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whoever would convince himself minutely of in-door conversations and musical concertos Milton's youthful vocation to poetry rather with such friends or relatives as might from than to anything else, may derive proofs on time to time join the family circle, including that head. Here will be found power of the a married sister older than himself, and a most rare and beautiful conception, choice of younger brother engaged in the study of the words the most exact and exquisite, the most law-such was the quiet nature of the poet's perfect music and charm of verse. Above life, at a time when most men are plunged all
, here will be found that ineffable some in the cares of worldly business. His father, thing-call it imagination or what we will — himself a scholarly old gentleman, and a wherein lies the intimate and ineradicable musical composer, “equal in science, if not peculiarity of the poet; the art to work on in genius, to the first musicians of the age,” and on for ever in a purely ideal element, to was probably glad that his own position as a chase and marshal airy nothings according to retired attorney, living on a small estate, a law totally unlike that of rational associa- enabled him to afford his son the means of tion, never hastening to a logical end like the such manly leisure. Nor was Milton idle. schoolboy when on errand, but still lingering Devoting the main part of his time to a within the wood like the schoolboy during course of new reading, which embraced all holiday. This peculiar mental habit, no- the most celebrated classical writers, and where better described than by Milton him- had special reference to those Greek philosself when he speaks of verse
ophers whose works he felt himself more
capable of appreciating now than in his col“ Such as the meeting soul may pierce lege days, he produced at intervals during In notes, with many a winding bout these years those exquisite minor poems Of linked sweetness long drawn out, Arcades, Comus, Lycidas, L'Allegro, Il PenWith wanton heed and giddy cunning,” seroso, and others, which the reader, when
not disposed for the severer grandeurs of his is so characteristic of the poetical disposition, later muse, turns to with delight. The style that, though in most of the greatest poets, of those poems, blending so beautifully the as, for example, Dante, Goethe, Shakspeare grace of the classic model, and the spirit of in his dramas, Chaucer, and almost all the classic thought, with the rich beauty of the ancient Greek poets, it is not observable in English pastoral, indicates clearly enough any extraordinary degree, chiefly because in that his early taste for the sweet and sensuthem the element of direct reference to hu- ous compositions of the elegiac and descripman life and its interests had fitting prepon- tive school of poets had not as yet deelined. derance, yet it may be affirmed that he who, As clearly, however, does the loyal and strict tolerating or adrairing these poets, does not tone of these poems, the chivalrous and susrelish also such poetry as that of Spenser; tained purity of purpose which appear in Keats, and Shakspeare in his minor pieces, them, and most observably of all in the but complains of it as wearisome and sensu- Comus, indicate the perfect truth of his asous, is wanting in a portion of the genuine sertion that he had early come to the resolve poetic taste.
that in all his own attempts in the art he adMilton, his academic studies being over, mired, the fair should serve only the good and his resolution against entering the and honorable. In these poems, too, senChurch already taken, remained an inmate suous in conception and full of fantastic of his father's house at Horton, Bucking- imagery as they are, there are genuine inhamshire, for a period of six years,—that is, dividual flashes of the sterner Miltonic spirit. from. 1632 to 1638, or from his twenty. Such, for example, is the invective in Lycifourth to his thirtieth year. Walks amid das against the hircling shepherds of the the rich English scenery of the neighbor- Christian fold.. Such also is this, among hood, sometimes for the mere pleasure of other passages that might be quoted from exercise and meditation, sometimes in his Comus :special character as a student of botany; more lengthened excursions to Oxford and
“Against the threats other places in or out of Buckinghamshire, of malice or of sorcery, or that power particularly the pretty village of Forest Hill, Which erring men call chance, this I hold firmsome three miles from Oxford, where resided Virtue may be assailed, but never hurt
, a Squire Powell, an acquaintance of his Yea, even that which mischief meant most harm,
Surprised by unjust force, but not inthralled; father's; occasional visits to London for Shall in the happy trial prove most glory : books, lessons in mathematics, and the like; 1 But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when, at last, stay,” however, in St. Bride's Churchyard, Gathered like scum, and settled to itself, “necessity of having a place to dispose bis It shall be in eternal restless change
books in, and other goods fit for the furnishSelf-fed and self-consumed : If this fail
ing of a good handsome house, bastening The pillared firmament is rottenness,
him to take one; and accordingly, a pretty And earth's base built on stubble."
garden-house he took in Aldersgate Street, And thus, we see, underneath the flowers at the end of an entry, and therefore the and the beauty, there ever lay in Milton all fitter for his turn, by the reason of the manly strength. If his art by preference privacy, besides that there are few streets in still worked most in the sensuous and the London more free from noise than that." idyllic, it was but as a young athlete, bis Here he took a few more boys as boarders, symmetry not yet injured by much expe- all the sons of intimate friends. rience in the gymnasium, might be the gen- It was not destined, however, that Milton tlest of all the guests at a classic entertain- should then, or for many years to come, carry ment, might recline most gracefully on the his great schemes into execution. Work of embroidered couch, and wear most fitly the a very different, and far less congenial kind, garland of festive roses.
was for the present required of him. That Milton's poems, composed during his resi- great era in English history, which nothing dence in his father's house, were not written in English history has paralleled since, was for publication. The Comus was a gift to then opening. Vanquished by the spirit of the ladies and younger branches of the fam- his subjects, Charles I. had been compelled, ily of the Earl of Bridgewater, meant as a in 1640, to summon his fifth Parliament, the kind of innocent play or mask to be per- famous "Long Parliament” of England, and formed in the family.circle of Ludlow Cas- to commit himself reluctantly to the tide of tle; and though Lawes, who composed the reform in Church and State which flowed airs for the mask, published it in 1637, three out of its deliberations. Never was there years after it was performed, he speaks of such a time of hope and promise in the pothe authorship as not openly acknowledged. litical world. Gathering round the new In the following year Lycidas appeared in a Parliament, and looking to it as the instrucollection of Cambridge verses. Milton's ment by which, with the blessing of God, reputation as a poet can, therefore, have been such changes would be wrought in the entire but of a very private character when, in the system of the country as would make Engyear 1638, his mother being then just dead, land, though still under a regal head, the he left England for a tour on the Continent. pattern of free and well-governed CommonFrom Paris, where he became acquainted wealths, all men of mark for their liberal with Grotius, he went to Italy. He resided opinions were eager to contribute their quota there about a year, visiting all the chief to the new movement. towns, and seeing many of the eminent A bandoning, then, for the time, all his Italian men of the time among others, great schemes of literary preparation and Galileo, then in his old age, and a prisoner performance, Milton, in the year 1641, to the Inquisition on account of his astro- plunged into the tumult of political contronomical heresies. From Italy he meant to versy. The controversy, however, to which extend his tour to Sicily and Greece; but Milton so courageously lent himself, was the gathering political tempest at home soon snatched away from the hands of writers brought him back to England in the summer and clergymen, and appealed, with many of 1639.
other, and even graver questions, to the deIn consequence either of some change in cision of a ruder reasoning. The final rupthe circumstances of his father, or of some ture between Charles and the Parliament change in his own views as to his way of life, had at length taken place, and all England Milton now took up household in London. was a scene of military strife. The fate, not “He took bim a lodging," says his earliest only of Episcopacy, but of Royalty itself, biographer, “in St. Bride's Churchyard, depended on the issue of an uncertain war. Fleet Street, at the house of one Russell, a Surrendering over, then, to the sword and tailor.” Probably one of the reasons that the battle-field the continuation of his faled to this arrangement is indicated in the vorite argument, and taking no more active fact that he took to board with him, as pu- part in the politics of the time than that of pils, two nephews, sons of his sister Mrs. praying for the success of the party which Philips, the one about ten, the other about represented his pes, Milton would now eight years of age. “He made no long probably have returned to his private projects had not Providence prepared for him a too easily. Here was a gay, self-willed new and far more miserable controversy in country girl, whose highest happiness it had the state of his own household. His father, been to dance with a King's officer at Oxford driven from his own residence by the dis- or elsewhere, married to a man whom she turbed condition of the country, had just did not love, whom she could not undercome to live with him and his pupils at the stand, and whose books and austere ways house in Aldersgate Street, when, about were a terror to her. How Milton had been Whitsuntide, 1643, Milton, to use the words led to commit such a blunder as to marry a of his nephew Philips, "took a journey into girl so totally unsuited to be his wife, can the country, nobody about him certainly only be explained by the reasons he himself knowing the reason, or that it was more hints at—the inexperience of even the soberthan a journey of recreation, till, after a est man in these affairs, the very haste of month's stay, home he returns a married men who have lived strictly in youth “to man that went out a bachelor.” The wife light the nuptial torch," the "persuasion of thus unexpectedly brought home by Milton, friends,” the want of sufficient opportunities then in his thirty-fifth year, was Mary, the "for a perfect discerning" till too late, and eldest daughter of Mr. Powell, the Oxford- the known fact that “the bashful muteness shire squire formerly mentioned.
of a virgin," so romantically interpreted by Never was a worse match made. The the lover, may often “hide all the unliveliyoung wife had hardly been a month in town ness and natural sloth” which constitutes with her husband, when, in a fit of longing sheer stupidity. Stupidity, if we may judge to see her parents and friends, she asked and from Milton's allusions, was the quality obtained leave to go and spend part of the which, after his eyes were opened to the real summer with them, promising to return at character of his wife, he found most unenMichaelmas. When that time came, how-durable in her. “A mute and spiritless ever, she positively refused to go back; and, mate," "a mind to all due conversation inher mother abetting her, she left Milton's accessible,” such are the phrases in which repeated letters unanswered, and, when a he seems evidently to refer to his own case; messenger came with a peremptory message, and “what a solace," he adds, “what a fit had him turned out of the house. The rea- help such a consort would be through the sons for this extraordinary occurrence, as whole life of a man, is less pain to conjecture given by Philips, are, that “her relations than to have experience.” No sensible man, being generally addicted to the Cavalier he even says in another place, but would party, and some of them possibly engaged rather forgive actual unfaithfulness in a woin the King's service, (who by this time had man than this sullen incompatibility of tastes bis headquarters at Oxford, and was in some and temper. prospect of success, they began to repent At first, Milton's rage at the insult and them of having matched the eldest daughter scandal of his wife's desertion of him seems of the family to a person so contrary to them to have been something tremendous. Afterin opinion, and thought it would be a blot wards, bitterly making up his mind to the in their escutcheon whenever that court worst, and having determined that in no cirshould come to flourish again.” There may cumstances could he honorably take her be something in this; but the account given back, he directed all his thoughts to the by the old gossip Aubrey, confirmed, too, single purpose of getting rid of her. And, by what Philips himself says, is far more to as it was not in his nature to put a fair face the point. The bride, according to Aubrey, on the matter to the world, and secretly had been “brought up and bred where there compensate himself by being other than he was a great deal of company and merriment, seemed, he pursued his object in the most as dancing, &c.; and when she came to live open and public manner. In the course of with her husband, she found it solitary, no the years 1644 and 1645, he put forth a company came to her, and she often heard series of four treatises on divorce—the first her nephews cry and be beaten. This life entitled The Doctrine and Discipline of Diwas irksome to her, and so she went to her vorce restored from the bondage of the Canon parents." There are hints also that, during Law; the second, The Judgment of Martin her month in town, she had shown some stub- Bucer touching Divorce, being extracts in bornness--accepting invitations from her point from that Reformer's writings; the relations against her husband's will, and third Tetrachordon; or Expositions of the going about with them to theatres and the four chief passages of Scripture which treat like. In short, one sees the whole case but l'of Marriage ; and the fourth, Colasterion, being a reply to an anonymous answer to the short of this, their detrimental nature may at first treatise. The doctrine which pervades all least be traced in a tone of increased harshthese treatises and which they try to enforce, ness and bad temper discernible in most of partly by reason, but chiefly by the authori- bis subsequent writings. And the poor wife ty of Scripture, is that the guardianship of all this time! One cannot help remembering marriage ought to belong solely to the civil that, though Milton could speak his wrongs in magistrate, and that divorce ought to be al- the case, she may have felt hers; and none lowed not only in the cases recognized by the the less keenly that people told her that her canon law, but also in any case of moral in- austere husband was a great scholar. In. compatibility between the parties immediate- deed, what was that act of hers which so ofly interested. Without entering into a con- fended Milton, but a practical assertion on sideration of Milton's views on this important the woman's side of that liberty which he subject-views which really signified “di- claimed for the man ? vorce at pleasure," though Milton repudiated On his appointment to the Secretaryship, that phrase-we may observe that hardly in Milton, who seems now to have given up his the whole history of human speculation will pupils, had removed from Holborn to apartthere be found a more remarkable instance ments in Scotland Yard. It was while rethan these treatises furnish, of how a man of siding here, in the year 1652, that he was the most sober and austere life may be led, visited by the crowning calamity of his life, by the felt misery of a personal experience, his blindness. His sight had been gradually to investigate and tear up the settled maxims failing for ten years; and at last it completely on which society has based itself, and to gave way under the serious labors in which trouble a deaf world with importunate the he involved himself when preparing his great orizings. That Milton, when the circumstan- work against Salmasius. His own descripces of his wife's family and the report of his tion of the manner in which the blindness intended marriage with a Miss Davis induced came on is worth quoting :them after about two years to attempt a reconciliation, did then take back his wife, not- “On the left side of my left eye (which began to withstanding his resolution to the contrary, fail some years before the other) a darkness arose is well known. But, though this put an end that hid from me all things on that side : if I to his open warfare on the subject, it would fore me seemed diminished. In the last three years,
chanced to close my right eye, whatever was bebe a mistake to suppose that so sad a passage as my remaining eye failed gradually some months of his life left no permanent effects. Exter- before my sight was utterly gone, all things that nally, it made a decided breach between him I could discern, though I moved not myself, apand the Presbyterians who had been the most peared to fluctuate, now to the right, now to the resolute opponents of his theory of divorce, left. Obstinate vapors seemed to have settled all and had even caused the House of Lords to
over my forehead and temples, overwhelming my take the matter up as an offence against sound after food, till the evening; so that I frequently
eyes with a sort of sleepy heaviness, especially morals; inclining him at the same time more
recollect the condition of the prophet Phineus in and more to those extremer sects whose in the Argonautics :creasing numbers had perhaps given him hope that his views might obtain legislative sanc
• Him vapors dark tion, and among whom he actually did gain
Enveloped, and the earth appeared to roll over not a few to avow his doctrine under
Beneath him, sinking in a lifeless trance.' the name of Miltonists. But the secret
“But I should not omit to say that, while I had effects on his mind and character were far some little sight remaining, as soon as I went to more momentous. He had already described bed or reclined on either side, a copious light used by anticipation that “ drooping and dis- to dart out from my closed eyes;-then, as my sight consolate household captivity, which results grew daily less, darker colors seemed to burst from an ill-assorted marriage, and had spoken but now, as if everything lucid were extinguished,
forth with vehemence and a kind of internal noise; of that "continual sight of one's deluded blackness, either absolute, or chequered and interthoughts” which the forced association with
woven as it were with ash-color, is accustomed to an unloved partner supposes, as a thing " to pour itself on my eyes ; yet the darkness perpetdrive a man to atheism,”. or at least “ to ually before them, as well during the night as in abase the mettle of a generous spirit, and the day, seems always approaching rather
to white sink him to a low and vulgar pitch of en
than to black, admitting, as the eye rolls, a minute deavor in all his actions.” And if the effects portion of light, as through a crevice."--Letter upon himself of his seven years of legal union to Philaras of Athens, Sepi. 28, 1654. with his wife after their reconciliation fell Even when totally blind, Milton continued to hold his office as Latin Secretary; latterly, I married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshul, however, a colleague was appointed, who did daughter of a Cheshire baronet. most of the work, and received about half of pears to have been a rather elderly person, the salary. For the sake of his health Mil- who had been recommended by one of his ton, one of whose peculiarities it seems to friends as a fit housekeeper for him in his old have been never to be satisfied with the house age; and the evidence seems to say that he he lived in, removed to a house in Petty would not have married again at all but for France, Westminster, opening into St. James's the undutiful conduct of his daughters. The Park. Here he remained for about eight three girls—the eldest of whom, Anne, was years, or till the Restoration of Charles II. now about eighteen years of age, the second, compelled him to seek a less public place of Mary, about sixteen, and the youngest, Deresidence. These eight years produced not borah, about fourteenused to combine a few changes in his household. In 1652 together," it is said, “and counsel his maidhis wife died, leaving him, a widower and servant to cheat him in his marketings ;" they blind at the age of forty-four, with three in- used also to pawn and sell his books ; and fant daughters, the oldest of whom was not on one occasion, shortly before his third marmore than six years old. In 1656 he mar- riage, when the maid-servant told the second ried a second wife, who did not survive the daughter, Mary, that she heard her father marriage, however, more than a year. Her was to take another wife, “the said Mary redeath was probably a misfortune to the poor plied to the said maid-servant, that it was no children of the former wife, who, left there- news to hear of his wedding, but if she could after to the care of their blind and austere hear of his death, that would be something." father, seem to have grown up in a kind of With the exception of the youngest, Deborah, horror of him, increased rather than dimin- the daughters appear scarcely to have lived ished by the efforts he appears to have made with their father after his third marriage. from time to time to impart to them some The eldest, Anne, who was somewhat deportions of his linguistic learning. As they formed, set up in business as a gold and were not old enough yet to act as his aman- silver lace maker, and afterwards married a uenses, the various works written by him at master-builder; and her sister Mary seems to this period must have been dictated either to have gone with her. So long as they lived his nephew Philips, or to some other of his with him, all the three daughters appear to grown-up pupils. Among these works were have acted as his amanuenses; after his several in continuation of his answer to marriage, however, this species of work deSalmasius—such as the Defensio secunda pro volved sometimes on the wife, sometimes on Populo Anglicano, published in 1654, as a the daughter Deborah, until she also escaped reply to a work written by Peter du Moulin, by marriage with a weaver in Spitalfields, and but advertised under the name of Alexander sometimes on any stray boy that could be inMore; and the Defensio pro se called forth duced by love or money to lend his services by More's rejoinder. These, however, were to the imperious old man. It was in this but incidental exercises of his pen; and the way that he composed and made ready for greater part of his time after the year 1654 publication the numerous writings which appears to have been devoted to several great formed his sole occupation and delight durliterary projects which he had resolved upon ing the fourteen years that intervened beas appropriate work for his now advancing tween his retirement into private life in 1660, years and disabled condition—such as the and his death in 1674. Laborious as these composition of a large History of England, latest prose writings of Milton were, however, the compilation of an elaborate Thesaurus or they were but the severer amusements of a Dictionary of the Latin Language, and the mind which had at last, after so many years, preparation of a Body of Systematic Divinity returned to its first and most enduring love. out of the Bible.
Never, amid all the turmoil and harsh conMilton survived the Restoration fourteen troversial warfare of his middle life, had Milyears, residing first in a house he had taken ton forgotten his early promise, from the in Holborn ; next in Jewin Street, Alders- performance of which he had but requested gate; then as a lodger in the house of Mill the indulgence of a few years less congenially ington, a well-known auctioneer of books; spent; and when at last, after not a few but and last of all in Artillery Walk, leading to many years so spent, time and sore chance Bunhill Fields. During four years of this threw him aside from worldly ties, and asperiod he remained unmarried; but in 1664, signed to him a career of aged loneliness, or when he was in his fifty-sixth year, he l with death as its welcome close, then the old