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Dr. Johnson says, speaking of a pamphlet which MILTON published in 1651, entitled, “ Considerations to remove Hirelings out of the Church :">
“ The style of this piece is rough, and such, perhaps, was that of his antagonist. This roughness he justifies, by great examples, in a long digression. Sometimes he tries to be humourous! · Lest I should take him for some chaplain in hand, some squire of the body to his prelate, one who serves not at the altar only, but at the court cupboard, he will bestow on us a pretty model of himself; and sets me out half a dozen ptisical mottoes, wherever he had them, hopping short in the measure of convulsion fits; in which labour, the agony of his wit having escaped narrowly, instead of well-sized periods, he greets us with a quantity of thumb-ring poesies.' And thus ends this section, or rather dissection, of himself, Such,” says Dr. J, “is the controversial merriment of Milton: his gloomy seriousness is yet more offensive. Such is his malignity, that hell grows darker at his frown!”—P. 102.
If any reader of Milton's works will produce any sentence equal in “ malignity" to this of the liberal, and cheerful, and witty Dr. J., he will accomplish that which this dark, and gloomy, and serious moralist, has not dared to attempt. Lord Chatham said, in reply to Dr. Drummond, in 1773, who had exhibited accusations against the dissenting ministers of that period: “He who brings charges against others without proof, defames.” I charge Dr. J. with having, in this passage, committed the crime of wilful and deliberate defamation !
Dr. Johnson has another hit at MILTON: speaking of him after 1644,
“ From this time, it is observed, that he became an enemy to the Presbyterians, whom he had favoured before. He that changes his party by his humour, is not more virtuous than he that changes it by his interest: he loves himself rather than truth."-P. 104.
But, unfortunately for Dr. Johnson's sage remarks, as every one knows, who knows any thing of Milton's life,
he did not favour the PURITAN side because they were Presbyterians, but because they took the side which himself had taken against Prelacy. Others with whom Milton was at first associated, changed their avowed principles as to the rights of conscience, and therefore he became their enemy. It would have required more than the Herculean powers attributed to Dr. Johnson by his admirers, but which, in my opinion, have been strangely overrated, to have produced the slightest shadow of proof of those assertions. Milton, as regarded his opinions on civil and religious liberty, never changed his party, either from humour or self-love.
In Milton's exposure of the work called Icon Basilike, he mentioned a prayer taken from Sydney's Arcadia; and Dr. J., to throw the blame of hypocrisy from Charles, who
- all that was venerable and great,” says: “ But as faction seldom leaves a man honest, however it may find him, Milton is suspected of having interpolated the book!"-P. 107.
There have not been many instances of such a charge, without the shadow of evidence, and that too against one of the most honest men who ever employed his pen. No, Dr.J., Milton was incapable of such palpable meanness and lies: he would not have been so degraded as to have even suspected another of such unmitigated folly and meanness!
But he has a still more grave charge against MILTON, even that of venality; as if “ a bribe" could have blinded his eyes, even were there proof of its having been given, which there is not. Dr. J. says:
“Cromwell had now dismissed the Parliament by the authority of which he had destroyed monarchy, and commenced monarch himself, under the title of Protector, but with kingly, and more than kingly power. That his authority was lawful never was pretended: he himself founded his right only upon necessity; but Milton having now tasted the honey of public employment, would not return to hunger and philosophy, but
continuing to exercise his office under a manifest usurpation, betrayed to his power that liberty which he had defended. Nothing can be more just, than that rebellion should end in. slavery; that he who had justified the murder of his king, for some acts which seemed to him unlawful, should now sell his services and his flatteries to a tyrant, of whom it was evident he could do nothing lawful.”—P. 111.
Against these virulent charges let Milton himself be heard, from the work which Dr. J. calls “flatteries to a tyrant.”
“ A Letter written to a gentleman in the country, touching
the Dissolution of the late Parliament, and the Reason thereof.*
“ Yours of the 27th past came safe, and with it your admiration of this great change which hath happened in the dissolution of the late Parliament, which I not at all wonder at; for as this Island hath afforded the greatest Revolutions that I think any memory can afford of
time or place, so I believe this to be the greatest of them: and so much the greater, as that it was done, in a manner, in an instant, without contestation, without effusion of blood, and for any thing I can perceive, without the least resentment of those whom it generally concerns. But when I shall put you in remembrance of what I have often enforced to you, (or to say better, discoursed, for the other is needless,) that the ways of Providence are inscrutable, and such as though, unexpected and temararius, yet are carried on by such a strange and supreme kind of design, it will be easy for an humble and an acquiring mind to see, that by several invisible degrees, they bring forth their last and proposed intend
London: printed by F. ch, for Richard Baddeley, at his shop within the Middle Temple Gate, 1653.
ments, yea, with those instruments which seem and intend to do the contrary.
What man could have supposed, after the dissolution of the Parliament preceding the last, to have had another so soon? And for this last, who could have imagined that by Act it should have continued, much more gloriously have undertaken the defence of an injured people by open arms against an oppressor, and that these undertakings, with admirable variety of success, should have been crowned with the extirpation of tyranny, and the decollation of the person of a tyrant; that this great Omniscience should so bless the endeavours of a Commonwealth, now as I may say, in its very swaddling-clouts, as by them absolutely to reduce those dominions in three years, which a series of proud and lusty monarchs could not in six centurys do? Besides that navall opposition so fortunately and gloriously made against the greatest maritime enemy in Europe, or to speak with due acknowledgment, in the earth, Yet are these men, with all their vigorous and happy actions, suddenly dispersed like down blown off a thistle, and their power devolved into such hands, which as God hath made instrumentall in these strange emanations of his Divine Will, so we may humbly conceive, he intends to make further use of to the finishing of that great work, which by such visible signs he had mad appeare he hath in hand for the glory of his name, the felicity of these nations, and I believe for the blessed alteration of all Europe.
“I am neither Stoick to believe that all things are limited by such a strong chain of fate, as that there is nothing left to man but mechanically to act; nor yet can I resign myself to an absolute belief of that saying of Plato, that . To pray or fear is needless, it being out of our power to prevail by either; but I shall modestly affirm it, that as I ever used to send up my prayers for the best things I could, upon the emergencies of the severell times, so upon the breaking out
and discovering of every hidden councill of above by some illustrious accident, I have thrown my face upon the ground and submitted to it, never examining the means by which it was brought to pass, but the end to which it was brought; for I cannot deny unto you, that I have that reverence and resignation to my great Lord and Maker, that as I believe every dispensation affords to me in particular (be it bitter or be it sweet) a means of that grand consummation of felicity, which I am hereafter to endeavour and expect; so even in politick bodies, wherein so many dear to Him are concerned, he suffers not any turn or revolution, but, his Omniciency directs it, to the bettering or more happyfying of that people.
“And truly, in my apprehension, this is done at this season, and though you seem to stare at it, being unwilling to acknowledge that his hand is wise and powerful; yet methinks it were an argument worthy of an atheist, to say that irregular actions proceed from a carelessness above, than for a Christian to imagine that his designations in altering of the affairs of any state, should not tend to a bettering of that state, and that that power into which he puts it, is not, in my mind, more fit and proper to manage it than that from which he took it; for if a fly fall not to the earth without his consent, I beseech you, what shall we consider of his care in the dispositions of millions of men, things of his own image, without a high disbelief and contempt of his providence.
“Though I am not ignorant what some people ignorantly, or peradventure, splenetically and maliciously say, that He may suffer such things for the punishment of a people, and for their reduction: yet when I seriously consider it, that as nothing but good can flow from that pure and simple fountain of goodness, so are his ways of providence, so far as purblind we can see. He chastises private men differently from public bodies; some that he dearly loves, he afflicts,