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"they would have prevailed at last; wherefore I drew up a "petition for the Ministry, which is printed under the name "of the Worcestershire Petition; which, being presented by "Colonel John Bridges and Mr. Thomas Foley, was accepted "with thanks, and seemed to have a considerable tendency to "some good resolutions." In short, there was then some form of the controversy respecting a State Church and endowments for the clergy, and the Presbyterian ministers more especially seemed to their enemies to be trying to get for themselves the good things that had belonged to the abolished Prelatic Church. It was expected that Cromwell, whose sympathies had been with the Independents and Sectaries, would have something to say to this; and Milton's Sonnet expresses that expectation. It is a call to Cromwell to save England from a mercenary ministry of any denomination, or a new ecclesiastical tyranny of any form. Cromwell's Protectorate (Dec. 1653-Sept. 1658), with Milton's closer connexion with him during that Protectorate, came later. Yet the Sonnet may well stand as Milton's tribute of respect to Cromwell on the whole; and little wonder that he did not dare print it in the edition of his Poems in 1673.
SONNET XVII.: "TO SIR HENRY VANE THE YOUNGER."
(First printed by Phillips at the end of his Life of Milton in 1694; but copy, from Milton's dictation, among the Cambridge MSS.)
This Sonnet breathes the same spirit as the last, and may have been written at the same time, or perhaps somewhat earlier. If it was written in 1652, Vane was in his fortieth year when it was addressed to him, and was one of the Council of State; but, as his father was still alive, he was always known as the Younger Vane. It was recollected, moreover, how he had entered the Long Parliament at the age of twenty-seven, having already distinguished himself in America, and how all through the Parliament he had acted and been regarded as one of the subtlest and boldest theorists of the extreme Revolutionary party. In his style of mind he was what would now be called a doctrinaire, or abstract thinker, with perhaps a dash of the fanatic; and, as
Milton hints, he had exercised himself very particularly on the question of the relations and mutual limits of Church and State, having had practical occasion to consider that question as early as 1636 when he was Governor of Massachusetts. After the Restoration he was brought to the scaffold, June 14, 1662. Milton's Sonnet to him was necessarily omitted in the volume of 1673. It expresses the notion Milton had formed of Vane from observation of his career in the Long Parliament, and perhaps also from personal acquaintance.
SONNET XVIII.: "ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN PIEDMONT." (Edition of 1673.)
This, the most powerful of Milton's Sonnets, was written in 1655, and refers to the persecution instituted, in the early part of that year, by Charles Emmanuel II., Duke of Savoy and Prince of Piedmont, against his Protestant subjects of the valleys of the Cottian Alps. This Protestant community, half French and half Italian, and known as the Waldenses or Vaudois, were believed to have kept up the tradition of a primitive Christianity from the time of the Apostles. At all events, the general European Reformation had found them already in possession of tenets and forms of Church observance such as the Reformation proposed for all, and ready to acquiesce in its new teachings. There had been various persecutions of them since the Reformation; but that of 1655 surpassed all. By an edict of the Duke they were required to part with their property and leave his dominions within twenty days, or else to become Roman Catholics. On their resistance, forces were sent into their valleys, and the most dreadful atrocities followed. Many were butchered, others were taken away in chains, and hundreds of families were driven for refuge to the mountains covered with snow, to live there miserably, or perish with cold and hunger. Among the Protestant nations of Europe, and especially in England, the indignation was immediate and violent. Cromwell, who was then Protector, took up the matter with his whole strength. He caused Latin letters, couched in the strongest terms, to be immediately sent, not only to the offending Duke of Savoy, but also to the chief Princes and
Powers of Europe. These Letters were all drawn up by Milton, and may be read among his Letters of State. An ambassador was also sent to collect information; a Fast Day was appointed; a subscription of 40,000l. was raised for the sufferers; and altogether Cromwell's remonstrances were such that, backed as they would have been, if necessary, by armed force, the cruel edict was withdrawn, and a convention made with the Vaudois, allowing them the exercise of their worship. Milton's Sonnet is his private and more tremendous expression in verse of the feeling he expressed publicly, in Cromwell's name, in his Latin State Letters. Every line labours with wrath.
SONNET XIX.: ON HIS BLINDNESS.
(Edition of 1673.)
The last Sonnet, if not also the two preceding it, had been written by Milton after he had lost his sight. His blindness, which had been coming on slowly for ten years, and had been hastened by his labour in writing his Defensio Prima pro Populo Anglicano in answer to Salmasius (1651), appears to have been complete in 1653, when he was only forty-five years of age. This appears from a statement of his nephew Phillips in his Life of Milton; from one of Milton's own Familiar Epistles, giving an exact account of his blindness and of its first symptoms (dated Sept. 28, 1654, and addressed Leonardo Philaræ, Atheniensi); from passages in Milton's prose pamphlets; and from the second of the two subsequent Sonnets to Cyriack Skinner. The fact is corroborated by a minute of the Council of State, of date March 11, 1651-2, appointing Mr. Weckerlyn to be assistant to Milton in his Foreign Secretaryship to the Council. At this last date Milton was not quite blind, for there are signatures of his to nearly as late a date; but his blindness was then such at least as to require official assistance. The year 1652, or, at latest, the year 1653, must have finished the disaster. Milton, therefore, we are to imagine, after having been Secretary to the Council of State for a year or two with his sight failing, continued to act as Secretary through Cromwell's Protectorate (1653-58)
with his sight totally gone. Almost all that he had written after the close of 1651, if not for a year or two before that, had been written by the method of dictation; and hence his Sonnets to Cromwell and Vane do not appear in his own hand. But, certainly, the Sonnet on the Piedmontese Massacre, and all his State Letters for Cromwell or his son Richard, and all his contemporary pamphlets, must have been dictated. The blindness, thus falling upon Milton in the prime of his manhood, and shrouding the last two-and-twenty years of his life in darkness, was felt as the greatest of calamities by himself, and was pointed to with coarse exultation by his enemies, at home and abroad, as a divine judgment on him for his defences of the execution of Charles I., and for the part he had otherwise taken in the English Revolution. Again and again in Milton's later writings, in prose and in verse, there are passages of the most touching sorrow over his darkened and desolate condition, with yet a tone of the most pious resignation, and now and then an outbreak of a proud conviction that God, in blinding his bodily eyes, had meant to enlarge and clear his inner vision, and make him one of the world's truest seers and prophets, The present Sonnet is one of the first of these confidences of Milton on the subject of his blindness, It may have been written any time between 1652 and 1655; but it follows the Sonnet on the Piedmontese Massacre in Milton's own volume of 1673.
SONNET XX.: To MR. LAWRENCE.
(Edition of 1673.)
The first impression, on reading this Sonnet, is that it must have been written before Milton was blind. It is an invitation to his friend Lawrence, in some winter season, when walking out of doors was disagreeable, to an occasional pleasant meeting within doors, when they might enjoy a neat repast and a glass of wine together, with talk and music. One naturally refers this mood of cheerfulness to the time of Milton's life which preceded his blindness. Accordingly it has been argued by some that the Sonnet must have been written about 1646, and ought to be placed beside the Sonnet to Henry Lawes.
In that case, however, the person addressed "Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son," cannot have been, as these words have always suggested, a son of the well-known Henry Lawrence of St. Ives, from whom Cromwell rented his house and farm in that neighbourhood, and who, after having been member for Westmoreland in the Long Parliament, became a staunch Oliverian, and was made President of Cromwell's Council (1654) and one of his House of Lords (1657). For there is a letter of this Henry Lawrence extant which proves that in the year 1646 his eldest son was then exactly thirteen years of age (Wood's Athenæ, IV. 64: Note by Bliss). Milton's invitation to a neat repast and wine cannot have been to a youngster like that: Hence, still on the supposition that the Sonnet must have been written about 1646, some commentators have concluded that the person addressed was no other than Henry Lawrence himself, the future President, but then no more than M.P. for Westmoreland. They find that he was a person whose talents and principles would have made him a fit companion for Milton, that in 1646 he had published a book called "A Treatise of our Communion and Warre with Angells," and that he wrote other things. afterwards. They find also that Milton, in his Defensio Secunda (1654), speaks of President Lawrence as one of the politicians of the time known to him either by friendship or by reputation. "Montacutum, Laurentium, summo ingenio ambos optimisque artibus expolitos" ("Montague and Lawrence, both men of the highest talent and thoroughly accomplished in the best arts") are his words; where the Montague associated with Lawrence is Edward Montague, afterwards Earl of Sandwich. But, if the person addressed in the Sonnet was actually the Henry Lawrence remembered as the President of Oliver's Council, how are we to interpret the opening line, "Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son?" The future President was forty-six years of age in 1646, and his father, Sir John Lawrence of St. Ives, had died when he was but a child (Feb. 1604-5). No recollection, and scarcely any tradition, of this long dead knight could have been in Milton's mind. In short, after all, the person addressed in the Sonnet is a son of the President, and the President is only "the virtuous father" of the Sonnet, and not its recipient. This is settled by Phillips