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the “Merry Monarch" was followed
by a tremendous reaction against Puritanism and its ideals. England plunged into what has been well described as the “ mad orgy of the Restoration.” Comus and his crew of wanton revellers were once more abroad in the land. The unclean spirit who for a time had been cast out had, as Macaulay says, taken
seven other spirits more wicked than himself," and “they entered in, and dwelt together, and the second possession was worse than the first." Together with the galling restraints which the Puritan régime had imposed, all moderation and decency were now thrown to the winds. The new king was an unabashed libertine; his Court was the most shameless ever known in England; in fashionable circles whatever was pure, honest, and of good report was openly scoffed at; infidelity and profligacy were the accepted marks of the fine gentleman and lady ; the virtues which Puritanism had engendered were made topics of ribald jest ; those who still cultivated them were sneered at as hypocrites. Restoration," as Mr. Mark Pattison puts it, "was a moral catastrophe. It was not that there wanted good men among the Churchmen, men as pious and virtuous as the Puritans whom they displaced. But the Royalists came back as the party of reaction, reaction of the spirit of the world against asceticism, of self
indulgence against duty, of materialism against idealism. Servility, meanness, venality, timeserving, and a disbelief in virtue diffused themselves over the nation like a pestilential miasma, the depressing influence of which was heavy, even upon those souls which individually resisted the poison. The heroic age of England had passed away, not by gradual decay, by imperceptible degeneration, but in a year, in a single day, like the winter's snow in Greece."
To Milton, who, as it would seem, had to the end clung to the illusion that the course of national destiny might yet be averted, the Restoration was fraught with the element of personal danger. He had given the Royalists serious cause for hatred, and for the moment it was impossible to predict what the consequences might be. Charles landed at Dover on May 26, 1660, and at once made his way to London. Before the end of the month the blind poet had fled from his house in Petty France, and had sought refuge in concealment with a friend in Bartholomew Close. There, for a while, he lay in hiding, In June his books against the late king were ordered to be formally burned by the hands of the common hangman. A little later, he was himself arrested and placed in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. But on June 15 the Commons directed his release ; and henceforth he was a free man. Even now it is not quite clear to what cause or causes he owes his exemption from proscription and the disasters which overwhelmed so many of his friends. It is said that Andrew Marvell acted vigorously and successfully in his behalf ; that Sir William Davenant constituted himself his protector ; that he found powerful allies in Secretary Morris and Sir Thomas Clarges; that his blindness moved the pity even of his foes. But the fact seems to be that, whatever personal influences may also have been at work, Milton's escape from the consequences of his position as a republican and supporter of the regicides was chiefly due to his comparative insignificance as a political force. Yet while both his life and his liberty were thus spared, the Restoration bore very hardly upon him. Political changes entailed the total loss of all the money he had placed in Government securities; other property had to be sacrificed ; his official salary terminated as a matter of course. All this meant a serious reduction in his income ; and, unfortunately, things were made worse by the mismanagement of his remaining investments, while his house in Bread Street was presently destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Hitherto Milton had always lived in comfortable freedom from pecuniary anxieties. These were now added to his other troubles the petty miseries which soon invaded his home his bitter disappointment over the political failure of the Puritan cause—his passionate sorrow over the ruin of the hopes and aspirations which he had nourished for his beloved country.
As soon as he found himself secure against further attack he took a little house in Holborn, 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. In 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 the 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