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Milton's successive attacks upon the bishops, distinguished for their rough and vehement eloquence, naturally raised against him a multitude of enemies, whose rage and bitterness knew no bounds. Eloquence, however, was not, as Mr. Mitford* pretends, all he had to throw into the controversy, for his learning and logic were equally remarkable; but whatever were the talents or qualifications he brought to bear upon the question, he was pretty generally at the time, and tacitly even by his enemies, acknowledged to have come off triumphantly in the struggle, for, instead of opposing his arguments with arguments, they had recourse to calumny. Several of his friends, also, who had written on the side of Presbytery, were overwhelmed with obloquy; particularly those five ministers, to whose talents and learning one of the ablest of Milton's biographers bears honourable testimony. “But the piece which seems most to have attracted the public attention," says he, “was a pamphlet, written by the united powers of five of the Presbyterian divines, under the appellation of SMECTYMNUUS, a word formed with the initial letters of the names of the authors, Stephen Marshal, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstow. Upon the publication of this work, in which every thing unfavourable to episcopacy that the learning of its authors could supply was brought forward, Bishop Hall replied in his Defence of the Remonstrance,” &c. “ Milton's formidable pen,” as Dr. Symmons very justly denominates it, “was now once more drawn in angry opposition to the prelate;" and his Animadversions on the Remonstrant's Defence, thrown into the form of dialogue, in which his adversary's book is made to sustain the part of an interlocutor, in order the more completely to overthrow and de
controversial works. He who enters into controversy of any kind can seldom foresee how much it must consume of his time, or to what lengths he shall be led. Milton probably expected and wished to pause here. But an author, supposed to be the son of Bishop Hall, and in Milton's opinion, assisted by his father, appearing
* “The fact was,” says this learned and generally unprejudiced writer, “the Puritans were totally unable to compete with such men as Usher, Hall, Bramhall, and others of the established religion, in theological learning, and knowledge of ecclesiastical history, as may be seen by reading the controversy; and they were glad even of Milton's eloquence--for that was all he brought them; and all the
This "young scholar" was thirty-three; and his writings of this period exhibit a degree of knowledge and research, of which many an older scholar, whether laic or clerk, might be justly proud.
with what he was pleased to call a Modest Confutation, &c. it became necessary he should once more enter into the contest; and the Modest Confutation was met by the Apology for Smectymnuus, which, relating almost entirely to himself, I have now ventured to denominate an Apology for his Early Life and Writings, not from any desire of meddling with what Milton has written, but in the hope of rendering the epigraph more suitable to the taste of the present times.
In whatever regards the Church, or the government of the Church, I am willing to respect the opinions of its learned and able ministers; but, in the present case, I can by no means agree with Mr. Mitford, that Milton, “as well as his brethren whom he defended, were infinitely inferior to Bishop Hall in theological learning and in controversial skill;" or that the “learned prelate's victory over Smectymnus* was complete.” On the contrary, on whatever side right and justice may have been,--for that is a very different question,-victory was undoubtedly on the side of Milton ; since it was the part of the vanquished and downfallen, who could no longer help themselves, to invoke the aid of the evil and furious passions of mankind, to excite their bigotry and fanaticism, and call, since they found the magistrate deaf, upon the people, whom they customarily disparaged, to support the persecution, and avenge them by stoning their antagonist, “as a miscreant, whose impunity would be their crime.” When such were the temper and conduct of his opponents, “we cannot reasonably wonder,” says Dr. Symmons, “at th of his expressions, or at the little scruple with which he scattered his various instruments of pain.”+ But we may well wonder that out of a gladiatorial controversy of this sanguinary kind, any thing should have arisen so richly teeming with beautiful thoughts, so full of youthful and cheering reminiscences, so varied, so polished, so vehemently eloquent, as the Apology for his Early Life and Writings, which, as a noble and justifiable burst of egotism, has never, perhaps, in any language been excelled.
* Life of Milton, p. xxxiv. Why this writer chooses to be wrong in the orthography of this celebrated name is more than I can explain; but it is no slip of the pen, for in page xxxi he says that the W in William Spurstow's name must be pronounced U to form the word. Now he is the only author I remember to have met with who has written the name with one U. Both the ministers themselves and Milton invariably have SmectymNUUS, where the W is resolved into its proper elements. Dr. Sumner, perhaps by a typographical error, is made to say there were sir divines engaged in the composition of the pamphlet; (Pref. to Christian Doctrine, fc. p. xix ;) but this is certainly a mistake.
+ Life of Milton, p. 240.
EARLY LIFE AND WRITINGS.1
1. IF, readers, to that same great difficulty of well-doing what we certainly know, were not added in most men as great a carelessness of knowing what they and others ought to do, we had been long ere this, no doubt but all of us, much farther on our way to some degree of peace and happiness in this kingdom. But since our sinful neglect of practising that which we know to be undoubtedly true and good, hath brought forth among us, through God's just anger, so great a difficulty now to know that which otherwise might be soon learnt, and hath divided us by a controversy of great importance indeed, but of no hard solution, which is the more our punishment; I resolved (of what small moment soever I might be thought) to stand on that side where I saw both the plain authority of Scripture leading, and the reason of justice and equity persuading; with this opinion, which esteems it more unlike a Christian to be a cold neuter
(1) Hitherto denominated “ An Apology for Smectymnuus."
in the cause of the church, than the law of Solon (2) made it punishable after a sedition in the state.
2. And because I observe that fear and dull disposition, lukewarmness and sloth, are not seldomer wont to cloak themselves under the affected name of moderation, than true and lively zeal is customably disparaged with the term of indiscretion, bitterness, and choler; I could not to my thinking honour a good cause more from the heart, than by defending it earnestly, as oft as I could judge it to behove me, notwithstanding any false name that could be invented to wrong or undervalue an honest meaning. Wherein although I have not doubted to single forth more than once such of them as were thought the chief and most nominated opposers on the other side, whom no man else undertook; if I have done well either to be confident of the truth, whose force is best seen against the ablest resistance, or to be jealous and tender of the hurt that might be done among the weaker by the entrapping authority of great names titled to false opinions; or that it be lawful to attribute somewhat to gifts of God's imparting, which I boast not, but thankfully acknowledge,
(3) According to Suidas it was a law of Solon that he who stood neuter in any public sedition should be declared ätiuos, infamous; which law, Archbishop Potter observes, was enacted that every Athenian might be compelled to use his utmost endeavours in promoting the welfare of the commonwealth.Archæol. Græc. i. 215. Dryden, with his usual vigour and coarseness, likewise condemns the selfish indifference of the man of no party :
“ Damned neuters, in their middle way of steering,
and fear also lest at my certain account they be reckoned to me rather many than few; or if lastly it be but justice not to defraud of due esteem the wearisome labours and studious watchings, wherein I have spent and tired out almost a whole youth, (*) I shall not distrust to be acquitted of presumption : knowing, that if heretofore all ages have received with favour and good acceptance the early industry of him that hath been hopeful, it were but hard measure now if the freedom of any timely spirit should be oppressed merely by the big and blunted fame of his elder adversary; and that his sufficiency must be now sentenced, not by pondering the reason he shows, but by calculating the years he brings. · 3. However, as my purpose is not, nor hath been
(3) In the introduction to the Second Book of the “ Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy,” above given, he had already, in a hurried manner, traced a sketch of his youthful studies, and partly disclosed the ambitious hopes which from the beginning filled his bosom. He was not content, whether in prose or verse, to occupy the second place, and meditated continually how he might rise to that eminence which he felt he ought to reach, by performing for England “what the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old, did for their country.” Here also if we give Milton credit for knowing what was his own habitual practice, and being above unnecessary hypocrisy, we may discover a refutation of Dr. Johnson's absurd assertion that he had abandoned the use of prayer : the power, he says, to accomplish the design above glanced at was not “to be obtained by the invocation of dame memory and her syren daughters, but by devout prayer to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases.”