THE POET OF THE REFORMATION
In the French Academy, that national Sanhedrin of savants and litterateurs, the custom is for each newly elected member to signalize his admission into the company of the immortals by delivering a eulogy upon the academician who has last died and whose place he has been chosen to fill. It is a curious fact that the first published poem of John Milton should have been his "Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare." The six-year-old boy with auburn curls, who played before the door of his father's shop at the sign of the spread eagle in Bread Street, may possibly have attracted the attention of William Shakespeare, when he made his last visit to London town in 1614, and with Ben Jonson and other jovial spirits passed by the scrivener's door on their way to the Mermaid Inn.
We know at any rate that, whether in the theatre or through the printed page, Milton very early heard
Sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild.
He took the torch as it were, from Shakespeare's hand, and passed it on to after times. It is no wonder that one of the first uses to which Milton puts the torch is to light up the portrait of his great predecessor. He tells us that Shakespeare requires no monument of piled stones:
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
What needst thou such weak witness of thy name?
The rapt and mute astonishment of mankind is itself a sort of stony monument to enshrine him:
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving.
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving;
And, so sepulchred, in such pomp dost lie,
That kings, for such a tomb, would wish to die.
In this epitaph to the greatest of poets, whose sun had so lately set, we perceive already the signs that another sun had risen in the literary firmament. The new light was no mere reproduction of the old—it had a quality of its own. The world has agreed to call it "Miltonic," in token of its unique force and greatness. I shall make it my first business to define this epithet, and to show the new and peculiar sources of Milton's power. The one word which springs into mind, as we give account to ourselves of the impression he makes upon us, is the word "sublime." But the sublimity of Milton is a sublimity of his own. You cannot explain it as a composite of elements found separately in any past writings, whether secular or sacred. It is something larger and more complete than the broken and jagged grandeur of ^Eschylus. Milton's sublimity is a new majesty combined with a new harmony. In it you may discern a boom of lofty independence, of supersensual ideality, of free commerce with the invisible world. There is a "linked sweetness long drawn out," but there is also the os magna soniturum, the sustained THE MILTONIC Sflil.lMITY
utterance of one who seems to be prophet as well as poet, and to repeat in our ears with not unaccustomed lips the whispers of the Infinite.
(Whether we can put into words the whole meaning of the word "Miltonic" may be doubtful. There can be no doubt, however, that the gift of sublime thought and expression was in this case inborn. The first productions of the poet reveal its existence not so fully, but just as truly, as the last. When he was twenty-six years of age he could describe in "Arcades" such meditations as these:
In deep of night, when drowsiness
Hath lock'd up mortal sense, then listen I
To the celestial Syrens' harmony,
That sit upon the nine infolded spheres,
And sing to those that hold the vital shears
And turn the adamantine spindle round
On which the fates of gods and men are wound.
And he was but twenty-one when he wrote his ode, "At a Solemn Musick," in which, not after the fashion of the classic Muse, but rather in language drawn from the treasuries of Holy Writ and in the spirit of Isaiah or of John, he presents "to our high-rais'd phantasy":
That undisturbed song of pure consent,
Aye sung before the sapphire-colour'd throne
To him who sits thereon,
With saintly shout and solemn jubilee
Where the bright Seraphim, in burning row.
Their loud uplifted angel-trumpets blow;
And the cherubic host, in thousand quires, 1
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires,
With those just spirits that wear victorious palms,
Hymns devout and holy psalms
There are certain constituents of the Miltonic poetry somewhat less obvious, and which go far to explain its power to move and awe. One of these is its intense personality. Tjip^siihjprtivp plempnt is feh^everywhere; the poem and the man are inseparable; the poet puts his own life and history into his verse. The contrast between Shakespeare and Dante in this matter is particularly instructive. Shakespearean poetry is objective —the author is lost in his work. It requires much subtlety and insight to gather anything with regard to the poet's idiosyncrasies from the plays or the poems; and, when we have drawn our inferences, we have to acknowledge that they are unpleasantly precarious. TJie_poetry qf Dante, on the contrary, is full of th^ pr»pt hjmself; "The Divine Comedy" is the drama of hisjjfe; hell, purgatory, and heaven itself, are but the three-fold stage upon which the exiled patriot acts out his thoughts and sorrows. In a similar manner Tohn Mi]ton's personality shines through all his \yorks. Out of his prose and poetry we can reconstruct the whole fabric of his life, as perfectly as if his main purpose had been to write for as an autobiography.
Yet another note of the Miltonic poetry is its austere purity. The personality is a pure personality, and therefore the poet may, nay, he must, put it into his verse. Through all his writing there runs a strain of noble pride and self-assertion. Not for nothing had God made him what he was. He knew that he had received the full quota of ten talents. He would not waste his ITS AUSTERE PURITY
gifts in riot or self-indulgence, but would husband them, and increase them, by protracted studies and the opening of his heart to influences from_above. "He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well," he himself says, "ought himself to be a true poem." John Milton's life and work are a great object-lesson to the whole school of thinkers who maintain that the true artist must be a colorless mirror to reflect whatever images the pure or impure world may print upon its surface—an object-lesson equally to that other school that regards the sowing of wild oats in youth merely as the gaining of a valuable experience.
Our poet never forgot that he was a man, and a servant of the high and holy One. Of his travels in Italy he asseverates: "I again take God to witness that, in all those places where so many things are considered lawful, I lived sound and untouched by all profligacy and vice, having this thought perpetually with me, that, though I might escape the eyes of men, I certainly could not the eyes of God." And so through all his days there was not one line written which, so far as its moral tone was concerned, he or any other pure soul would have wished afterward to blot. The closing words of "Comus" are the consistent testimony both of his poetry and of his life:
Mortals that would follow me,
Love Virtue ; she alone is free:
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the sphery chime;
Or, if Virtue feeble were,
\ Heaven itself would stoop to her.
There is a third characteristic of Milton as a poet— I mean his immense erudition. His verse not seldom requires learning to interpret it. The whole mythological world of Greece and Rome was native to him, and he was deeply read in sacred Scripture. ^The words of John theBaptist in "Paradise Regained" might have beenMilton's own:
When I was but a child, no childish play
To me was pleasing; all my mind was set
Serious to learn and know, and thence to do
What might be public good: myself I thought
Born to that end, born to promote all truth
And righteous things.
We are told that his father caused him to be " instructed daily ... by sundry masters and teachers both at home and in the public schools." He had a passion for study, and from his twelfth year he scarcely ever until midnight went from books to bed—it was this unseasonable diligence indeed that laid the foundation for disease of the eyes and subsequent total blindness. He became the most distinguished Latinist at his uersity. Listen to his " Master's Oration on the Advantages of Knowledge":
No more in the orator than in the poet [he says] can anything common or mediocre be tolerated. . . It behooves him who would truly be and be considered an orator, to be instructed and thoroughly finished in a certain circular education in all the arts and all science. . . I would rather be working with severe study for that true reputation, by the preliminary practice of the necessary means, than hurrying on a false reputation by a forced and precocious style.
He finds nothing more nourishing to his genius than a learned and liberal leisure, and thus he praises it:
This I would fain believe to be the divine sleep of Hesiod; this to be Endymion's nightly meetings with the moon; this to be the retirement of Prometheus, under the guidance of Mercury, to the steepest solitudes of Mount Caucasus, where he became the wisest of gods and men, so that even Jupiter himself is said to have gone to consult him about the marriage of Thetis. I call to witness for myself the groves and rivers and the beloved village elms, under which I remember so pleasantly having had supreme delight with the Muses, where I too among rural scenes and remote forests seemed as if I could have grown and vegetated through a hidden eternity.
The poet had his wish. His well-to-do and liberal father did not force him either into the law or into the church, but permitted him to spend the six years succeeding his graduation in storing his mind with various learning, though he was yet ignorant what his future work would be. It was a hazardous experiment. All depended upon the quality of the stock and his capacity for self-culture. Fortunately, these were of the best.
Religious faith constituted a fourth element, more
irnjjgrtant and dominant than all the rest. Johjri^ilton
was a profound believer. He believed in a personal God and in man's personal responsibility to him. In the Latin college oration, which I have already quoted in translation, there occurs also this sentence:
This I consider, my hearers, as known and received by all, that the great Maker of the uerse, when he had framed all else fleeting and subject to decay, did mingle with man, in addition to that of him which is mortal, a certain divine breath and, as it were, part of himself, immortal, indestructible, free from death and all hurt; which, after it had sojourned purely and holily for some time in the earth as a heavenly__visitant, should flutter upward to its native heaven and return to its proper place and country; accordingly, that nothing can deservedly be taken into account among the causes of our happiness, unless it somehow or other regards not only this secular life, but also that life everlasting.
On arriving at the age of twenty-three he mourns the fact that, while the days are hasting by, his late spring shows as yet no bud or blossom of completed work, and even inward ripeness does not yet appear:
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the Will of Heaven;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Taskmaster" s eye.
Here is a great mind and a great heart not ignorant of its own powers, yet humbly waiting its appointed task. To his friend, Charles Diodati, he writes in 1637:
What God has resolved concerning me I know not, but this at . least I know: he has instilled into me a vehement love of the beautiful. Not with so much labor is Ceres said to have sought her daughter Proserpine, as I am wont day and night to seek for this idea of the beautiful through all the forms and faces of things, for many are the shapes of thjnj^djyiae . . . But what am I doing? I am pluming my wings and meditating flight; but as yet our Pegasus raises himself on very tender pinions. Let us be lowlywise.
It is evident that Milton, at the age of thirty-four, has both the literary training and the devout spirit which fit him to be a great religious poet. But he has not yet received his message. Form is assured, but substance is yet to come. As respects form, he is the product of the generation past—the spontaneity and PREPARATION OF PRACTICAL LIFE
splendor of the Renaissance survive in him. As respects substance, he is to be the product of the new generation; with its profound convictions, its hatred of ancient error, its fierce struggles for the truth—the
1 English Reformation finds in him its poetical embodiment and expression. Milton was a Puritan of the Puritans; and, as Puritanism has been said to be only
'Protestantism in its acute form, we can best express the significance of his work by saying that, as Dante was the poet of the Roman Catholic Church, so John Milton was the poet of the Protestant Reformation.
How shall the young student, whose lofty and finished verse might as yet be counted only the achievement of a better Spenser, be endowed with the stern magnificence of "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained "? Only by exchanging the ideal for the real world, only by undergoing the_discjpjine of_sorrow, by mingling with men, by absorbing himself for years in a
Igreat cause._JIhe Miltonic sublimity, like the Dantean sublimity, was developed through experiences of exalted hope and agonizing fear. Not only the spirit of the prophet, but also the spirit of the martyr, must enter into it. The poet must come into contact with the greatest soldiers and statesmen of his time—heroes of faith, yet men of action, born to command, yet ready , to die for the truth. He never can paint the conflict \ between God and Satan in the invisible^qrjd^until he has taken part in the actual conflict between God and Satan in the world of the visible and present" ~Xnd this plunging into the thick of the battle, this actual participation in the most momentous affairs, was Milton's lot during the twenty years from 1640 to 1660— the years that saw the rise and the success of the great Rebellion, the trial and execution of King Charles the First, the splendid reign of the great Protector, the rallying of the Royalists after Cromwell's death, and the cruelty and shame of the Restoration. ,
In my last and only conversation with George William Curtis, toward the close of his honored life, I told him that I had used his writings to illustrate the possibility of two styles but of one Isaiah. At first sight, I ventured to say, it might seem hardly possible that the mellifluous grace of "The Potiphar Papers" and the "Nile Notes of a Howadji," written in Mr. Curtis' youth, could have had for their author the same person who, in later years, wrote the calm and statesmanlike articles in "Harper's Weekly" ; if in thirty years Mr. Curtis' style could so change, then during the forty years of Isaiah's ministry under the four kings of Judah his style may have changed also, and there may be no necessity for believing in two Isaiahs. Mr. Curtis was interested in the parallel I sought to draw, and he replied vivaciously: "But do you know what it was that changed my style? It was the Civil War. That roused me to see that I had no right to spend my life in literary leisure. I felt that I must throw myself into the struggle for freedom and for the Union. I began to lecture, and to write, for a purpose. The style took care of itself. Rut I fancy it is somewhat more solid now than it was thirty years ago."
So it was with John Milton. His country called for his service. He became the literary chief of the Par- \ hamentary party, as Cromwell became its political chief, j His services as Latin Secretary to the Council, and the
noble State papers that he wrote, were only the natural sequence of those tremendous pamphlets which he had previously hurled against the enemies of the Reformation in England. And nn Qnt rf_h'°_ '■j^-jjl K" adequate which fails to notice the influence upon it of his prose, and of _£hjg_great part he took in thatjife and death struggle of English liberty.
By birth and education Milton was a Puritan. His father had been disinherited byhis Roman Catholic pr.mHf:tfher for becoming a Protestant and for Jiaving in his possession an English Bible. His father's house was a home of grave Puritanic piety, of religious reading, and of devout exercises. His mother, a woman given to charity and to prayer, had destined him for the church. At ten years he was put under the charge of a Puritan schoolmaster in Essex, who cut his hair short and turned him into a sweet little Roundhead. But his father had been a student in Christ's 7h"urch at Oxford, and was a lover and composer of music. Young Milton's training was of the broadest sort; he became an excellent swordsman as well as an excellent player upon the organ. Hewasmidxx-iJifi_JlliddJe_height, and was so distinguished for his personal beauty as well as for his withdrawal from common sports, that his contemporaries at Cambridge called him " the Lady of Christ's College."' Milton replied, in a comic oration, that he wished those who thus named him could as easily put off the ass as he could put off the woman.
In spite of his delicacy, no one ever seems to have questioned either his manliness or his courage. He would have taken orders if he could have done so with good conscience. But it was the time when Laud was trying to bring back all manner of papal ritual and ceremony into the church. This was Laud's idea of "the beauty of holiness." Nonconformists were harried out of the Establishment. Milton could be neither a hypocrite nor a slave. To the church, as governed by Laud, he could not belong. He determined to devote himself to literature, not in a secular but in a religious spirit. As if speaking of his own gifts, he writes:
These abilities are the inspired gift of God, rarely bestowed, but yet to some in every nation, and are a power, beside the office of a pulpit, to inbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and public civility, to allay^the perturbations of the mind, and to set the affections in right tune to celebrate in glorious and lofty hymns the throne and equipage of God's Almightiness.
These words were written while he was meditating the plan of "Paradise Lost." But twenty years were to elapse before he could take up that work effectively. While he was in Italy, the conflict broke out between the Parliament and King Charles. "When I was desirous to cross to Sicily and Greece," he writes, "the sad news of civil war coming from England called me back; for I considered it disgraceful that, while my fellowcountrymen were fighting at home for liberty, I should be traveling abroad at ease for intellectual purposes." Returning to England, he found the battle joined. Charles I., after trying in vain to govern without a Parliament, had summoned a Parliament that counted it a first duty to call him to account. A deep religious fervor moved the nation to assert its right to freedom in Church and State. Over against the policy of "Thorough," which meant nothing more nor less than the Milton's Pamphlets
breaking down of all constitutional checks upon royal absolutism and tyranny, the Parliament party asserted Y the doctrine of "Root and Branch." and this meant the abolition of Episcopacy and the wresting from the king of all control over both revenue and army.
Milton took part in the struggle, but not as a soldier. He says:
I did not for any other reason decline the dangers of war, than that I might in another way, with much more efficacy, and with not less danger to myself, render assistance to my countrymen, and discover a mind neither shrinking from adverse fortune, nor actuated by any improper fear of calumny or death. Since from my childhood I had been devoted to the more liberal studies, and was always more powerful in my intellect than in my body, avoiding the labors of the camp, in which any robust soldier could have surpassed me, I betook myself to those weapons which I could wield with the most effect ; and I conceived that I was acting wisely when I thus brought my better and more valuable faculties, those which constituted my principal strength and consequence, to the assistance of my country and her honorable cause
In 1641 he published the first of his pamphlets. It was entitled, "Of Reformation in England, and the Causes that Hitherto Have Hindered It." If any are inclined to think it a pity that one with such capacities for poetry should compel himself to prose, they need only to read this pamphlet to be convinced that Miltgnls prose, if it was not itself poetry, was onp-of_the hest^of all preparations for poetry. In this prose, eloquence reaches a very lofty strain. No English essayist or orator or preacher can afford to be unfamiliar with the prose writing of Milton. There is a roll to it, like that of ocean waves driven by a mighty wind. It shows the power of language to express the most exalted emotions.
Moral energy, hatred of unrighteousness, unconquerable devotion to truth, resistless determination to put down oppression, uplifting of the whple soul to God—all these, apart from Scripture, have never been put into more soul-moving forms of expression than they have been by John Milton. The prayer which concludes the pamphlet on the Reformation has a majesty and a pathos, combined with a long-drawn fervor and a soaring splendor of phrase, which would befit one of the angels in the Apocalypse. I am bound, however, in all good conscience, to say that Milton's prose is noblest when it approaches most nearly to poetry. When he_is jnostof a poet, then he is most of a man. It is hard for him, indeed, to keep the poet under—there is a smoldering fire that is ever ready to break forth; and when it does flame out we have a grandeur of expression such as has never been surpassed by any uninspired writer.
Alas that the poetic instinct could not always rule! Side by side with these bursts of eloquence, or, rather, surrounding them, interpenetrating them, and sometimes swamping them, we have great tracts of sonorous and learned, but involved and entangled, speech, in which simplicity is lost sight of, and bitterness of partisanship seems quite ready to make the worse^ appear the better reason. Here is the narrowness, as well as the sternness, of the Puritan.
With all his knowledge of literature and of art, Milton was from his youth something of a recluse. The broadening and humanizing process ended with his departure from Italy. Henceforth for twenty years he HIS FIERCENESS OF DENUNCIATION 237
threw himself into the conflict of opinions with an uncompromising rancor which sometimes makes even truth and righteousness seem unlovely. The close of that very prayer which pictures the redeemed as '' clasping inseparable hands, with joy and bliss in overmeasure forever," exults over the fallen foes of liberty, and predicts that, "after a shameful end in this life," they "shall be thrown down eternally into the darkest and deepest gulf of hell," where they shall remain forever, "the basest and lowermost, the most dejected, most underfoot and downtrodden, vassals of perdition."
Here is a fierceness of denunciation which reminds us of Sumner's assaults upon slavery. There have been days in our own national history when even Quakers found great satisfaction in reading th^Ljmprecatory psalms. We cannot understand the fulminations of Milton, until in imagination we put ourselves back into the times of the Long Parliament. Milton's prose is full of imprecations upon the enemies of_ljberty^because thev are regarded_ as 1-h.g pnpmipg of God. His pamphlets breathe a spirit of lofty justice, and they appeal to the conscience of mankind. There was in them, to use Shakespeare's phrase, "a proud, majestical, high scorn." which served an excellent purpose in combating aristocratic pretence and royal prerogative.
Their influence in the crisis of the struggle for freedom in England was only second to the influence of the sword of Cromwell. The essay entitled "The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," printed in February, 164849, immediately after the execution of King Charles, and "proving that it is lawful and hath been held so' through all ages, for any, who have the power, to call to
account a tyrant or wicked king, and after due conviction to depose and put him to death," is so scathing an indictment of the dead "traitor, murderer, and public enemy," and so tremendous a justification of that act of State by which he was condemned to death, that it will forever stand in human history as the unanswerable plea of the Regicides. That it did its work is plain, when we remember that in 1663, Twyn, a bookseller, was hanged, drawn, and quartered, for printing a book which merely reproduced the substance of Milton's argument. It is one of the yet unexplained mysteries of the time that Milton himself, when so many friends of liberty perished, was not called to anwer with his life.
The "Areopagitica" is the noblest of all defenses of an unfettered press. Milton says:
Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a progeny of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. . . As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth ; butagood book is the pjeciojjs. life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up onjurpoiP .lu_a-Jifebe^ond__life. T . We should be wary-, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labors of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books : since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed ; sometimes a martyrdom ; and, if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre ; whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at the ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself; slays .juuimmortafity (albetjhan a life.
Yet this masterly " Speech for the Liberty of Un
HIS INFELICITOUS MARRIAGE
licensed Printing" would never have seen the light, if Milton had not felt called upon to defend his own previous conduct. On August i, 1643, he had printed without a license, because no license could ever have been obtained, a tract entitled "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce." In it he had argued that "indisposition, unfitness, and contrariety of mind are proper causes of divorce," and that proper laws on this subject should be included in the new Reformation in England. The modern -world knows well, and Milton's enemies did not delay to point out then, that his views had been in great part determined by his hasjy and infelicitous marriage.
Until his thirty-fifth yeac, this lofty idealist, with his soaring imagination and his devotion to books, had dwelt, as Wordsworth phrases it, "like a star, apart." But when he visited Richard Powell, at Forest Hill, in Oxfordshire, to collect five hundred pounds which that gentleman had long owed his father, the star came strangely down from its heavenly heights, and entangled itself in the golden curls of Mary Powell, the daughter of his host. It was clearly a case of love at first sight, at least on Milton's part, and he afterward sorrowfully confessed that love, though not blind, has but one eye, and that eye is often deceived. He seems to have clothed the pretty creature that attracted him with a whole array of graces and virtues drawn solely from the wardrobe of his fancy. Because she smiled, he thought her appreciative; because she_aaa_siient,_he thought her wisg.
In less than a month after their first meeting, Milton, instead of his five hundred pounds, took Mary Powell back to London with him, as his wife. There, instead of the fresh air and the flowers of the country, she had the smoky city, and rooms thatoverlooked a churchyard. After the first feasting, life came to be ineffably dull. Milton was much with his books, and the young bride began to sigh JW the gayety of her home. Milton was as handsome as a statue, butTalas ! he seemed almost as stiff and cold. Unless you are a Pygmalion, you cannot love a statue, and Mary Powell Milton was no Pygmalion. Nor did her husband find her the wise and appreciative wife he had expected her to be. Sad to say, he found her stupid, instead. In his subsequent pamphlets he cites, as a proper cause for divorce, "inability for fit and matchable conversation." He talks of "a mute and spiritless mate"; "a living soul bound to a dead corpse. He declares that it is "enough to abase the mettle of a generous spirit, and sink him to a low and vulgar pitch of endeavor in all his actions" ; enough to drive a man "at last, through murmuring and despair, to thoughts of atheism."
The husband, in this case, it must be acknowledged, was of too lofty and severe a nature to be fitted for matrimony. Rigid self-discipline had prepared him for autocracy in the household. He had ideas with regard to the subjection of women which belonged to pagan and classic, rather than to Christian times. It is quite possible that he undertook to command, when he should have ruled by love. The verses in " Samson Agonistes," where the athlete laments his failure to resist Delilah, seem a reminiscence of this experience of Milton's, though they intimate no consciousness on his part of wrong:
Therefore God*s uersal law
Gave to the man despotic power
Over his female in due awe,
Nor from that right to part an hour,
Smile she or lower;
So shall he least confusion draw
On his whole life, nor sway'd
By female usurpation, or dismay'd.
But it took two to make a bargain here. Mrs. Milton was doubtless stupid, but she was not stupid enough to endure subjection without a protest. As it had taken
Ionly a month for Milton to win her, so it took him only a month to lose her. She accepted an invitation to visit her old home, and the visit was prolonged to_^wo_years. Milton's remonstrances were met with silence; his messengers were driven away by her father with contempt. The pamphlet on " Divorce" seems to have been written and printed in hot haste. In May hi'—hcgan his courtship ; in June he married ; inJijlyjTis__wife_ deserted j bjrn-; in August he stirred the country with a tract ad\ vocating almost unlimited liberty of divorce.
Divorce for th^ man, however—not for the _wpmap. The wiser should govern the less wise. Man being the superior being, God pitied him most and gave him the right to divorce his wife, but gave to the wife no corresponding right to divorce her husband. 3Ii3^_Milton repented after two years, when her royalist father had lost his fortune. She made most humble confession and submission, pleading that "her mother had been the chief promoter of her frowardness." Milton instantly forgave the past and took her backj__JBuLthe end was Hkejhj^jDej^inning. Milton's family life, though he was
three times married, was only at rare intervals a happy ■ — 0
one. The proud, self-contained, exalted spirit carried his head too far above the clouds to elicit much of sympathy from either wife or children. Milton was^by \ nature a lonely man—to a certain extent his loneliness was the penalty of his greatness.'
I am detailing these features of his life, in order to show the influences that changed a poet of the departing Renaissance into the stern and majestic poet of the Protestant Reformation. The story will not be complete without some allusion to Milton's blindness. We have seen how the foundation for this was laid by the premature vigils of his studious boyhood. Too seden- • tary a life in the succeeding years brought on a rheumatic affection, and this was naturally accompanied by increasing weakness of the eyes. When he entered the service of the Commonwealth, at the age of forty-one, his sight was already getting dim. A year later, when Salmasius published his defense of King Charles the First, the Council of State requested Milton to prepare a reply. This required much work by candle-light. Milton's left eye was useless already, and there were warnings that before long the right eye might fail also. His physicians admonished him that total blindness might result, if he persevered. But, with the alternative before him of j blindness on the one hand and desertion of duty on the other, he chos£blindness. "Urged," he says, "by the heavenly Counsellor who dwells in conscience, I would have shut my ears to ^Esculapius himself speaking in his Epidaurian temple."
He finished his reply, but he lost his sight. He learned to dictate to amanuenses indeed, and he could still hear his favorite authors as they were read to him HE LOSES HIS SIGHT
by others. But the labor of investigation in his library was multiplied many-fold. He was dependent now. Imagine the great, imperious, self-absorbed man, after Charles the Second had come to the throne; driven into hiding; his friends exiled or beheaded; uncertain whether he himself might not yet be hanged ; his motherless children in a chronic state of mute rebellion against the task of reading to him in languages which they could not understand, unfiliallv conspiring with his servants to embezzle his money and to sell his_ books, and when he sought to alleviate his loneliness by another marriage, wishing rather they^ could hear_that he was dead; and all this while increasingly afflicted with gojiLcalculi, accompanied by swelling of the joints, and twinges of pain at every movement of the limbs.
But worst of all was the blindness. Blind Samson, in the drama which constitutes his last great work, is simply the blind Milton in antique Grecian dress. Hear his pitiful lament:
O loss of sight, of thee I most complain!
Bjind among enemies, O worse than chains,
Dungeon, or beggary, or decrepit age!
Light, the prime work of God, to me is extinct,
And all her various objects of delight
Annull'd, which might in part my grief have eas'd,
Inferior to the vilest now become
Of man or worm ^the vilest here excel mej
They creep, yet see_; I, dark in light, expos'd
To daily fraud, contempt, abuse, and wrong;
Within doors, as without, still, as a fool,
In power of others, never in my own;
Scarce half I seem to live, dead more than halt
O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse,
Without all hope of day!
Such words as these mark the nadir of the poet's sorrows. There were consolations also. To Cyriack Skinner, one of his old scholars and lifelong friends, he wrote in more calm and cheerful strain:
Cyriack, this three years day these eyes, though clear,
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year.
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not
Against heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them, overplied In liberty's defense, my noble task,
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.
But more than this. The blind poet came to see that blindness did not preclude work—it rather threw him back upon the work to which in his youth he had consecrated himself, but from which the political struggles of his time had withdrawn him—threw him back upon it with an experience of life so enlarged that he was now a different man, with a new insight into truth and a new impulse of
That with no middle flieht intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
We must go even further. The poet's blindness, while it shut him out from the world of the natural, shut SHUT IN TO THE SUPERNATURAL 245
him in, as it were, to the world of the supernatural. His ear became more attent to heavenly harmoniesi his spiritual eves were opened, as the outward eyes were closed. The "troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes," upon which he had embarked in 1640, was from 1660 to 1674 only as a distant murmur of the waves to one who has entered the harbor. Though straitened in means, his last years were, on the whole, years of rest and devotion. As the Cromwellian republic, for which he had sacrificed so much, proved to be only another Utoni^. ^he vision of a celestial order dawned upon him, and the struggle between right an J Wrong on earth, with all the personal trouble through which he had passed, furnished him with the spirit and imagery of a new drama, the scene of which should be laid almost wholly in the supernatural world, which should describe the age-long war between God and Satan, and which should
assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
Milton's blindness drove him not only from the outward to the inward and from the sensible to the supersensible for his subject—it drove him also to God, the
source of true il]umination. There is in all literature
no more noble or pathetic prayer than that at the opening of the third book of "Paradise Lost/' in whidiJje mourns "wisdom at one entrance quite shut out," yet lifts up his soul to him who is himself Wisdom:
So much the rather thou, celestial Light,
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate; there plant eyes; all mist from thence
Purge and disperse; that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight
Itjs certain that Milton deals wi^th^Jnykihlp more than any other poet that ever lived. Like Jonathan Edwards in his "History of Redemption," he would relate a story which begins in an eternity past and ends in an eternity to come, the whole life of angels and of men being spanned by its mighty arch. Supernatural beings \ play a greater part in this epic than in any other—the | persons of the Godhead and the celestial emissaries and servants of the Almighty do two-thirds of all the speaking, and the other third is done by two specimens of unfallen humanity whose thought and language transcend all ordinary human standards. ,
The world into which the poet introduces us is not a part of this uerse—it is rather that empyrean which subsisted before this uerse had a being. The de- I mands of such an epic as this are simply colossal; the conception of it could come only to one to whom the sublime was as his native air; the mere statement of the fact gives us one of the best explanations of the Miltonic poetry and one of the best reasons for its power. In order that we may better appreciate the greatness of "Paradise Lost," the work resumed with such new advantages after twenty years of enforced silence, and may understand what manner of "singing robes " the great poet then put on, it will be indispensable to distinguish between Dante^s_uerse and_Milton's uni- j verse, and to see how much more supersensual and ideal / the latter was than the former.
Both Dante and Milton were believers in the Ptole
Milton's Scheme Of The Uerse 247
maic or geocentric theory of the uerse. Milton indeed had heard of Copernicus, and he seems to have suspected the new scheme of things to be true; but all his education and all the ideas of his time were of the older sort, and, for poetic purposes at least, he thought it not wise to change. It was not in this uerse, however, Ptolemaic as it was, that Milton laid the scene of his epic. Dante's hell and purgatory, on the contrary, and even his heaven, were parts of this present visible frame of things. Hell was that tremendous cone-shaped cavity in the very earth beneath our feet, which Satan's falling mass and bulk had hollowed out when he was thrust from heaven and came hurtling down upon our sublunary planet, crashing through its successive strata till gravitation brought him up standing at the center and held him fast there at the very bottom of the pit.
Purgatory, to Dante's mind, was a mount on this earth, on the side opposite to the mouth of hell, composed of the material dislodged by Satan's fall and made to bulge out when that material fled from his hated presence. And what was Dante's heaven? Why, it was simply the concentric spheres which in the Ptolemaic system enclosed this earth and revolved around it as their center. In those spheres, the moon, the sun, the planets were fixed, and surrounding all was t\\%_Prii/ti/nt R,f(i[>ile1 so called because it moved all the rest, but itself never moved at all. Here God himself dwelt. This was the abode of the Almighty and of the most exalted saints. But Dante's heaven was as definite in extent as Dante's earth. The Primum Mobile had its bounds, and everything in existence could be weighed and measured. William Watson characterizes the Dantean suDiimity as " mysticism tempered by mensuration."
The essence of the sublime is its suggestion of the infinite. Macaulay's essay on Milton makes its best point by showing how much more sublime Milton's indefinite descriptions are than any of the definite statements of Dante. Dante would excite our imagination by giving us the size of Satan in feet and inches; by this intrusion of earthly and finite measures he limits and degrades, jt is the old error of the pictures and images of the Roman Church. AiTltonhas in him the spirit of Protestantism and the spirit of true art—he suggests, but he_does_ not define. There is an air of vastness^ about his poetry; the very absence of fixed limits permits the imagination of the reader, nay, compels his imagination, to spread its own wings and soar; MJlton's Satan is incomparably grander than the Satan of Dante.
But I wish now especially to point out what Macaulav seems not to see, namely, that Dante's whole uerse is infinitesimal compared with that of Milton. For Mil- \ ton hangs Dante's whole uerse as a mere drop in the I center of his empyrean. Milton, being a Protestant, has, of course, no purgatory, and his heaven and hell are both outside of Dante's uerse. At the beginning God dwells in an infinite heaven. Beneath him is a weltering chaos, formless and dark, yet containing the material of the world that is to be. Angels of many ranks and endowments are created, to be his servants and companions, long before the earth or man appears. I When the Son of God evalred ahove thrTM orirl fhpy / are bidden to worship him, there is rebellion and war in j
TEMPTATION OF OCR FIRST PARENTS
heaven; Satan and the rebel angels are cast out of heaven and thrust down to the lowermost point of chaos, and the abode constructed for them and by them becomes hell. Nine days they fall; nine days they lie stupefied upon the burning marl; during six days of these nine the Almighty creates our uerse, and suspends it like a solid sphere at that point in the floor of heaven where Satan and his host burst through when they fell. When the fallen archangel gathers strength and essays to pass through chaos on his way to tempt mankind, he sees the new-created uerse hanging in space so far above him that it appears, in comparison with "the empyreal heaven, extended wide in circuit . . . once his native seat,"
in bigness as a star,
Of smallest magnitude, close by the moon.
Into this uerse, hard, solid, opaque, and illuminated only from the empyrean above, there is but one opening, and that is at the point of attachment to heaven. Satan perceives a gleam of light from the staircase, not yet withdrawn. Jw which angels went up_ and down. There he enters, and entering, all the flaming systems of orbs that constitute our uerse dawn for the first time upon his sight. He makes his way to our sun, and, on pretence of being a belated spirit just returned from some distant errand in heaven, he inquires about God's new creation. .Uriel, the archangelic regent of the sun, unsuspectingly directs his steps to earth. There the adversary finds our first parents, clad only in the majesty of spotless innocence and "imparadis'd in one another's arms." Filled with jealousy, he plans their overthrow. Raphael is sent from heaven to instruct them > and prepare them to resist; and here come in, after the j fashion of Homer and Virgil, three whole books of information with regard to the war in heaven, Adam's f previous experiences, and Milton's whole scheme of philosophy and theology.
The historical background of the drama being thus complete, the tragedy can proceed to its sad climax. Satan tempts, our first mother and father fall, the Son of God comes down to pronounce their doom, the guilty pair incriminate each other and sink into despair. But at last they pray: and in answer to that first evidence of penitence, the same Archangel Michael, who is sent to expel them from Paradise, comforts them on their way by two whole books of prophecy. All the future history of redemption is unfolded to them : they are taught that the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head; they are promised aTeturn to paradise when discipline has done its work. So the heavenly Muse taught John Milton to cover past, present, and future with his sublime epic, and to fulfill, in age and weariness and pain and solitude, the purpose, formed at least thirty years before, to sing
Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat
It is not true that the poem met with a cold reception from the public. The impression that it did so is probably derived from the fact that the author received
TEMPTATION OF OUR FIRST PARENTS 25 I
for his work only five pounds down, with promise of fifteen pounds more tor the three succeeding editions. But this was partly due to Milton's printing it just after the great fire of London, when all the booksellers were I ruined and any literary venture was hazardous. Though the book actually brought to the poet and his family only eighteen pounds in money, worth perhaps two hundred and fifty dollars in our day, it gave at once to its author a fame second only to that of Shakespeare. Dryden not only called it "one of the greatest, most noble, and most sublime poems which either this age or nation has produced," but he was compelled to say also, "This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too!"
In that Philistine age, the Philistines themselves received a shock comparable only to that which Samson had given them of old; and Masson, at the close of his six-volume biography of Milton, quotes "Samson Agonistes," as expressing the poet's triumph in contemplating the effect of his great work upon his contemporaries:
But he, though blind of sight,
Despis'd and thought extinguish'd quite,
With inward eves illuminated.
His fiery virtues rous'd
From under ashes into sudden flame,
And as an evening dragon came,
Assailant on the perched roosts
And nests in order rang'd
Of tame villatic fowl ; but as an eagle
His cloudless thunder bolted on their heads.
So Virtue, given for lost,
Depress'd, and overthrown, as seem'd,
Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most,
When most unactive deem'd;
And, though her body die, her fame survives,
A secular bird, ages of lives.
Nor is it true that Milton himself regarded his "Paradise Lost" as inferior to his "Paradise Regained." He simply hoped that the fame of the former might not prevent a due consideration of the merits of the latter. He would not have the victory of Satan, the hero of the first epic, obscure the victory of Christ, the hero of the second. The "Paradise Lost" appeared in 1667, when Milton was titty-nine. The actual writing of it had occupied seven solid years. The poet had but seven more years to live. But he filled them up with noble work. Before the first great poem was published, young Ellwood, a friend of Milton's, borrowed a manuscript copy of it. When he returned it, he said to the poet, "Thou hast said much here of 'Paradise Lost,' but what hast thou to say of 'Paradise Found'?" Milton sat some time in a muse, but returned no answer. The final answer was the publication of "Paradise Regained," in which our Lord's temptation in the wilderness, with its foiling of Satan's arts and its winning of eternal life for man, is set over against Adam's temptation in the garden, with its defeat and its incurring of uersal death.
The later epic indubitably shows some falling off in the poet's powers; the supernatural vein has already yielded the best of its ore; earth must now be the main scene of the drama ; the piercing splendors of the poet's earlier verse give place to something more like grand and sonorous prose. Yet now and then the old inspiraCAN THE HIGHEST POETRY BE DIDACTIC? 253
tion seems to seize him; flame bursts out from the embers; as when he describes
Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts
And eloquence, native to famous wits
and bids us
Thence to the famous orators repair,
Those ancient, whose resistless eloquence
Wielded at will that fierce democratic,
Shook the arsenal, and fulmin'd over Greece
To Macedon and Artaxerxes' throne;
or, when he closes the poem with the acclaim of angels to the victorious Son of God:
Now thou hast aveng'd
Supplanted Adam, and, by vanquishing
Temptation, hast regain'd lost Paradise.
Milton is a didactic poet, and perhaps the most critical question that can be asked with regard to his place in literature is this: Is the dogmatic element consistent with the very highest poetry? Our age is inclined to deny this. It is a part of the current theory of art in general, that the artist should only reproduce what he sees, and thus hold the mirror up to nature. He must do this simply because he is smitten with the love of nature's beauty and longs to express the passion of his soul. The ulterior aim of teaching interferes with spontaneity and freedom, and without spontaneity and freedom no true poetry is possible. We deny the premises as well as the conclusion. The theory that art consists simply in imitation, is the relic of a bygone age that knew nothing of the idealizing and the creative powers of the human imagination. What the poet sees, moreover, will depend upon what the poet is: if he is a sensual soul, he will revel in dreams of sense, and will strive to reproduce them; if he is an ardent lover of purity and goodness, he will embody these in "thoughts that breathe and words that burn."
Jt is vain to say that the poet shall not teach; if he is a true poet, he cannot help teaching. No man ever yet made strong impression on his tellow-men without being a great believer: "I believed, therefore have I spoken," might be the motto of every leader of mankind. "Entire intellectual toleration^said Mhv Browning, "is the mark ofthose who believe nothing. And believing something involves antagonism to its opposite; in the words of Coleridge, "He who does not withstand, has no standing-ground of his own." Advocacy or" truth, denunciation of error, these are instincts of those who see. "When any truth becomes central and vital, there comes the desire to utter it." as Dr. Storrs has well remarked. And shall the poet, who is simply the most deeply seeing man, be shut out from the advocacy of truth and the denunciation of error, simply because he is a poet? Nay, rather, because he is a poet^he will give truth wings; he will be her champion; he will bring all the powers of his soul into her defense.
The poet then not only may be a dogmatist—he must be a dogmatist. But he must be more. He must not cinly possess the truth, but "the truth must possess him. He m^FT5ave~lTsoul g'reatf enough to apprehend it, not only in its bare logical forms and in its isolated particulars, but in its broad reaches of connection and in its
power to rouse the ^£pppj?t emotigns. He must see it as beauty, and must be so ravished by the sight that he cannot contain the vision within himself, but must publish it to others. Imagination, spontaneity, passion— these are not originally angels of darkness, but angels qf_Jig4}t. Their highest service is to utter God's messages of righteousness and salvation. Isaiah and John are none the less, but rather the greater poets because they are teachers. And Milton, that
Mighty-mouth'd inventor of harmonies,
Skill'd to sing of Time or Eternity,
God-gifted organ-voice of England,
as T_ennyson calls him, is none the less a poet because he has so definite and dogmatic an aim. With all his conviction, he seeks to conquer by beauty; he feeds
on thoughts that voluntary move Harmonious numbers;
and in his best writing he is conscious of the rush and impulse of a higher and larger Love and Wisdom.
The scenery of the "Paradise Lost" is so unearthly, and the poem makes natural law so much the sport of arbitrary will, that some have doubted whether Milton can retain his hold upon future ages. We meet the doubt with the simple denial that any one of the world's greatesT~poems depends for longevity upon its conformity to correct science^. Homer will never cease to be the world's great epic teacher, even though his uerse is peopled with Naiads and is under the rule of the upper and the nether Jove. Virgil will live forever by virtue of his sweet and sonorous verse, even though his subterranean realms are reached by an easy and literal descent from the volcanic hillsides of Naples. Who will refuse immortality to Dante because his purgatory bulges out from our southern hemisphere, or to Shakespeare because he furnishes a seacoast to Bohemia?
No, the currency of poetry is independent of such matters of geography or astronomy; the truth_it^sets forth lift ruth of~a different sort; its uersal and everlasting hold upon the human spirit consists in its ability tn lift man above^mere space and time into the region of the spiritual and eternal. Ttdoes this in two ways, and in each of these ways John Milton has no superior. First, he is our greatest English master of literary form. We can well believe John Bright, when he said that his own oratory was built upon John Milton. But since perfection of form can never exist by itself alone, we may add, secondly, that our poet proclaims to all ages the greatest moral message. Behind the form is substance such as never entered into Homer's or Virgil's or Dante's or Shakespeare's verse, namely, the profoundeaLconception of maiVs. apostasy from God, and of his recovery from ruin through Jesus Christ.
Milton has not the spontaneity of imagination that distinguishes Shakespeare, nor has he so large a nature, ^ut his sense of form is more unfailing, and in loftiness of character he towers far above the bard of Avon. Puritan as he is, he is more of an aristocrat, and more of a man, than is Shakespeare. His nobility of poetic form is but the expression of a lofty soul, thrilled to the center of its being with the greatest of possible themes -—thejstruggle of good and_evil, of God and Satan, and the triumphof_the Almighty in the redemption of man. HIS TREATISE OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE 257
When this theme grows old, then will "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained" grow old. But so long as man recognizes and values his own immortality, so long wjll the poetry of Milton vindicate Its claim to be lmlortal.
With most poets, we are obliged to gather their doctrine from their verse. In the case of Milton, we get additional information from his biography; but, besides this, we are particularly favored by the fact that Milton, of all the great poets, was the one and only systematic theologian. In his early life he had planned a treatise on Christian truth; in his last years he composed it. Curiously enough, it was never printed during his lifetime; the very existence of it was forgotten; at last the manuscript of it, tied up in a bundle with the original copy of his State Letters, was discovered among the lumber of the State Paper Office in London, in 1823. So, after a disappearance lasting nearly a century and a half, the key to Milton's poetry came to light, and Macaulay justly signalized the event by the publication, in the "Edinburgh Review," of his famous first essay on John Milton. Though unfortunately it has never yet gained wide recognition in the theological world, this "Treatise of Christian Doctrine" is so original and so able a discussion of fundamental truth, that it merits careful attention.
At many points it shows a daring independence, and an anticipation of views only recently propounded or thought tolerable in the Christian church. Yet its doctrine is proclaimed with a confidence and calmness which are themselves impressive. The importance and
value which the author ascribed to his work are indi
cated by the fact that he begins it as if it were an apostolic general epistle: "John Milton, Englishman, to all the churches of Christ, and also to all everywhere on earth professing the Christian faith: Peace and knowledge of the truth, and eternal salvation in God the Father, and in our Lord Jesus Christ." He divides his treatise into two parts—a theoretical part, as to Christian knowledge, and a practical part, as to Christian duty. We can deal only with the former of these. But since our aim is to consider Milton's poetry especially in its theological aspect, we may be permitted a somewhat minute inspection of the great features of his doctrinal system.
First of all, then, Milton is an unwavering believer in the infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible as God's revelation of truth to men. Though his formal teaching with regard to Holy Scripture is reserved for the later portion of his treatise, it is plain, even from the
''"beginning, that he assumes the divine inspiration of every part of the_ Old and the New Testaments. He gives no proof of this, but declares that the word of
^ God carries with it its own evidence. Clearly, he writes for those who are Christians already, not for those who doubt the essentials of the Christian faith.
Yet this rigid doctrine of inspiration is held in a somewhat large and liberal way. It does not claim the absolute truth of every statement of Scripture taken by itself. There are many sorts of composition, and the Holy Spirit can make use of them all. He can set before us thp f nmplgipts of Iob> and thcdoubts of Solomon. "The Bible," says Milton, in his " Areopagitica," ""Brings in holiest men passionately murmuring against AN ARMINIAN DOCTRINE OF DECREES 259
Providence through all the arguments of Epicurus." It is necessary to interpret Scripture, therefore; and every I > man has the right to interpret for himself. ^__For..this pjjrpose he has the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. There Is an inner light, as well as a'rT'outer standard. In one place, Milton's words would at first sight seem to sanction the Quaker doctrine; "The Spirit," he says, "is a more certain guide than Scrip- ^ ture, whom, therefore, it is our duty to follow." But, taken in connection with the supremacy given to Scripture everywhere else in his writings, this must be understood to mean, not that the Holy Spirit is a co-ordinate source of truth, but only that his interpretation is so indispensable that even the Scriptures would fail to be apprehended aright without it.
Milton, in the second place, is an Arminian, so far as respects his doctrine of the divine decrees. ^Though God foreknows all events. he_ has not decreed .them absolutely; he only decrees .that, if his_creatures act J so and so. such and such will be the consequences.-^ Here I quote his own words to show how remarkably he could anticipate certain methods of statement now current even among moderate Calvinists, yet statements which in those days would have been thought heresy_ itself. "Future events," he says, "will happen certainly, but not of necessity. They will happen certainly, bgcause the divine prescience will not be deceivedj*~but V they will not happen necessarily, because jDrescience can have no influence on th£_o_bject foreknown, inasmuch as it is only an intransitive action.
Thus_far the modern Calvinist might assent, though he would claim that God's decree to create at all, when he foreknew the results, was to all intents and purposes a decreeing of those results, the decree, however, in the case of moral evil, being a permissive, and not an efficient, decree. But when Milton applies his principle to *he matter of salvation, he takes ground which the CalL J Vinist-cannot hold with him. "There is no particular | predestination or election/' he says, "buj;.pnly general."' He means, as Masson has expressed it, that John or Peter is not predestined to be saved as John or Peter; but believers are predestined to be saved, and John and ^eter will be saved if they are in the class of believers.^ Of course this is a denial that God bestows any special grace to make John or Peter a believer; and so it must be regarded as the denial of a fundamental principle of Calvinism. This Arminian doctrine must be considered, however, as a later development of his theology, for in "Areopagitica," printed twenty-five ■ years before this treatise was written, he had mentioned "the acute and distinct Arminius," but had spoken of him as "perverted."
jLy C in_his views of the Person of Christ, thirdly. Milton ^ was not an orthodox Trinitarian, but a high Arian. Here too, we must recognize a change from the poet's way of thinking in his earlier years. In 1629, in his wonderful "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity," he had written of "the Son of heaven's eternal King":
That glorious form, that light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,
Wherewith he wont at heaven's high council-table
To sit the midst of trinal unity,
He laid aside; and, here with us to be,
AN ARIAN DOCTRINE OF CHRIST
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
In 1641 he closed his first prose-pamphlet, "Of Reformation," with a prayer to the "One Tripersonal Godhead," as in that same pamphlet he had called the Arians " no true friends of Christ." —\ But in the fifth book of "Paradise Lost" Milton has / come to be of a different mind ; now he attributes a be--j-/ ginning of existence to the Sonjhe makes the sin_of V the rebel nngels to consist in their refusal to recognize \ the Lordship of him whom God in these following' words sets over them:
Hear, all ye angels, progeny of light,
Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers;
Hear my decree, which unrevok'd shall stand.
Thjh day I have hppnt whom I declare
My only Son, and on this holy hill
Him have anointed, whom ye now behold
At my right hand: your head I him appoint;
And by myself have sworn, to him shall bow
All knees in heaven, and shall confess him Lord.
Here God's eternal decree, to which corresponds an eternal Sonship, is interpreted as if it were a temporal decree to which would correspond a Sonship beginning <" in time. And though, in the third book of the same poem, we read:
Thee next they sang, of all creation first,
Begotten Son, divine Similitude,
In whose conspicuous countenance, without cloud
Made visible, the Almighty Father shines,
Whom else no creature can behold; on thee
Impress'd the effulgence of his glory abides,
Transfus'd on thee his ample spirit rests.
He heaven of heavens, and all the powers therein
By thee created;
we are compelled to interpret this by the later theologi:al treatise. That teaches us that "_the Son of God did ^jiot exist from all eternity, is_not coeval or coessential or coequal with the Father, but came into existence by the will oT~Ijod~To~be the next being to himself, the first-born and best beloved.Jhe Logos or Word through whom all creation should take its beginnings. . . God imparted to the Son as much as he pleased of the divine nature, nay, of the divine substance itself, care being taken not to confound the substance with the whole essence."
This is very like the doctrine of Sir Isaac Newton. ChrisFmay be said to be divine, in the sense that he is next in rank to God and has been endowed by God with divine power to create, but he is inferior to the supreme Godhead._ It was perhaps well for Milton that his treatise was not published in his lifetime, for Arianism was not a heresy which those times winked at. He must have remembered the fate of Bartholomew Legate, an Essex man and an Arian, who was burned to death at Smithfield, March 13, 1613. King James the First asked him whether he did not pray to Christ. Legate's answer was that "indeed he had prayed to Christ in the days of his ignorance, but not for these last seven years;" which so shocked the king that " he spurned at him with his foot." At the stake Legate still refused to recant, and so was burned to ashes amid a vast conflux of people.
In the fourth place, as to Milton's doctrine of CreaA MONISTIC DOCTRINE OF CREATION
tion, he was a Monist, while yet maint3'"'"^ rr)p;. ip^e.^.ndence and freedom of the human will. He is not an idealistic, but a materialistic, Monist. All things are forms of matter more or less ethereal. But this matter is not something either lifeless or self-subsistent—it is an efflux or emanation from the Divine Being himself, and it partakes of his indestructibility. "No created thing" therefore "can be finally annihilated"?7' Raphael, the archangel, explains:
O Adam! One Almighty is, from whom
All things proceed^ and up to him return,
If not deprav'd from good, created all
Such to perfection, one first matter all,
Endued with various forms, various degrees
Of substance and, in things that live, of life,
But more refin'd, more spirituous and pure,
As nearer to him plac'd.
But see how carefully the poet guards himself from pantheistic conclusions. The original matter of which all things are made, being a part of God's own substance, is not evil, but good. Yet " God has voluntarily loosenedjiis hold on such portions of this primeval matteras he has endowed with free will, so that they may originate independent actions not_morally referable__to God himsdf." Hear Raphael once more, as he speaks to Adam:
Son of heaven and earth, Attend! That thou_art happy, owe to God; 7 ~ \ That thou continuest such, owe to thyself,? That is, to thy obedience; therein stand. This was that caution given thee; be advis'd, God made thee perfect, not immjjtable: And good he made thee; but to persevere,
He left it in thy power ; .ordained thy will
By nature free, not overrul'd by fate
Inextricable, or strict necessity:
Our voluntary service he requires,
Nnt n"r "frfi"-'->T^T- such with him
Finds no acceptance, nor can find : for how \
Can hearts, not free, be tried whether they serve JL^~
\Villing or no. who will but what they must 1
By destiny, and can no other choose? /
. 1 In all this lohn M'lt"n ^nriripptpd the modem doctrine
^ . 1/ of Lotzc. of Dorner, and of Browning.
► Jj Fifthly, in his opinions with regard to the origin of
the soul, our great poet is a Traducian. In opposition to the current orthodoxy of his time, which was^FederalJst and Creationist, he held that the soul, like the body, comc.s to us, ajl hy inheritance. Indeed, Milton goes fur-j ther than this. "He has no faith in soul as separate
from, and inhabiting, the body. He believes in a certain
corporeity of the soul. Alind and thought are rooted in the bodily organism. Soul was not inbreathed by God . ^jVpr^the hndy was, formed. The breathing into man's \ nostrils was only the quickening impulse given to that whichjiad life already. God does not create souls every day. Man is a body-and-soul, or a soul-body, and he transmits himself as such.""
These quotations are" not Milton's own words, but they are the summing up of his doctrine which is given by Masson, his great biographer. Special creation is indeed taught pictprially in book seven of the "Paradise Lost," both with reference to the lower animals and to man. There we read:
The grassy clods now calved; now half appeared
The tawny lion, pawing to get free
ANTHROPOLOGY AND SOTERIOLOGY 265
His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds
And rampant shakes his brinded mane; the ounce,
The libbard, and the tiger, as the mole
Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw
In hillocks: the swift stag from under ground
Bore up his branching head.
But we must interpret this as only pictorial, for in the fifth book the whole modern philosophy of evolution ffiTlfi kp hintfld at in Milton's verse. He speaks of the various degrees and forms ot the "one first matter," as
Each in their several active spheres assign'd, „ "5* Till body up to spirit work, in bounds
Proportion'd to each kind. So, from the root
Springs lighter the green stalk, from thence the leaves
More aery, last the bright consummate flower
Srjjrits_odorous breathes : flowers and their fruit,
Man's nourishment, by gradual scale sublim'd
To vital spirits aspire, to animal,
To intellectual; give both life and sense,
Fancy and understanding; whence the soul
Reason receives, and reason is her being,
Discursive or intuitive; discourse
Is oftest yours, the latter most is ours,
Differing but in degree, of kind the same.
Milton's Anthropology and Soteriology are so stoutly orthodox as to excite but_little curiosity. He is a believer in the uersal sinfulness of the human race and in the common guilt of_Jhe_JjalL___Humanity, when it comes into the world, is just what Adam made it by_his transgression. Man is doomed to death for his sin.
Die he, or justice must; unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.
But, in his great love, Christ became incarnate for our salvation. Having taken our human nature-j>¥.>being born of a virgin, he had resting upon him all our exposures and liabilities. "He voluntarily submitted himself to the divine justice," and suffered death, the penalty due to human sin. So he made atonement, and redeemed all believers at the price of his own blood; as Michael teaches Adam:
Slain for bringing life;
But to the cross he nails thy enemies,
The law that is against thee, and the sins
Of all mankind, with him there crucified,
Never to hurt them more who rightly trust
In this his satisfaction.
We can object to these statements only upon the ground that the poet conceives of the relation of men to Adam and to Christ respectively in somewhat too formal and mechanical a way. If he had followed his Traducian view of the soul to its logical conclusions, it would have made him a sound Augustinian in his view of^sin. and an advocate of the ethical or realistic view of the atonement.
We pass these doctrines, however, to consider, in the sixth place, Milton's Eschatology. Here we can anticipate his conclusions from what we know of his premises. If_j>miLand_hQcly are not two, but one and inseparable, then at death the whole man dies, soul and body together; and not till the resurrection, wnen the body is revived, does the~~soul live again. "The millions who have died since Adam —I quote once more from his biographer—" are all asleep, thick and sere as the auA DOCTRINE OF SOUL-SLEEPING 267
tumnal leaves in Vallombrosa; they shall not wake till the last trump stirs their multitudes. For the dead, however, the intervening time is annihilated. They die; but so far as their consciousness is concerned, they revive the next instant to be alive with Christ forever."
At this point too, Milton's later thinking carried him away both from ScripturtTtcacInng and from his earlier beliefs. We may well prefer the doctrine he held from "1637 to 1639 when, in "II Penseroso," he spoke of unsphering
The spirit of Plato, to unfold
What worlds or what regions hold
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook.
or when, in "Lvcidas," he wrote the most pathetic of all_elegies for the friend of his youth drowned in the Irish Sea:
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more;
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor;
So sinks the day-star in the ocean-bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky;
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of him that walked the waves,
Where other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and, singing, in their glory move,
And wipe the tears forever from his eyes.
But to the aged Milton all this was fancy and not fact. His dead friend was unconscious and would be unconscious until the morning of the resurrection. When should that morning dawn? Ah, the poet held, not only to soul-sleeping, but to the pre-millennial advent of C'hristT The day ofludgment with which Christ's coming is so closely connected in Scripture he believed to be no single day, marked by the rising and setting of the sun, but a period a thousand years in duration. Judgment to him was not sn much an act as a long process, continuing through Christ's millennial reign on earth, and "wound up at last by a new revolt of Satan, his final overthrow, the sentencing of devils and bad men, the destruction of the world by fire, the banishment of the bad to hell, and the exaltation of the saints to a, new heaven and a new earth created for their enjoyment."
C The seventh and last point of Milton's theological 1 belief which I can notice is his doctrine of the churchy 'Here too, there was a constant progress from his early to his later years, and in my judgment, a progress on the whole toward truth rather than toward error. He Mjegan by being a Puritan member of the Established Church. When he entered the service of the State he was a strong Presbyterian, and his first political pamphlets were written in the interest of Presbyterial government in the Church of England. But he found that Presbyterianism at that time represented as much of intolerance and tyranny as belonged to the Roman Church. In his poem "On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament," these'lines occur:
A BAPTIST DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH 269
Because you have thrown off your Prelate Lord
And with stiff vows renounced his Liturgy,
To seize the widowed whore Plurality
From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorr'd;
Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword
To force our consciences that Christ set free,
And ride us with a classic hierarchy? . . .
Men whose life, learning, faith, and pure intent
Would have been held in high esteem with Paul
Must now be named and printed heretics. . .
But we do hope to find out all your tricks . . .
When they shall read this clearly in your charge,
New Presbyter is but, old Priest writ large.
As from being a Churchman he had become a Presbyterian, so frpm being a Presbyterian he became an Independent, or (Jong,''pgfarinnq|i<;t The ideas of republican civil government that were gaining headway in the army had, as their correlative, ideas of absolute democracy in the government of the church, nd then, ten years of further thought and experience made him theoretically a Baptist. Cromwell did not profess any jiarticnlar opinion, but he was more nearly a Baptist than anything else, and Cromwell's influence was strong over Milton. The poet, however, was more consistent both in his republicanism and in his Independency than was Cromwell himself. Milton feared the monarchical tendencies of the protectorate; and, on the subject of absolute freedom of opinion, he was a monitor to the Protector. Not only did Milton hold, in theory at least, to the fundamental Baptist principle of separation of Church and State, but he agreed with Baptists in his rejection 6t infant hapHym. and in his belief that immersion in. water is the proper form of baptism. Infants, he says, "are^noLtg be baptized, inasmuch as they are incompe-l ^ent to receive instruction, or to believe, or to enter into a covenant, or to promise or answer for themselves, or even to hear a word.". Of baptism he thus speaks: "The bodies of believers, who engage themselves to pureness of life, are immersed in running water, to_signify their regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and their union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection." These quotations are taken of course from his "Christian Doctrine," but, in the twelfth book of the " Paradise Lost," we have the following significant lines:
To teach all nations what of him they learned,
And his salvation, them who shall believe
Baptizing in the profluent stream, the sign
Of washing them from guilt of sin to life
Pure, and in mind prepared, if so befall,
For death like that which the Redeemer died.
I am far from maintaining that John Milton was ever himself immersed, or that he ever formally identified himself with any local Baptist church. I must add, indeed, that before the end of his days there came to be _a Quaker element in his religion. He became indifferent to times and places of worship; he held the Sabbath to be abrogated, with the Mosaic law of which he consTHerecTTT'a' part; in His latest years "he ceased to attend any church, he belonged to no religious communion, and lie had no religious observances in his family. Considering the profoundly religious character of his mind," says Masson, "this excited considerable surmise among his friends, but he gave no explanation." The explanation, we may imagine, was simply this: The A QUAKER ELEMENT IN HIS RELIGION 2J\
blind and dependent old man, who could not attend even a conventicle except as he was led, had simply permitted himself, partly from the inertia of failing strength, and partly from _d,islike of all rpjjgjous forms even though they were the simplest, to swing to the opposite extreme of no religious service at all. What he excused in himself he could not have justified in others; for, in this very "Treatise of Christian Doctrine," he counts f individual membership and support of Christ's church to be the duty of every believer.
We have spoken of the influence of Cromwell, but there was another influence upon Milton's thinking more important still, and that was the influence of Roger Williams. This most lovable man, yet born agitator, republican, and Baptist, did a work in England as well as in America—a work that only of late years has come to be recognized. When the Long Parliament had loosened the grip of Charles and of Laud upon the civil and religious liberties of England, Williams, in the year 1643, made a visit to his English home. Twelve years before, he had emigrated to Massachusetts; seven years before, he had founded a tiny settlement at Providence in Rhode Island. Cotton Mather tells us what manner of man he seemed to orthodox New Engenders to be. "In the year 1654," says that distinguished divine, "a certain windmill in the Low Countries, whirling round with extraordinary violence, by reason of a violent storm then blowing, the stone at length by its rapid motion became so intensely hot as to fire the mill; from whence the flames, being dispersed by the high winds, did set a whole town on fire. But I can tell my reader that, above twenty years before this, there was a whole country in America like to be set on fire by the rapid motion of a windmill in the head of one particulai man;" and Cotton Mather proceeds to say that this man was Roger Williams.
The church to which Roger Williams belonged in Salem had excommunicated him because he had been baptized and had baptized others, establishing thereby the first church in America of the Baptist faith. It was not in human nature—it was certainly not in Roger Williams' human nature—when he returned to England to cease propagating his new faith. The windmill continued to run and set other towns on fire. He proclaimed, far in advance of his time, the duty of absolutely separating Church and State. He was the guest, for a whole year, of the younger Vane. Here he naturally came frequently in contact with Milton. Vane's warm friend and admirer. He found Milton, on account of his divorce pamphlets, put out with the Presbyterians, thrown among the sectaries, and, as the poet himself tells us, in "a world of disesteem." Williams now published his "Bloody Tenet of Persecution, with a Plea for Liberty of Conscience." He was the apostle of j Voluntaryism. His book made great stir in London, but it especially commended itself to Milton. Prom \ Roger Williams, the poet probably imbibed not only this particular portion of Baptist doctrine, but much 1 more with regard to the nature and the subjects of Christian baptism.
If circumstances had permitted the absolute separation of Church and State in England, we may believe that Milton would have steadfastly argued in its favor. But even Cromwell could not accept the principle of WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF PROTESTANTISM? 273
uersal toleration—popery at least must be suppressed. And Mi! ton seems to have yielded to the inevitable. After the Restoration, disestablishment seemed to him only a dream. The final doctrine of the pamphlets published in his lifetime is simply this: Since not reason or the church, but the Scripture, is the one and only authority and standard, there must be "no liberty of conscience until and without acceptance of the Scriptures, but after and with that acceptance, all liberty." But in his "Treatise of Christian Doctrine," he comes squarely to the ground of Roger Williams, and opposes interference of the State or civil magistrate in any way in matters of religious belief.
Travelers in Italy tell us that even educated Italians refer to the Bible ideas and expressions which are found only in the "Divine Comedy." The popular theology j of the English-speaking race is, in a similar manner, to a considerable extent derived from "Paradise Lost." Many notions with regard to the nature of angels and with regard to the temptation of man have come to us, not from Moses, but from Milton. It is well for us, therefore, carefully to estimate the claims of the Miltonic theology and its correspondence or non-correspondence with Scripture. We have called Milton the poet of the Protestant Reformation. Can we still subscribe to this dictum, when we find him, in his doctrinal treatise, declaring himself to be an Arminian^an Ariaiij a Monist, a Traducian, a Soul-sleeper, a Pre-millenarian, anu, last ot all, a Baptist?
We can answer this question only by asking another, and that is: What is the essence of Protestantism?
We reply, Protestantism is the "profesIT-of mankind
against the substitution of the church in the place of
Christ, and of the priest in the place of Scripture.
Roman Catholicism had turned means into ends. George
Herbert has stigmatized the error in his couplet:
What wretchedness can give him any room,
Whose house is foul, while he adores his broom!
The Protestant Reformation, on the other hand, dispos. sessed all these intermediaries between the soul and God. It insisted that every man must have personal dealings with Christ. He is not to come to Christ through the church, but to come to the church through Christ. He is not to take his belief from the priest, but from the word of God. He is bound to read and to interpret the Scripture for himself, and he is personally responsible to God for the conclusions to which he comes.
This is Protestantism; this is Puritanism; and Milton is a Puritan of the Puritans. He will put his conscience into no ecclesiastical keeping, even though it may be the keeping of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. So he thinks for himself and writes for himself. While he believes all men to be sinners, and salvation to be only through Christ, he shows how flexible and daring the intellectual spirit of Puritanism may be. It is not so^ much—the old orthodoxy, as the new the ology, that appears in him. He is the poet of Protest antism, by illustrating its large range of freedom, and by turning its rugged doctrine into song.
How much the politics and religion of the Commonwealth owe to Milton may be judged by the utter contempt into which they fell for a hundred and fifty years. THE CREATIVE POWER OF TRUE RELIGION 275
The Long Parliament voted themselves out of office when they determined that none of their number should be members and soldiers at the same time—the Restoration wits stigmatized them as "self-denying devils." Cromwell said to the artist, "Paint me just as I am— wrinkles and all!"—the Cavaliers called him "Noll Maggot-face." When that "steel-clad theorist" found that his first levies were eager for prayer meetings and holdings-forth at every halt, he said, "I have a lovely company!" and prophesied that they would hold their own against the gentlemen of the king—but in the next generation all this religious zeal became an object of ridicule. Lofty patriotism gave place to swinish selfindulgence. Milton suffered obloquy with his party. Dr. George H. Clark, the biographer of Oliver Cromwell, tells us that "in the year 1710 an engraver was at work in Westminster Abbey upon a Latin inscription to the memory of the poet, John Phillips. He came to the words: Uni Miltono Secundus—'Next to Milton.' The Dean of the Abbey stopped the engraver; that hallowed building must not be desecrated even by the name of Milton on another man's monument. John Phillips, with his poetry, must go down to posterity without it."
Only during the last fifty years has the world begun to do justice either to the Puritans or to Milton. We cannot understand the one without understanding the other. It is only Milton who shows that the iron faith of the Puritans was compatible with the highest art. His gorgeous verse has glorified the time in which he lived and the doctrine for which he contended. His prose is a defense of the great Protector more telling than the "Memoirs of Carlyle." His poetry, the real product of that stalwart age of ^faith and freedom, does more to prove the idealizing and creative power of true religion than Macaulay's eulogy of the Puritans. The age of the Commonwealth would seem hard and coarse and unrespectable without him. Since Roman Catholicism has Dante for its poetical representative and expositor, it is well for us, and for the cause of truth and righteousness, that we have in Milton the poet of the Protestant Reformation.
Many years ago, on a summer evening, I wandered through the ruins of Ludlow Castle, in the West of England, where in 1634 the great Earl of Bridgewater, Lord President of Wales, celebrated his entrance into office. The castle has its own wall separate from the wall of Ludlow town, from which town the visitor passes to the castle over moat and drawbridge. The immense thickness of the walls, and the strength of the position on a rocky promontory at the confluence of two beautiful streams, were enough of themselves to attract interest. But the goal to which every foot now tends is the great banquet-hall, now dismantled, where, as a part of the pomp and pageantry of the earl's inauguration, Milton's Masque, entitled "Comus," was first represented.
I could imagine the end of the hall turned into a stage; a mimic forest; the young daughter of the house playing the part of the lady, lost in the thickets of the wood; the necromancer and his rout of monsters with heads of beasts and bodies of men; the "barbarous dissonance of Bacchus and his revelers"; the temptation of innocence; the invocation of help; the triumph of THE CREATIVE POWER OF TRUE RELIGION 277
virtue. When that Masque was first acted, Milton was a youth unknown, and the castle honored him. Two hundred and fifty years have passed since then, and now it is Milton who gives to Ludlow Castle all its honor. To the pure ambition which that early poem breathed, the poet was true through all his life, and, in spite of French critics, who make a mock at sin and cannot understand how art and fajil^can_£vgr_djy^l1 toother, the words of the Attendant Spirit in "Comus" still express, to those who have ears to hear, the mission of his poetry:
Before the starry threshold of Jove's court
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
Of bright aerial spirits live inspher'd
In regions mild of calm and serene air,
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
Which men call Earth, and with low-thoughted care,
Confin'd and pester'd in this pinfold here
Strive to keep up a frail and feverish being.
Unmindful of the crown that virtue gives,
After this mortal change, to her true servants,
Amongst the enthroned gods on sainted seats;
Yet some there be. that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key
That opes the palace of eternity:
To such my errand is.