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On the late massacre in Piemont.”
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter'd saints, whose bones Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold ;
* Among our author's stateletters there are several in Cromwell's name addressed to the Duke of Savoy, and other potentates and states, complaining of this persecution of the Protestants. His letter to the Duke of Savoy begins thus. “Red“dita sunt nobis Genevå &c. “Letters have been sent us from “ Geneva, as also from the Dau“ phinate, and many other places “bordering upon your terri“tories, wherein we are given “ to understand, that such of “ your Royal Highness's sub“jects as profess the reformed “religion, are commanded by “your edict and by your autho“rity, within three days after “ the promulgation of your edict, “ to depart their native seats and “habitations, upon pain of capi“tal punishment, and forfeiture “ of all their fortunes and estates, “unless they will give security “to relinquish their religion “within twenty days, and em“ brace the Roman catholic faith. “And that when they applied “ themselves to your Royal “Highness in a most suppliant “manner, imploring a revocation “ of the said edict, and that be“ing received into pristine fa“vour, they might be restored “ to the liberty granted them by “your predecessors, a part of “your army fell upon them, “most cruelly slew several, put “others in chains, and compelled “ the rest to fly into desert places
“ and to the mountains covered “ with snow, where some hun“dreds of families are reduced “ to such distress, that it is “greatly to be feared, they will “ in a short time all miserably “ perish through cold and hun“ger, &c.” These letters are dated in May, 1655, and about the same time it is probable this Sonnet was composed, which was added in the edition of 1673. * Milton's mind, busied with this affecting subject, here broke forth in a strain of poetry, where his feelings were not fettered by ceremony or formality. The Protestants availed themselves of an opportunity of exposing the horrors of popery, by publishing many sets of prints of this unparalleled scene of religious butchery, which operated like Fox's Book of Martyrs. Sir William Moreland, Cromwell's agent for the Valleys of Piedmont at Geneva, published a minute account of this whole transaction, in “The History of “the Valleys of Piemont, &c. “ Lond. 1658.” With numerous cuts, in folio. Milton, among many other atrocious examples of the papal spirit, appeals to this massacre, in Cromwell's Letter to King Charles Gustavus, dat. 1656. “Testes Alpinae valles misero“rum caede ac sanguine redun“dantes, &c.” Pr. W. ii. 454. T. Warton. 1. Avenge, O Lord, &c.] Nor was this prayer in behalf of the persecuted Protestants entirely without effect. For Cromwell exerted himself in their favour, and his behaviour in this whole transaction is greatly to his honour, even as it is related by an historian, who was far from being partial to his memory. “Nor “would the Protector be back“ward in such a work, which “might give the world a par“ticular opinion of his piety and “zeal for the protestant religion; “but he proclaimed a solemn “fast, and caused large contri“butions to be gathered for them “throughout the kingdom of “England and Wales. Nor did “he resthere, but sent his agents “to the Duke of Savoy, a prince “ with whom he had no corre“ spondence or commerce, and “ the next year so engaged the “Cardinal of France, and even “terrified the Pope himself, “ without so much as doing any “favour to the English Roman “catholics, that that Duke “ thought it necessary to restore * all that he had taken from “ them, and renewed all those “privileges they had formerly “ enjoyed. So great was the “terror of his name; nothing “being more usual than his “saying, that his ships in the “ Mediterranean should visit Ci“ vita Vecchia, and the sound of “ his cannon should be heard in * Rome.” See Echard, vol. 2. ' 2. Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold.] From Fairfax's Tasso, c. xiii. 60.
Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old, When all our fathers worshipp'd stocks and stones, Forget not: in thy book record their groans 5
—Into the valleys greene Distill'd from tops of Alpine moun
tains cold. T. Warton.
3. Ev'n them nho kept thy truth so pure of old, &c.] And so in his letter to the States of the United Provinces he calls them Alpinos incolas orthodoaram religionem antiquitus profitentes, the inhabitants at the feet of the Alps, ancient professors of the orthodox faith; and afterwards in the same letter, apud quos nostra religio vel ab ipsis Evangelii primis doctoribus tradita per manus et incorrupte servata, vel multo ante quam apud catteras gentes sinceritati pristinae restituta est, among whom our religion was either disseminated by the first doctors of the Gospel, and preserved from the defilement of superstition, or else restored to its pristine sincerity long before other nations obtained that felicity.
3. It is pretended that they have manuscripts against the papal Antichrist and Purgatory, as old as 1120. See their History by Paul Perrin, Genev. 1619. Their poverty, and seclusion from the rest of the world for so many ages, contributed in great measure to this simplicity of worship.
In his pamphlet, “the likeliest “means to remove Hirelings out “ of churches,” against endowing churches with tythes, our author frequently refers to the happy poverty and purity of the Waldenses. And he quotes Peter
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold Slain by the bloody Piemontese that roll’d Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they To heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow 10 O'er all th’ Italian fields, where still doth sway The triple tyrant; that from these may grow A hundred fold, who having learn'd thy way Early may fly the Babylonian woe.
WHEN I consider how my light is spent
Gilles, and “an ancient Tractate
14. the Babylonian woe.] The woes denounced against Rome, under the name of Babylon, in Scripture.
14. —Babylonian woe.] Antichrist. Warburton.
The Pope is called Antistes Babylonius the Babylonish bishop, In Quint. Nov. v. 156. T. Warton.
* Aubrey says that Milton's father could read without spectacles at eighty-four: but that his mother used them soon after she was thirty. MS. Mus. Ashmol. T. Warton.
3. And that one talent which is death to hide.J He speaks here with allusion to the parable of the talents, Matt. xxv. and he speaks with great modesty of himself, as if he had not five, or two, but only one talent.
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present 5 My true account, lest he returning chide; Doth God exact day-labour, light denied, I fondly ask: But patience to prevent That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: his state Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.
7. Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?] Here is a pun on the doctrine in the Gospel, that we are to work only while it is light, and in the night no man can work. There is an ambiguity between the natural light of the day, and the author's blindness. T. Warton. 9. From this ninth verse to the end of this Sonnet, is a speech of Patience, here personified. Dr. J. Warton. 10. –man's work, or his onn gifts;] “Free-will or grace.” Warburton. 12. —thousands at his bidding speed, And post o'er land and ocean without rest; They also serve nho only stand and nait.] Compare Spenser, in the Hymne of heavenly Love, st. x. Of the angels.
There they in their trinall triplicities
About him wait, and on his will dend ;
Either with nimble wings to cut the skies,
When he them on his messages doth send ;
Or on his own dread presence to attend.
It is the same conception in Par.
Millions of spiritual creatures walk
Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep, &c.
See also On the Death of a Fair
—With a vengeance sent
Sylvester in Du Bartas calls the angels “quicke postes with ready “expedition, &c.” W. i. d. 1. T. Warton.
Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son,
* This Mr. Lawrence was the son of the President of Cromwell's council: and this Sonnet was also in the edition of 1673.
1. Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son, &c.] Of the virtuous son nothing has transpired. The virtuous father, Henry Lawrence, was Member for Herefordshire in the Little Parliament which began in 1653, and was active in settling the protectorate of Cromwell. In consequence of his services, he was made President of Cromwell's council; where he appears to have signed many severe and arbitrary degrees, not only against the royalists, but the Brownists, fifth-momarchy men, and other sectarists. He continued high in favour with Richard Cromwell. As innovation is progressive, perhaps the son, Milton's friend, was an independent, and a still warmer republican. The family appears to have been seated not far from Milton's neighbourhood in Buckinghamshire: for Henry Lawrence's near relation, William Lawrence a writer, and appointed a Judge in Scotland by Cromwell, and in 1631 a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, died at Belfont, near Staines in Middlesex, in 1682. Hence says Milton, ver, 2.
Now that the fields are dank, and ways are mire, Where shall we sometimes meet, &c. Milton, in his first Reply to More written 1654, recites among the most respectable of his friends who contributed to form the Commonwealth, “Montacu“tium, Laurentium, summo in“genio ambos, optimisque arti“bus expositos, &c.” Pr. W. ii. 346. Where by Montacutium we are to understand Edward Montague, Earl of Manchester; who, while Lord Kimbolton, was one of the members of the House of Commons impeached by the King, and afterwards a leader in the Rebellion. I believe they both deserved this panegyric. T. Warton. 3. –and by the fire Help maste a sullen day, &c.] He has sentiments of much the same cast in the Epitaph. Damon, V. 45. —Quis me lenire docebit Mordaces curas, quis longam fallere noctem Dulcibus alloquiis 2 Grato cum sibilat igne Molle pyrum, et nucibus strepitat focus, &c. See also Drayton's Odes, vol. iv. 1343. They may become John Hewes's lyre, Which oft at Polesworth by the fire Hath made us gravely merry.