Page:EB1911 - Volume 18.djvu/510

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486
MILTON

Henry Marten, Haselrig, Sir Gilbert Pickering and the other chiefs of the council and the Commonwealth, if indeed he had not known some of them before. After a little while, for his greater convenience, official apartments were assigned him in Whitehall itself.

At the date of Milton's appointment to the secretaryship he was forty years of age. His special duty was the drafting in Latin of letters sent by the council of state, or sometimes by the Rump Parliament, to foreign states and princes, with the examination and translation of letters in reply, and with personal conferences, when necessary, with the agents of foreign powers in London, and with envoys and ambassadors. As Latin was the language employed in the written diplomatic documents, his post came to be known indifferently as the secretaryship for foreign tongues or the Latin secretaryship. In that post, however, his duties, more particularly at first, were very light in comparison with those of his official colleague, Walter Frost, the general secretary. Foreign powers held aloof from the English republic as much as they could; and, while Frost had to be present in every meeting of the council, keeping the minutes, and conducting all the general correspondence, Milton's presence was required only when some piece of foreign business turned up. Hence, from the first, his employment in very miscellaneous work. Especially, the council looked to him for everything in the nature of literary vigilance and literary help in the interests of the struggling Commonwealth. He was employed in the examination of suspected papers, and in interviews with their authors and printers; and he executed several great literary commissions expressly entrusted to him by the council. The first of these was his pamphlet entitled Observations on the Articles of Peace (between Ormonde and the Irish). It was published in May 1649, and was in defence of the republic against a complication of Royalist intrigues and dangers in Ireland. A passage of remarkable interest in it is one of eloquent eulogy on Cromwell. More important still was the Eikonoklastes (which may be translated “Image-Smasher”), published by Milton in October 1649, by way of counterblast to the famous Eikon Basilike (“Royal Image”), which had been in circulation in thousands of copies since the king's death, and had become a kind of Bible in all Royalist households, on the supposition that it had been written by the royal martyr himself (see Gauden, John). In the end of 1649 there appeared abroad, under the title of Defensio regia pro Carolo I., a Latin vindication of the memory of Charles, with an attack on the English Commonwealth. As it had been written, at the instance of the exiled royal family, by Salmasius, or Claude de Saumaise, of Leiden, then of enormous celebrity over Europe as the greatest scholar of his age, it was regarded as a serious blow to the infant Commonwealth. Milton threw his whole strength into a reply through the year 1650, interrupting himself only by a new and enlarged edition of his Eikonoklastes. His Latin Pro populo anglicano defensio (1651), ran at once over the British Islands and the Continent, and was received by scholars as an annihilation of Salmasius. Through the rest of 1651 the observation was that the two agencies which had co-operated most visibly in raising the reputation of the Commonwealth abroad were Milton's books and Cromwell's battles.

Through the eventful year 1651, in addition to the other duties of his secretaryship, Milton acted as licenser and superintending editor of the Mercurius politicus, a newspaper issued twice a week, of which Marchamont Nedham was the working editor and proprietor. Milton's hand is discernable in some of the leading articles.

About the end of 1651 Milton left his official rooms in Whitehall for a “garden house” he had taken on the edge of St James's Park in what was then called Petty France, Westminster, but is now York Street. The house, afterwards 19 York Street, was occupied by James Mill and William Hazlitt in succession, and was not pulled down till 1877. Milton had now more to do in the special work of his office, in consequence of the increase of correspondence with foreign powers. But he had for some time been in ailing health; and a dimness of eyesight which had

been growing upon him gradually for ten years had been settling rapidly, since his labour over the answer to Salmasius, into total blindness. Before or about May 1652, when he was but in his forty-fourth year, his blindness became total, and he could go about only with some one to lead him. Hence a rearrangement of his secretarial duties. Such of these duties as he could perform at home, or by occasional visits to the Council Office near, he continued to perform; but much of the routine work was done for him by an assistant, a well-known German, George Rudolph Weckherlin, succeeded later by Philip Meadows and, eventually, by Andrew Marvell. Precisely to this time of a lull in Milton's secretaryship on account of his ill-health and blindness we have to refer his two great companion sonnets “To the Lord General Cromwell” and “To Sir Henry Vane the Younger.”

In 1652 died his only son, who had been born at Whitehall in the March of the preceding year. His wife died in 1653/4, just after she had given birth to his third daughter, Deborah. With the three children thus left him — Anne, but six years old, Mary, not four, and the infant Deborah — the blind widower lived on in his house in Petty France in such desolation as can be imagined. He had recovered sufficiently to resume his secretarial duties; and the total number of his dictated state letters for the single year 1652 is equal to that of all the state letters of his preceding term of secretaryship put together. To the same year there belong also three of his Latin “Familiar Epistles.” In December 1652 there was published Joannis Philippi Angli responsio ad apologiam anonymi cujusdam tenebrionis, being a reply by Milton's younger nephew, John Phillips, but touched up by Milton himself, to one of several pamphlets that had appeared against Milton for his slaughter of Salmasius.

In December 1653 Cromwell's formal sovereignty began under the name of the Protectorate, passing gradually into more than kingship. This change from Government by the Rump and its council to government by a single military lord protector and his council was regarded by many as treason to the republican cause, and divided those who had hitherto been the united Commonwealth's men into the “Pure Republicans,” represented by such men as Bradshaw and Vane, and the “Oliverians,” adhering to the Protector. Milton, whose boundless admiration of Cromwell had shown itself already in his Irish tract of 1649 and in his recent sonnet, was recognized as one of the Oliverians. He remained in Oliver's service and was his Latin secretary through the whole of the Protectorate. For a while, indeed, his Latin letters to foreign states in Cromwell's name were but few — Thurloe, as general secretary, officiating as Oliver's right-hand man in everything, with a Philip Meadows under him, at a salary of £200 a year, as deputy for the blind Milton in foreign correspondence and translations. The reason for this temporary exemption of Milton from routine duty may have been that he was then engaged on an answer to the pamphlet from the Hague entitled Regii sanguinis clamor ad coelum adversus parricidas anglicanos (March 1652). Salmasius was now dead, and the Commonwealth was too stable to suffer from such attacks; but no Royalist pamphlet had appeared so able or so venomous as this in continuation of the Salmasian controversy. All the rather because it was in the main a libel on Milton himself did a reply from his pen seem necessary. It came out in May 1654, with the title Joannis Miltoni Angli pro populo anglicano defensio secunda (Second Defence of John Milton, Englishman, for the People of England) . The author of Regii sanguinis clamor was Dr Peter du Moulin the younger, a naturalized French Presbyterian minister, then moving about in English society, close to Milton; but, as that was a profound secret, and the work was universally attributed on the Continent to an Alexander More or Morus, a French minister of Scottish descent then a professor at Middelburg, who had certainly managed the printing in consultation with the now deceased Salmasius, and had contributed some portion of the matter — Milton made More the responsible person and the one object of his invective. The savage attack on More's personal character, however, is but part of the Defensio secunda. It contains passages of singular autobiographical and historical value, and includes laudatory sketches of such eminent