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At length Milton began to tire of his country life, and to long for the pleasures and benefits of travel. In 1638 he left England for a tour on the Continent. At Paris he met Grotius, one of the most learned men of his age, who resided at the French capital as ambassador from the Queen of Sweden. After a few days he went to Italy, and visited all the principal cities. He was everywhere cordially received by men of learning, who were not slow to recognize his genius. In his travels he preserved an admirable and courageous independence. Even under the shadow of St. Peter's he made no effort to
conceal his religious opinions. "It was a rule," he says, "which I laid down to myself in those places, never to be the first to begin any conversation on religion; but if any question were put to me concerning my faith, to declare it without any reserve or fear. . . . For about the space of two months, I again openly defended, as I had done before, the reformed religion in the very metropolis of Popery."
The Italians, who were frugal in their praise of men from beyond the Alps, received some of Milton's productions with marks of high appreciation. This had the effect to confirm his opinion of his own power, and to stimulate his hope of achieving something worthy of remembrance. "I began thus to assent both to them, and divers of my friends at home," he tells us in an interesting passage, "and not less to an inward prompting, which now grew daily upon me, that, by labor and intense study (which I take to be my portion in this life), I might perhaps leave something so written to after-times as they should not willingly let die." He was about to extend his travels into Sicily and Greece when the news of the civil commotions in England caused him to change his purpose; "for I thought it base," he says, "to be travelling for amusement abroad, while my fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home."
Not being called to serve the state in any official capacity on his arrival in London, he rented a spacious house in which he conducted a private school. He sought to exemplify, in
some measure at least, his educational theories. He held that languages should be studied for the sake of the literary treasures they contain. He accordingly laid but little stress on minute verbal drill, and sought to acquaint his pupils with what was best in classic literature. A long list of Latin and Greek authors was read. Besides, he attached much importance to religious instruction; and on Sunday he dictated to his pupils an outline of Protestant theology.
But this school has called forth some unfavorable criticism upon its founder. Dr. Johnson, who delights in severe reflections, calls attention to the contrast between the lofty sentiment and small performance of the poet, who, "when he reaches the scene of action, vapors away his patriotism in a private boarding-school." The animadversion is unjust. Though modestly laboring as a teacher, Milton's talents and learning were sincerely devoted to the service of his country. He has himself given us what ought to be a satisfactory explanation. "Avoiding the labors of the camp," he says, "in which any robust soldier would have surpassed me, I betook myself to those weapons which I could wield with most effect; and I conceived that I was acting wisely when I thus brought my better and more valuable faculties, those which constituted my principal strength and consequence, to the assistance of my country and her honorable cause."
In 1641 he published his first work in prose, “Of Reformation in England, and the Causes that hitherto have Hindered It." It is an attack upon the bishops and the Established Church. The same year appeared two other controversial works, "Of Prelatical Episcopacy," which he maintains is without warrant from apostolic times, and "The Reason of Church Government," which is an argument against prelacy. With these works Milton threw himself into the bitter contro
versies of the age. It was a matter, not of choice, but of duty. He felt called to add the weight of his learning and eloquence to the side of the Puritans, who were perhaps inferior to their prelatical opponents in scholarship. He tells us
himself that he "was not disposed to this manner of writing, wherein knowing myself inferior to myself, led by the genial power of nature to another task, I have the use, as I may account it, but of my left hand."
In 1643, in his thirty-fifth year, Milton married Mary Powell, daughter of a justice of the peace in Oxfordshire. She was of Royalist family, and had been brought up in the leisure and gayety of affluence. It is not strange, therefore, that she found the meagre fare and studious habits of her husband's house distasteful. After a month in this scholastic abode, she made a visit to her father's home, from which she refused to return. Her husband's letters were left unanswered, and his messenger was dismissed with contempt. Milton felt this breach of duty on her part very keenly, and resolved at once to repudiate his wife on the ground of disobedience and desertion.
In support of his course, he published in 1644 a treatise entitled, "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce," and the year following his "Tetrachordon," or expositions on the four chief places of Scripture which treat of marriage. He maintains "that indisposition, unfitness, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in nature unchangeable, hindering, and likely to hinder, the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace," is a justifiable ground of divorce. As might be expected, he argued with great skill; but he was smarting at the time under a sense of personal humiliation and wrong, and it may be doubted whether he himself afterwards approved of his extreme position. His views were bitterly as
At last a reconciliation between him and his wife was effected. When one day she suddenly appeared before him, and on her knees begged his forgiveness, his generous impulses were deeply moved. He received her into his home again, and ever afterwards treated her with affection; and when her family, because of their Royalist sympathies fell into distress, he generously extended his protection to her father
and brothers. The incidents of this reconciliation are supposed to have given rise to a beautiful passage in "Paradise Lost," where Eve is described as humbly falling in tears and disordered tresses at the feet of Adam, and suing for pardon And then
"She ended, weeping; and her lowly plight,
Towards her, his life so late, and sole delight,
Creature so fair his reconcilement seeking,
His counsel, whom she had displeased, his aid."
This same year, 1644, saw the publication of two other treatises that will long survive. The one is the "Areopagitica, or Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing," the other is his "Tractate on Education." In the latter he has set forth in brief compass his educational views, and made many suggestions for the improvement of the current system. It has been pronounced Utopian in character; but it is to be noted that many educational reforms of recent years have been in the line indicated by Milton.
His definition of education, which has been often quoted, presents a beautiful ideal. "I call a complete and generous education," he says, "that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war." But he does not contemplate practical efficiency in the secular duties of life as the sole end of education. Its highest aim is character. "The end of learning is," he says, "to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest perfection."
Languages are to be studied in order to learn the useful things embodied in the literatures of those peoples that have
made the highest attainments in wisdom. "And though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues that Babel cleft the world into, yet if he have not studied the solid things in them, as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man as any yeoman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only."
He held that the subjects studied and the tasks imposed should be wisely adapted to the learner's age and progress; and he strongly denounces the "preposterous exaction" which forces "the empty wits of children to compose themes, verses, and orations, which are the acts of ripest judgment and the final work of a head filled by long reading and observing with elegant maxims and copious invention." The outline of studies he proposes includes nearly the whole circuit of learning a curriculum of heroic mould. Milton himself seems to have been conscious of the vastness of his plan; and he concludes the "Tractate" with the remark, "that this is not a bow for every man to shoot in that counts himself a teacher, but will require sinews almost equal to those which Homer gave Ulysses."
Milton continued to live in private, giving his life to instructing his pupils, and to discussing questions relating to the public weal. In 1649, two weeks after the execution of Charles I., he published his "Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," in which he undertook to prove that it is lawful, and has been held so in all ages, for any who have the power, to call to account a tyrant or wicked king, and, after due conviction, to depose and put him to death. This treatise marked a turning-point in his career. The Council of State of the new Commonwealth, pleased with his courage and republicanism, called him to the secretaryship for foreign tongues. It became his duty to prepare the Latin letters which were addressed by the Council to foreign princes. Later he served as Cromwell's Latin Secretary an office he held throughout the Protectorate.
His literary and controversial activity, however, did not cease in his official life. His "Eikonoklastes," or Image