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Now this view of things was altogether strange to Mistress Mary Powell, or rather to Mrs. Milton. The poet's house was so grave and decorous and still, that his bride soon wearied of the restraints and fetters imposed by her husband; she was averse to the philosophic life he led. His solemn organ was not to her taste, nor the grave discussions which she perhaps sometimes heard by his fireside or in his parlour. She, poor creature, would gladly have subscribed a fiddle for the one and a dance for the other Neither her husband nor anybody else imputes to her any unfaithfulness to the virtue upon which woman's virtue must always be founded, but the whole mischief of the matter was, that she had no more met the husband of her spirit than her husband had found the companion of his. She requested his permission to go home to her friends for the remaining part of the summer; he gave her permission to stay until Michaelmas, when they parted on the steps of that fine old gardenhouse in Aldersgate-street. They neither of them thought that they should meet no more, until the misconduct of the wife, and the genius of the husband turning even that misconduct into fuel to feed the flames of that genius, should have produced some works which for
good or ill hang upon the immortality of his name, and during his life and ever since have provoked the praise or blame of theologians and moralists. The lady did not return-would not return ; she continued at her father's house, near Oxford, where at that time the king had his head-quarters, and it is probable that, deceived by the view of things so near, it seemed to the father that the royalist cause was once more likely to be successful, and therefore grieved that he had disgraced his family by uniting with so complete a democrat. Milton, meanwhile, was living in a state of constrained widowhood: but such a man could not be idle, and would not perhaps feel much his solitude. He spent much of his time with Lady Margaret Leigh, the daughter of the Earl of Marlborough, whose sprightly wit, good sense, and flow of happy conversation, contributed to relieve his hours of their monotony and gloom. As all his attempts to induce his wife to return were unsuccessful, he took the firm resolution to repudiate his wife, and never to receive her back again ; and he thought it proper to attempt a justification of this step; and therefore, in 1644, he published, without further ceremony, “The Doctrines and Discipline of Divorce,” which he dedicated to the Parliament, calling upon them to take into consideration the domestic liberty of the subject. He was soon involved in ample discussion ; and to prove himself a firm believer in the doctrines he had published, he was negociating another marriage very seriously with Miss Davis, a young lady of great wit and beauty. But this was prevented by a most unexpected occurrence. His wife had now left him four years; but being one day on a visit at the house of a relation named Blakeborough, in St. Martin's-le-Grand, he was surprised to see his wife come in from an adjoining room. He had never expected to see her again. She threw herself at his feet, confessed her fault, and entreated his forgiveness. At first he appeared to be unmoved and inexorable ; but at length his generous nature yielded. Beauty in distress is powerful ; a promise of oblivion to everything that had passed was given,-a perfect reconciliation took place. It has been suggested that the tender scene of our first mother at the knees of Adam most probably derived its hint from this interesting scene in domestic life.
“She ended weeping; and her lowly plight,
Tow'rds her, his life so late and sole delight,
Like a truly generous soul, Milton did not half forgive. The royal cause was utterly lost, and the Powells were ruined ; and in their ruin of course, Milton was most painfully involved. Powell's house was seized by the parliamentary party; and, in the catalogue of the lords, knights, and gentlemen who had compounded for their estates, (printed in 1655,) he is thus branded as well as fined—“Richard Powell, delinquent, per John Pye, Esq., £576 128. 3d.” And now, Milton generously threw open his doors to those who had treated him so disdainfully; to the father, who had never paid him the £1000 marriage portion, or the £500 borrowed on the mortgage; to the mother, who had encouraged the daughter to forsake her husband ; to a family, in short, the occasion of much of the persecution he then was undergoing, in consequence of his published principles upon “ Divorce.”
Surely this is a magnanimity worthy of a soul too lofty for the mean and petty retaliations of revenge. The date of the death of the first wife is said to have been 1653. Thus our readers have the history of the marriage, whence originated those famous pieces of matrimonial polemics, to which reference has been made. Of these treatises Mr. Fletcher says, “Every page is strewed with felicities, and the mens divinior shines out with a lustre unsurpassed by himself on happier, though not more interesting themes. It will not be interesting to our readers to analyse these discourses to any length; yet all the questions connected with marriage or divorce are discussed with an amount of learning, freedom, and poetry, too, truly astonishing Milton confutes the idea so indoctrinated into the mind from Romish teachers, that Marriage is a sacrament. It must be admitted that he handles passages of Scripture with transcendental freedom, making very frequently his own reason the interpreter between the text and conscience or duty.From the citation we have already given, our readers will perceive that his conception of marriage meets its highest fulfilment in spiritual relationship. “ Certainly it is not the mere motion of carnal lust, not the mere goad of sensitive desire. God does not principally take care of such cattle. It results from the desire