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wherein, if men of learning, reflection, and experience aimed at the establishment of a popular government, they had to struggle with an invincible phalanx of prejudices, taking shelter among the ruins of the old absolute monarchy, and of a church too similar in character, and issuing every instant from their hiding-places, to interrupt all attempts at reformation. In fact, the events of those times were in many respects the prototypes of what is taking place at present. An overgrown and unpatriotic aristocracy, confounding their own privileges with the constitution, were incessantly labouring to convert the government into an instrument for effecting their own purposes, careless whether they thwarted or advanced the interests of the nation. Every man who honestly advocated the rights of the people was called a demagogue; to hope for a better condition for the poor was to be a visionary; virtue was hypocrisy; and religion, because it prevailed among the lower orders, was puritanism, fanaticism, dreaming.
37. But with similar difficulties all who aim at conferring permanent blessings on their race must be content to struggle. For, as the majority have no other foundation for their opinions than custom and tradition, they cling to old abuses as to sacred relics, which though they know neither why nor wherefore, seem to be endued with some miraculous properties infused into them by the state conjurors of former ages. Feeling within themselves no disposition to make great exertions, or great sacrifices, for the common good, it is beyond their power to
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conceive how sweet to him who has been nurtured in noble sentiments are the hardships, labours, dangers endured for his country. They know not that enthusiasm, the inspiration of great spirits, fills his mind with a delight independent of external circumstances. That, even though sure to be defrauded of his fame, he would still, by the spontaneous activity of his nature, be urged to the performance of his highest duties, like that heroic Roman, who argued, at the Forks of Caudium, that even insamy is to be encountered in furtherance of our country's good.
38. When Milton entered on his political career, monarchy had fallen, and a republican government been established in England. He was too wise, however, not to be aware that a new form of polity, not in unison with the established prejudices and inherited sympathies of the people, though approved by their awakened judgment, might easily perish amidst the stormy violence which had accompanied its birth. Had he calculated, therefore, like a selfish worldling, as the example of too many might have been his warrant for doing, he would have espoused the interests of the Commonwealth with prudent reserve, and, while clamouring for the democracy, have deluded the royal party with secret professions of attachment. Kings in distress promise, at least, if they do not pay; and such abilities as his would have purchased from the exiled Stuart the reversion of a dukedom.
39. With the uprightness and honour of one who had from the cradle made the good and the beautiful, as he himself somewhere expresses it, the object of his impassioned study, Milton took no counsel of his interests or of his fears; but, throwing himself impetuously into the current of the times, maintained with unparalleled ardour and eloquence the cause of the people. The die had already been cast; England was a republic; its late monarch had perished on the scaffold. As there existed two parties in the country, of which one wholly condemned the execution of Charles I., not grounding their disapprobation on this, that he had suffered unjustly, but on the abstract principle, that the people, whatever may be the character of their ruler,– were he even a Nero or a Domitian,-have not the right to punish him capitally, Milton undertook, in his “ Tenure of Kings,” to maintain the contrary proposition; contending that a prince may be guilty of crimes by the commission of which he forfeits his kingly privilege, degenerates into a tyrant, and justly arms his former subjects against him.
40. In this, however, he advances no new doctrine; nothing, as it should seem, in the least at variance with the practice and opinions of all nations. The difficulty always is to determine when a king has passed the boundary dividing authority from violence, and stepped out of the domain of royalty into that of tyranny; and therefore, whatever may be contended in considering the abstract question, and which way soever the matter may be decided, men of all parties, even the advocates of absolute monarchy, as history shows, will practically, if not in words, acknowledge the cogency of the argu
ments. And so far Milton has the suffrage of mankind in general. Perhaps, indeed, were the subject thoroughly examined, his views would be supported by many who, not comprehending the whole scope of his reasoning, now start back with horror at the bare supposition that they agree with him.
41. He has been called a regicide, and the advocate of regicides. He was certainly a republican; but if he was also a regicide, he knew it not himself, nor were many of his distinguished contemporaries a whit more conscious of the fact than he. To be a regicide in principle, is to contend for the putting to death of lawful kings, as such, merely for being in possession of the first honours of the state, and of an authority which they exercise lawfully. Now, was Milton such a man? Was he so blind, so lost to all sense of what is just or unjust, so fierce and furious an enemy to the laws of God and man, as to maintain that a magistrate, entrusted with a certain office by the people, and performing the duties of that office blamelessly, is to be seized and put to death ? Had such been his doctrine, most thicksighted and doltish were those sovereign princes, who having witnessed with awful amazement the conduct of the people of England, bringing their late king to trial and punishment, yet received Milton's defence of his countrymen, not merely with cold approval, but with applause. It may be urged that so enkindling, so vast, so irresistible were the powers of his eloquence, that the whole world was dazzled by them. He no doubt thoroughly understood, and with most exquisite skill put in practice, the arts of persuasion; but it would require something beyond the force of art, and partaking rather of the nature of miracle, to obtain from men,
while openly aiming at their lives, praise, countenance, congratulation. To achieve this, the one party must be a magician, or the other party must be fools.
42. The presumption, therefore, a priori, is, that Milton was not a regicide; in fact, could not be, since princes concurred with him in his political opinions. And well might they concur with him, for, so far as they were lawful monarchs, bent on exercising conscientiously and justly the authority entrusted to them for the people's good, Milton contended strenuously for their rights, proving they were entitled to all just obedience and honour, as holding, by general consent, the sovereign power and awful majesty of the people. This is everywhere his doctrine, both in the First and Second Defence, and indeed, throughout his writings wherever the question comes under consideration.
43. But what doctrine, then, did he maintain, that his political character should be covered with so much obloquy ?-TYRANNICIDE. The doctrine that justice, like God, whose offspring she is, knows no respect of persons, but visits on all transgressors of the law, the penalty which law exacts from all transgressors. He thought that falsehood, perfidy, breach of oaths, violence, rapine, oppression of honest men, persecution to the death for conscience sake, pillaging and wasting the land with fire and sword, were acts unlawful, acts which laid bare