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John Milton
by [?]

The good mother had misty, prophetic visions of what this flight might be, and had ceased to counsel her son against the sin of idleness. But she did not live to see her prophecies confirmed, for in this time of peace and love, when the vibrant air was filled with hope, she passed Beyond.

Long years after, John Milton exclaimed, “Oh! Why could she not have lived to know!” And the poignant grief of this son, then a man in years (with his thirtieth birthday well behind), turned on the thought that he had disappointed Her–the mother who had loved him into being.

* * * * *

Milton’s woes began with his marriage–they have given rise to nearly as much discussion as his poetry. In his “Defensio Secunda,” he tells, with a touch of pride, of the absolute innocency that continued until his thirty-fifth year. When we consider how his combined innocence and ignorance plunged him into a sudden marriage with a bit of pink-and-white protoplasm, aged seventeen, we can not but regret that he had not devoted a little of his valuable time to a study of femininity. And in some way we think of Thackeray, when he was being shown the marvelous works of a certain amateur artist. “Look at that! look at that!” cried the zealous guide, “and he never had a lesson in art in his life!”

Thackeray adjusted his glasses, looked at the picture carefully, sighed and said, “What a pity he didn’t have just a little good instruction!”

Milton the student, versed in abstractions and full of learned lore, went up the Thames seeking a little needed rest. Five miles from Oxford lived an ebb-tide aristocratic family by the name of Powell. Milton had long known this family, and, it seems, decided to tarry with them a day or so. Just why he sought their company no one ever knew, and Milton was too proud to tell. The brown thrush, rival of the lark and mockingbird, seldom seeks the society of the blue jay. But it did this time. The Powells were a roaring, riotous, roystering, fox-hunting, genteel, but reduced family, on the eve of bankruptcy, with marriageable daughters.

The executive functions of love-making are best carried on by shallow people; so mediocre women often show rare skill in courtship, and sometimes succeed in bagging big game. But surely Mary Powell had no conception of the greatness of Milton’s intellect–she only knew that he was handsome, and her parents said he was rich.

There was feasting and mirth when Milton arrived back in town accompanied by his bride and various of her kinsmen. In all marriage festivals there is something pathetically absurd, and I never see a sidewalk awning spread without thinking of the one erected for John Milton and Mary Powell, who were led through it by an Erebus that was not only blind, but stone-deaf.

John Milton was an ascetic, and lived in a realm of reverie and dreams; his wife had a strong bias toward the voluptuous, reveling in a world of sense, and demanding attention as her right. Milton began diving into his theories and books, and forgot the poor child who had no abstract world into which to withdraw. Suddenly bereft of the gay companionship that her father’s house supplied, she felt herself aggrieved, alone; and tears of vexation and homesickness began to stream down her pretty cheeks.

When summoned into her husband’s presence she had nothing to say, and Milton, the theorist, discovered that what he had mistaken for the natural reticence and bashfulness of maidenhood was mere inanity and lack of ideas. But the loneliness of the poor country girl, shut up in a student’s den, is a deal more touching than the scholar’s wail about “the silent and insensate” wife. The girl was being deprived of the rollicking freedom to which she had been used, but the great man was waking the echoes with his wail for a companionship he had never known.