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As all his attempts to induce his wife to return to his house proved ineffectual, he thought his own reputation and repose demanded that he should declare her to be no longer his wife! It is said that he endeavoured to make his constrained widowhood, for nearly four years, as easy and cheerful as he could ; to which the sprightly wit and good sense of Lady MARGARET LEE, daughter of the Earl of Marlborough, greatly contributed. He frequently visited her ladyship; and the high esteem he entertained for her, has been well expressed in a sonnet found among his occa
Having taken his firm resolution to repudiate his wife, and never to receive her back again, he thought it proper publicly to attempt a justification of this step, and therefore published, in the year 1644, his work on the “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.” This he dedicated to the Parliament, and the Assembly of Divines at Westminster ; hoping, that as they were employed in promoting a general reformation of the kingdom, they might take this subject also of domestic liberty into consideration; being of opinion that all the boasted freedom of public judicatures signified little, if the mean while a husband must be obliged to submit to a kind of servitude in domestic life, below the dignity of a man, or, as he expressed it, “a disconsolate household captivity,
without refuge or redemption.” His design was to show that there are other sufficient reasons for divorce besides adultery, and that to prohibit any sort of divorce, but such as are excepted by Moses, is unjust, and against the reason of the law. The grand position he maintains is, “ That indisposition, unfitness, and contrary humours, proceeding from any unchangeable cause in nature, hindering, and always likely to hinder, the main ends and benefits of conjugal society, that is to say, peace and delight, are greater reasons of divorce than ADULTERY, or natural FRIGIDITY, provided there be a mutual consent for separation."
On this book appearing, the clergy in general declaimed against it, charging its author with atheism, heresy, lewdness, &c. &c. They daily instigated the Parliament, but in vain, to pass their censure of condemnation upon it: and at length one of them, on a day of public humiliation, told them that “there was a wicked book abroad which deserved to be burnt, and that among their other sins they ought to repent: it had not yet been branded with a mark of their displeasure.” This, and the opposition to it by some other ministers, led him to publish his Tetrachordon, which also was dedicated to the Parliament. This was an exposition of the four chief passages of Scripture that treat of marriage,
viz. Gen. i. 27: ï. 18, &c.; Deut. xxiv. 1; Matt. v. 31, &c.; and Matt. xxix. 3, &c. Other passages from the Epistles he also occasionally explains, and then produced the authority of some eminent men who favoured his opinion. The following lines are upon this subject :
“I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs,
He published yet another piece on this subject, entitled, “The Judgments of the famous Reformer, Martin BUCER, touching Divorce, extracted out of the second book of the kingdom of Christ, dedicated to king Edward the Sixth.” Bucer exactly agreed with Milton on this subject, though the latter had not seen it till after the publication of his first volume concerning it.
The fourth book on the subject of Divorce was his Colasterion, a reply to one of his anonymous answerers, “who,” it is said, “ added to all the
dulness and ignorance imaginable, the greatest degree imaginable of bitterness and malice.” It is probable MILTON would not have humbled himself to answer this, but for the circumstance of the Rev. J. CARYL, the commentator on the Book of Job, having put to it his imprimateur, adding to it his own condemnation of Milton's opinions. How very angry he was with Mr. Caryl will appear from the following taunting reproach : “ Mr. Licenser, you are reputed a man discrete enough, that is, to an ordinary competence in all these : but now your turn is to hear what your own hand has earned you, that when you suffered this nameless hangman to cast into public such a spiteful contumely upon a name and person deserving of the church and state equally to yourself, and one who has done more to the present advancement of your own tribe, than you or many of them have done for themselves; you forgot to be either honest, religious, or discrete. Whatever the state might do concerning it, supposing it were a matter to expect evil from it, I should not doubt to meet among them with wise, and honourable, and knowing men.
But as to this brute libel, so much the more impudent and lawless for the abused authority which it bears, I say again, that I abominate the censures of rascals and their licensers."
To prove himself a firm believer in the maxims
which he had produced on this most provoking occasion, he was seriously negociating another marriage with Miss Davis, a young lady of great wit and beauty. This, however, was prevented by a most unexpected occurrence. Being one day at the house of a relation named Blackborough, in St. Martin's Le Grand, whom he often visited, he was extremely surprised to meet his wife there, whom he had never expected to see again. She threw herself at his feet, confessed her fault, and with tears intreated his forgiveness. At first he appeared to be unmoved and inexorable ; but at length the generosity of his temper, and the intercession of some mutual friends, conquered his anger, and a perfect reconciliation took place, with the promise of oblivion of every thing which had happened. As a proof of his having forgiven her and her relations, who it is most probable had been the principal cause of all his domestic troubles, he received his wife's father and mother, and several of her brothers and sisters, into his own house, their political party having declined in influence. This was more than they could have expected from him, as they had doubtless been the occasion of separating “ those whom God had joined together,” and had thus exposed thernselves to a divine malediction: “ Cursed is he that parteth man and wife.”
Milton kindly entertained them until their own affairs were in a better condition.