« PreviousContinue »
and sends ont his Seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar to touch and purify the lips of whom He pleases. To this must be added industrious and select reading, steady observation, and insight into all seemly arts and affairs; till which in some measure be compassed, I refuse not to sustain this expectation.”
" From a promise like this, at once fervid, pious, and rational,” says Johnson, "might be expected the ‘Paradise Lost.'” 1
Milton's controversial writings did not interrupt his school duties. He did everything diligently and with earnestness. His youth had been pure and moral; his manhood was almost ascetic; he lived sparingly, drank water, and set his pupils an example of hard study. Now and then he took a day's recreation with some gay friends of Gray's Inn, and displayed his beautiful and welldressed person on the fashionable promenades of Gray's Inn Gardens and Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.
After Reading was taken by the King's forces, Milton's beloved father came to live with him, and in 1643, at Whitsuntide, he brought home a fair young bride, whom he had wooed and won from the adverse party of the Cavaliers.
Mary Powel was the daughter of a country gentleman, a justice of the peace for Oxfordshire, and had been used, as Philips, her hushand's nephew, tells us, “ to a great house, much company," and the fun and joviality of the ranting Royalists. She was beautiful, but seems to have been a spoilt child, and not to have possessed the intellect her husband needed in a companion ;--this is inferred from his own words when he speaks of a "mute and spiritless mate.”
It is only just, also, to give a glance at Mary Powel's side of the question. She found herself suddenly transplanted from a lively and liberal home to a house where profound stillness reigned, save when it was broken by the crying of punished school-boys. No visitors came to the house ; if they came, they were of the solemn Puritans, whom she had been brought up to laugh at as rogues and hypocrites. Her gay Cavalier songs were exchanged for solemn hymns; her feasting for hard fare; her husband, occupied by his pupils and his controversy, could have given her but a small portion of his time; there was no sympathy round her,-in her passionate loyalty, her country tastes and habits. Her parents asked if she
1 Johnson's “Lives of the Poets," Vol. 1, p. 26.
might spend part of the summer with them, and her husband assenting, she left him. He pursued his studies, occasionally visiting the accomplished Lady Margaret Leigh, but at Michaelmas he wrote to Mary to summon her home. He received no answer; he wrote again and again with the same result. At last, knowing how uncertain was the arrival of letters in the now distracted country, he despatched a messenger for Mistress Milton. The man was sent back with contempt. Milton, excessively angry, resolved to divorce his disobedient wife, and published, as a preliminary justification of his conduct, a treatise on “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” which was followed by “The Judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce," and his “Tetrachordon."
The clergy, then holding their famous assembly at Westminster, were greatly scandalized by these productions, and had the writer brought before the House of Lords. But that House had matter of more import to engage it than the dreams (as they doubtless thought) of a visionary Puritan, and the case was dismissed. But Milton never forgave his former friends, the Presbyterians, for their share in this prosecution. He proceeded to put his theory in practice by wooing Miss Davis, the daughter of Dr. Davis, who, however, had scruples on the legality and morality of such a már-riage. Whilst she still hesitated, a circumstance decided the doubt
for her. As Milton was one day at the house of a relative of the name of Blackborough, in St. Martin's Lane, his wife rushed from an adjoining room and threw herself at his feet, imploring his forgiveness. · He resisted her entreaties for a time, but yielded at length, and received her to his heart and home once more. Their reunion proved happier than might have been expected. Baby hands came to draw them together, and Mary Milton lived to give birth to a third daughter, and then died. But long before that period the generous poet had given shelter in his house to all her family, when the Republican party had risen to power. · Subsequently, he arranged their affairs for them. isti
The new Council of State, in which were Bradshaw and Sir Harry Vane, chose Milton as their Latin Secretary, and employed him to write against the celebrated book called “Icon Basilike," then supposed to have been written by the unhappy Charles I., and which was turning the hearts of the people back to him. Milton wrote against it the “Iconoclastes.' But we must not omit to mention the much more interesting fact, that in 1645 his
Latin and English poems were published. It is with regret we add that, after the execution of the King, Milton wrote a treatise to justify it to the Presbyterians, and to “ compose the minds of the people.” He was right, however, in declaring that the Presbyterians had, in fact, brought about the King's death themselves. He was now suffering from gutta serena, which threatened him with loss of sight; but on being called on by the Parliament in 1651 to answer the celebrated Salmasius's “ Defensio Regis," written at the request of Charles II. (then an exile at The Hague), he undertook the task, and pursued it steadily, knowing all the time that its cost would be his sight. But he believed it to be his duty, and from that he never flinched. He was rewarded for it with a present of a thousand pounds.
Cromwell now assumed the Protectorate, but Milton, who appears to have had at that time a sincere admiration for Oliver, and who must have seen that Government, in such a state of anarchy, could not be carried on without him, retained the Latin Secretaryship.
It would be a weary task to chronicle all the controversial writings of Milton during the ensuing years; we will rather return to his domestic history. Three years after the death (of Mary Powel he married again. His second wife appears to have won his whole affections. Her name was Katherine Woodcock, the daughter of Captain Woodcock of Hackney. But their happiness "continued only a year: she died in giving birth to a child, and Milton-deplored her loss in a pathetic sonnet, something resembling the famous one of Petrarch to his dead Laura.
til Milton now set himself to three great works : preparing a Latin Dictionary, writing a History of England, and commencing his Epic. If an author of our own day had not shownvus how possible research and study is even to the blind, we might marvel at such undertakings being attempted by a sightless man, but we think of Prescott, and marvel no longer.
1 The Dictionary--probably the most difficult undertaking for him -was never finished; the History goes only to the Norman. Con: quest; the Epic is the immortal "Paradise Lost.”. ! He had already prepared the same subject for a drama or mystery, which was to begin with Satan's address to the Sun, but his increasing Puritanism, and the remembrance of his having reproached the dead King, in the “ Iconoclastés, for making a companion of the works of Shakespeare, probably caused him to turn the singular drama into an epic poem.
The death of Oliver Cromwell led to the Restoration, and Milton, who had retired from the service of the Parliament on a pension for life, was in considerable danger from his writings against the Royal cause. While all England held festival on the return of her exiled Sovereign, the great poet was obliged to seek safety in concealment; and it is said that his enemies were deceived by a report of his death and a mock funeral. Whether there is truth in this story cannot now be ascertained; but the Act of Oblivion, passed August 19, enabled him again to appear openly. A prosecution was commenced against him for his defence of the execution of the King, but it fell to the ground; Charles was not vindictive, and we perhaps owe to his easiness of temper the greatest poem in our language.
Milton retired to Jewin Street, near Aldersgate Street, and though now poor and blind, gained a third wife, who survived himElizabeth Minshul, the daughter of a Cheshire gentleman. They lived happily, it is believed, but Philips, who remembered Mary Powel, says that the stepmother "oppressed her (Mary's) children in Milton's lifetime, and cheated them at his death."
In 1661, Milton published a school book, " Accidence commenced Grammar,” to make grammar easy to children. About this time Elwood, the Quaker, was recommended to him as a reader; and he attended the poet every afternoon, except on Sundays. Milton, who hated to hear Latin read with the English accent, taught him to pronounce it in Italian, and his ear was so quick, that if the young Quaker did not understand a passage (Elwood relates this fact) Milton would find it out by the want of expression or emphasis, and would make him pause, that he might explain it to him.
Milton now removed to a house in Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields, and set seriously to work at the “Paradise Lost," the subject of which he says he had been “long choosing and begun late.”
But though Milton had passed out of the field of politics and Statecraft, his genius still brought him visitors of distinction, both from the Continent and of his own countrymen.
Richardson describes him as sitting before his door in warm sultry weather, to enjoy the fresh air, dressed in a grey coat of
coarse cloth; and there, as well as in his own rooms, he received his guests. It is supposed that“Samson Agonistes” was written about this time.
Iņ 1665, the Plagne broke out in London, and Elwood, who was living in the family of an opulent Quaker at Chalfont, in Bucks, advised his friend to quit the city. Milton desired him to find his family a refuge in his neighbourhood, and it was at the temporary home thu's selected that he finished the “ Paradise Lost.” He gave the manuscript to Elwood to read. The young Quaker appreciated it, but added pleasantly, “Thou hast said much here of 'Paradise Lost,' but what hast thou to say of · Paradise Found'p” This hint, Milton afterwards told his friend, gave birth to the idea of “Paradise Regained.”
On his return to London, Milton sold the copyright of his great poem to a bookseller, called Samuel Simmons, for £5 in hand; £5 more when 1,300 copies were sold, and the same sum on the publication of the second and third editions. The number of each edition was limited to 1,500 copies. Of this agreement Milton lived to receive £15; his widow sold her claims for future editions for £8.
But though Milton gained but little pecuniary benefit from his masterpiece, it won him “golden opinions” from the best writers of the age,-Dryden, Marvel, and Denham. Yet the poem was never thoroughly brought before the public till after the Revolution, when Addison, by his elegant criticism in the Spectator, discovered to the nation the treasure so long hidden from them; which they were then far better able to value than in the troubled days when it first issued from the press.
In 1671, Milton published “Samson Agonistes” and “Paradise Regained.” He preferred the latter poem to the “ Paradise Lost," it is said.
We have a record of how the blind poet spent his day. He rose at four in summer and five in winter, and began each day by hearing a chapter in the Hebrew Bible; the man who read, then left him to meditation, and returning at seven, read or wrote for him till twelve. He then allowed himself an hour for exercise, generally walking, but sometimes he had recourse to a swing. After his early and temperate dinner, he was wont to play for a time on the organ or violoncello: he had a fine voice, and sang well.
It is said that his domestic relations were not happy. Philips gives some clue to the home disturbances by his mention of the