« AnteriorContinuar »
important object. I accordingly wrote two books to a friend, concerning "The Reformation of the Church of England.'”
Upon his return to England, which was about August, 1639, Milton did not see any way in which he could immediately serve the cause of the people. He therefore hired a house in St. Bride's Churchyard, about a quarter of a mile west of St. Paul's, and renewed his literary pursuits, calmly awaiting an opportunity for him to enlist in the great struggle for civil freedom, on the side of the people. In the mean time he received as pupils his two nephews, John and Edward Phillips, and subsequently, yielding to the importunities of some intimate friends, he added to their number. Finding his apartments too small for him, he removed to a “garden-house in Aldersgate street, free from the noise and disturbance of passengers," where he received more boys, and instructed them in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, as well as in mathematics, history, and some of the modern languages. What a privilege, to have had a Milton for an instructor; to have received from such lips lessons of truth and wisdom, eloquently enforcing and illustrating the great principles of civil and religious liberty!
But the time was drawing deer for him to enter the political arena. The tyrannical power of the king and the domineering and intolerant zeal of Laud were bringing matters to a crisis, and Milton determined to take an active part in the contest.
In 1641 appeared the first of his controversial works, entitled “Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that hitherto have bindered it,”-the object of which is to demonstrate the proposition that prelacy is essentially inimical to civil and religious liberty. In the prosecution of this grand object, “be displays a profundity of learning, a vigour of reasoning, an earnestness of purpose, an impassioned eloquence of style, and a comprehensive grasp of his subject, which must ever excite admiration : indeed, the work is, throughout, one continued strain of wisdom and eloquence."* To this, Hall, Bishop of Norwich, at the request of Laud, replied in "An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament;" and about the same time, Usher, Archbishop of Armagh, published “The Apostolical Institution of Episcopacy.” In answer to these able and learned works, Milton wrote two pieces, one of them entitled “ Of Prelaticall Episcopacy," and the other, " The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty." These productions of Milton, distinguished by vigour, acuteness, and erudition, were unquestionably the most able, eloquent, and learned on the Puritan side of the controversy. But the publication which appears to have attracted most attention at the time, was a pamphlet, the joint production of five Presbyterian divines, under the appellation of SMECTYMNUUS, a word formed from the initials of the names of the authors. † To this production Bishop Hall replied in “A Defence of the Remonstrance;" and Milton's formidable pen, again einployed in opposition to the prelates, produced " Animadversions on the Remonstrant's Defence." All these various publications were written in the course of one year. (1611,) when their author was only thirty-three years of age, and occupied with the arduous duties of an instructor of youth, a circumstance which cannot fail to excite greater wonder at the un. wearied industry, the ready application of various knowledge, and the exuberant fertility of mind which are displayed in their composition.
We now come to an event in Milton's life which materially affected his domestic comfort, and gave a new direction to his literary labours. This was his marriage, in 1643, when in his thirty-fifth year, to Mary, eldest daughter of Mr. Richard Powell, a high royalist, of Forest Hill, Oxfordshire. This was an eminent example of the unbappiness that inust ever
* Encyclovdia Britannica, vol. xv. p. 91.
† Stephen Marshall, Edward Culamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcommen, and Willian Spurstow
ensue froin the union in wedlock of those whose tempers, dispositions, and tastes are entirely uncongenial. The wife, who appears to have been a dull, unintellectual, insensate woman, though possessed of outward personal beauty, accustomed to the affluent hospitality of her father's house, and to the gay society found there, could not relish the calm and quiet philosophic abode of Milton; and having no mind to enjoy his conversation, and no sympathy in the cause in which his whole soul was enlistel, she early requested to return to her father's on a visit, and to remain there during the Summer. The request was readily granted; but when the time fixed for her return came, she did not go back. Milton wrote to her, urging her immediate return. This letter was unanswered. Others were sent, and similarly treated. He then sent a messenger to bring her home; but he was dismissed, and the wife remained with her friends. She was strengthened in this purpose by the fact, that victory up to that time had favoured the royalists, and the Powells wished to break off the alliance.
Milton was not the man to submit patiently to such injustice aggravated by insult. Accordingly, he repudiated his wife upon the grounds of disobedience and desertion ; and to justify this step to the world, he published, in 1644, " The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce," in which he maintains, that "indisposition, unfitness, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in nature, unchangeable, bindering and ever likely to hinder the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace, is a greater reason of divorce than adultery, provided there be a mutual consent for separation.” He next published “Tetrachordon," or " Exposition of the Four Chief Places in Seripture which treat of the Vullities in Mar. riage.” Thirdly, “The Judgment of the famous Martin Bucer touching Divorce.”* Fourthly, “ Colasterion."† These tracts raised a great clamour against the author. The Presbyterian clergy, especially, unmindful of the important services he had recently rendered them, the pulpit and the press with such violent and acrimonious hostility, that they alienated him irrevocably from their cause.
It must, however, in truth be acknowledged, that this “Doctrine of Divorce," as urged by Milton, is not defensible. With such a man as Milton, it would indeed be productive of no practical ill effects; but if it should be generally received and practised, it would doubtless open the way to a great amount of domestic unhappiness and iminorality.
Milton, however, soon showed that he sincerely entertained these views, by paying his addresses to a beautiful and accomplished young woman, the daughter of a Dr. Davis. This alarmed his wife and her relations.--more especially as the royal cause was now desperate,--and they contrived to have his wife meet him. They watched his visits, and when he was at the house of a relative, the wife burst into the room, fell down at his knees, and with tears implored his pardon. At first he appeared inexorable; but his firmness soon gave way, and, yielding to his own generous nature, he consented to forgive the past, and took her to his home and his affections. Nor was this all: he took her fainily, in their danger and distress, when the royalists were entirely prostrate, under his own roof, and gave them bis protection and support.
In 1614, Milton published his tractate on “Education," and his Areopaea gition, or “ A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing." This Mit. ford pronounces 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. But the Presbyterians, now risen to power, speedily forgot the principles they had professed in adversity, and declared against unlimited toleration; and the very men
* Martin Bucer, a man of great learning, was one of the first promoters of the Reformation at Strasburg. He agrees with Milton, though the latter had not seen bis book till after the publication of his own,
† From a Greek word meaning "adapted for punishment," as it was written in reply to a malicious adversary who abused Milton's first work.
who had so indignantly complained of restraints on the press, when imposed by prelacy, lost no time in subjecting it to the niost rigorous censorship when it passed into their own hands. It was thus found, in the nervous language of Milton, that
“New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ large.” In 1648-49, Milton published “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," in which he shows that the trial and execution of Charles I. was justifiable. Soon after this he began a new work, “ A History of England," but was prevented from labouring long in this department, by being, unexpectedly to himself, appointed Secretary of State, March, 1649: he therefore immediately applied himself to the duties of his new avocation.
About this time, soon after King Charles' death, a book appeared, under the title of Evrwv Baordinn, (Icon BasiliKE,) “The Royal Image," or “Portraiture of his Sacred Majesty in his Solitudes and Sufferings." It purported to have been written by the king himself, and made a powerful impression on the public mind.† Milton was ordered by Parliament to answer it, and he did so in the Exkovoxdaoins, (ICONOCLAST, or “Image Breaker.") This was considered, even by the prejudiced, as a triumphant refutation of the “Portraiture," and produced a conviction decidedly unfavourable to the royal party. It is indeed one of the very ablest of his controversial writings.
But a still greater triumph awaited him. Charles II., then in France, anxious to appeal to the world against the execution of his father, employed Claudius Salmatius, professor in the university of Leyden, and famed for his learning, to write a defence of the late king and monarcby; and before the close of the year 1649 the book appeared, under the title of Defensio Regia pro Carolo Primo ad Carolum Secundum. All eyes were now turned to Milton to answer it. By this time his sight, which bad for a long time been weak, had become greatly impaired, and he was forewarned by his physicians that total blindness would be the infallible result, if he should engage in any new literary labour; but, undeterred by this prediction, and unrestrained by bad health, he persevered in the work,--for, as he says himself, “I did not long balance whether my duty should be preferred to my eyes." Early, therefore, in the year 1651, appeared his Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio contra Claudii Salmatii De
fensionem Regiam. This work more than answered the expectations which were ontertained of it. It was read with universal applause and admiration. The triumph of Milton was decisive, and the hunniliation of his adversary so great, that he lost favour even with those whom he sought to please-the crowned heads. So great, indeed, was his mortification, and so wounded was his pride, that ill health soon followed, and he died the next year.
In 1653, Milton lost his wife, and he was left with three motherless daughters, in domestic solitude and in almost total blindness. But such was the vigour of his intellect, that he continued to labour in defence of the commonwealth. Numerous replies to his “Defence" were sent forth by the royalists, but all these he left to perish in obscurity, excepting one that was published at the Hague, entitled Regii Sanguinis Clamur ad Colum adrersus Parricidas Anglicanas. It was written by Peter du Moulin, a Frenchman, but afterwards Prebendary of Canterbury; but A. More, who had the charge of publishing it,-a Scotchman by birth, who had settled in France,- was treated by Milton as the real author. A terrible castigation awaited him; for, in 1654, appeared Milton's reply, under the title of Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano contra infamem
* It is now known to have heen written by Gauden, Bishop of Exeter. Read a most interesting and masterly account of the suhject in the Edinburgh Review, June, 1820, (lxiv. 1.) written by Sir James Mackintosh.
† 48,500 copies of this book were sold,-a number which, when we look at the times, and the scarcity and dearness of books then, is truly extraordinary.
Libellum anonymum cui Titulus, Regii Sanguinis Clamor ad Cælum. This, on many accounts, is a more valuable work to us than the first; for, besides that he triumphantly and everywhere vindicates democratic principles,-laying down the broad truth that all legitimate governments are and must be from the people,-he has also, to refute the calumnies of bis enemies, riven a sketch of many parts of his own history, and introduces us to a large number of his republican friends, and gives their characters. The Address to Cromwell, notwithstanding Dr. Johnson's sneer, * has been generally admired, as ably portraying the character of that most remarkable man.
About 1656, Milton married his second wife, the daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney, who died the next year. In one of his Sonnets, he has paid an affectionate tribute to her memory. Soon after this event, he retired from the office of Secretary of State, on an allowance of one hundred and fifty pounds a year. He occupied his time in completing his “History of England” to the Norman conquest ; in the preparation of his Thesaurus Linguæ Latince, and doubtless in reflecting upon the subject of his immortal epic, the “Paradise Lost.”
In September, 1658, Cromwell, broken down by the cares and anxieties of government, finished his splendid career. His death, of course, gave no little anxiety in the breast of Milton, lest the great cause of freedom, for which he had been contending, should suffer detriment, and intolerance and persecution return. He therefore published two treatises, devoted to the consideration of two evils. One of these was entitled “A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes;" and the other, “ Considerations touching the likeliest Means to remove Hirelings out of the Church." In the first he asserts the entire liberty of conscience, maintaining that in matters purely religious, the civil magistrate has no right to interfere.
contends against all tithes: and that pastors should be supported by the voluntary contributions of their own flock. So wonderfully was this great man ahead of his times !
At the Restoration, he was of course in imminent peril, and he retired to the house of a friend in Bartholomew Close,t and there he lay concealed till the Act of Oblivion was passed, August 29, 1660. On his return to society, he took a house in Holborn, near Red Lion Square, and in 1662 removed to a house in the Artillery Walk, adjoining Bunhill Fields, where he continued during the remainder of his life. In 1665, Milton married his third wife, f Elizabeth Minshul, daughter of Sir Edward Minshul, of an ancient Cheshire family. She survived him above fifty years, and, retiring to Nantwich, in Cheshire, died there in 1727.
About this time, (1665,) Ellwood, the Quaker, desired to be introduced to Milton,-believing that, by reading to him, he would advance himself in classical knowledge, as well as materially aid the blind bard. The worthy and benevolent Quaker soon found in Milton a friend as well as an instructor; and when the plague began to rage in London, he had the poet and his family conveyed to a house near his own, at Chalfont, St. Giles, Buckinghamshire. Here Milton gave to Ellwood the manuscript of " Paradise Lost" to read, desiring his opinion upon it. When Ellwood returned it, he expressed his great pleasure, and added—"Thou hast said
Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Milton, seems to miss no opportunity of libelling his character. Indeed, we can hardly conceive of two men more opposite: the one was a Democrat, the other a Tory in politics; the one a Congregationalist, the other a lligh-ehurhman in religion; the one highly imaginative, the other sensuouxOf Johnson's life of the poet, Fletcher says, “It is the trail of a serpent over all Milton's works: nothing escaped the fang of detraction." + A very narrow close or passage, in London, entered from West Smithfield.
This step seemed to be really necessary, to protect the blind poet from the unDatural conduct of his daughters, who sold his books, and combined with the maid. servant to cheat him in the marketing. His friendly physician, Dr. Paget, selected this lady for him, who appears to have been such a helpmate as his circumstancog required.
much here about Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found?” That this remark was the means of our having the latter immortal poem, we have Ellwood's subsequent authority :-“Soon after he showed me his second Poem, called Paradise Regained,' and in a pleasant tone said to me- This is owing to you: for you put it into my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of.'" Newton remarks, that considering the difficulties “under which the author lay,--his uneasiness at the public affairs and his own, his age and infirmities, bis not being now in circumstances to maintain an amanuensis, but obliged to make use of any hand that came next, to write his verses as he made them,--it is really wonderful that he should have had the spirit to undertake such a work, and much more that he should ever have brought it to perfection."
In 1670, Milton published his “History of England,” continued only as far as the Norman conquest. In 1671, he gave to the world - Paradise Regained” and “Samson Agonistes." But he did not disdain to perform what are considered humbler services to literature. Having already published a book of Latin Accidence for children, he now, in 1672, supplied the
lent with a system of logic on the plan of Ramus, entitled, Artis Logicce plenior Institutio ad Petri Rumi Methodum concinnata ; and in 1673 he published a short treatise, entitled “Of true Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and what best Means may be used against the growth of Popery."
In the latter part of his life, probably when Secretary of State, but at what particular time is not known, Milton employed a portion of his bours in preparing a Treatise on Divinity. It was written in Latin, and deposited in the hands of Cyriack Skinner, since which time all trace's of it were lost until in the year 1823, when Mr. Lemun, the Deputy kieeper of the old State Paper Office in Whiteball, discovered it, loosely wrapped up in two or three sheets of printed paper, enclosed in a cover, and directed to Mr. Skinner, Merchant. There is not room here to give the evidence of this being Milton's long-lost work ; suffice it to say that its genuineness is established beyond the shadow of a doubt. When it was discovered, it was placed in the hands of the Rev. Charles R. Sumner, M. A., since Archbishop of Canterbury, by whom it was carefully ellited, and who also gave to the public a very elegant and exact translation. The work opens with a salutation, which, from any other man, would be presumption or affectation ; but it was in perfect harmony with Milton's purity of character, loftiness of soul, extent of learning, and a whole life dedicated to the service of God and mankind, to adopt the style of an Apostle :“ JOHN MILTON, TO ALL THE COURCHES OF CHRIST, AND TO ALL WHO PROFESS THE CHRISTIAN FAITII THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, PEACE AND THE RECOGNITION OF THE TRUTH, AND ETERNAL SALVATION IN GOD THE FATHER. AND IN OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST." No work of this remarkable man shows inore independence of thought than this. He discards all the old systems of theology, and tests every question by the authority of Scripture alone; and though some may hesitate to adopt every conclusion to which he arrives, all must acknowledge that this Treatise evinces in its author a calm and conscientious desire for truth, an humble and reverential feeling for the Book of God, a logical precision and an amount of learning and a familiarity with the Scriptures never united in any other man.
Milton's health was now declining fast, and the gout, which had fur many years afflicted him, attacked him with a severity wbich prognosticated a fatal termination; yet such was the buoyancy of his spirits, that, even in the paroxysms of the disease, he would, according to Aubrey, "bo very cheerful, and sing.” On Sunday, the Sth of November, 1671, he
ed without pain, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, : in the chancel of St. Giles, Cripplegate; "all his learned and great frieuds