William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 99 of 169)
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self this reverence for virtue. Ancient history,
the sublime musings of Plrto, and the heroic
self-abandonment of chivalry, joined their in-
fluences with prophets and afxjstles, in bind-
ing him "everlastingly in willing homage"
to the great, the honourable, and the lovely
la character. A remarkable passage to this

effect we quote from his account of his
youth ; —

** I betook lae atnong thote lofty fables and romances,
which recount* in solemn cantos, the deeds of knight-
bood founded by our victorious kings, and from hence
had in renown over all Christendom. There I read It in
the oath of every knight, that he should de^d to the
expense of his best blood or of his life, if it so befeU
him, the honour and chastity of rirgin or matron t from
whence even then I learned what a noble virtue chastity
sure must be, to the defence of which so many worthies
by such a dear adventure of themselves, had sworn.

So thaj even these, books whidi to many

others have been the fuel of wantonness and loose living,
I cannot think how, onleu by divbie indulgence, proved
to me so many incitements, as you have heard, to the
love and stoadfasi obserraiion of virtue. "—fW. /,, /#,
aj8, 139.

All Milton's habits were expressive of a
refined and self-denying character. When
charged by his unprincipled slanderers with
licentious habits, he thus gives an account of
his morning hours : —

** Those morning haunts are where they should be, at
home ; not sleeping, or concocting the surfeits of an
irregular feast, but up and «iirring, in winter often ere
the sound of any bell awake men to labour, or devotion j
h» summer as ofl with the bird that first rouses, or not
much tandier, to read good authors, or cause them to be
read, till the attention be weary or memory have its full
fraught \ then with useful and generous labours piescrving
the body's health and hardiness, to render lightsome,
clear, and not lumpish obedience to the min^ to the
cause of rcligiop, and our country's liberty, when it shall
require firm hearts in sound bodies to semd and cover
their stations, rather than to see the rmin of our pro-
tesutk>n, and tbr enforcement of a alavisb lUe."— FaiT/,,
f. i3j.

We have enlarged on the strictness and
loftiness of Milton's virtue, not only from our
interest in the subject, byt that we may put
to shame and silence those men who make
genius an apology for vice, and take the
sacred fire, kindled by God within them, to
inflame men's passions, and to minister to a
vile sensuality.

We see Milton's greatness of mind in his
fervent and constant attachment to liberty.
Freedom, in all its forms and branches, was
dear to him, but especially freedom of thought
and speech, of conscience and worship, free-
dom to seek, profess, and propagate truth.
The liberty of ordinary politicians, which
protects men's outward rights, and removes
restraints from the pursuit of property and
outward good, fell very short of that for
which Milton lived, and was ready to die.
The tyranny which he hated most was that
which broke the intellectual and moral power
of the community. The worst feature of the
institutions which he assailed was, that they
fettered the mind. He felt within hhnseff
that the himian mind had a principle of per^
petual growth, that it was essentially diffusive
and made for progress, and be wished every
G G a

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chain broken, that it might run the race of
truth and virtue with increasing ardour and
success. This attachment to a spiritual and
refined freedom, which never forsook him in
the hottest controversies, contributed greatly
to protect his genius, imagination, taste, and
sensibility, from the withering and polluting
influences of public station, and of the rage
of parties. It threw a hue of poetry over
politics, and gave a sublime reference to his
.service of the commonwealth. The fact that
Milton, in that stormy day, and amidst the
trials of public office, kept his high faculties
undepraved, was a proof of no common great-
ness. Politics, however they make the intel-
lect active, sagacious, and inventive, vrithin a
certain sphere, generally extinguish its thirst
for universal truth, paralyze sentiment and
imagination, corrupt the simplicity of the
mind, destroy that confidence in human
virtue which hes at the foundation of philan-
thropy and generous sacrifices, and end in
cold and prudent selfishness. Milton passed
through a revolution which, in its last stages
and issue, was peculiariy fitted to damp cnthu-
sirism, to scatter the visions of hope, and to
infuse doubts of the reality of virtuous prin-
ciple; and ^et the ardour, and moral feeling,
and enthusiasm of his youth came forth un-
hurt, and even exalted, from the triaL

Before quitting the subject of Milton's de-
votion to liberty, it ought to be recorded that
he wrote his celebrated "Defence of the
People of England," after being distinctly
forewarned by his physicians that the effect
of his exertion would be the utter loss of
sight His reference to this part of his history,
in a short poetical effusion, is too characteristic
to be withheld. It is inscribed to Cyriac
Skinner, the friend to whom he appears to
Irnve confided his lately discovered " Treatise
on Christian Doctrine."

** C3rriac,this three yean* day these eyei, thoagh dear.

To outward view, of blemish or of spot,

Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot }

Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of son, or moon, or star, throughout the year.

Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not

Aeamst Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a Jot

Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supporu me. dost thou ask f

The conscience, Friend, to have lost them overpUed

In Libertjr*s defence, my noble task.
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.

This thought ought lead me duough the world's vaio

Content, though blind, had I no better guide.**

^i.nntt XXIL

We see Milton's magnanimity in the cir-
cumstances under which "Paradise Lost"
was written. It was not in prosperity, in
honour, and amidst triumphs, but in dis-
appointment, desertion, and m what the world
calls disgrace, that he composed that work.
The cause with which he had identified him-

self had failed. His friends were scattered ;
liberty was trodden underfoot, and her de-
voted champion was a by-word among the
triumphant royalists. But it is the prcrogatix-n
of true greatness to glorify itself in adversity,
and to meditate and execute vast enterprises
in defeat. Milton, fallen in outward con-
dition, afflicted with blindness, disappointed
in his best hopes, applied himself with charac-
teristic energy to the sublimest achievement of
intellect, solacing himself with great thoughts,
vfith splendid creations, and with a prophetic
confidence that, however neglected in bis own
age. he was framing in his works a bond of
union and fellowstiip with the illustrious
spirits of a brighter day. Wc delight to con-
template him in his retreat and last years.
To the passing spectator he seemed fallen and
forsaken, and his blindness was reproached as
a judgment from God. But, though sightless,
he lived in light. His inward eye ranged
through imiversal nature, and his imagination
shed on it brighter be^ms than the sun.
Heaven and hell and paradise were open to
him. He visited past ages and gathered round
him ancient sages and heroes, prophets and
apostles, brave knights and gifted biards. As
he look^ forward, ages of liberty dawned and
rose to his view, and he felt that he was about
to bequeath to them an inheritance of genius,
"which would not fade away," and was to
live in the memory, reverence, and love of
remotest generations.

We have enlarged on Milton's character,
not only from the pleasure of paying that
sacred debt which the mind owes to him who
has quickened and delighted it, but finom an
apprehension that Milton has not yet reaped
his due harvest of esteem and veneration.
The mists which the prejudices and bigotry
of Johnson spread over his bright name,
are not yet wholly scattered, though fast
ing away. We wish not to disparage

Johnson. We could find no pleasure in sacri-
ficing one great man to the manes of another.
But we owe it to Milton and to other illustrious
names, to say, that Johnson has failed of the
highest end of biography, which is to give
immortality to virtue, and to call fonh fervent
admiration towards those who have shed
splendour on past ages. We acquit Johnson,
however, of intentional misrepresentation.
He did not, and could not, appreciate Milton.
We doubt whether two other minds, having
so little in common as those of which wc are
now speaking, can be found in the higher
walks of literature. Johnson was great in his
own sphere, but that sphere was compara^
tively "of the earth," whilst Milton's was
only inferior to that of angels. It was cut*
tomary, in the day of Johnson's glory, to c«U
him a giant, to class nim with a mighty, bat
still an earth-born race. Milton we anoold

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rank among seraphs. Johnson's mind acted
chiefly on man's actual condition, on the
realities of life, on the springs of human
action, on the passions which now agitate
society, and he seems hardly to have dreamed
of a higher state of the human mind than
was then exhibited. Milton, on the other
hand, burned with a deep yet calm love of
moral grandeur and celestial purity. He
thought, not so much of what man is, as of
what he might ^jecome. His own mind was a
revelation to him of a higher condition of
humanity, and to promote this he thirsted and
toiled for freedom, as the element for the
growth and improvement of his nature. — In
religion Johnson was gloomy and inclined to
superstition, and on the subject of govern-
ment leaned towards absolute power ; and
the idea of reforming either never entered his
mind but to disturb and provoke it. The
church and the civil polity under which he
lived seemed to him perfect, unless he may
have (bought that the former would be im-
proved by a larger infusion of Romish rites
and doctrines, and the latter by an enlarge-
ment of the royal prerogative. Hence a tame
acquiescence in the present forms of religion
and government marks his works. Hence we
find so little in his writings which is electric
and soul-kindling, and which gives the reader
a consciousness of being made for a state of
k>fUer thought and feeling than the present.
Milton's whole soul, on the contrary, revolted
against the maxims of Intimacy, hereditary
faith, and servile reverence for established
power. He could not brook the bondage to
which men had bowed for ages. " Reforma-
tion" was the first word of public warning
which broke from his youthful lips, and the
hope of it was the solace of his declining
years. The difference between Milton and
Johnson may be traced, not only in these
great features of mind^ but in their whole
characters. Milton was refined and spiritual
in his habits, temperate almost to abstemious-
ness, and reifreshed himself after intellectual
effort by music Johnson inclined to more sen-
sual delights. Xniton was exquisitely alive to
the outward creation, to sounds, motions,
and forms, to natural beauty and grandeur.
Johnson, through defect of physical organi-
zation, if not through deeper deficiency,
had little susceptibility of these pure and
delicate pleasures, and would not have ex-
changed the Strand for the vale of Tempe
or the gardens of the Hesperides. How
could Johnson be just to Milton ! The
comparison which we have instituted has
compelled us to notice Johnson's defects.
But we trust we are not blind to his merits.
His stately march, his pomp and power of
language, his strength of thought, his
reverence for virtue and religion, his vigorous

logic, his practical wisdom, his insight into
the springs of human action, and the solemn
pathos which occasionally pervades his de-
scriptions of life and his references to his own
history, command our willing admiration.
That he wanted enthusiasm and creative
imagination and lofty sentiment was not his
fault. We do not blame him for not being
Milton. We love intellectual power in all
its forms, and delight in the variety of mind.
We blame him only that his passions, pre-
judices, and bigotry engaged him in the
unworthy task of obscuring the brighter
glory of one of the most gifted and virtuous
men. We would even treat what we deem
the faults of Johnson with a tenderness
approaching respect; for they were results,
to a degree which man cannot estimate, of a
diseased, irritable, nervous, unhappy physical
temperament, and belonged to the body more
than to the mind. We onhr ask the friends
of genius not to put their faith in Johnson's
delineations of it. His biographical works
are tinged with his notoriouslv strong pre-
judices, and, of all his " Lives,' we hold that
of Milton to be the most apocryphal.

We here close our general remarks on
Milton's intellectual and moral qualities.
We venerate him as a man of genius, but
still more as a man of magnanimity and
Christian virtue, who regarded genius and
poetry as sacred gifts, imparted to him, not
to amuse men or to build up a reputation,
but that he might quicken and (^1 forth
what was great and divine in kis fellow-
creatures, and might secure the only true
fame, the admiration of minds which his
writings were to kindle and exalt.

We come now to the examination of the
newly discovered "Treatise on Christian
Doctrine." This work, we have said, owes
its chief interest to the character of its
author. From its very nature, it cannot
engage and fix general attention. It consists
very much of collections of texts of Scripture,
which, however exciting in their proper
places, are read with little thought or emotion
when taken from their ordinary connection,
and marshalled under systematic heads.
Milton aims to give us the doctrines of
revelation in its own words. We have them
in a phraseology long familiar to us, and we
are disappointed; for we expected to see
them, not in the language of the Bible, but
as existing in the mind of Milton, modified
by his peculiar intellect and sensibility, com-
bined and embodied with his various know-
ledge, illustrated by the analogies, brightened
by the new lights, and clothed with the
associations, with which they were surrounded
by this gifted man. We hoped to see these
doctrines as they were viewed by Milton in
his moments of solemn feeling and deep

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contemplation, when theypervaded and moved us the true process for strengthening oar

his whole soul. Still there arc passages in intimacy with Hira; for m this way only can

which Milton's mind is laid open to us. We we think of Hini as immediately present to

refer to the parts of the work where the our minds. As far as we give him a mate-

pecuHarity of his opinions obliges him to rial form, we must assign to him a place, and

state his reasons for adopting them; and that place wiU almost necessarily be a di^nt

these we value highly for the vigour and inde- one, and thus we shall remove lum from tUe

pendance of intellect with which they are soul, which is his true temple. Besides, a

impressed. The work is plain and unam- definite form clashes with Gods inhmty.

bitious in style. Its characteristics are a which is his supreme disUnction, and on no

calm earnestness, and that profound venera- account to be obscured ; for, strange as it

tion for Scripture which certain denomina- may seem to those who kuow not their own

tions of Christians, who have UtUc congeniality nature, this incomprehensible attnbute is that

with Milton, Seem to claim as a monopoly. which above all things constitutes the corrw-

His introduction is worthy every man's pondence or adaptation, if we may so speak,

attention, as a deliberate, mild assertion of of God to the human mind,
the dearest right of human nature, that of In treating of Gods efficiency. Miltoa

free inquiry— strenuously maintains human freedom, m

u If I coounlinlcate the r«ult of my inouirta to the opposition to the CalWmstic doctrine ofj^
world at Urge J if, *» God is my witness, it be with % destination. He mamtains that God s decrees
friendly and bcoipoant feeling towards mankind, that I do not encroach on moral hberty ; for OUT
readily give as wide a circulation as possible to what I fj^e agency IS the very object decreed and
esteem my best and richest possession, I hope to meet predestined by the Creator. He maintains
with a candid recepuon from all parties, and that none f. , A nassaires of Scrioture which
at least will take unjust offence, cren though many things that some Ol the passag^ OI ^"Pture wnica
ahoukl be brought to Ught, which will at wice be seen to speak of election are to be understood of an
differ from certain rcceircd opinioitt. I ewTiestljr beaecch election to outward privileges, not to ever-
all bvcrs of truth not to cry out that the church is thrown lasting life; and that in other texts, which
into confusion by thai freedom of discussion and inquiry, relate to the future State, the election spoken
which is granted to the schoob, and ought certainly to be ^ i^ ^^j ^n arbitrary choice of individuals,
'::^^^r^^Z'Zr,:i:^'^^^ but of that dass or ci-nptions or pc^^
i9pA>dactiTe,<arlessofdisiur^ceiothech5ch,thaiiof bc It large or small, who shaU comply with
illumination and ediacaiion."—K«/./.,^.j» 6. the prescribed terms of salvation; in other

** It has also been my object to make it appear from words, it is a conditional, not an absolute

the opinions 1 shall bc found to have advanced, whether election, and such that every individual, if he
new or old. of how much conscouence to the Christian -^ ^ included in it. Milton has so

rcbgion is the hberty, not only of winnowing arid sifting T ' , . •' . ,u ^^ j^u ju^* ,^ ^^^jj

even' doctrine, but also of thmking and even writing *^^^<^i^,^ u ?\u r I. ^^

respecting i^ according to our individual fiuih and per- add that he had thrown new hght on free

suasion } an inference which will be stronger in propor- agency. This great subject has indeed

tion to the weight and importance of those opinions, or t^fQed as yet the deepest thinkers, and seems

ratherlnproportiontothcauthorityof Scriptuie, onthe „q^ jq y^ consigned, with Other SubUmc

abundant testimony of which they rest. Without this ^ • ^ ^^ sweeping denomination of

liberty there is neither religion nor gospel— force alone jyF"^»» *^;*"r* " .^ Z^^^^ «««i^» n.,f i«f

pwSis, by which it is dlsgraccftJ'fi the Christian ;* metaphysics, to ^neral neglect But let

reUgioa to be supported. Without thu Uberry we uz it not be given up in despair. The time is

still enslaved, not indeed, as formerly, under the divine coming when the human intellect is lo Strike

law, but, what is worst of all, under the law of man, or, into new fields, and to view itself and its

to speak more truly, under a barbarous tyranny."— Creator and the tmiverse from new positions.

Ftl. /., tP' 7» 8. ajjjj ^g trust that the darkness which has so

On that great subject, the character of long hung over our moral nature wiU be

God, Milton has given nothing particularly gradually dispersed. This attribute of free

worthy of notice, except that he is more dis- agency, through which an intelligent beang

posed than Clir'istians in general, to conceive jg strictly and properly a cause, an agent,*, an

of the Supreme Being under the forms and originator of moral good or moral evil, ^-'

affections of human nature :— not a mere machine, determined by outw

** If God habitually assign to hinuclf the members and influences, or by a secret, yet resistless

form of man, why should we be afraid of attribuUng to ciencvof God. which virtually makes Him a
him what he attributes to himself, so long aswhat is ^^ ^ j ^^or of all human actiorJ

Imperfection and weakness, when viewed m reference to •""*"* ThLZ^ " „-u:.,k ;^ ♦!,* u^t ,r*J

ouSSves, be considered^ most complete and exceUcnt this moral freedom, which is the best imi

whenever it is imputed to God."— rw. /., /. tj. of the creaUve energy of the Deity, seerol

Milton is not the first Christian who has us the noblest object of philosophical in>i

thought to render the Supreme Being more tigation. However questioned and darkej

interesting by giving Him human shape. We hy a host of metaphysicians, it is recognf

^oubt the wisdom of this expedient. To in the common consciousness of every hu^

iritualizo our conceptions of Him seems to being. It is thd ground of respoosit^ilityl

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fountain of moral feeling. It is involved in
all moral judgments and affections, and thus
gives to social life its whole interest ; whilst
It is the chief tie between the soul and its
Creator. The fact that philosophers have
attempted to discard free agency from their
explanations of moral phenomena, and to
subject all human action to necessity, to
mechanical causes, or other extraneous in-
fluences, is proof enough that the science of
the mind has as yet penetrated little beneath
the surface, that the depths of the soul are
still unexplored.

Milton naturally passes from his chapter
on the Supreme Being to the consideration
of those topics which nave always been con-
nected with this part of theology ; we mean,
the character of Jesus Christ, and the nature
of the Holy Spirit. All our readers are pro-
bably aware that Milton has here declared
himself an Anti-trinitarian, and strenuously
asserted the strict and proper unity of God.
His chapter on " The Son of God" is the
most elaborate one in the work. His *• Pre-
fatory Remarks" are highly interesting, as
joining with a manly assertion of his right
an affectionate desire to conciliate the Chris-
tians from whom he differed.

^ I caonol eoter npoo cubjocts of lo oiudi difficulty as
the Sfn ^ C?o<f and the Htly Spirit^ without anin pre-
mising a few introductory words. If indeed 1 were a
inexDl)cr of the Church of Rome, which requires implicit
obcdicoce to its creed on all points of fiuth, I thoold hare
acQuieKcd from education or habit in its simple decree
and authority, eren though it denies that the doctrine of
the Triaitjr, aa now received, is capable of being prored
from any passage of Scripture. But since I enrol myself
among the number of those who acknowledge the Word
of God alone as the rule of faith, and freely advance
what appears to me much more clearly dedudble from
the Holy Scriptures than the commonly received opinion,
1 see no reasoa why any one, who belongs to the same
Protestant or Reformed Church, and professes to acknow-
ledge the same rule of fiuth as myself, should take oilence
at my freedom, particularly as 1 impose my authority on
no oue, but merely propose what I think more worthy
of belief than die creed m general acceptation. I only
entreat that my readers will ponder and examine my
statements in a ^irit which desires to discover nothing
but the truth, and with a mind free from prejudice. For,
without iotciidiiig to oppose the authority of Scripture,
which I consider inviolably saaed, I only take upon
myiclf to refute human interpretations as often as the
occasion requires, conformably to my r^t, or rather to
my duty, as a man. U^ indeed, those with whom 1 have
lo contend were able to produce direct attestation from
Heaven to the truth of the doctrine which they espouse,
it would be nothing less than impiety to venture to raise,
I do not say a clamour, but so much as a murmur
against it But, Inasmucb as they can lay daim to
uothing more than human powers, assined by that
spiritual illnmiaatioa which is common to all, it Is not
nnreasonable that they should on their part allow the
privileges of diligent research and free dtscuision to
another inquirer, who is seekijig tnah through the same
means and in the same way as themselves, and whose
desire of benefiting mankiiid b equal to Iheir owi»."—
r»/./.,/y.loj— X05.

Milton teaches that the Son of God is a
distinct being from Gtxl, and inferior to Him,
that he existed before the world was made,
that he is the first of the creation of God, and
that afterwards all other things were made
by him, as the instrument or minister of his
Father. Hs maintains, in agreement with
Dr. Clarke, that the Holy Spirit is a person,
an intelligent agent, but created and inferior
to God. This opinion of Milton is the more
remarkable, because he admits that, before

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 99 of 169)