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and a dictatorial Church. So the Puritan party emerged at a time of serious crisis as the upholders of our Constitution and the great bulwark of our jeopardised liberties. For what they then did for the England of their own day and of ours we owe them a debt of gratitude the magnitude of which it would not be easy to exaggerate.
That the spirit of Puritanism was necessarily productive of vast and far-reaching changes in the temper of English society is on the face of it evident. It is by reference to it, indeed, that we can largely explain the enormous difference which separates the England of the middle of the reign of Elizabeth from the England which saw the meeting of the Long Parliament. It meant, among other things which we must not here stop to consider, the evolution of a noble but stern and hard type of character; preoccupation with the most narrowly religious aspects of man's conduct, aims, and destiny; and, in consequence, the general repudiation of the claims of art, science, humane culture, and whatever else helps to beautify, uplift, and give value to our secular life. Thus, amid much that was so excellent in the way of strength, uprightness, and integrity, the growth of Puritanism was inevitably accompanied by a widespread tendency towards fanaticism, moroseness, and gloom. God-fearing, high-principled, courageous and earnest the Puritan was; but he was austere, exacting, and uncharitable. We admire his great qualities; but we are still painfully aware that these were too often cultivated
at the expense of that flexibility, catholicity, and many-sidedness of interest which are needed to make human nature not only engaging but complete. His one absorbing concern was the salvation of his soul, and as this was a matter of infinite difficulty, it called for all his thought and all his effort, for constant watching, incessant prayers, daily and nightly wrestlings with God. To one whose mind was thus fixed upon eternal realities all earthly things were vain and fleeting shows, or, rather, they were the snares and traps of the Evil One intent upon his spiritual ruin. Puritanism was thus fatal to art, and all but fatal to literature; and even such literature as it did inspire bore the unmistakable impress of its limitations no less than of its strength. Shakespeare's drama deals in the spirit of the largest tolerance with the complex tragedy and comedy of human life, with little reference to anything that may lie beyond it in the sphere of the unseen. Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress " directs the Christian through the trials and temptations of this world in his passage towards the Celestial City. Milton's "Paradise Lost " sets out to " justify the ways of God to men.”
It is a fact of the utmost importance to the student of literary history that, as John Addington Symonds pointed out, England, alone of European nations, received the influences of both Renaissance and Reformation simultaneously." These two great movements arose out of the same general impulses; strictly speaking, indeed, the Reformation was only one
aspect of the Renaissance. Their co-operation had much to do with the essential greatness of our Elizabethan literature, in which, as in no other body of literature belonging to the same period, a passionate love of beauty is combined with religious fervour and a strenuous moral idealism. Yet, despite their common origin, it was inevitable that, as time went on, the spirit of the Renaissance and the spirit of the Reformation should come into conflict. This conflict opened as soon as, on the one hand, religion began to separate itself from humane culture, and, on the other hand, humane culture began to ignore the claims of religion; with the corresponding growth of Puritanism and of fashionable license, the breach widened; by the time we reach the reign of Charles I. the rupture is complete.
In the foregoing paragraphs, as I need hardly say, no attempt has been made to trace the history of Puritanism in detail, or to give a full account of the consequences resulting from its development as the chief force in English life and thought during the second quarter of the seventeenth century. My slight sketch is intended only to prepare the way for the study of the great poet whose writings we are now to take up together. Milton has been described as "not only the highest, but the completest type of Puritanism." How far, and with what qualifications, this description is to be accepted, will become apparent as we go on with our work. But let us at the outset note that his life extended
from the period during which the Puritan cause was slowly but surely winning its way in England, through the whole period of its political ascendancy, and onward into the period of its overthrow with the Stuart restoration. As Green put it, Milton was born when " 'Puritanism began to exercise a direct power over English politics and English religion; he died when its effort to mould them into its own shape was over, and when it had again sunk into one of the many influences to which we owe our English character.” We shall find that the recognition of these facts and a constant sense of the intimate relations between the poet and the large public movements of his time are essential to any proper understanding of Milton and his work.
HOUGH, like Chaucer, Spenser, Ben Jonson, Pope, Gray, and Keats, a Londoner by birth, John Milton came of an Oxfordshire yeoman stock. His father, whose name also was John, had been disowned by his family upon his abandonment of Roman Catholicism for the reformed faith. He had thereupon settled in the metropolis, where he presently became a scrivener.1 A man distinguished by intellectual ability as well as by "the wonderful integrity of his life," he prospered in his calling, but, after
1 The profession of scrivener included, along with money-lending, many of the functions now performed by solicitors.
Milton's "Defensio Secunda (Bohn's edition of his "Prose Works," vol. i.).
the fashion of the time, continued to live over his place of business, at the sign of the Spread Eagle, in Bread Street, Cheapside. It was there, on December 9, 1608, that his eldest son, the future poet, first saw the light. It is interesting to remember that not far away, though on the other side of the street, stood the Mermaid Tavern, famous as the meeting-place of Shakespeare, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, and other wits of the day. Shakespeare left London for Stratford when Milton was only three or four years old; but it is just barely possible that in passing along Bread Street he may have seen the lovely child whose name was, in after-times, to stand second only to his own on the splendid bead-roll of our English poets.
The elder Milton, though of pronounced Puritan proclivities, did not share the antipathy of the extremists of his party to literature and art; he was, in fact, an accomplished musician and a composer of some standing among his contemporaries; and his love of music embraced madrigals as well as psalms. Life in the Bread Street home, while characteristically sober and even a little austere, was by no means lacking in the influences of liberal culture and refinement; and it was thus in a singularly favourable atmosphere that Milton's nature began to expand. He grew up a wonderfully beautiful boy; as we look at his portrait, painted when he was ten by the skilful artist Cornelius Jansen, we instinctively feel that he must indeed have been the pride of his mother's