Many years had gone by since he had vainly invited James to draw his Scotch subjects "to a nearer conjunction with the liturgy and canons of this nation." " I sent him back again," said the shrewd old King, " with the frivolous draft he had drawn. For all that, he feared not my anger, but assaulted me again with another ill-fangled platform to make that stubborn Kirk stoop more to the English platform; but I durst not play fast and loose with my word. He knows not the stomach of that people." But Laud knew how to wait, and his time had come at last. He was resolved to put an end to the Presbyterian character of the Scotch Church altogether, and to bring it to a uniformity with the Church of England. A book of canons issued by the sole authority of the King placed the government of the Church absolutely in the hands of its bishops; no Church Assembly might be summoned but by the King, no alteration in worship or discipline introduced but by his permission. As daring a stretch of the prerogative superseded what was known as Knox's Liturgy - the book of Common Order drawn up on the Genevan model by that Reformer, and generally used throughout Scotland - by a new Liturgy based on the English Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy and canons drawn up by four Scottish bishops were laid before Laud; in their composition the General Assembly had neither been consulted nor recognized; and taken together they formed the code of a political and ecclesiastical system which aimed at reducing Scotland to an utter subjection to the Crown. To enforce them on the land was to effect a revolution of the most serious kind.
The books however were backed by a royal injunction, and Laud flattered himself that the revolution had been wrought. Triumphant in Scotland, with the Scotch Church - as he fancied - at his feet, Laud's hand still fell heavily on the English Puritans. There were signs of a change of temper which might have made even a bolder man pause. Thousands of " the best," scholars, merchants, lawyers, farmers, were flying over the Atlantic to seek freedom and purity of religion in the wilderness. Great landowners and nobles were preparing to follow. Ministers were quitting their parsonages rather than abet the royal insult to the sanctity of the Sabbath. The Puritans who remained among the clergy were giving up their homes rather than consent to the change of the sacred table into an altar, or to silence in their protests against the new Popery. The noblest of living Englishmen refused to become the priest of a Church whose ministry could only be " bought with servitude and forswearing." We have seen John Milton leave Cambridge, self-dedicated "to that same lot, however mean or high, to which time leads me and the will of Heaven." But the lot to which these called him was not the ministerial office to which he had been destined from his childhood.
In later life he told bitterly the story, how he had been "Church-outed by the prelates." "Coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded in the Church, that he who would take orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which unless he took with a conscience that would retch he must either straight perjure or split his faith, I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing." In spite therefore of his father's regrets, he retired to a new home which the scrivener had found at Horton, a village in the neighbourhood of Windsor, and quietly busied himself with study and verse. The poetic impulse of the Renascence had been slowly dying away under the Stuarts. The stage was falling into mere coarseness and horror; Shakspere had died quietly at Stratford in Milton's childhood; the last and worst play of Ben Jonson appeared in the year of his settlement at Horton; and though Ford and Massinger still lingered on there were no successors for them but Shirley and Davenant. The philosophic and meditative taste of the age had produced indeed poetic schools of its own: poetic satire had become fashionable in Hall, better known afterwards as a bishop, and had been carried on vigorously by George Wither; the so-called "metaphysical" poetry, the vigorous and pithy expression of a cold and prosaic good sense, began with Sir John Davies, and buried itself in fantastic affectations in Donne; religious verse had become popular in the gloomy allegories of Quarles and the tender refinement which struggles through a jungle of puns and extravagances in George Herbert. But what poetic life really remained was to be found only in the caressing fancy and lively badinage of lyric singers like Herrick, whose grace is untouched by passion and often disfigured by coarseness and pedantry; or in the school of Spenser's more direct successors, where Browne in his pastorals, and the two Fletchers, Phineas and Giles, in their unreadable allegories, still preserved something of their master's sweetness, if they preserved nothing of his power.
Milton was himself a Spenserian; he owned to Dryden in later years " that Spenser was his original," and in some of his earliest lines at Horton he dwells lovingly on "the sage and solemn tones " of the " Faerie Queen," its " forests and enchantments drear, where more is meant than meets the ear." But of the weakness and affectation which characterized Spenser's successors he had not a trace. In the "Allegro" and "Penseroso," the first results of his retirement at Horton, we catch again the fancy and melody of the Elizabethan verse, the wealth of its imagery, its wide sympathy with nature and man. There is a loss, perhaps, of the older freedom and spontaneity of the Renascence, a rhetorical rather than passionate turn in the young poet, a striking absence of dramatic power, and a want of subtle precision even in his picturesque touches. Milton's imagination is not strong enough to identify him with the world which he imagines; he stands apart from it, and looks at it as from a distance, ordering it and arranging it at his will.