of himself. In May 1641 he put forth a defence of the Smectymnuan side in Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England and the Causes that hitherto have hindered it. He reviewed English ecclesiastical history, with an appeal to his countrymen to resume that course of reformation which he considered to have been prematurely stopped in the preceding century, and to sweep away the last relics of papacy and prelacy. Among all the root-and-branch pamphlets of the time it stood out, and stands out still, as the most thorough-going and tremendous. It was followed by four others in rapid succession, — Of Prelatical Episcopacy and whether it may be deduced from the Apostolical Times (June 1641), Animadversions upon the Remonstrant's Defence against Smectymnuus (July 1641), The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty (Feb. 1641-1642), Apology against a Pamphlet called a Modest Confutation of the Animadversions, &c. (March and April 1641-1642). The first of these was directed chiefly against that middle party which advocated a limited episcopacy, with especial reply to the arguments of Archbishop Ussher, as the chief exponent of the views of that party. Two of the others, as the titles imply, belong to the Smectymnuan series, and were castigations of Bishop Hall. The greatest of the four, and the most important of all Milton's anti-episcopal pamphlets after the first, is that entitled The Reason of Church Government. It is there that Milton takes his readers into his confidence; speaking at length of himself and his motives in becoming a controversialist. Poetry, he declares, was his real vocation; it was with reluctance that he had resolved to “leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes”; but duty had left him no option. The great poem or poems he had been meditating could wait; and meanwhile, though in prose-polemics he had the use only of his “left hand,” that hand should be used with all its might in the cause of his country and of liberty. The Apology was in answer to a Modest Confutation of a Slanderous and Scurrilous Libel, the joint work of Hall and his son, attacking Milton's personal character.
The parliament had advanced in the root-and-branch direction so far as to have passed a bill for the exclusion of bishops from the House of Lords, and compelled the king's assent to that bill, when, in August 1642, the further struggle between Charles and his subjects took the form of civil war. The Long Parliament moved on more and more rapidly in the root-and-branch direction, till, by midsummer 1643, the abolition of episcopacy had been decreed, and the question of the future non-prelatic constitution of the Church of England referred to a synod of divines, to meet at Westminster under parliamentary authority. Of Milton's life through those first months of the Civil War little is known. He remained in his house in Aldersgate Street, teaching his nephews and other pupils; and the only scrap that came from his pen was the semi-jocose sonnet bearing the title “When the Assault was intended to the City.” In the summer of 1643, however, there was a great change in the Aldersgate Street household. About the end of May, as his nephew Edward Phillips remembered, Milton went away on a country journey, without saying whither or for what purpose; and, when he returned, about a month afterwards, it was with a young wife, and with some of her sisters and other relatives in her company. He had, in fact, been in the very headquarters of the king and the Royalist army in and round Oxford; and the bride he brought back with him was a Mary Powell, the eldest daughter of Richard Powell, of Forest Hill, near Oxford. She was the third of a family of eleven sons and daughters, of good standing, but in rather embarrassed circumstances, and was seventeen years and four months old, while Milton was in his thirty-fifth year. However the marriage came about, it was a most unfortunate event. The Powell family were strongly Royalist, and the girl herself seems to have been frivolous, and entirely unsuited for the studious life in Aldersgate Street. Hardly were the honeymoon festivities over, when, her sisters and other relatives having returned to Forest Hill and left her alone with her husband, she pined for home
again and begged to be allowed to go back on a visit. Milton consented, on the understanding that the visit was to be a brief one. This seems to have been in July 1643. Soon, however, the intimation from Forest Hill was that he need not look ever to have his wife in his house again. The resolution seems to have been mainly the girl's own; but, as the king's cause was then prospering in the field, Edward Phillips was probably right in his conjecture that the whole of the Powell family had repented of their sudden connexion with so prominent a Parliamentarian and assailant of the Church of England as Milton. While his wife was away, his old father, who had been residing for three years with his younger and lawyer son at Reading, came to take up his quarters in Aldersgate Street.
Milton's conduct under the insult of his wife's desertion was most characteristic. Always fearless and speculative, he converted his own case into a public protest against the existing law and theory of marriage. The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Restored to the good of both Sexes from the Bondage of Canon Law and other Mistakes was the title of a pamphlet put forth by him in August 1643, without his name, but with no effort at concealment, declaring the notion of a sacramental sanctity in the marriage relation to be a clerically invented superstition, and arguing that inherent incompatibility of character, or contrariety of mind, between two married persons is a perfectly just reason for divorce. If the date, the 1st of August, is correct, the pamphlet must have been written almost immediately on his wife's departure and before her definite refusal to return. There was no reference to his own case, except by implication; but the boldness of the speculation roused attention and sent a shock through London. It was a time when the authors of heresies of this sort, or of any sort, ran considerable risks. The famous Westminster Assembly of Divines, called by the Long Parliament, met on the 1st of July 1643. Whether Milton's divorce tract was formally discussed in the Assembly during the first months of its sitting is unknown; but it is certain that the London clergy, including not a few members of the Assembly, were then angrily discussing it in private. That there might be no obstacle to a more public prosecution, Milton put his name to a second and much enlarged edition of the tract, in February 1644, dedicated openly to the parliament and the assembly. Then, for a month or two, during which the gossip about him and his monstrous doctrine was spreading more and more, he turned his attention to other subjects.
Among the questions in agitation in the general ferment of opinion brought about by the Civil War was that of a reform of the national system of education and especially of the universities. To this question Milton made a contribution in June 1644, in a small treatise, Of Education, in the form of a letter to Samuel Hartlib, a German then resident in London and interesting himself busily in all philanthropic projects and schemes of social reform. In the very next month, however, July 1644, he returned to the divorce subject in a pamphlet addressed specially to the clergy and entitled The Judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce. The outcry against him then reached its height. He was attacked in pamphlets; he was denounced in pulpits all through London, and especially by Herbert Palmer in a sermon preached on the 13th of August, before the two Houses of Parliament; strenuous efforts were made to bring him within definite parliamentary censure. In the cabal formed against him for this purpose a leading part was played, at the instigation of the clergy, by the Stationers' Company of London, which had a plea of its own against him on the ground that his doctrine was not only immoral, but had been put forth in an illegal manner. His first divorce treatise, though published immediately after the “Printing Ordinance” of the parliament of the 14th of June 1643, requiring all publications to be licensed for press by one of the official censors, and to be registered in the books of the Stationers' Company, had been issued without license and without registration. Complaint to this effect was made against Milton, with some others
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