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greedily adopted, and they were named divorcers or Miltonists.52 The Presbyterian clergy, then holding their assembly in Westminster, were much offended, and procured the author to be summoned before the house of lords; but the house,' says Wood, whether approving the doctrine, or not favoring his accusers, did soon dismiss him.' The Lords probably considered the doctrines advanced as too wild and speculative to produce any practical mischief. Milton wished he had not written the work in English. Vellem hoc tantem sermone vernaculo me non scripsisse, non enim in vernas lectores incidissem, quibus solemne est sua bona ignorare, aliorum mala irridere:' on this confession it is plain that the work was viewed as an apology and defence of himself.
The golden reins of discipline and government in the church being now let loose, Milton proceeded to put in practice the doctrine which he had advocated, and seriously paid his addresses to a very accomplished and beautiful young lady, the daughter of Doctor Davis ; 58 the lady, however, hesitated, and was not easily to be persuaded
52 A passage in the Electra of Sophocles, by C. W. at the Hague, 1649, 8vo, proves that Milton's doctrine on divorce was not unnoticed.
While like the froward Miltonist
We our nuptial knot untwist.' See also a passage in Echard, quoted by Todd, p. 56, and in
. Britain's Triumph, p. 15, by G. S. What, Milton, are you come to see the sight? v. Todd's Life, p. 54. And see also his eleventh and twelfth Sonnets, in themselves a sufficient proof of the detraction and ridicule attending his doctrine.
53 During the desertion of his wife, Milton frequented the society of the Lady Margaret Leigh, a person of distinction and accomplishment. To Lady Ranelagh the favourite sister of the illustrious Boyle, in his later years he was gratefully VOL. I.
into the lawfulness of the proposal; and it fortunately terminated by effecting a happy reconciliation with the offending and discarded wife.
He went sometimes to visit a relation who lived in the lane of St. Martin’s-le-grand ; and at one of these visits he was surprised to see his wife come from an inner room, throw herself on her knees before him, and implore forgiveness. It is said that he was for some time inexorable; but partly, says his nephew, ‘his own generous nature, more inclinable to reconciliation than to perseverance in anger or revenge, and partly the strong
intercession of friends on both sides, soon brought him to an act of oblivion, and a firm league of peace.' It was the forgiveness of a good and generous mind, for he behaved ever after to her with affection, and received all her family into his house,54 when their seat was seized by the rebels, and they were obliged, at a ruinous expense, to compound for their estate.55 Mr. Powell is said to have lost by the wars, above three thousand pounds, and to have died above fifteen hundred pounds in debt, leaving a widow and nine children. The dowry of a thousand pounds, promised to Milton with his wife, remained unpaid at his death. , On Mrs. Anne Powell's petition 58 attached. He says of her to her son, who had been his pupil, Nam et mihi omnium necessitudinum loco fuit.'
54 The family of the Powells continued to reside in Milton's house till after the death of his father in 1647. See Todd's Life, p. 88. 65 See the transcript
of the original documents of Mr. Powell's compounding, in Todd's Life, (second ed.) p. 69, 70; and Milton's Petition, p. 81.
66 This passage may throw some additional light on the subject of the desertion of Milton by his wife. Aubrey says, she was a zealous royalist, and went without her husband's consent to her mother in the king's quarters. (Letter iii. p. 441). The truth then, as far as we can command it, seems to be, that she found her bridal home cheerless and dull; her husband's temper unsuitable to hers, and his opinions different; that disagreements arose and discontent on either side; and when the king and his army and court arrived in the neighbourhood of her father's house, she gladly availed herself of the opportunity of joining them, with her family. Their support secured her against the power of enforcing her return; and had the king's party been victorious, she probably would never have returned, nor acknowledged her marriage. The battle of Naseby, and the beauty of Miss Davis, brought her to her senses. One of Milton's antagonists (G. S. 1660) accuses him; “You throw aside your wife, because your waspish spirit could not agree with her qualities, and your crooked phantasy could not be brought to take delight in her.'
to the commissioners for her thirds, the following observations were made. “Mr. Milton is a harsh and choleric man, and married Mr. Powell's daughter, who would be undone if any such course were taken against him by Mrs. Powell. He having turned away his wife heretofore for a long space, upon some other occasion (var. a small occasion). 57 Milton, it appears, having discharged the fine upon Mr. Powell's estate, had succeeded to the possession of it; and his mother-in-law, by petition, was anxious to recover her thirds, which she was afraid to press for by suit.
In 1644, at the request of Hartlib, he published his • Tractate on Education, and his ‘Areopagitica, or Speech for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing '68 The plan developed in the former
. tract must, I am afraid, be considered as little less than a splendid dream; a noble outline of a
57 See Todd's Life, p. 90 (second ed.) 58 Sextus the Fourth, who died in 1484, was the first who placed the press under the control of a licenser. In 1649 Gilbert Mabbet resigned the office of licenser, and urged the reasoning of Milton's work as his defence. See Birch's Life, p. xxvi. and Hollis's Memoirs, p. 257, who calls him S. Mabbot, or rather Mabbold, for so he is called in Whitelock's Index.
theory too magnificent to be realized. What is promised in the time allowed, could not possibly be performed. While Milton is projecting the mastery of every science, the attainment of so many languages, acquaintance with such various authors; is moving over the extensive circle of his studies, and piling up his structure of education even to its turrets and pinnacles; the humbler plan which experience has approved, is content with laying deep its foundations during the years of youth, in acquiring habits of accurate reasoning, in cultivating correct taste, and in learning those sound principles of philosophy which may hereafter be developed and directed into various channels. What Milton professes to complete in a few years, the old system is contented to commence; one is only planting the tree and fertilizing the soil, the other is already reposing under its shade, and feeding on its fruits.
The Areopagitica is, on the whole, the finest production in prose from Milton's pen. For vigour and eloquence of style, unconquerable force of argument, majesty, and richness of language, it is not to be surpassed. Doctor Johnson considers the argument which it discusses to be of very difficult solution. I shall content myself with observing, that when a nation becomes sufficiently enlightened to demand the removal of these restrictions of the press, which have been imposed when governments were arbitrary, and the people ignorant; the correction of the evils attendant on its liberty must be found, not in the punishment of the offenders, but in the good sense and moral feeling of the community. It is in this way that virtue is stronger than vice, that truth triumphs over falsehood, and law is superior to
offence. Johnson's observation that “if every sceptic in theology may teach his follies, there can be no religion,69 falls to the ground, when it is remembered that our religion was born amid disbelief and doubt, and has grown up and increased among every variety of heresy, and form of scepticism that the ingenuity of man could devise. Hume's famous argument that was to be the touchstone of truth, has only served to establish the force of testimony, and to confirm the credibility of miracles.
In 1645 Milton collected his early poems, Latin and English, for the press; in which the Allegrow and Penseroso appeared for the first time. Of the picturesque imagery, the musical versification, and the brilliant language of these poems, praise too high cannot be heard. They have all the pastoral beauties, and sweet descriptions of our elder poets, embellished, and heightened by a richer style, and a more refined combination. It has been more than once observed, that these. poems, short as they are, have collected in one
59 The moderation and justice of Toland's sentiments on this subject may excite surprise (v: p. 79.) • The wishes of all good men are, that the national church being secured in her worship, and emoluments, may not be allowed to force others to her communion; and that all dissenters from it, being secured in their liberty of conscience, may not be permitted to meddle with the riches or power of the national church. May a sentiment so philosophically just prove historically true?
60 Mr. Peck's manner of giving the titles of these poems is ludicrously quaint. He calls them ‘His Homo L'Allegro, or the lætans; and his Homo Il Penseroso, or the cogitans." v. New Memoirs, p. 26. Comus had been printed in 1637, and Lycidas in 1638. Before Cartwright's Poems, 1651, is a copy of verses by J. Leigh, enumerating the various Poets whose works had been published by Mosely, but omitting the name of Milton.