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on a particular occasion. 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. There was then some new 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 all the property 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 hints even Milton's hope that Cromwell would become the champion of that cause of absolute Church Disestablishment, absolute separation of Church and State, which was dear to Milton himself. Cromwell's Protectorate (Dec. 1653—Sept. 1658), with Milton's closer connexion with him during that Protectorate, and the disappointment of Milton's hopes from Cromwell on the Church-Establishment question, 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 to print it in the edition of his Poems in 1673.
SONNET XVII.: To SIR HENRY VANE THE YOUNGER.
This Sonnet, which was put into Vane's hands on the 3d of July 1652, breathes the same spirit as the last. 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 a dash of the fanatic or mystic; and, as Milton hints, he had exercised himself very particularly on the question of the relations and mutual limits of the 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.
SONNET XVIII.: “ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN
PIEDMONT." 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. 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 by cold and hunger. Among the Protestant nations of Europe, and especially in England, the indignation was immediate and vehement. 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 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 £40,000 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.
SONNET XIX. : ON HIS BLINDNESS.
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 pro Populo Anglicano in answer to Salmasius (1651), was complete in 1652, when he was only forty-four years of age.
We are to imagine therefore that, after having been Secretary to the Council of State for a year or two with his sight failing, he continued to act as Secretary through Cromwell's Protectorate (1653-58) with his sight totally gone.
The fact was pointed to with coarse exultation by his enemies, at home SONNET XX. : TO MR. LAWRENCE. 73 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.
One naturally refers such a mood of cheerfulness as this Sonnet exhibits 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, 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 exactly thirteen years of age (Wood's Athenä, 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. But that this Henry Lawrence was only “the virtuous father” of the Sonnet, and not its recipient, is settled by Phillips in his Life of Milton, where, among the “parti. cular friends” of Milton, who visited him most frequently during the eight years when he lived in his house in Petty France, Westminster (1652-1660), he mentions" Young Lawrence (the son of him that was President of Oliver's Council), to whom there is a Sonnet among the rest in his printed poems.” He does not mention which of the sons of the President was the “Young Lawrence” so often at Milton's house ; but it was probably the second son, Henry Lawrence, who became heir in 1657, succeeded to the property on his father's death in 1664, and lived till 1679, or five years beyond Milton. In 1656 this “Young Lawrence” was about two-and-twenty years of age. The Sonnet, then, we should say, was written about that time, and when Milton was in his condition of total blindness. And, though this may not at first seem consistent with the cheerful vein of the Sonnet, the explanation is easy. Phillips's account of his uncle's life gives us a glimpse of the household in Petty France which is not altogether one of gloom. Especially after Milton's marriage with his second wife in Nov. 1656, the house was enlivened by the little hospitalities that had to be shown to the numerous visitors that came to see him. Some of these were foreigners of distinction; others were Londoners of rank ; but most assiduous of all were former pupils, and other enthusiastic young men, who accounted it a privilege to read to him, or act as his amanuenses, and to hear him talk. There was a group of such young admirers, and “Young Lawrence” was one of them. Sometimes, as we are to fancy, he accompanied Milton in his walks, yielding him the tendance which a blind man required ; and Milton's Sonnet is to be taken as a kindly message to the youth, in some season of bad weather, not to stop his visits on that account, but to let him have his company now and then within doors.
SONNET XXI. : To CYRIACK SKINNER. This Sonnet also, like the last, might appear, on a first read. ing, to belong to a time before Milton's blindness. For it also is in a hospitable vein, and invites to leisure and mirth. But all that we know of Cyriack Skinner and his connexion with Milton confirms the notion that the two Sonnets were written about the same time, i.e. about 1655, after Milton was blind and when he was living in his house in Petty France. Phillips, in his list of the friends of Milton who visited him there, men.