Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

wood to Canton on speculation, probably by the recommendation of foreigners, but the voyage proved unsuccessful, and he never renewed the enterprise. The state of things has since changed, and it will continue to change, and the work of civilization will go forward. The different branches of human improvement will act reciprocally upon each other, intelligence will spread and be an excitement and a guide to industry, and, in process of time, laws, morals, religion, and social order will be established, and the blessings of civilized life secured.

Art. V.-A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, compiled from

the Holy Scriptures alone. By John Milton. Translated from the Original, by CHARLES R. SUMNER, M. A. Librarian and Historiographer to his Majesty, and Prebendary of Canterbury. From the London edition. 2 vols. 8vo. Boston. Cummings, Hilliard, and Co. 1825. It is a general axiom in literary history, that a work is to be ascribed to the author whose name it bears, unless there are strong circumstances to excite suspicion of fraud. But this axiom is founded in the supposition, that the work gains some publicity during the author's lifetime, or that it comes to light soon after his decease. In the present instance, therefore, a century and a half having expired since the death of the supposed author, it is not unreasonable to demand the proofs of the authenticity and genuineness of the work. Of these proofs we shall endeavor to give the substance, as we gather them from the translator's preliminary observations.'

It appears from the statement of Mr Lemon, deputy keeper of the state papers of the king of England, that Mílton retired from active, official employment as secretary for foreign languages, about the middle of the year 1655; and it is mentioned by several of his biographers, that after he retired from public business, among other literary enterprises, he commenced the composition of a body of divinity, compiled from the Holy Scriptures. This, says Wood (Fasti Oxonienses), is, or was lately in the hands of Cyriack Skinner. The same fact is mentioned by several others, and fully established. It remains therefore to be shown, that the original of the present work is

the same treatise, which has been so often mentioned, and which, before its recent discovery, had generally been supposed to be lost.

In the latter part of the year 1823, a Latin manuscript, bearing the title, Joannis Miltoni Angli de Doctrina Christiana, er Sacris duntaxat Libris petita, Disquisitionum Libri Duo Posthumi, was discovered by Mr Lemon, while he was searching in the old state paper office, Whitehall.

• It was found,' says Mr Sumner, ' in one of the presses, loosely wrapped in two or three sheets of printed paper, with a large number of original letters, informations, examinations, and other curious records relative to the Popish plots in 1677 and 1678, and to the Rye House plot in 1683. The same parcel likewise contained a complete and corrected copy of all the Latin letters to foreign princes and states, written by Milton, while he officiated as Latin Secretary; and the whole was inclosed in an envelope superscribed, To Mr Skinner, Merch'.' This Skinner was a favorite pupil, and afterwards a personal friend of Milton.

In what way this manuscript was deposited in the state paper office cannot be determined with certainty, from the investigations of the translator. It is a conjecture of Mr Lemon, that Cyriack Skinner, from his well known republican principles, might have been suspected of partaking in some of the political conspiracies, which prevailed during the last ten years of the reign of Charles the Second, and that his papers were consequently seized. On this supposition, the manuscript of Milton, which had so long been supposed to be lost, would have come into possession of the principal secretary of state for the southern, or home department; in which case, as the secretaries of that period bequeathed their voluminous collections of manuscripts to his Majesty's state paper office, it was there securely deposited. Without going further into detail, we shall leave the history of the manuscript with this general view, considering it as a fact established beyond any reasonable doubt, that Milton was its author.

It is easy to account for his undertaking a treatise of this kind. His father intended that he should be educated for the church, and at an early period of life he gave full demonstrations of the interest he took in religion. But connected as were the affairs of church and state at that period, it was impossible that one who had any strong republican tendency, should bear any good will to episcopacy. In correspondence with his poliVOL. XXII.-NO. 51.

47

tical principles, Milton imbibed, in common with the Puritans, such notions of discipline and church polity, as precluded one, distinguished like him by independence of character and thinking, from swearing by any master. Or, as he himself expresses it, Coming to some maturity of years, I had seen what tyranny pervaded the church, and that he who would take orders, must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that could retch, he must either strain, perforce, or split his faith; I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence, before the office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing.' He was indeed no less remarkable for freedom of speech, than that of thought; and in his travels in Italy we are told, that he fearlessly vindicated his religious principles, at the very seat, and almost in the presence of the papal power. After his return from his travels, which were of short duration, he employed himself in teaching a few scholars. And this might have been the commencement of his Treatise on Christian Doctrine ; for it was his custom to instruct his pupils every Sunday in religion, dictating a short system collected from writers then fashionable in the Dutch Universities. The principal authors whom he is said to have consulted, were Ames and Wollebius; and there are traces of both in the Treatise now published.

The manuscript is not all in the same hand writing. Nearly half of the Treatise is in a small and beautiful Italian hand, and though evidently transcribed with great care, is by no means free from mistakes; for compared with the remaining part, the errors are as fourteen to one. Mr Lemon, whose knowledge of the handwritings of the period when the manuscript was written, is said by Mr Sumner to be very extensive, pronounces the part that is so carefully transcribed to be in a female hand, and thinks it that of Mary, the younger daughter of Milton. The last and larger part is in a very different hand, supposed by Mr Lemon to be that of Philipps, nephew of Milton. The numerous corrections and interlineations of this part are in two distinct hands, different from the body of the manuscript; but it is confidently believed, that most of them were written by the person who transcribed the first part of the Treatise.' If Mr Lemon's opinions concerning the handwriting in the manuscript be well founded, we have additional evidence of the authenticity of the work.

We have compared Mr Sumner's translation with the original

so far as to be satisfied of his fidelity, and as to its style we have no objection to make. The coincidences which he has industriously pointed out in the notes, between thoughts and expressions throughout this treatise, and those in the printed works of Milton, both in his poetical and prose writings, are frequently striking, and might have been mentioned among the strongest proofs of the authenticity of the Treatise.

Milton's introduction to his Treatise, which begins with a salutation to all who profess the Christian faith throughout the earth, describes, we have no doubt honestly, the state of mind in which the work was composed. It breathes the same spirit of independence, which everywhere pervades his political and ecclesiastical writings, while at the same time it is free from their polemical zeal and sarcasm. He acquainted himself with the prevailing systems of theology, and was dissatisfied with all; and while reading the bible in the original languages, it was his practice to class under different heads, such passages of Scripture as he might afterwards have occasion to use. It seems that his original intention was to compile a manual for his own use, which he might always have at hand; and he speaks hypothetically of communicating the result of his labors to the Christian world. But in case he should publish his Treatise, he claims for it all the indulgence which is shown to scholastic systems of theology, since he everywhere takes the broad Protestant ground, asserting the sufficiency of the Scriptures, and acknowledging no other tribunal.

It is not our purpose to show the truth or error of the doctrinal views of this Treatise in general. Wedded to no system in theology, either in regard to the dogmas or ceremonial observances of the Christian church, the author, in his views, will satisfy no party, as a whole, though all will regard the results with some interest, as proceeding from a great mind, a mind distinguished by independence, to a degree remarkable at the period when the work was written. On many of the controverted points, he appears to belong to the orthodox school, particularly on the effects of the fall of our first parents, and on the atonement. But the Calvinistic doctrines are not brought together by a metaphysical concatenation, and they are everywhere accompanied with the heartiest defence of free, moral agency; so that, if God decrees every thing, yet when his decrees affect moral agents, they are attended, according to his theory, with a condition,

All our readers, probably, have learned before this time, that Milton was a Unitarian; or at least that he was not, in any acknowledged use of the term, a Trinitarian. Though in some of his earlier poetical writings his belief in a Trinity is strongly implied, yet some, who have been curious to discover his theological opinions from his Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained, have suspected, not without reason, his antitrinitarian bias. In the work before us, his views are so clear and explicit, that they cannot be misunderstood. He denies both the self existence and the eternal generation of the Son, while he admits, in the strictest sense of the words of Scripture, all that relates, or seems to relate, to his preexistence. He is not appalled by those passages, even if the readings are all genuine, which speak of Jesus Christ as God, or ascribe to him any of the attributes of the Deity ; considering the appellation and the attributes as applied to him always in a subordinate sense. The arguments by which he opposes the commonly received doctrine, both from reason and Scripture, are stated in their full strength, and, except for the infinite variety of illustration they admit, are nearly exhausted. But, as we remarked before, it is not our design to enter into any of the common controversies on Christian doctrine, which divide the church. There are in this Treatise other speculations of a different kind, some of which are on subjects very abstruse and almost intangible, and some on subjects either curious or uncommon, which have nothing to do with the distinctions of orthodox and heterodox, or liberal, as the words are now understood.

It may not be unwelcome to our readers to have some account of the author's notions concerning Creation. It is, we should think, the general belief, that God is purely a spiritual being, and that the world was created by him out of nothing. Notwithstanding the corporeal terms made use of, particularly in the Old Testament, when Deity is the subject of discourse, besides the difficulty of conceiving of a being without the aid derived from imagining material parts, still there is an abstract belief of existence independent of matter, and of power by which matter is created. But here arises the difficulty which the philosophic mind experiences in conceiving of a creation out of nothing; a difficulty which has driven some into atheism or Pantheism, and others into the belief that the world was created not only by God, but of God. It has been maintained by some divines, that the Hebrew word translated create, in the Mosaic

« PředchozíPokračovat »