Milton

miltons, reply, hall, pamphlet, husband, bride, five, tract, published and prose

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Meanwhile he had been giving earnest of his literary and scholarly ambitions and of his in terest in public affairs, which were rapidly ap proaching chaos. He to write some poem on a noble scale, whether a tragedy or an epic, and he made a list of nearly a hundred possible subjects, chosen from sacred and early English history. At the head of this were four entries which show that the theme of Paradise Lost,' to be treated in the form of a Greek tragedy, was then uppermost in his mind. There were also two entries dealing with the story of Samson, one of which later bore fruit in Samson Agonistes.) But the times were not propitious to poetical composition, and for nearly 20 years Milton wrote only occasional sonnets and scraps of verse, besides some rather astonishingly doggerel versions of Psalms. In 1645, however, he collected his somewhat scanty tale of English and Latin poems into a volume, which was published by Humphrey Moseley, the Tonson or the Moxon of the day. It seems to have made much less impression on readers than the collection of Waller's poems issued the same year. He also worked upon tasks in keeping with his duties as schoolmaster, such as his of to the Norman Con quest, not published until 1670, and probably, his 'Accidence commenc't (1669) and 'Ards Logicz Plenior Institutio ad P. Remi Methodum concinnata> (1670).

His prose writings practically began in the summer of 1641 with his 'Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England.' At tacks had been made in the Long Parliament upon the episcopal system, and the Bishop of Exeter (later of Norwich) Joseph Hall (q.v.), long since famous as a satirist, had published a defense of his order and a remonstrance to Parliament, which had drawn forth a reply from five Puritan divines under the pen-name °Smectyrnnuus° formed from their initials. The •V' and theey° of this uncouth compound were furnished Isy Milton's former tutor, Thomas Young, who is probably responsible for his pupil throwing himself into the fray. Hall replied to aSmectymnuus° and secured the support of the learned Archbishop Usher (q.v.) and the five Puritans vindicated themielves. Milton's was the sixth pamphlet of the series; and between May 1641 and April 1642 he con tributed four others — (June 1641, a reply to Usher) ; sions upon the Remonstrant's Defense against Smectymnuus> (July 1641, 'a bitter, point by point answer to Hall's reply to °Smectym nuns))) ; 'The Reason of Church-government urged against Prelaty> (about February 1641 42. his most weighty and dignified argument against the episcopal system); and against a Pamphlet called A Modest Confuta tion of Animadversions upon the Remonstrant against Smectymnuus) (March 1641-42, a re ply to the pamphlet, whose title is included in his own title, which was apparently the work of Hall and his son, and was certainly a per sonal attack, the grossness of which largely extenuated the fierceness of Milton's retort).

Of these five anti-prelatical tracts, none of which is of great length, the first and third have most value in themselves, because they have a broad basis in history, philosophy and theology, and thus afford proofs of Milton's learning and of his powers as an idealistic con troversialist. The three others too frequently

give unpleasant evidence that Milton was an almost unrivaled master of personal invective. The chief value of the entire series lies in the fact that they contain much nobly conceived and expressed autobiographical information, as well as some of the most sonorously harmoni ous prose to be found in any literature — for example, the closing paragraphs of the first tract. In general, their cumbrous style, their involved arguments and their antiquated sub ject matter make them difficult reading to all save professed Miltonians; but when their many merits are duly weighed and the stand ards of 17th century controversy are borne in mind, it seems scarcely an exaggeration to say that they combine with Milton s other works in prose and verse to give his fame a broader foundation than is possessed by any other Eng lish writer.

The pamphleteer and poet appears to have determined deliberately that he could do his country more good by writing on subjects of public concern than by entering the army. It was doubtless a wise decision. This can hardly be said of his resolve to marry. In the spring of 1643 he took a mysterious journey into Ox fordshire — possibly to collect a debt owed him by a cavalier named Richard Powell. A few weeks later he returned to London with this gentleman's 17-year-old daughter, Mary, as his bride. Of the wooing and the reasons for the marriage nothing is known. The bride is said to have remained with Milton a month and then, finding her life dull, to have gone back to her father with the promise that she would return to her husband by the end of September. She failed to keep her promise, and Milton sent a messenger for her, who was t...pleasantly treated by her family. Then the irate husband declared he would never receive her and wrote his first tract on divorce. Such is the story given by Edward Phillips. There is an extant copy of the divorce tract, however, which is marked 1 Aug. 1643— and, unless this is a mis take, we are forced to believe that Milton was pleading for liberty to break the chains of matrimony at a time when, according to prece dent, he should have regarded them as strings of roses. Such an idealist might have ex pressed such views without reference to his own experiences and desires, but it is hard to divest one's self of the belief that in this in stance the wish was the father of the theory. It is almost certain that, whether or not there was between the pair a suddenly discovered incompatibility of temperament, each had rut son to regret the alliance, Milton because he had too young and flighty a partner, his wife be cause her Puritan husband, twice as old as herself, was too serious and self-absorbed. In the absence of evidence it is idle to discuss the suggestion that the bride resolved to be one in name only.

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