« ZurückWeiter »
deprived him of much of what was left. As age grew on, he found himself reduced to comparative poverty, and driven to sell his library for subsistence. Even among the sectaries who shared his political opinions Milton stood in religious opinion alone, for he had gradually severed himself from every accepted form of faith, and embraced Arianism, and had ceased to attend at any place of worship. Nor was his home a happy one. The grace and geniality of his youth disappeared in the drudgery of a schoolmaster's life and amongst the invectives of controversy. In age his temper became stern and exacting. His daughters, who were forced to read to their blind father in languages which they could not understand, revolted utterly against their bondage.
But solitude and misfortune only brought out into bolder relief Milton's inner greatness. There was a grand simplicity in the life of his later years. He listened every morning to a chapter of the Hebrew Bible, and after musing in silence for a while pursued his studies till midday. Then he took exercise for an hour, played for another hour on the organ or viol, and renewed his studies. The evening was spent in converse with visitors and friends. For lonely and unpopular as Milton was, there was one thing about him which made his house in Bunhill Fields a place of pilgrimage to the wits of the Restoration. He was the last of the Elizabethans. He had possibly seen Shakspere, as on his visits to London after his retirement to Stratford the playwright passed along Bread Street to his wit combats at the Mermaid. He had been the contemporary of Webster and Massinger, of Herrick and Crashaw. His “Comus” and " Arcades" had rivalled the masques of Ben Jonson. It was with a reverence drawn from thoughts like these that Dryden looked on the blind poet as he sate, clad in black, in his chamber hung with rusty green tapestry, his fair brown
hair falling as of old over a calm, serene face that still retained much of its youthful beauty, his cheeks delicately coloured, his clear grey eyes showing no trace of their blindness. But fainous, whether for good or ill, as his prose writings had made him, during fifteen years only a few sonnets had broken his silence as a singer. It was now, in his blindness and old age, with the cause he loved trodden under foot by men as vile as the rabble in “Comus,” that the genius of Milton took refuge in the great poem on which through years of silence his imagination had still been brooding.
On his return from his travels in Italy, Milton spoke of himself as musing on "a work not to be raised from the heat of youth or the vapours of wine, like that which flows at waste from the pen of some vulgar amourist or the trencher fury of a rhyming parasite, nor to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and her Siren daughters; but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his Seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom He pleases." His lips were touched at last. Seven years after the Restoration appeared the “Paradise Lost," and four years later the “Paradise Regained” and “Samson Agonistes,” in the severe grandeur of whose verse we see the poet himself “fallen,” like Samson, “on evil days and evil tongues, with darkness and with danger compassed round.” But great as the two last works were, their greatness was eclipsed by that of their predecessor. The whole genius of Milton expressed itself in the “ Paradise Lost.” The romance, the gorgeous fancy, the daring imagination which he shared with the Elizabethan poets, the large but ordered beauty of form which he had drunk in from the literature of Greece and Rome, the sublimity of conception, the loftiness of phrase which he owed to the Bible, blended in this story “ of man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose niortal taste brought death into the world and all our woe.” It is only when we review the strangely mingled elements which make up the poem that we realize the genius which fused them into such a perfect whole. The meagre outline of the Hebrew legend is lost in the splendour and music of Milton's verse. The stern idealism of Geneva is clothed in the gorgeous robes of the Renascence. If we miss something of the free play of Spenser's fancy, and yet more of the imaginative delight in their own creations which gives so exquisite a life to the poetry of the early dramatists, we find in place of these the noblest example which our literature affords of the ordered majesty of classic form.
STRAFFORD'S TRIAL AND DEATH.
(James struggled fiercely against Puritanism and the love of
freedom it aroused, and the struggle went on under his son Charles the First. Parliament after parliament was dissolved; and Charles at last resolved to govern by his own will. In this he was chiefly supported by Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards made Earl of Strafford, a man of great genius, but of an arbitrary and despotic temper, who went to Ireland as its governor, and strove to build up an Irish army which might be used to keep England and English freedom at the King's feet. But after some years troubles broke suddenly out in Scotland: the Scots rose in revolt ; the English troops whom the King raised refused to fight; the Irish army proved useless; and the whole system of arbitrary rule came to an end. Charles was forced to summon the Long Parliament, and one of its first acts was to impeach Lord Strafford. His trial before the Lords was in effect a trial of the King's government.)
THREE kingdoms, by their representatives, were present, and for fifteen days, the period of the duration of the trial, “it was daily,” says Baillie, “the most glorious assembly the isle could afford.” The Earl? himself appeared before it each day in deep mourning, wearing his George. The stern and simple character of his features accorded with the occasion,—his “countenance manly black," as Whitelock terms it, and his thick dark hair cut short from his ample forehead. A poet who was present exclaimed,
“On thy brow
-To this was added the deep interest which can never be withheld from sickness bravely borne. His face was dashed with paleness, and his body stooped with its own infirmities even more than with its master's cares. This was, indeed, so evident, that he was obliged to allude to it himself, and it was not seldom alluded to by others. “ They had here,” he said, on one occasion, “this rag of mortality before them, worn out with numerous infirmities, which, if they tore into shreds, there was no great loss, only in the spilling of his, they would open a way to the blood of all the nobility in the land." His disorders were the most terrible to bear in themselves, and of that nature, moreover, which can least endure the aggravation of mental anxiety. A severe attack of stone, gout in one of his legs to an extent even with him unusual, and other pains, had bent all their
1 Scotland and Ireland sent representatives to join those of the English House of Commons as accusers. ? Strafford.
3 The insignia of the Garter.
afflictions upon him. Yet, though a generous sympathy was demanded on this score, and paid by not a few of his worst opponents, it availed little with the multitudes that were present. Much noise and confusion prevailed at all times through the hall; there was always a great clamour near the doors ; and we have it on the authority of Rushworth himself,4 that at those intervals when Strafford was busied in preparing his answers, the most distracting “ hubbubs" broke out, lords walked about and chatted, and commoners were yet more offensively loud. This was unfavourable to the recollection, for disproof, of incidents long passed, and of conversations forgotten ! But conscious that he was not to be allowed in any case permission to retire, as soon as one of his opponent managers had closed his charge, the Earl calmly turned his back to his judges, and with uncomplaining composure, conferred with his secretaries and counsel.
As the trial proceeded, so extraordinary were the resources he manifested, that the managers of the commons failed in much of the effect of their evidence. Even the clergy who were present forgot the imprisonment of the weak and miserable Laud (who now lay in prison, stripped of his power by this formidable parliament, which the very despotism of himself and Strafford had gifted with its potently operative force !) and thought of nothing but the “grand apostate" before them."By this time," says May, , “ the people began to be a little divided in opinion. The clergy in general were so much fallen into love and admiration of this Earl, that the Archbishop of Canterbury was almost quite forgotten by them. The courtiers cried him
4 The Clerk of the House of Commons. 5 Archbishop of Canterbury, and fellow-minister of the King with Strafford.
6 Strafford had begun his parliamentary life as a supporter of English rights, and had afterwards gone over to the side of the Crown.