- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Mar 1909, p. 168-188
- Robinson, George Hunter, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Reference to the project of a national theatre to Shakespeare in London, which within the past few weeks has taken definite shape. Ways in which Shakespeare still lives, in contrast to Milton who lives, and will continue to live, almost wholly in the printed page, and in the minds of men. Comments on Milton's dramatic writings. The memory of the great Puritan poet, at least in some quarters, fresh and green after the lapse of 300 years. Recalling the main incidents of the poet's life and times, beginning with John Milton's birth December 9, 1608. Milton's life, falling into three well-defined stages: from 1608-1638, the young man; the Controversial Period, which lasted form his return to England in 1639 until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660; the Calm Period preceding his death, from 1660 until his death in 1674.The Tercentenary Celebrations commemorative of the man and his literary works. The debt owed to Milton, and honours made to him in the London celebration. The Milton Tercentenary, appropriately celebrated in many other places in the British Isles, and other overseas British possessions. The lack of public notice in Canada. A correlation between what the speaker has been stating in the way of narrative and opinion to the avowed aims and objects of the Empire Club. What Milton has to do with our special objects. First, our English literature. Also, Milton's pre-eminent claim upon our admiration as one of the greatest builders and preservatives of our Empire. Milton as pure patriot. Tracing the steps of Milton's progress as he learned his lesson as to what liberty is; how it is to be maintained and defended. Milton's passionate, unquenchable love of freedom and liberty for all mankind. The tonic that the study and contemplation of Milton supplies to individuals and communities. Some words from the poet. Milton as a perfect antidote against that subtle corrupting influence in men and nations which the most eloquent writer of the nineteenth century chose to call "the contagion of the Anglo-Saxon race." Relating this thought to Canada, and to the United States. Words from Matthew Arnold in his observations on Milton, in whom he found a saving influence. Milton as our supreme master of the great style, with themes of supreme importance which come home to the hearts and business of all mankind. Lastly, Milton not only as a great poet, great prose writer, great controversialist, great patriot, great scholar, but as a good man. In his own words, "Ever in the great Task-Master's eye." Our duty not only to continue to read John Milton ourselves, but to encourage and persuade all others who would prove themselves good citizens, not merely of Canada and the Empire, but of the whole world, to make him a constant companion.
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- 18 Mar 1909
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- MILTON AS AN EMPIRE BUILDER.
Address by MR. GEO. HUNTER ROBINSON, M.A., of Toronto, before the Empire Club of Canada, on March 18th, 1909.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
Readers of Punch doubtless noticed, a few months ago, a fullpage cartoon "Our Honoured Dead," by Partridge, relating to the Milton Tercentenary, where Shakespeare and Milton, in the picturesque costumes of their time, .are depicted as shades revisiting the glimpses of the moon, engaged in the following colloquy
Shakespeare:-"Talking of posterity, they did say something about a national theatre for me, but nothing seems to happen. What have they 'done for you?"
Milton:-"OOh! I'm all right. Every three hundred years they give me a banquet at the Mansion House."
In this imaginary scene the artist was endeavouring to administer a mild rebuke to the City of London, the chief city of the Empire, and the greatest city of the world, in that after the lapse of three hundred years in which the fame of Shakespeare and Milton had been steadily growing, there had been erected in it no material memorials adequate to their genius and position in the world of literature. The project of erecting a national theatre to commemorate Shakespeare in the scene of his greatest triumphs, as was done a few years ago in his birthplace-Stratford-on-Avon-had been for some years before literary London, but for some reason or other it seemed to languish. Possibly the half-indignant query of John Milton, who himself preferred to live in the printed page and in .the minds of readers-select though few it might be-had had a paralysing effect upon the enthusiasm of those who would have liked to see some visible, external memorials to the men of thought as imposing and suggestive as those that deservedly commemorate the men of action in St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square
"What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones The labour of an age in piled stones ? Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid under a starypointing pyramid? Dear son of memory, great heir of fame, What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name? Thou in our wonder and astonishment Hast built thyself a livelong monument And so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie, That kings for such a tomb would wish to die."
Be this as it may, it is gratifying to learn that the project of a national theatre to Shakespeare in London has within the past few weeks taken definite shape. It is now announced that the project is to be pushed to an early completion and that in this memorial theatre will be acted the poet's masterpieces, as well as those of other English dramatists, living and dead. The theatre will be controlled by a board of trustees chosen from men prominent in literature, drama, music and education. While London will in this way wipe away the reproach of seeming neglect of the greatest English dramatist, it must be evident that Shakespeare, as far as present-day fame is concerned, is the "luckier dog" compared with Milton. Shakespeare still lives in Stratford-on-Avon, whither thousands of pilgrims go every year to pay homage .to his memory. He lives on the well-trod stage illuminated and dignified by such interpreters as Irving, Terry and Beerbohm Tree, not to speak of many others, and he lives also in the printed page-the joy and solace of thousands in all lands who never enter a theatre. But Milton lives, and will continue to live, almost wholly in the printed page, and in the minds of men. His dramatic writings are but very few, and though full of exquisite beauties are not adapted to the stage. Like Tennyson's dramatic productions they are best enjoyed in an easy chair at home. Their very names, indeed: "Samson Agonistes," "Comus," "Arcades," are "caviare to the multitude;" and it may safely be said that for one that has read "Samson Agonistes," ten thousand have seen "Othello," or "The Merchant of Venice," or "Midsummer Night's Dream," presented on the stage. Unquestionably while Milton is, by the voice of the critical world, the more consummate artist for a variety of reasons, some of which have been hinted at, Shakespeare has been, and will continue to be, the more popular personality.
Last summer on a quiet holiday in August, when the great city of London was swarming with visitors from all lands, I stood alone with the sexton in the old. church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, where a slab in the floor marks the resting place of the author of "Paradise Lost," not far from that of his father. Outside, within the narrow grounds, was a fine statue of the poet, erected by the munificence of a private citizen. Around the walls were memorials of the gallant Sir Martin Frobisher, one of the heroes of the Armada, and a first explorer of the Polar Seas; John Foxe, the author of the "Book of Martyrs;" Bishop Andrews, one of the translators of the Authorized Version of the Bible; John Speed, and others less known to fame; but within the church itself and its immediate precincts all was silent. To relieve my astonishment at the absence of visitors the sexton said: "This is an exceptional day.. Sometimes we do have quite a few-chiefly Americans." Not many days after I was almost pushed and jostled in a crowd-I shall not say of "Philistines," but still a crowd-bent on "doing" the half-dozen Shakespeare show-places in Stratford-on-Avon. Many of you have been there, and you will easily recall among other proofs of the poet's world-wide fame, pencilled on the walls of a house the thousands of names whose owners hoped in this way to appropriate some of the fame that attaches to the dwelling place which had sheltered the great poet. Happily this road to cheap immortality is now forbidden by the custodians of that disfigured shrine.
Yes, truly, to borrow "Mr. Punch's" phrase, Shakespeare is the "luckier dog"-that phrase is enough to make Milton turn in his grave-if it comes to counting material memorials. But in fact there is not the least fear that the world will willingly let die either of these great names. The banquet at the Mansion House, mentioned by "Mr. Punch" is only one significant proof of many that might be cited, that the memory of the great Puritan poet, at least in some quarters, is fresh and green after the lapse of three hundred years.
Perhaps just here, by way of refreshing your memories, and of furnishing an appropriate background for the hurried and imperfect sketch of Milton as a nation-builder that can be given in the few minutes at my disposal, you will permit me to recall the main incidents of the poet's life and times.
John Milton, the son of John Milton, scrivener, was born Friday, December 9, 1608, in the Bread-Street home in the very heart of Old London, not far from St. Paul's Cathedral. It is interesting to recall that at that date Shakespeare-whom very probably Milton as a boy had often seen-had lately produced "Antony and Cleopatra," Bacon was writing his "Wisdom of the Ancients," and Sir Walter Raleigh his "History of the World," when, too, the English Bible was hastening into print. He was the third of six children, only three of whom survived infancy. His father was a man of great probity, business ability and unusual culture, and he spared neither time nor money to secure for the future poet, whose rare gifts he early discerned, the benefits of a thorough education in all the learning of the time. His mother is described as a "woman of excellent charity." The whole story of nations and men leaves us in no doubt that this well-ordered and cultured home must be regarded as the starting point of that career in which Milton was enabled to accomplish so much in the way of light and leading for his own and succeeding generations. That home is a typical example of that kind of fundamental institution upon which alone the fabric of free communities and states can be erected and preserved.
In 1625, the year in which James I. died, when the dramatist Fletcher died of the plague, and the Thirty Years War was raging in Europe, Milton entered Christ's College, Cambridge, where he remained till July, 1632, taking his M.A. degree, having taken his B.A. in 1629---the ever memorable year of his "Nativity Ode." The next five years he spent in studious retirement at his father's house. On the death of his mother, in 1638, he went abroad, visiting, in very pleasant circumstances, Paris and the chief cities of Italy, whither his rising fame as a poet had preceded him, but allowing nothing to divert him from the cultivation of his powers and observation of social and political conditions and institutions. On his return to England, occasioned by the coming political storm which ushered in the Long Parliament with its train of momentous consequences, he undertook at his own house the education of his nephews and some other youths.
But the burning religious and political questions that then agitated England -some of which have not yet been finally settled- soon engaged his pen. The year 1641 may be described as the "Pamphlet Year," for in it were published "Of Reformation in England," "Prelatical Episcopacy," "Reason of Church Government," and "Animadversions." This was the year of the execution of Strafford, the Grand Remonstrance, and the Impeachment of the Twelve Bishops; and the very titles of Milton's pamphlets indicate the line along which the nation was moving in the tremendous struggle for civil and religious liberty.
For the next thirty years Milton was almost wholly engaged in political controversy, and his voice as a poet was almost silent. In 1665, the year of the Plague, "Paradise Lost" was completed and "Paradise Regained" begun. In 1670 "Paradise Regained" and "Samson Agonistes" were published. In 1674 his death took place, November 8, and his burial, November 22. It is thus obvious that Milton's life falls into three well-defined stages
(r) A period of thirty years-i6o8-1638-from his birth, including his studious youth and period of education, culminating in the journey to the Continent. In this period-that is, while still a young man-he had written and published, amongst other things, those monuments of his genius and consummate literary workmanship more lasting than brass: "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso," "Comus" and "Lycidas."
(a) The Controversial Period, which lasted from his return to England in 1639 till the Restoration of Charles II. in 166oalmost a whole generation.
(3) The Calm Period preceding his death, say from 1660 till his death in 1674. During this period, when the poet was totally blind, were produced, as already mentioned, "Paradise Lost," "Paradise Regained," "Samson Agonistes," and some prose works.
Reverting now to the Tercentenary Celebrations commemorative of the man and his literary works, I shall not take up time with any detailed account of the proceedings in connection therewith at Cambridge, London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It must suffice merely to mention that at Christ's College, Cambridgethe poet's college-there was open for some months an exhibition of Milton portraits, MSS. editions, and personal relics, succeeded-by a Banquet at which a large number of distinguished literary men from all parts of the kingdom were present, and which was followed by a performance of "Comus" in the New Theatre.
London, the poet's birthplace, surpassed itself in doing fitting honour to the memory of her greatest son. At the Banquet alluded to by the Punch artist, and held at the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor presided, and amongst others the Italian Ambassador and the American Ambassador acclaimed the debt their respective nations, in common with England, owed to Milton. The volume of Papers read at the Tercentenary under the auspices of the British Academy, and another volume of Memorial Lectures, read before the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom, besides innumerable articles in the Reviews, Magazines and Newspapers, sufficiently attest that very general interest was felt in the occasion, and that the opportunity was not lost for honouring the dead and educating the living. Nor should I omit to mention the religious service, representative as it was of the Establishment and Nonconformity, held December 9, in Bow Church, Cheapside, at which the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs attended in state, besides representatives of Foreign Embassies and Legations, and men of eminence in Literature, Music, Art, Politics and the Church. The Bishop of Ripon, preaching from Jer. xi: 4-5, compared Milton's dreams and ideals with those of "the man with a measuring line in his hand." The British Museum authorities also embraced the occasion to arrange a "Milton Exhibition," in which amongst many objects of great interest to lovers of Milton might be seen next to copies-of the first and second editions of "Paradise Lost" the MS. of Tennyson's glowing tribute in "Alcaics" to Milton, beginning
"O mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies,
O skill'd to sound of Time or Eternity,
God-gifted organ-voice of England
Milton a name to resound forever."
The dominant chord in the London celebration was admiration, coupled with gratitude, for the extraordinary genius of the man, his consummate literary workman ship, his immense learning, his enlightened and whole hearted devotion to the cause -of civil and religious liberty, his fearless and unswerving advocacy of what he conceived to be the truth, and his unblemished personal character. It was universally felt and. acknowledged that though London had unequalled reason to be proud of the long roll of her other poet-sons-Chaucer.
Spenser, Ben Jonson, Herrick, Pope, Gray, Keats and Browning-not one of them, nor indeed all together, had shed such imperishable lustre upon her as the author of "Paradise Lost."
The Milton Tercentenary was also appropriately celebrated in many other places in the British Isles, of which I can mention only a few. At Birmingham there was a numerously attended celebration under the auspices of the Free Church Council, over which Sir Oliver Lodge presided. At Hereford the Bishop, Dr. Percival, arranged a united commemoration in the Cathedral Library by people of all the Christian churches. "Milton," the Bishop said, "offered them the spectacle of both a supreme personality and a dedicated life. He served no mistress but truth, and he lived for nothing less than the highest."
In the United States Milton celebrations were numerous and enthusiastic, and large space was given to the Tercentenary in both the secular and religious press. The chief New York celebration was at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension. Dr. Greer, Bishop of New York, and Rev. Percy Grant, the rector, officiated. Mr. Howells, Mr. R. W. Gilder, Mr. H. W. Mabie, Dr. Lyman Abbott, and other leading writers were present. Poems of Milton were sung and recited. At Columbia University Macaulay's Essay on Milton was read by President Butler.
It would be no rash assumption to suppose that the Tercentenary was not allowed to go unnoticed in Australia, New Zealand, the Cape and other over-seas British possessions, but at this writing it is too early for any news as to how the day was observed in those distant countries.
So far as I have observed in Canada, the Tercentenary was allowed to pass without any public notice, except references to the British celebration and some eulogistic editorial comments in the press. Some pulpits also embraced the opportunity to pay a tribute to the genius of Milton, and to acknowledge the debt of gratitude due to that great Puritan for his sturdy fight for civil and religious liberty. Nevertheless, I think it is to the shame of this great University city-the leading English-speaking city in the Dominion-that it should be behind New York and other United States cities in doing honour to the memory of the greatest epic poet in the English language, arid one of the stoutest defenders of individual and civil liberty in the whole history of mankind.
Last summer, amid much popular enthusiasm, fanned by royal, vice-regal, gubernatorial and parliamentary patronage, not to speak of grants from the public treasury, lavish honour was done at Quebec to the memory of explorers and great military commanders who had a conspicuous share in the making of Old Canada. No patriotic Canadian would seek to pluck one leaf from the wreaths laid upon the tombs of Champlain, Wolfe and Montcalm, but I am bold to say that there has been a manifest lack of pure patriotism in our failure as a country to do honour to the memory of a man whose life and writings have inspired our patriots and scholars and citizens to make a good land to live in, the land which Wolfe won for us. Nay more, I am sure that Wolfe, who said that he would rather be the author of the Elegy in a Country Churchyard than the captor of Quebec, would, if he were alive today and living amongst us, have been among the first to lead the way to honour the man thus described by Gray:
"Nor second he that rode sublime Upon the seraph-wings of ecstasy, The secrets of the abyss to espy. He passed the flaming bounds of place and time The living throne, the sapphire-blaze, Where angels tremble while they gaze, He saw; but blasted with excess of light, Closed his eyes in endless night."
Mr. President and gentlemen, I shall never cease to regret that the patriot-poet, whose works have a conspicuous place on the curricula of our universities; a portion of whose greatest poem, ably edited by our present Superintendent of Education, was studied by hundreds of pupils in our high schools and collegiate institutes some years ago; selections from whose master pieces have always occupied a prominent place in our school readers for the formation of good taste and high ideals in the youth of our land; whose poetical works occupy an honoured place, and are more or less read as the sublimest and best models of style in thousands of our homes, and which afford to many a man immersed in business a refuge and distraction from its cares-I shall not, I say, cease to regret that at this particular juncture Canada has failed to do appropriate honour, to one of the three greatest epic poets in all history, arid that Toronto failed to lead the way. By this neglect, we have actually "lifted a spear against the muses' bower." We should have remembered, even in these piping times of peace, that
"The great Emathian conqueror bid spare The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower Went to the ground; and the repeated air Of sad Electra's poet .had the power To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare."
A few weeks ago, in order to do honour to a London music hall celebrity, a number of his countrymen escorted him, with pipe and drum; to our City' Hall, where, we are told, he was accorded an enthusiastic reception by our Mayor and Aldermen. It is a far call from Harry Lauder to John Milton, but it is nevertheless not to be supposed that if our Chief Magistrate and Council imagined they were upholding the reputation of our city for culture and refinement in thus gracing a wandering minstrel they would have hesitated, if there had been anyone to show them the way, to give their countenance to any scheme for expressing Canadian gratitude for a share in the glory. of him who "waked to ecstasy the living lyre," the common heritage of all English-speaking people, and for uniting with 'the capital of the Empire in paying a grateful tribute to the memory of its greatest son. How unfortunate for our reputation and for the gratification of these innocent desires that the Sage of the Grange, oppressed by the burden of fourscore could not inaugurate and conduct such a moment !
But all this by the way. Perhaps you would allow me, in conclusion, very briefly to correlate what I have been stating in the way of narrative and opinion to the avowed aims and objects of the Empire Club. What, it may be asked, has Milton to do with our special objects? Much in every way, I would say.
Firstly, our English literature, along with our English language, is one of the chief cements of our Empire. The best of our literature is our poetry, no small portion of which gives expression to the national ideals and sentiments, and thrills the national heart both to do and to suffer for country and humanity. He has but a slight acquaintance with literature and history who would dispute the claim of a modern poet
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams,
World-losers and world-forsakers
On whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory.
One man with a dream, at pleasure
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing
And Babel itself with our mirth,
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth,
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
Let Mammon and Belial flout these claims as merely the frenzy of a poet's dream, and though all their sons and daughters should dare to say "No!" to the age-long question, "Is not the life more than meat and the body than raiment?" the poets, even in mundane things, are right. Bear witness to their power as world-movers and world-shakers: Amphion building the walls of Thebes to the sound of his lyre;
"Blind Thamyris and blind Maeonides, And Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old;"
Dante shaking Florence to its centre; and, to be brief, in modern times, Rouget de L'Isle, with his "Marseillaise," inflaming the French people to overthrow an empire; Campbell, with his "Ye Mariners of England"; Burns, with his "Scots , Wha Hae," and countless others in every age and country who have nerved the patriot's arm and cowed the tyrant's heart.
Now, Milton in this aspect has a pre-eminent claim upon our admiration as one of the greatest builders and preservatives of our Empire. He is our greatest epic poet; and, as such, his name early, through selections, becomes familiar to the boys and girls in our primary and secondary schools. In the colleges and universities much critical study is given to longer portions, and thus the golden thread of his poetry becomes interwoven with the very tissue of the country's intellectual life. As Homer was the national poet of the Greeks wherever they were scattered, so in a similar way Milton and our other great poets are a bond of union between the several parts of the Empire. The more Milton is read and studied, whether in school, college, or the home, the greater will be the love and admiration on the part of her children for the Old Land-the mighty mother of our Imperial race.
Secondly, Milton was a pure patriot. An occasion called-and in the stormy times in which he lived it often called him very loudly-he gave his time and pen to the service of his country, and he gave it most unselfishly, without expectation of fee or reward, except the approval of a good conscience. Be it remembered that it was no fault of John Milton's that Oliver Cromwell, in the eighteen years of his protectorate, grasped almost regal authority, and in destroying a. tyrant he himself set up a tyranny. Milton was not the first, nor was he the last., man who was doomed to disappointment in what is evolved from political revolution. No doubt, as one of his biographers has well observed, he saw, with sorrow and alarm, the ancient constitution, its settled methods and its substantial safeguards exchanged for one life exposed to countless assaults. But we may be sure that he felt in his very soul that Cromwell, as Lord Protector, stood between England and anarchy, and that, as authority had come into the hands of the kingliest man in England, valiant and prudent, magnanimous and merciful, he was not idolatrously bowing down to a form, of government he had himself helped to overcome.
As a recent writer has put it, Milton began by thinking that a new earth could be created by a besom that one had but to sweep prelates and kings into a sawdust pan, and there was not only an end of slavery, not only a beginning of liberty, but Paradise in full fruit. Milton in 1650 abandoned such notions. In time he had seen that the all-important thing is what he called "the inner liberty." If a man's soul is in chains it may be of little use freeing his body and giving him political power. It may be but substituting a tyrant with many heads for a tyrant with one head-a hydra for a scorpion.
Milton thoroughly learned his lesson as to what liberty is-how it is to be maintained and defended-and it is a most salutary process for the twentieth century to trace every step of Milton's progress. He was, I repeat, a great patriot. He loved England, was proud of her, and was ready to die for her. In the "Areopagitica" he bids his countrymen remember the stuff of which--they are made: "Consider what nation it is whereof ye are; a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit; acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can come to." Is not that a trumpet blast to stir the blood and nerve the hands of empire-builders both to do and to suffer great things?
Thirdly, he had a passionate, unquenchable love of freedom and liberty for all mankind. His prose works, especially the "Areopagitica," "Tenure of Kings," "Eikonoclastes," and "Delineation of a Commonwealth," reveal him as a devotee of public liberty, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and, above all, of religious freedom. The Lord Advocate of Scotland--Thomas Shaw, K.C., M.P.--in a recent address on "Milton-The Man and Apostle of Freedom," summarized the matter by saying that Milton defended religious liberty against prelacy, civil liberty against the Crown, liberty of the press against the Executive, liberty of conscience against the Presbyterians of his day, and domestic liberty against the tyranny of the canon law. Since Milton's time Nonconformity, instead of being a byword and an obloquy, had become an honour for all who freely served their Master.
It is a far call, indeed, from Canada, 1909, to the England of 1609; and though many abuses have been swept away in these three hundred years, many shackles on civil and religious freedom have been broken, would it not be the veriest folly to believe that tyranny can never lift its hateful head, even in our country, and that there will never come a time when freemen will not need to prick their hearts up by the messages that come to them through the mists of years from the patriots of long ago?
I know not whether there is less political,- social and religious corruption today than in last century, when Wordsworth surveyed, with his calm, clear gaze, the condition of things in England; but I dare say it will be a long time yet, judging by our public press, before we can dispense with the tonic that the study and contemplation of Milton supplies to individuals and communities:
"Milton thou shouldst be living at this hour;
England bath need of thee: She is a fen
Of stagnant waters; altar, sword arid pen,
Fireside, the hercic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men:
Oh raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, freedom, virtue, power.
Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay."
There are not wanting those who have disparaged Milton's prose writings, as having had practically no effect on British affairs, while they kept the author's mind from its loftiest and truest exercise. Not so thought Mirabeau, whose theory of royalty, according to the doctrine of Milton, formed, as an acute writer has pointed out, one of the battle-cries of the Revolution. And today a growing number of students peruse the prose writings with the feeling that their doctrine and spirit which helped forward one revolution in England have yet to play their part in that other-slower, more peaceful, but not less decisive-which is yet needed for the complete establishment of liberty in England and in her Colonies. I refer not so much to those hideous types of slavery seen not so long ago in the labour of women and little children in coal mines, nail-making and other industries far beyond their strength-happily things of the past-but more especially to those kindred enormities of our own day, whether practised by capital on labour or by labour on capital, wherever might makes right and hunger makes slaves. Politically, wherever the British flag flies man is free; but in many cases men and women are born in chains, live in chains, and die in chains. Happily, we in Canada are free from many of the terrible problems that vex the legislators of the Mother Land; but how long will it be, with our incoming millions, unless our people are trained to see and value what Milton calls the "inner liberty"-before we shall have the worst conditions of the Old World repeated here in an aggravated form?
I am, in saying this, as none know better than yourselves, only taking up the parable of the men of sanity and vision amongst us. But, while there may be danger, I am sure we need not give way to fear. I like the attitude of a writer in the December Contemporary, who has been dwelling on the poet Swinburne's words of cheer for the Italians and Russians, and John Ruskin's magnificent work in awakening the sympathies and elevating the moral standards of the community, striking notes that went to the very conscience of the masters of industry
"Modern men have opportunities given to no other age. And, to be just to ourselves, there never was an age that thought out its problems with a keener mind, with a deeper reverence, and a nobler determination to face the unknown with a cheer. There it is that hope lies. But modern men will eventually have to come back to Milton's solution-call it religious solution or a psychological solution, or what you will-the recognition of the fact that it ultimately lies with each personality, whether he or she will grasp liberty and live. The choice of life or limbo lies, in the end, with the individual. It is the business of modern men to give the individual the opportunity of making a just and an everlasting choice."
Fourthly, Milton is a perfect antidote against that subtle corrupting influence in men and nations which the most eloquent writer of the nineteenth century chose to call "the contagion of the Anglo-Saxon race." What was meant by this startling phrase, so offensive to our social and national pride? Nothing more or less than the blind worship of Mammon, whereby all the prose, all the vulgarity amongst mankind, as seen in the tendencies and aims, the view of life and the social economy of 'the ever-multiplying and spreading Anglo-Saxon race, would invade and overpower all nations. The true ideal would be lost and a general sterility of heart and mind would set in.
This prophet had in view, no doubt, in the warning given, Great Britain and her colonies, but the United States still more. There, as a profound observer has pointed out, the Anglo-Saxon race is already most numerous, there it increases fastest, there material interests are most absorbing and pursued with most energy, there the ideal-the saving ideal-of a high and rare excellence
seems, perhaps, to suffer most danger of being obscured and lost." The "average man" is too much in evidence there; his performance is unduly magnified; his shortcomings are not duly seen and admitted.
I shall not labour to prove this proposition with regard to our neighbours. It is nothing but what the deepest thinkers in the United States have themselves been saying for years; but what concerns us most is: Is it true, or even partly true, with respect to Canada? I shall certainly not be so rash as to bring a railing accusation against Canada that might not with equal justice be said of the whole civilized world. But what, for instance, I am constrained to ask, are we to augur from that portentious intrusion into modern journalism, the "social, and personal"column, wherein the ignoble strife of the madding crowd for publicity is gratified and fostered by the chronicling of their petty ambitions and pettier performances, more than sufficient every morning and evening, if those philosophers could be persuaded even to glance at them, to make Democritus laugh and Heraclitus weep? What of other manifestations of the prevalence of low ideals in domestic, social, and public life? The unanimous voice of the Press in its sober moments, of the Pulpit, and the Bench is
"The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon."
Against this mammon-worship and the failure to set and maintain high ideals Matthew Arnold-himself no mean poetmore than twenty years ago found in Milton a saving influence; and I cannot do better towards supporting my present proposition than to summarize Mr. Arnold's observations. He pointed out that excellence is not common and abundant; on the contrary, as the great poet long ago said, excellence dwells amongst the rocks, hardly accessible, and a man must almost wear his heart out before he can reach her. "If to our English race," said he, "an inadequate sense for perfection of work is Milton as, an a real danger, if the discipline of respect for a high and flawless- excellence is peculiarly needed by us, Milton is, of all our gifted men, the best -lesson, the most salutary influence. In the sure and flawless perfection of his rhythm and diction he is as admirable as Virgil and Dante, and in this respect he is unique amongst us. Shakespeare is divinely strong, rich, and attractive; but sureness of style Shakespeare himself does not possess."
Once more: "The mighty power of poetry and art is generally admitted, but where the soul of this power at its best chiefly resides very many of us fail to see. It resides chiefly in the refining and elevation wrought in us by the high and rare excellence of the grand style. We may feel the effect without being able to give ourselves a clear account of its cause, but the thing is so. Now, no race needs the influences mentioned-the influences of refining and elevation-more than ours; and in poetry and art our grand source for them is Milton."
To vindicate this pre-eminent claim for Milton, and to realize the importance that should be given to him in the mental equipment of Canada, it' should be borne in mind that the ancient classics are, and will remain, a sealed book to thousands of readers, and, as the years go on, to millions. It is absolutely certain that if this host of readers are ever to gain any sense of the great power and charm of the great poets of antiquity, the way to gain it is not through translations of the ancients, but through the original poetry of Milton, who has the like power and charm, because he has the like great style. Through Milton they may gain it, for Milton is English -this master of the great style is English.
This realization of high and rare excellence in workmanship is, Mr. President and Gentlemen, another reason why Milton has been, and why he may continue to be for all time, an immense force in empire-building. We need to learn from him, and others like him, that impatient slipshod, slovenliness of workmanship can produce nothing permanent or beautiful in arts, or crafts, or literature, or character-building in men, communities, and states.
Fifthly, not only is Milton our supreme master of the great style, but his themes are of supreme importance, and come home to the hearts and business of all mankind. Not his the amorous lay of love-sick poets, but the eternal theme of how to justify the ways of God to men. The tremendous tragedy of a lost paradise and the supernal joy of redemption for the race are the subjects of his greatest works, and these themes must be of supreme interest to the world as long as time shall last. Whatever may be a man's special cult, the broad facts remain that English-speaking people are a Christian people, and their ethical system is based on the Bible. That book, it is the merest platitude to say, has had an immense influence in shaping the destinies, the morals and manners of the English people, and will continue to hold no second place. Milton has done immense service in drawing attention to that sacred book. Indeed, it is impossible to read him intelligently without familiarizing ourselves with its story, its ethics; its history. And in this way, even while we are reading "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained" for the mere poetry, we are inevitably drawn to think of our eternal concerns, as well as our relations to the things of time and- sense. It matters but little that Milton's belief in the Bible as a book is not the belief of the higher critics, that his ontology does not square with any of the creeds, that his mingling of Scripture history and pagan mythology confounds the unities, that his cosmology is contrary to all modern astronomy, that his treatment of spiritual entities is wholly anthropomorphic -notwithstanding all these and scores of other blemishes that the critics have discovered, the broad fact remains that Milton discerned and taught with matchless energy and eloquence, and in almost divine poetry, the essential truth that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth are within us. His sublime genius throws a golden light over everything he touches. Like the great sun he illumines the clouds that gather about him, and his powers, irradiated by the Divine Spirit, which he invoked to aid his adventurous song, pour floods of radiance over hills of difficulty and valleys of humiliation, upon the meanest clod and the highest mountain, over waste places and Edens, everywhere warming, invigorating, fructifying; and, like that sun, everywhere and for all time publishing to every land the work of an Almighty hand and proclaiming to all mankind the hand that made us is divine. I hold, then, for this reason, also, that the more we read and study Milton the better citizens of Canada, the better empire-builders, we shall be.
Lastly, Milton was not only a great poet, great prose writer, great controversialist, great patriot, great scholar, but he was a good man=with some faults and failings, we must admit, but nevertheless a good man, desirous of living, as he himself says it
"Ever in the great Task-Master's eye."
Many years before he began to write "Paradise Lost" he had in a single sentence revealed the secret of his power as a poet and his dynamic influence as a citizen and man in his own and subsequent times-"He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter, in laudable things ought himself to be a true poem-that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy."
No one can justly say that he was a very lovable soul. Life to him was ever a very serious matter; and he passed his time in the lonely grandeur of his genius. He had not the personal charm which we imagine Shakespeare had; but we may be sure that he was not the fanatical, malignant Commonwealth's man, the advocate of doctrines fatal to the peace of society, the man of doubtful piety, the knave in politics, the bad husband and worse father, so described by the controversialists, poetasters and lampooners of Charles IL's time. "The pernicious book of that late villain Milton" is the way I find, in the Athenceum of December 19th last, Milton's state papers to be printed in Holland were described by the then Principal Secretary of State, writing to the Secretary of the English Embassy at The Hague. Every species of calumny and abuse was heaped upon Milton by the Stuart kings and their tools, but no one at this late day need hesitate to take Wordsworth's estimate of the man just quoted in preference to the portraits drawn of him by court sycophants and routine intermeddlers with politics, supported by, "the trencher fury of rhyming parasites." Milton is not a beacon to warn, but a star to guide.
Notwithstanding all his faults and failings, for the reasons I have adduced and others that will occur to you, I hold it is our duty, as members of this Empire Club, not only to continue to read. John Milton ourselves, but to encourage and persuade all others who would prove themselves good citizens, not merely of Canada and the Empire, but of the whole world, to make him a constant companion. The message that comes to us and to every man and woman from the best of his prose and all of his poetry is the parting message of Spirit in "Comus":
"Mortals that would follow me Love Virtue; she alone is free. She can teach you how to climb Higher than the sphery chime; Or if Virtue feeble were, Heaven itself would stoop to her."