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he treated her kindly; and soon afterwards, in 1646, her loyalist father being involved in the catastrophe of the monarchy, and exposed to sequestrations, he received both this gentleman and his sons into his own house, and kept them there till their affairs were accommodated. This act is the more striking when we reflect that the paternal influence had probably been freely exerted to disgust Mary Milton with her marital home, and to retain her away from her wifely duties : the household of Mr. Powell was presumably a good deal livelier and more jovial than that of the scholastic puritan. Milton's own father had been already domesticated with him some little while-from about the time when his wife quitted London. His death, and also that of Mr. Powell, took place in 1647 ; and it is to be surmised that the junior Powells then ceased to be inmates of Milton's house.
In 1644, the latter published the now most famous of his prose works, named Areopagitica, a Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. The title explains the important thesis of this essay. The author held that truth could not be too widely diffused ; that publicity was its best protection against intermixture with error; and that anything like a preliminary censorship of the press was noxious and unworthy of freemen. He was now hostile to the Presbyterian party, probably on account of their general religious intolerance. He was growing in political estimation. There had been an idea of making ħim adjutant-general to Sir William Waller ; but on the re-modelling of the army, this commander was set aside, and the project fell through. In 1645, he re-appeared as a poet, but not on any extensive scale, publishing a collection of the English and Latin verses of his youth. His first child, Anne, was born in July 1646; the second, Mary, in October 1648.
The year 1649 was well calculated to try the mettle of thinkers and republicans : it found Milton equal to the occasion. He approved the execution of that far worse than useless monarch, Charles the First. Early in this year he published, in connexion with these stirring questions, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates; followed by Eikonoclastes, an answer to the famous Eikon Basiliké. The French writer De Saumaise (latinized into Salmasius) issued a Defensio Regia, in behalf of Charles the Second; to this Milton, in 1651, replied with his Latin work, Defensio pro Populo Anglicano, an eloquent performance freely indulging in those acerbities with which every sort of disputation was then seasoned. It earned great applause, and was remunerated by the English government with the large sum of £1000. To Milton himself it was in fact a priceless effort, for it cost him his sight. He had been warned by physicians that, in the then condition of his eyes, the labour of writing such a book might result in blindness : with majestic intrepidity he undertook the task at the bidding of the Council of State, accomplished it, and paid the forecast forfeit. Most pages in the annals of patriotic heroism grow dim before this one.
Milton was now an officer of high position in the English Commonwealth ; having, on the 15th of March 1649, been appointed, without solicitation, Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State, a post chiefly concerned with the relations of England in continental affairs. He was a very distinguished personage in the eyes of eminent foreigners. He continued to occupy a like position under the protectorship of Oliver Cromwell ; and again under Richard Cromwell, and on to the Restoration of Charles the Second. The salary of his office was nearly £300 per annum; but during the protectorship it was reduced, and an assistant appointed-at first (it would seem) Philip Meadows, and afterwards the celebrated Andrew Marveli. For awhile Milton lived in Whitehall ; afterwards in lodgings opening on St. James's Park. A son was born to him in March 1650, but soon died ; his youngest daughter Deborah came into the world in May 1652, and the confinement proved fatal to his wife Mary.
The exact date when total blindness overtook the poet is uncertain : it was probably later than the early part of 1653, but before the beginning of 1654. The disease has generally been termed gutta serena : paralysis of the optic nerve might be a more accurate and explicit term. This calamity, while it oppressed Milton, did not overwhelm him : he continued his official and controversial labours. A Defensio secunda pro Populo Anglicano appeared from his pen in 1654, being a reply to Pierre Du Moulin, junior : it distinctly expressed the author's adhesion to Cromwell's
Losing his wife in 1652, when absolute blindness was imminent, the poet passed a wifeless man through many long months of “ total eclipse,” not marrying again till the 12th of November 1656 – which looks like a rather strong symptom that the yoke of marriage had not proved an altogether easy one to his shoulders. His second bride was Katharine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney. With her (as one of the loveliest of his unequalled sonnets assures us) he was happy: but Death soon put an end to his contentment—she died, also in childbirth, in February 1658. Milton again went through a rather long term of widower
hood : eventually, perhaps in the year 1663, on the recommendation of his friend Dr. Paget, he married Elizabeth Minshull, the daughter of a gentleman in Cheshire, about thirty years younger than himself. There was no issue of this marriage. Milton, as one of his writings shows, was not inclined to espouse a widow : and in all his three nuptials, he avoided doing so. His eldest daughter was now grown up —about seventeen years of age-only five or six years younger than her new stepmother : the other two daughters were also living. The two elder are recorded to have been very serviceable to their father's studies, but in a mode which must have been irksome and grievous in an extreme degree even to the most dutiful children. They had been somehow taught to pronounce the principal modern languages, and also Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; and they read Milton the various authors in these tongues, without at all knowing the meaning of what they articulated. He is reported nevertheless to have said that the two elder daughters were not attentive to him :-perhaps flesh and blood failed under such an ordeal as the above-named, or perhaps the blind and aging Milton, strict even in youth, was a little rigid and unattaching to the blooming girls. His third wife tended him with assiduity, and secured his affectionate good-will.
Milton was by this time not only blind and aging, but also disappointed—if disappointment can indeed be affirmed of so lofty and severe a soul—in all his most cherished hopes and expectations for the public weal. The despicable profligate, Charles the Second, reoccupied the throne of England in May 1660, soon after Milton had published A ready and easy way to establish a Free Commonwealth, opposing monarchy; and everything noblest in the nation recoiled from the pollution of the royal presence. Milton, then residing in Petty France, quitted his home, and lay concealed in a friend's house : the two parts of his Defensio, and the Eikonoclastes, were appropriately burned by the common hangman. The poet Davenant is said to have interested himself for Milton, who had done the like for him in the very diverse days of 1657 : there is moreover a curious story that a mock funeral was enacted, so as to illude pursuers. The indemnity for heroes and patriots published in August of this year did not exclude Milton ; but it would seem that he remained awhile in the custody of the sergeant-at-arms. He then returned to the neighbourhood of his former house in the city; and, though inevitably distinguished by the disfavour of the people in power, suffered no further molestation of any importance.
Before these troubles began-perhaps in 1658, or even earlier—the poet had commenced the great work of his life, Paradise Lost. He had entertained a project of writing on the same theme a tragedy according to the antique model; but this scheme was laid aside, and the narrative poem undertaken, and completed in or about 1665. It consisted originally of only ten Books (instead of twelve as now): the larger number was made up in 1674, in the second edition, by dividing the 7th and noth sections. The poem, after much difficulty in getting it licensed, was published by Mr. Simmons in 1667. The price paid down for it was £, 5; to be followed by £15, contingent upon the sale of a second and a third large impression. As it turned out, the first edition, 1500 copies, sold off in two years to the extent of 1300 : the remaining 200 took five years more to sell. Before Paradise Lost, blank verse in the English language had been almost confined to dramatic works : Milton adopted this measure as alone suitable to so august a theme, and, in his preliminary notice to the poem, went so far as to denounce rhyme as trivial and barbarous. In 1670, Michael Elwoo a well-meaning quaker admirer who acted from time to time as Milton's amanuensis, made a remark which set him upon the composition of Paradise Regained. This was published, along with Samson Agonistes, in 1671 ; the singular perversity of authorship which led Milton to prefer Paradise Regained to Paradise Lost has often been remarked upon.
There are not many more incidents to be noted in the closing years of this illustrious life. In 1665 the poet had quitted London, in which the great plague was then raging, and he lived awhile in the village of Chalfont St. Giles, in Buckinghamshire. When the epidemic was over, he returned : his last habitation was in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields. His daughters did not reside with him during the final four or five years of his life. He suffered from gout; and an attack of this malady carried him off on the 8th of November 1674. His will, which was afterwards disputed in the interest of his daughters, left everything to his wife' —the total value being about £1500. His tomb is in the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate.
The principal writings of Milton not already mentioned were a Latin Grammar, published in 1661; a History of England, 1670, which he only brought down to the date of the Norman conquest ; a System of Logic after the Method of Ramus, 1672,; a Treatise of True Religion, 1673, in the course of which he inveighed against popery, and propounded, as the limit which deserved political toleration, any phase of religious thought which should recognize the Scriptures as sufficient guide ; Familiar Epistles in Latin,
and some Academical Exercises, 1674. He had at one time projected writing a poem on the story of King Arthur. In 1823 was made the important discovery of a MS. work by Milton, De Doctrinâ Christianâ Libri duo: the copy was found in the state-paper office, and was published without delay. Milton, during his life, was classed in a general way among the Independents, the religious body to which Cromwell also belonged : but this MS. showed him to be a Christian differing considerably from the sects of Christians mostly recognized as within any pale of orthodoxy. He did not accept the ordinary dogmas of the Trinity, or of the divinity of Christ : on the latter subject, he might be considered an Arian rather than a Socinian. In various other respects also his opinions assumed a great latitude : he denied, for instance, that polygamy is unlawful, and joined in no public form of worship.
Milton was from childhood and all through the years of his less advanced manhood eminently handsome, and continued a fine old man to the last. His hair was light brown, and remained plenteous, his complexion fair and ruddy ; the features were symmetrical ; the eyes, gray in hue, suffered no perceptible alteration from his blindness. He was rather below than above the middle height, neither fat nor thin, active in person, erect in deportment, and neat in dress. His courage was abundant, and he was a good swordsman. His voice was musical, as befitted a man one of whose chief relaxations consisted in music ; he played on the organ and bass-viol. Another relaxation was conversation with friends, among whom he was cheerful, open, and an interesting talker. His temper was serene, and it is said that he made no enmities other than such as arose from public grounds : as a controversalist, indeed, he was sufficiently bitter, and even abusive, but he did not regard himself as naturally controversial-rather as summoned by a loftier Muse to a calmer, deeper, and more perennial utterance. He was abstemious, and eschewed strong liquors ; he had a fine memory, and much width of reading, and in youth a predilection for romance. Though never rich, he retained a sufficiency to free his declining years from any sordid discomfort. His morals were always pure—his religion deep-seated. Among Milton's personal habits, it is recorded that he smoked a pipe at the close of evening; and that he composed poetry chiefly in the winter-time, and not unfrequently while lying in bed.
If ever a man lived of whom an upright and intellectual nation may be proud, it is Milton. His elevation in every aspect-of person, of character, of mind, of acquirements, of conduct, of the field for the exercise of his powers, of