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The king had no objection, and soon the duke was on his way to the poet's house, where, on introducing himself; a free conversation took place between these very " discordant characters.” The duke asked Milton whether he did not consider his blindness to be a judgment inflicted on him for writing against the late king ? “ If your highness thinks,” he replied, “ that the calamities which befall us here are indications of the wrath of Heaven, in what manner are we to account for the fate of the king, your father? The displeasure of Heaven must, upon this supposition, have been much greater against him than against me; for I have only lost my eyes, but he lost his head.” The duke, disconcerted by the answer, went his way, and exclaimed on reaching the court: “Brother, you are greatly to blame that you don't have that old
Milton hanged.” “Why, what is the matter, James ?" said the monarch ;
you seem in a heat. What! have you seen Milton ?” answered James, “I have seen him.” “Well,” said the king, “in what condition did you find him ?" “ Condition-why, he is very old, and very poor." “Old and poor, well; and he is blind, too, is he not?” “Yes, blind as a beetle.” “Why, then," observed the merry monarch, "you are a fool, James, to have him hanged as a punishment; to hang him will be doing him a service; it will be taking him out of his miseries. If he be old, poor, and blind, he is miserable enough: in all conscience let him live.”
But it is time to approach Milton's last resting-place. St. Giles's church, Cripplegate, is one of the old ecclesiastical structures which escaped the Fire of London. It contains the ashes of John Foxe, the martyrologist, and John Speed, the historian: the mural tablet to the memory of the former, and the effigy which brings before us the grave face and quaint costume of the latter, adorn the right side of the chancel within the altar rails. But from these and other monuments we turn to look at the bust of Milton, placed to the left as you enter the church, on the third pillar from the east end. The spot beneath, now covered with a spacious pew, has been pretty well identified as the poet's grave. To this last earthly home he was borne on the 12th November, 1674, “the funeral being attended,” according to Toland, “ by the author's learned and great friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the vulgar.” Milton's funeral must, indeed, have been a solemn sight! One fancies it slowly winding down from Artillery-walk, through the picturesque streets of the seventeenth century. We have just visited his grave with deep emotion; and we learn it is with Milton dead, as it was with Milton living, that more foreigners than Englishmen visit the church in honour of his memory.
Yet though we know so much of the dwelling-places of Milton, how little do we know of his visible presence and his social intercourse. There is a mystery about him, rendering the great poet a shade in the ghostly sense of the expression ; at least so it appears to us. We can imagine honest Isaac Walton easily enough—can see him at his business--and go with him a fishing, and, as he takes off his glove, can shake him by the hand. We are at home at once. And Richard Baxter—we can bring him before our eyes and listen to him as a friend; and there seems nothing to prevent our opening his study door and sitting down on a chair beside him, to state some case of conscience for his judgment, or some theological difficulty for his solution. But we stand in awe of Milton. There is a magic circle round the man which it would be bold indeed to overstep. Flesh and blood he has like other mortals, but his sympathies seem to be wholly intellectual and spiritual. His inner nature penetrates his outward being, so as to shed an unearthly halo round his face and form, his walk and ways. We should not call Milton a genial man. Of no interview with him could we conceive which might leave the impression of amiableness or sociability. Was it possible for him to be domestic--to take much interest in common every day life—to chat about the
thousand things which most people find interesting now and then ** We are at an utter loss to fancy his conversation with his family and friends. It was not magniloquent, for he had no affectation; but surely he spake with an air of grandeur which made folks feel that he and they were not walking on the same level. Not solely to intellectual pre-eminence do we attribute the production of this feeling for one can fancy Shakespeare as genial enough, making his inferiors of a distant class feel themselves at home by his fireside at Stratford. Peculiar habits had from some causes, constitutional, or educational, or circumstantial, withdrawn our classic poet and republican philosopher far away from the beaten and crowded walks of human kind, and made him what Wordsworth has so truly described, a star " which dwelt apart."
II. RICHARD BAXTER.
ONE day, filled with thoughts of olden times, we went down to Whitehall—the stately-looking Whitehall--the palace of so many English kings—with that fine relic of Inigo Jones' architecture, the banqueting house, still standing, with the memory of something far different from revelry connected with it. The edifice spread out, and other buildings rose around it; and in the street, altogether changed, there stood Holbein’s gateway, with its eight medallions. People were going in and coming out, some of them with doublets of silk and collars of pointed lace, wide boots ruffled with lawn, and short mantles thrown over the shoulders, while their heads were crowned with broad-leafed Spanish beavers. There were also men in armour with leather jackets, and people of a very staid appearance with Genevan cloaks and lofty wide-brimmed hats. We fancied we saw one of them walking with a youth, about eighteen years of age, rather sickly looking, with a wonderfully intelligent face, a forehead which bespoke thought, eyes which flashed with earnestness, and a quick step which showed he was not, and never meant to be, an idler. The two were going to the lodgings of Sir Henry Newport, master of the revels; and in at a side door, and up an oak staircase, they vanished. The boy was Richard Baxter fresh from the country, who had come to seek his fortune at court, as so many did ; but he had been brought up in Puritan ways of thinking; and so, as he found that at Whitehall comedies were liked better than sermons, and were even played on a Sunday afternoon, he was very glad to go home again. The youth had read a book by Dr. Sibbs, who lived, and preached, and died in Gray's Inn-lane-a book called “The Bruised Reed;" one which old Isaac Walton so much valued, that he left it to his children; and that book, in the hands of more than a human teacher, had changed his very soul.
* We do not wonder at what we read about the disappointments and misunderstandings of his married life. It must have been a rare daughter of Eve who was fit to be Mistress Milton.
If on Richard Baxter's first visit to London the wishes of his friends had been accomplished, instead of a Puritan theologian and a preacher of the gospel of Christ, he had become a cavalier, courtier, and a man of fashion, how would the course and issue of his days have varied from what they actually became; and how infinitely different would have been the eternal harvest from that which the holy husbandman has now for some two centuries been reaping in the fields of light!
Walking down the street to Westminster Abbey, we soon saw St. Margaret's church, like a daughter sitting in her mother's shadow ; a building whose painted window in the chancel, and whose historical associations clustering so thick, have been too much thrown into the shade by the architecture and stones of the older and vaster pile. We could not help thinking of Southey's anecdote of Cowper, who, late one evening, was passing through the churchyard, and saw a glimmering light which looked very mysterious, and on approaching found it to be the lantern of a grave-digger, who was just throwing up a skull; an incident which struck the tender-minded youth, and left, as he said, the best religious impression which he received while at Westminster : but the shade that was haunting us belonged to an earlier period; and entering the church, we saw him there. The place seemed very full; and the congregation was grave and very attentive. It was composed of the members of the restored parliament after Richard Cromwell had resigned the Protectorate. Everything indicated that the times were unsettled-that poor old England's affairs were out of joint—that the vessel of the state was driven about by storms, and wanted sadly a strong hand to hold the helm. The restoration of the king seemed pretty near, in which some saw much of hope. The preacher in St. Margaret's pulpit on that occasion, was no other than the person whom we had seen at Whitehall, long since become a minister. He looked much older now, for thirty more years had rolled over him, and many cares had lined his face. He had on a Genevan gown and broad bands ; and the expressive countenance, lighted up with fire as he spoke, was surmounted by a round black cap, from under which there came out thick locks of dark flowing hair. He spoke of differences, and the way to heal them, and insisted that a man could not be Protestant without being loyal. And so he was for the king's return, and pleaded for some comprehensive scheme that should unite in the church all contending parties.