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footing in the world.* During his own life he was chiefly known as a controversial and political writer; but after his death, while Paradise Lost, the great monument of his genius, gained his name a ready admission alike into palace and cottage, the Prose Works, which had been written in defence of defeated factions in Church and State, sank into comparative oblivion. Meanwhile the splendor of the Epic poem, and the peculiar mode of its construction, which veiled political doctrines under the rich garb of scriptural expression, caused Milton to be considered, by all parties, as emphatically The Poet of Christendom; and suspected errors were passed lightly over by those who contemplated, with affectionate reverence, the stately structure which his genius had erected in blindness and advanced age. Within late years, the public has obtained a more intimate acquaintance with his mind and principles, from the repeated editions of his Prose Works in England and America. Still, these are read by few, and the number by whom they are judiciously estimated is yet more limited. We propose, therefore, to present as clearly as our very confined space will allow, a picture of Milton, drawn from the complete collection of his writings now before us. In doing this we must confess ourselves undazzled by the lustre of his reputation, or his transcendent powers; and while we yield to none in our admiration of his genius, we will not suffer this to interfere with the stern judgment which, as Christian reviewers, we must pass upon his principles. In his capacity of Poet, space will permit us to say little concerning him, except what has a bearing on his theological opinions. It is time to put aside the haze of brilliant words, and look calmly at Milton as he is; and we conceive that we shall be doing service to the Church, in drawing attention distinctly to his religious views, and to the process by which he arrived at them. It is, indeed, with mingled feelings that we contemplate Milton-the poet rivaled only by Shakspeare and Homer; the orator-for justly may we so call him, since his most eloquent works were spoken, not written, to the high audience of the world, and of all coming generations-the orator, equalling in grandeur, vehemence, and argumentative power, any whom Athens, Rome,
* "I know not any of the articles which seem to thwart his opinions: but the thought of obedience, whether canonical or civil, roused his indignation”—Johnson's Life of Milton.
"Milton appears to have had full conviction of the truth of Christianity, to have regarded the Holy Scriptures with the profoundest veneration, to have been untainted by any heretical peculiarity of opinion."-Ib.
England or France produced in their palmiest days; the historian, who would have been second to none, had he selected history as his peculiar province; the scholar, facile princeps, in all save ecclesiastical and oriental learning, of a most accomplished age; the theologian, who wanted but humility to place him beside judicious Hooker, and lacking this became the arch-heretic of the Gospel dispensation; the statesman, to whose counsels and influence may be attributed much of the dignity and strength which characterized the Protectorate; the man, possessing all qualities which men call heroic, whose very errors would have made him a demi-god in heathen times; the patriot, most mistaken, but most self-sacrificing and most sincere; and yet the Arian,* the Pantheist,† the Materialist, the regicide,§ the Antinomian,|| the advocate of polygamy and superadded divorce, limited only by inclination, which is no limit**-in a word, as we shall show, towards the conclusion of our remarks, the maintainer of almost every crude impiety, and one of the bitterest enemies who ever lived of the Christian Church. In the present age, a war of principle is going on throughout the world; and when we calmly ask ourselves, on which side is John Milton to be found that of good or evil-we are compelled, by the urgency of fact, to say on that of evil; and that when the hosts of anti-Christ marshal themselves against the Truth, they can find no ground, to stand upon, better intrenched, than that which he has marked out, no principles more seductive, and no name, under which to fight, more dazzling to the multitude. We would venture to prophecy, without pretending to be far-sighted either, that the last contest of the world against the Church will take place on the principles of Milton. It will not turn on the avowed alternative of Christian belief, or utter infidelity. It will be a struggle more subtle, more close, more deadly. It will be the effort of Evil to gain possession of the citadel of Truth, and rule the world under the name of Christianity. A truly great mind runs by an instinctive logic to the end of a principle, boldly breaking through every barrier of custom and sacred association, and standing disenthralled and triumphant at the uttermost goal: while the mass of mankind, less consistent-clear-headed and independent; restrained by the pressure of society-early habit-the influence of names-the love of reputation-and many similar obstacles, toils slowly
* Ch. Doc., Vol. I, Ch. V.
Ib. Vol. I, Ch. VII and XIII.
+ Ib. Vol. I, Ch. VII.
after, gradually advancing from point to point in the course of generations, until the whole ground is traveled, and the general mind, by an unconscious reasoning, reaches the fatal termination which the giant compassed at a stride. The very elevation and purity of Milton's character, render his errors more dangerous. It is by such a mind alone that abstract evil can be developed in such a manner as to be enduringly hurtful. An avowed infidel or an immoral man has but a transient power. Voltaire, Rousseau, and Paine may have slain their thousands, yet whom do they now mislead? Milton, encircled by a halo of seeming divinity, and attracting universal admiration, tempts men into error by his personal virtue and his intellectual greatness. We have observed, for many years, the growing influence which his views, only partially understood, are exercising on the public mind; and consider it high time that the Church should look steadily at the nature of the issue which is presented, and should forbear even to think or speak of John Milton as a Christian man, or a Christian poet. A late reviewer, in this country, praises him for "casting aside the whole machinery of Priesthood, and all the cant and predilections of past ages;"* and Mr. Griswold, in his Preface, tells us that had he only written his works against Episcopacy, "he would have been one of the greatest benefactors of the Church and of mankind;"† and he concludes by saying, "He was the greatest of all human beings: the noblest and the ennobler of mankind." That he possessed many high qualities of mind and heart, and the richest and most various gifts of intellect, we fully acknowledge; that he turned his greatness to good account, or may justly be esteemed the ennobler of mankind-if Christian principle qualifies a man to ennoble his fellows-we shall take the liberty to question and the fact that such exaggerated praise can be bestowed upon a person who deliberately denied almost every distinctive tenet of Christianity, convinces us of the necessity of speaking plainly on the subject. We want no man-worship, no bowing down to any human being, merely because he possessed an iron will, a retentive memory, a clear head, a brilliant imagination, and a tongue which
Dropped manna and could make the worse appear
John Milton was a great man, but a very faulty one, and far from being inspired, though he seems so to have fancied.
To form a just idea of Milton's genius, it is necessary to take his Prose Works into the account. They know little of him who regard him merely as the writer of Paradise Lost, and Sampson Agonistes. Many regard a poet as a dreamer who cultivates the imagination at the expense of the reflective faculties-a notion which Pope endorses when he says,
"Where beams of warm imagination play,
But Milton had no such idea of the vocation of the poet. With him, the ideal was not separated from the practical, and poetry was merely the final embellishment of the most matter of fact deductions of the reason. In early life he at times gave loose reins to fancy: but in proportion as his mind. gained maturity he used the lyre simply as the handmaid of the theologian and the politician, characters which with him were indissolubly connected, binding into one the whole life of man, as a responsible being and an earthly citizen. It is in his Prose Works, and especially in the Treatise on Christian Doctrine, that we discover, the vast foundation of thought and learning which he laid before he wrote his Epic, how little temporary impulse had to do with one word which he uttered as a poet, and how completely he made the imagination subservient to the reason. But the evidence which enhances our idea of the greatness of the man, deprives his poems of their usually conceded Christian character, and shows that while ingeniously couched in language drawn from the inspired records, they are elaborately opposed to nearly every Christian truth, and embody a formal scheme of gigantic heresy, embracing the whole range of theology. There was, however, no deception designed by him; for had his own evident intentions been carried into effect, the world would, from the moment of his decease, have been supplied with a key to all that is obscure in Paradise Lost and Regained; and the meaning of passages which are now read carelessly, without a literal pressure of their language, would have been fully
Before we begin our necessarily meagre Review of his various works, controversial, political, and doctrinal, let us first draw a brief sketch of the times in which he lived, and the circumstances which tended to the formation of his character and opinions. We are not disposed to deny that some excuse may be found for the course which he took both in politics and theology, in the temper of the age, and the unsettled state of religious principle. As yet men had not test
ed the depths of that fearful gulf called liberty-a gulf which has recesses still unexplored-and while beholding the mental degradation which resulted from Papal power on the Continent, and the sorrows caused by the contests between the crown and the people in his own land, it may have seemed certain to him that this would be the panacea for all human
The Reformation found the masses throughout Europe without any definite knowledge of the principles of Christianity. At Rome, religious feeling was faintly struggling against prevalent infidelity, and good men instinctively felt that there was much to remedy, though they knew not where to begin.* The contest between Luther and the Papal See was a leap into the dark on both sides,† and neither party was aware by what arguments to attack its opponent or defend itself, or what course the controversy was likely to take. Beginning with a single point, the dispute soon spread to every tenet of Christianity, and the uninformed popular mind became a tribunal before which the gravest speculations of theologians, and the deepest mysteries of the faith, were to be tried. But it was not long before a few great minds gained a temporary ascendancy, and caused the general reception of their sentiments by large masses, without, however, restraining the spirit of division and insubordination, but rather rendering it more powerful, by giving it an embodied form and definite direction. A new Christianity arose disrupted from the past, having for its foundation not reverence for, and submission to, the Divine will, but a wild feeling of opposition to tyranny, and a stern determination to uphold private opinion by the unlicensed use of the tongue and the final resort to the sword. While Rome, under the pretence of reforming abuses, proceeded in the Council of Trent to consolidate the fabric of an usurped ecclesiastical despotism, her continental opponents were building up the collective tyranny of individualism. In England the Reformation originating with the heads of the Church, acting with the consent of the secular authority, though not subservient to it, took a different and more stately course, preserving all the links which unite the present with the past, and foster those emotions of love, reverence, and obedience, in which the soul of Christianity consists. Could it have proceeded without the introduction of the foreign element, the Church in England would soon have presented an aspect of calm and instructed strength, unity, peace, and de
* Ranke, Bk. II, p. 53.
† Fra Paolo, p. 6.