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where, does literary history record so deplorable a waste of genius and time.
Of the sonnets in question, two of a very intimately personal character have already been quoted. I will add two others the interest of which is public as well as biographical.
The first of these is specially noteworthy as the expression of the poet's feelings towards Cromwell. It was written in 1652, when Cromwell, not yet Protector, had just returned from his military expeditions in Ireland and Scotland, and its purpose is to call his attention to the religious conditions which awaited his consideration at home.
TO THE LORD GENERAL CROMWELL,
May 1652 On the Proposals of Certain Ministers at the Committee
for Propagation of the Gospel Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
ploughed, And on the neck of crowned Fortune proud Hast reared God's trophies, and His work
pursued, While Darwen stream, with blood of Scots
imbrued, And Dunbar field resounds thy praises loud, And Worcester's laureat wreath. Yet much
No less renowned than War. New foes arise Threat'ning to bind our souls with secular chains :
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw. The remaining sonnet which I select for reproduction—the most powerful of all Milton's minor poems-was occasioned by the brutal persecution by the Duke of Savoy of the Protestant Waldenses or Vaudois. It fell to Milton's lot as Latin Secretary to formulate Cromwell's vigorous remonstrances. But this official protest did not satisfy him, and the present poem is the utterance of his personal horror and wrath. In its burning indignation at the ruthless cruelty which had been practised against a section of God's people, it recalls the language of some of the Psalms.
ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN PIEMONT Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold ;
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones, Forget not : in Thy Book record their groans
Who were Thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heav'n. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O'er all th' Italian fields, where still doth sway The triple tyrant, that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who, having learned Thy Way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.
the “ Merry Monarch " was followed
by a tremendous reaction against Puritanism and its ideals. England plunged into what has been well described as the “ mad orgy of the Restoration.” Comus and his crew of wanton revellers were once more abroad in the land. The unclean spirit who for a time had been cast out had, as Macaulay says, taken
seven other spirits more wicked than himself," and “they entered in, and dwelt together, and the second possession was worse than the first." Together with the galling restraints which the Puritan régime had imposed, all moderation and decency were now thrown to the winds. The new king was an unabashed libertine ; his Court was the most shameless ever known in England; in fashionable circles whatever was pure, honest, and of good report was openly scoffed at; infidelity and profligacy were the accepted marks of the fine gentleman and lady; the virtues which Puritanism had engendered were made topics of ribald jest ; those who still cultivated them were sneered at as hypocrites. Restoration," as Mr. Mark Pattison puts it,
was a moral catastrophe. It was not that there wanted good men among the Churchmen, men as pious and virtuous as the Puritans whom they displaced. But the Royalists came back as the party of reaction, reaction of the spirit of the world against asceticism, of self
indulgence against duty, of materialism against idealism. Servility, meanness, venality, timeserving, and a disbelief in virtue diffused themselves over the nation like a pestilential miasma, the depressing influence of which was heavy, even upon those souls which individually resisted the poison. The heroic age of England had passed away, not by gradual decay, by imperceptible degeneration, but in a year, in a single day, like the winter's snow in Greece."
To Milton, who, as it would seem, had to the end clung to the illusion that the course of national destiny might yet be averted, the Restoration was fraught with the element of personal danger. He had given the Royalists serious cause for hatred, and for the moment it was impossible to predict what the consequences might be. Charles landed at Dover on May 26, 1660, and at once made his way to London. Before the end of the month the blind poet had fled from his house in Petty France, and had sought refuge in concealment with a friend in Bartholomew Close. There, for a while, he lay in hiding. In June his books against the late king were ordered to be formally burned by the hands of the common hangman. A little later, he was himself arrested and placed in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. But on June 15 the Commons directed his release ; and henceforth he was a free man. Even now it is not quite clear to what cause or causes he owes his exemption from proscription and the disasters which overwhelmed so many of his friends. It is said that Andrew Marvell acted vigorously and successfully in his behalf ; that Sir William Davenant constituted himself his protector ; that he found powerful allies in Secretary Morris and Sir Thomas Clarges; that his blindness moved the pity even of his foes. But the fact seems to be that, whatever personal influences may also have been at work, Milton's escape from the consequences of his position as a republican and supporter of the regicides was chiefly due to his comparative insignificance as a political force. Yet while both his life and his liberty were thus spared, the Restoration bore very hardly upon him. Political changes entailed the total loss of all the money he had placed in Government securities; other property had to be sacrificed ; his official salary terminated as a matter of course. All this meant a serious reduction in his income ; and, unfortunately, things were made worse by the mismanagement of his remaining investments, while his house in Bread Street was presently destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Hitherto Milton had always lived in comfortable freedom from pecuniary anxieties. These were now added to his other troubles—the petty miseries which soon invaded his home-his bitter disappointment over the political failure of the Puritan cause—his passionate sorrow over the ruin of the hopes and aspirations which he had nourished for his beloved country.