Was all this to last? Whether it was to last or not depended not a little on the conduct of the Parliament itself, but greatly more on the conduct of the generals and armies that held up its banners in various parts of England. And how, since our last glimpses of the state of the war in the dark month of Hampden's death and the month following that (June and July 1643), had the war been going on? Much as before. What do we see? A siege here and a siege there, a skirmish here and a skirmish there, ending sometimes for the Parliament, but as often for the King; amid all these sieges and skirmishes no battle of any magnitude, save the first Battle of Newbery (Sept. 20, 1643), where Lord Falkland, weary of his life, was slain, and also the Royalist Earls of Carnarvon and Sunderland, but otherwise the damage to the King was inconsiderable; Essex still heavy and solemn, an excellent man, but a woful commander-in-chief; little Sir William Waller still the favourite and set up against Essex, but confidence in him somewhat shaken by his recent defeats; the Fairfaxes in the north, and others in other parts, doing at best but respectably; Cromwell, it is true, a marked man and always successful wherever he appeared, but appearing yet only as Colonel Cromwell! "For the present the Parliament side is running down the brae," wrote the sagacious Baillie, Sept. 22, 1643; and again, more pithily, Dec. 7, "They may tig- tag on this way this twelvemonth." The only remedy, Baillie thought—the only thing that would change the sluggish "tig-tagging" of Essex and the English into something like what a war should be—was the expected coming-in of the Scots. For this event the English Parliamentarians also longed vehemently. "All things are expected from God and the Scots" is Baillie's description of the feeling in London in the winter of 1643-4. For, though the bringing in of a Scottish force auxiliary to the English army had been arranged for in the autumn—though it was for that end that the English Parliament had sent Commissioners to Edinburgh, had accepted Henderson's "Solemn League and Covenant," and had admitted Scottish Commissioners into the Westminster Assembly—yet the completing of the negotiations, and the getting together and equipping of the Scottish army for its southward march, had been a work of time. About Christmas 1643 it was understood that the Scots were in readiness to march; but the precise time when they might be expected to cross the border was yet in anxious conjecture. [Footnote: Baillie, II. 83, 99, 104-5, and 114-15.]
It was an unusually severe winter, cold and snowy. The Londoners, in especial, deprived of their coal from Newcastle, felt it severely. Baillie particularly mentions the comfortable hangings of the Jerusalem Chamber, and the good fire kept burning in it, as "some dainties in London" at that date, and duly appreciated by the members of the Assembly. [Footnote: Ibid. II. 106.] Among the printed broad-sheets of the time that were hawked about London, I have seen one entitled "Artificial Fire; or, Coal for Rich and Poor: this being the offer of an excellent new Invention." The invention consists of a proposal to the Londoners of a cheap substitute for coal, devised by a "Mr. Richard Gesling, Ingineer, late deceased." Mr. Gesling's idea was that, if you take brickdust, mortar, sawdust, or the like, and make up pasteballs thereof mingled with the dust of sea-coal or Scotch coal, and with stable-litter, you will have a fuel much more economical than coal itself. But, though this is the practical proposal of the fly-sheet, its main interest lies in its lamentation over the lack of the normal fuel. "Some fine-nosed city dames," it says, "used to tell their husbands, 'O husband! we shall never be well, we nor our children, whilst we live in the smell of this city's sea-coal smoke! Pray, a country-house for our health, that we may get out of this sea-coal smell!' But how many of these fine-nosed dames now cry, 'Would to God we had sea-coal! Oh! the want of fire undoes us! O the sweet sea-coal fires we used to have! how we want them now: no fire to your sea-coal!'... This for the rich: a word for the poor! The great want of fuel for fire makes many a poor creature cast about how to pass over this cold winter to come; but, finding small redress for so cruel an enemy as the cold makes, some turn thieves that never stole before—steal posts, seats, benches from doors, rails, nay, the very stocks that should punish them; and all to keep the cold winter away." [Footnote: Folio sheet dated 1644 (i.e. winter of 1643-4), in British Museum Library: Press-mark, 669, f.]—If on no other account than the prospect of a re-opening of the coal-traffic between Newcastle and London, what joy among the Londoners when the news came that, on Friday the 19th of January, 1643-4, the expected Scottish army had entered England by Berwick! They had entered it, toiling through deep snow, 21,500 strong, and were already—God be praised!—spreading themselves over the winter-white fields of the very region where the coal lay black underground. At their head who but old Field-marshall Leslie, now Earl of Leven, Scottish commander-in-chief for the third time, and tolerably well acquainted already with the North of England? Second in command to him, as Lieutenant-general of the Foot, was William Baillie, of Letham, in this post for the second time; and the Major-general, with command of the horse was David Leslie, a third Gustavus-Adolphus man, and, though a namesake of the commander-in-chief, only distantly related to him. The marquis of Argyle accompanied the invaders, nominally as Colonel of a troop of horse; and among the other colonels of foot or horse were the Earls of Cassilis, Lindsay, Loudoun, Buccleugh, Dunfermline, Lothian, Marischal, Eglinton, and Dalhousie. The expenses of the army, averaging 1,000l. per diem (6d. a day for each common foot-soldier, 8d. for a horse-soldier, and so on upwards) were, by agreement, to be charged to England. [Footnote: Rushw. V. 604-7; Parl. Hist. III. 200, 201; Baillie, II. 100 and 137.]
The condition on which the Scots had consented thus to aid the English Parliament must not be forgotten. It was the agreement of the two nations in one and the same religious Covenant. In all the negotiations that had been going on between London and Edinburgh, the Scots had always assumed the fulfilment of this condition on the part of the English. And, so far, we have seen, it had already been fulfilled. Since September 1643, when Henderson's Covenant had first been proposed to the English Parliament and the Westminster Assembly, and the Commons and the Westminster Divines had set the example by swearing to it collectively in one of the London churches, "the Covenant" had been a phrase familiar to the English mouth. In all the miscellaneous activity of the Parliament for the detection and disabling of "Malignants," there had been no instrument more effective or more commonly used. There were other tests and oaths by which the "malignants" might be distinguished from the "well-affected"; but the taking or not taking of the Solemn League and Covenant was the test paramount. Wherever the Parliament had power it had been in operation. Since December 20, for example, it had been the law that no one could be a Common Councilman of the City of London who had not subscribed to the Covenant. Still, in this matter of subscription to the Covenant, the English, both as the larger nation and as the less accustomed to Covenants, had remained considerably in arrear of the Scots; and, when the Scots actually did make their appearance in England, there was a sudden refreshing of the memory of the English Parliament on the subject, and a sudden exertion to make up the arrears. "The Scots are among us on the supposition that we have all taken the Covenant; and lo! we have not yet all taken it," was virtually the exclamation of the Parliament. Accordingly, that all might be brought in, that there might be no escape, and that there might remain to all time coming a vast register of the names of the Englishmen then living who had entered into this solemn league with their Scottish neighbours, there was passed, on the 5th of February, 1643-4, a new and conclusive ordinance on the subject. By this ordinance it was enacted that true copies of the Covenant should be sent to the Earl of Essex and other commanders of the army, and to all governors of towns, &c., to the intent that it might be sworn to by every man in the army; also that copies should be sent into all the counties, so that they should punctually reach every parish and every parish- minister—the instructions being that every minister should, the next Lord's day after the certified copy of the Covenant reached him, read it aloud to his congregation, discourse and exhort upon it, and then tender it to all present, who should swear to it with uplifted hands, and afterwards sign it with their names or marks. All men over eighteen years of age, whether householders or lodgers, were to take it in the parishes in which they were resident; and the names of all refusing, whether ministers or laymen, were to be reported. [Footnote: See Ordinance in Lords Journals, Feb. 5, 1643-4.] Nay, by an arrangement about the same time, the action of the Covenant was made to extend to English subjects abroad. Notwithstanding all this stringency, there is reason to believe that not a few soldiers in the army, and not a few ministers and others, contrived, in one way or another, to avoid the Covenant, without being called to account for the neglect. Where a minister otherwise unexceptionable, or an officer or soldier of known zeal and efficiency, had scruples of conscience against signing, the authorities, both civil and military, appear in many places to have exercised a discretion and winked at disobedience or procrastination.—The case of the Earl of Bridgewater may here be of some interest, on its own account, and as illustrating what went on generally. The Earl, known to us so long as "the Earl of Milton's Comus" had been living in retirement as an invalid during the war, his wishes on the whole being doubtless with the King, but his circumstances obliging him to keep on fair terms with the Parliament. The test of the Covenant seems to have sorely perplexed the poor Peer. "He says some things in the Covenant his heart goes along with them, and other things are doubtful to him; and therefore desires some time to consider of it." Such was the report to the Lords, Wednesday Feb. 7, 1643-4, by the Earls of Rutland and Bolingbroke, who had been appointed to deal with him and other absent Peers in the matter. "He shall have time till Friday morning next," was the entry ordered to be made. On the Friday named there is no mention of the subject in the Lords Journals; but on Saturday the 10th Lords Rutland and Bolingbroke were able to report that it was all right. Two days had convinced the Earl that signing would be best for him. [Footnote: Lords Journals of dates cited.]
Besides this universal imposition of the Covenant by Parliamentary ordinance upon all who had hitherto neglected to take it, there was another immediate effect of the presence of the Scots in England. The two nations being now in arms for the same cause, the fortunes of each nation depending largely on the conduct of the other, and the two national armies indeed having to co-operate strategically, there required to be some common directing power, intermediate between the English Parliament in Westminster and the Scottish Estates in Edinburgh, representing both, and acting for both in all matters of military concern. The Scots, on their part, had made provision accordingly. Besides appointing a stationary Committee of the Estates to manage matters from Edinburgh, and another Committee to be with the Scottish army as a kind of Council to the Earl of Leven, they had nominated (Jan. 9, 1643-4) a Special Commission of four persons to go to London with full powers to represent the views and interests of Scotland in the enterprise in which it was now conjoined with England. These were—the EARL OF LOUDOUN, High Chancellor of Scotland; LORD MAITLAND (already in London as Scottish Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly); SIR ARCHIBALD JOHNSTONE OF WARRISTON (due in London at any rate as a Commissioner to the Assembly); and MR. ROBERT BARCLAY, Provost of Irvine in Ayrshire. These Commissioners having presented their Commission to the English Parliament, Feb. 5, the Parliament were moved to appoint some of its trustiest men from the two Houses to be an English Committee of Consultation with the Scottish Commissioners, and in fact to form, along with them, a joint "Committee of the Two Kingdoms." Such an institution was not at all to the taste of Lord General Essex, inasmuch as it trenched on his powers as commander- in-chief. Some opposition was therefore offered. On the whole, however, the argument that the two kingdoms ought to be "joined in their counsels as well as in their forces" proved overpowering; and on the 16th of February an ordinance was passed appointing the following persons (7 Peers and 14 Commoners) to be a Committee for the purpose named—the EARL OF NORTHUMBERLAND, the EARL OF ESSEX, the EARL OF WARWICK, the EARL OF MANCHESTER, VISCOUNT SAYE AND SELE, LORD WHARTON, LORD EGBERTS, WILLIAM PIERREPOINT, SIR HENRY VANE, Senr., SIR PHILIP STAPLETON, SIR WILLIAM WALLER, SIR GILBERT GERRARD, SIR WILLIAM ARMYN, SIR ARTHUR HASELRIG, SIR HENRY VANE, Junr., JOHN CREWE, ROBERT WALLOP, OLIVER ST. JOHN, SAMUEL BROWNE, JOHN GLYNN, and OLIVER CROMWELL. Six were to be a quorum, always in the proportion of one Lord to two Commoners, and of the Scottish Commissioners meeting with them two were to be a quorum. There can be no doubt that the object was that the management of the war should be less in Essex's hands that it had been. [Footnote: Lords Journals of dates Feb. 5 and 16, 1643-4; and Baillie, II. 141, 142]
The name of JOHN PYM may have been looked for in the Committee. Alas! no longer need his name be looked for among the living in this History. He had died on the 8th of December, 1643, when the Scots were expected in England, but had not yet arrived. He was buried magnificently in Westminster Abbey, all the Lords and Commons attending, and Stephen Marshall preaching the funeral sermon. England had lost "King Pym," her greatest Parliamentary man. No one precisely like him was left. But, indeed, he had done his work to the full; and, had he lived longer, he might have been loved the less! [Footnote: Rushworth V. 376; Parl. Hist. III. 186-7; and Baillie, II. 118.]
MILTON UNHAPPY IN HIS MARRIAGE: HIS FIRST DIVORCE TRACT: TWO EDITIONS OF IT.
We left Milton in his house in Aldersgate Street in or about 1643, waiting for the promised return of his recently-wedded wife at Michaelmas, and meanwhile comfortable enough, with his books, his pupils, and the quiet companionship of his old father. We are now seven or eight months beyond that point in our general History. What had happened in the Aldersgate household in the interval? A tremendous thing had happened. Milton had come to desire a divorce from his wife, and had written and published a Tract on Divorce, partly in the interest of his own private case, but really also with a view to suggest to the mind of England, then likely to be receptive of new ideas, certain thoughts on the whole subject of the English law of Marriage which had resulted from reflection on his own experience. Here is the story:—
"Michaelmas [Sept. 29, 1643] being come," says Phillips, "and no news of his wife's return, he sent for her by letter, and, receiving no answer, sent several other letters, which were also unanswered; so that at last he despatched down a foot-messenger [to Forest Hill] with a letter, desiring her return. But the messenger came back not only without an answer, at least a satisfactory one, but, to the best of my remembrance, reported that he was dismissed with some sort of contempt. This proceeding, in all probability, was grounded upon no other cause but this—viz.: that, the family being generally addicted to the Cavalier party, as they called it, and some of them possibly engaged in the King's service, who by 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 on their escutcheon whenever that Court should come to flourish again. However, it so incensed our author that he thought it would be dishonourable ever to receive her again, after such a repulse; so that he forthwith prepared to fortify himself with arguments for such a resolution, and accordingly wrote," &c. Here Phillips goes on to enumerate Milton's various Divorce Tracts, the first of which in order of time was his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Aubrey corroborates Phillips, but has little on the subject but what he may have picked up from gossip. "She was a ... Royalist, and went to her mother near Oxford: he sent for her after some time, and I think his servant was evilly entreated,"—such are Aubrey's brief notes of the facts; after which come his own reflections on the rupture: "Two opinions do not well on the same bolster;" and "What man, especially contemplative, would like to have a young wife environed and stormed by the sons of Mars, and those of the enemy party?" Finally Wood, in his Fasti, does little more than repeat Aubrey: "Though he sent divers pressing invitations, yet he could not prevail upon her to come back;" whereupon "he, being not able to bear this abuse, did therefore, upon consideration, after he had consulted many eminent authors, write the said book of Divorce, with intentions to be separated from her." [Footnote: Phillips's Memoir; Aubrey's Lives; and Wood's Fasti Oxon. I. 482-3.]
On all grounds Phillips's authority is the best. And yet there are difficulties in his account. According to that account, it was the non- return of Milton's wife at or about Michaelmas (Sept. 29) 1643, and not only her non-return then, but her obstinate and repeated refusal to return after that date, and the insulting conduct of her family to the messenger he finally sent to urge her return, that roused Milton's indignation, put the thought of divorce into his mind, and induced him to write his first Divorce Tract. If so, the tract could hardly have been ready till some weeks after Michaelmas 1643—say, till about Christmas of the same year. There is proof, however (and I do not think it has been observed before), that Milton's first Divorce Tract was already published and in circulation two months before the Michaelmas in question. The proof is not, where we might expect it, in the books of the Stationers' Company; for the Tract, like all Milton's previous pamphlets, was published by him, rather defiantly, without the required legal formalities of licence and registration. But there is a precious copy of it in Thomason's great collection of pamphlets, called "the King's Pamphlets," in the British Museum. The title in that copy is as follows: "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Restor'd, to the good of both Sexes, from the Bondage of Canon Law and other mistakes, to Christian Freedom, guided by the Rule of Charity; wherein also many places of Scripture have recovered their long-lost meaning: seasonable to be now thought on in the Reformation intended." Underneath this title there follows on the title-page the quotation "Matth. xiii. 52. Every Scribe instructed to the Kingdome of Heav'n is like the Maister of a house which bringeth out of his treasurie things old and new;" and at the foot of the title-page is the legend "London, Printed by T. P. and M. S. in Goldsmiths' Alley: 1643." [Footnote: Copy in British Museum Library Press mark, 12. G.F. 17 119.] This printed legend alone would all but determine the publication to have been prior to Christmas 1643; but the question is set at rest by a manuscript note on the title-page, "Aug. 1st." The note was put there by, or by the direction of, the collector, Thomason, to indicate the day on which the copy came into his hands, and is to be relied on implicitly. The Tract, it will be observed, was anonymous; but the words "Written by J. Milton," penned on the title-page by the same hand that penned the date "Aug. 1st," show that the authorship was no secret from the all-prying Thomason. In short, on evidence absolutely conclusive, Milton's first Divorce Tract was in print and on sale in London on the 1st of August, 1643, or two months before Phillips's fatal Michaelmas. [Footnote: This may be the place for a word or two about the collector of those Pamphlets in the British Museum among which I have had so frequently to range for the purposes of this work, and to which, like other inquiries into English History from 1610 to 1660, I owe more items of information than I can count.—George Thomason was a London bookseller of the Civil War time; his place of business being the "Rose and Crown" in St. Paul's Churchyard. He was of Royalist sympathies; but his hobby was to collect impartially all the pamphlets, broad-sheets, &c., that teemed from the press on both sides, and not only those that teemed from the English press, but also all published abroad that bore on current English questions. He began this labour in 1641, and pursued it indefatigably till after the Restoration; so that, at his death in or about 1666, he left a collection of about 33,000 pamphlets, &c. on English affairs, published between 1638 and 1662. The making of this collection had been the delight of his life; it had been his anxiety that no single tract, or printed scrap of any interest, should escape him. When he began to collect in 1641, he had taken pains to obtain copies of publications of the immediately preceding years; and after that his work had been facilitated by the notoriety of his passion for collecting. Booksellers and authors (Milton for one) seem occasionally to have sent copies of their pamphlets to Thomason. "Exact care hath been taken," he himself tells us in the Introduction to a MS. catalogue of his treasures, "that the very day is written upon most of them that they came out;" and this care of his has fixed the dates of many publications that would else have been unknown or but vaguely known.—For farther particulars of this interesting person, an account of the shifts to which he was put to save his collection from the chances of Parliamentarian pillage, and a history of the fortunes of his collection till it came to be part of the Library of King George III., and so of the British Museum, see Edwards's Memoirs of Libraries (1859), Vol. I pp, 456-460.—I may add that I have seen a pencil jotting in Thomason's hand on one of the fly-leaves of his collection as fresh and legible, after 220 years, as if it had been written yesterday.]
One of two suppositions therefore:—(1.) If Phillips is right in his statement that Milton's first Divorce Tract was caused by the obstinate refusal of his wife to return to him, and the insulting conduct of her family in detaining her and laughing at his letters and messages, then Phillips's dates in the whole matter of the marriage must be a little wrong. "About Whitsuntide it was (May 21, 1643) that my uncle left us in Aldersgate Street, on what turned out to be his marriage journey; in about a month's time he returned, bringing his wife, and some of her relations, with him (June 1643); the relations stayed about a week, during which there was much feasting and merriment; for about a month after they were gone the newly-married wife remained with my uncle; but then (late in July or early in August 1643), tired of a philosophical life, and pining for the society of home, she contrived a request from her family to have her with them during the rest of the summer—to which my uncle consented, on the understanding that she was to come hack about Michaelmas (Sept. 29, 1643)." Such, re-expressed in words for the nonce, is Phillips's account as we have already given it. But, as the Divorce Tract was published August 1, 1643, it is clear that, if the cause of that Tract was the persistent, protracted, and contemptuous absence of his wife, then Phillips's memory must have been at fault, and he must have somewhat post-dated the marriage itself. The marriage in that case must have been before Whitsuntide 1643; and the return of the wife to her relations, her refusal to come hack, and Milton's chagrin and anger so occasioned, must have been matters not of after Michaelmas 1643, but of at least a month or two before the August of that year. This is quite a tenable supposition; for there are other inaccuracies in Phillips, and the register of the place and date of Milton's marriage with Mary Powell has not been found. (2) On the whole, however, Phillips's recollections about the marriage are so circumstantial, and there is such a likelihood of their being true, that, until contradictory records shall be produced, it seems right to accept his dating. But then his explanation of the cause of his uncle's speculations about divorce must be wrong. The cause in that case cannot have been the obstinate refusal of his wife to return; for the Divorce Tract must have been written and ready for the press while she was still with him in the Aldersgate Street house (July 1643), and it was actually out (Aug. 1) before she can have reached her father's house at Forest Hill on her granted two months of leave till Michaelmas. What are we to make of this discrepancy? One is puzzled. That a man should have occupied himself on a Tract on Divorce ere his honeymoon was well over—should have written it perseveringly day after day within sound of his newly-wedded wife's footsteps and the very rustle of her dress on the stairs or in the neighbouring room—is a notion all but dreadful. And yet to some such notion, if Phillips's dating is correct, we seem to be shut up. But, if so, more is involved than Phillips knew. The cause of Milton's thoughts about divorce, in that case, must have been the agony of a deadly discovery of his wife's utter unfitness for him when as yet she had not been two months his wife. It must have been the unutterable pain of the dis-illusioned bridegroom, the gnawing sense of his irretrievable mistake, The vision must then pass before our minds of scenes in the Aldersgate Street house, the reverse of the happily connubial, before that sudden departure of the bride back to her father's home, and leading to that incident perhaps rather violently. One seems to hear the sound of differences, of conflicting opinions about this and that, of weeping girlish wilfulness opposed to steady and perhaps too austere prohibitions. "Well, then, I will go back to my mother: I am sure I wish I had never——": "Go": And so the parting may have come about, not wholly by her arrangement, but harshly and with some quarrel on his part. There are not wanting subsequent facts that might lend a plausibility to this version of the story. [Footnote: Milton's mother-in-law, having occasion, seven years afterwards (1651), to advert to her daughter's return home so soon after her marriage, distinctly attributed it to Milton himself. The words are, "He having turned away his wife heretofore for a long space upon some other occasion." I do not think Mrs. Powell was a very accurate lady, and she had no fondness for Milton; but the words seem to imply more than a mere passive consent of Milton to his wife's proposal to revisit her family.] Yet it is the other that one would wish to be true, and that would fit in most naturally with the facts as a whole. That version is that Milton, good-naturedly and perhaps taken by surprise, allowed his wife to go home for two months at her own request, or the request of her relatives, before he had been three months married, and that it was the insult of her nonreturn that revealed to him his mistake in her, and drove him into his speculations about divorce. Only, then, we repeat, Phillips's dating of the marriage and its incidents requires amendment.
In any case the first edition of Milton's Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce was out in London on the 1st of August, 1643. [Footnote: The supposition is always open that, by some oversight, Thomason misdated his copy, putting "Aug." for a much later month. But this is the unlikeliest thing of all.] It was a pamphlet of forty-eight small quarto pages, with an extra page supplying two omitted passages. The text was printed continuously, without division into chapters; at the end.
Both in matter and in manner the Tract was one of the boldest that had ever been submitted to the reading of England. Its thesis is laid down near the beginning in these terms: "That indisposition, unfitness, or contrarity 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 natural frigidity, especially if there be no children, and that there be mutual consent." This thesis Milton sets himself to argue in all sorts of ways—from natural reason and expediency; from the Scripture doctrine of marriage as it might be gathered from the Mosaic Law and the right interpretation of texts in the Old and New Testaments, notwithstanding one or two individual texts (like that of Matth. v. 31, 32) that had been hackneyed and misunderstood by mere literalists; and from opinions or indications of opinion on the subject that might be found in the works of some of the Protestant Reformers, and other eminent writers. His conclusion was that the notion of the indissolubility of marriage, or even the modified law of England and of other countries, authorizing divorce only for certain gross reasons, were mere relics of superstitious tradition, the concoction of the Canonists and Sacramentalists in the ages of sacerdotal tyranny, unworthy of more enlarged views of justice and liberty, and a canker and cause of incalculable misery in the heart of modern society. Again and again he indicates his consciousness that in announcing this conclusion, and trying to rouse his fellow-countrymen to the necessity of at once including a revision of the Marriage Law in the general Reformation then in progress, he is performing a great public service. Thus, at the very opening: "By which [the precedent of certain liberal hints on the subject by Hugo Grotius], and mine own apprehension of what public duty each man owes, I conceive myself exhorted among the rest to communicate such thoughts as I have, and offer them now, in this general labour of Reformation, to the candid view both of Church and Magistrate; especially because I see it the hope of good men that those irregular and unspiritual courts have spun their utmost date in this land, and some better course must now be constituted. He, therefore, that by adventuring shall be so happy as with success to ease and set free the minds of ingenuous and apprehensive men from this needless thraldom; he that can prove it lawful and just to claim the performance of a fit and matchable conversation no less essential to the prime scope of marriage than the gift of bodily conjunction, or else to have an equal plea of divorce as well as for that corporal deficiency; he that can but lend us the clue that winds out this labyrinth of servitude to such a reasonable and expedient liberty as this—deserves to be reckoned among the public benefactors of civil and human life, above the inventors of wine and oil." [Footnote: This passage is from the first edition; it is not nearly so full in the second.] As such a benefactor, such a champion of a neglected truth and a suppressed human liberty, the anonymous writer offers himself. He knows that he stands alone at present, but he trusts to the power of demonstration addressed to the mind of England, then newly awakened and examining all institutions to their roots.
There is not a word of avowed reference to his own case throughout; and yet from first to last we are aware of young Mary Powell in the background. Inability for "fit and matchable conversation": this is that supreme fault in a wife on which the descant is from first to last, and from which, when it is plainly ingrained and unamendable, the right of divorce is maintained to be, by the law of God and all civil reason, the due deliverance. Hopeless intellectual and spiritual incompatibility between husband and wife: it is on this, though not in these exact words, that Milton harps again and again as in his view the clearest invalidation of marriage, the frustration of the noblest and most divine ends of the institution; an essentially worse frustration, he dares to say in one place, than even that conjugal infidelity which "a gross and boorish opinion, how common soever," would alone resent or recognise. It is marvellous with what richness of varying language he paints to the reader the horrible condition of a man tied for life to a woman with whom he can hold no rational or worthy conversation. "A familiar and co- inhabiting mischief"; "spite of antipathy to fudge together and combine as they may, to their unspeakable weariness and despair of all sociable delight"; "a luckless and helpless matrimony"; "the unfitness and effectiveness of an unconjugal mind"; "a worse condition than the loneliest single life"; "unconversing inability of mind"; "a mute and spiritless mate"; "that melancholy despair which we see in many wedded persons"; "a polluting sadness and perpetual distemper"; "ill-twisted wedlock"; "the disturbance of her unhelpful and unfit society"; "one that must be hated with a most operative hatred"; "forsaken and yet continually dwelt with and accompanied"; "a powerful reluctance and recoil of nature on either side, blasting all the content of their mutual society"; "a violence to the reverend secret of nature"; "to force a mixture of minds that cannot unite"; "two incoherent and uncombining dispositions"; "the undoing or the disheartening of his life"; "the superstitious and impossible performance of an ill-driven bargain"; "bound fast to an uncomplying discord of nature, or, as it oft happens, to an image of earth and phlegm"; "shut up together, the one with a mischosen mate, the other in a mistaken calling"; "committing two ensnared souls inevitably to kindle one another, not with the fire of love, but with a hatred irreconcilable, who, were they severed, would be straight friends in any other relation"; "two carcases chained unnaturally together, or, as it may happen, a living soul bound to a dead corpse"; "enough to abase the mettle of a generous spirit and sink him to a low and vulgar pitch of endeavour in all his actions": such are a few specimens of the phrases with which the tract abounds. [Footnote: Some of the phrases quoted occur in passages added in the second edition; but it is not worth while to distinguish those. Most of the phrases, and those of the same, occur in the third edition.] But one passage may be quoted entire:—
"But some are ready to object that the disposition ought seriously to be considered before. But let them know again that, for all the wariness can be used, it may yet befall a discreet man to be mistaken in his choice, and we have plenty of examples. The soberest and best-governed men are least practised in these affairs; and who knows not that the bashful muteness of a virgin may oft-times hide all the unliveliness and natural sloth which is really unfit for conversation? Nor is there that freedom of access granted or presumed as may suffice to a perfect discerning till too late; and, where any indisposition is suspected, what more usual than the persuasion of friends that acquaintance, as it increases, will amend all? And, lastly, it is not strange though many who have spent their youth chastely are in some things not so quick-sighted while they haste too eagerly to light the nuptial torch: nor is it therefore that for a modest error a man should forfeit so great a happiness, and no charitable means to release him; since they who have lived most loosely, by reason of their bold accustoming, prove most successful in their matches, because their wild affections, unsettling at will, have been as so many divorces to teach them experience; whenas the sober man, honouring the appearance of modesty, and hoping well of every social virtue under that veil, may easily chance to meet ... often with a mind to all other due conversation inaccessible, and to all the more estimable and superior purposes of matrimony useless and almost lifeless; and what a solace, what a fit help, such a consort would be through the whole life of a man is less pain to conjecture than to have experience."
Oh! and is it come to this? Then, as now, nothing so common as that such mischances of marriage, heard of by the world, and the rather if published by the sufferers or one of them, should be received only as excellent amusement for people round about. It is as if the one thing intrinsically and unceasingly comic in the world, for most people, were the fact that it consists of man and woman, as if the institution on which human society is built and by which the succession of earth's generations is maintained, were the one only subject, with most people, for nothing else than laughter. Even now perhaps our disposition to jocosity on this subject, not sufficiently entertained by incidents of our own day, will range back to that case of Milton and Mary Powell two hundred and twenty-eight years ago, and join in the gossip which it then began to circulate through the town. In the lobby of the House of Commons it must have been heard of: it may have given a relish to the street-talk of reverend Presbyterian gentlemen talking home together from the Assembly "Only a month or two married; his wife gone home again; and now, instead of proper reticence about what can't he helped, all this hullaballoo of a new doctrine about Divorce! Just like him!" This and such-like is what we seem to overhear; this and such-like is what Milton did overhear; not much more than this and such-like are most of us prepared to say even now when we read the story. And yet the story is surely worth more. One fails to see, after all, that it yields only matter for jest and the repetition of commonplaces. What are the facts? Two human beings, long dead and gone, but then alive and with the, expectation of many years of life before them, had hardly been banded together in church when they found, or thought they found, that their union was for their mutual misery. The one was a poor country-girl in her teens, ruing the fate to which she had committed herself, but with no weapons for her relief but her tears, her terror, and the mitigation of refuge in her father's house. Her case is to be pitied; shame if it is not! The other was a man extraordinary—so extraordinary that even now we try to follow him in fancy in his walks through the London streets, and any bit of old wall his arm may have touched is a sacred antiquity, and we regard the series of thoughts that was in his mind through any month, or series of months, as something of prime interest in the spirit of the past, a prize that we would give gold to recover. Well, here was one series of thoughts that was in this man's mind for months and months, and that left effects, indeed, to his life's end. He was moody in his house; he walked moodily in the streets; we can hear him muttering to himself, we can see his teeth clenched. Morning and evening, day after day, he is in a great despair. And why? Because he has made the most fatal mistake a man can make, and is gazing on, morning and evening, day after day, into the consequences. Lo! into that life which he had hoped to make worthy of the God who gave it, a pattern life, a great poem within hose azure fitness other poems should arise to spin their gleaming courses—into this life what had he imported? Not the solace and bliss of a kindred soul's society, which had been his intent and dream; but a darkness, a disturbance, a marring melancholy, a daily and hourly debasement, a coinhabiting mischief! It was enough, he says, to drive a man "at last, through murmuring and despair, to thoughts of Atheism." But was there no remedy? Ah! in the very power of putting this question lay the advantage of the strong man over the weak Oxfordshire girl. He could reason, he could delve into the subject, he could revolve it intellectually. What if the plight in which he found himself were no necessary and irremediable evil? What if the permanence of marriage once contracted between two persons utterly unsuitable for each other were no decree of God, no real requirement of religion or of social well-being, but a mere superstitious and fallacious tradition, a stupid and pernicious convention among men? Once on this track, there was light for Milton. Out of his own private mishap there came the suggestion of a great enterprise. He would thunder, if not the mishap itself, at least its public significance, out upon the world. He would rouse his countrymen on the whole subject of the Law of Marriage. Who knew but his voice might be heard? Who knew but that, were it loud enough, there would be a response of assent from the whole land, and his new idea of Divorce, albeit the proclamation of only one man, might be carried, with other things, in the current Reformation? There ran a touch of this sanguine temper, this faith that any ideal might easily be made actual, through all Milton's life; and it appeared now most conspicuously. His idea, he was aware, was new; but only let his demonstration be sufficiently thorough, only let him succeed in disturbing the existing apathy and setting the thoughts of the nation astir on the subject, "and then," what?—"then I doubt not but with one gentle stroking to wipe away ten thousand tears out of the life of men." [Footnote: This phrase is in one of the inserted passages in the second edition.] Alas! after the hurricane of two hundred years the tear-drops still hang, multitudinous as ever, amid the leaves of that poor forest!
"Just like him" I have imagined to have been a comment on this new appearance of Milton by some gossip of the day who may have known a little of him personally. Really, though not as intended, the comment would have been just. This whole action of Milton, consequent on his unhappy marriage, was deeply characteristic. And yet there was perhaps no one then living from whom such a course of action could less have been expected. From all that we know of the youth and early manhood of Milton, we should certainly have predicted of him, with whatever heterodoxy in other matters, yet a life-long orthodoxy on the subject of marriage. Think of him as we have seen him heretofore, the glorious youth, cherishing every high ethical idealism, walking as in an ether of moral violet, disdaining customary vice, building up his character consciously on the principle that he who would be strong or great had best be immaculate. Think of him as the author of Comus; or think of him as he had described himself some years later in one of his Italian Sonnets:—
"Young, gentle-natured, and a simple wooer, Since from myself I stand in doubt to fly, Lady, to thee my heart's poor gift would I Offer devoutly: and, by tokens sure, I know it faithful, fearless, constant, pure, In its conceptions graceful, good, and high. When the world roars, and flames the startled sky, In its own adamant it rests secure, As free from chance and malice ever found, And fears and hopes that vulgar minds confuse, As it is loyal to each manly thing And to the sounding lyre and to the Muse. Only in that part is it not so sound Where Love hath set in it his cureless sting."
When he wrote thus, to what did he look forward, and to what might others have looked forward for him? A career, it was probable, of speculative dissent from his contemporaries in many things, and of undaunted courage in the vindication of such dissent, but hardly of dissent from the established moralities of the marriage-institution. Had he been happily married, had he found himself united at last to one such as his dreams had figured, who so likely to have persevered fondly in the traditional doctrine of marriage, to have maintained the mystic sanctity and the necessary permanence of the marriage-bond, and to have launched denunciations against all who dared to tamper with this article of the established ethics? But, as it had chanced otherwise, it was not the less characteristic that he himself had been the audacious questioner, the champion of a heresy. Driven by his own experience to investigate, his speculative boldness had brought him at once to a conclusion the novelty of which would have made others hesitate, but had no terrors for him. For (and here was his difference from most men, here was what may be called a Miltonic peculiarity) he would take no benefit from such private dispensation as a man might pass for his own relief in such a case, his neighbours winking at it so long as he did not disturb the forum. He would disturb the forum! What "Milton" did should be done openly, should be avowed, should be lawful! Others, circumstanced as he now was, might, if they liked—and there were examples all round, and especially in that Bohemian world of wits and men of letters with which he might be classed, though he abjured the brotherhood—others might, if they liked, adopt a policy of silence and acquiescence, hypocritically bowing to their fate, but taking out their protest in secret consolations! No such policy for him! The word "illicit" and his name should never be brought into conjunction! Whatever he did should be according to a rule of right, clear to his own conscience, and held aloft in his hand under the whole roof of Heaven! And, if such a rule, ratified between himself and Heaven, should chance to conflict with one of the moralities of the existing code of men, there was but one course for him. He would assail the so-called "morality"; he would blast it out of the beliefs of men; he would perform for his fellows the service of their liberation, along with himself, from a useless and irrational thraldom! Or, if that work should prove too hard and toilsome, at least he should have published his own rule in opposition to the general superstition, and should walk on, as he had resolved always to walk, unabashed in the daylight.
It was in August 1643, as we have seen, that Milton put forth anonymously his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. From that time, on through the rest of the autumn of 1643 and the winter of 1643-4, we are to fancy him in his house in Aldersgate Street, with his father and his pupils for his companions, and his thoughts much occupied, like those of other Englishmen, with the course of public events. On the whole, the Parliament had no greater admirer than Milton; and there were particular men in the Parliament that were after his own heart. From the Westminster Assembly, too, he seems to have expected good. So far as he had formed views as to the desirable form of Church-government for England, these views, as we have seen (Vol. II. pp. 376-382), might be described as an expectant Presbyterianism, not positively fixed and determined at all points, but kept conveniently fluid. Accordingly, his sympathies, at first, may well have been with the Presbyterians of the Assembly; among whom he could reckon, at any rate, his old tutor Young, and his other friends and fellow-labourers in the Smectymnuan controversy. Or, if some things among the tenets of the small Independent minority had begun to gain upon him, he seems still, through the winter of 1643-4, to have looked forward to some compromise that should be acceptable to England and yet tend to that conformity between the two kingdoms which the Scots desired, and to the furtherance of which they had pledged England by Henderson's international League and Covenant. At all events, Milton did, some time after September 1643, subscribe to this League and Covenant with the rest of his Parliamentarian countrymen. There are words of his own which vouch the fact. [Footnote: In the dedication to Parliament of his Tetrachordon, published March 1644-5, he uses these words, "That which I saw and was partaker of, your vows and solemn covenants."]
A moody time though the autumn of 1643 and the winter of 1643-4 must have been for Milton, there was some relaxation for him in society more general than that of his wife-deserted household. "Our author," says Phillips, "now as it were a single man again, made it his chief diversion now and then in an evening to visit the Lady Margaret Ley, daughter to the—Ley, Earl of Marlborough, Lord High Treasurer of England, and President of the Privy Council to King James the First. This lady, being a woman of great wit and ingenuity, had a particular honour for him, and took much delight in his company; as likewise her husband, Captain Hobson, a very accomplished gentleman." Phillips seems to be sufficiently accurate in this account, but a few details may be added:—
A man still well-remembered in England, though he had been dead fifteen years, was James Ley, first Earl of Marlborough, he had attained to that dignity only in his old age, having advanced to it through a long previous career. Born about 1552, the younger son of a Wiltshire squire, he had passed from Oxford to the study of law at Lincoln's Inn, and had attained to high eminence in his profession before the death of Elizabeth. Emerging from her reign, aged about fifty, he had been appointed by James to an Irish Chief Judgeship (1604); then brought back to England, knighted (1609), baroneted (1620), and made Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench (1621); and finally raised by the same King to the great office of Lord High Treasurer of England, and to a peerage with the title of Baron Ley of Ley in Devonshire (1624). In recognition of his long services, Charles, in the first year of his reign (Feb. 5, 1626-7), had created for him, when he was almost seventy-four years of age, the Earldom of Marlborough in his native Wiltshire. While thus promoting him, however, Charles appears not to have found him a minister such as he and Buckingham wanted. He had accordingly removed him from the High Treasurership in 1628, on the ground of his old age, but in reality to make way for the more compliant Lord Weston, and had shelved him into the less important office of Lord President of the Council. He had died at Lincoln's Inn, March 14, 1628-9, exactly four days after that ominous dissolution of Charles's third Parliament which announced his determination to have done with Parliaments and begin the reign of "Thorough." The death of the old peer at such a juncture had apparently the less been forgotten by reason of a tradition that the political anxieties of the juncture had had something to do with it. Now, at all events, in the days of the Long Parliament and the Civil War, there was still some respectful recollection of the old Earl of Marlborough as one of the best-liked ministers of James's reign and of the first years of Charles's. "He was a person of great gravity, ability, and integrity; and, as the Caspian Sea is observed neither to ebb nor flow, so his mind did not rise or fall, but continued the same constancy in all conditions." The words are Fuller's, and they probably express the character of the Earl that had come down among his countrymen. [Footnote: Dugdale's Baronage (1676), Vol. II. pp. 451, 452; Wood's Athenae, II. 441, 443; Clar. Hist. (one vol. ed. 1843), p. 20; Fuller's Worthies, Wiltshire (ed. 1840), III. 328-9.]
The Earl had been three times married; but he had left a family only by his first wife—Mary, daughter of John Petty, of Stoke-Talmage, co. Oxon., Esq. Eleven children had been the issue of this marriage:—to wit (according to Dugdale), "three sons—Henry, James, and William; and eight daughters—Elizabeth, married to Morice Carant, of Looner, in com. Somers., Esq.; Anne, to Sir Walter Long, of Draycot-Cerne, in com. Wilts., Knight; Mary, to Richard Erisy, of Erisy, in com. Cornw., Esq.; Dionysia, to John Harington, of Kelneyton, in com. Somers., Esq.; Margaret, to ... Hobson, of ... in the Isle of Wight, Esq.; Hesther, to Arthur Fuller, of Bradfield, in com. Hertf., Esq.; Martha, died unmarried; and Phoebe, to ... Biggs, of Hurst, in com. Berks., Esq." [Footnote: Dugdale, vt. supra.] All these children, it would appear, had been born, and most of them married and settled in life, before their father's promotion to the peerage, and while he was yet only James Ley, or Sir James Ley, the eminent lawyer. Indeed, his promotion to the Earldom in his old age had been, in part, a compliment to his third wife- -Jane, daughter of Lord Butler of Bramfield, whose mother was a sister of the Duke of Buckingham; and it had been specially provided, in the patent of the Earldom, that it should descend, by preference, to his heirs by that lady. That lady having failed, however, to produce heirs, the benefits of the Earldom had reverted to the Earl's family by his first wife, Mary Petty. His eldest son by that wife, Henry Ley, had, accordingly, succeeded him in the title. But this Henry, second Earl of Marlborough, had died in 1638; and the actual Earl at the time with which we are now concerned (1643) was his son, James, a youth of only some three-and-twenty years, but already serving as a general officer of artillery in the army of the King. He seems, indeed, to have been one of the finest young fellows on that side; and he had a career before him which was to entitle him, at his death in 1665, to this notice in a summary of his character by Clarendon: "He was a man of wonderful parts in all kinds of learning, which he took more delight in than his title." [Footnote: Clar. Life, ed. 184 p. 1141.] For the present, however, it is with the good ladies his aunts, the surviving daughters of the first Earl, that we have to do; or rather only with the fifth of them—the Lady Margaret Ley, the friend of Milton. The husbands of at least two of her sisters (Long of Wilts., and Erisy of Cornwall) being among the Parliamentarians of the Long Parliament, it can hardly be doubted that this lady's husband—Dugdale's "... Hobson of ... in the Isle of Wight, Esq.," and Phillips's "Captain Hobson, a very accomplished gentleman"— was also a Parliamentarian, though of less wealth and note, and not in Parliament. Otherwise, Lady Margaret's house in London could hardly have been one of Milton's evening resorts. What kind of "Captaincy" her husband held, compatible with his being domiciled in London in 1643-4, it might be difficult now to ascertain. Suffice it that he was so domiciled, and that his wife could receive guests not merely as Mrs. Hobson, "a woman of great wit and ingenuity," but as Lady Margaret Ley, the daughter of a well-remembered Earl.
It is not from Phillips alone that we hear of Milton's friendship with the Lady Margaret. Milton has himself commemorated it in one of his Sonnets:—
"TO THE LADY MARGARET LEY.
Daughter to that good Earl, once President Of England's Council and her Treasury, Who lived in both unstained by gold or fee, And left them both, more in himself content, Till the sad breaking of that Parliament Broke him, as that dishonest victory At Chaeronea, fatal to liberty, Killed with report that old man eloquent: Though later born than to have known the days Wherein your father flourished, yet by you, Madam, methinks I see him living yet; So well your words his noble virtues praise That all both judge you to relate them true And to possess them, honoured Margaret."
The "old man eloquent" is Isocrates, the Athenian orator, whose patriotism made him refuse to survive the defeat of the Athenians and Thebans by Philip of Macedon at Chaeroncia, This comparison of the lady's father to the famous Greek is perhaps the most poetical turn in the Sonnet. For the rest, it tells us something about the lady herself. She must have been somewhat, if not considerably, older than Milton; for, though Milton had been twenty years old at the time of the good Earl's death, and might therefore well remember his Treasurership and Presidency of the Council, he speaks of knowing the days wherein the old peer had flourished chiefly through the Lady Margaret's talk about him and them. Her conversation, it would therefore seem, ran much upon her father and his private and political virtues; and Milton listened respectfully, seeing much in the lady herself of what she praised in her sire. Perhaps Milton would talk to her freely in return of his own concerns. The Lady Margaret Ley, and her husband, Captain Hobson, were probably in his confidence on the subject of his marriage misfortune. The Sonnet was unquestionably written in 1643 or 1644. [Footnote: It was printed in the first or 1645 edition of Milton's Poems, and it is placed last in the series of Sonnets there contained. The draft of it in the Cambridge Book of Milton's MSS. is in Milton's own hand—the title "To the Lady Margaret Ley" being likewise his hand.]
A younger and unmarried lady must then also have been among Milton's acquaintances. How else can we account for this other Sonnet?
"Lady, that in the prime of earliest youth Wisely hast shunned the broad way and the green, And with those few art eminently seen That labour up the hill of heavenly truth, The better part, with Mary and with Ruth, Chosen thou hast; and they that overween, And at thy glowing virtues fret their spleen, No anger find in thee, but pity and ruth. Thy care is fixed, and zealously attends To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light, And hope that reaps not shame. Therefore be sure Thou, when the Bridegroom with his feastful friends Passes to bliss at the mid hour of night, Hast gained thy entrance, Virgin wise and pure."
This Sonnet, to which the heading "To a Virtuous Young Lady" is now prefixed in the editions of Milton, had no such heading prefixed in his own copy. [Footnote: In the Cambridge MSS. there is a draft in Milton's own hand immediately before the draft of the Sonnet to Lady Margaret Ley. In the edition of 1645 the Sonnet was printed in the same order and without a heading. In the MS. draft there are several erasures and corrections. Thus Milton had originally written "blooming virtue" in as if with reference to the personal appearance of the young lady; but in the margin he substitutes the present reading, "growing virtues."] Who the young lady was that so won upon Milton at this critical time, and seemed to him so superior to the more commonplace of her sex, we are left uninformed. There is a conjecture on the subject, which may afterwards appear. It is clear, meanwhile, that the poor absent Mary Powell may have suffered not only from her own defects, but also from the opportunity of some such contrast.
The Divorce subject continued to occupy Milton. His tract had been rapidly bought, and had caused a sensation. Through the cold winter of 1643-4, while the Parliament and the Assembly were busy, and the auxiliary Scottish army was expected, a good many people had leisure to read the strange production, or at least to look into it, and be properly shocked. It seems to have been about this time, for example, that James Howell, the letter-writer, came, upon a copy. Or rather the copy must have come upon him; for the poor man, now past fifty years of age, and ousted from his clerkship to the Privy Council, was in the Fleet Prison for debt, and dependent for his subsistence there on translations, dedications and poems to friends, and all sorts of literary odds and ends. [Footnote: Wood's Ath. III. 745, and Cunningham's London Article Fleet Prison.] In one of his rambling pieces, afterwards published in the form of Letters, mostly without dates, and addressed to friends from feigned places, he thus gives what I take to be his impression of Milton's tract when it first reached him in the Fleet: "But that opinion of a poor shallow-brained puppy, who, upon any cause of dissatisfaction, would have men to have a privilege to change their wives, or to repudiate them, deserves to be hissed at rather than confuted; for nothing can tend more to usher in all confusion and beggary throughout the world: therefore that wiseacre deserves," &c. [Footnote: Howell's Familiar Letters Book IV, Letter 7, addressed "To Sir Edward Spencer, knight," (pp 453-457 of edit. 1754.) The letter is dated "Lond. 24 Jan.," no year given; but the dates are worthless, being afterthoughts, when the Letters were published in successive batches.] As Mr. Howell's own notions about marriage and its moralities were of the lightest and easiest, his severe virtuousness here is peculiarly representative. More interesting on its own account is the opinion of another contemporary—no other than Milton's late antagonist Bishop Hall. In Hall's Cases of Conscience (not published till 1649) he thus describes the impression which Milton's Divorce pamphlet had made upon him when he first read it in its anonymous form: "I have heard too much of, and once saw, a licentious pamphlet, thrown abroad in these lawless times in the defence and encouragement of Divorces (not to be sued out; that solemnity needed not; but) to be arbitrarily given by the disliking husband to the displeasing and unquiet wife, upon this ground principally, That marriage was instituted for the help and comfort of man: where, therefore, the match proves such as that the wife doth but pull down aside, and, by her innate peevishness and either sullen or pettish and froward disposition, bring rather discontent to her husband, the end of marriage being hereby frustrate, why should it not, saith he, be in the husband's power, after some unprevailing means of reclamation attempted, to procure his own peace by casting off this clog, and to provide for his own peace and contentment in a fitter match? Woe is me! to what a pass is the world conic that a Christian, pretending to Information, should dare to tender so loose a project to the public! I must seriously profess that, when I first did cast my eyes upon the front of the book, I supposed some great wit meant to try his skill in the maintenance of this so wild and improbable a paradox; but, ere I could run over some of those too well-penned pages, I found the author was in earnest, and meant seriously to contribute this piece of good counsel, in way of reformation, to the wise and seasonable care of superiors. I cannot but blush for our age wherein so bold a motion hath been, amongst others, admitted to the light. What will all the Christian Churches through the world, to whose notice these lines shall come, think of our woeful degeneration, &c."? [Footnote: Hall's Works (edit. 1837), VII. 467.] Hall, it will be seen, had noted the literary ability of the pamphlet, while amazed by its doctrine.
Neither Howell's nor Bishop Hall's opinion can have reached the author of the pamphlet till long after the date now in view. But other opinions to the same effect had been reaching him. Especially, it seems, the pamphlet had caused a fluttering among the London clergy. The consequence had best be told by himself. "God, it seems, intended to prove me, whether I durst alone take up a rightful cause against a world of disesteem, and found I durst. My name I did not publish, as not willing it should sway the reader either for me or against me. But, when I was told that the style (which what it ails to be so soon distinguishable I cannot tell) was known by most men, and that some of the clergy began to inveigh and exclaim on what I was credibly informed they had not read, I look it then for my proper season both to show a name that could easily contemn such an indiscreet kind of censure, and to reinforce the question with a more accurate diligence, that, if any of them would be so good as to leave railing, and to let us hear so much of his learning and Christian wisdom as will be strictly demanded of him in his answering to this problem, care was had he should not spend his preparations against a nameless pamphlet." [Footnote: This passage, fitting in here with chronological exactness, occurs in Milton's Judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce, published in July 1644.] In other words, he resolved to abandon the anonymous. His pamphlet, easily traced to him from the first by its Miltonic style, had been sold out, or nearly so; people generally, but clergymen especially, were saying harsh things about it, and about him as its author; but some of these critics, he authentically knew, had never read the pamphlet, and others were making a point of the fact that it had appeared without its author's name. Well, there should be an end of that! He would put forth a second edition of the pamphlet, and avow the authorship! And this he would do rather because, since the publication of the first edition, he had been looking farther into the literature of the question, and could now fortify his own reasoned opinion with authorities he had been but dimly aware of, or had altogether overlooked.
Accordingly, on the 2nd of February, 1643-4, there did come forth a second edition of Milton's first Divorce Tract, with this new title: "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Restor'd to the good of both Sexes, from the bondage of Canon Law, and other mistakes, to the true meaning of Scripture in the Law and Gospel compar'd. Wherein are set down the bad consequences of abolishing or condemning of Sin, that which the Law of God allowes, and Christ abolisht not. Now the second time revis'd and much augmented. In Two Books: to the Parliament of England with the Assembly. The Author J.M." Underneath this title, the text Matth xiii. 52 is repeated from the title-page of the first edition; with this new text added, Prov. xviii. 13: "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." Then follows the imprint, "London, Imprinted in the yeare 1644." In the copy in the British Museum which is my authority, the collector Thomason has put his pen through the final figure 4, and has annexed, in ink, the date "Feb. 2, 1643." [Footnote: Brit, Mus. Press-mark, 12. E.e. 5/141.] This fixes the exact date of publication as above, Feb. 2, 1643-4.
This second edition is a great enlargement and improvement of the first. The 48 small quarto pages of the first swell into 88 pages; the text is divided into Two Books, each of which is subdivided into Chapters, with carefully-worded headings; and, on the whole, the treatise is made more inviting in appearance. The bold Introductory Letter, addressed "To the Parliament of England, with the Assembly," consists of six pages, and is signed not with the mere initials "J.M." which appear on the title-page, but fully "John Milton." The additions in the text consist sometimes of a few words inserted, sometimes of expansions of mere passages of the first edition into two or three pages: in the Second Book they attain to still larger dimensions, so that much of that Book is totally new matter. Thus Chapters I., II., and III., of this Book, forming ten pages, come in lieu of a single paragraph of two pages in the first edition; Chapters IV., V., VI., and VII., forming together six pages, are substituted for about a single page of the first edition; and Chapter XXI., consisting of nearly five pages, is an expansion of about a page and a half in the first edition. The additions and expansions appear to have been made on various principles. Sometimes one can see that a passage has been added for the mere poetic enrichment of the text, and to prove that the hand that was writing was not that of a musty polemic, but of an artist, at home in splendours. There is a striking instance in point in Chap. VI. of Book I., where there is interpolated a gratuitously gorgeous myth or fable, which may be entitled Eros and Anteros, or Love and Its Reciprocation. The passage is characteristic and may be quoted:—
Marriage is a covenant the very being whereof consists, not in a forced cohabitation, and counterfeit performance of duties, but in unfeigned love and peace. And of matrimonial love no doubt but that was chiefly meant which by the ancient sages was thus parabled: That Love, if he be not twin-born, yet hath a brother wondrous like him, called Anteros; whom while he seeks all about, his chance is to meet with many false and feigning desires that wander singly up and down in his likeness. By them in their borrowed garb Love, though not wholly blind as poets wrong him, yet having but one eye, as being born an archer aiming, and that eye not the quickest in this dark region here below, which is not Love's proper sphere, partly out of the simplicity and credulity which is native to him, often deceived, embraces and consorts him with these obvious and suborned striplings, as if they were his Mother's own sons, for so he thinks them while they subtly keep themselves most on his blind side. But, after a while, as his manner is, when, soaring up into the high tower of his Apogaeum, above the shadows of the Earth, he darts out the direct rays of his then most piercing eyesight upon the impostures and trim disguises that were used with him, and discerns that this is not his genuine brother, as he imagined, he has no longer the power to hold fellowship with such a personated mate. For straight his arrows loose their golden heads and shed their purple feathers; his silken braids untwine and slip their knots; and that original and fiery virtue given him by Fate all on a sudden goes out and leaves him undeified and despoiled of all his force; till, finding Anteros at last, he kindles and repairs the almost faded ammunition of his Deity by the reflection of a coequal and homogeneal fire. Thus mine author sung it to me; and, by the leave of those who would be counted the only grave ones, this is no mere amatorious novel (though to be wise and skilful in these matters men heretofore of greatest name in virtue have esteemed it one of the highest arcs that human contemplation circling upwards can make from the glassy sea whereon she stands); but this is a serious and deep verity, showing us that Love in Marriage cannot live nor subsist unless it be mutual.
Unless more is meant than meets the eye by Anteros here in Milton's own case, this interpolation [Footnote: The manner of the interpolation is so curious that it deserves a note. Milton, perceiving that such a poetic Fable might be objected to as fitter for a "mere amatorious novel" than for a controversial treatise, insinuates an apology for its introduction. The apology is that some of the wisest and greatest men had allowed the use on occasion of those "highest arcs that human contemplation, circling upwards, can make from the glassy sea whereon she stands." In this phrase Milton furnished his critics with a weapon which they might have used against himself. Even now the most general objection to his prose writings would be that they contain too many of those gratuitous grandeurs, those upward arcs and circlings from the glassy sea. But, in fact, he had his own theory of prose-writing as of other things, and it was not Addison's, nor any other that has been common since.] was for literary effect only. Very frequently, however, the additions are of new reasonings, or farther interpretations of Scripture. Above all, we have in the second edition the results of Milton's ranging in the literature of the question since he had published the first. In that first edition he had been able to make some reference to Hugo Grotius, having fortunately at the last moment come upon some notes of Grotius on Matth. v. which he thought reasonable. But since then he had lighted on a more thorough-going authority on his side in one of the German theologians of the Reformation period—Paul Fagius (1504- 1550). "I had learnt," he says, "that Paulus Fagius, one of the chief divines in Germany, sent for by Frederic the Palatine to reform his dominion, and after that invited hither in King Edward's days to be Professor of Divinity in Cambridge, was of the same opinion touching Divorce which these men so lavishly traduced in me. What I found I inserted where fittest place was, thinking sure they would respect so grave an author, at least to the moderating of their odious inferences." [Footnote: This explanation, referring to the second edition of the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, does not occur in that treatise itself, but in the Judgment of Martin Bucer, published some months afterwards.] Accordingly, in the second edition, considerable use is made of Fagius, as well as of Grotius, while, as before, other theologians of historical note—Calvin, Beza, Pareus (1548- 1622), Perkins (1558-1602), Rivetus (1572-1651)—are respectfully cited, sometimes as furnishing a favourable hint, but sometimes as requiring reply and correction. Not the least interesting perhaps of the added passages is this in the last chapter: "That all this is true [i.e. that Divorce is not to be restricted by Law] whoso desires to know at large with least pains, and expects not here overlong rehearsals of that which is by others already judiciously gathered, let him hasten to be acquainted with that noble volume written by our learned Selden, 'Of the Law of Nature and of Nations;' a work more useful and more worthy to be perused, whosoever studies to be a great man in wisdom, equity and justice, than all those Decretals and sumless Sums which the Pontifical clerks have doted on." The particular work of Selden's here referred to is his folio, De Jure Naturali et Gentium juxta Disciplinam Hebraeorum, published in 1640. His work more expressly on Divorce, entitled Uxor Hebraica, sive De Nuptiis ac Divortiis, did not appear till 1646—i.e. it followed Milton's publications on the subject, and in the main backed the opinion they had propounded. It seems to me not improbable that in 1643-4, when Milton paid Selden the compliment we have quoted, he had just made Selden's personal acquaintance. Selden was then in his sixtieth year; Milton in his thirty- sixth.
After the description given of the second edition of the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce and its differences from the first, it seems necessary to quote only some passages from Milton's opening address in it to the Parliament and the Westminster Assembly:—
... 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: who, with the numerous and vulgar train of their followers, make it their chief design to envy and cry down the industry of free reasoning, under the terms of "humour" and "innovation"; as if the womb of teeming Truth were to be closed up if she presume to bring forth aught that sorts not with their unchewed notions and suppositions. Against which notorious injury and abuse of man's free soul to testify, and oppose the utmost that study and true labour can attain, heretofore the incitement of men reputed grave hath led me among others; and now the duty and the right of an instructed Christian calls me through the chance of good or evil report to be the sole advocate of a discountenanced truth: a high enterprise, Lords and Commons, a high enterprise and a hard, and such as every seventh son of a seventh son does not venture on.... You it concerns chiefly, worthies in Parliament, on whom, as on our deliverers, all our grievances and cares, by the merit of your eminence and fortitude, are devolved: me it concerns next, having with much labour and diligence first found out, or at least with a fearless and communicative candour first published to the manifest good of Christendom, that which, calling to witness everything mortal and immortal, I believe unfeignedly to be true.... Mark then, Judges and Lawgivers, and ye whose office it is to be our teachers, for I will now utter a doctrine, if ever any other, though neglected or not understood, yet of great and powerful importance to the governing of mankind. He who wisely would restrain the reasonable soul of man within due bounds must first himself know perfectly how far the territory and dominion extends of just and honest liberty. As little must he offer to bind that which God hath loosened as to loosen that which He hath bound. The ignorance and mistake of this high point hath heaped up one huge half of all the misery that hath been since Adam. In the Gospel we shall read a supercilious crew of Masters, whose holiness, or rather whose evil eye, grieving that God should be so facile to man, was to set straiter limits to obedience than God had set, to enslave the dignity of Man, to put a garrison upon his neck of empty and over-dignified precepts: and we shall read our Saviour never more grieved and troubled than to meet with such a peevish madness among men against their own freedom. How can we expect him to be less offended with us, when much of the same folly shall be found yet remaining where it least ought, to the perishing of thousands? The greatest burden in the world is Superstition, not only of ceremonies in the Church, but of imaginary and scarecrow sins at home. What greater weakening, what more subtle stratagem against our Christian warfare, when, besides the gross body of real transgressions to encounter, we shall be terrified by a vain and shadowy menacing of faults that are not! When things indifferent shall be set to overfront us, under the banners of Sin, what wonder if we be routed, and, by this art of our Adversary, fall into the subjection of worst and deadliest offences! The superstition of the Papist is "Touch not, taste not!" when God bids both; and ours is "Part not, separate not!" when God and Charity both permits and commands. "Let all your things be done with charity," saith St. Paul; and his Master saith "She is the fulfilling of the Law." Yet now a civil, an indifferent, a sometime dissuaded Law of Marriage must be forced upon us to fulfil, not only without Charity, but against her. No place in Heaven or Earth, except Hell, where Charity may not enter; yet Marriage, the ordinance of our solace and contentment, the remedy of our loneliness, will not admit now either of Charity or Mercy to come in and mediate or pacify the fierceness of this gentle ordinance, the unremedied loneliness of this remedy. Advise ye well, Supreme Senate, if charity be thus excluded and expulsed, how ye will defend the untainted honour of your own actions and proceedings. He who marries intends as little to conspire his own ruin as he that swears allegiance; and, as a whole people is in proportion to an ill Government, so is one man to an ill marriage.... Whatever else ye can enact will scarce concern a third part of the British name; but the benefit and good of this your magnanimous example [should they restore liberty of Divorce] will easily spread far beyond the banks of Tweed and the Norman Isles. It would not be the first nor the second time, since our ancient Druids, by whom this Island as the cathedral of philosophy to France, left off their Pagan rites, that England hath had this honour vouchsafed from Heaven—to give out reformation to the world. Who was it but our English Constantine that baptized the Roman Empire? Who but the Northumbrian Willibrod and Winifrid of Devon, with their followers, were the first Apostles of Germany? Who but Alcuin and Wicklif, our countrymen, opened the eyes of Europe, the one in Arts, the other in Religion? Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live....
Milton's idea of the greatness of his enterprise, it will be seen from these passages, had grown and grown the more he had brooded on it. What if in this Doctrine of Divorce he were to be the discoverer or restorer of a new liberty, not for England alone, but actually for all Christendom? Meanwhile what opposition he would have to face, what storms of scurrilous jest and severer calumny! Might it not have been better to have written his treatise in Latin? This thought had occurred to him. "It might perhaps more fitly have been written in another tongue; and I had done so, but that the esteem I have for my country's judgment, and the love I bear to my native language, to seive it first with what I endeavour, made me speak it thus ere I assay the verdict of outlandish readers." Yet there might have been a propriety, he feels, in addressing such an argument in the first place only to the learned.
And what, after all, and in precise practical form, was this tremendous proposition of Milton respecting Divorce? Reduced out of large and cloudy terms, it was simply this,—that marriage, as it respected the continued union of the two married persons, was a thing with which Law had nothing whatever to do; that the two persons who had contracted a marriage were the sole judges of its convenience, and, if they did not suit each other, might part by their own act, and be free again; at all events, that for husbands the Mosaic Law on the subject was still in force: viz. (Deut. xxiv. 1) "When a man hath taken a wife and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her [interpreted as including any moral or intellectual incompatibility, any unfitness whatever], then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house." Milton avoids as much as possible such reductions of his proposition to harsh practical form, and would have disowned such brief popular summaries of his doctrine as Divorce at pleasure, or Divorce at the Husband's pleasure; but, in reality, it came to this. The husband, in modern times, had still, he maintained, the old Mosaic right of giving his wife a "bill of divorcement," if she did not satisfy him, and sending her back to her father's house. The right was a purely personal one. Friends, indeed, might interfere with their good offices; nay it would be fitting, and perhaps necessary, that there should be a solemn formality "in presence of the minister and other grave selected elders," who should admonish the man of the seriousness of the step he was about to take. But, if he persisted in taking it—if "he shall have protested, on the faith of the eternal Gospel and the hope he has of a happy resurrection, that otherwise than thus he cannot do, and thinks himself and this his case not contained in that prohibition of divorce which Christ pronounced (Matth. v. 31-32), the matter not being of malice, but of nature, and so not capable of reconciling"—then the Church had done her part to the full, and the man was to be left to his own liberty. This passage, proposing a kind of public oath on the man's part, as a formality to be required in every case of dissolution of marriage, occurs near the end of the treatise in both editions; and it indicates, I think, Milton's recoil from any rough or free and easy version of his doctrine, and his desire to temper it as much as he could. Essentially, however, the proposal mattered little. The husband was still left sole judge of his wife's fitness or unfitness for him, and whether he should exercise his right of putting her away was a matter finally for his private conscience.