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have to say, has always been wonderfully small in the world. Now, Milton was one of this band of intellectual Ironsides. V Even within the band itself he belonged to the extremest section. For he dared to question not only the speculative dogmas and political traditions of his time, which others round him were questioning, but even some of the established “moralities,” which few of them were questioning. It is not at all uncommon for men the most free-thinking in matters of religious belief to be immoveably and even fanatically orthodox in their allegiance to all customary moralities. They abide by tradition, and think with the multitude, in ethical questions, if in nothing else. on Milton, it appears from his Address to the Parliament and the Assembly, there had dawned the idea that, as there had come down in the bosom of society misbeliefs in science, imperfect views of theology, and conventions of political tyranny, so there had come down things even worse, in the form of cobwebbed sacramentalisms and sanctities for private life, factitious restrictions of individual liberty pretending themselves to be Christian rules of holiness. Among the greatest burdens and impediments in man's life, he says, were such pseudo-moralities, such “imaginary and scarecrow sins,” vaunting themselves as suckers and corollaries from the Ten Commandments. This was a daring track to be upon, but Milton was upon it. He did not believe that the world had arrived at a final and perfect system of morals, any more than at a perfect system of science. He believed the established ethical customs of men to be subject to revision by enlarged and progressive reason, and modifiable from age to age, equally with their theories of cosmology, their philosophical creeds, or anything else. There was no terror for him in that old and ever-repeated outcry about “ sapping the foundations of society.” He believed that the foundations of society had taken, and would still take, a great deal. of “ sapping," without detriment to the superstructure. He believed that, as we may read in Herodotus of ancient cominunities established on all sorts of principles, or even whim-principles, and yet managing to get on, and as these
crude polities had been succeeded by other and better ones, to the latest known in the world, so these last need not look to be permanent. Of a tendency to this state of feeling Milton had given evidences from early youth ; but I do not think I am wrong in fixing on the year 1643 as the time when it became chronic, nor in tracing the sudden enlargement of it then beyond its former bounds to the wrench in his life caused by his unhappy marriage. At all events, henceforward throughout his career we shall see the continuous action of this now avowed Miltonism among others. We shall see him henceforward continually acting on the principle that, in addition to the real sins forbidden to man by an eternal law of right and wrong, revealed in his own conscience and authenticated by the Bible (for Milton did believe in such an eternal law, and, however it is to be reconciled with what we have just been saying, was a transcendental or a priori moralist at his heart's core), the field of human endeavour was overstrewn by a multi
plicity of mere “scarecrow sins," one's duty in respect of ✓ which was simply to march up to them, one after another,
and pluck them up, every stick of them individually, with its stuck-on old hat and all its waving tatters.
(2.) One notes in Milton's first Divorce Tract, as in much else of his controversial writing, a preference for the theoretical over what may be called the practical style of argument. The neglect of practical details in his reasoning throughout this particular Tract amounts to what might be called greenness or innocence. What are the questions with which an opponent of the “practical” type would have immediately tried to pose Milton, or which such an one would now object to his doctrine ? No one can miss them.
In a case where divorce is desired by the man only, what is ✓ to become of the divorced wife? Is not the damage of her
prospects by the fact that she has once been married, if but for a month, something to be taken into account? It is not in marriage as it may be in other partnerships. The poor girl that has been once married returns to her father or her friends an article of suddenly diminished value in the general
estimation. What provision is to be made for this? Then, should there be children, what are to be the arrangements ? Or again, suppose the case, under the new Divorce Law, of a man who has a weakness for a succession of wives—a private Henry the Eighth. He marries No. 1, and, after a while, on the plea that he does not find that she suits him, he gives her a bill of divorcement; No. 2 comes and is treated in like manner; and so on, till the brutal rascal, undeniably free from all legal censure, may be living in the centre of a perfect solar system of his discarded wives, moving in nearer or farther orbits round him, according to the times when they were thrown off, and each with her one or two satellites of little darlings ! To be sure, there is the public oath which, it is supposed, might have to be taken in every case of divorce; but what would such a blackguard care for any number of such oaths ? Besides, you put it to him by his oath to declare that in his conscience he believes the incompatibility between himself and his wife to be radical and irremediable, and that he does not find that he comes within Christ's meaning in that famous passage of the Sermon on the Mount in which he Christianized the Mosaic Law of Divorce. What does such a fellow know of Christ's meaning? He will swear, and according to your new Law he need only swear, according to his own standard of fitness; which may be that variety is a sine qua non for him, or that No. 2 is intolerable when No. 3 is on the horizon. How, in the terms of the new Law, is such licence to sheer libertinism to be avoided? These and other such questions are suggested here not as necessarily fatal to Milton's doctrine : in fact, in certain countries, since Milton's time, the most thorough practical consideration of them has not impeded modifications of the Marriage Law in the direction heralded by Milton. They are suggested as indicating Milton's rapidity, his impatience, or, if we choose so to call it, his dauntless faith in ideas and first principles. It is remarkable how little, in his first Divorce Tract, he troubles himself with the anticipation of such-like objections of the practical kind. The reason may partly be that, in his own case, some of them, if not all, were irrelevant. There were no children in his case to complicate the affair; Mary Powell was probably as willing to part from him as he to part from Mary Powell ; and, if she were to relapse into Mary Powell again and he to be free as before, the social expense of their two or three months' mismatch would hardly be appreciable ! Doubtless, however, Milton foresaw many of the practical objections. He foresaw cases, that would be sure to arise under the new law, much more complicated than that of himself and Mary Powell. That he did not discuss such cases may have, therefore, been partly the policy of a controversialist, resolved to establish his main principle in the first place, and leaving the details of practical adjustment for a future time or for other heads. On the whole, however, the inattention to those practical details which would have formed so much of the matter of most men's reasonings on the same subject was very characteristic.
(3.) My last remark is that Milton, in his tract, writes wholly from the man's point of view, and in the man's interest, with a strange oblivion of the woman's. The Tract is wholly a plea for the right of a man to give his wife a bill of divorcement and send her home to her father. There is no distinct word about any counterpart right for a woman who has married an unsuitable husband to give him a bill of divorcement and send him back to his mother. On the whole subject of the woman's interests in the affair Milton is suspiciously silent. There is, indeed, one passage, in Chap. XV. of the Tract, bearing on the question; and it is very curious. Beza and Paræus, it seems, had argued that the Mosaic right of divorcement given to the man had been intended rather as a merciful release for afflicted wives than as a privilege for the man himself. On this opinion Milton thinks it necessary to comment. He partly maintains that, if true, it would strengthen his argument for the restoration of the right of divorce to husbands; but partly he protests against its truth. “If divorce were granted," he says, "not " for men, but to release afilicted wives, certainly it is not
only a dispensation, but a most merciful law; and why it
“ should not yet be in force, being wholly as needful, I know
not what can be in cause but senseless cruelty. But yet to
say divorce was granted for relief of wives, rather than for * husbands, is but weakly conjectured, and is manifest the “ extreme shift of a huddled exposition. ... Palpably “ uxorious! Who can be ignorant that woman was created “ for man, and not man for woman, and that a husband may “ be injured as insufferably in marriage as a wife. What an “ injury is it after wedlock not to be beloved, what to be “ slighted, what to be contended with in point of house-rule
who shall be the head, not for any parity of wisdom (for " that were something reasonable), but out of a female pride! “ “ I suffer not,' saith Saint Paul, the woman to usurp autho“rity over the man.' If the Apostle could not suffer it, into “ what mould is he mortified that can ? Solomon saith that
a bad wife is to her husband as rottenness to his bones, “ continual dropping: better dwell in a corner of the house
top, or in the wilderness, than with such a one: whoso “ hideth her hideth the wind, and one of the four mischiefs “ that the earth cannot bear. If the Spirit of God wrote such ui
aggravations as these, and, as it may be guessed by these similitudes, counsels the man rather to divorce than to live
with such a colleague, and yet, on the other side, expresses “ nothing of the wife's suffering with a bad husband, is it not “ most likely that God in his Law had more pity towards
man thus wedlocked than towards the woman that was “ created for another?”l Here was doctrine with a vengeance. Man being the superior being, and therefore with the greater capacity of being pained or injured, God had pitied him, if unhappily married, more than the woman similarly situated. For him, therefore, and not for the woman, there had been provided the right of divorce! This is not positively asserted, but it seems to be implied. The woman's relief, in the case
1 This passage occurs in the second edition. There is but the germ of it in the first edition, in the form of the first sentence, “If Divorce were granted
senseless cruelty.” The inference is that Milton, when he wrote the first edition, was rather pleased with the
idea of Beza and Paræus that divorce had been given for the relief of the wife, and that his dissatisfaction with the idea, as promoting the woman too much at the man's expense, came afterwards.