Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

INTRODUCTORY NOTE.

UPON the execution of Charles I., a book, entitled “Eikon Basilikė," was published under his name; and partly through a natural curiosity to see by what arguments, supposing the work to be his, he would endeavour to justify himself, partly through a leaning to the royal cause, many thousands desired to possess the work, which therefore sold so rapidly that forty-seven editions, amounting to forty-eight thousand five hundred copies, were soon disposed of in England alone. It was accordingly feared by the Parliament that this declamatory and plausible production, if allowed to remain unrefuted, might, by unsettling the minds of the weak and ignorant, furnish fuel for new commotions, and throw the Commonwealth once more into confusion. The reader may, perhaps, wouder that a volume too dull to be now read with patience, should ever have been dangerous. But it is circumstances, in such cases, that render a book popular. Published under a name still dear to the friends of arbitrary power, it was by all those who delighted in sedition and civil war industriously circulated and cried up; the matter and manner of it were disregarded ; the object only was kept in view. Taking the subject, therefore, into consideration, the Parliament condescended to employ their great champion in exposing its sophistries. He was at this time engaged in very different studies; but, called on to defend his country, he cheerfully laid aside every other undertaking, and diligently applied himself to the dangerous and invidious task. He has himself, however, in his “Second Defence of the People of England,” furnished some details on the subject, which, though often brought forward, cannot with propriety be omitted. Having terminated his controversies with the clergy, “ I imagined,” says he, “ that I was about to enjoy an interval of uninterrupted ease, and turned my thoughts to a continued history of my country, from the earliest times to the present period. I had already finished four books; when, after the subversion of the monarchy, and the establishment of a republic, I was surprised by an invitation from the Council of State, who desired my services in the office for foreign affairs. A book appeared soon after, which was ascribed to the king, and contained the most invidious charges against the Parliament. I was ordered to answer it; and opposed the Eikonoklastes to the Eikon. I did not insult over fallen majesty, as is pretended; I only preferred Queen Truth to King Charles. The charge of insult, which I foresaw that the male

volent would urge, I was at some pains to remove in the beginning of the work ; and as often as possible in other places.”

Such was the origin of the “ Eikonoklastes," which, though by its author, at the time, designed to answer a temporary purpose, will survive and be admired so long as the English language itself endures. It may, perhaps, considering what has already been said in my Preliminary Discourse, be thought unnecessary to enlarge in this place on the characteristics of the present work. Yet, as the style has by some been animadverted upon as harsh and full of Latinisms, I trust the reader will excuse the following very brief remarks.--The objection, if well founded, may with equal justice be made against nearly all the great writers of Milton's and the preceding age. What else, in fact, had they to read or imitate, but Latin or Greek? The English language, then in the process of formation, was in the furnace, in a state of fusion, the dross and the gold intermingled ; and receiving into its fiery embrace whatever might be cast in, the whole was soon molten and reduced to a state of perfect homogeneity. And the image which came forth, though majestic and beautiful in its proportions, retained for some time the roughnesses of the mould, and only gradually received its smoothness and polish from the touch of succeeding ages. To speak without figure, Milton had learned from his intimacy with the Masterpieces of composition in all the nobler dialects of mankind, how greatly variety and energy of style depend upon inverting what is commonly called the natural order of words; and the system he pursued in the collocation of his clauses accordingly differs in many respects from that of most other English writers. But it is not, perhaps, on that account, the less English. Harsh, indeed, and unmusical he sometimes is, and appears oftener, from our not properly attending to the rhythm of his periods. There are other ways, however, of accounting for such occasional roughnesses than by considering them so many Latinisms. I never supposed him to be perfect, and these are some of his faults. He had, in fact, been during his whole youth too intent on the acquisition of many other kinds of knowledge,-in themselves indeed more important to bestow the requisite degree of attention on that crowning art, which, by harmoniously arranging the several members of a sentence infuses music into style, and renders language a syren, captivating the ear, and sinking imperceptibly into the heart. Yet should we be wrong, were we either to suppose him to have been insensible to the charms of this art, or not often to have practised it successfully. Not to travel beyond our present subject, the “Eikonoklastes" itself abounds in passages of peculiar sweetness and harmony-in short sentences-abrupt transitions-interrogations — unrounded periods, purposely introduced where the most consummate art would have them placed, to break up the surface of the style, and banish monotony. But why need I dwell on the mere mechanism of his language ? Though frequently attentive to this point, he trusted, too much, perhaps,-to other beauties, of a higher kind, inasmuch as what delights the intellect must be superior to what only charms the ear,-and instead of periods turned with unrivalled skill, unfolds before the mental eye a style glowing with imagery, animated, vehement, instinct in all its parts with life.

In fact, no one at all conversant with our older authors can have failed to perceive that, though they differed considerably from us in their conception of style, our forefathers were still more sensible perhaps than we, of its loftier beauties, and proportionably more solicitous to attain them. Doubtless it was their principal object to collect or give birth to new or great thoughts. For with wise men how could it be otherwise? But, having extensively read, and reflected profoundly, they manifestly regarded it as the object next in importance, not to suffer the grandeur or utility of their speculations to be diminished by language mean or unsuitable. This care is particularly observable in the voluminous exuberance and solemn march of Clarendon, in the learned stateliness of Hooker, in the cynical and ostentatious plainness of Hobbes, in the metaphysical eloquence of Baxter, in the glowing philanthropy of Jeremy Taylor and Algernon Sydney ; but most of all, where, perhaps, we should most expect it, in the philosophical, but somewhat cold grandeur of Bacon, and in the fiery vehemence and impetuous energy of Milton.

I admit that we are ofttimes disposed to attribute to design and artifice, what, if more deeply investigated, would be found due to circumstances alone, or to that instinctive correctness of feeling, which better than all rules teaches what on every occasion is becoming. But I am warranted, I think, both from the tone of the extract above given, and from an expression found in the preface to the work itself, to ascribe to Milton's exquisite judgment the calm which broods over the whole surface of the “Eikonoklastes," though the reader feels that, beneath this serenity of aspect, there lurks a consciousness of irresistible power, as in the slumbering ocean,

“ Subdola cum ridet placidi pellacia ponti !"

Ostensibly he is confuting the arguments of the dead; and his language, therefore, and the whole body of his reasoning, assume a soberness, almost a solemnity, which is seldom, throughout the work, laid aside. It was however in appearance only that he contended against a deceased author; for, besides that the “ Eikon Basilikè” must manifestly have appeared to Milton not to be the King's work, his object, at any rate, was not so much to expose the fallacies of that specious production, as to defend the parliament against a party from whose arsenal of sedition this particular engine had been taken. For which reason, in spite of his eager prosecution of one main object, he sometimes permits himself to unbend his brow, and relax into a smile. But, upon the whole, it is a tragic pleasure that is to be derived from the “ Eikonoklastes." Civil war can never, in fact, he other than a saddening spectacle; and when we recollect that, in the struggle here described, it was Englishmen, our forefathers, who fought and bled in it, and that England's green fields were the scene, we shall have many additional motives for regarding the picture with deep interest.

EIKONOKLASTES;

A DEFENCE OF THE PARLIAMENT AND ARMY,

AGAINST CHARLES I.

As a roaring lion and a raging bear, so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.

The prince that wanteth understanding, is also a great oppressor; but he that hateth covetousness, shall prolong his days.

A man that doth violence to the blood of any person, shall fly to the pit, let no man stay him.-PROV. xxviii. 15, 16, 17.

SALLUST. CONJURAT. CATILIN. Regium imperium, quod initio, conservandæ libertatis, atque augendæ reipublicæ causâ fuerat, in superbiam, dominationemque se convertit.

Regibus boni, quam mali, suspectiores sunt, semperque his aliena virtus formidoosa est. ; impunè quælibet facere, id est regem esse.

IDEM, BELL. JUGURTH.

PUBLISHED BY AUTHORITY.

VOL. I).

« AnteriorContinuar »