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“ intermission of labour, and serious things, “ it were happy for the commonwealth, if
our Magistrates, as in those famous Govern“ ments of old, would take into their care, “ not only the deciding of our contentious “ Law-cases and brawls, but the managing “ of our public sports, and festival pastimes, '“ that they might be, not such as were “ authorized awhile since, the proyocations
of Drunkennass and Lust, but such as may "nure and harden our Bodies by martial “ exercises to all warlike skill and perform
ance ; and may civilize, adorn, and “ make discreet our Minds by the learned “ and affable meeting of frequent Academies,
, " and the procurement of wise and artful “ recitations, sweetened with eloquent and graceful inticements to the love and
prac“ tice of Justice, Temperance, and Forti
tude, instructing and bettering the Nation “ at all opportunities, that the call of Wisdom “ and Virtue may be heard every where, as “ Solomon saith, She crieth without, she “ uttereth her voice in the streets, in the “ top of high places, in the chief concourse, “and in the openings of the gates. Whe" ther this may be not only in Pulpits, but
“ after another persuasive method, at set and “ solemn Panegyries, in Theatres, Porches, or “ what other place or way, may win most
upon the People to receive at once both “ Recreation, and Instruction ; let them in
Authority consult.” Such were the elevated prospects that opened to Milton's view. In his expansion of heart, now the fortune of war inclined to the side of the Parliament, and his hopes were fresh, it should appear that he looked forward not without a fond anticipation of succeeding in these high aims. The publication of his AREOPAGITICA, when more than twelve months had elapsed after this energetic aspiration for the glories of Solon's Republic, evince it to have been no loose nor transient thought, springing up for a moment and then dying away. On the contrary, to assimilate our customs and establishments as nearly as the different dispositions, and the diversity in the forms of society and manners would permit, to those in the free States of Greece during the effulgence of their meridian splendour, was a consummation that had taken a rooted possession of his mind, and which he encouraged the pleasing expectation might be accomplished.
Many, it is to be presumed, will pause before they assent to the opinion, that if these speculations had ripened into act, they would have been found congenial to the more staid temperament of the English, and in consequence that they would have failed in producing the beneficial results which from the example of the Grecian Commonwealths he had promised to himself from their adoption. However that be, thus much is certainly to be regretted, that the indifference with which this suggestion was received has deprived the world of letters of
some emanations from Milton's Muse, which doubtless would not for sublimity of conception have suffered by a comparison with the Lyre of Greece in its severer and didactic moods. For he further disclosed, in the introductory Chapter I have just cited, that he had revolved in his thoughts poetical compositions in the very spirit of those which bore away the prize at the Olympic Games and at the periodical celebrations at . Delphi. Had events induced him to have bestowed a positive shape and being
on these musings, it was in his contemplation to have impressed them, like his AREOPAGITICA, with the stamp and seal of Attic genius.
He balanced in these meditations between the dithyrambic boldness of Pindaric song, and Tragedy,
“ full of wise saws, spoke in Greece : “ whether those dramatic
“ “ constituțions, wherein Sophocles and Euripides “ reign, shall be found more doctrinal and
exemplary to a Nation,”—“ Or, if occasion
shall lead, to imitate those magnific Odes “ and Hymns wherein Pindarus and Callima“chus are in most things worthy."_" These “ abilities (he presently afterward proceeds), 6 wheresoever they be found, are the in“ spired gift of God rarely bestowed, but s6 yet to some (though most abuse) in every “ Nation: and are of power, beside the “ office of a Pulpit, to inbreed and cherish “ in a great People the seeds of Virtue, and “ public Civility, to allay the perturbations “ of the Mind, and set the affections in right “ tune.” In these passages we perceive the fine touches of an ardent imagination bent on improving the moral condition of Society by every means within the compass of his
ability. But the spirit of the times did not answer to the spirit of the Bard. The season was gloomy, and unpropitious to the cultivation of the ornaments and elegancies of a polished nation. Few, very few, of that party who gained the lead at this juncture, had minds enlarged enough to comprehend how festival assemblages of the People could be made subservient to public instruction. Beside, Poetry had no charms for them : “ museless and unbookish,” they decried it, and discountenanced heathen Learning; while Stage-Poetry and all representations of a theatrical nature were doubly offensive to their bigotry. Of these men, much the greater part was notoriously deficient in the attainments likely to dispose them to assist his elated expectations. When urging these topics on their consideration, he might have addressed them not unaptly in the very words of the Sibyl to Æneas :
“ Via prima salutis,
Their beau ideal of the best form of Government would have been drawn from quite a different quarter; I mean from the Hebrew Theocracy.