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towards his obstinate wife? Should he not have gone himself to her father's house, and entreated her; rather than have sent his servant with his commands that she should instantly return home; accompanied probably with a threat, if she did not come immediately he would not receive her at all? I do not wish to justify what might perhaps have been ill-temper and perverseness in Mrs. Milton; but surely she did not act wrong in refusing to submit to the indignity of being treated rather as his servant than as his companion his other-self! Nor is it greatly to the credit of Milton, that her obstinacy should have first yielded, by whatever means it was overcome: nor that he for a time seemed to be inexorable, even while this “ weaker vessel” was supplicating the forgiveness of her “own husband,” with strong cryings and tears.—Well, I drop the curtain, rejoicing that he was not suffered, by the providence of God, to go on madly in the way of his heart, and by marrying Miss Davis, to have consummated his brutal conduct towards his erringwife, and thus have put an irremediable brand of infamy upon his own character; the which perhaps is still the fairest, even with this glaring defect, of any of which our country or the world has produced !
The fact is, Milton in this instance appears “ to have been left by God to walk in his own
counsels,” in order that he might be tried, and know what was in his heart. Instead of trusting in God with all his heart, he leaned to his own understanding; and thus furnished an affecting proof, that the best of men are but men at the best! God prevents, by his providence, that any of his servants shall become idols of adoration : and will let it be seen there are none of them but what, at times, need the compassion even of their fellow-servants !
It is deeply affecting, that such a great man as Milton should have been “made the reproach of the foolish."*
* As a proof of this remark, take the following extract from Familiar Letters, Vol. iv. By James Howell, Esq. 1655 :
“ But that opinion of a poor shallow-brained puppy, who upon any cause of disaffections, would have men to have a priviledge to change their wives or repudiate them, deserves to be hist at rather than confuted : for nothing can tend more to usher in all confusions throughout the world: therefore that wise-aker deserves of all others to wear a loting horn.” p. 19, Letter vii. In the Index he thus refers to MILTON's pamphlets on Divorce: “Of a noddy that writ a book of wifing !”
To this might be added the taunting reply of an anonymous author, to which the pious Caryl prefixed the following:
Imprimatur, “ An answer to a book, entitled, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, or a Plea for Ladies and Gentlewomen, and all other married Women, against Di
I have been particular in extracting the reasons of Milton for this new and dangerous opinion, that the judicious reader may form his own judgment. I will now quote the concluding paragraph of his pamphlet, which he doubtless intended should concentrate the strength of all his arguments : “Last of all,” he says, “ to those whose mind is still to maintain textual restriction, whereof the bare sound cannot consist sometimes with humanity, much less with charity, I would ever answer by putting them in remembrance of a command above all commands, which they seem to have forgotten, and who spake it; in comparison whereof this the law concerning marriage) which they exalt, is but à petty and subordinate precept. Let them go therefore with whom I am
vorce: wherein both sides are vindicated from all bondage of Canon Law, and other mistakes whatsoever : and the unsound principles of the Author are examined, and fully confuted by authority of Holy Scriptures, the laws of this land and sound reason.-London 1644.
"To preserve the strength of the marriage bond, and the honour of that estate, against those sad breaches and dangerous abuses of it, which common discontents (on this side adultery) are likely to make in unstaid minds, and men given to change, by taking in or grounding themselves upon the opinion answered, and with good reason confuted in this treatise, I have sanctioned the printing and publishing of it. --JOSEPH CARYL.”
“ November 14, 1644.”
loth to couple them, yet they will needs run into the same blindness with the Pharisees; let them go therefore and consider well what this lesson means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice ; for on that saying, all the law and prophets depend, much more the gospel, whose end and excellence is mercy
peace: or if they cannot learn that, how will they hear this, which yet I shall not doubt to leave with them as a conclusion? “ That God the Son hath put all other things under his own feet, but his commandments hath he left all under the feet of charity.”
It may be first enquired, in reply to this plausible statement, whether positive commands are to be superseded by moral considerations; whether the cases were parallel of the Apostles on the sabbath-day rubbing out a few grains of wheat in their hands to check the cravings of hunger, or David eating the shew-bread when he was hungry, which was provided specially for the priests ; and Milton having, without assigning any such cause in the conduct of his wife as the Scriptures declare to be sufficient, resolved to dissolve the marriage union? I trow not. His speaking of positive commands, especially of that which concerns marriage as “a petty and subordinate precept,” is certainly to have undervalued the wisdom of God in that law; and his stating that “the Son of God hath left all his commandments under the feet of
charity ;” as if positive commands were to be superseded by convenience, is a sentiment, to say the least of it, so lax and so capable of being abused, that there is no Antinomian licentiousness but may be sanctioned by it, under the name of Christian liberty. According to his reasoning, all other things, in regard to the welfare of the church and the rights of men, the Son of God hath authority to command and control ; but the regulations concerning the duties of marriage, he has left to what every one who calls himself his disciple may keep or not keep, observe or not observe, according as it might agree with what in regard to the husband, not respecting at all the rights of the wife, appears to the party himself to be not duty, but charity. Was not this to say, in effect,
ergo, none but Pharisees will contend that I, John Milton, am not at liberty to repudiate my chaste wife, Mary Milton; and to marry another, without in my case violating the law of Christ, or committing adultery.” If, in this unhappy affair, this greatest of men was not left of God to be proved, as in the case of Hezekiah, “that he might learn what was in his heart," I am greatly mistaken in my view of his conduct. He probably learnt, by a comparison of his wife's three years' absence, with the domestic happiness he enjoyed after her return, that passion and not reason had guided his