Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Milton > His life during the commonwealth
  His first marriage; Mary Powell His second marriage; Catherine Woodcock  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

V. Milton.

§ 4. His life during the commonwealth.

What Milton thought or felt on the death of his first wife we have no means of knowing. He did not write a sonnet on it, as he did on that of his second; and, so far as memory serves, there is not any passage in his entire work which can be taken as even glancing at it. But the year in which it occurred was a black one for him in another way. He had now, for a full decade, occupied himself in violent and constant pamphleteering, writing nothing else but a few sonnets and some psalm-paraphrases. He had, indeed, published his early Poems in 1645, but he had added nothing to them; and, in 1649, he had undertaken the duties of Latin secretary to the new parliamentary committee for foreign affairs with a salary of £288. 13s. 6d., worth between three and four times the amount to-day. We know a little of his private affairs during this decade, besides the marriage troubles. His wife’s father had died in 1646, and a complicated series of transactions in relation to the marriage settlements, and to old loans, left Milton in possession of property at Wheatley, between Oxford and Thame, worth, with charges off it, perhaps £50 a year. His own father died shortly afterwards; and, late in 1647, Milton gave up his pupils and moved to Holborn, with Lincoln’s inn fields behind him. On his appointment, he had, for a time (some two years), rooms at Whitehall; but in 1651, he moved to “Petty France”—later, York street. The house, till some thirty years ago, was well known, and, after his time, it belonged to Bentham and was occupied by Hazlitt.   17
  Although Milton’s regular official duties of translation and writing seem to have been rather multifarious than hard, they were, in themselves, not good for a man with very weak eyesight; and his unfortunate aptitude for pamphleteering marked him out for overtime work, which was still worse. The last stroke was believed by himself, as a famous boast records, to have been given by his reply to Salmasius’s Defensio Regia.  6  This appeared in the spring of 1651, and, a year later, he was totally blind. No scientific account of the case exists.   18
  The personal calamity could hardly have been severer; but, as regards the poet, not the man, it was, perhaps, rather a gain than a loss, though it required outward circumstances of a different kind to replace Milton in his true office. His blindness does not seem to have been regarded as a disablement from his official employment, though it led to the appointment of coadjutors and a division of salary; and it was not until later that he engaged in the last and most discreditable of his angry and undignified controversies. Those with Ussher and Hall had, at least, the excuse, in matter if not in manner, of religious convictions; the divorce tracts, of intense personal interest; Eikonoklastes, of political consistency; and Defensio pro Populo Anglicano, of the same, and of official commission. No one of these excuses really applies to the supplementary wrangle with Alexander Morus or Moir. This Franco-Scot had published and prefaced a strong royalist declamation, Regii Sanguinis Clamor, directed against regicides in general and Milton in particular, and written, but not signed, by Peter du Moulin. Milton cooked his spleen for two whole years, rummaged the continent for scandal against Morus, refused to believe the latter’s true assertion that he was only the editor of the book and, in May, 1654, published a Defensio Secunda which is simply a long, clumsy, would-be satiric invective against his enemy.   19
  Of his private life, during this time, we again know very little. His nephews, like “nine tenths of the people of England,” turned royalists, and wrote light and ungodly literature. He seems to have had a fair number of friends—though they hardly included any men of literary distinction except Marvell, all such, as a rule, being in the opposite camp. D’Avenant may have been another exception, if the agreeable, but not quite proved, legend that each protected the other in turn be true; and, as Dryden’s relatives, the Pickerings, were close friends of Cromwell, the younger poet’s acquaintance with the elder may have begun before the restoration.   20

Note 6. See post. [ back ]

  His first marriage; Mary Powell His second marriage; Catherine Woodcock  

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