Page images



under him of hard study and spare diet; only now and then, once in three weeks or a month, he made a gau .y day with some young gentlemen of his acquaintance, ti e chief of whom, says Mr. Philips, were Mr. Alphry and Mr. Miller, both of Gray’s-inn, and two of the greatest beaux of those times.

But he was not so fond of this academical life as to he an indifferent spectator of what was acted upon the public stage of the world. The nation was now in a great ferment in 1641, and the clamour ran high against the bishops, when he joined loudly in the cry, to help the Puritan ministers (as he says himself in his second Defence"), they being inferior to the bishops in learning and eloquence; and published his two books,“ Of Reformation in England," written to a friend. About the same time, certain ministers having published a treatise against episcopacy, in answer to the “Humble Remonstrance of Dr. Joseph Hall, Bishop of Norwich," under the title of

Smectymnuus," a word consisting of the initial letters of their names, Stephen Marshal, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstow; and Archbishop Usher having published at Oxford a refutation of "Smectymnuus,” in a tract concerning the “ Original of Bishops and Metropolitans," Milton wrote his little piece “ of Prelatical Episcopacy,” in opposition chiefly to Usher, for he was for contending with the most powerful • adversary: there would be either less disgrace in the defeat, or more glory in the victory. He handled the subject more at large in his next performance, which was the “Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty," in two books. And Bishop Hall having published a “ Defence of the Humble Remonstrance," he wrote “Animadversions" upon it. All these treatises he published within the course of one year (1641), which show how very diligent he was in the cause that he had undertaken. And the next year he set forth his “ Apology for Smectymnuus,” in answer to the “ Confutation of his Animadversions," written, as he thought himself, by Bishop Hall or his son. And here very luckily ended a controversy, which detained him from greater and better writings which he was meditating, more useful to the public, as well as more suitable to his own genius and inclination; but he thought all this while that he was vin. dicating ecclesiastical liberty. In the year 1643, and the 35th of his age, he married



Mary, the eldest daughter of Mr. Richard Powell, of Foresthill, near Shotover, in Oxfordshire, a justice of the peace, and a gentleman of good repute and figure in that country. But she had not lived with her husband above a month, before she was earnestly solicited by her relations to come and spend the remaining part of the summer with them in the country. If it was not at her instigation that her friends made this request, yet at least it was agreeable to her inclination; and she obtained her husband's consent upon a promise of returning at Michaelmas. And in the meanwhile his studies went on vigorously; and his chief diversion, after the business of the day, was now and then in an evening to visit the Lady Margaret Lee, daughter of the Earl of Marlborough, Lord High Treasurer of England, and President of the Privy Council to King James I. This lady, being a woman of excellent wit and understanding, had a particular honour for our author, and took great delight in his conversation; as likewise did her husband, Captain Hobson, a very accomplished gentleman. And what a regard Milton again had for her, he has left upon record in a sonnet to her praise, extant among his other poems.

Michaelmas was now come, but he heard nothing of his wife's return. He wrote to her, but received no answer. He wrote again letter after letter, but received no answer to any of them. He then despatched a messenger with a letter, desiring her to return; but she positively refused,. and dismissed the messenger with contempt. Whether it was, that she had conceived any dislike to her husband's person or humour; or whether she could not conform to his retired and philosophical manner of life, having been accustomed to a house of much gaiety and company; or whether, being of a family strongly attached to the royal cause, she could not bear her husband's republican principles; or whether she was over-persuaded by her relations, who possibly might repent of having matched the eldest daughter of the family to a man so distinguished for taking the contrary part, the King's head-quarters being in their neighbourhood at Oxford, and his Majesty having now some fairer prospect of success ;=whether any or all of these were the reasons of this extraordinary behaviour, however it was, it so highly incensed her husband, that he thought it would be dishonourable ever to receive her again after such a repulse, and he determined to repudiate her as she had in


effect repudiated him, and to consider her no longer as his wife. And to fortify this his resolution, and at the same time to justify it to the world, he wrote the “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” wherein he endeavours to prove that indisposition, unfitness, or contrariety of mind, proceeding from any unchangeable cause in nature, hindering and ever likely to hinder the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace, are greater reasons of divorce than adultery or natural frigidity, especially if there be no children, and there be mutual consent for separation. He published it at first without his name, but the style easily betrayed the author; and afterwards, as it was objected that his doctrine was a novel notion, and a paradox that nobody had ever asserted before, he endeavoured to confirm his own opinion by the authority of others, and published, in 1644, the

Judgment of Martin Bucer,” &c.; and, as it was still objected that his doctrine could not be reconciled to Scripture, he published, in 1645, his “Tetrachordon,” or exposi tions upon the four chief places in Scripture, which treat of marriage, or nullities in marriage. At the first appearing of the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” the clergy raised a heavy outcry against it. Milton was attacked both from press and pulpit - provocations which doubtless contributed not a little to make him such an enemy to the Presbyterians, to whom he before had been a distinguished friend. He composed likewise two of his sonnets on the reception his book of “Divorce” met with, but the latter is much the better of the two.

But while he was engaged in this controversy of divorce, he was not so totally engaged in it but he attended to other things, and about this time published his letter of “ Educa tion” to Mr. Samuel Hartlib; and in 1644 he published his “ Areopagitica,” or speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing to the Parliament of England. It was written at the desire of several learned men, and is perhaps the best vindication that has been published, at any time or in any language, of that liberty which is the basis and support of all other liberties—the liberty of the Press; but alas! it had not the desired effect; for the Presbyterians were as fond of exercising the licensing power when they get it into their own hands, as they had been clamorous before in inveighing against it while it was in the hands of the prelates. In 1645 was published a collection of his poems, Latin and English, the principal of which are “On the Morning of

[ocr errors]

Christ's Nativity," " L'Allegro,”. “ Il Penseroso,” “ Lycidas," the “Mask,” &c., &c.; and if he had left no other monuments of his poetical genius behind him, these would have been sufficient to have rendered his name immortal.

But his “ Doctrine of Divorce" and the maintenance of it principally engaged his thoughts at this period; and whether others were persuaded or not by his arguments, he was certainly convinced himself that he was in the right; and as a proof of it he determined to marry again, and made his addresses to a young lady of great wit and beauty, one of the daughters of Dr. Davis. But intelligence of this coming to his wife, and the then declining state of the king's cause, and consequently of the circumstances of Justice Powell's family, caused them to set all engines on work to restore the wife again to her husband. And his friends too for different reasons seem to have been as desirous of bringing about a reconciliation as her's, and this method of effecting it was concerted between them. He had a relation, one Blackborough, living in the lane of St. Martin's le-Grand, whom he often visited; and one day when he was visiting there, it was contrived that the wife should be ready in another room; and as he was thinking of nothing less, he was surprised to see her, whom he had expected never to have seen any more, falling down upon her knees at his feet, and imploring his forgiveness with tears. At first he showed some signs of aversion, but he continued not long inexorable ; his wife's entreaties, and the intercession of friends on both sides, soon wrought upon his generous nature, and procured a happy reconciliation with an act of oblivion of all that was past. But he did not take his wife home immediately; it was agreed that she should remain at a friend's, till the house that he had newly taken was fitted for their reception; for some other gentlemen of his acquaintance, having observed the great success of his method of education, had recommended their sons to his care; and his house in Aldersgate-street not being large enough, he had taken a larger in Barbican: and till this could be got ready, the place pitched upon for his wife's abode was the widow Webber's house in St. Clement's Churchyard, whose second daughter had been married to the other brother many years before. The part that Milton acted in this whole affair, showed plainly that he had a spirit capable of the strongest resentment, but yet more inclinable to pity and forgiveness: and

[ocr errors]

neither in this was any injury done to the other lady whom he was courting, for she is said to have been always averse from the motion, not daring, I suppose, to venture in

Ι marriage with a man who was known to have a wife still living. He might not think himself too at liberty as before, while his wife continued obstinate ; for his most plausible argument for divorce proceeds upon a supposition, that the thing be done with mutual consent.

After his wife's return his family was increased, not only with children, but also with his wife's relations, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters, coming to live with him in the general distress and ruin of the royal party; and he was so far from resenting their former ill-trealment of him, that he generously protected them, and entertained them very hospitably, till their affairs were accommodated through his interest with the prevailing faction. And then upon their removal, and the death of his own father, his house looked again like the house of the Muses; but his studies had like to have been interrupted by a call to public business, for about this time there was a design of constituting him adjutant-general in the army under Sir William Waller; but the new modelling of the army soon following, that design was laid aside. And not long after, his great house in Barbican being now too large for his family, he quitted it for a smaller in High Holborn, which opened backward into Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, where he prosecuted his studies till the king's trial and death, when the Presbyterians declaiming tragically against the king's execution, and asserting that his person was sacred and inviolable, provoked him to write the “ Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," proving that it is lawful to call a tyrant to account, and to depose and put him to death, and that they who of late so much blame deposing are the men who did it themselves; and he published it at the beginning of the year 1649, to satisfy and compose the minds of the people. Not long after this he wrote his “ Observations on the Articles of Peace between the Earl of Ormond and the Irish Rebels.” And in these and all his writings, whatever others of different parties may think, he thought himself an advocate for true liberty : for ecclesiastical liberty in his treatises against the bishops, for domestic liberty in his books of divorce, and for civil liberty in his writing against the king in defence of the pariiament and people of England.


« PreviousContinue »