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Not long after (August 19) the flutter of innumerable bosoms was stilled by an act, which the King, that his mercy might want no recommendation of elegance, rather called an Axt of Oblivion than of Grace. Goodwin was named, with nineteen more, as incapacitated for any publick trust; but of Milton there was no exception.
Of this tenderness shewn to Milton, the curiosity of mankind has not forborn to enquire the reason. Burnet thinks he was forgotten ; but this is another instance which may confirm Dalrymple's observation, who says, “ that whenever Burnet's narrations " are examined, he appears to be mistaken.”
Forgotten he was not; for his prosecution was ordered ; it must be therefore by design that he was included in the general oblivion. He is said to have had friends in the house, such as Marvel, Morrice, and Sir Thomas Clarges; and undoubtedly a man like him must have had influence. A very particular story of his escape is told by Richardson in his Memoirs, which he received from Pope,
as delivered by Betterton, who might have heard it from Davenant. In the war between the King and Parliament, Davenant was made prisoner and condemned to die; but was spared at the request of Milton. When the turn of success brought Milton into the like danger, Davenant repayed the benefit by appearing in his favour. Here is a reciprocation of generosity and gratitude so pleasing, that the tale makes its own way to credit. But if help were wanted, I know not where to find it. The danger of Davenant is certain from his cwn relation ; but of his escape there is no account, Betterton's narration can be traced no higher; it is not known that he had it from Davenant. We are told that the benefit exchanged was life for life ; but it seems not certain that Milton's life ever was in danger. Goodwin, who had committed the same kind of crime, escaped with incapacitation ; and as exclusion from publick trust is a punishment which the power of government can commonly inflict without the help of a particular law, it required no great interest to exempt Milton from a censure little more than verbal. Something may be reasonably ascribed to veneration and com
passion; to veneration of his abilities, and compassion for his distresses, which made it fit to forgive his malice for his learning. He was now poor and blind ; and who would pursue with violence an illustrious enemy, depressed by fortune, and disarmed by nature *?
The publication of the Act of Oblivion put him in the same condition with his fellowsubjects. He was, however, upon some pretence now not known, in the custody of the ferjeant in December; and, when he was released, upon his refusal of the fees demanded, he and the serjeant were called before the House. He was now safe within the shade of oblivion, and knew himself to be as much out of the power of a griping officer, as any other man.
How the question
* A different account of the means by which Milton secured himself is given by an historian lately brought to light. “Milton, Latin secretary to Cromwell, distinguished “ by his writings in favour of the rights and liberties of " the people, pretended to be dead, and had a publick “ funeral procession. The King applauded his policy in “ escaping the punishment of death, by a feasonable shew “ of dying." Cunningham's History of Great Britair, Vol. 1. p. 14. R.
was determined is not known. Milton would hardly have contended, but that he knew himself to have right on his lide.
He then removed to Jewin-street, near Aldersgate-street; and being blind and by no means wealthy, wanted a domestick
companion and attendant; and therefore, by the recommendation of Dr. Paget, married Elizabeth Minshul, of a gentleman's family in Cheshire, probably without a fortune. All his wives were virgins; for he has declared that he thought it gross and indelicate to be a second husband: upon what other principles his choice was made, cannot now be known ; but marriage afforded not much of his happiness. The first wife left him in disgust, and was brought back only by terror; the second, indeed, seems to have been more a favourite, but her life was short. The third, as Philips relates, oppressed his children in his life-time, and cheated them at his death.
Soon after his marriage, according to an obscure story, he was offered the continuance of his employment, and being pressed by his wife to accept it, answered,
$6 other women, want to ride in your coach ; my
wish is to live and die an honest man. If he considered the Latin fecretary as exercising any of the
government, he that had shared authority, either with the parliament or Cromwell, might have forborn to talk very loudly of his honesty; and if he thought the office purely ministerial, he certainly might have honestly retained it under the king. But this tale has too little evidence to deserve a disquisition ; large offers and sturdy rejections are ainong the common topicks of falsehood.
He had so much either of prudence or gratitude, that he forbore to disturb the new settlement with any of his political or ecclesiastical opinions, and from this time devoted himself to poetry and literature. Of his zeal for learning in all its parts, he gave a proof by publishing, the next year (1661), Accidence commenced Grammar ; a little book which has nothing remarkable, but that its author, who had been lately defending the supreme powers of his country, and was then writing Paradise Lost, could descend from his elevation to rescue children from the perplexity of gram