct which is here so pathetically deprecated. Is not this view of the matter justified by the subsequent paragraphs in this address; which, for the sake of brevi y, we quote only in Dr. Symmons's translation?
• Proceed then, O Cromwell! and exhibit, under every circumstance, the same loftiness of mind; for it becomes you and is consistent with your greatness. The redeemer, as you are, of your country, the author, the guardian, the preserver of her liberty, you can assume no additional character more important or more august: since not only the actions of our kings, but the fabled exploits of our heroes are overcome by your achievements. Reflect, then, fre. quently, how dear alike the trust, and the parent from whom you have received it!) that to your hands your couutry has commended and confided her freedom ; that, what she lately expected from her choicest representatives, she now hopes only from you. O reverence this high confidence, this hope of your country relying exclusively upon yourself : reverence the countenances and the wounds of those brave men, who have so nobly struggled for liberty under your auspices, as well as the manes of those who have fallen in the conflict : reverence, also, the opinion and the discourse of foreign coinmunities; their lofty anticipation with respect to our freedom so valiantly ohtained--to our republic so gloriously established, of which the speedy extinction would involve us in the deepest and the most unexampled infamy: reverence, finally, yourself! and suffer not that liberty, for the attainment of which you have encountered so many perils and have endured so many hardships, to sustain any violation from your own hands, or any from those of others. Without our freedom, in fact, you cannot yourself be free; for it is justly ordained by nature that he, who invades the liberty of others, shall, in the very oliset lose his own, and be the first to feel that servitude which he has induced. But if the very patron, the tutelary Deity, as it were, of freedom ;--if the man, the most eminent for justice, and sancti:y, and general excellence should assail that liberty which he has asserted, the issue must necessarily be pernicious, if not fatal, not only to the aggressor, but to the entire system and interests of piety berself: honour and virtue would, indeed, appear to be empty names; the credit and character of religion would decline and perish under a wound more deep than any, which, since the first transgression, had been inflicted on the race of man.
- You have engaged in a most arduons undertaking, which will search you to the quick; which will scrutinize you through and through; which will bring to the severest test your spirit, your energy, your stability ; which will ascertain whether you are really actuated by that living piety, and honour, and equity, and moderam tion which seem, with the favour of God, to have raised you to your present high dignity To rule with your counsels three mighty realms; in the place of their erroneous institutions to substitute a sounder system of doctrine and of discipline ; to pervade their remotest provinces with unremitting attention, and anxiety, vigilance and foresight; to decline no labours, to yield to no hlandishments of p!ea. sure ; to spurn the pageantries of wealth and of power-these are difficulties in comparison with which those of war are the mere levities of play: these will sist and winnow you ; these demand a man sustained by the divine assistance, tutored and instructed almost by a personal communication with his God. These and more than these you often, as I doubt not, revolve and make the subjects of your deepest meditation; greatly solicitous how, most happily, they may be achieved, and your country's freedom be strengthened and secured: and these objects you cannot, in my judgment, otherwise effect than by admitting, as you do, to an intimate share of your counsels those men, who have already participated your toils and your dangers ;-men of the utmost moderation, integrity, and valour; not rendered savage or austere by the sight of so much bloodshed and of so many forms of death ; but inclined to justice, to the reverence of the Deity, to a sympathy with human suffering, and animated for the preservation of liberty with a zeal strengthened by the hazards which, for its sake, they have encountered; men not raked together from the dregs of our own or of a foreign populace—not a band of mercenary adventurers, but men chiefly of superior condition ; in extraction, noble or reputable ; with respect to property, considerable or competent, or, in some instances, deriving a stronger claim to our regard, even from their poverty itself; men, not convened by the lust of plunder, but, in times of extreme difficulty, amid circumstances generally doubtful and often almost desperate, excited to vindicate their country from oppression ; and prompt, not only in the safety of the senate-house to wage the war of words, but to join battle with the enemy on the field. If we will then renounce the idleness of never-ending and fallacious expectation, I see not in whom, if not in these, and in sueh as these, we can place reliance or trust. Of their FIDELITY we have the surest and most indisputa. ble proof in the readiness which they have discovered even to die, if it had been their lot, in the cause of their country ; of their PIETY, in the devotion with which, having repeatedly and successfully implored the protection of Heaven, they uniformly ascribed the glory to Him from whom they had solicited the victory; of their JUSTICE, in their not exempting even their king from trial or from execution ; of their moder ATION, in our own experience and in the certainty. that if their violence should disturb the peace, which they have established, they would themselves be the first to feel the resulting mischiefs, themselves would receive the first wounds in their own bodies, while they were again doomed to struggle for all their fortuges and honours now happily secured; of their FORTITUDE, lastly, in that none ever recovered their liberty with more bravery or effect, to give us the assurance that none will ever watch over it with more bolicitous attention and care.”
The conclusion is also strikingly applicable to Milton's own conduct in those times :
« For myself, whatever may be the final result, such efforts as, ir my own judgment, were the most likely to be beneficial to the conmonwealth, I have made without reluctance, though not, as I trust, without effect: I have wielded my weapons for liberty not only in our domestic scene, but on a far more extensive theatre ; that the justice and the principle of our extraordinary actions, explained and vindicated both at home and abroad, and rooted in the general approbation of the good, might be unquestionably established, as well for the honour of my compatriots as for precedents to posterity. That the conclusion prove not unworthy of such a commencement, be it my countrymen's to provide :-it has been mine to deliver a testimony, I had almost said to erect a monument which will not soon decay, to deeds of greatness and of glory almost transcending human panegyric ; and if I have accomplished nothing further, I bave assuredly discharged the whole of my engagement. As the bard, however, who is denominated Epic, if he contine his work a little within certain canons of composition, proposes to himself, for a subject of poctical embellishment, not the whole life of his hero but some single action ; such as the wrath of Achilles, the return of Ulysses, or the arrival in Italy of Æneas; and takes no notice of the rest of his conduct ; so will it suffice, either to form my vindication or to satisfy my duty, that I have recorded, in heroic narrative, one only of my fellow.citizen's achievements. The rest I omit; for who can declare all the actions of an entire people ? If, after such valiant exploits, you fall into gross delinquency; and perpetrate any thing unworthy of yourselves, posterity will not fail to discuss and to pronounce sentence on the disgraceful deed. The foundation, they will allow, indeed, to have been firmly laid, and the first (nay more than the first) parts of the superstructure to have been erected with suc. cess; but with anguish they will regret that there were none found to carry it forward to completion ; that such an enterprize and such virtues were not crowned by perseverance ; that a rich harvest of glory and abundant materials for heroic achievement were prepared ; but that men were wanting to the illustrious opportunity - while there wanted not a man to instruct, to urge, to stimulate to action,-a man who could call fame as well upon the acts as the actors, and could spread their celebrity and their names over lands and seas to the admiration of all future ages."
Dr. Symmons closes with a summary of Milton's character, which is indeed finely drawn, but (we think) too highly wrought and too strongly coloured. A believer in the story of the Admirable Chrichton could not more brilliantly decorate his hero.
This Life was written for the purpose of being affixed to a handsome edition of Milton's Prose works, in seven volumes 8vo.; and the whole of his labours clearly proves that Dr.