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Though hard and rare. Thee I revisit safe,
pow'rs Ifradiate ; there plant eyes ; all mist from thence Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
The chief event of Milton's private life during the years which immediately succeeded his loss of sight was his marriage in 1656 with Catharine Woodcock, the daughter of a Captain Woodcock of Hackney. That this second union brought him much quiet happiness seems certain. It was, however, destined to be very brief, for fifteen months later his wife died, leaving behind her a tender memory of the “ love, sweetness, goodness ” which“ in her person shined." Notwithstanding his blindness, he continued to hold his secretarial position, though necessarily some of its duties had now to be performed by deputy, his principal assistant being the well-known patriot and poet Andrew Marvell. His energy as a controversialist and pamphleteer also remained unabated till the very end of the Protectorate, the last production of his “ left hand "-his “Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth appearing in March 1660, only two months before the proclamation of Charles II. as king. This was a bold plea for a republican form of government. But whatever influence it might conceivably have exerted in different circumstances, it was, in fact, born out of date. The success of the Royalist cause in England was already assured.
We have now come to the end of the Common. wealth period in English history, and, with this, to the close of Milton's activities as prosewriter and public servant. That this long chapter in his life is full of interest on the biographical side will scarcely be denied ; nor, however small may now seem to be the essential value of his contributions to the political and ecclesiastical discussions of his time, and however regrettable the passion and violence which disfigure so many of his pages, is any sympathetic student likely to blame him for turning aside at what he conceived to be the imperative call of duty, from the broad highways of pure literature into the tortuous byways of “noises and hoarse disputes." Yet, as we look back, we are inevitably most impressed by the enormous loss entailed by the course of action which he thus so resolutely pursued. Milton is now universally recognised as one of the supreme poets of all the world; he had long nourished the ambition of producing some one great work in which his genius and his powers should find full and adequate expression; steadily and patiently, from youth onward, he had been preparing himself by severe study and mental discipline for the accomplishment of his gigantic task. Yet through the twenty years of his middle manhood, while his genius was in its very prime, that task remained untouched. During a period almost as long as that which embraced the whole of Shakespeare's dramatic activity, the greatest of English poets, busy with controversies which have long been dead and with personat quarrels which only served to degrade him to the level of the pettiest of his adyersaries and traducers, produced, all told, a score or so of sonnets. Rarely, if ever elsewhere, 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. I 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.