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his rest and devotion, without the least trouble imaginable.' At Whitsuntide, in 1643, in his thirty-fifth year, Milton married Mary, the daughter of Mr. Powell, a justice of the peace in Oxfordshire. After an absence of little more than a month, he brought his bride to town with him, and hoped, as Johnson observes, to enjoy the advantages of a conjugal life ;48 but spare diet, and hard study, and a house full of pupils, did not suit the young and gay daughter of a Cavalier. She had been brought up in very different society; so, having lived for a month a philosophic life, after having been used at home to a great house, 49 and much company and joviality, her friends, possibly by her own desire, made earnest suit to have her company the remaining part of the summer, which was granted upon a promise of her return at Michaelmas. When Michaelmas came, the lady had no inclination to quit the hospitality and delights of her father's mansion for the austerer habits and seclusion of the Poet's study. Aubrey says, 'no company came to her, and she often heard her nephew cry and be beaten.' Milton sent repeated letters to her, which were all unanswered ; and a messenger, who was despatched to urge her return, was dismissed with contempt. A resistance so pertinacious and illegal as this, must have rested on some grounds that were at least imagined favourable to the conduct of the wife. We must, therefore, refer to the unsettled situation of the kingdom, by which the authority of the laws was weakened, and obedience imperfectly enforced ; and we must recollect, that at the time when she refused to return to her husband's roof, the king, with all his forces, was quartered in the neighbouring city of Oxford ; that her family was of course surrounded with the gay and licentious adherents of the monarch, the carousing Cavaliers; that “living in the camp of the enemy,' she must have been in the daily habit of hearing hatred, scorn, and contempt, uttered against the party whose sentiments were so strongly adopted by her husband; that a prospect of success now dawned upon the fortunes of the king; and, looking at the apparent interests of the family, considering her wavering or alienated affections, and interpreting fairly the language of Philips, we may presume that had the side of the royalists been victorious, the marriage with the Puritan husband would have been cancelled or concealed.
43 Toland gives four conjectures on this subject. l. Whether it was that this young woman, accustomed to a large and jovial family, could not live in a philosophical retirement; 2. or that she was not satisfied with the person of her husband ; 3. or, lastly, that because all her relations were addicted to the royal interest, his democratical principles were disagreeable to her bumour; 4. nor is it impossible that the father repented of this match, upon the prospect of some success on the king's side, who then had his head quarters at Oxford. See Life, p. 52.
49 T. Warton had a Ms. inventory of Mr. Powell's goods; and he says, "hy the number, order, and furniture of the rooms, he appears to have lived as a country gentleman, in a very extensive and liberal style of house keeping.' v. Todd's Life, p. 176. 50 Of Mr. Caryll, Toland says, (p. 60), 'in his voluminous and senseless commentaries, he did more injury to the memory of Job, than the devil and the Sabeans could inflict tormenis on him in his life time.
Milton, whose mind was never given to half-measures, resolved immediately to repudiate her on the ground of disobedience; and to support the propriety and lawfulness of his conduct, he published, in 1644, “The doctrine and discipline of divorce, the judgment of Master Bucer concerning Divorce :' the next year he printed his Tetrachordon, or expositions on the four chief places of scripture which treat on marriage. His last tract • Colasterion' was an answer to a pamphlet recommended by Mr. Joseph Caryl1,50 the author of a commentary on Job, and a Presbyterian divine: the author was anonymous; but Milton calls him 'a serving-man both by nature and function, an idiot by breeding, and a solicitor by presumption.'
In this treatise Dr. Symmons thinks that Milton has made out a strong case, and fights with arguments not easily to be repelled; and Mr. Godwin says, 'that the books on divorce are written with the most entire knowledge of the subject, and with a clearness and strength of argument that it would be difficult to excel;' and it must be remembered that Selden wrote his 'Uxor Hebraica,' on the same side of the question. Without entering into the intricacies of so great an argument, I shall content myself with saying, that all the ingenuity of Milton, and the learning of Selden, are of no avail against the acknowledged experience of society, which seems to have silently consented to the wisdom of the established law. Tempers once deemed incompatible, may gradually assimilate. The interests of children, the advancement of fortune, the respect of society, moral principle, religious feeling, the force of habit, are all assisting the reconciliation of wedded discontent. Incompatibility of temper cannot be submitted to legal proof, or determined by any unerring standard. Will it not therefore be often advanced to cover the wishes of inconstancy, or the desires of impurity ? Does not legal separation allow all that is necessary in extreme cases of insufferable evil? Is an incompatible temper to be advanced as the cause of one divorce, or may it release from a succession of imprudent engagements ? Milton's courtship was apparently sudden and short; and no one can be much surprised at the disagreements that followed: but it appears that he subsequently lived in happiness with his wife, and with renewed affection. Hence the divorce, at one time so much desired, would probably have destroyed, if granted, the future happiness of both parties.
There is one passage in this treatise, in which Milton clearly points to himself, and to the presumed causes of his unhappiness. • The soberest and best governed men, he says, are least practised in these affairs; and who knows not that the bashful muteness of a virgin may oftentimes hide all the unliveliness and natural sloth which is really unfit for conversation? Nor is there that freedom of access granted or presumed, as may suffice to a perfect discerning till too late; and when any indisposition is suspected, what more usual than the persuasion of friends, that acquaintance, as it increases, will amend all ? And lastly, is it not strange that many who have spent their youth chastely, are in some things not so quick sighted, while they haste too eagerly to light the nuptial torch? Nor is it therefore for a modest error, that a man should forfeit so great a happiness, and no charitable means to relieve him. Since they who have lived most loosely, by reason of their bold accustoming, prove most successful in their matches, because their wild affections, unsettling at will, have been as so many divorces to teach them experience. Whereas the sober man, honouring the appearance of modesty, and hoping well of every social virtue under that veil, may easily chance to meet if not with a body impenetrable, yet often with a mind to all other due conversation inaccessible, and to all the more estimable and superior purposes of matrimony useless, and almost lifeless ; and what a solace, what a fit help such a consort would be through the whole life of a man, is less pain to conjecture, than to have experience.' He speaks again 'of a mute and spiritless mate;' and again, if he shall find himself bound fast to an image of earth and phlegm, with whom he looked to be the copartner of a sweet and gladsome society :' these observations will, I think, put us in possession of his wife’s ‘ fair defects,' and the causes of the separation.
Whoever differs from Milton in the inferences which he draws, and the doctrine which he advocates, must yet allow that these Treatises on Divorce are written with the command of scriptural learning, with many ingenious explanations of the intent of the divine laws, and human institutions; and with a force of argument sometimes difficult to resist. The whole is composed with uncommon zeal and earnestness, and conveys the sentiments of one who feels his own important interests are at issue; the causes of dislike in this little month of wedlock, must have struck deep root, for he alludes much to rash, sudden, and mistaken choices; he urges the justice of divorce in cases where a violent hatred in matrimony has arisen, yet not sinful, irksome, grievous, obstinately hateful, and injurious even to hostility;' he speaks of invincible antipathies, when the work of sorrow lasts, till death unharness them; and upon the ground, that such matches in this misery are insufferable, unalterable, and without hope, or prospect of termination, he claims the power of release from his unequal yoke. That his whole argument hinges on his own case, no one who reads these tracts can reasonably doubt : and that his sorrows were seen through an exaggerating medium, seems hardly less clear.
His own experience is the best refutation of his work; his marriage, though clouded over in its rise, and portending storms, and sorrows, and strife, ended, as we believe, in the smiles of renewed affection, in conjugal endearments, and continued love : and we must also recollect that Milton had lived but one short month with his wife, when this eternal aversion, this perpetuity of hatred, this radical discord of nature, were declared. 51
That this doctrine was received with neglect or ridicule, is evident from a passage in Howell's Letters. There are, however, in all societies some to whom every paradox is acceptable, and who rejoice in believing themselves superior to the settled opinions of mankind. By them it was 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 favouring 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
51 See P. Knight's Civil Society, p. 55. Let me not be supposed to mean a condemnation of marriage, from which I have derived all the blessings and benefits of civil society, but merely of its indissolubility. There are many causes which ought to justify divorce, as well as that of adultery on the part of the woman ; and I think it probable, that if other causes were admitted, this would be less frequent. Divorce is, I believe, as often the object, as the consequence of adultery.'
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 suthicient proof of the detraction and ridicule attending his doctrine. VOL. I.