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reason of the privacy.” It was described a few years later as resembling "an Italian street by reason of the spaciousness and uniformity of the buildings and straightness thereof, with the convenient distance of the houses."
Here he hoped to have the leisure to contribute to English literature some lofty work that would make his name famous. But he was to be disappointed. The “Long Parliament” met on the third of November, 1640, and Milton soon saw that his duty was to take part in the broil of politics. “I could not,” he said, “ be ignorant what is of Divine and what is of human right; I resolved, though I was then meditating certain other matters, to transfer into this struggle all my genius and all the strength of my industry."
This course was to lead him into controversies, but he wished it to be understood with what unwillingness he endured “to interrupt the pursuit of no less hopes than these and leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes; put from beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies to come into the dim reflection of hollow antiquities sold by the seeming bulk."
Among the first acts of the new Parliament was the trial and execution of Strafford, the impeachment and imprisonment of Laud, and various other proceedings that looked toward the security and permanence of their government. No essential division was manifested till the question arose whether the Church should be governed on an Episcopal or on a Presbyterian basis. Into this important controversy Milton threw himself with all his energy, and within a year brought out five "Anti-Episcopal Pamphlets" – the first general, the others rejoinders to the attacks which it invited. Although these have no longer any interest except to the antiquarian, they contain magnificent specimens of impassioned and poetic prose which are worth study by the student of English. Shortly after, in 1642, the Civil War began. In this Milton took no active part, unless a curiously whimsical one. Once, when there seemed some danger of an assault upon the city, he wrote a sonnet addressed to the “Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,” who might chance to seize upon his defenceless doors, begging him to guard them and protect from harms the poet who, in return for such gentle acts, could spread his name over all the world. This appeal to lift not the spear against the Muses' bower, Milton placarded upon his outside door, but the enemy did not come to read it.
Milton, however, brought the war into his own house, and in the same way as his own Samson. In the latter part of May, 1643, Milton made a mysterious journey to the neighbourhood of Oxford, where his ancestors had lived. This region was in the hands of the Royalists. Attached to their cause was Mr. Richard Powell, a justice of the peace, who had been at one time well off, and kept his own carriage. Milton's
father had many years before loaned Powell five hundred pounds, and the interest on this sum was a part of Milton's regular income. Possibly he went down into Oxfordshire to make arrangements for the payment of the principal or to inquire why the interest had stopped. He was gone about a month, and, to use the words of his nephew, “home he returns a married man that went out a bachelor."
Mr. Powell was blessed with a family of eleven children. Mary, the eldest of the five daughters, was a little more than seventeen years old. It is a question whether Milton had ever known her before, but she was made his wife on this memorable journey, Milton's own words implying that either he himself or the young bride felt some hesitancy at such a hasty consummation; he implies that “the persuasion of friends and the argument that increasing acquaintance would amend all” had weight with one or both of them.
Some of Mrs. Milton's relatives accompanied her back to London, and the quiet, philosophic house was given over for some days to
feasting in celebration of the nuptials.” When the bride was at length left alone with a husband twice her age, the loneliness and incongruity of her situation probably made her mope. Milton, who had peculiar views of the duties of woman, could not have been at all sympathetic. Indeed, it is charged that he composed his famous treatise on divorce during that most forlorn of honeymoons! Before the summer was over, she returned on a visit to her father's house, Milton consenting on condition that she should return to him before the end of September. But when the appointed time came Mrs. Milton came not. He sent letters and at last a messenger; the letters were unanswered, the messenger brought an insulting answer.
He had already published the first edition of his “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce”; after his wife's refusal to return, in the February following, he issued a second edition. He argued that incompatibility of mind or temper was equally with infidelity a full and sufficient ground for dissolution of the marriage bond, and that the parties, after divorce, were at liberty to marry again. The second edition was dedicated to Parliament and naturally, in a country where even now a man is not allowed to marry his deceased wife's sister, caused a storm of indignation. He was denounced as a heretic, attacked from the pulpit, denounced in bitter pamphlets. He replied to some of these attacks, and when the Presbyterian divines made public complaint of him, he and his writings became the subject of a special Parliamentary investigation.
Meantime Milton's father had been living with Christopher in Reading, but when Reading surrendered to the Parliamentary forces in April
, 1643, Christopher, who sympathised with the Royalists and afterwards became a Roman Catholic, broke up his establishment, and the elder Milton went to live with the poet. He had other additions to his household: a number of pupils came to take advantage of his teaching, and in September, 1645, requiring enlarged quarters, he removed
to Barbican Street, two or three minutes' walk from his former house. Here he lived two years, signalised at the very beginning by two important events. One was the publication of his minor poems by Moseley and the other was the return of Mrs. Milton. Two causes are assigned for this reconciliation. The Civil War was practically terminated in favour of the Parliamentarians by the battle of Naseby in June, 1645. The positions of recalcitrants was disagreeable, and it is surmised that the fact of Milton enjoying repute in the opposite and triumphant party caused his wife's family to see in him a possible relief from their troubles. Moreover, Milton had been openly on the way to carrying out his heretical doctrines : he was paying his addresses to “ a very handsome and witty gentlewoman, one of Dr. Davis's daughters."
Rumours of this may have reached the Powells. One day Milton was calling at the house of a kinsman and “was surprised to see one whom he thought to have never seen more, making submission and begging pardon on her knees before him.” Readers of “Samson," and the tenth book of the “ Paradise Lost” will discover reminiscences of the dramatic scene that ensued. It ended in reconciliation. Milton magnanimously received to his house not only his recreant wife, but also her father and mother and several of their sons and daughters, the family having been completely ruined by the defeat of the Royalists. The house must have been uncomfortably crowded, for there were also about a dozen pupils under Milton's roof.
Milton's daughter Anne was born July 29, 1646; six months later his father-in-law died, and in March, 1647, his own father died. Shortly after, Milton, who perhaps no longer felt the necessity upon him of giving so much time to teaching, dismissed his pupils and took a smaller house. At the same time the Powells also removed to another part of London where Milton helped to support them. As to himself,
“No one ever saw me going about, no one ever saw me asking anything among my friends, or stationed at the doors of a Court with a petitioner's face. I kept myself almost entirely at home, managing on my own resources, though in this civil tumult they were often in great part kept from me, and contriving, though burdened with taxes in the main rather oppressive, to lead my frugal life.”.
Little is known of his life during his residence at Lincoln's Inn Fields, High Holborn, during eighteen months. He had several projects for prose works,
- a Latin Dictionary, a System of Divinity taken directly from the Bible, and a History of England. During the prosaic work of collecting materials for these enterprises, stirring events were at hand. Charles I. was executed on the thirteenth of January, 1649. Milton defended this act, and in a pamphlet composed in a little more than a week he argued that it was lawful “ 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 article brought its reward. The very next month Milton was
appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council, at a salary of £300 a year — equivalent to about $5000 now. The duties were to prepare, and translate into Latin, all despatches to and from foreign governments. In order that he might be near the scene of his labours he removed to Spring Gardens, and was soon afterwards provided with an official residence in Whitehall Palace in Scotland Yard. Shortly after he had occupied the seven or eight rooms of these official quarters the Council voted him some of the hangings of the late king for their decoration.
Milton was soon called upon to employ his talents in the controversies raised by the execution of the king. First came the “Ikonoklastes or Image Breaker,” in reply to the famous “ Eikon Basilike or Portraiture of His Sacred Majesty in his Solitudes and Sufferings book popularly supposed to be the work of the king himself, written during his last days, but now known to have been a forgery. It was immensely popular and went through at least fifty editions. Milton's answer to it went through only three. Then a Dutch professor, the learned Salmasius, published his defence of Charles I. and attack on the Commonwealth. It was ordered by the Council of State that Milton should “prepare something in answer to the book of Salmasius.” He would gladly have abstained from this task: one eye had become useless and he was in danger of becoming wholly blind, The physicians warned him to desist, but he felt that his duty called him to do the work. “The choice,” he says, “lay before me of a supreme duty and loss of eyesight; in such a case I could not listen to the physician, not if Esculapius himself had spoken from his sanctuary; I could not but obey that inward monitor, I know not what, that spoke to me from heaven."
It is to be hoped that the heavenly voice did not impel him to the more than vivacious invectives with which he overwhelmed the unfortunate Salmasius. Personalities could hardly have been carried further. But the work was a great success and it was universally felt that the victory remained with Milton. Every foreigner of note then in London called to congratulate him. Five editions were almost immediately printed in Holland. Copies of the work had the honour of being burned or confiscated in various parts of Europe, and Milton's name was literally blazed through the world.
If the reward was fame, the penalty was blindness. He had recourse to physicians, but with no result. The perpetual darkness to which he was doomed was, as he says in his quaint English, rather whitish than blackish, and his eyes were not disfigured. He was not permitted to resign his situation. Assistants were appointed, but he was retained in his full title, and every day he was to be seen, led by his attendant from his new residence in Petty France across the Park to the meeting of the Council. In this case the Republic belied the proverb of gratitude, but his enemies regarded his affliction as a just punishment.
Milton wrote his sonnets to Vane and Cromwell in the spring of
1652, just at the time when these two leaders were coming to an open rupture. Cromwell expelled Vane and fifty-two other members on April 20, 1653. The Commonwealth was at an end. Henceforth till his death, September 3, 1658, Cromwell was supreme. Milton on the whole approved of the dictatorship, and was therefore continued in the Latin secretaryship. His State letters are remarkable examples of clear, lucid style; one of them — that in remonstrance on the massacre of the Vaudois Protestants by the Duke of Savoy — has a splendid corollary in his greatest sonnet beginning “Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints."
In 1654 Milton's wife died, leaving three daughters, the eldest about eight, the youngest an infant. The widowed poet in November, 1658, married Katherine Woodcock, but neither she nor her infant daughter long survived. Milton's sonnet to his late deceased wife implies that he had never seen her with his visual eyes. The same year that this was written he began the composition of “ Paradise Lost" projected in dramatic form nearly thirty years before.
During the twenty-one months of Richard Cromwell's inefficient dictatorship Milton was still at his post and receiving his diminished salary of £200 a year. But the majority of the people had declared in favor of the Stuarts. In spite of all Milton's arguments monarchy was to be again the established order. Charles made his re-entry toward the last of May, 1660. Milton was already in hiding in Bartholomew Close, Smithfield For some time he was actually in danger, but while no severity was spared in apprehending and executing the regicides, Milton's case, by dexterous management in Parliament, was left in abeyance and finally ignored. After the twenty-ninth of August he was legally a free man. Nevertheless by some mistake or by malice he was arrested shortly after and kept for a little time in custody. Toward the middle of December he was ordered to be released on payment of fees of £150. These being considered exorbitant were reduced, and Milton found a temporary refuge on the north side of Holborn till he secured another house in Jewin Street near one of his earlier habitations. Here he lived till 1664. Life must have been gloomy enough to the blind man: the work of twenty years seemingly thrown away, his friends dead or in exile, his property reduced, domestic trials gathering about him.
The relations between Milton and his three daughters are not the least pathetic among the tribulations of his last days, but it seems as if he himself were mainly to blame. His views of the education of women were peculiar ; his oldest daughter, who was pretty. though slightly deformed, could not even write her own name; the others were taught to read to their father in foreign languages, but it was only mechanically, repeating words without knowing the sense. They combined with the serving maid to cheat him in the marketing; they sold his books, and they made his life miserable. At last he was advised to marry again. He offered himself to Elizabeth Minshull, a young lady