« VorigeDoorgaan »
te benen that government for which they were writat pas
ten, and in the service of which so much suitel ability was engaged. It may be observed
that the character of their immediate author is too great to be altogether lost in that of the ministerial organ; and that in many of them Milton may be traced in distinct, though not in discordant existence from the power for whom he acts. The letters which
he wrote in the Protector's name to mediate ted for the oppressed protestants of Piedmont,
whose sufferings had revived the horror of the catholic atrocities in Ireland, might be cited in testimony of what I aflirm. These official instruments are faithful, no doubt, to the
o See Letters to the Duke of Savoy, to the Prince of Transylvania, to the King of Sweden, to the States of Holland, Switzerland, and Geneva, to the Kings of France and of Denmark. P. Works, vol. ii. p. 503-509. It may
be proper to observe that this active and powerful interposition of the Protector's was productive of its intended effect. The catholic tyrant desisted from the slaughter of his innocent subjects, and these miserable people had a breathingtime from their calamities. I call them, as they are called in these official dispatches, by the generally known name of Protestants: but the dissenters from the papal church, who occupied the vallies of Piedmont, had neither connexion nor a common origin with those who were properly called protestants from one of the first acts of their association in Germany. The Waldenses asserted a much more ancient pedigree; and assumed to be of the old Roman church before it was corrupted by the papal innovations.
general purposes of him, under whose authority they were produced; but they exhibit also much of the liberal and benevolent spirit of the secretary: their mirror cannot be convicted of falsehood or perversion; but, with unquestionable flattery, it reflects the harsh features of the English usurper so softened into positive beauty as to conciliate our affection equally with our respect.
Scarcely had Milton entered upon the functions of his office, when he was summoned by the government to the discharge of another and a peculiar duty.
Immediately on the death of the king, a book, with his name as its author, had been published under the title of Εικων Βασιλικη (Icon Basilike) or “ The Portraiture of his sacred Majesty in his solitudes and sufferings.” The stroke of violence, by which Charles had fallen, had excited, very generally throughout England, a sensation of sympathy anda strong sentiment of disapprobation. He appeared to be the victim of an ambitious and a sanguinary faction; and, while his faults were generously buried in his grave, his virtues were seen in more than their proper size and were admitted to more than their just "share of praise. The publication, therefore, of a work professedly by his own hand, in which he
is represented in the constant intercourse of prayer with his Creator, asserting the integrity of his motives before the great Searcher of hearts and urging an awful appeal from the injustice and the cruelty of man to the justice and the clemency of God, was calculated, in a supreme degree, to agitate every bosom in his favour, and to make every
free tongue vibrate in execration of the inhumanity of his enemies.
To counteract the consequences of this popular production, which threatened to be alarmingly great, the Council determined on availing itself of the abilities of its new secretary. Convinced of the inefficacy of any of the means of power to suppress a favourite publication, or magnanimously overlooking them, it resolved to wield the only weapons adapted to a war with opinion, to wage book against book, to oppose fact with fact and argument, wherever it could be found, with
argument. It delegated, therefore, to in Milton the task of contending with the Icon
Basilikè; and submitted the merits of its cause to the arbitrement of the
The Eixovoxa ço]ns (Iconoclastes) or Imagebreaker, which was the apposite title affixed to this refutation of the imputed work of royal authorship, may be regarded as one of
the most perfect and powerful of Milton's controversial compositions. Pressing closely on its antagonist and tracing him step by step, it either exposes the fallacy of his reasoning, or the falsehood of his assertions, or the hollowness of his professions, or the convenient speciousness of his devotion. In argument and in style compressed and energetic, perspicuous and neat, it discovers a quickness which never misses an advantage, and a keenness of remark which carries an irresistible edge. It cannot certainly be read by any man, whose reason is not wholly under the dominion of prejudice, without its enforcing a conviction unfavourable to the royal party; and it justly merited the honourable distinction, assigned to it by royalist vengeance, of burning in the same flames with the “Defence of the People of England.” The object of its attack, indeed, is by no means strong. Separated from the cause of the monarchy and of the church of England, the cause of Charles is much more open assault than it is susceptible of defence. If he has been lowered beneath his just level by his enemies, he has been proportionably raised above it by his friends, and, with a nice regard to truth, we may probably place him in the central point between Nero, lo
whom he has been resembled by the former, and either of the Antonines, above whom he has been advanced, not without a degree of prophane temerity, to the honours of sainthood and martyrdom by the latter. His private life was not, perhaps, liable to censure, as it was blemished only with common imperfection; but his public conduct betrayed the violence of a despot with the duplicity and equivocating morality of a follower of Loyola.
The opening of the Iconoclastes may be cited as exhibiting dignity of sentiment and excellence of composition. “To descant on the misfortunes of a person, fallen from so high a dignity, who hath also paid his final debt to nature and his faults, is neither of itself a thing commendable nor the intention of this discourse. Neither was it fond ambition, nor the vanity to get a name, present or with posterity, by writing against a king. I never was so thirsty after fame,
Milton disclaims, on another occasion, any intention of insulting the memory of Charles.
“Non manibus regiis insultans, ut insimulor; sed reginam veritatem rege Carolo anteponendam arbitratus." Def. secun. P.W. vol. v. p. 235.
The majesty of truth he deamed to be an object more worthy of regard than that of kings; and was he to be censured for such an opinion?