« VorigeDoorgaan »
advocate. A deplorable thing, indeed, if reason, the gift of God, with which man is endowed, did not furnish more arguments for the conservation and deliverance of men, than for their oppression and ruin!”
The author then proceeds to direct answers. Salmasius asserts that there had been kings, tyrants, assassinated in their palaces, or slain in popular commotions; but that there was no instance of one having been brought to the scaffold. Milton asks whether it is better to put a prince to death by violence and without trial, than to carry him before a tribunal, where he is not condemned until, like any other citizen, he has been heard in his defence.
Salmasius contends that the law of nature is imprinted in the hearts of men : Milton replies that the right of succession is not a right of nature, that no man is king by the law of nature. He mentions on this occasion all the kings that have been tried, and especially in England. ancient manuscript,” says he, “called Modus tenendi parlamenta, we read :-*If the king dissolves the parliament before the business for which the council has been summoned is dispatched, he renders himself guilty of perjury, and shall be held to have violated his coronation oath'.... Whose fault was it if Charles was condemned? Did he
66 In an
not take up arms against his subjects? Did he not cause one hundred and fifty-four thousand Protestants in the single province of Ulster, in Ireland, to be slaughtered ?”
Hobbes asserts that in the “ Defence of the English People” the style is as excellent as the arguments are wretched. Voltaire observed that Salmasius attacks like a pedant, and that Milton replies like a wild beast. “No man,” says Johnson, “forgets his original trade ; the rights of nations and of kings sink into questions of grammar, if grammarians discuss them.”
The “Defence” was translated from the Latin into all the languages of Europe: the name of the English translator is Washington.
The ambassadors of the foreign powers in London were lavish in their compliments to Milton on his admirable work,—so delighted are kings with king-killing! Philaras, a native of Athens, and ambassador from the duke of Parma to the king of France, wrote commendations without end to the apologist of the condemnation of Charles I. We have seen ambassadors crawling in Paris at the feet of Bonaparte's secretaries. To say nothing of individuals, diplomatic bodies, which are no longer congenial with the system of new society, frequently serve only to annoy the cabinets
to which they are accredited, and to feed their employers with illusions.
Milton shook with a mighty hand all the ideas agitated in our own age. These ideas slept for one hundred and fifty years, and did not awake until 1789. Might it not be supposed that the political works of the poet were written in our times, on subjects which we see discussed every morning in the public papers !
Salmasius boasted that he had caused Milton to lose his sight, and Milton that he had killed Salmasius. A reply to the latter did not appear till after his death. He there calls Milton prostitute, fanatical thief, abortion, blear-eyed, purblind, lost man, cheat, debauchee, audacious villain, infernal spirit, infamous impostor ; and declares that he should like to see him tortured, and expire in melted pitch, or in boiling oil. Salmasius does not overlook some Latin verses, in which Milton has blundered in the quantity. In all probability, the wrath of the scholar proceeded less from his horror of regicide than from the lame jokes of Milton upon the Latin of the Defensio Regia, .
MILTON replied perhaps with still more violence to the pamphlet of Peter Du Moulin's, canon of Canterbury, published by the Rev. Alexander More, “Cry of the Royal Blood to Heaven against the English Regicides.” The royalists thought to rouse foreign princes, by calling Cromwell regicide and usurper; they were mistaken : sovereigns are extremely accommodating in regard to usurpations; they feel horror for liberty alone.
Defensio secunda is more interesting for us than the first. In this second treatise, Milton passes from the defence of principles to the defence of men.
He relates the history of his life, and repels the charges alleged against him.
He draws this magnificent picture of the place of his pleading :
“ I seem to overlook, as from the top of a hill, a great extent of sea and land. Spectators crowd around: their unknown faces betray thoughts
similar to my own.
Here, Germans, whose masculine spirit disdains servitude; there, French, with a living and generous impetuosity in behalf of liberty; on one side, the composure and valour of the Spaniard ; on the other, the reserve and the circumspect magnanimity of the Italian. All the lovers of independence and virtue, the valiant and the sage, in whatever place they may be, are
Some favour me in secret, some approve me openly; others welcome me with applause and congratulations; others, again, who had long withstood all conviction, at length yield themselves captive to the force of truth. Surrounded by this multitude, I now imagine that, from the pillars of Hercules to the extremities of the earth, I behold all nations recovering the liberty from which they had been so long exiled ; I fancy that I see my countrymen conveying to other lands a plant of superior quality and of nobler growth than that which Triptolemus carried with him from region to region: they are sowing the benefits of civilisation and freedom among cities, kingdoms, and nations. Perhaps I shall not unknown approach this concourse ; perhaps I shall be loved by it, when it is told that I am the man who engages in single combat with the proud champion of despotism.”
Is not this what is now termed revolutionary