Page:EB1911 - Volume 18.djvu/509

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485
MILTON

liable to the same charge of contempt of the printing ordinance, in a petition of the Stationers of the House of Commons in August 1644; and the matter came before committee both in that House and in the Lords.

It is to this circumstance that the world owes the most popular and eloquent, if not the greatest, of all Milton's prose writings, his famous Areopagitica, a Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England. It appeared on the 25th of November 1644, deliberately unlicensed and unregistered, and was a remonstrance addressed to the parliament, as if in an oration to them face to face, against their ordinance of June 1643 and the whole system of licensing and censorship of the press. Nobly eulogistic of the parliament in other respects, it denounced their printing ordinance as utterly unworthy of them, and of the new era of English liberties which they were initiating, and called for its repeal. Though that effect did not follow, the pamphlet virtually accomplished its purpose. The licensing system had received its death-blow; and, though the Stationers returned to the charge in another complaint to the House of Lords, Milton's offence against the press ordinance was condoned. He was still assailed in pamphlets, and found himself “in a world of disesteem”; but he lived on through the winter of 1644/5 undisturbed in his house in Aldersgate Street. To this period there belong, in the shape of verse, only his sonnets ix. and x., the first to some anonymous lady, and the second “to the Lady Margaret Ley,” with perhaps the Greek lines entitled Philosophus ad regem quendam. His divorce speculation, however, still occupied him; and in March 1644/5 he published simultaneously his Tetrachordon: Expositions upon the four chief places of Scripture which treat of Marriage, and his Colasterion, a Reply to a nameless Answer against the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. In these he replied to his chief recent assailants, lay and clerical, with merciless severity.

Through the latter part of 1644, Milton had been saved from the penalties which his Presbyterian opponents would have inflicted on him by the general championship of liberty of opinion by Cromwell and the army Independents. Before the middle of 1645 he, with others who were on the black books of the Presbyterians as heretics, was safer still. Milton's position after the battle of Naseby may be easily understood. Though his first tendency on the Church question had been to some form of a Presbyterian constitution for the Church, he had parted utterly now from the Scots and Presbyterians, and become a partisan of Independency, having no dread of “sects and schisms,” but regarding them rather as healthy signs in the English body-politic. He was, indeed, himself one of the most noted sectaries of the time, for in the lists of sects drawn out by contemporary Presbyterian writers special mention is made of one small sect who were known as Miltonists or Divorcers.

So far as Milton was concerned personally, his interest in the divorce speculation came to an end in July or August 1645, when, by friendly interference, a reconciliation was effected between him and his wife. The ruin of the king's cause at Naseby had suggested to the Powells that it might be as well for their daughter to go back to her husband after their two years of separation. It was not, however, in the house in Aldersgate Street that she rejoined him, but in a larger house, which he had taken in the adjacent street called Barbican, for the accommodation of an increasing number of pupils.

The house in Barbican was tenanted by Milton from about August 1645 to September or October 1647. Among his first occupations there must have been the revision of the proof sheets of the first edition of his collected poems. It appeared as a tiny volume, copies of which are now very rare, with the title, Poems of Mr John Milton, both English and Latin, compos'd at several times. Printed by his true Copies. The songs were set in Musick by Mr Henry Lawes. . . . The title-page gives the date 1645, but the and of January 1645/6 seems to have been the exact day of its publication. Whether because his pedagogic duties now engrossed him or for other reasons, very

few new pieces were added in the Barbican to those that the little volume had thus made public. In English, there were only the four sonnets now numbered xi.-xiv., the first two entitled “On the Detraction which followed upon my writing certain Treatises,” the third “To Mr Henry Lawes on his Airs,” and the fourth “To the Religious Memory of Mrs Catherine Thomson,” together with the powerful anti-Presbyterian invective or “tailed sonnet” entitled “On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament”; and in Latin there were only the ode Ad Joannem Rousium, the Apologus de Rustico et Hero, and one interesting “Familiar Epistle” (April 1647) addressed to his Florentine friend Carlo Dati.

Some family incidents of importance belong to this time of residence in Barbican. The fall of Oxford in 1646 compelled the whole of the Powell family to seek refuge in London, and most of them found shelter in Milton's house. His first child, a daughter named Anne, was born there on the 29th of July that year; on the 1st of January 1646/7 his father-in-law Richard Powell died there, leaving his affairs in confusion; and in the following March his own father died there, at the age of eighty-four, and was buried in the adjacent church of St Giles, Cripplegate.

From Barbican Milton removed, in September or October 1647, to a smaller house in that part of High Holborn which adjoins Lincoln's Inn Fields. His Powell relatives had now left him, and he had reduced the number of his pupils, or perhaps kept only his two nephews. But, though thus more at leisure, he did not yet resume his projected poem, but occupied himself rather with three works of scholarly labour which he had already for some time had on hand. One was the compilation in English of a complete history of England, or rather of Great Britain, from the earliest times; another was the preparation in Latin of a complete system of divinity, drawn directly from the Bible; and the third was the collection of materials for a new Latin dictionary. Milton had always a fondness for such labours of scholarship and compilation. Of a poetical kind there is nothing to record, during his residence in High Holborn, but an experiment in psalm-translation, in the shape of Ps. lxxx.-lxxxviii. done into service-metre in April 1648, and the sonnet to Fairfax, written in September of the same year.

The crushing defeat of the Scottish army by Cromwell in the three days' battle of Preston (1648) and the simultaneous suppression of the English Royalist insurrection in the south-east counties by Fairfax's siege and capture of Colchester, left King Charles at the mercy of the victors. Milton's sonnet “On the Lord General Fairfax, at the siege of Colchester,” attested the exultation of the writer at the triumph of the parliamentary cause. His exultation continued through what followed. When the king was beheaded (1649) the first Englishman of mark out of parliament to attach himself openly to the new republic was John Milton. This he did by the publication of his pamphlet entitled “Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, proving that it is lawful, and hath been held so in all ages, for any who have the power, to call to account a Tyrant or wicked King, and, after due conviction, to depose and put him to death, if the ordinary Magistrate have neglected or denied to do it.” It was out within a fortnight after the king's death, and was Milton's last performance in the house in High Holborn. The chiefs of the new republic could not but perceive the importance of securing the services of a distinguished man who had so opportunely and so powerfully spoken out in favour of their tremendous act. In March 1649, accordingly, Milton was offered, and accepted, the secretaryship for foreign tongues to the council of state of the new Commonwealth. The salary was to be £288 a year (worth about £1000 a year now). To be near his new duties in attendance on the council, which held its daily sittings for the first few weeks in Derby House, close to Whitehall, but afterwards regularly in Whitehall itself, he removed at once to temporary lodgings at Charing Cross. In the very first meetings of council which Milton attended he must have made personal acquaintance with President Bradshaw, Fairfax, Cromwell himself, Sir Henry Vane, Whitelocke,