Imatges de pÓgina
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THE DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF DIVORCE;

RESTORED TO THE GOOD OF BOTH SEXES.

IN TWO BOOKS.

To the Parliament of England with the Assembly.

N the year 1644 Milton produced this extraordinary

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work, his brief Treatise on Education, and his incomparable Areopagitica. He had a short time previously been married to his first wife, who, after one month of wedded life, suddenly returned to her father, and stayed with him three years. On hearing that he meditated a divorce, she as suddenly threw herself at his feet and obtained his forgiveness. It was to justify his resolution of being divorced that he wrote the present work, which will not detain us long, but we shall hope to rescue from out this mass of trash a few sentences of transcendant beauty. He professes "with much labour to have first found out, or at least first published, to the manifest good of Christendom, that which, calling to witness everything mortal and immortal, he believes unfeignedly to be true; and then he doubts not but with one gentle stroking to wipe away ten thousand tears out of the

life of man." Such was his sincerity even when most erring. This elaborate discussion,' writes Warton on his eleventh sonnet which is entitled "On the detraction which followed upon my writing certain Treatises," 'unworthy in many respects of Milton, and in which much acuteness of argument, and comprehension of reading, were idly thrown away, was received with contempt, or rather ridicule. He held that disagreement of mind was a better cause of separation than adultery. Here was a fair opening for the laughers. For this doctrine our author was summoned before the Lords. But they not approving his accusers, the presbyterian clergy, or thinking the business too speculative, he was quickly dismissed. On this occasion Milton commenced hostilities against the presbyterians,' and joined the independents. His conjugal life is anything but pleasant to contemplate. Perhaps so laborious a student, so sensitive, and stern, and unbending a character had better have remained single. That he was not averse to marriage is evident from his essaying it three times. It was not every woman who could be a help-meet for such a mind as his, or make him happy. But Mary Powell was the last person we should have expected him to choose. No wonder such a marriage proved an unhappy one. He entertained the most exalted views of love, marriage, and domestic felicity, regarding a true woman with the utmost reverence as the companion of man's

intellect, the remedy of loneliness, "another self, a second self, a very self itself." "Cleave to a wife, but let her be a wife, let her be a meet help, a solace, not a nothing, not an adversary, not a desertrice." The prime end of marriage is, 'the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.' This failing, divorce became a duty in Milton's opinion. Our surprise is that a mind so rightly constituted as was his could go wrong in this matter. That he was extremely susceptible of the softer passions is evident from the general tenour of his writings, and from the fact that he was in love when he was nineteen, as we learn from his seventh Latin Elegy. Who the object of this boyish passion was it is impossible to say. It seems to have been unreturned, and her heart to have been created of hard adamant. She was quickly and for ever separated from him, but he felt it most keenly, as these verses show; and the lovesick youth laments,

"Nescio cur, miser est suaviter omnis amans."

"I know not why, every lover is sweetly wretched.” Henceforth he prays, if ever it should be his lot to love again, that one dart may pierce the breast of two lovers. Alas! his prayer was doomed never to be answered, except, perhaps, for one short year. It was about this time, while at Cambridge, the following adventure, which, however, is a mere tradition, and

rests on no authority, happened to him. And we cannot do better than describe it in the words of 'Satan' Montgomery.

'There is a tale-and let it live

Such life as fond romance can give,—
That once as slumb'ring Milton lay
In umbrage from the noon-warm day,
Beneath the twilight of a tree,
That arch'd its waving canopy,
A maiden saw his sleeping face,

And, spell-bound with its beauteous grace,
Her wonder in sweet song express'd,
And placed it on the poet's breast :-
"If eyes when shut the heart can take,
How bright their vict'ry when awake!”
Oh! who can tell what beauty flowed
From feelings by such words bestow'd?
The Eve of his enchanted thought,

From hues of nature's heaven was wrought,
And she, of Paradise the queen,

Embodied what his soul had seen.'

But we must pass on to our selections, which will prove the truth of these remarks.

"If it were seriously asked (and it would be no untimely question), renowned parliament, select assembly! who, of all teachers and masters that have ever taught, hath drawn the most disciples after him, both in religion and in manners? it might be not untruly answered, custom. Though virtue be commended for the most persuasive in her theory, and conscience, in the plain demonstration of the spirit, finds most evincing; yet whether it be the secret of divine will, or the original blindness we are born in, so it happens for the most part that custom still is

silently received for the best instructor. Except it be because her method is so glib and easy, in some manner like to that vision of Ezekiel, rolling up her sudden book of implicit knowledge, for him that will to take and swallow down at pleasure, which puffs up unhealthily a certain big face of pretended learning, and not only in private mars our education, but also in public is the common climber into every chair, where either religion is preached, or law reported; filling each estate of life and profession with abject and servile principles, depressing the high and heavenborn spirit of man far beneath the condition wherein either God created him or sin hath sunk him. To pursue the allegory, custom being but a mere face, as echo is a mere voice, rests not in her unaccomplishment, until by secret inclination she accorporate herself with error, who, being a blind and serpentine body, without a head, willingly accepts what he wants, and supplies what her incompleteness went seeking. Hence it is that error supports custom, custom countenances error; and these two between them would persecute and chase away all truth and solid wisdom out of human life, were it not that God, rather than man, once in many ages calls together the prudent and religious counsels of men, deputed to repress the encroachments, and to work off the inveterate blots and obscurities wrought upon our minds by the subtle insinuating of error and custom. Against which no

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