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[269] Masson's object in proving Milton to have been a proficient in these martial exercises is to increase our wonder at his not entering the army. ‘If there was any man in England of whom one might surely have expected that he would be in arms among the Parliamentarians,’ he says, ‘that man was Milton.’ Milton may have had many an impulse to turn soldier, as all men must in such times, but I do not believe that he ever seriously intended it. Nor is it any matter of reproach that he did not. It is plain, from his works, that he believed himself very early set apart and consecrated for tasks of a very different kind, for services demanding as much self-sacrifice and of more enduring result. I have no manner of doubt that he, like Dante, believed himself divinely inspired with what he had to utter, and, if so, why not also divinely guided in what he should do or leave undone? Milton wielded in the cause he loved a weapon far more effective than a sword.

It is a necessary result of Mr. Masson's method, that a great deal of space is devoted to what might have befallen his hero and what he might have seen. This leaves a broad margin indeed for the insertion of purely hypothetical incidents. Nay, so desperately addicted is he to what he deems the vivid style of writing, that he even goes out of his way to imagine what might have happened to anybody living at the same time with Milton. Having told us fairly enough how Shakespeare, on his last visit to London, perhaps saw Milton ‘a fair child of six playing at his father's door,’ he must needs conjure up an imaginary supper at the Mermaid. ‘Ah! what an evening . . . . was that; and how Ben and Shakespeare be-tongued each other, while the others listened and wondered; and how, when the company dispersed, the sleeping street heard their departing footsteps, and the stars shone down on the old roofs.’ Certainly,

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