Page images
PDF
EPUB

conducted me round the city, and to the palace of the viceroy ; and more than once paid me a visit at my lodgings. On my

departure, he gravely apologised for not having shown me more civility, which he said he had been restrained from doing, because I had spoken with so little reserve on matters of religion. When I was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, the melancholy intelligence which I received, of the civil commotions in England, made me alter my purpose ; for I thought it base to be travelling for amusement abroad, while my fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home. While I was on my way back to Rome, some merchants informed me that the English Jesuits had formed a plot against me, if I returned to Rome, because I had spoken too freely of religion : it was a rule which I laid down to myself in those places, never to be the first to begin any conversation on religion ; but, if any questions were put to me concerning my faith, to declare it without any reserve or fear. I nevertheless returned to Rome. I took no steps to conceal either my person or my character ; and for about the space of two months I again openly defended, as I had done before, the Reformed Religion, in the very metropolis of Popery. By the favour of God I got back to Florence, where I was received with as much affection as if I had returned to my native country. There I stopped as many months as I did before, except that I made an excursion of a few days to Lucca ; and, crossing the Appennines, passed through Bologna and Ferrara to Venice. After I had spent a month in surveying the curiosities of this city, and had put on board a ship the books I had collected in Italy, I proceeded through Verona and Milan, and along the Leman Lake to Geneva. The mention of this city brings to my recollection the slandering More ; and makes me again call the Deity to witness, that in all those places where vice meets with so little discouragement, and is practised with so little shame, I never once deviated from the paths of integrity and virtue; and perpetually reflected that, though my conduct might escape the notice of man, it would not elude the inspection of God. At Geneva I held daily conference with John Diodati, the learned professor of theology. Then pursuing my former route through

France, I returned to my native country, after an absence of one year and three months, at the time when Charles, having broken the peace, was renewing what is called the Episcopal war with the Scots; in which the royalists being routed in the first encounter, and the English being universally and justly disaffected, the necessity of his affairs at last obliged him to convene a parliament. As soon as I was able, I hired a spacious house in the city, for myself and my books ; when I again with rapture renewed my literary pursuits, and where I calmly awaited the issue of the contest, which I trusted to the wise conduct of Providence, and to the courage of the people. I saw that a way was opening for the establishment of real liberty ; that the foundation was laying for the deliverance of man from the yoke of slavery and superstition; that the principles of religion, which were the first objects of our care, would exert a salutary influence on the manners and constitution of the republic : and as I had from my youth studied the distinctions between religious and civil rights, I perceived that if I ever wished to be of use, I ought at least not to be wanting to my country, to the church, and to so many of my fellowchristians, in a crisis of so much danger. I therefore determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my talents and my industry to this one important object."

In the Preface to the second book of his “Reason of Church Government,” he states that he engaged in polemical and political controversy from a painful sense of duty; and expresses a hope of completing some great poetic work, at a future time, that would live, and raise the literary fame of his country :

“I must say, therefore, that after I had for my first years, by the ceaseless diligence and care of my father, (whom God recompense !) been exercised to the tongues, and some sciences, as my age would allow, by different masters and teachers, at home and at school, it was found that whether aught was imposed on me by them that had the overlooking, or was betaken to of my own choice in English, or other tongue,-prosing or versing, but chiefly this latter, the style, by certain vital signs it had, was likely to live. But much latelier in the private academies of

Italy, whither I was favoured to resort, perceiving that some trifles which I had in memory, composed at under twenty, or thereabout, (for the manner is, that every one must give some proof of his wit and reading there,) met with acceptance above what was looked for; and other things which I had shifted, in scarcity of books and conveniences, to pack up among, were received with written encomiums, which the Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps ; I began thus far to assert to them, and several of my friends here at home, and not less to an inward prompting, which now grew daily upon me, that with labour and intense study, (which I take to be my portion in this life) joined with strong propensity of nature, I might perhaps leave something so written to after times, as that they should not willingly let it die. For which cause (and not only for that I knew it would be hard to arrive at the second rank among the Latins,) I applied myself to that resolution which Ariosto followed, against the persuasions of Bembo-to fix all the industry and art I could unite, to the adorning of my native language ; not to make verbal curiosities the end, (that were a toilsome vanity,) but to be an interpreter and relater of the best and sagest things among mine own citizens, throughout this island, in the mother dialect : that what the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old, did for their country, I, in my proportion, with this over and above, of being a Christian, might do for mine.

“ Time serves not now, and perhaps I might seem too profuse, to give any certain account of what the mind at home, in the spacious circuits of her musing, hath liberty to propose to herself, though of highest hope, and hardest attempting; whether that epic form, whereof the two poems of Homer, and those other two of Virgil and Tasso, are a diffuse, and the book of Job a brief model ; and whether the rules of Aristotle are herein strictly to be kept, or nature is to be followed, which in them that show art, and use judgment, is no transgression, but an enriching of art; or lastly, what king or knight before the Conquest might be chosen, in whom to lay the pattern of a Christian hero. And, as Tasso gave to a prince of Italy his choice, whether he would

command him to write of Godfrey's expedition against the infidels, or Belisarius's against the Goths, or Charlemagne's against the Lombards ; if to the instinct of nature, and the emboldening of art, aught may be trusted, and there be nothing adverse in our climate, or the fate of this age, it haply would be no rashness, from an equal diligence and inclination, for me to present the like offer in our ancient stories : or whether those dramatic compositions, wherein Sophocles and Euripides reign, shall be found more doctrinal and exemplary to a nation.

“The Scripture also affords us a divine pastoral drama, in 'The Song of Solomon,' consisting of two persons, and a double chorus, as Origen rightly judges. And the Apocalypse' of St. John is the majestic image of a high and stately tragedy, shutting up and intermingling her solemn scenes and acts with a sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs, and harping symphonies ; and this my opinion, the grave authority of Paræus, commenting that book, is sufficient to confirm ; or if occasion shall lead to imitate those magnific odes and hymns, wherein Pindarus and Callimachus are in most things worthy, some others are in the frame judicious,-in their matter, the chief end, faulty. But those frequent songs throughout the Law and Prophets, beyond all these, not in their divine arguments alone, but in the very critical art of composition, may be easily made appear over all kinds of lyric poesy to be incomparable. Neither do I think it shame to covenant with my knowing reader, that for some years yet I may go in trust with him towards the payment of what I am now indebted, as being a work that requires industrious and silent reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly and generous arts ; and as being a work not to be raised from the heat of youth, or the vapours of wine, nor to be obtained from the invocation of Dame Memory, and her Syren daughters; but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his Seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases."

Again, he thus describes his own appearance and physical qualities; to which it may be necessary only to add, that in his youth

and war

his hair was auburn, evenly divided at the top of his large full forehead, and hanging in clusters down to his back and shoulders ; his face was large and oval, and all his features were individually perfect. He was considered very handsome ; but his beauty, from the regularity of his features, their general harmony, and the modesty and composure of his demeanour and look, was thought to be of the feminine order; hence he was called in the university, the Lady of Christ Church : his eyes were blue. It is generally asserted that, in his description of Adam, b. iv. 300, he sketched off his own picture :

“ His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung

Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad.” “I do not believe that I was ever once noted for deformity by any one who ever saw me; but the praise of beauty I am not anxious to obtain. My stature certainly is not tall; but it rather approaches the middle than the diminutive. Yet what if it were diminutive, when so many men illustrious both in

peace have been the same? And how can that be called diminutive, which is great enough for every virtuous achievement ? Nor, though very thin, was I ever deficient in courage or strength ; and I was wont constantly to exercise myself in the use of the sword, as long as it comported with my habit and my years. Armed with this weapon, as I usually was, I should have thought myself quite a match for any one, though much stronger than myself; and I felt perfectly secure against the assault of any open enemy.

At this moment I have the same courage, the same strength, though not the same eyes; yet so little do they betray any external appearance of injury, that they look as unclouded and bright as the eyes of those who most distinctly see. In this instance alone, I am a dissembler against my will. My face, which is said to indicate a total privation of blood, is of a complexion entirely opposite to the pale and the cadaverous; so that though I am more than forty years old, there is scarcely any one to whom I do not appear ten years younger than I am; and the smoothness of my skin is not in the least affected by the wrinkles of age."

« PreviousContinue »