Imágenes de página

wealth, if one of your published orders, which I should name, were called in; yet at the same time it could not but much redound to the lustre of your mild and equal government, whenas private persons are hereby animated to think ye better pleased with public advice, than other statists have been delighted heretofore with public flattery. And men will then see what difference there is between the magnanimity of a triennial parliament, and that jealous haughtiness of prelates (1) and cabin counsellors that usurped of late, whenas they shall observe ye in the midst of your victories and successes more gently brooking written exceptions against a voted order, than other courts, which had produced nothing worth memory but the weak ostentation of wealth, would have endured the least signified dislike at any sudden proclamation.

() We may learn from Baxter, a great and holy man, in what light the members of the hierarchy were then very generally viewed : “ If we meet with a clergy that are high, and have a great deal of worldly interest at stake; or if they be in councils and synods, and have got the major vote, they too easily believe that either their grandeur, reverence, names, or numbers, must give them the reputation of being orthodox, and in the right, and will warrant them to account and defame him as erroneous, heretical, schismatical, singular, factious, or proud, that presumeth to contradict them, and to know more than they ; of which not only the case of Nazianzen, Martin, and Chrysostom are sad proofs, but also the proceedings of too many general and provincial councils. And so our hard studies and darling truth must make us as owls or reproached persons among those reverend brethren, who are ignorant at easier rates, and who find it a far softer kind of life to think and say as the most or best esteemed do, than to purchase reproach and obloquy so' dearly.” -Dying Thoughts, p. 111, Sacred Classics' edition.

4. If I should thus far presume upon the meek demeanour of your civil and gentle greatness, lords and commons! as what your published order hath directly said, that to gainsay, I might defend myself with ease, if any should accuse me of being new or insolent, did they but know how much better I find ye esteem it to imitate the old and elegant humanity of Greece, (5) than the barbaric pride of a Hunnish and Norwegian stateliness. And out of those ages, to whose polite wisdom and letters we owe that we are not yet Goths and Jutlanders, I could name him () who from his private

(5) Greek authors were in those times diligently studied, at least by all who aimed at distinction in politics or literature; and this will always, perhaps, be the case when a democratic feeling exists in the public mind. Hobbes, the Philistus of modern history, is accused of having, for this reason, counselled the destruction of Greek authors; but he translated Homer and Thucydides, from neither of whom could absolute monarchy derive much support.

(6) He means Isocrates, who, in a discourse, in title almost identical with his own, ventured upon the bold step here mentioned. In his sonnet to the Lady Margaret Leigh he again alludes to this great man, but without naming him :

[merged small][ocr errors]

house wrote that discourse to the parliament of Athens, that persuades them to change the form of democraty which was then established. Such honour was done in those days to men who professed the study of wisdom and eloquence, not only in their own country, but in other lands, that cities and signiories heard them gladly, (1) and with great respect, if they had aught in public to admonish the state. Thus did Dion Prusæus, a stranger and a private orator, counsel the Rhodians against a former edict; and I abound with other like examples, which to set here would be superfluous. But if from the industry of a life wholly dedicated to studious labours, and those natural endowments haply not the worst for two and fifty degrees of northern latitude, so much must be derogated, as to count me not equal to any of those

(7) This particularly applies to the Sophists, such as Protagoras and Hippias, who travelled from city to city, lecturing on the science of politics, and leading about with them, as their pupils, young men of the most distinguished families in Greece.-Plato, in the Hippias and Protagoras. Hume, himself a sophist of the school of Protagoras, entertained a high veneration for the rhetorical art; and, speaking of the comparative neglect of it, by the moderns, observes :—“ We are told, that when Demosthenes was to plead, all ingenious men flocked to Athens from the most remote parts of Greece, as to the most celebrated spectacle of the world. At London you may see men sauntering in the court of requests, while the most important debate is carrying on in the two houses ; and many do not think themselves sufficiently compensated for the losing of their dinners, by all the eloquence of our most celebrated speakers. When old Cibber is to act, the curiosity of several is more excited, than when our prime minister is to defend himself from a motion for his removal or impeachment." - Essays, &c. 4to. p. 63.

who had this privilege, I would obtain to be thought not so inferior, (*) as yourselves are superior to the most of them who received their counsel ; and how far you excel them, be assured, lords and commons! there can no greater testimony appear, than when your prudent spirit acknowledges and obeys the voice of reason, from what quarter (°) soever it be heard speaking; and renders ye as willing to repeal any act of your own setting forth, as any set forth by your predecessors.

5. If ye be thus resolved, as it were injury to think ye were not, I know not what should withhold me from presenting ye with a fit instance wherein to show both that love of truth which ye eminently profess, and that uprightness of your judgment which is not wont to be partial to yourselves; by judging over again that order which ye have ordained “ to regulate printing; that no book, pamphlet, or paper shall be henceforth printed,

(C) A noble compliment both to himself and the Parliament. Old Montaigne would have been satisfied with this self-confi. dence.

(9) Milton appears in this passage to glance at a sportive and beautiful remark of Socrates in the Phædrus. His youthful companion having insinuated that the Egyptian story of Theuth and Thamus, which he had just been relating, was one of his own amusing inventions, the philosopher replies: “ The ministers of the Dodonæan Jupiter inform us, my friend, that the first oracles were delivered from an oak; and the people of those days, not being so wise as we are now become, cared not, so that what they heard were true, whether it proceeded from a rock or a tree. But to you, perhaps, the country of the speaker makes a difference ; to discover what is true, not being your sole object.”—(T. I. p. 98.)

unless the same be first approved and licensed by such, or at least one of such, as shall be thereto appointed.” For that part which preserves justly every man's copy to himself, ("%) or provides for the poor, I touch not; only wish they be not made pretences to abuse and persecute honest and painful men, who offend not in either of these particulars. But that other clause of licensing books, which we thought had died with his brother quadragesimal and matrimonal ("') when the prelates expired, I

(10) See this order in Rushworth’s Hist. Col. V. 335. Lord Mansfield, in the case of literary property, laid considerable stress on this passage, as an authority of weight for the judgment he was pronouncing in favour of copyrights :-“The single opinion of such a man as Milton, speaking after much consideration on the very point, is stronger than any inferences from gathering acorns, and seizing a vacant piece of ground; when the writers, so far from thinking of the very point, speak of an imaginary state of nature before the invention of letters." (Haliday's Life of Lord Mansfield, p. 232.) Our author, adds Holt White, could not have ventured to expect that his tract would be cited from the bench in such terms of praise by a Chief Justice of England.

(") However quaintly the word quadragesimal now sounds, we must not impute this Latin synonyme for the English adjective lenten to Milton as a pedantic intrusion of his own on our language. I find it in the “ Ordinary,” one of Cartwright's comedies :

“ But Quadragesimal wits, and fancies lean

As Ember weeks." Quadragesimal licences, I conclude to have been the permissions which, even subsequently to the Reformation, were granted for eating white meats in Lent, on Ember days, and on others, which were appointed by Act of Parliament for Fish Days. Queen Elizabeth used to say, that she would never eat flesh in Lent without obtaining licence from her little black husband,

« AnteriorContinuar »