Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

sacrificing the monarch afresh, he declared that he “ did not insult over fallen majesty," but the fact was that circumstances forced him to speak out, and he “preferred Queen Truth to King Charles."

The work is written with method and perspicuity; and the author seems not to have given the rein so freely to his imagination as in his other political treatises.

“To descant on the misfortunes of a person fallen from so high a dignity, who hath also paid his final debt both 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. Kings, most commonly, though strong in legions, are but weak at arguments; as they who ever have accustomed from their cradle to use their will only as their right hand, their reason always as their left. ..... Nevertheless, for their sakes who, through custom, simplicity, or want of better teaching, have not more seriously considered kings than in the gaudy name of majesty, and admire them and their doings as if they breathed not the same breath with other mortal men, I shall make no scruple to take up (for it seems to be the challenge both of him and all his party) to take up this gauntlet, though the king's, in the behalf of liberty and the Commonweath.”

Milton, the more cruel to Charles I. in the “ Eiconoclastes” for being the more cool, opposes to the “Eikon” this argument on the subject of Strafford's death.

The King, he says, “repents here of giving his consent, though most unwillingly, to the most seasonable and solemn piece of justice that had been done of many years in the land; but his sole conscience thought the contrary. The King was not satisfied in conscience to condemn him (Strafford) of high treason, and declared to both houses, that no fears or respects whatsoever should make him alter that resolution founded upon his conscience. Either then his reolution was indeed not founded upon his conscience, or his conscience received better information, or else both his conscience and this his strong resolution struck sail, notwithstanding these glorious words, to his stronger fear; for, within a few days after, when the judges at a privy council, and four of his elected bishops, had picked the thorn out of his conscience, he was at length persuaded to sign the bill for Strafford's execution."

Milton calls the “ Eikon” a “penitential book.” “ The simile,” he says, "wherewith he begins, [the chapter upon his Retirement from Westminster,] I was about to have found fault with, as in a garb somewhat more poetical than for a statist; but meeting with many strains of like dress in other of his essays, and hearing him reported a more diligent reader of poets than of politicians, I began to think that the whole book might perhaps be intended a piece of poetry.

The words are good; the fiction smooth and cleanly; there wanted only rhyme.

He ascribes rudeness and barbarity, worse than the Indian,' to the English parliament; and "all virtue' to his wife in strains that come almost to sonnetting.”

Milton is satirical upon the reflections of the King at Holmby, and his testamentary letter to the Prince of Wales. On this subject he refers to the condemnation of several crowned heads, and pitilessly comes down to the execution of Mary Stuart, Charles's grandmother—a sneer without courage, for Charles slept at Windsor, and heard not what his enemy said to him.

“ : He had rather wear a crown of thorns with our Saviour. They who govern ill .... thorns they may find enow of their own gathering and their own twisting but to wear them as our Saviour wore them is not given to them that suffer by their own demerits.”

In spite of his republican intrepidity, the Imagebreaker appears embarrassed when he arrives at

[ocr errors]

the last chapter of the “ Eikon.” This last chapter is entitled “Meditations on Death.” What does Milton ? He runs away from these meditations. “All other human things,” says he, “are disputed, and will be variously thought of to the world's end; but this business of death is a plain case, and admits no controversy ; in that centre all opinions meet.”

Thus it is that Milton takes part in the glory of the regicide; the executioner made the blood of Charles I. spirt over him, as the officiating priest in the ancient sacrifices sprinkled the spectators with the blood of the victim.

Milton suspected that the "Eikon” was not by the King, and this conjecture was afterwards verified ; the work is Dr. Gauden's. The “Eikon” contains a prayer copied verbatim from that of Pamela, in Sir Philip Sidney’s “ Arcadia.” It was a fine subject of mockery for the republicans, and of confusion for the royalists, who had believed in the authenticity of the portraiture of their master. Subsequently, Henry Hills, Cromwell's printer, alleged that Milton and Bradshaw had prevailed upon Dugar, editor of the “Eikon” to insert Painela's prayer, in order to counteract the effect of the book. There is nothing in Milton's character to authorise the belief that he would lend himself to such baseness. How should

he have known that the royal portrait was in the press? Why was it not stopped by the Parliamentarians, who knew of the existence of the manuscript ? Acts of arbitrary violence were common enough among those free men, not knaveries : in the secret correspondence between the king and queen, which they intercepted and printed, they made no alteration. Interpolations, falsifications, suppressions, are base means, which the English revolution left for our's.

At any rate, Johnson believed that the text of the “ Eikon Basilike” had been interpolated. “As faction,” he says, “seldom leaves a man honest, however it might find bim, Milton is suspected of having interpolated the book called “Eikon Basilike,' which the council of state employed him to censure by inserting a prayer taken from Sidney's Arcadia, and imputing it to the King.. The

papers which the King gave to Dr. Juxon on the scaffold the regicides took away, so that they were at least the publishers of this prayer; and Dr. Birch, who examined the question with great care, was inclined to think them the forgers.”

For my part, after a close examination of the “Eikon Basilike," I have conceived a different kind of doubt respecting that work.

I cannot persuade myself that it proceeded entirely from the pen of Dr. Gauden. That divine probably worked

« VorigeDoorgaan »