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Then, not having succeeded, unfortunately, in putting a girdle round the chaos of his explanations, he goes on in a quite different style. Let us note, however, that Milton's mind is ever dwelling on the origins. Paradise Lost was in him as in a sort of gestation, of which signs are in all his works. Always, at the thought of the dawn of the world his mind rises, poetry flows. The early days before the Fall will become for him the normal state of man, what he ought to be, what he gets to be when regenerated." Thus, before the Fall, man and woman living in perfect union of soul and body, lust could not exist, since it is the separation of the two loves. Divorce could not therefore be necessary." Where love is, there is no lust, even as where reason rules, there is no law.
It is interesting to see Milton discuss texts which are obviously against him, such as Christ's dictum: "Whoso shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery." Here are germs of ideas which shall grow, which we shall find again in the Areopagitica and in the Treatise of Christian Doctrine. First of all, divine truth, in revelation, has been accommodated to time and place and the Scripture must not be taken literally; then the text itself has often been corrupted. He is not yet bold enough to defend these theories openly, but he gives sufficient hints of his later ideas:
No other end therefore can be left imaginable of this excessive restraint, but to bridle those erroneous and licentious postillers the pharisees. . . . And as the physician cures him who hath taken down poison, not by the middling temper of nourishment, but by the other extreme of antidote; so Christ administers here a sharp 66 See below, pp. 155 ff. 67 Prose Works, III, 389.
and corrosive sentence against a foul and putrid licence; not to eat into the flesh, but into the sore. 68
Then Milton, in his argumentative rage, forgets his most sacred principles, his contempt for all authorities, and goes through the Fathers, the Councils, and the Reformers, down to "Grotius, yet living, and of prime note among learned men, "69 and Tetrachordon ends on words of threatening and contempt, whereas the Doctrine and Discipline had ended on words of love. Milton has parted from his people. Threats and contempt are left:
Henceforth let them, who condemn the assertion of this book for new and licentious, be sorry; lest, while they think to be of the graver sort, and take on them to be teachers, they expose themselves rather to be pledged up and down by men who intimately know them, to the discovery and contempt of their ignorance and presumption.70
Contempt and insults fill the Colasterion, published along with Tetrachordon. Milton goes through the tale of his adversaries, telling each one of them, in little varied language: "I mean not to dispute philosophy with this pork." " However, he examines a few propositions of each opponent, in the following manner (it is true enough that little "philosophy " comes into it):
He passes to the third argument, like a boar in a vineyard, doing nought else, but still as he goes champing and chewing over what I could mean by this chimæra of a "fit conversing soul," notions and words never made for those chops; but like a generous wine, only by overworking the settled mud of his fancy, to make him drunk, and disgorge his vileness the more openly.
Another thing troubles him, that marriage is called "the mystery of joy." Let it still trouble him; for what hath he to do either with joy or with mystery? 72
68 Ibid., III, 392.
69 Ibid., III, 431.
70 Ibid., III, 433.
72 Ibid., III, 453-55.
Some remnants of grace and dignity are visible in a sort of apology to the reader, at the end:
I have now done that which for many causes I might have thought could not likely have been my fortune, to be put to this underwork of scouring and unrubbishing the low and sordid ignorance of such a presumptuous losel. Yet Hercules had the labour once imposed upon him to carry dung out of the Augean stable. . . . But as for the subject itself .. if any man equal to the matter shall think it appertains him to take in hand this controversy, . . . let him not, I entreat him, guess by the handling, which meritoriously hath been bestowed on this object of contempt and laughter, that I account it any displeasure done me to be contradicted in print, but as it leads to the attainment of anything more true, shall esteem it a benefit; and shall know how to return his civility and fair argument in such a sort, as he shall confess that to do so is my choice, and to have done thus was my chance.73
Thus did Milton suffer, and meditate upon the cause of his suffering. His ideas are no longer philosophical abstractions, but the hard and poignant lessons driven by despair into his very flesh. His conception of the Fall takes shape, and the notion that the Fall occurs generally, and most painfully, through woman. He is thus again predestined to the theme of Paradise Lost: the fall of man because of woman.
Meantime, however, he forgave his wife. Surely this pardon is a safe sign of his good sense, independence, and generosity. He had gone all lengths in favor of divorce; for so proud a man, the greatest obstacle to a reconciliation should have been his published words. A sect of "Divorcers" followed him; he was going to regenerate mankind. But Milton did not quake before the laughter his retraction indeed was sure to bring upon him; once again he defied public opinion, that of his few friends this time. He took back his wife.
78 Ibid., III, 460–61.
Milton had learnt that reality does not shape itself upon abstract ideas. His struggle and his little success had shown him that man is but little corrigible — and woman still less. He took back his wife and never tried to lift her to that degree of intellectual eminence that would have made her a fit mate. He thus accepted compromise. The cycle of his first disillusion was complete. His idea of human nature was lowered. He was prepared for the second and greater disillusion which came gradually from 1650 to 1660; even as in his marriage trials he had lost his faith in woman and probably a little of his faith in himself, in the political struggle he was to lose his faith in human nature in the masses. There will be left to him only his faith in God, but in that he will center all hopes lost on Earth, and take a glorious compensation for all his disillusions. For Milton in his pride and strength could never come to ultimate despair.
IV. THE SECOND CRISIS: THE BREAK WITH THE PRESBYTERIANS
Another disillusion had come to Milton from this whole controversy. He had rather expected to be greeted as a great reformer; he thought he had but to write and Parliament would be convinced, the law changed and mankind saved. His whole character and career disposed him to this illusion: his natural and naïve pride, the full consciousness of his power, the high opinion all his acquaintances had of him; the very soul of the times, which was full of high dreams and seemed ripe for great changes all that carried him away, all that deceived him. A storm of insult and reprobation greeted his divorce tracts, and the complete silence of Parliament was a severe blow.
He discovered then, in a personal adventure, what the history of the Commonwealth was going to confirm: men care little for abstract ideas; it is not sufficient to be in the right, or to believe one is, to be listened to. Two sonnets in 1645 give vent to his anger:
ON THE DETRACTION WHICH FOLLOWED UPON
A book was writ of late called Tetrachordon,
Stand spelling false, while one might walk to Mile-
Those rugged names to our like mouths grow sleek
ON THE SAME
I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
Which after held the sun and moon in fee.