I

HUMAN beings are born in obscurity. Even the children of famous men, after the bells have rung in their advent and the public note of an hour, sink back into the universal indistinguishableness in which our life begins. Shakespeare has indeed said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em;” but we must add that to be born great means nothing more than a high capacity for distinction, and if it remain a mere capacity it falls away into the heap of unfulfilled promises, like the blossom that never becomes fruit, whose remembrance is a pang of regret. Those who have greatness thrust upon them are the children of mere fortune; they are dressed in borrowed robes; time swiftly wears away the thin external polish, exposing the base metal, and leaves them at last in their character of common men, misunderstood, misplaced, praised and blamed alike beyond their deserts. The greatness that is achieved alone endures. Time is not a conquered enemy, but a spontaneous friend, of this type of greatness; time sides with it, reveals its worth, and with trumpet tongue fills the world with its renown, draws it apart from the throng of perishable things, and sets it on high as deathless and beyond price.

Upon this sacred function of time wise men rely. Time alone can winnow the chaff from the wheat; it alone declares who in any generation are to be mere bonfires whose light is for an hour or an evening, and who are to be like the stars that burn and shine forever. The confusion of the bonfire on the hillside with the planet shining on the same level is, for the moment, a natural mistake; as the hours wear on, it is an impossible mistake. The bonfire is soon spent and its light gone out, while its peerless companion burns with an intenser fire, draws apart, and climbs to the heights in solitary and settled glory.

Such a human being was John Milton. To his countrymen at first indistinguishable among the educated youth of his generation, never at any time while he lived recognized in his true character, during the closing decade of his existence in this world despised, rejected, and crushed into a man of sorrows, contemptuously disregarded for a century after his death, confounded with ephemeral lights, time has come to his rescue. John Milton has at length come to his kingdom, and of that kingdom there shall be no end. Again it is now seen that one anointed of the Most High has lived and spoken and sung among his people.

Great men are roughly divisible into two classes — those who prevail at once, who do their work amid the general acclaim of their contemporaries or with their substantial assent, or with such a measure of sympathy from the more enlightened of them as enables them to crush opposition; and those of whom their time is unworthy, who do their work under limitation and distress, who support their cause with their back against the wall, and who die in temporary defeat but in the sure faith of ultimate victory. In both divisions there are very great men.

In the first division, as rulers and soldiers, we find Moses, David, Pericles, Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne, Cromwell, Frederick the Great, and Washington, — men who carried their respective peoples with them in the service of their causes. Here too we must rank theologians like Athanasius, Augustine, and Calvin; reformers like Wickliffe, Luther, and Knox; artists such as Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Titian; an army of comic writers and humorists represented by Aristophanes, Lucian, Swift, and Voltaire; another host of poets recalled in the greater names of their number — Sophocles, Virgil, Petrarch, Goethe, Tennyson, and our American choir of singers. The world went with these men. Their work met at once reasonable and permanent recognition. They met the tide in the affairs of men; they took it at the flood and it led them to power and fame. Such careers are in many instances occasion for thanksgiving; they reveal the power of timeliness in the appearance and work of genius; they are a noble tribute to the essential soundness of our humanity. Again and again the prophet meets with honor among his own people, and the pioneer thinker and doer finds awaiting him a sympathetic world.

We must not forget, however, that there is another and a greater order of men whose message and spirit their age is unable to understand, who work against protest and infamy, and who die in apparent defeat. Socrates seemed a huge and a finally intolerable joke to the majority of the Athenians; Plato’s idealism appeared high fiction, a transfigured mist, to his time; Marcus Aurelius found no response in his great empire to the vaster and better part of his life; seven cities claimed the birth of Homer dead, through which the living Homer begged his bread; Lucretius lived in protest against both the miserable religion and the life of his people, and died unregarded; Dante is a monumental example of the same thing: outwardly his career was defeat and sorrow, inwardly it was victory, peace, and the sure promise of an everlasting kingdom. Among these shining ones, we read the names of Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Savonarola, Huss, the noble army of martyrs, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the apostles, and, above all, the name that for Christians is above every name.

In the presence of the disregard meted out to these high souls and their enduring victory, what is called success, the applause of the unthinking, the approval of the incompetent, is poor indeed. We must not forget that there are three tribunals before which every man appears, — his own time, his own soul, the world and the ages. Cleverness, tact, a diplomatic instinct, will often win renown from the majority of one’s contemporaries. Something of truth there must be in one’s vision of society, and something of worth in one’s spirit and achievement, before one can win the favorable judgment and the strong support of an enlightened conscience. When one’s career is carried to the supreme tribunal, that of the world and the ages, — carried there to be dismissed if wholly insignificant, to be justly rated if of sufficient magnitude, — the merit required to stand this test well must be transcendent. To win or lose one’s case in the first court is largely a matter of fortune; to win or lose in the second — the personal conscience — is indeed serious; the ultimate test, however, is the Grand Assize. What an apostle calls the judgment-seat of Christ is but the purified judgment of the world and the ages; and the great question is, how will it go with a man and his work there ?

There is nothing quite so great in human history as the spectacle of transcendent genius and goodness spending themselves in the purest and most essential service, not only unrecognized, but conceived to be an evil power and influence, and in consequence covered with contempt. It is this principle that endues the Antigone of Sophocles and the Cordelia of Shakespeare with surpassing loveliness, that makes the spirit and bearing of the hero in the book of Job so great, that in the historic example of the reformer and martyr becomes so sublime. If men ever come to see the essential and solitary greatness of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures at their best, it will be on this principle. Here were writers who wrote of enduring ideals, whose speech preserved fittingly the image of divine lives, conceived to be evil and treated as such, in this mad world; whose books were the worthy record of the vision and the character that were despised and rejected, who fashioned memorials of eternal worth in which there was no beauty for a sensual generation. Here were men from whom the gay and prosperous hid their faces as in shame, who put into great words their conviction that suffering worth is the vicarious and redemptive soul of the world.

The high portions of these Scriptures stand by themselves in a sanctity which nothing in the memorials of mankind can approach, because they worthily record the life that lived for God when its own generation conceived it to be of the devil, gave it the decoration of a crown of thorns, and the distinction of a cross. The moral grandeur of the wisest and best of men, whose wisdom and goodness were rewarded with contempt and death, preserved in great words, is the secret of the unapproachable character of these Scriptures. They were lived before they were written; they were lived and written, not in diplomatic accommodation to the spirit of the time, nor for the precious but fluctuating moral sense of the writer himself, but for the judgment of the world and the ages, for the eye and conscience of God. If you would find John Milton you must look for him here. Here he lived his epic existence; here he set at naught the falsehood of his generation; here he accepted neglect, sorrow, infamy; here he did his work “as ever in his great Taskmaster’s eye.”

II

When Milton first saw the light.on December 9, 1608, in Bread Street, Cheapside, London had less than half the population of Boston, and where the mighty metropolis now spreads, the unbroken beauty of nature held sway. Milton belongs to his nation and to his race, yet is he one of the special glories of London. Excepting his university days at Cambridge, the five happy years at Horton, about fifteen miles from the city, and the year and three months spent in continental travel, Milton lived his life in London. As his father’s son, as educator, as Latin secretary to Cromwell, and as epic poet, London was his home. Bread Street, Cheapside, where he was born; St. Paul’s, where he attended school; St. Bride’s Churchyard, and later Aldersgate and Barbican, where he taught boys; Whitehall and Petty France, where he served the Commonwealth; Bunhill Fields, where he wrote his immortal epics and Samson Agonistes; St. Giles, Cripplegate, where he lies buried; Westminster Abbey, where his bust bears witness to his conquest of prejudice, — all speak of Milton. The idealism of his great spirit still hallows the ceaseless tides of trade, still excites the hope that in some unnoticed child of to-day there may lie, too deep for human eyes to see it, the promise of another Milton.

When Milton was born, Chaucer, the father of English poetry, had been in his grave 208 years; and about 270 years measure the distance from the birth of Chaucer to that of Milton. Milton thus stands about midway in the astonishing poetic development of the English race. Spenser had closed his life of suffering and splendor nine years before Milton’s began; Queen Elizabeth had been dead five years, and for an equal period James I, the learned fool, had reigned in her stead; Oliver Cromwell was a boy of nine; Shakespeare had eight years more of life before him, Sir Walter Raleigh ten, and Bacon eighteen. The greatness of that generation is brought home to us by the number of names that have survived to our own time, many of them names of wide moment. Strafford was born in 1593, and was executed for his iniquities in 1641; Laud was born in 1573, and paid with his life the penalty of his tyranny and fanaticism in 1645; Dr. Thomas Browne, author of the Religio Medici, was born in 1605; Samuel Butler, who left the sorrow of a lifetime transfigured in the wit and humor of the immortal Hudibras, in 1612; Richard Baxter, among the noblest of Puritans, in 1615; John Bunyan in 1628; John Dryden in 1631; John Locke in 1632, and Sir Isaac Newton in 1642. On the Continent there were at least three older contemporaries of Milton, of enduring fame: Grotius the jurist, Galileo the scientist, both of whom Milton had met, and Descartes, the illustrious philosopher.

Milton was born in an age opening into new vistas of freedom, discovery, and progress. As the year 1608 was closing when he arrived, so the old epoch of absolutism in the monarch, of tyranny in the church, and of unsifted tradition in the intellectual world, was passing away; as Milton was the forerunner of a new year, so was he prophetic of a new era. Bacon had appeared as the imposing literary expression of the awakening visions and hopes of natural science; Shakespeare had placed upon the stage, with unrivaled dramatic genius, our modern humanity; Charles I and Strafford and Laud were fighting to maintain the absolutism of the throne and the sovereignty of the national church; John Locke was calling the higher interests of man into the court of reason; and in far-away Plymouth, on the wild New England shore, a new world was rolling out of the night in the fires of a great prophetic morning.

Such were a few of the great contemporaries, older and younger, of John Milton; such were some of the tasks and hopes of his age. In this environment of men and movements the drama of his life falls into three acts: first, he is the student, scholar, educator, and contemplative singer; second, he becomes the sharer in the vast civil and religious struggles of his time; third, he stands forth the epic poet, in loneliness and grandeur.

It is sometimes said that Milton is the scholars’ poet, that there is little in him to interest the average intelligent person. There is a grain of truth in this remark; but the remark, in so far as it is true, holds against all the higher possessions of man. They are not for the light-minded, the superficial, the reader without seriousness. They offer themselves slowly to the devout student; they uncover their mysteries only to the persistently faithful; they give themselves at last, in all their wealth and glory, to the mind and existence which they have helped to enlarge and exalt. The love of the best will at length fit any mind to enter, in some measure, into the joyous possession of the greatest things that man has done. Witness the Homans of to-day as they visit the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican; the Florentines as they crowd the Pitti Palace; the people on the Continent of Europe generally, as they rise to the appreciation of great buildings, great paintings, and great music. The power of the best to arrest the mind is incomparable; and while the mind thus arrested is often puzzled, still the fascination endures, and in a miraculous manner the best, where it has a fair chance, wins its way to sovereign appreciation and praise. Emerson tells us that when the half-gods go, the gods arrive. The going of the half-gods is greatly accelerated by the arrival of the gods. The permanent exhibition of the best, the presentation, under favoring circumstances, of the truly great, would bless society with a long farewell to the mean achievements by which its heart has been harried and its reason degraded.

Fact is here, as everywhere else, more potent than general ideas. My introduction to Milton was of a kind that is open to all. When a boy at school, I heard from the lips of a revered teacher his name mentioned with a sort of awe. That way of alluding to Milton fixed in me reverence for him, and an inward resolve some day to dare to look into his epic. Over Burns’s “Address to the Deil ” there stood two lines from Paradise Lost, as evidence of the contrasted manner of the two poets in dealing with his Satanic majesty: —

O Prince, O Chief of many thronèd Powers,
That led th’ imbattell’d Seraphim to war;

and again curiosity and courage were stirred to open the great book. In the city of Boston, on Boston Common, at the age of nineteen, during the long summer days, when recovering from a severe illness, I made my first acquaintance with Milton, with a copy of his poems taken from the Public Library. There were in Paradise Lost a hundred things that I did not understand; but familiarity with the Old Testament and the shorter catechism — a document for which I note that once in my life I gave thanks — helped me to understand a few things, and these were fundamental. Then came the appeal of the great monumental work. I looked upon its greatness with awe and love, as one might upon the Great Pyramid — its magnitude, its symmetry, its enduring structure, its silence and loneliness, its atmosphere of seriousness and tenderness, its antiquity as holding within itself vanished ages, its solemn humanity and universal moment. Here on Boston Common, as yonder on the sands of Egypt, stood a superlative wonder, and here the beholder and lover began to learn, understand, and enjoy, under the patient guidance of one of the master spirits of the race, the poet himself. All that Milton asks of any reader is a learner’s mind, a lover’s heart, and the patience of a will that would follow the highest.

III

Milton is a supreme artist; at the same time his art is always in the service of ideas. More than any other poet in our language, substance counts with Milton. His poetry, like all genuine poetry, comes from the heart, but it comes through the vision of a vast intellect. Alike when he expresses himself in prose and in poetry, Milton is the prophet, and the burden of the Lord rests upon him. It is worth while, therefore, to consider for a moment the substance of Milton’s prophetic message.

More than any other Englishman who has recorded his ideas, Milton stood for freedom. When Wordsworth sang of him,

Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart,

he touched only the incomparable loftiness and splendor of his mind; he left untouched Milton’s continuous immersion in the great struggles of his age. Milton’s cry for freedom was the cry of a practical man; it was a demand for his nation and in behalf of all its greater interests. He was sent to the University of Cambridge that he might fit himself for service as a minister of the Anglican church. He saw that, as a freeman, he could become a preacher neither in that communion nor in any other then in existence. He has impaled, in his Lycidas, the abject and hireling preachers of his day. In that noble poem, St. Peter appears lamenting the untimely death of Lycidas whose heart was set on the prophetic office: —

Two massy keys he bore of metals twain
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain).
He shook his mitred locks and stern bespake:
How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies’ sake,
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reckoning make,
Than how to scramble at the shearers’ feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest.

Milton remained outside organized Christianity, and there he exercised his prophetic gift, lamenting the fact that in the church

The hungry sheep look up and are not fed,

waiting for the Christian world to grow till it could count him among its prophets. He has not waited in vain; for of the ministers of religion of his own generation, and the generation preceding his own, although Richard Hooker and Jeremy Taylor and Richard Baxter are among the number, there is in the general estimate of competent men none like him, none near him, as a witness for the Eternal.

Because of his sense of the value of freedom, Milton called in question the educational custom of his time. A better definition of education than Milton’s has never been given: “I call a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.” That definition was prophetic of the revolution in education that, within a generation, has changed the face of the academic world. It is easy to say that Milton’s scheme of education is fanciful and that it has been without influence. The tractate on education is full of illuminating thoughts; Milton’s judgments are given freely on a subject in which he was a master. That Milton could consider for years any human interest, and state his conclusions upon it without benefit to that interest, is hard to believe. He puts a new spirit into education, and if his views have been without influence it is surely not his fault. But have they been without influence? Milton has been the inspirer and constant friend of more than one great educator in our own land and time.

Milton’s battle for religious freedom against the bishops springs from the spirit of an awakened nation. The Reformation in England had been superficial, — not much more than the substitution of the supremacy of the sovereign for that of the pope. The passion for religious freedom awakened by the Reformation was deep and imperious. This is the force that finds vent in Milton. In England the institution of religion did not answer in any adequate measure to the passionate desire for freedom in religion. Unless we bear this in mind we cannot understand Milton’s five great pamphlets, Of Reformation, Of Prelatical Episcopacy, The Reason of Church Government, Animadversions, and The Apology. Milton is looking with sorrow upon the national church arrested in the process of reformation; and behind his vision there beats the heart of a religious freeman. In his fight for religious liberty Milton met the most learned bishops of his time, Hall and Usher. They doubtless knew more about the Fathers than Milton; he knew the free manhood of England better than they, and the rights of freemen in the Christian faith. Milton could not succeed without converting Episcopacy into Congregationalism. That was impossible then, it is impossible now; but his great contention, that all power in the church is derived from the assembly of believers, has won the day in all the churches. Ultimately the people rule; and at heart this is the principle for which Milton stood. His contest with the prelates of the national church is grim and wild; yet the cause of the people as religious beings, as against the pretensions of the servants of the people in this great interest, burns in every sentence that Milton wrote, and his terrible polemics are the sword of the God of freedom.

In his; attack upon canon law in relation to marriage and divorce, Milton called custom into the court of moral reason. Custom is sacred so far as it is the just expression of inalienable rights, so far as it is the best attainable servant of domestic well-being. Milton’s claim that there should be provision for divorce on the ground of moral incompatibility is at least worthy of serious attention. Only good can come to human homes when one of the purest and loftiest of men calls to account the marriage custom of Christendom. If that custom is just, its justice will thus be more clearly seen. It is part of the greater significance of Milton’s career that custom nowhere overawed him, that he recognized as the living force behind all institutions the moral reason of enlightened men. For him the institutional life of his race was nowhere what it should be. There was, for him, in the higher spirits of his people, a reserve of justice and nobility capable of expression in vastly higher institutional forms; and here again Milton is among the leaders of the advancing world.

In his fight for freedom, Milton was no respecter of persons. When the Presbyterians became enemies to freedom they became enemies to him. He could have adapted to his own use the words of the Hebrew psalm, —

Do I not hate them, O Lord, that hate thee ?
And am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee ?
I hate them with perfect hatred:
They are become mine enemies.

Milton was born an Anglican, but an Anglican be could not remain. He became a Presbyterian, but again he was compelled to move. He is thinking of the animus of ascendant Presbyterians when he writes his famous line, —

New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ large.

The closing lines in his sonnet to Cromwell are directed against the same foes: —

New foes arise
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.

Parliament, too, when it turns careless of freedom, is met by the noblest of all Milton’s apostolic appeals. The Areopagitica should be taken from the class of electives; it should be among the prescribed studies of every youth and every citizen in this free community. Freedom has been gained here, as in every other state where it has been gained, at great cost. Freemen are apt to forget the rock whence they were hewn apd the pit whence they were digged. The veneration of the supreme captains in this costly struggle, and the periodic recurrence to their wise and brave words, will do much to keep alive in a free community the sense of the treasure inherited from the past, the obligation of the present to increase and transmit that treasure to a still happier future.

Milton’s last and greatest stand for freedom was against the King. No man to-day can easily measure Milton’s importance and courage here. His grand contention “ that Kings of England should be judged by the laws of England” seems to us a commonplace. In the seventeenth century it was audacious thus to speak. The repeated and accumulated mendacities of Charles I were met by the monstrous apology, “the King can do no wrong.” Cromwell and his army set that falsehood at nought; it remained for Milton to impale it with piercing political wisdom and with every kind of scorn. His work has done great things. It went all over Europe, sustaining the people of the various nations in their passion for freedom. It was loathed in England and at the same time honored; it fed the repressed manhood of the nation and nourished it into strength for the struggle of 1688. The twenty years that Milton took from poetry and gave to patriotism had their just issue and reward in the expulsion of James II. Nor did the influence of these twenty years end there. The Puritan in America was proud of the great Puritan in England. His example was of force here both in church and in state; it had the immeasurable force which always comes from an exemplar held in highest honor and admiration.

Milton’s prose is the imperial witness to his free soul. Much has been said in criticism of the scorn and abuse in it, and judged by severe taste, it must be admitted that much in these wonderful productions is beneath the dignity of Milton. After all, these faults are but the spots on the sun. The times were times of storm and stress; Milton was engaged in no mere academic contest; he was fighting for the life of the English people. In an age of tyrants in the church, of despots and liars in the state, and multitudes base enough to accept slavery without protest, and almost with thanks, it is regrettable, but not strange, that, when assailed by abject apologists for regal and ecclesiastical oppression, Milton’s free soul should have gone forth, now and then, in a hurricane of rage and scorn.

It has been said that Milton might have written in behalf of freedom in a weightier and more conclusive manner. Doubtless. He might have written after years of exact reflection, and embodied his thoughts in a treatise of scientific order. In that case he could not have written for the vast struggle in which he lived. It may be said that he might have made a better use of the literary method of expression which he adopted, and imposed upon himself that classic restraint which is one of the shining distinctions of his epics. Again this is doubtless true. But on the other side, it should be said, that perhaps Milton did as well as could be expected, considering the hot haste in which he was compelled to write, and the crying needs of his time. He might have done better where no man did so well; he might have done better where all others did nothing; he might have done better, wearing as he does to-day immortal honors as the champion of freedom, when his adversaries are chiefly remembered because they fought against him.

Milton’s prose has two merits of the highest order: it is the witness to his comprehensive and burning love of freedom; it is also a record of precious thoughts in a style which, for strength and majesty, remains unsurpassed in our literature. And here it must be said that it is not to the credit of English scholars and men of letters that they have done so little to present Milton’s prose worthily to the world. The churchman still remains too small for this service; the royalist whose monarchy has been transformed from a hateful to a beneficent thing, chiefly through the labors of Cromwell and Milton and the forces which they set free, still lacks the magnanimity for the task.

Milton has suffered for his opinions more than any writer in our tongue. Addison did much to call attention to his poetry. Macaulay spoke noble words for the grandeur of Milton’s career; and many men of less note have raised their voice against the public neglect of Milton as an apostle of freedom. On the other hand, Dr. Johnson, the literary authority of the eighteenth century, under cover of veneration for Milton, canonized the national antipathy to Milton the freeman. Dr. Johnson could not help saying some good things in his study of this great Englishman, and after pages of captious remark, elaborate trifling, and veiled enmity, there are here and there sun-bursts of insight and appreciation. The fundamental defect of Dr. Johnson is his unwillingness or inability to measure the full magnitude of Milton, both as writer and as human being. His criticism is from the outside; it is generally petty, wanting in sympathy, destitute of the ideal critic’s passion to discover and declare the secret of his author. Dr. Johnson seems to be entertained with his own cleverness in finding flaws in Milton and his work, and here he has been the fountain of an evil tradition.

When the critical consciousness becomes superior to high creative values, it has ceased to be important, because it has ceased to be the single-minded servant of truth and beauty. Dr. Johnson’s critical incompetence is conspicuous in his sneer at Milton’s diction, a sneer which he expresses through Samuel Butler’s famous phrase, “Babylonish dialect.” How far we have come from such a travesty of literary justice, may be seen by putting Matthew Arnold’s estimate of Milton’s diction against that of Johnson: “That Milton, of all our English race, is by his diction and rhythm the one artist of the highest rank in the great style whom we have; this I take as requiring no discussion, this I take as certain.” Dr. Johnson’s criticism is of course chiefly of historical interest; it should be added that it is of autobiographical interest, as the frank expression of a powerful and often perverse personality. We find so much to love in this critic, so much to honor in his grim battle with time, that we are ready to grant him absolution for his errors. They are many; they are grievous ; but they are the brood of irritability and inveterate prejudices. In the presence of Milton, Dr. Johnson looks like a lumbering stage-coach beside a chariot of state. His adverse judgments about Milton, and some things more discreditable to him than adverse judgments, have fallen to dust; but for more than two generations they delayed full national recognition of Milton. Even the life of Milton by Mark Pattison, notwithstanding its learning and literary appreciation, is on the whole a poor performance. A writer who could think of the twenty years in which Milton served the state, as the prostitution of his genius, is not the man to open the mind of his countrymen to the world-wide meaning of Milton’s career.

It is pathetic to reflect that Cromwell, the greatest man that ever ruled the English people, and one of the greatest men in history, had to wait for the Scotsman Carlyle to present him worthily to mankind; that in our modern times Milton, the greatest apostle of freedom, itself the greatest achievement of the English race, had to wait for the Scotsman Masson to set him before the world in his true character. Because Milton called to just account the tyranny of king, bishop, presbyter, Parliament, and canon law, his prose in which he did this vast service has been subjected to slight and neglect; still, this attitude has never been universal, and his countrymen, in whom the love of liberty and courage is so great, will do him justice in the end. Meanwhile Americans will continue to honor John Milton as an illustrious forerunner of the men who won and established constitutional freedom on this continent. They will read with a thrill of delight the title of his great Latin essay: Defensio pro Populo Anglicano. They will find the germ of their own theory of government in these words: “Our king made us not, but we him. The people is not for the king, but the king for the people.” They will see little irreverence in the superb profanity with which Milton scorns foreign interference in the affairs of Englishmen: “What the devil is it to you, what the English do among themselves ? ” Freedom was not, with Milton, an end, but a means, an atmosphere indispensable for vision and for life, a condition essential to the discovery and the service of truth. The crest of the Milton family was the sign of the eagle, and one of the most famous passages in Milton’s prose is inspired by this sign, “the noble and puissant nation,” like “an eagle mewing her mighty youth,” and “kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday heaven.” In this metaphor we find, according to Milton, the value of freedom. It lies in this, that freedom is the only path to the heights where undazzled eyes may kindle themselves at the ever-blazing torch of truth. Milton believed that God’s will is immanent in man and in human society. He saw that, to compass a larger vision of that will, men must be free to think and speak and act. Contentment with mere subjectivity, rest in the fleeting moods of a variable, inconstant mind, devotion to the psychic storm and stress that mean nothing universal and abiding, would have met from Milton unmeasured scorn. He knew himself as a substantial, accountable soul; his life was a moral life, among moral persons in a moral world. He was conscious that his being was set in an eternal moral order; and the deep passion of his heart was to know more and more of this order. He beheld this order working within his mind, he saw it working in the minds of his contemporaries; he found its operation reflected in the classic literature of Greece and Rome; he discerned in the Bible the divine image of its incessant action. To this order, the veritable presence of God in the world, Milton dedicated himself. This truth in the life of men he would know, and that he might know, he must be free.

For Milton, the tyranny of custom meant eyes averted from substance and fixed upon empty symbols. For Milton, custom must be servant and not master; convention must never be unalterably fixed, but fluent, ever subject to new forms. Idolatry, the confusion of image and reality, sign and substance, social arrangements and social laws, he abhorred. He saw that in the homage to king, bishop, and presbyter, convention had given to his countrymen a counterfeit intellect; that insensibility to the Eternal in their own being made vision, progress, strength and victory impossible. Milton defines the purpose of his life when he replies to those who said he exulted over fallen majesty, “I only preferred Queen Truth to King Charles.” And in writing against the execrable invention known as Eikon Basilike, a defense of Charles I, unworthy of an Englishman with a spark of manhood in him, yet of which forty-seven editions were quickly sold, Milton writes in words that express his constant attitude, “And tho’ it be an irksome labor to write with industry and judicious pains that which neither weighed nor well read shall be judged without industry or the pains of well-judging, by fiction and the easy literature of custom and opinion, it shall be ventured yet, and the truth not smothered but sent abroad in the native confidence of her simple self to earn how she can her entertainment in the world, and to find out her own readers: few perhaps, but those few of such value and substantial worth, as truth and wisdom, not respecting numbers and big names, have ever been wont in all ages to be contented with.”

And again, in these great sentences from the Areopagitica, we hear the same strain: “Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on : but when he ascended, and his apostles after him were laid asleep, then arose a wicked race of deceivers, who as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till the Master’s second coming: he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these licensing prohibitors to stand at every place of opportunity, forbidding and disturbing them that continue seeking, that continue to do our obsequies to the torn body of our martyred saint.”

Truth, however, is not the final end. For Milton truth becomes duty; the vision of his free intellect lays upon his will a moral obligation that binds him to his kind and to the conscience of God. And here we come upon an elevation loftier still in this heroic man. I know of no sublimer passage in any autobiography than these words from his Second Defence of the People of England. In reply to the contemptible charge that his blindness was a visitation from God for his sins, he writes, —

“And with respect to myself, though I have accurately examined my conduct, and scrutinized my soul, I call thee O God, the searcher of hearts, to witness, that I am not conscious either in the more early, or in the later periods of my life, of having committed any enormity, which might have deservedly marked me out as a fit object for such a calamitous visitation. But since my enemies boast that this affliction is only a retribution for the transgressions of my pen, I again invoke the Almighty to witness, that I never, at any time, wrote anything which I did not think agreeable to truth, to justice, and to piety. . . . Thus when I was publicly solicited to write a reply to the Defence of the Royal Cause, when I had to contend with the pressure of sickness, and with the apprehension of soon losing the sight of my remaining eye, and when my medical attendants clearly announced, that if I did engage in the work it would be irreparably lost, their premonitions caused no hesitation and inspired no dismay. I would not have listened to the voice even of Esculapius himself from the shrine of Epidauris, in preference to the heavenly monitor within my breast; my resolution was unshaken, though the alternative was either the loss of my sight or the desertion of my duty. ... I am not depressed by any sense of the divine displeasure; on the contrary, I have had full experience of the divine favor and protection; and in the solace and strength which have been infused into me from above, I have been enabled to do the will of God. . . . O that I may be perfected by feebleness and irradiated by obscurity! And, indeed, in my blindness, I enjoy in no inconsiderable degree the favor of the Deity, who regards me with more tenderness and compassion as I am unable to behold anything but himself.”

IV

The analysis of Milton’s distinctive gifts is not a difficult task. His powers are obvious, their manifestation is uniform; the bounds of his faculties are also clear, — they are as definite and magnificent as the bounds of the sea. In Milton there are no concealments, no pretensions, no sudden surprises, but one continuous amazement over sustained power. As he writes with pathetic fidelity to his own character, in his blind eyes alone, which appeared as if their vision was perfect, was he a dissembler, and that against his will. What we find in Milton are vast knowledge vitalized by an imagination unsurpassed for compass and originality in human history, pathos deep as life, an ear for harmony faultless and sure, strength in every energy of mind, and grandeur in every instinct of his being. There is in Milton no humor, no pervasive sympathy with light-heartedness and laughter, no happy setting of our human pilgrimage in the sweet heart of nature as in Chaucer, no union of legend and dreamy, mystic spirituality as in Spenser, no divine variety such as we find in Shakespeare, no palpitating, irrepressible lyric humanity as in Burns. In Milton we meet, as in no other poet in our tongue, the stately march of vast powers, the noble vision of the ideal side of existence, rapt regard for moral and eternal issues, prophetic insight and prophetic fire, oracles of splendor in music like that of the spheres, an organ voice, as Tennyson says, with an anthem sublime, moving in its mighty monotone, a monotone admitting every variety of color and shade, weaving into its majestic fabric the weariness, the sorrow, the despair, and the victory of great spirits, its warp and woof the light and darkness of the world.

Like all the productions of genius, there is in Milton’s best work a fading element. Nothing produced by man remains precious for all time as a whole. The man of supreme genius has his limitation in knowledge and in belief, and the allrevealing light of time sets this limitation in unmistakable relief. Like every great epic, like the Iliad and the Odyssey, the book of Job and the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost has two sides, — the temporal and the eternal. There is the side that for us is no longer true, that in the progress of the human mind has become incredible. There is the imaginative use of what is believed to be historic truth; when this historic truth so-called ceases to be credible, it becomes mythology, still amenable to poetic genius as symbol.

In the book of Job the modern reader makes this distinction between history and mythology; he makes the further distinction between fact and probability. The Satan of the book of Job, his swift transit from the earthly to the heavenly world, the visible appearance of the Infinite and his speeches, the modem reader thinks should be taken, not as literally, but as spiritually true. If once upon a time all this was believed to be history, it is regarded as historic fact no longer. It is seen to be the imaginative setting of the great spiritual epic. The feasting of the sons and daughters, close as this is to life, the hurricane from the wilderness, the fatal issues of storm and wreck, the speeches of the several messengers, the despair of Job’s wife, the sublime resignation of Job himself, the sad faces and the sadder comfort of his friends, illustrate the distinction between fact and probability.

All this might be history; but it is far likelier to belong simply to the imaginative structure of the poem. This structure contains, as I have hinted, two elements: things that might very well happen, and things that are presented as if they did take place, but which modern men consider impossible. Any combination of purely natural events is probable; as such it is the acceptable servant of art. The supernatural becomes the servant of art in two ways: it is intrinsically the servant of art to those who believe in the supernatural; it continues to serve poetic truth in the way of symbol when men no longer believe in it as fact. When the impossible is pressed into the service of poetry we usually call it mythology.

To this mythological element in Homer, Virgil, and Dante, we have long since adjusted ourselves. Homer’s theology is mythology; his anthropology is set in the heart of a mythological world. History and science are not in his universe, and we do not look for them in his work; we look for the special features of the Greek race, which he saw as no other writer ever saw them, and for some of the universal characteristics of mankind, for vision and love and sorrow, for life and beauty and death, for valor and victorious strength and wisdom, for the epic of a great people in the early morning of historic time. The universe of Homer’s epics remains the fascinating symbol of an enduring order.

In Dante, all this is seen with still greater ease. The Divine Comedy is read by all sorts of educated persons — Catholic, Protestant, believer, unbeliever, humanist, agnostic. The structure of the poem, whatever may have been the attitude of Dante’s mind toward it, is now seen to be purely the work of imagination; its Hell and Purgatory and Paradise are temporal and spatial forms for the eternal thought of the poet; we do not think of testing this form by science or by history. The structure of the poem is a symbol, the creation of the poetic imagination; and through that symbol we look for the message of a great prophetic soul. To tell us that there are no such places as the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso, is to repeat what all educated men know. The form of the Divine Comedy is of time, its content and spirit are of the eternal; its structure is the baseless fabric of a vision; but through that baseless fabric there looms the great tragic world of man.

Milton has suffered at this point. His Augustinian, Calvinistic scheme of the fall, sin, woe, and salvation, while essentially akin to that of Dante, has been reasoned into a vast order of thought by a long line of modern theologians; and, till within a generation, by the majority of Christians regarded as the true version of the spiritual history of mankind. To Milton the benefits of mythology have not been conceded in anything like the degree that they have been conceded to his great predecessors. He has been regarded as a teacher of theology, here and there, to be sure, somewhat unorthodox, but on the whole sound. The truth of his poem has been sought in its form and not in its spirit, in its Puritan theology and not in its essential, spiritual humanity. The time has come to disengage these two elements in Milton, to acknowledge at once the Miltonic mythology, and through that mythology to read the eternal truth concerning man and the God to whom his accountable soul answers, the truth about man and his ideal of righteousness, his enswathement in flesh, his temptation rising out of his dual nature, his sin, woe, and hope, his moral struggle and victory, his Paradise Lost and his Paradise Regained. Spiritually understood, there should be no trouble with the Fall. It is the symbol of the universal infidelity of man to his highest ideals. There need be no trouble with the Miltonic hell, because human beings have been there, and any day multitudes may be seen in that horror.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.

There need be no difficulty over Milton’s devil. The poet is here our prophet, and has gathered for us the total prevailing untoward force of the world, the fierce, victorious hostilities that lead men to ruin, the black contradictions of our human universe, and fixed them in a personality whose strength and malice and woe are fearful. In that stupendous portent behold personified the dark and awful contradiction of human good; in that terrible picture of malice and woe behold the depth to which the free spirit of man may sink.

Taken in this large and free way, taken as a poetic symbol of eternal truth, Paradise Lost will be found equal to the greatest epic achievement of man. Its vast design and structure, its wealth of characterization, its richness in moral insight and wisdom, its feeling for nature and for man in nature, its majestic recitative of the elemental passions and interests of our human race, its mighty canvas with the spiritual history of our Western world painted there in forms and colors that nothing in any literature can surpass, wall subdue, purify, exalt, and console the serious position of mankind to the end of time.

The vitality of Paradise Lost comes from the soul of Milton the English patriot. It is, first of all, the generalized form of his own history. He was born when the king and the people were to meet in tragic conflict, when the national church was to face the national conscience, when organized religion was to join in battle the nobler ideals and character of a community inspired by the spirit of freedom. At length came Oliver Cromwell, his battles, his victories, his commonwealth; and Milton saw in all this the realization and the prophetic servant of his dreams. English freedom, English manhood, and English progress were assured.

Then came the tragic reverse. Oliver Cromwell died in September, 1658, and in 1660 the son of Charles I was crowned King of England. The restoration of the Stuart dynasty meant disaster to Milton’s national hope. Again the tyrant was on the throne, again the bishop was coöppressor with the king; again display, corruption, infamy, were in the court, setting fashions for the wealth and youth of the land; again freemen were driven to the wall. Milton’s personal fortunes were wrecked, and he lived in a community in which he was regarded almost with loathing. But it was not personal disaster that made Milton go as with a sword in his bones, but the disaster to freedom. In the consciousness of a tremendous personal and national calamity, he faced the spiritual tragedy of mankind as told in the epic of the Fall. Personal contradiction and sorrow, national disaster and woe, were taken up into the universal tragedy and misery of the race. Paradise Lost is the epic of the race, but the racial epic is fed from the tragic issues of personal and national history. The great poem burns from its first line to its last with this tremendous contemporaneous fire. The bitter disappointment of the nation’s fall is in these great words, —

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world and all our woe
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, heav’nly Muse.

The sorrow of a nation of fallen freemen is in the pathos of the final words about Adam and Eve. Led out of Eden, abandoned by their angelic guide, —

They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces throng’d and fiery arms.
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

Milton the human being is always in Milton the artist. The gift of primal self-identification with others, of pervasive, comprehending, self-oblivious sympathy, did not belong to Milton. The epic movement of nations and races was not his original interest; nor was it in him to rehearse the love and woe and hope of a people, as Homer did, and leave, in the far-shining edifice of his art, not a single trace of his own fortune. Indeed, in the plays of Shakespeare alone is there a modern parallel to this mysterious and utter self-effacement. And it is curious to note that the personality both of Homer and of Shakespeare has been denied; so foreign to man is this supreme grace of self-concealment. It was foreign to Milton, for he, like Dante, was a mighty individual, and from his own individuality he could not escape. Like Dante again, his personal fortunes, in the noble sense of course, are his original concern, and through them he advances to the comprehension of the fortunes of the race.

As indicating the limitation and the strength of Milton, some have said that his genius was not dramatic but lyric. This characterization of Milton’s genius does not seem to me of much account. To the lyric poet it does not occur to transcend himself; he is possessed with a note of joy or sorrow to which he must give utterance. His song is himself, pure and simple; the philosopher comes and finds it the song of the universal human heart. Milton does not belong here; he begins with himself, as Shakespeare might conceivably have found the key to the comedy and the tragedy of the world in his own heart; he moves from the personal to the national and racial, carrying with him the great and precious burden of his soul; and when he has thus universalized the meaning of his individual existence he becomes epic poet. Still, it is to be noted that to the end Milton utters, through his art, his personal fortunes in this world; these fortunes are, as I have said, universalized, but they continue his. The joy of the youth Milton, like the sweet breath of a summer morning when the quiet earth is awakening under the touch of the first beams of daybreak, is the pulse of L’Allegro ; its accumulated images of clean mirth lay open a soul full of honor and delight. His Il Penseroso brings to us the pensiveness of his contemplative and sensitive spirit before the real struggle began. The purity and chivalry that were ever Milton’s flow in the noble verse of Comus ; also his early-born and steadfast optimism : —

Virtue may be assail’d, but never hurt,
Surprised by unjust force, but not enthrall’d . . . If this fail,
The pillar’d firmament is rottenness
And earth’s base built on stubble.

His first great sorrow finds a voice in Lycidas ; the sonnets, whose sound is like the sea, speak for the poet as the representative of suffering freedom and heroism; Paradise Lost becomes the organ requiem of personal and national and racial disaster; Paradise Regained is bloodless because there is so little of Milton in it; in Samson Agonistes there is the final surge in this mighty representative life. Here again the national and racial tragedy are set in the defeat and victory of his own soul. Hear this cry from the depths, like the wail of the winds in the caverns of a dead planet, and note in it the universal woe: —

O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day !
O first created Beam and thou great Word,
“ Let there be light, and light was over all,”
Why am I thus bereaved thy prime decree ?

And, once more, the chastened personal victory has become the channel of the eternal triumph: —

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.

Here we find the reason of Milton’s unique appeal to the imagination of the modern man. Milton stood before a contemptuous world the apostle and champion of the highest things — freedom, truth, manhood, faith. He met with sore contradiction. In the midst of his great studies he was struck blind, and no words in English poetry are more moving than these:—

Thus with the year
Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer’s rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine ;
But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature’s works, to me expunged and rased
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.

To this personal limitation and distress must be added the defeat of his public cause. All that he had gloried in as a free Englishman, and fought for with the last light of his eyes and for years in his blindness, was lost, overwhelmed by the abject and shameless mind of his countrymen. In this wild waste of sorrow, note his fortitude: he still sings with voice

Unchanged
To hoarse or mute, tho’ fall’n on evil days,
On evil days tho’ fall’n and evil tongues ;
In darkness, aud with dangers compast round. And solitude ; yet not alone, while thou
Visit’st my slumbers nightly, or when morn
Purples the east.

As the final act in the drama of his suffering heroism note his achievement: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes; a monumental achievement, done in blindness, in public scorn and contempt, and from his fiftieth to his sixty-second year, by the strength and splendor of his genius and the breath of the Eternal in his heart. These are a few of the things that give to Milton his extraordinary power over the imagination of enlightened and noble men.

Comparison of Milton with the great epic poets of the world, while not altogether profitable, is nevertheless inevitable. Immeasurably greater than Homer in maturity, in strength, and in insight into the heart of human society, Milton is wanting in the variety, sweetness, swiftness, surprise, humor, and unique pathos that we find in the Odyssey. There are lines in Milton to whose moral grandeur there is no approach in Homer; there are pictures in Homer, like the episodes of the Cyclops and the meeting of Odysseus and his mother in Hades, the humor of the one and the pathos of the other, that are unequaled by anything in Milton. Plato censures Homer as an artist because he makes the gods subject to fits of uncontrollable laughter. Perhaps Plato is here only half in the right; the gods would be less than divine if they were not responsive to the comedy of the world. Still, their laughter should be divine laughter; and here Homer’s art is at fault because his character as a Greek was at fault. His style here was the mood of his spirit upon divine things; as such it fell beneath his subject. No such criticism could be made upon the art of Milton; and here the Englishman is surely greater than the Greek. On the whole, the honors of the two poets are different, but equal; and justice, while pointing to limitations in both, leaves them standing together, each with the wreath of laurel upon his brow, on the same serene height.

Lucretius is the greatest of the Roman poets, and, like Milton, his concern is for the peace and victory of his fellow men. In Milton there is no such passion of sorrow and despair as we find in Lucretius; in Lucretius there is wanting the wisdom, the moral restraint, the faith, and character that we find in Milton. The deepest note in Milton is hope; the deepest in Lucretius is despair. The poets are as unlike as are the prophets of eternal life and eternal death. Milton’s vision is vaster far than that of Lucretius, and the Roman poet as an artist is not in Milton’s class.

Dante is the poet with whom Milton is oftenest put in comparison. Dante and Milton are alike in the religious character of their genius, in the further trait that they move toward the racial epic on the lines of personal fortune. The Divine Comedy is primarily the symbol of the three worlds in which Dante’s existence had been passed. The egoism of his poem is sublime: on reflection, he found that he represented his age and fashioned his symbol for his time and race. So far no two men could be more alike than Milton and Dante. There are, of course, many contrasts in them. Milton has no such hold upon the mind of his devotees as Dante has gained over his. The reasons for this fact would form an interesting discussion, which, however, cannot be pursued here. Inferior to Dante in the high romance of love, in the passionate intensity of his nature, in the vast and precious mysticism of his spirit, Milton is superior to Dante in moral health, in adamantine manhood, in majesty of genius; nobler far in his rage, since he builds his hell for devils and not for men, and seeks no consolation from the vision of the torture of his enemies in the regions of eternal woe. The mythological element is much larger in Dante than in Milton, and the symbolic worth of the Puritan epic, taking it as a whole, is not inferior to that of the mediæval. As an artist in human speech, Milton is the peer of Dante, or of any poet that ever breathed. Let the vogue of Dante continue and never grow less; but let men of English speech ponder the high symbolic presentation of human existence in the epic of John Milton.

The art of Milton recalls by turns the distinctive excellence of building, sculpture, painting, and music. The plan of Milton’s work, the premeditation, the labor, and the monumental character, recall now the Greek temple and again the Gothic cathedral; the austere reserve of it, the union of completeness and infinite suggestion, the disdain and the immortal triumph, recall the gods and goddesses of Greece done in marble; the vast background, the subdued light, the rich color, the canvas crowded with shapes of many hues, the bold outlines and the vague immensities into which they melt, the combination of truth and beauty and joy all in an atmosphere luminous and yet dim, serene and yet weird, happy and yet portentous, recall the hall whose walls are hung with the select masterpieces of the world; and in this hall music is heard, organ music, such as is heard nowhere else among men. Such seems to me the art of Milton. I cannot think of any artistic excellence richer or more perfect than his.

There is in Milton one thing greater than his art, and that is his character. From earliest years he led a dedicated life. He was the pride of his father, and yet that parental pride in no way injured his spirit. He was, in his youth, of extraordinary beauty, yet that beauty was never desecrated or turned into an instrument of dishonor. He went through the fiery trial of young manhood and came forth without even the smell of fire upon his soul. He was never the betrayer, he was ever the defender, of woman, carrying the high vow of chivalry in his soul, with passionate longing for purity in his own being that he might inspire and champion purity in others. He was the ornament of his university, yet his wise head was in no way undone by that distinction. He lived the life of a country gentleman, with eye and ear and heart open to the beauty and wonder of nature, and his spirit erect before God and man. He traveled in Europe for fifteen months, the object of attention and admiration from famous men and gifted women, such as would have brought moral disaster to a nature less noble and sure of its high ends. Counseled in his Italian travels to keep his lips closed upon the subject of religion, in Rome itself, when the matter was forced upon him, he scorned evasion, and spoke his thoughts with a fearless force that would have done honor to Luther.

When he was but half-way in the realization of his plan of travel, when Greece and Palestine were unvisited, he surrendered his dream of pleasure because his country was in distress, and hastened to England to bear his share in the struggle and hope of the wise and brave. For twenty years he abandoned poetry that he might in prose serve as an apostle of Freedom, thus reversing at the call of fluty the mighty tide of his genius. When told he must become totally blind if he persisted in writing his Second Defense of the People of England, he did not desist: he did his duty, and for his reward accepted blindness. When the cause for which he had fought with all his might for twenty years went to wreck, at the age of fifty, he retired into the freedom of the city of God in his own soul, and lifted the disappointment and sorrow of his life, and the life of his afflicted and foolish nation, into one of the noblest epics ever written by the hand of man.

Solitary, defamed, an object of lies and bitter hatred, with his great friends in the grave, with few to wait upon him and cheer him in his disaster, he abated not one jot of heart or hope, but with a high and an uncomplaining fortitude almost without a parallel in our history, did his work and sang his epic notes for the ages to come. When an old man, blind, forsaken, in dark trials of many kinds, he repeated in his own soul the spiritual tragedy of the race and came forth a conqueror. There is little wonder, therefore, that Milton wrote more lines worthy to be placed beside the best in the Hebrew Scriptures than any other poet in the English tongue. Indeed, in one instance, Milton has done what no Hebrew psalmist was able to do, he has written an imprecatory sonnet or psalm acceptable to the conscience of every person who cares for justice and humanity. Religion has become a divine rage, an imprecation of the highest in man, in the great sonnet whose first line will renew the memory of its matchless words, —

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints.

We commemorate one of the kings of the race, whose character as a human being alone transcends the achievement of his genius, and we find in the picture of his seraph Abdiel the portrait of our poet, upon which men will look with admiration and reverence as long as they care for the loftiest things in the spiritual history of the world : —

So spake the seraph Abdiel, faithful found
Among the faithless, faithful only he ;
Among innumerable false unmoved,
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal :
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind,
Though single. From amidst them forth he pass’d
Long way thro hostile scorn, which he sustained
Superior, nor of violence fear’d aught;
And with retorted scorn his back he turn’d
On those proud tow’rs to swift destruction doom’d.

After such words the best that one can say must seem profane. After Milton has sketched his own character who shall dare touch the canvas ? Silence would seem to be the fittest tribute; indeed, it would appear to be a religious duty. Yet one cannot be altogether silent in the presence of this beneficent wonder. Milton is a man full of the modem spirit; he has been an apostle of freedom for the three centuries in which his race has been winning freedom for itself, and setting before other races the example of freedom. Milton’s poetry receives to-day highest praise from all who discern and feel the character of great poetry. His poetic achievement has been added to the precious store of the intrinsically great and imperishable possessions of mankind. The career of Milton the patriot, the message of Milton the apostle of freedom, still waits adequate recognition. Here is a life of the utmost moment to men and nations, an epic existence to which lovers of freedom will delight to bring their tribute in all time to come. They will not be satisfied with the great words in which others have praised their hero; they will strive to behold him with their own eyes and speak in their own tongue the veneration that swells in their hearts. In sympathy with this mood, I venture these final words : —

Milton! on thy strong Saxon shoulders wide,
The mighty burden of the coming time
Thou bear’st, Prophet of liberty sublime.
The abject world is borne on God’s deep tide
To freedom’s flood. Thy cause must ever ride
Triumphant. Thy high fame is in thy rhyme
And in thy lofty manhood’s endless prime.
Thy work and worth shall evermore abide.
The conscience of our race forever pleads
In thy majestic tongne, the nobler law ;
The fear of king, priest, mob, all broken reeds,
Dies in the presence of that vaster awe
Which God inspires; thro’ flaming gift and word
As thro’ the stars, looks thy Eternal Lord.