« ZurückWeiter »
Phillips, indeed, mentions that, some time in 1649, Milton "lodged at one Thomson's, next door to the Bull Head Tavern at Charing Cross, opening into the Spring Garden;" his stay there, however, being but by way of temporary accommodation, after he had left. his house in Holborn, till his official rooms in Scotland Yard could be got ready (see antè, p. 169). It has been supposed that the Mrs. Catherine Thomson who died in 1646 may have been one of the Charing Cross family with whom Milton thus afterwards lodged. This is mere guess. Thomson, then as now, was a very common name in London.
SONNET XV.: "ON THE LORD GENERAL FAIRFAX AT THE SIEGE OF COLCHESTER."
(First printed by Phillips, at the end of his Life of Milton, prefixed to the English translation of Milton's State-Letters in 1694; but Draft, in Milton's own hand, among the Cambridge MSS.)
This Sonnet is usually headed now "To the Lord General Fairfax ; but it is better to restore the original title from Milton's own MS. Draft, though the pen is there drawn through the title to erase it. For one thing, this title fixes the date of the Sonnet. The siege of Colchester in Essex lasted from the 15th of June to the 28th of August, 1648, and was one of the most memorable incidents of what is called "the Second Civil War," i. e. of that spasmodic new rising of the English and Scottish Royalists on behalf of Charles I., then a prisoner in the Isle of Wight, which it required all the energy of Fairfax, the Parliamentarian commander-in-chief, and of Cromwell, his lieutenant-general, to put down, and which led very speedily to the King's trial and doom. While Cromwell managed the northern department of the war, meeting and beating the Duke of Hamilton and the Royalist Scots and English at Preston, Fairfax in person superintended the siege of Colchester; which town had been seized for the King, and was defended by the Earl of Norwich, Lord Capel, Sir Charles Lucas, Sir George Lisle, and other Royalist chiefs. As Fairfax offered quarter only to the soldiers, but required the leaders to surrender at discretion, the defence was desperate, and both the garrison and the towns
people were reduced to the last straits of starvation, having to eat grass and the flesh of horses, cats, and dogs. When the surrender did take place, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were tried by court-martial, and immediately shot, as released prisoners of war who had broken their parole to the Parliament in again taking arms for the King. The Earl of Norwich and Lord Capel were left to the mercy of Parliament; and Lord Capel was afterwards executed. The taking of Colchester was heard of with triumph by the Parliamentarians throughout England, and went as an addition to the renown of Fairfax acquired by his many actions since he had been made Parliamentary commander-in-chief in Dec. 1644. Milton, in this. Sonnet, expresses the general feeling of the hour, not only about the particular victory, but also about the character of Fairfax, and England's farther hopes from him. Might not more than military service come from him? Might it not be his to perform the more difficult political part that remained, and settle the State in peace and purity? As we now know, this part was not to be Fairfax's. For the trial and deposition of the King he was prepared ; but the execution of the King was too much for him. He, and, still more zealously, his wife, Lady Fairfax, protested against it; and, though he had remained steadily with the army and its other chiefs up to the very moment of that last act, and even retained his commandin-chief, with a seat in the Council of State, for some time after it, he at length (July 1650) resigned both, and retired into private life at his seat of Nunappleton in Yorkshire, leaving the supremacy for Cromwell. That Milton still retained for him in his retirement the high regard he had expressed in his Sonnet of 1648 is evident from a passage of eulogy in his Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano, written in 1654. "Neither canst thou be passed over, Fairfax," he there writes in Latin in the course of an enumeration of the chiefs of the English Revolution-" a man "in whom nature and the divine favour have conjoined with the "greatest fortitude a modesty and a purity of life equally great. "Thou also deservest by thine own right and merit to be brought "in for a share of these praises, although now in that retirement "of thine, like Scipio Africanus of old at Liternum, thou hidest "thyself as much as thou canst, and hast conquered not the
"enemy alone, but also ambition, and, what conquers sometimes "the best of men, glory, and enjoyest thy virtues and illustrious "deeds in that most delightful and glorious rest which is the "end of all labours and even the greatest human actions; such rest as, when it was enjoyed by the ancient heroes after wars "and renown not greater than thine, the poets who tried to praise "them despaired of being able worthily to represent otherwise "than by fabling them to have been received into heaven, and to "be reclining at the feasts of the Gods. But, whether it is, as I "would most readily believe, the state of your health, or whether "it is anything else, that has withdrawn you from public affairs, "of this I am most strongly assured, that nothing could have "torn you away from concerns of state unless you had seen how great a saviour of liberty, what a firm and faithful support and "bulwark of the English Commonwealth, you were leaving in 66 'your successor." Notwithstanding this assurance of Milton in 1654, Fairfax only half-liked Cromwell's Protectorate at the first; and very soon-perhaps most distinctly after the marriage of his young daughter, Mary, in Nov. 1657, to the afterwards notorious and witty Duke of Buckingham, then a Royalist outlaw he liked it even less. After Cromwell's death his mind was made up for the restoration of Charles II.; and he came forth from his retirement to assist in that event. He did not, however, connect himself actively with the Restoration Government, but, returning to his repose, died Nov. 12, 1671, in the sixtieth year of his age. Whether the omission of the Sonnet to him in the edition of Milton's Poems published two years afterwards marked any change in Milton's feeling occasioned by Fairfax's concern with the Restoration, or whether the Sonnet was omitted merely as savouring too much of the pre-Restoration politics to be then allowable, can hardly be determined. The second supposition is the more probable.
SONNET XVI. : "TO THE LORD GENERAL CRomwell, May 1652: ON THE PROPOSALS OF CERTAIN MINISTERS at the COMMITTEE FOR THE PROPAGATION OF THE GOSPEL.”
(First printed by Phillips at the end of his Life of Milton in 1694; but copy among the Cambridge MSS., in the hand of an amanuensis who wrote to Milton's dictation.)
Milton's admiration of Cromwell, an admiration far transcending any he had for Fairfax, is attested by many proofs, and, amongst them, by that long and impassioned outburst of Latin eulogium on Cromwell in the Defensio Secunda, into which the eulogy on Fairfax quoted above is slipped but as an episode. To Milton Cromwell, to the last, was our chief of men," the very greatest and noblest of Englishmen of that time. As he had known Cromwell face to face, had sat at the Council-board with Cromwell day after day in the capacity of Foreign Secretary, had heard Cromwell speak familiarly, and had received instructions from him for the despatches that were to be put into Latin, this opinion of Milton's, deliberately formed and expressed, deserves remembrance. No two men, I believe, were more essentially like-minded, more one at heart in their thoughts about the great problems of the English nation at that time, than the two whom fate had thus drawn together in such different capacities-Cromwell, the supreme soldier and man of action, raised at length to be the ruler ; Milton, the poet and idealist, brought beside this ruler as a scholarly official. The Sonnet under notice, however, is not, as the mere title "To Cromwell" sometimes given to it might lead one to imagine, Milton's estimate of Cromwell from the whole of his career, or even after Milton's Secretaryship to him singly had begun. It is an address by Milton to Cromwell at a particular moment of Cromwell's career and on a particular occasion. What was the moment, and what was the occasion? We learn both from the erased, but still legible, heading of the Sonnet in the Cambridge MS. copy. The date was May 1652. Cromwell was not yet Protector, though he was the first man in the Republic, and they were proposing to make him its head. Since the execution of the King, and the establishment of the Commonwealth under the government of the Parliament with a Council of State,
he had been away in Ireland, as Lord-Lieutenant of that country, trampling down its long Rebellion and reducing it to order (1649-50); he had also been in Scotland, and had fought the Battle of Dunbar (Sept. 3, 1650) there, and taken other measures which, when followed up by the crowning victory of Worcester (Sept 3, 1651), utterly ruined the cause of Charles II. in Scotland, as well as in England, and united both parts of the island in one Commonwealth. These were the acts of Cromwell freshest in men's minds, and he had been again in London through the winter of 1651-2, when the Sonnet was written. The Sonnet breathes the feeling of many at that hour with respect to him. Now that he was at home again, would not things be better managed than they had been in his absence by the persistent Rump of the Long Parliament and the Council of State? Especially in matters of Religion was not fresh zeal necessary? Throughout England and Wales, or in many parts of them, Church matters were in chaos-Presbyterian ministers here and Independents there, mixed with the wrecks of the old parish clergy; no regular arrangement for the provision of ministers; disputes as to the method of such provision, whether by a common fund out of the tithes, or by voluntary contribution without tithes at all; many districts meanwhile in spiritual destitution for want of fit pastors and preachers. For the consideration of such questions and the remedying of such evils there had been appointed a Parliamentary "Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel ;" and this Committee seems to have been in unusual activity after Cromwell's return. "March 29, 1652," writes Whitlocke in his Memorials, "proposals were tendered to the Committee for Propagating the Gospel for supply of all parishes with able and godly ministers,
settling of right constituted churches," &c.; and again, " May 4, 1652 referred to the Committee to consider how a competent "maintenance for godly ministers may be settled in lieu of tithes." In connexion with which, as relating to the same business, and probably to the same date, take the following passage from the Autobiography of the Presbyterian Richard Baxter (Part I. p. 115). "When the part of the Parliament called the Rump or Common"wealth was sitting, the Anabaptists, Seekers, &c., flew so high "against Tithes and Ministry that it was much feared lest