Page images
PDF
EPUB

est affection ; and dying, like her predecessor, in childbed, within a year after her marriage, she was lamented by him in a pleasing and pathetic sonnet.” The daughter born to him at this time lingered but a few days, before following her mother to the tomb.

Infirm, blind, and a widower for the second time, surely Milton needed all his faith in a Providence overruling all things for the best, to enable his chastened lips to say, “Not my will, Father, but thine be done."

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER XIV.

DURING the whole period of domestic misfortune narrated in the preceding chapter, Milton's pen was employed as vigorously and as effectively as ever, in the defence and elucidation of the principles of religion and just government.

Two answers to the Defence of the People of England" ere long appeared. The first was weakly though venomously written, and Milton, not deigning to notice it, turned it over to the youthful pen of his nephew, Phillips, then scarce twenty years old. The other was published at the Hague in 1652, and was entitled, The Cry of Royal Blood to Heaven against the English Parricides." In reply to this work, which was ably written, though full of ribald falsehood, Milton himself, urged thereto by the Council of State, drew his trenchant pen.

Accordingly in 1654 appeared “ A Second Defence of the People of England," which has

been pronounced the most interesting if not the most striking of his prose compositions.*

The “Second Defence” is mainly of interest now on account of the fact that it contains many personal details concerning the habits, appearance, and purposes of its author, and also because of several valuable pen portraits of Milton's prominent republican and other friends and associates.

In order clearly to understand the several passages which we give from this “Defence," it will be necessary to direct our attention once more to the political condition of Great Britain at this momentous conjuncture.

It will be remembered that that portion of the Long Parliament which had survived the military invasion of 1648, and which has received in history the name of the “Rump" Parliament, had, after the execution of the king, new-modelled and republicanized the government. Under the Parliament and the Council of State, of which Milton was secretary, the conduct of public affairs had been energetic, able, and effective. Many of the political acts of that unique administration had displayed profound sagacity, and high statesmanship. The famous navigation act, which contributed so essentially to the naval supremacy of Great Britain then and ever after, was the offspring of its wisdom. The exchequer had been kept fully supplied. The entire civil establishment had, for the first time in several decades, been liberally and handsomely kept up; so that from the revenues of the state the various public officers and the army could be paid readily and promptly according to their several merits. It had moreover compelled the unhesitating respect of Continental Europe.

* Symmons' Life, p. 353.

Had the government been as careful to conciliate that public opinion at home upon which it professed to rest, as it was to preserve its dignity and high character, how different might have been the history of “the fast-anchored island."

Many of the domestic measures of the new administration had been exceedingly arbitrary and reprehensible. It had tampered with the jurisprudential system quite as offensively as had the Stuarts beforetime. High courts of justice of the nature of the Star Chamber had been repeatedly established, and that palladium of popular rights, the jury trial, so dear to every English heart, and so justly eulogized by a long and illustrious line of lawyers and statesmen, from Coke and Bacon to Somers and Mansfield, had been dispensed with. The victims of these irresponsible tribunals, and their friends, made the island echo with their protests; while the government, disregarding in its tenacious grasp of power the fundamental principle upon which it was based, and from which it drew its very breath-popular sovereignty-laid open its inconsistency and greedy ambition to the easy and inevitable observation of the masses. The consequence of all this was that the Parliament became generally odious.

But while the popular assembly was thus declining in the estimation of the people, the army, and especially its victorious and remarkable commander-in-chief, acquired a proportionate ascendency in the national favor. The conduet of the army, and of its leaders, had been quite as despotic and reprehensible,

« PreviousContinue »