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This settles the question of the location of the poems; but the question of when, and how long, and how often Milton resided at Forest-hill, still remains. That he did not reside there long, immediately after his marriage, is very clear, from the statement of his nephew and biographer, Phillips. "About Whitsuntide, or a little after, he took a journey into the country; nobody about him certainly knowing the reason, or that it was more than a journey of recreation. After a month's stay, home he returns a married man, that went out a bachelor; his wife being Mary, the eldest daughter of Mr. Richard Powell, then a justice of peace at Forestil, near Shotover, in Oxfordshire." This account is confirmed by Anthony Wood, who states that Milton courted, married, and brought his wife to his house in London, in one month's time.
She was very young, and had been accustomed to a gay life. According to Aubrey, "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 coming 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." Phillips says that she was averse to the philosophic life of Milton, and sighed for the mirth and jovialness to which she had been accustomed in Oxfordshire. It was a great mistake altogether. Milton was now a man of a sober age; he was yet but a schoolmaster, though he had a large and handsome house in Aldersgatestreet in a garden. This was necessary for the accommodation of his pupils, as well as for his own quiet study. But it must have been immensely dull to a young girl who, from all the glimpses we can get of her, was, though perhaps handsome and fascinating, of an ordinary nature, and one who had been educated to frivolity and mere enjoyment of the fashionable gaieties of life. What was more, the very work on which Milton was zealously engaged, the defence of the Parliamentary cause, and the defeat of the kingly, was perfect poison to her and her family,—all high Royalists. "Her relations," says Phillips, "being generally addicted to the Cavalier party, and some of them possibly engaged in the king's service, who at 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 events would come to flourish again."
These circumstances, operating together, induced his young wife to desert Milton. She asked leave, after a week, to go home and see her parents; he, in the meantime, was calmly and manfully labouring at his Areopagitica, or Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, one of the noblest works in our language. His wife had gone home, at the invitation of her friends, to spend the remaining part of the summer with them; and her husband gave her leave to stay till Michaelmas. Michaelmas came, but no wife. He sent for her, and she refused to come. He sent letter after letter; these remained unanswered. He despatched a messenger to bring her home; the
messenger was dismissed from her father's house with contempt. This moved his spirit, and he resolved to repudiate her. To justify this bold step, he published four treatises on divorce: The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce; The Judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce; his famous Tetrachordon, or Expositions upon the four chief places of Scripture which treat of Marriage, or Ñullities of Marriage; and Colasterion. It is probable that the lady and her friends would have thanked him for the divorce, had the world gone well with them; but the political scene was now fast changing. The royal power was waning; the Powells were getting into trouble, or foresaw it approaching, from their active participation in the royal cause. Milton, on the other hand, was fast rising into popular note. He was the very man that they were likely to need in the coming storm; and with true worldly policy, they forgot all their pride and insults; were willing to forget the offended husband's public exposure of his wife's conduct, and his active measures for repudiation; and a plan was laid for retaking him. The plot was this. Milton was accustomed to visit a relative in St. Martin's-le-Grand; and here, as it had been concerted on her part, he was astonished to see his wife come from another apartment, and falling on her knees before him, beg forgiveness for her conduct. After some natural astonishment, and some reluctance on his part to a reconciliation, he at length gave way to her tears; and forgave and embraced her.
"Soon his heart relented
Towards her, his life so late, and sole delight,
It has been supposed that the impression made upon his imagination and his feelings, on this occasion, contributed no little to his description of the scene in Paradise Lost, in which Eve addresses herself to Adam for pardon and peace.
And certainly Milton, on this occasion, displayed no little magnanimity and nobility of character. His domestic peace and reputation had been most remorselessly attacked, yet, says Fenton, "after this reunion, so far was he from retaining an unkind memory of the provocations which he had received from her ill conduct, that when the king's cause was entirely oppressed, and her father, who had been active in his loyalty, was exposed to sequestration, Milton received both him and his family to protection and free entertainment, in his own house, till his affairs were accommodated by his interest with the victorious faction." The old father-in-law had to suffer for his attachment to the royal cause. He was publicly announced as a delinquent, and fined 576/. 12s. 3d.; besides that his house was seized by the Parliamentary party.
It would be agreeable if from this time we could find data for believing that the returned wife and her friends showed a generous sense of the kindness of the poet. But we cannot. After the royal power was restored, and Milton was in danger and disgrace, we hear of no protection afforded by them to him: no protecting roof extended, no countenance even to the daughters, their mother now being dead. Of these daughters, one died early, having married
a master builder; one died single; and the third married a weaver in Spitalfields. It should be recollected that all three daughters survived their father as well as mother, yet it does not appear that they received the slightest notice or assistance from their wealthier relations of Shotover. Yet his third daughter, Deborah, had great need of it, and, in many respects, well deserved it. She lived to the age of seventy-six. This is the daughter that used to read to her father, and was well known to Richardson and Professor Ward; a woman of a very cultivated understanding, and not inelegant of manners. She was generously patronised by Addison, and by Queen Caroline, who sent her a present of fifty guineas. She had seven sons and three daughters, of whom Caleb and Elizabeth are remembered. Caleb emigrated to Fort Saint George, where, perhaps, he died. Elizabeth, the youngest daughter, married Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spitalfields, as her mother had done before her, and had seven children, who all died young. She is said to have been a plain, sensible woman, and kept a petty grocer's or chandler's shop, first at Lower Holloway, and afterwards at Cock-lane, near Shoreditch church. In April, 1750, Comus was acted for her benefit: Doctor Johnson, who wrote the prologue, says, "She had so little acquaintance with diversion or gaiety, that she did not know what was intended when a benefit was offered her." The profits of the performance were only 677, the expenses being deducted, although Dr. Newton contributed largely, and Jacob Tonson gave 201. On this trifling augmentation to their small stock, she and her husband removed to Islington, where they both soon died.
Such is the history of Milton's posterity.
From this melancholy review of his domestic history, let us now return to his homes in London after his return from Italy. He came back with great intentions, but to the humble occupation of a schoolmaster and here we encounter one of the most disgraceful pieces of chuckling over his lowly fate, to be found in that most disgraceful life of our great poet and patriot, by Dr. Johnson. The Lives of the Poets, by Johnson, in the aggregate, do him no credit. In point of research, even, they are extremely deficient; but the warped and prejudiced spirit in which they are written destroys them as authority. On Milton's head, however, Johnson poured all the volume of his collected bile. Such a piece of writing upon the greatest epic poet, as well as one of the most illustrious patriots of the nation, is a national insult of the grossest kind. Take this one passage as a specimen of the whole. "Let not our veneration for Milton forbid us to look with some degree of merriment on great promises and small performances; on the man who hastens home because his countrymen are contending for their liberty, and, when he reaches the scene of action, vapours away his patriotism in a private boardingschool." The passage is as false as it is malicious. Milton did not promise to come home and put himself at the head of armies or of senates. He knew where his strength lay, and he came to use it, and did use it, most effectually. He did not say, "I will be another Cromwell," but he became the Cromwell of the pen. It was precisely
because he was poor,-that he had no interest or connexions to place him in the front ranks of action,-that he showed the greatness of his resolve, in hasting to the scene of contest, and standing ready to seize such opportunity as should offer, to strike for his country and for liberty. He desired to do his duty in the great strife, whatever might be the part he could gain to play; and had he only sincerely desired to do that, and had not yet done it for want of opportunity, he would still have been worthy of praise for his laudable desire.
Of all the various residences of Milton in London, as I have remarked, scarcely one has escaped the ravages of the fire, and the progress of improvement and population. The habit which he had of selecting houses standing in gardens, on account of their quietness, has more than anything else tended to sweep them away. These places, as population increased, were naturally crowded, and the detached houses pulled down to make way for regular streets. His first lodging was in St. Bride's Churchyard, Fleet-street, on his return from Italy. Here he began educating his two nephews, John and Edward Phillips. Of this lodging nothing now remains. house, as I learn from an old and most respectable inhabitant of St. Bride's parish, who lives in the Churchyard, and very near the spot, was on the left hand, as you proceed towards Fleet-street through the avenue. It was a very small tenement, very old, and was burnt down on the 24th of November, 1824, at which time it was occupied by a hairdresser. It was a proof of its age-without party walls, and much decayed. The back part of the Punch Office now occupies its site.
These lodgings were too small, and he took a garden-house in Aldersgate-street, situated at the end of an entry, that he might avoid the noise and disturbance in the street. To his nephews, he here added a few more pupils, the sons of his most intimate friends. This house was large and commodious, affording room for his library and furniture. Here he commenced his career of pure authorship, -all he did having public reform and improvement for its object. Here he wrote, as a fitting commencement, a treatise Of Reformation, to assist the Puritans against the Bishops, as he deemed the Puritans deficient in learning for the defence of the great principles they were contending for. That Milton would turn out a stern reformer of Church matters, might be clearly seen from a passage in his Lycidas, written before he was twenty-nine years old. In this he is said even to anticipate the execution of Laud. The passage is curious:—
"How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies' sake
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold?
Of other care they little reckoning make
Than how to scramble at the shearers' feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest;
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learn'd aught else the least
That to the faithful herdsman's art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up and are not fed,
But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Stands ready to smite once, and smites no more."
Here he next wrote his treatise, Of Practical Episcopacy, in defence of the Smectymneans, against Archbishop Usher; then, Reasons of Church Government, urged against Prelacy. In this work he revealed to his readers his plans for a great poem,-the Paradise Lost,-which only was deferred till the advocacy which the times demanded of him should be completed.
It was in this house, on the approach of the troops of Prince Rupert to the capital, in 1642, soon after the battle of Edgehill, that Milton placed in imagination, if not in actual ink, his proudly deprecatory sonnet :
"Captain, or colonel, or knight in arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
That call fame on such gentle acts as these,
Lift not thy spear against the Muses' bower:
The great Emathian conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower
Of sad Electra's poet had the power
To save th' Athenian walls from ruin bare."
His next remove was to a house in the Barbican, now also, without doubt, removed: this was a larger house, for it was necessary to accommodate not only his wife, but her family.
From the Barbican issued the first volume of his poems, including Comus, Lycidas, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, &c.; a strange Parnassus, as it now seems to us. In 1647, his numerous inmates having left him, he once more flitted, to use the good old Saxon term, into a smaller house in Holborn, opening backwards into Lincoln's Inn Fields; this house will now be sought in vain. Here he published, in 1649, his bold Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, in which he vindicated what the Parliament had done in 1648, in the execution of the king; this was followed by some other political pamphlets. As he had made himself a marked man before, this open defence of the royal decapitation bound him up at once with the measures of the ruling government. Such a champion was not to be overlooked; and accordingly, immediately afterwards, he was invited by the Council of State, without any expectation or solicitation on his part, to become Latin Secretary; as they had resolved neither to write to others abroad, nor to receive answers from any, except in that language, which was common to them all. Thus, without any anxious solicitation, any flatteries, or compromise of his dignity and integrity, he had steadily advanced to that post in which he could effectually serve his country. He was here not merely the secretary, he was the champion of the government; and accordingly the Eicon Basiliké, attributed to King Charles himself, was ordered by him to have an