Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Milton > His second marriage; Catherine Woodcock
  His life during the commonwealth His third marriage; Elizabeth Minshull  


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

V. Milton.

§ 5. His second marriage; Catherine Woodcock.

He married a second time on 12 November, 1656. His wife, daughter of a captain Woodcock, was named Catherine, and lived but fifteen months after the marriage, dying (as the twenty-third sonnet records pathetically) in childbirth on 10 February, 1657/8. The child was another daughter, but survived her mother only a few weeks. Attention has often been drawn to the “veiled face” of the sonnet as implying that Milton had never seen this wife. It should, however, be remembered, that the Alcestis parallel almost requires the veil. We know nothing more of Catherine Milton, but our state of knowledge might be more ungracious.   21
  Except for the sonnets, of which this appears to be the last, Milton was still “miching” from poetry and indulging no muse: for the inspirers of his pamphlets were furies rather than muses. But he was to be brought back to the latter by major force. Characteristically, as always, but in a fashion so extreme that it would seem as if some “dim suffusion” had come upon his mental, as well as upon his bodily, sight, he not only would not accept, but would not believe in, the restoration. In the last twelvemonth or so of the commonwealth, he addressed two of his stately academic harangues to parliament, on toleration and the payment of ministers. He wrote, in the late autumn of 1659 and later, though he did not publish, A Letter to a Friend and another to Monck (which he did publish), gravely ignoring every symptom of contemporary feeling, and gravely prescribing the very doses with which the patient was nauseated. And, on the eve of the restoration itself, in February, 1660, he issued, and would have reissued (had not the king been actually restored), The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, which he supplemented by some hectoring notes in his old style on a sermon by Matthew Griffith, formerly chaplain to Charles I, with the obvious text “Fear God and the king.   22
  Such extravagant insensibility to the signs of the times, in such a time as the mid-seventeenth century, and in the case of a person of Milton’s antecedents, could, ordinarily, have had but one awakening. How Milton escaped this has been accounted for in different ways. Intercession of Marvell or of D’Avenant or of others is one; insignificance is another—though the latter explanation cannot be said to fit in very well with the assertions of Milton’s continental renown as a defender of regicide, nor with the fact that all the more prominent cavaliers had been exiles on the continent. The soundest explanation is that given by no friend of the restoration—that the restoration “was not bloodthirsty.” Milton did not, indeed, escape quite scotfree. He left his house and lay hid for three months till the Act of Oblivion. His books, or some of them, were, indeed, burnt by the hangman; and, exactly on what charge is unknown, in the early winter he was in the custody of the sergeant-at-arms. It is characteristic again, no doubt, that he exacted a reduction of the fees (as exorbitant) on his liberation (15 December) by an order of the House.   23
  The rest of his life is infinitely important to literature; less so to biography. His circumstances necessarily became straitened. His office, of course, went; and the story that he was offered continuance of it and urged by his wife to accept the offer is absurd, for he had no wife till 1663. He lost £2000, which he had lent to the republican government; something more in forfeited property which he had bought; and a considerable sum by malversation. The great fire destroyed his father’s house in Bread street. But it does not appear that he was ever in positive discomfort; and, at his death, he left what would be equal to about £5000 to-day.   24

  His life during the commonwealth His third marriage; Elizabeth Minshull  

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