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The popular Preachers, the demagogues of these stormy times, teemed with zeal, and the memories of Richard Baxter, and of Edmund Calamy, and of many more,
, ought to be always held in reverence for their dauntless, invincible, and exemplary constancy under sufferings, brought on them by their resistance to the civil and religious tyranny of the Stuarts. They were at the same time (the exceptions are rare) of a low size as to scholarship, and in general devoid of knowlege out of their peculiar and narrow track, with minds absorbed in designs to advance the exclusive aggrandizement of their own Sect. Too many among them, when for a while they had the ascendancy, panted to rear on the ruins of Laud's a priestly superstructure of their own, as heavily oppressive to the laity as the overweening hierarchy of which this Primate flattered himself he should have become the founder, when he expressed a hope to see the day that no Jack Gentleman in England would stand before a Clergyman with his hat on.
To put down absolutely and completely all public pastimes and recreations was with a number of the non-conforming enthusiasts a point of Conscience, grounded on preposterous and, I believe, very pernicious notions. A fast day with Pulpit Lectures voluminous as Manton's, would, in the conception of Philip Nye and Obadiah Sedgewick, and their brethren, contribute more to the edification of the People, than holydays for sports and games with choral Odes and Hymns full of the purest Morality in strains the most sublime. It was our Poet's complaint, that in his day Sermons were vended in such numbers as well nigh to thrust all other Books out of circulation. His endeavour to impart to the Puritans his own liberal and juster conviction of the important benefits to be extracted from the Drama was of course not listened to, or listened to with coldness and disapprobation. They heard with averted ears his tribute of praise on the lofty grave Tragedians who inculcate the duties of life
“ In Chorus or Iambic; Teachers best
Not all the exhortations to the practice of Virtue, so thickly strown over the tragic scenes of Euripides, partly perhaps by the hand of Socrates, would in the opinion of Prynne atone for the original sin of a stageplay. To talk of the ethics of the Stage to him or to his followers was lost labour. In fact, two Ordinances were passed in 1647 for the total suppression of Plays and Interludes.
Notwithstanding Milton's various and strong claims on the veneration of his country, it can have been the fate of few, perhaps. of no man, who, thrown upon a period of civil discord, has acted in a conspicuous station, to have been maligned by posthumous detraction in the same degree. Not easily, nor soon, were his labours in the parliamentary cause forgotten or forgiven by those who held contrary opinions. This hostility to his memory continued virulent beyond the common measure of political virulence, So late as the middle of the last century, if we may place implicit reliance on Baron, “
many high-church Priests and “ Doctors laid out considerable sums to
destroy the Prose-works of Milton; and “purchased copies of his particular writings
“ for the infernal pleasure of consuming “ them *.” It is of daily occurrence, that the conspiracy of an adverse party against living merit, while the passions are agitated by the struggle, seldom fails to be commensurate to acts performed or apprehended to its disservice. But these bigots must have persisted to “hate with a most operative “ hatred,” from a conscious dread that his mighty spirit survived him and still spoke in his writings. Or, could their enmity originate in chagrin that so great a Name was to be counted among their opponents ? I am at a loss to devise any other ascribable motives for the merciless rancour which would not allow him to rest in
after he had been laid asleep in the grave; a rancour which time has yet been hardly able to subdue. With how sensitive a prudery in politics, nearly all the eulogists of his poetry, from Fenton downward, have been anxious to redeem their praise by entering circumspect protests against his tenets in civil and religious affairs, it is not a little amusing to observe. But the candour which accom
* Preface to 'Eixovoxhaoty. 4to, 1756.
panied T. Warton throughout his critical labours on different writers, would, without considering the filial gratitude which he owed to his poetical forefather, forbid the unworthy suspicion, that he wilfully discredited MILTON by any reflection that he deemed to be unfounded, though their utter contrariety of opinion as to the most eligible forms of ecclesiastical and temporal policy occasionally incited him to splenetic ebullitions, which would have been better repressed. It was in a moody moment, and under this influence, that this ingenious Critic breaks out
“ No man was ever so disqualified to turn 6. Puritan as Milton.” We meet with an ample refutation of all such reproach in his recorded endeavour to establish festival entertainments for the People, and other public institutions, imagined on the same principles which the Grecian legislators had experienced to have been a very effective auxiliary in raising Greece to her unexampled height of greatness. If further confirmation were wanted, more facts of the same tendency are at hand. In the Tract which gives occasion to these notices, it again appears how far, he was before those persons with