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In 1647, his family circle having been lessened by the death of his father and father-in-law, and by the departure of widow Powell and her family, he took a smaller dwelling in Holborn, opening backward into Lincoln's Inn Fields, and continued to instruct a few scholars. From this date till the death of Charles I. his pen seems to have remained idle, with the exception of turning into English verse a few of the Psalms, sooth to say, with no great success. If Milton failed, can we wonder that no one else has fully succeeded in translating these divine lyrics?
On the 30th of January 1648-9, Divine Right, in the person of Charles I., was publicly put to death before Whitehall, and the blow "resounded through the universe!" Thousands awoke at the sound-many to scream out contradiction and rage-many to shed bitter tears, and many to express a faint and faltering approbation. Milton belonged to none of these classes, but dared to echo the falling axe, and to cry aloud, "It is the judgment of God." He published a treatise entitled the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, in which he elaborately shews "that it is lawful, and hath been held so through all ages, for any who have the power to call to account a tyrant or wicked king." This strong and seasonable argument, from the most powerful pen then extant, led to important advantages. Grateful for his aid, the government appointed him their Latin secretary, with a salary of £288 a-year. "As Latin secretary," says an able writer, "his duties were multifarious and somewhat onerous. As it had been resolved that all the government correspondence with foreign princes and states should be in Latin, he had daily to attend at Whitehall to lend his services as a compiler and translator. A collection of the letters written by him in this capacity, both for the Council of State and for Cromwell, is published among his prose works. But, besides these strictly official duties, others naturally devolved upon him in consequence of his general literary abilities." To this class belong his Critical Observations on the Articles of Peace between the Earl of Ormond and the Irish Rebels-his Eiconoclastes, written in reply to the famous Eicon Basilike, the supposed production of Charles I.,
and his Defensio pro Populo Anglicano, an answer to the Latin Defence of Charles I., produced by Salmasius, a Frenchman, and reputed one of the best scholars in Europe.
Of these, the first two were published in 1649, and the last in 1651. All made more or less a profound sensation, and were in different measures distinguished by the same qualities -profuse learning-scholastic subtlety-eloquence of a rich and massive but involved and intricate texture-decision of tone, amounting to dogmatism and defiance-a fierce contemptuous bitterness to his opponents-passages of almost superhuman dignity and splendour, alternating with bad jokes, word-playings, and the vilest of all possible puns. On the whole, when he became a controversialist, if not weak as other men, his stature, like that of his own angels ere entering the halls of Pandemonium, was dwarfed and dwindled. Two passages from his Defensio are worthy of all admiration— those, namely, describing Cromwell and Bradshaw, pictures which reduce to mere daubs all the sketches of character produced before or since from Plutarch to Lord Brougham.
Salmasius answered Milton's attack by an assault on his private character. Indeed, the personalities on both sides were atrocious and disgusting, as was the manner of that age. Peter de Moulin also replied to the Defensio pro Populo, and provoked a rejoinder still fiercer from Milton's pen, entitled Defensio Secunda. Salmasius shortly after died, according to some, broken-hearted, owing to the neglect he experienced after Milton's book appeared. For several years thereafter he was principally occupied in his official duties; and having given up his pupils, and finding his health somewhat impaired, he removed to Scotland Yard, and thence to Garden House in Westminster, where he continued till near the time of the Restoration. In 1652, a calamity which had long impended over at last came down on him-we allude to his blindness. This had been slowly gaining on him, and the labours connected with the Salmasian controversy brought it to a point. Of course, there were many to cry out, a "judgment," and to dream that it was a drop of the king's blood which had quenched his eyes! Milton has written more than one noble
complaint over his completed blindness. We could have conceived him penning an expostulation to the advancing shadow, equally sublime and equally vain, for it was God's pleasure that this great spirit should, like himself, dwell for a season in the thick darkness. The same year his wife died in childbed, leaving him alone, blind, and with the care of three infant daughters, the oldest of whom was not more than six years of age. But he was only forty-four-his circumstances were comfortable-his resolution was unconquerable, and he girded himself up to mate with and overcome his difficulties. Mr Philip Meadowes was appointed to assist him in his secretaryship, and yet his salary was not at first diminished. He was married, in the year 1656, a second time. His wife was the daughter of Captain Woodcock of Hackney. This marriage was very happy, but of short continuance. She, too, died in childbirth, within a year after marriage, and her memory lives in one of his sweetest sonnets. By and by his salary was reduced one-half, and his duties were divided, although his pen was ever ready to defend the government down almost to the date of the Restoration,
Relieved, first by the appointment of Meadowes, and then of the celebrated Andrew Marvel, as his colleague, he began to revolve certain vast literary projects, such as a Latin Thesaurus, a Body of Divinity out of the Bible, a History of his Native Country, and an EPICK POEM. For the Dictionary the preparations were begun, but left in a fragmentary state-the History was commenced after the "Paradise Lost" was finished
-the System of Divinity was discovered, and published in 1825 --and the design of the Epick was built up into the sublimest production of the human mind. Meanwhile, in 1659, he published his Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes, shewing that it is not lawful for any power on earth to compel in matters of religion; and, in the same year, Considerations touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church; a Letter to a Friend concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth; and a Letter to General Monk on the Present Means of a Free Commonwealth. In February, he gave to the world what he hoped might not contain the "last words of
expiring liberty," in a Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth.
These efforts to retard the Restoration were strong, but convulsive and ineffectual. Cromwell's genius was latterly the one bulwark against the return of Charles; he was now removed, and there was nothing for it but that the nation, "like a tame elephant, should kneel" and receive its worthless rider. The consequences to Milton were disastrous; he had sat for years at ease in his "garden-house," labouring, but not toiling, visited by friends such as Lawrence, Skinner, Needham, and Marvel; visited, too, by foreigners, many of whom came to England simply to see Cromwell and Milton-in the possession of competence, if not wealth--blind, but full of internal light, of celestial cheer, and with great projects passing across his mind, and causing his eyes, as they passed, to twinkle with joy. Now his secretaryship was lost, he was obliged to take refuge in a friend's house in Bartholomew Close; nay, according to some accounts, to give himself out for dead, and to have a mock funeral made for him. His Eiconoclastes and Defensio were burned by the hands of the common hangman. He was not relieved from danger till the act of indemnity was passed; and, even after that, he was a short time in the custody of the serjeant-at-arms. As we have elsewhere said, although the heat of persecution was abated, the prospects of Milton were aught but cheering. He was poor, blind, solitary-his second wife dead-his daughters undutiful, unkind, and anxious for his death-his country was enslaved the hopes of the Church and the world seemed blasted-one might have expected that disappointment, regret, and vexation would have completed their work. It was the greatest crisis in the history of the individual man. Napoleon survived the loss of his empire, and men call him great because he survived it. Sir Walter Scott not only survived the loss of his fortune, but he struggled manfully amid the sympathy of the civilised species to repair it. But Milton, amid the loss of friends, fortune, fame, sight, domestic comfort, long cherished hopes, not only survived, but stood firm as a god over the ruins of a world-and not only stood firm, but,
alone and unaided, built to himself an everlasting monument. Verily, he was one of the celestial coursers who feed on no vulgar or earthly food. He had "meat to eat that the world knew not of."
As soon as he felt himself out of danger, he settled in Holborn, and then in Jewin Street, Aldersgate, and resumed his wonted studies. In 1664 he married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, daughter of Sir Edward Minshull, in Cheshire. It was a "made-up match," she having been chosen at his request by his friend Dr Paget, to be the nurse of his declining years. Like his other two wives, she was a maiden. He had an aversion to marrying widows. His daughters, three in number, Anne, Mary, and Deborah, acted as his amanuenses till the period of their respective marriages. They were taught to read, without understanding, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, to their blind father. From this slavery it is not to be wondered that they shrunk; but, besides, they are said to have combined with his maid-servant in cheating him, and to have pawned his books. On what terms he lived with his third wife is not quite certain. A little after his marriage, he is said to have been offered the Latin secretaryship again, but declined it. About this time commenced his intimacy with Ellwood the Quaker. This amiable and intelligent young man used to come every afternoon except that of Sunday, and to read Latin to him. Ellwood, though himself an object of persecution, found means to be serviceable to Milton. He had got a situation as tutor in the family of a rich Quaker in Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, and when the plague broke out in London in 1665, he hired there a house for the poet, who removed to Chalfont with all his family. When he arrived, he found Ellwood imprisoned in Aylesbury gaol on account of his religion. As soon, however, as he obtained his liberty, he paid Milton a visit, who put into his hands a MS., requesting him to read it, and give him his opinion. It was Paradise Lost! He had commenced this marvellous poem two years before the Restoration, and it had thus occupied him seven years-a time neither too long nor too short for the construction of such a piece of Cyclopean