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the injustice and the cruelty of man to the justice and the clemency of God, was calculated in a supreme degree to agitate every bosom in his favour, and to make every free tongue vibrate in execration of the inhuma, nity of his enemies.
To counteract the consequences of this popular production, which threatened to be alarmingly great, the Council determined on availing itself of the abilities of its new secretary. Convinced of the inefficacy of any of the means of power to suppress a favourite publication, or magnanimously overlooking them, it resolved to wield the only weapons adapted to a war with opinion, to wage book against book, to oppose fact with fact, and argument, wherever it could be found, with argument. It delegated therefore to Milton the task of contending with the Icon Basilikè; and submitted the merits of its cause to the arbitrement of the
pen, The 'Eixovoxhaolinis (Iconoclastes) or Imagebreaker, which was the apposite title affixed to this refutation of the imputed work of royal authorship, may be regarded as one of the most perfect and powerful of Milton's controversial compositions. Pressing closely on its antagonist and tracing him step by step, it either exposes the fallacy of his reasoning.
or the falsehood of his assertions, or the hollowness of his professions, or the convenient speciousness of his devotion. In argument and in style compressed and energetic, perspicuous and neat, it discovers a quickness which never misses an advantage, and a keenness of remark which carries an irresistible edge. It cannot certainly be read by any man, whose reason is not wholly under the dominion of prejudice, without its enforcing a conviction unfavourable to the royal party; and it justly merited the honourable distinction, assigned to it by royalist vengeance, of burning in the same flames with the “ Defence of the People of England.” The object of its attack indeed is by no means strong. Separated from the cause of the monarchy and of the church of England, the cause of Charles is much more open to assault than it is susceptible of defence. If he has been lowered beneath his just level by his enemies, he has been proportionably raised above it by his friends, and, with a nice regard to truth, we may probably place him in the central point between Nero, to whom he has been resembled by the former, and either of the Antonines, above whom he has been advanced, not without a degree of profane temerity, to the honours
of sainthood and martyrdom by the latter. His private life was not perhaps liable to censure, as it was blemished only with common imperfection; but his public conduct betrayed the violence of a despot with the duplicity and equivocating morality of a follower of Loyola.
The opening of the Iconoclastes may be cited as exhibiting dignity of sentiment and excellence of composition.
66.1 To descant on the misfortunes of a person, fallen from so high a dignity, who hath also paid his final debt to nature and his faults, is neither of itself a thing commendable nor the intention of this discourse. Neither was it fond ambition, nor the vanity to get a name, present or with posterity, by writing against a king. I never was so thirsty after fame, nor so destitute of other hopes and means, better and more certain, to attain it: for kings have gained glorious titles from their favourers by writing against private men, as
n Milton disclaims, on another occasion, any intention of insulting the memory of Charles.
“ Non manibus regiis insultans, ut insimulor; sed reginam veritatem regi Carolo anteponendam arbitratus." Def, secun. P. W. v. 235.
The majesty of truth he deemed to be an object more worthy of regard than that of kings; and was be to be censured for such an opinion?
Henry VIII did against Luther; but no man ever gained much honour by writing against a king, as not usually meeting with that force of argument in such courtly antagonists which to convince might add to his reputation. Kings most commonly, though strong in legions, are but weak at arguments; as they who ever have been accustomed from their cradle to use their will only as their right hand, their reason always as their left. Whence, unexpectedly constrained to that kind of combat, they prove but weak and puny adversaries. Nevertheless, for their sakes who, through custom, simplicity, or want of better teaching, have not more seriously considered kings than in the gaudy name of majesty, and admire them and their doings as if they breathed not the same breath with other mortal men, I shall make no scruple, (for it seems to be the challenge of him and all his party,) to take up this gauntlet, though a king's, in the behalf of liberty and the commonwealth.”.
It would be endless to extract all the instances, which occur in this work, of strong argument, keen satire, and brilliant composition. I will content myself therefore with
1° P. W. ii. 391.
transcribing the following short and spirited paragraph.
“ But what needed that? They knew his chiefest arms left him were those only which the ancient Christians were wont to use against their persecutors, prayers and tears. O sacred reverence of God! respect and shame of men! whither were ye fled when these hypocrisies were uttered? Was the kingdom, then, at all that cost of blood to remove from him none but prayers and tears? What were those thousands of blaspheming cavaliers about him, whose mouths let fly oaths and curses by the volley? were those the prayers? and those carouses drunk. to the confusion of all things good or holy? did those minister the tears? Were they prayers and tears, which were listed at York, mustered on Heworth Moor, and laid siege to Hull for the guard of his person? Were prayers and tears at so high a rate in Holland that nothing could purchase them but the crown-jewels? Yet they in Holland (such word was sent us) sold them for guns, carabines, mortar-pieces, cannons, and other deadly instruments of war; which, when they came to York, were all, no doubt, by the
PP. W. ii. 469.