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His last years, brightened by the happy and cheerful company of his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, whom he had married in 1664, were spent in Bunhill Fields, and peacefully, "of the gout struck inwards,” he passed away on Sunday, November 8th, 1674. In the chancel of St. Giles, Cripplegate, where he was buried, there is no mark of the exact spot where he rests.
Milton's Contemporaries.—Milton was born at the time when the brilliant light of the Elizabethan literature was at
its height. The poet SPENSER, whom he loved, and whom he quotes in Areopagitica, had
died eight years before, SHAKESPEARE was just about to lay down his pen, Ben Jonson and BEAUMONT and FLETCHER were to write a few years longer, and the long list of minor Elizabethan dramatists was to fade away to extinction during his youth.
Of prose writers, BACON had still some of his most im. portant work to do-he is quoted in the Areopagitica—and finished his most important work, Novum Organum, in 1620.
The Contemporaries of Milton in the literary world were neither numerous nor in general worthy of remembrance.
Religious writers abounded, and JEREMY Contemporaries. TAYLOR,' the writer of Holy Living and Holy
Dying, is the best remembered of them. The poets GEO. HERBERT (The Temple), HERRICK (Hesperides), and WALLER alone are still read. Political thought and controversy ran deep and strong, and HOBBES (De Cive and Leviathan) and MILTON were at the head. JOHN SELDEN is probably better remembered by the general reader for his Table Talk than for his erudite works on law. SIR THOMAS BROWNE (Religio Medico), JOHN BUNYAN (Pilgrim's Progress), the satirist BUTLER (Hudibras), and IZAAK WALTON (The Compleat Angler) are famous through all time.
A crowd of younger writers, of a newer school and of different type, was beginning to work its way through the frivolous follies of the Restoration during the last years of Milton's life, and the names of DRYDEN, LOCKE, SIR ISAAC Newton, and PEPys are amongst the best known of these.
Of foreign writers SALMASIUS, who engaged him in controversy, “the famous GALILEO grown old," and GROTIUS, famed for his works on international law, are most connected with the life of Milton. In France, the dramatist CORNEILLE was writing his tragedies.
Summary of the Chief Incidents of the Life.
Born in London. 1620-1625. St. Paul's School. (Paraphrase of Psalms cxiv.
and cxxxvi.) 1625-1632. At Christ's College, Cambridge. (Odes. Hymn
to the Nativity.) 1632-1637. At Horton. (L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Comus,
on Education, Tractate
1654. Defensio Secunda.
1660. Short imprisonment. 1660-1671. Period of Epic Poetry.
1666. Paradise Lost.
1671. Samson Agonistes. 1664. Married Elizabeth Minshull, 1674.
Cause and Effect of Areopagitica.
The Star Chamber Decree, issued in July, 1637, and a summary of which follows this article, although drastic enough in its provisions, failed in its effect, and although Laud had said that he wished to see the day when no Jack gentleman in England would stand before a clergyman with his hat on, a deluge of pamphlets and books denouncing the evils of prelates and government had been issued.
The Parliament Decree.-So long as the stream of public opinion flowed in their favour, the Long Parliament did not interfere, but when its Presbyterian leaders found that some of its proceedings were being challenged, they issued their own ordinance, one quite as drastic as that of the Star Chamber. This was in June, 1643: “New Presbyter was but old Priest writ large."
Milton's Reasons for Writing.-In his Second Defence of the English people Milton states his reason for using the pen rather than the sword, and for taking up this particular subject. His words are:
“I was always less remarkable for strength of constitution than for vigour of intellect. I left to others the fatigue of a camp, and entered on pursuits in which I might exert myself with a fair promise of success, that, instead of offering the weakest part of my nature to the disposal of my country, I might bring to them all the weight in my power by the exercise of what in me is best.” (Defensio Secunda.)
“I seem to lead back, as if from a distance, Liberty, long a fugitive and an exile, to her home among the nations."
(Defensio Secunda.) There are three species of liberty which are essential to the happiness of social life --religious, domestic and civil; and
as I had already written concerning the first, and the magistrates were strenuously active in obtaining the third, I determined to turn my attention to the second, or the domestic species. As they seemed to involve three material questions—the conditions of the conjugal tie, the education of children, and the free publication of the thoughts-I made them objects of distinct consideration. ... Lastly, I wrote my Areopagitica after the true Attic Style, in order to deliver the press from the restraints with which it was encumbered ; that the power of determining what was true and what was false, what ought to be published and what to be suppressed, might no longer be entrusted to a few illiterate and illiberal individuals, who refused their sanction to any work which contained views or sentiments at all above the level of the vulgar superstition.'
His zeal for liberty was, however, more directly attracted towards this subject by the fact that his tractate on Divorce had been called in question in August, 1644, and Milton had been called before the House of Lords to defend his work.
The Effect of the Pamphlet does not appear to have been remarkable at first. The Long Parliament continued sternly on its course, and, in 1647, carried matters a stage further by passing its Ordinance for the Suppression of Plays and Interludes. The Independents, however, do not appear to have carried out the ordinance with severity, and the arguments of Milton seem to have led to the resignation of Mabbett, the Licenser, in 1649. Mabbett gave as his reason for resigning:
" That many thousand scandalous and malignant pamphlets were appearing with his endorsement, although he himself had never seen them."
“That the employment was unjust and illegal."
" That licensing as great a monopoly as ever was in that all men's judgments are to be bound up in the Licenser's.”
These arguments are Milton's, and no doubt were borrowed by Mabbett.
It is somewhat curious in this connection that Milton himself acted as a sort of licenser, or inspector, of the
“Mercurius Politicus," during the year 1651, although his work would appear to have been more that of an editor than of a licenser.
Thus, with greater or less severity, the licensing of the press was carried out. The Restoration reintroduced the methods of the Star Chamber, and an act was passed in 1662 very similar in terms to the Parliamentary Ordinance of 1643. The Licenser, L'Estrange, acted with severity, and applied his sponge to Milton's History of Britain, Paradise Lost narrowly escaping similar treatment.
For seventeen years the Act of 1662 kept in force, and it was again renewed in 1685, to meet its final end in 1694 Since that time, there have been attempts at renewal, particularly at times of intense political heat, but to-day the Press of England enjoys the liberty wnich Milton wrote for, and the whole English-speaking world does not suffer because a few may transgress.