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this work by a third Address to the Parliament, and, speaking of their justice and candour in disdaining to think of persecuting him for his doctrine, according to the instigation of his enemies, he expreffes his gratitude in the following animated terms : “ For which uprightness and incorrupt refusal of “ what ye were incensed to, lords and commons
(though it were done to justice, not to me, and was a peculiar demonstration how far your ways are different from the rash vulgar) besides those
allegiances of oath and duty, which are my public " debt to your public labours, I have yet a store of
gratitude laid up, which cannot be exhausted, ç and fuch thanks, perhaps, they may live tu be,
shall more than whisper to the next ages. This fentence is remarkable in various points of view, but chiefly as it shews us that the peculiar eagerness and energy with which Milton, at a future period, defended the parliament, originated not only in his passionate attachment to freedon, but in his ardent sense of personal gratitude to the legislature of his country. He was, however, too magnani. mous to wish for shelter under any authority, without vindicating his innocence and the merit of his cause; he therefore says to the parliament, in speaking of an antagonist who, in their presence, had traduced him from the pulpit, “ I shall take licence “ by the right of nature, and that liberty wherein *6 I was born, to defend myself publicly against a
printed calumny, and do willingly appeal to those judges to whom I am accused.”
The preacher had represented the doctrine of divorce as a wicked book, for allowing other causes of divorce than Christ and his Apostles mentioned, and the parliament as sinners for not punishing its authors.
This induces Milton to exclaim with devotional fpirit, which seems predominant in his mind upon every occasion, “ First, lords and commons, I pray to " that God, before whom ye then were prostrate, so “ to forgive ye those omissions and trespatles, which
ye desire most should find forgiveness, as I shali • soon lhew to the world how easily ye absolve
your66 felves of that, which this man calls your sin, and " is indeed your wisdom and nobleness, whereof to 66 this day ye have done well not to repent."
The scope of Milton, in his doctrine of divorce, is thus explained by himself : “ This shall be the “ talk and period of this discourse to prove, first, “ that other reasons of divorce besides adultery “ were by the law of Moses, and are yet to be al. 6 lowed by the Christian magistrate, as a piece of
justice, and that the words of Christ are not here« by contraried; next that, to prohibit absolutely
any divorce whatsoever, except those which Moses excepted, is against the reason of law.”
This doctrine he first delivered as the result of his own diligent study of the scripture. He afterwards found and declared it confonant to what many eminent divines of the reformed church, particularly Martin Bucar and Erasmus, had maintained; lastly, to grace his opinions with the highest human support, he asserts, “ they were sanctioned
by the whole assembled authority of England, “ both church and state, and in those times which
are on record for the purest and sincerest that
ever shone yet on the Reformation of this land, " the time of Edward the Sixth. That worthy
prince, having utterly abolished the canon law out of his dominions, as his father did before
him, appointed by full vote of parliament a com“ mittee, of two and thirty chosen men, divines and " lawyers, of whom Cranmer the archbisliop, Peter " Martyr, and Walter Haddon, not without the o assistance of Sir John Cheek, the king's tutor,
man at that time accounted the learnedest of « Englishmen, and for piety not inferior, were the 66 chief to frame anew some ecclesiastical laws, that
might be instead of what was abrogated. The " work with great diligence was finished, and with
as great approbation of that reforming age was “ received, and had been doubtless, as the learned “ preface thereof testifies, established by act of par“ liament, had not the good king's death so soon
ensuing arrested the farther growth of religi
on also from that season to this. Those laws, " thus founded on the memorable wisdom and
piety of that religious parliament and fynod, al6 low divorce and second marriage not only for
adultery and desertion, but for any capital en
mity or plot laid against the other's life, and “ likewise for evil and fierce usage. Nay, the “ twelfth chapter of that title, by plain consequence
declares, that lefser contentions, if they be per
petual, may obtain divorce, which is all one “ really with the position by me held in the former
a treatise published on this argument, herein only
differing, that there the cause of perpetual strife
was put, for example, in the unchangeable discord " of some natures; but in these laws, intended us "s by the best of our ancestors, the effect of conti“ nual strife is determined no unjust plea of divorce, 66 whether the cause be natural or wilful.”
The author exults fo much in this authority, that he concludes with the following expressions of confidence and triumph :
“ Henceforth let them, who condemn the asser66 tion of this book for new and licentious, be sorry, 6c lest, while they think to be of the graver sort, " and take on them to be teachers, they expose 65 themselves rather to be pledged up and down by “ men who intimately know them, to the disco.
very and contempt of their ignorance and pre“ sumption.”
I have dwelt the longer on this subject, because it occupied so deeply the mind and heart of Milton. In these treatises the energy of his language is very striking ; it forcibly proves how keenly he felt the anguish of connubial infelicity, and how ardently he laboured to remove from himself and others that " secret affliction” (to use one of his own expressive phrases)“ of an unconscionable size :
to human strength."
He argues, indeed, for what the majority of modern legislators and divines have thought inconfiftent with found morality and true religion ; but they who deem his arguments inconclusive, may yet admire the powers and the probity of the advocate.
His view of the question is as extensive and liberal as his intention was pure and benevolent: if a few words of our Saviour, in their literal sense, are against him, the spirit of the gospel may be thought, by sincere Christians, to allow him all the latitude for which he contends; the most rigid opponent of his doctrine may be frequently charmed with his rich vein of fervid eloquence and christian philanthropy.
His three publications on divorce were followed by Colafterion, a reply to a nameless answer against his doctrine. This work is an angry invective, in which he endeavours, but not happily, to overwhelm his antagonist with ridicule.
In the account which he gives of his own compositions, in his Second Defence, he speaks of his treatise on divorce, as forming a part of his progressive labour to vindicate liberty in various points of view; he considered it in three different shapes, ecclesiastical, domestic, and civil; he thought it of high moment to establish a more enlarged system of domestic liberty, at a time when connubial discord was so common, in consequence of civil diffenfion; when, to use his own forcible expression, alluding probably to his particular situation, “ the wife “ might be found in the
camp of the enemy, threatening ruin and slaughter to her husband.” He seems to exult in saying, that his doctrine of divorce was more abundantly demonstrated, about two
years after his publication, by the illustrious Selden, in his Uxor Hebræa *
* Cum itaque tres omnino animadverterem libertatis. effe fpecies, quæ nisi adfint, vita ulla tranfigi commodè vix poffit, ec