« PreviousContinue »
the use, as I may account it, but of my left hand." This left hand, indeed, has recorded many sentiments which we must reject, and many expressions which we must lament. By his asperity the repulsive form of puritanism is rendered more hideous and disgusting, and the cause which he would support is weakened. But the general character of his prose-works is not yet before us.
From his Marriage to the time of his being appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues.
AT Whitsuntide in 1643, and in his thirty-fifth year, (as I have before observed,) Milton married Mary, the daughter of Richard Powell, a gentleman who resided at Forest Hill near Shotover in Oxfordshire, and was a justice of the peace for the county. He brought his bride to London; who, after living only a few weeks with him, obtained his consent to accept the invitation of her friends to spend the remaining part of the summer with them in the country. He gave her permission to stay till Michaelmas; but she declined to return at the expiration of that period. The visit to her friends was, in fact, only a pretence for conjugal desertion. This desertion has been imputed, by Phillips, to the different principles of the two families. Her relations, he tells us,
being generally addicted to the Cavalier party, and some of them possibly ingaged in the King's service, (who by this time had his head quarters at Oxford, and was in some prospect of success,) they began to repent them of having matched the eldest
daughter of the family to a person so contrary to them in opinion; and thought it would be a blot in their escutcheon, whenever that Court should come to flourish again: however, it so incensed our author, that he thought it would be dishonourable ever to receive her again after such a repulse." The same biographer intimates, that she was averse to the philosophical life of Milton, and sighed for the mirth and jovialness to which she had been accustomed in Oxfordshire. And Aubrey relates, that she" was brought up and bred where there was a great deal of company and merriment, as dancing, &c.; and, when she came to live with her husband, she found it solitary, no company came to her, and she often heard her nephews cry and be beaten. This life was irksome to her, and so she went to her parents. He sent for her home after some time. As for wronging his bed, I never heard the least suspicion of that; nor had he of that any jealousie."
It has escaped the biographers of the poet, however, that, while Milton ingenuously admits "that every motion of a jealous mind should not be regarded," he has not failed to enumerate, among the reasons which are said to have warranted divorce in
elder times, "the wilfull haunting of feasts, and invitations with men not of her near kindred, the
a Life, as before.
b Doct. and Discip. of Divorce, B. ii. Ch. xviii.
lying forth of her house without probable cause, the frequenting of theatres against her husband's mind," &c. If this be not pointed directly at the conduct of his wife, the following passage certainly exhibits his indignation at her continuance under her father's roof, while at the same time it confirms Aubrey's account that he did not suspect her as faithless to his bed. "He [Grotius] shews also, that fornication is taken in Scripture for such a continual headstrong behaviour, as tends to plain contempt of the husband, and proves it out of Judges xix. 2, where the Levite's wife is said to have played the whore against him; which Josephus and the Septuagint, with the Chaldean, interpret only of stubbornness and rebellion against her husband: and to this I add that Kimchi, and the two other rabbies who gloss the text, are in the same opinion. Ben Gersom reasons, that had it been whoredom, a Jew and a Levite would have disdained to fetch her again. And this I shall contribute, that had it been whoredom, she would have chosen any other place to run to than to her FATHER'S HOUSE, it being so infamous for a Hebrew woman to play the harlot, and so opprobrious to the parents. Fornication then in this place of the Judges is understood for stubborn disobedience against the husband, and not for adultery."
Milton sent for his wife, however, in vain. As all
Doct. and Discip. of Divorce, B. ii. Ch. xviii.
his letters, desiring her to return, were unanswered; so the messenger, whom he afterwards employed for the same purpose, was dismissed from her father's house with contempt. He resolved therefore, without further ceremony, to repudiate her; and, in defence of his resolution, he published four treatises, the two first in 1644, the two last in 1645. The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce; The Judgement of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce; Tetrachordon, or Expositions upon the four chief Places of Scripture which treat of Marriage, or Nullities in Marriage; and Colasterion. The last is a reply to the anonymous author of "An Answer to a Book, intituled The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, or a Plea for Ladies and Gentlewomen, and all other Married Women against Divorce. Wherein both sexes are vindicated from all bondage of Canon Law, and other mistakes whatsoever; and the unsound principles of the Author are examined and fully confuted by Authority of Holy Scripture, the Laws of this Land, and sound Reason. Lond. 1644." This pamphlet was licensed and recommended by Mr. Joseph Caryl, a Presbyterian divine, and author of a voluminous commentary on the book of Job; whom Milton, in his reply, roughly stigmatizes with repeated charges of ignorance, as he also styles his antagonist " a serving-man both by nature and by function, an idiot by breeding, and a solicitor by presumption!" The application of these and similar terms, in the dispute, may remind us of the elegant dialogue between Nym and Pistol in Shaks