Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER X.

OF MILTON S MARRIAGE.

Milton was now thirty-four years old, when he seems to have taken upon himself suddenly the resolution to marry: his choice fell on Mary, daughter of Richard Powell, Esq., of Forest Hill, near Shotover, in Oxfordshire, an active royalist, who lived gaily and expensively. The match was ill suited, and did not turn out happily. He was caught by the lady's beauty, but found neither her mind nor her disposition accordant: she was soon tired of his studious habits and quiet unvisited house, after the company to which she had been accustomed at her father's mansion. In a few weeks she requested permission to revisit her father, where she stayed, in defiance of his remonstrance, the whole summer: she would not even answer his letters. This so provoked him, that he resolved to divorce her; and to justify his resolution, published, in 1644, his ' Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, restored to the good of both sexes.' "He declares," says Fletcher, "his object to be to prove, first, that other reasons of divorce besides adultery were, by the law of Moses, and are yet to be, allowed by the Christian magistrate, as a piece of justice, and that the words of Christ are not hereby contraried: next, that to prohibit absolutely any divorce whatever, except those which Moses excepted, is against the reason of law. The grand position is this :—that indisposition, unfitness, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in nature, unchangeable, hindering, and ever likely to hinder, the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace, is a greater reason of divorce than adultery, provided there be a mutual consent for separation."

He next published the 'Tetrachordon, or Exposition of the four chief places in Scripture which treat of Nullities in Marriage.' Thirdly, 'The Judgment of the famous Martin Bucer touching Divorce.' Fourthly, 'Colasterion,' a reply to a nameless answer to his first work.

These tracts raised a great clamour against the author. It seems to me probable, that the lady married Milton against her will, at the instigation of her parents. Todd has discovered documents, which show that an acquaintance had subsisted between Powell and Milton's father, a native of Oxfordshire, and that Powell had borrowed money of him, which was not paid at the former's death. Powell was a distressed and ruined man, expensive and reckless: it is probable, therefore, that he may have sacrificed his daughter, who soon was willing to escape from one not suited to her habits of life.

This conjecture is in concurrence with some ingenious surmises of Mitford, founded on certain passages which he has extracted from Milton's tracts. Mrs. Milton seems to have been a dull, unintellectual, insensate woman, though possessed of outward personal beauty.

She was alarmed at last, when she found Milton in earnest to take another wife, and contrived an interview, at which she begged his pardon, and was restored to her home, where she died in a few years: but I doubt, from certain passages in Milton's poetry, if he did not think that he had yielded to her tears with too much softness.

The whole of the documents relative to Milton's claim on Powell's property, which are set forth at length by Todd, who recovered them from the public archives, are very curious. It appears that it was as early as 1627, when Milton was a student at Cambridge, that his father advanced 500/. to Powell on mortgage, to his son's use. I take this to have been a settlement made as a provision for the poet.

When Powell died, loaded with debt, in Jan. 1646-7, Milton took possession of the mortgaged property, and the widow, with eight children, was left penniless: she claimed her thirds for dower, but could not obtain them.

Upon Mrs. Powell's petition, 19th April, 1651, the following notes are made :—

"By the law Mrs. Powell might recover her thirds, without doubt; but she is so extremely poor, she hath not wherewithal to prosecute; and besides, Mr. Milton is a harsh and choleric man, and married Mr. Powell's daughter, who would be undone if any such course were taken against him by Mrs. Powell; he having turned away his wife heretofore for a long space, upon some other occasion."

The date of the death of this first wife of Milton is said to have been 1653. His father died in 1647, in the poet's house, who had also received under his hospitable roof the ruined family of Powell, till their father died; but he seems to have been upon no terms with the widow.

CHAPTER XI.

HIS VARIOUS LITERARY OCCUPATIONS.

In 1645 the collection of Milton's early poems was published by Humphrey Moseley, the fashionable publisher of poetry of that age.

In 1641 came out 'Animadversions upon the Remonstrants' Defence against Smectymnuus.'

Next year, 'An Apology for Smectymnuus,' in reply to Bishop Hall's or his son's 'Modest Confutation against a scandalous and seditious libel.' This is Milton's last work on the puritan side of the controversy.

In 1644 he published his 'Tractate of Education: to Master Samuel Hartlib.'

The month of November of this year produced the 'Areopagitica: a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. To the Parliament of England.' Mitford pronounces this to be the finest production in prose from Milton's pen. "For vigour and eloquence of style, unconquerable force of argument, majesty, and richness of language, it is not to be surpassed."

« PreviousContinue »