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because he overshot the object of his sincere affection from the fondness and ardour of his pursuit.
His wife still persisted in her desertion, but he amused his mind under the mortification her conduct had occasioned by frequent visits to the Lady Margaret Ley, whose manners and conversation were peculiarly engaging. Her father, the Earl of Marlborough, had held the highest offices in a former reign, and of his virtues she used to speak with such filial eloquence as inspired Milton with a sonnet in her praise.
He continued also to manifest his firm affection to the public good, by two compositions iutended to promote it; the little tractate on education, addressed to Mr. Hartlib, who had requested his thoughts upon that interesting subject, and his Areopagitica, a speech for the liberty of unlicenced printing. The latter has been reprinted, with a spirited preface by Thompson, a poet whom a passion for freedom, united to genius, had highly qualified as an editor and eulogist of Milton.
Had the author of the Paradise Lost, left us no composition but his Areopagitica, he would be still entitled to the affectionate veneration of every Englishman, who exults in that intellectual light,which is the noblest characteristic of his country, and for which England is chiefly indebted to the liberty of the press. Our constant advocate for freedom, in every department of life, vindicated this most important privilege with a mind fully sensible of its value; he poured all his heart into this vindication, and, to speak of his work in his own energetic language, we may justly call it, what he has defined a good book to be, "the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."
His late biographer, instead of praising Milton for a service so honorably rendered to literature, seems rather desirous of annihilating its merit, by directing his sarcastic animosity against the liberty of the press. "It seems not more reasonable," says Johnson, "to leave the right of printing unrestrained, because writers may be afterwards censured, than it would be to sleep with doors unbolted, because by our laws we can hang a thief."
This is servile sophistry; the author's illustration of a thief may be turned against himself. To suffer no book to be published without a licence, is tyranny as absurd as it would be to suffer no traveller to pass along the highway without producing a certificate that he is not a robber.
Even bad books may have their use, as Milton observes; and I mention this observation, chiefly to shew how liberally he introduces a just compliment to a great author of his own time, in support of this idea. *' What better witness/' says the advocate for unlicenced printing, "can ye expect I should produce, than one of your own, now sitting in parliament, the chief of learned men reputed in this land, Mr. Selden,whose volume of natural and national laws proves, not only by great authorities brought together, but by exquisite reasons and theorems almost mathematically demonstrative that all opinions, yea errors, known, read, and collected, are of main service and assistance towards the speedy attainment of what is truest." This eulogy appears sufficient to refute a remark unfriendly to Milton, that he was frugal of his praise; such frugality will hardly be found united to a benevolent heart and a glowing imagination.
In 1645, his early poems, both English «nd Latin, were first published in a little volume by Humphry Mosely, who informs the reader in his advertisement, that he had obtained them by solicitation from the author, regarding him as a successful rival of Spenser.
Milton had now passed more than three years in that singular state of mortification, which the disobedience of his wife occasioned. His time had been occupied by the incessant exercise of his mental powers; but he probably felt with peculiar poignancy
"A craving void left aching in the breast."
As he entertained serious thoughs of enforcing, by his example, his doctrine of divorce, and of marrying another wife, who might be worthy of the title, he paid his addresses to the daughter of Doctor Davies: the father seems to have been a convert to .Milton's arguments; but the lady had scruples. She possessed, according to Philips, both wit and beauty. A novelist could hardly imagine circumstances more singularly distressing to sensibility, than the situation of the poet, if, as we may reasonably conjecture, he was deeply enamoured of this lady; if her father was inclined to accept him as a son-in-law; and if the object of his love had no inclination to reject his suit, but what arose from a dread of his being indissolubly united to another.
Perhaps Milton alludes to what he felt on this occasion in those affecting lines of Paradise Lost, where Adam, prophetically enumerating the miseries to arise from woman, says, in closing the melancholy list, that man sometimes
"His happiest choice too late Shall meet, already link'd and wedlock-bound