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BACK AT HORTON AND IN LONDON : LODGINGS IN ST.
BRIDE'S CHURCHYARD, FLEET STREET.
1639—1640: ætat. 31–32. At Horton, where Milton found all well, there had been born in his absence a little nephew, the first child of Christopher Milton and his young wife. The infant, however, had died and been buried five months before.
Another death that had happened in Milton's absence was that of his friend Charles Diodati. Milton had vaguely heard of the fact while abroad; but not till his return did he learn the exact particulars. How profoundly they affected him may be learnt from that Latin pastoral of lament for Diodati which he wrote immediately after his return to England, and which deserves here to stand by itself :
EPITAPHIUM DAMONIS (among the Sylvce). 1639. The importance of this poem in Milton's biography will be further explained in the introduction to it; where also the reader will find those particulars as to the circumstances of the death of Diodati which Milton did not know fully till his return to England, and which, after eluding research for two hundred years, have recently been recovered.
Not long after Milton's return to England the household at Horton was broken up. The father, with Christopher Milton and his wife, remained at Horton, indeed, to as late as August 1640, Christopher having been called to the Bar of the Inner Temple, January 26, 1639-40 ; but soon afterwards Christopher, his wife, and a second child, born at Horton, went to live at Reading, the father accompanying them. Some time before that removal (probably in the winter of 1639-40) Milton had taken lodgings in London, “ in St. Bride's Churchyard, Fleet Street, at the house of one Russel, a tailor,” consenting at the same time to an arrangement which can hardly have added to his comfort. His only surviving sister, whom we saw married to Mr. Edward Phillips of the Crown Office in 1624, was no longer Mrs. Phillips. Her first husband had died in 1631 ; and, after some time of widowhood, she had married his successor in the Crown Office, Mr. Thomas Agar. There had been left her, however, two young boys by the first marriage,Edward Phillips and John Phillips. The younger of these, aged only nine years, Milton now took wholly into his charge ; while the elder, only about a year older, went daily, from his mother's house near Charing Cross, to the lodging in St. Bride's Churchyard, for the benefit likewise of his uncle's lessons. And so, teaching his two young nephews, meditating literary projects, and looking round him on public affairs, Milton found himself in the famous year 1640.
What a year that was ! In the previous year there had been the First Bishops' War, i.e, the first war of Charles for restoration of Episcopacy among the Scots. It had ended in collapse on the King's side. Charles had advanced to the Scottish border with a reluctant English army; but, met there by an army of the Scottish Covenanters, he had not risked a battle, but had agreed to terms, granting the Scots their Presbyterian Kirk, and substantially all else they asked (June 18, 1639). That war, therefore, had been begun and ended while Milton was still abroad. But Charles had again broken with the Scots, and was resolved on their subjugation and chastisement. In his straits for money and means for that purpose, he had even ventured, after eleven years of uninterrupted absolutism, to call another English Parliament. That Parliament, which met April 13, 1640, proved as stubbornly Puritan as its predecessors, and, instead of yielding supplies against the Scots, with whom it was in secret sympathy, fell on the question of English grievances. It was, therefore, dismissed, after little more than a fortnight (May 5), and is remembered as the Short Parliament. Milton, who had been observing all this, with the feelings of an English Puritan, then saw Charles plunge, nevertheless, with resources otherwise raised, into the Second Bishops' War. In August 1640 Charles was at York, with the Irish Viceroy Wentworth, now Earl of Strafford, in his company, on his way to Scotland, and with an English army between him and the doomed country. But the Scots did not wait this time on their own side of the border. They invaded England, August 20; they beat a detachment of the English at Newburn, near Newcastle, August 28 ; they entered that town August 29 ; and they spread themselves thence over the northern English counties. With the Puritans of England all in sympathy with them, and welcoming their invasion
rather than resenting it, they had thus, by one bold push and but small effort besides, utterly checked the King. His army disorganised and deserting, he summoned a Great Council of Peers to meet at York, September 24, and help him in his negotiation with the Scots; but, some of the leading Peers themselves petitioning for a Parliament, and petitions to the same effect arriving from the city of London, he was obliged to yield. A preliminary treaty with the Scots, agreed upon by commissioners of the two nations, was signed by him at York, October 27; and thence he hastened to London, to open the new Parliament. It was to be known as the Long Parliament, the most famous Parliament in the annals of England. It met November 3, 1640.
ALDERSGATE STREET, LONDON.
1640–45: ætat. 32—37. The lodgings in St. Bride's Churchyard, Fleet Street, were but a temporary arrangement. “ Looking round,” says Milton, “ where best I could, in the midst of affairs so disturbed and fluctuating, for a place to settle in, I hired a house in the city sufficiently large for myself and my books." His nephew Edward Phillips, who soon went to be a fellowboarder in the new house with his younger brother John, describes it more particularly as “a pretty garden-house in Aldersgate Street, at the end of an entry, and therefore the fitter for his turn by reason of the privacy, besides that there are few streets in London more free from noise than that.” Aldersgate Street is very different now, and not a vestige of Milton's house remains. It stood at the back of that part of the street, on the right hand as you go from St. Martin'sle-Grand, where there is now Maidenhead Court.
The Aldersgate Street house, which Milton entered some time in 1640, probably before the meeting of the Long Parliament, was to be a very memorable one in his biography. " There, in tolerable comfort,” he says, “I betook myself to my interrupted studies, trusting the issue of public affairs to God in the first place, and to those to whom the people had committed that charge." In other words, his hope was that now at last he might begin in real earnest that life of sustained literary exertion in his own English speech, after a higher and nobler fashion than England had heretofore known,
to which he had secretly pledged himself. Especially, during his Italian journey, he had been revolving the project of some one great English poem, to be begun on his return, and to be his occupation through as many years as might be necessary. As we learn from his poem to Manso, and still more distinctly from his Epitaphium Damonis, an epic on the subject of Arthur, involving the whole cycle of Arthurian or ancient British Legends, was the scheme that had principally fascinated him. Within the first year after his return, however, the Arthurian subject had been set aside, and Milton's mind, weighing and balancing the comparative advantages of the epic form and the stately tragedy of the Greeks with its lyrics and choruses, was at sea among a great number of possible subjects, suitable for either, collected from Biblical History and the History of Britain before the Conquest. See the Introduction to Paradise Lost, Section II. Paradise Lost, in the form of a tragedy, was already the favourite subject; but all was uncertain. To end this uncertainty, by actually choosing a subject and setting to work, was the business which Milton, while daily teaching his young nephews, and showing them “ an example of hard study and spare diet,” had prescribed for himself in Aldersgate Street.
Alas! it had to be postponed, and for a longer series of years than could have been anticipated. Milton, at this juncture of his life, was whirled into politics; and for nearly twenty years (1640-1660), with but moments of exception, he had to cease to be " a poet soaring in the high region of his fancies with his garland and singing-robes about him," and to “sit below in the cool element of prose.” It was not only Milton's life, indeed, that was so affected by the great Puritan Revolution. The lives of almost all his English literary contemporaries were similarly affected, and through the twenty years between 1640 and 1660 there was a marked eclipse of Pure Literature in England in consequence of the drafting of the literary intellect of the country into the service of the current controversies. In no life, however, is the phenomenon more visible than in Milton's; and there are some to whom its exhibition in that life in particular is matter for regret. They judge poorly and wrongly. It may be admitted that in controversial prose, though such prose with Milton was to be far from a “cool element,” he had, as he himself expresses it, “the use but of his left hand.” To lend even that hand, however, with all its force, to what he deemed the cause of God, Truth, Liberty, and his Country, seemed, to himself at least, a more important duty, so long as there should be need, than scheming and writing poems.
It was on the Church question that Milton first spoke out. The Long Parliament had, with singular rapidity, in the first months of its sitting, swept away accumulated abuses in State and Law, brought Strafford to trial and execution, impeached and imprisoned Laud and others of the chief ministers of Thorough, subjected Charles to constitutional checks, made a satisfactory treaty with the Scots, and sent them home with thanks for their great services to England. They had also taken measures for their own security and the permanence of English Parliamentary government. All this having been done unanimously or nearly so, the Church question had at length emerged as the most difficult of all, and that on which there was most difference of opinion. That the Laudian Episcopacy must no longer exist in England all, with hardly an exception, were agreed ; but, for the rest, people divided themselves into two parties. There were the advocates of a Limited Episcopacy, excluding the Bishops perhaps from the House of Lords and from other places of political and judicial power, and also surrounding them even in Church matters with Councils of Presbyters; and there were the Root-and-Branch Reformers, who were for abolishing Episcopacy utterly, and reconstructing the Church of England after some Presbyterian model like that of the Scots. Into this controversy Milton, in May 1641, flung his first pamphlet, entitled " Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that have hitherto hindered it." It was a Root-and-Branch pamphlet of most tremendous earnestness, and was followed within a year by four more of the same sort: viz. “ Of Prelatical Episcopacy” (June 1641), “ Animadversions upon the Remonstrant's Defence against Smectymnuus” (July 1641), “ The Reason of Church government urged against Prelaty” (about Feb. 1641-2), “ Apology against a Pamphlet called A modest Confutation of the Animadversions upon the Remonstrant against Smectymnuus” (March 1641-2). These five pamphlets of Milton are to be remembered in a group by themselves, and may be called his " Anti-Episcopal Pamphlets." The first of them is general;