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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 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 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 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 “particular " 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 reading, 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, mentions, “above all, Mr. Cyriack Skinner”; words which imply that Skinner was even a more frequent visitor than young Lawrence. There is even a probability that he had been one of Milton's pupils; for Wood describes him (Ath. Oxon. III. 1119) as “a merchant's son of London, an ingenious young gentleman and scholar to Jo: Milton,” informing us farther that he became a leading member of Harrington's celebrated political debating club, called The Rota, which held its meetings in 1659 at “the Turk's Head in the New Palace Yard at Westminster," From the Sonnet itself we learn that, besides being thus interested in political speculations, or before being so interested, Skinner was an eager student of mathematical and physical science. Wood was wrong in calling him “a merchant's son of London ”; for he is otherwise known as the third son of William Skinner, a Lincolnshire squire, who had married Bridget, second daughter of the famous lawyer and judge Sir Edward Coke. This explains the compliment of pedigree in the first line of the Sonnet. As this William Skinner died in 1627, Cyriack, his son, though described as “an ingenious young gentleman ” in 1659, must have been considerably older than young Lawrence. There is extant a deed of conveyance, of the date May 7, 1660, by which Milton makes over to “Cyriack Skinner, of Lincoln's Inn, Gentleman,” a Bond for £ 400 given to Milton by the commissioners of Excise. The transaction proves how intimate Milton was with Skinner ; for it was on the eve of the Restoration, when property invested in Excise Bonds was not likely to be worth much to Milton or his representatives.
SONNET XXII. : SECOND SONNET TO CYRIACK SKINNER.
This touching Sonnet must have been written some little time after the last ; perhaps in 1655, but certainly not later than 1656. It is a Sonnet on Milton's blindness, written, as it purports, on the third anniversary of the day from which he dated the completeness of that calamity. The tenor of the closing lines prevented its publication in 1673.
SONNET XXIII.: TO THE MEMORY OF HIS SECOND WIFE.
After some years of widowhood, Milton, still residing in Petty France, Westminster, had married, Nov. 12, 1656, at