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conviction, to depose and put him to death, if the ordinary magistrates have neglected or denied to do so.' Manifestly, this was not an essay in abstractions, nor even a mere counterblast against the Stuart doctrine of the “divine right of kings”; it was intended to justify the Army in Charles's trial and death, and, as Milton himself put it, “to reconcile the minds of the people to the event." It is easy to understand that it at once drew the attention of those now in authority to its writer. The result was that, through personal influences and greatly to his own surprise, the Council of State appointed Milton Latin secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs at a salary curiously fixed at the sum of $288 13s. 6 d. a year. We must not exaggerate the political importance of this position. His main business was that of clerk and translator ; he turned English despatches into Latin, and foreign despatches into English, and sometimes acted as interpreter at audiences of foreign envoys. There his official duties ended. The legends which have grown up about his prominence and power in practical politics must therefore be dismissed, and particularly that of his personal connection with the Lord Protector. A popular picture represents him sitting at a table while Cromwell, standing near by, dictates to him. As Mr. Augustine Birrell has pointed out, this picture is "all imagination, nor is there anything to prove that Cromwell and Milton, the body and soul of English Republicanism, were ever in the same room together, or exchanged words with one another." Certainly, Milton had nothing whatever to do, as a paid minor official, with shaping the policy of the Commonwealth. But in another capacity—as a publicist and the wielder of the most powerful pen in Englandhe rendered important assistance to the Government. The publication of a book of prayers and meditations, entitled “Eikon Basiliké, the Portraiture of his Sacred Majesty in his Solitude and Sufferings ” (purporting to be the work of Charles himself, but now generally believed to have been written by a Dr. Gauden), greatly stimulated the reaction in popular feeling in favour of the late king. At the request of the Council of State Milton replied to this in his " Eikonoklastes." A more considerable task was entrusted to him when he was called upon to answer the Royalist attacks upon the Commonwealth made by a famous Dutch scholar, Salmasius, at the instigation of the late king's son, afterwards Charles II., who was then living at The Hague. This answer took the form of a “Defensio pro Populo Anglicano," or "Defence
' of the English People,” which appeared in 1651. A rejoinder was issued in 1652 containing many scurrilous accusations against Milton himself. To this Milton replied in his “ Defensio Secunda," or "Second Defence," in which, while arguing in support of the now established Protectorate, he enters into particulars concerning his own early life and conduct. Thus, as the various references which we have made to it will have shown, this pamphlet has great value as a biographical document. These productions carried Milton's fame as a controversialist and writer of Latin prose far and wide through educated Europe. That they raise many questions of importance respecting the author's political opinions will of course be understood. But as we have here to do only with Milton the poet, and with other aspects of his work merely in relation to his poetical activity, such questions must now be left undiscussed. On one very general matter a single remark may be made. It is often regarded as paradoxical that so staunch a champion and so eloquent an apostle of freedom should have lent his support to the despotic rule of Cromwell. His position clearly needs justification. It can be justified only when it is considered in connection with the practical conditions of the time. His choice lay," as Macaulay has admirably said, “not
, between Cromwell and liberty, but between Cromwell and the Stuarts. That Milton chose well no man can doubt who fairly compares the events of the protectorate with those of the thirty years which succeeded, the darkest and most disgraceful in the English annals.” It must, moreover, be remembered that however willing he might be to co-operate for a time with those with whom he was in general agreement, Milton was altogether too independent and too progressive in thought to remain within the trammels of any particular system. The principles of the various sects and parties of his
age were only temporary resting-stages in his intellectual development. In the end he outgrew them all, and became a sect and a party by himself.
Meanwhile, in the midst of all these activities, a dreadful calamity had fallen upon him. His eyes had always been weak ; from boyhood up he had continually overstrained them by strenuous and unremitting study. At the time of his return from the Continent his sight was already beginning to fail ; by 1650 he had lost that of the left eye entirely ; and he was now warned by the doctor that absolute desistence from reading and writing was necessary if the use of the remaining eye was to be preserved. But he had just then undertaken his “ Defence of the English People," and this at all costs he determined to finish. “ The choice lay before me,” he writes in his “ Second Defence," " between dereliction of a supreme duty and loss of eyesight; in such a case I could not listen to a physician, not if Æsculapius himself had spoken from his sanctuary ; I could not but obey that inward monitor, I know not what, that spake to me from Heaven. I considered with myself that many had purchased less good with worse ill, as they who give their lives to reap only glory, and I thereupon concluded to employ the little remaining eyesight I was to enjoy in doing this, the greatest service to the commonweal it was in my power to render." So Milton did his duty and paid the penalty. Early in 1653, when he was only forty-five years of age, he became totally blind. Upon the varied consequences of this dire catastrophe to one still in the prime of manhood it is scarcely needful to dwell. we must remember that in Milton's case the full tragedy of it can be realised only when account is taken of the fact that the great life-work upon which he had set his heart was as yet not even begun.
There are many passages in Milton's writings, both in prose and in verse, in which reference is made to the grievous affliction which God had thus laid upon him, and these are all touching and impressive as the expressions, now of simple sorrow over his forlorn state, now of resignation to the Divine will, now again, as Mr. Masson has put it, “ of a proud conviction that God, in blinding his bodily eyes, had meant to enlarge and clear his inner vision, and make him one of the world's truest seers and prophets." One of the first, if not quite the first, of these autobiographical utterances is the following sonnet, which must have been written soon after complete darkness had closed in about him. In the nobility of its religious feeling, and especially in its supremely beautiful and oft-quoted conclusion, it may well stand beside the sonnet written “On his having attained the Age of Twentythree."
ON HIS BLINDNESS
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,