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mirable in literature, is to be found. And if the volume I now endeavour to recommend to the public should so far answer my hopes, as to direct some slight degree of attention to the vast storehouse whence these pieces have been taken, I shall certainly, in prefacing and commenting them, esteem myself to have been neither unprofitably nor unhonourably employed.
16. The spirit of our age has often been described, and sometimes without any design of complimenting it, as the spirit of utility; and by this I profess, in the present case, to be actuated. Utility is my object: but under this term I include whatever can benefit the life of man, public or private; whatever can improve his virtues, or enlarge his thoughts, or lift him above the clouds of prejudice, or provide for the innocent entertainment of his leisure. Milton was preeminently an utilitarian. In all he wrote he had a view to the public good; and, in fact, regarded the promotion of this to the utmost as so much his duty, that, in his contest with the bishops, he urges as his principal motive, the undying reproaches of conscience to which silence and tame submission would have exposed him.
17. Having been himself educated a Puritan, he naturally looked upon episcopacy with an unfriendly eye. Had the spirit of his times been different, this aversion might, perhaps, have remained inactive, or manifested itself in a less fierce and uncompromising manner. He might have spoken or written, indeed, against the abuses of church-go
vernment; but he would probably have exhibited in his opposition more of courtesy, more of that polished suavity of expression, under which, in ordinary circumstances, men are wont to cloak their hatred. The persecution of his brethren by the prelates, however, was too recent, and the spirit of intolerance still too palpably manifest in the great dignitaries of the church, to permit a man of so zealous and fiery a temperament to enter with coolness into the lists of controversy. He considered his opponents to be men who, under the mask of humility, and love of holiness, concealed a most profane and unchristianlike hankering after political power;
who esteemed more their seats in the House of Lords than the efficacy of their ministry in God's vineyard; who, like Laud, would consent, in compliance with the desires of a popish king, to the profanation of the sabbath, in the hope of having their ambition gratified by beholding the order to which they belonged advanced over the heads of the laymen.
18. His first object, therefore, in coming before the public as a prose writer, was to prove that the Church of England still stood in need of reformation, and to explain the causes which had hitherto hindered it. In his peculiarly nervous and masculine eloquence he describes the corruptions of the Gospel introduced by priestly heresiarchs, lamenting “that such a doctrine should, through the grossness and blindness of her professors, and the fraud of deceivable traditions, drag so downwards, as to backslide into the Jewish beggary of
old cast rudiments, and stumble forward another way into the new-vomited paganism of sensual idolatry, attributing purity or impurity to things indifferent, that they might bring the inward acts of the spirit to the outward and customary eye-service of the body, as if they could make God earthly and fleshly, because they could not make themselves heavenly and spiritual. They began to draw down all the divine intercourse betwixt God and the soul; yea, the very shape of God himself, into an exterior and bodily form, urgently pretending a necessity and obligement of joining the body in à formal reverence, and worship circumscribed. They hallowed it, they fumed it, they sprinkled it, they bedecked it, not in robes of pure innocence, but of pure linen, with other deformed and fantastic dresses, in palls and mitres, gold, and gewgaws fetched from Aaron's old wardrobe, or the Flamen’s vestry. Then was the priest set to con his motions and his postures, his liturgies and his lurries, till the soul, by this means of overbodying herself, given up justly to fleshly delights, bated her wing apace downwards; and, finding the ease she had from her visible and sensuous colleague, the body, in performance of religious duties, her pinions now broken and flagging, shifted off from herself the labour of high soaring any more, forgot her heavenly flight, and left the dull and droiling carcass to plod on in the old road, and drudging trade of outward conformity."
19. He then proceeds to trace the progress of idolatry and superstition, describing with a masterly hand the various corruptions that sprang up, until “the huge overshadowing train of error had almost swept all the stars out of the firmament of the church,” and spread over the whole Christian world a darkness which seemed to be that of night without a dawn. In the midst of this obscurity, however, the light of the reformation flashed forth; at which, “methinks,” says Milton, “a sovereign and reviving joy must needs rush into the bosom of him that reads or hears, and the sweet odour of the returning Gospel imbathe his soul with the fragrancy of heaven! Then was the sacred Bible sought out of the dusty corners where profane falsehood and neglect had thrown it, the schools opened, divine and human learning raked out of the embers of forgotten tongues, the princes and cities trooping apace to the new-erected banners of salvation; the martyrs, with the irresistible might of weakness, shaking the powers of darkness, and scorning the fiery rage of the old red dragon."
20. The Long Parliament had now commenced its labours, and with a quick, though as yet unpractised eye, Milton already perceived that a way was opening for the establishment of popular institutions. Theoretically he had long been versed in the science of politics, and possessing so much judgment and learning, could not fail to perceive how ordinary statesmen, with their timid and barren brains, misdirect the energies of the people, and convert that government which was designed to promote the good of all, into an instrument for cockering the pride of one family and its creatures. These aristocrats, he saw, must always prove the unconvertible enemies of reformation ; for, with all their incapacity, they want not the wit to perceive, that so soon as justice and a regard for the public good shall become the directing principles of government, the great business of the nation will be taken out of their hands to be confided to others more worthy.
21. Turning aside, therefore, for a moment, from the pursuit of the bishops, whom throughout his first book he had incessantly worried, he, in his preface to the second, attacks the time-serving politicians, their supporters. “It is a work good and prudent,” says he, “ to be able to guide one man; of larger extended virtue to order well one house; but to govern a nation piously and justly, which only is to say happily, is for a spirit of the greatest size, and divinest mettle. And certainly of no less a mind, nor of less excellence in another
way, were they who by writing laid the solid and true foundations of this science, which being of greatest importance to the life of man, yet there is no art that hath been more cankered in her principles, more soiled and slubbered with aphorisming pedantry, than the art of policy; and that most, where a man would think should least be, in Christian commonwealths. They teach not that to govern well, is to train up a nation in true wisdom and virtue, and that which springs from thence,-magnanimity; (take heed of that;) and that which is our beginning, regeneration, and happiest end,-- likeness to God, which, in one word, we call godliness; and that this is the true flourishing of a land, other