Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

near Red Lion Square. Several changes of abode followed in rapid succession; and then, in 1664, he settled in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields. Here he lived till his death ; though in 1665, to escape from the great plague which then raged in the city, he spent some months in a cottage which his young Quaker friend, Thomas Ellwood, found for him in the village of Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire.

It was to this last home that Milton took his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, whom he married in February 1663. That this marriage was dictated by purely practical considerations cannot be questioned, but no adverse judgment upon it is therefore implied. His health was shaken ; his blindness made him entirely dependent upon the attentions of others; he had three daughters, children of his first marriage, of whom the youngest was eight and the eldest only fourteen at the time of the Restoration, and who, as he very naturally felt, needed a woman's oversight and care. these circumstances he took counsel with his friend and physician, Dr. Paget ; marriage was decided upon; and it was on the doctor's recommendation that the choice of the new helpmeet was made. It proved to be a fortunate one, for Mistress Milton was a capable woman and an admirable housekeeper ; and so far as domestic comfort was concerned, he had no further cause for complaint. It does not, indeed, appear that husband and wife had any intellectual interests in common, or that she gave him assistance in his studies and literary work. But sympathy and an excellent understanding existed between them, and upon these it is a pleasure to dwell. I have already spoken of the strong theories which Milton held concerning

he relations of the sexes and the essential inferiority of woman to man. Yet it must not therefore be supposed that he despised womanhood or thought of it in a low or contemptuous way. On the contrary, his attitude towards women was marked by the highest reverence and love. No reader of Comus

can fail to perceive this ; while, however much in " Paradise Lost” the supremacy of Adam is emphasised, the nobility and moral beauty of Eve's character make it equally clear. No finer testimony to womanhood is, indeed, to be found anywhere in our literature than that set forth in the words of Adam to the Angel :

" Yet when I approach
Her loveliness, so absolute she seems
And in herself complete, so well to know
Her own, that what she wills to do or say
Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best.
All higher Knowledge in her presence falls
Degraded ; Wisdom in discourse with her
Loses, discount'nanced, and like Folly shows;
Authority and Reason on her wait,
As one intended first, not after made
Occasion'lly ; and, to consummate all,
Greatness of mind and Nobleness their seat
Build in her loveliest and create an awe
About her, as a guard angelic placed." 1
I" Paradise Lost," VIII. 546-559.

I refer to this matter now because it comes up naturally in connection with the subject of Milton's third marriage. It has been suggested that in the portrayal of Eve he took his wife as a kind of painter's model. As regards physical features-as, for example, the “ golden tresses” which she and Eve had in common-this can scarcely have been, for of course he never saw her. But it is more than possible that many of her qualities of mind and heart may have been deliberately incorporated by him in his study of ideal womanhood.

Unfortunately, the happiness which Milton thus found in his wife he quite failed to find in his daughters, who were, indeed, the chief cause of the domestic sorrow which still clouded his declining years. They figure in his life-story as hard and undutiful young women, who had no sympathy for him in his affliction, cared nothing for his genius, and rebelliously grumbled when he turned to them for help. A fair consideration of all the circumstances compels us, indeed, to temper the judgment which we are inclined to pass upon them. The fault was by no means wholly on their side. The great poet was selfabsorbed, stern, exacting; he had sadly neglected their education ; and yet, though he had not troubled in the least to develop their intellectual interests, he had been at immense pains to train them to read aloud to him in five or six languages, not one word of which they understood. That they should have grown restive beneath the burden of such monotonous drudgery can be readily understood ; nor can we marvel that they should have resented their father's habit of calling upon them to write to his dictation at any hour of the day or even of the night, when the poetic impulse came upon him. Yet when all possible allowances have been made, their behaviour must still be pronounced unnatural and cruel. Whatever hardships their conditions involved, they might still have remembered that their father was blind, dependent, and in broken health and spirits, and have treated him with pity and forbearance. They chose rather to distress him not only by insubordination and neglect, but also by conduct which is even more obviously open to reproach; for they connived with the maidservant to cheat him in his marketings," and sold some of his books, behind his back, to the ragwoman. For some five or six years after his marriage, in spite of all the conciliatory efforts of his wife, this state of things continued, with everincreasing bickerings and compiaints. Then the strain became intolerable, and the girls, having been taught embroidery at his expense, went from their father's home into the world to earn their living on their own account. It is painful to have to linger over these sordid domestic details. They are, however, necessary to a complete understanding of the circumstances of Milton's life at the time when his greatest work was being done.

If, however, his daughters refused to give him the indispensable assistance of eye and hand, there were not wanting those outside the family circle who were only too glad to take their place. Various young friends, who recognised his genius and revered his character, came to him regularly day by day, read to him, and acted as his amanuenses : among them, Cyriack Skinner, who has already been mentioned, and the young Quaker, Thomas Ellwood, in whom he found sympathetic companionship as well as practical help. It is from this Ellwood, and from one or two of his more casual visitors, who were numerous, that we learn a good deal that is interesting about Milton's personal habits during these last years of his life. Rising early—at four in summer, at five in winter-he began the day by listening to a chapter or two from the Hebrew Scriptures. " Then," says John Aubrey, in his account of the poet,

he contemplated. At seven his man”-his paid secretary—“came to him again, and then read to him and wrote till dinner.” Exercise, chiefly in the form of walking in his garden, followed. The afternoon was commonly devoted to music, of which he was still passionately fond; he played both the bass-viol and the organ, and sometimes he would sing himself, and sometimes his wife would sing to him. After this, he again listened to reading till six ; and between six and eight he received his friends. Conversation he greatly enjoyed; his own talk, we are told, was “extreme pleasant"; his

; youngest daughter, Deborah, the only one of his children who ever spoke of him with any

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »