To reduce that idea to a prose formula would be to impoverish and debase it; but a hint or two concerning its general character may suggest its importance to the individual conscience. On the one hand, no poet, not even Shakespeare, has thought more nobly of the glorious capacities of man. Man is to Milton no miserable puppet of chance, no slave of his environment (Adam and Eve sin despite ideal surroundings), but an unhampered master of his fate, God himself endowing him with freedom of the will, and all the spirits of the universe interested in the use he may make of that liberty. On the other hand, no poet has felt more profoundly the constant peril of man’s exalted state. Unless he in his freedom throws off all worldly temptations, even the most seductive, punishment for his disloyalty to spiritual laws is visited not only upon himself but upon his innocent fellow men. The grave moral predicaments of the Lady in “Comus,”〖H. C., iv, 44.〗 of Adam and Eve, of Christ in “Paradise Regained,” and of Samson, are not exceptional, but typify the real state of man in every moment of his life. Here a sublime opportunity, there a fatal danger, the decision absolutely in his own hands! Yet there is no panic, no wild cry for relief; the spirit is as serene as the utterance is restrained. Uncompromising independence in earthly concerns, patient humility before God—these are the virtues that will redeem us at last.

Hasty as this glance at Milton’s ideas must be, it reminds us of the source of his power. In his first good poem, the “Nativity Ode,” he yearned to hear that music of the heavenly spheres, hymning divine truth, to which most mortal ears are ever deaf; and from then until his end, amid the din of terrestrial turmoil, he was hearkening for the voice of God. Thus inspired, he has ever revived those who have learned to resort to him, sending each forth with a braver heart, a serener mind, and a reawakened conscience. Wordsworth, sadly observing the worshipers of earthly idols, exclaimed: Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour! and the best in succeeding generations have echoed the sentiment. Sceptics may question parts of Milton’s doctrine; but they will not easily shake its center, for that is embedded in the pertinacious moral convictions of the English peoples. The noblest American tradition, which founded the New England commonwealths, and from which to depart is a kind of betrayal of our inmost selves, is precisely that ideal of freedom from man’s dominion and conscientious obedience to God’s stern will, which is the very spirit of Milton. To commune with him is therefore to gain patriotic enlightenment as well as religious insight and poetical culture.〖See also Bagehot’s essay on Milton in H. C., xxviii, 165.〗

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