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Milton's mind, having now reached maturity, yielded in profusion those rich and incomparable fruits which are the natural produce of genius and learning. The “ Areopagitica,” as well as the “ Tractate on Education," was published in 1644, with the design of convincing the Presbyterians who, being now in power, were mimicking the intolerant example set them by the Prelates of the iniquity and impolicy of endeavouring the suppression of opinions by force. He saw, with that quick intuition which belongs to elevated minds, how vain the attempt must always prove to confine thought, or the active expression of it, by material shackles; and, with the honesty and magnanimity of a devout Christian, he sought to vindicate for others the liberty he had, while his party was the weaker, contended for himself. In performing this duty he exerted the utmost energy of his mind. Passing in rapid review the practices of the most refined nations of ancient and modern times, he shows freedom in connexion with whatever is of highest excellence in government, or of greatest virtue and enlightenment in society ; while licensing and the tyranny of opinion, originating in barbarous superstition, have always gone hand in hand with bad government, and either found the people ignorant and slothful, or, if tamely submitted to, have rendered them so. Injustice, if productive of no other advantage, serves at least to rouse good and noble natures to express their detestation of it; and thus it has proved serviceable to posterity that the Presbyterians misused their power ; for had they acted uprightly, the "Areopagitica” had never been written. By almost all writers this discourse has been regarded as Milton's masterpiece. Perhaps it is so. Nothing, in fact, can surpass those vivid, inspiring Aashes of eloquence which lighten over its periods, and find their way to the very heart and root of all our noblest sympathies. Nothing can be more replete with grandeur than that creative, life-infusing spirit, which breathes through the whole, kindling up an intense love of the good and the beautiful, awakening in every breast a devout admiration for those possessors of virtue and genius commissioned by heaven to reveal to us how much of the great and godlike there is in man, animating even the feeble and vacillating with at least a temporary enthusiasm for freedom, and that virtuous spirit of martyrdom by which all its advocates should be inflamed. He works out his problem triumphantly. He proves, what had already been hinted at in the “ Animadversions on the Remonstrant's Defence,” that the liberty of the press is no less beneficial to governments than to the people. Nevertheless, his work had not, as Dr. Birch observes, the proper effect upon the Presbyterians, who having at that time the ascendant, were as tenacious of continuing the restraints upon others, as they had been loud in their complaints of them when imposed on 170
themselves. According to Toland, ** however, so great was the influence of the Dis course, that even one of the licencers themselves, by name Mabbot, having first assigned his reasons, retired from the office in 1645. But this, as appears from Whitelocke,t is erroneous, for Mabbot did not resign office until May 22, 1649; when upon his desire, and having assigned his reasons against licensing books to be printed, he was discharged of that employment. We find a particular account of this transaction in a quarto weekly paper, entitled, “ A Perfect Diurnal of some Passages in Parliament, and the daily Proceedings of the Army under his Excellency the Lord Fairfax, from May 21 to May 28, 1649." No. 304, page 2531.6
* Life of Milton, p. 23. † Memorials, &c. p. 403, edit. of Lond. 1732.
# Birch's Life of Milton, p. XXX.
1. They, who to states and governors of the commonwealth direct their speech, high court of parliament! or wanting such access in a private condition, write that which they foresee may advance the public good; I suppose them, as at the beginning of no mean endeavour, not a little altered and moved inwardly in their minds; some with doubt of what will be the success, others with fear of what will be the censure; some with hope, others with confidence of what they have to speak. And me perhaps each of these dispositions, as the subject was whereon I entered, may have at other times variously affected; and likely might in these foremost expressions now also disclose which of them swayed most, but that the very attempt of this address thus made, and the thought of whom it hath recourse to, hath got the power within me to a passion, far more welcome than incidental to a preface.
2. Which though I stay not to confess ere any ask, I shall be blameless, if it be no other than the joy and gratulation which it brings to all who
wish to promote their country's liberty; whereof this whole discourse proposed will be a certain testimony, if not a trophy. (") For this is not the liberty which we can hope, that no grievance ever should arise in the commonwealth : that let no man in this world expect; but when complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty obtained that wise men look for. To which if I now manifest, by the very sound of this which I shall utter, that we are already in good part arrived, and yet from such a steep disadvantage of tyranny and superstition grounded into our principles, as was beyond the manhood of a Roman recovery, it will be attributed first, as is most due, to the strong assistance of God, our deliverer; next to your faithful guidance and undaunted wisdom, lords and commons of England ! Neither is it in God's esteem, the diminution of his glory, when honourable things are spoken of good men, and worthy magistrates; which if I now first should begin to (*) do after so fair a progress of your laudable deeds, and such a long obligement upon the whole realm to your indefatigable virtues, I might be justly
(1) His discourse may, perhaps, be regarded, he says, as a trophy of liberty, as proving, by the boldness with which he speaks, that England was then free.
(2) He reminds the Parliament that this was not the first time he had spoken their praises, both that he might not be suspected of endeavouring to purchase a favour by fine words, and that they, on the other hand, might learn, in all they did, to seek the approbation of the public. His former panegyric occurs in the “Apology for his Early Life and Writings,” S. 58–63.
reckoned among the tardiest and the unwillingest of them that praise ye.
3. Nevertheless there being three principal things, without which all praising is but courtship and flattery: first, when that only is praised which is solidly worth praise; next, when greatest likelihoods are brought, that such things are truly and really in those persons to whom they are ascribed; the other, when he who praises, by showing that such his actual persuasion is of whom he writes, can demonstrate that he flatters not; the former two of these I have heretofore endeavoured, rescuing the employment from him who went about to impair your merits with a trivial and malignant encomium; () the latter as belonging chiefly to mine own acquittal, that whom I so extolled I did not flatter, hath been reserved opportunely to this occasion. For he who freely magnifies what hath been nobly done, and fears not to declare as freely what might be done better, gives ye the best covenant of his fidelity; and that his loyalest affection and his hope waits on your proceedings. His highest praising is not flattery, and his plainest advice is a kind of praising; for though I should affirm and hold by argument, that it would fare better with truth, with learning, and the common
(3) Bishop Hall's encomium is unskilful, because it betrays the insincerity of the writer. He could not conceal how unwillingly he even augured well of them; and afterwards, in his reply to Smectymnuus, the different spirit in which he addressed the king, rendered the insipidity of his praise of the parliament the more palpable.