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* Mr. Edward Scott writes to the London Athenaum respecting a newly-discovered letter, which he thinks may throw some light on Milton’s separation from his first wife. Among the correspondence and papers of Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary of State to Charles I. and Charles 11., which I had the pleasure of cataloguing for Messrs. Puttick and Simpson last winter, I came across a letter of apparently littlejmporiance or interest at first sight, but which I inclince to believe nvey throw a perfectly new and very strong light on an occurrence in Milton’s life which, from his time to the present has never been satisfactorily explained. I allude to the true cause of his divorce from his first wife, Mary Powell, daughter of Richard Powell, of Forest Hill, near Oxford. Before I give, however, a copy of the letter, I must mention a few facts about the public events at the time of this marriage, in order to explain my surmises in relation to it. In | November, 1652, occurred the capture of Brentford by Cwarles I and his retreat soon after to Oxford, where he spent the year 1643. During the spring of 1643, Milton left London, went to Forest Hill, and married Mary Powell, the daughter of an ardent Royalist. In the second volume of Professor Masson’s admirable “ Life of Milton,” is a very full account of this wedding, and he points out how strange it was that the poet, “the anti-episcopal pamphleteer, and altogether one of the most marked of extreme Parliamentarians out of Parliament,” should venture so near the Royalist headquarters. It was a mystei’y, but not so great a mystery as the cause of his sudden divorce of his Royalist wife within three months after his marriage. The real motive for this has never been guessed, and Professor Masson points out in his third volume that Milton’s nephew, Phillips, must be wrong in the story he gives us of it, that the poet sent back for his bride after Michaelmas, 1633, because he knew for a certainty that the tract on “ Divorce” was out on August 1, 1643, and after its publication it is impossible to believe that he could have made any overtures whatever for her return. More than that, her mother distinctly affirmed, only a few days later, that her husband “ turned away his wife heretofore for a king space upon some other occasion.” What was the that led to such extraordinary conduct on the part of a bridegroom of two months’ standing? I believe it to have been the fact that “ the Philistines ploughed with his heifer,” in other words, that the Royalists of Oxford gained information of the movements of their enemies through the brothers of Mary Powell, then students at Christ Church, and that the brothers gained information through their sister Mary, and that their sister Mary betrayed her husband’s honor and forfeited her husband’s love by using her newly-won position to retail to her family all she heard and saw around her in her Puritan household. I now proceed to give a copy of this letter as I found it : “May it please your honor to remember that upon his late Majestie’s Return to Oxon after Brainford Fight, I did present His Majesty 50Ii in Gould, which he was pleased to deliver to your hands. And likewise that I did often send Intelligence to your Honor at Oxon by the hands of Mr. Richard Powell, now Bencher of the Temple. I doe most humbly request your Honour’s favour to Certify that the aforesaid perticulars, or what elce your Honour shall think fitt touching my Loyalty. I have peticioned his Majesty for the reversion of a Waiter’s Place at the Custom House, and your Honour’s Certificates on my behalf may greatly advantage me therein. For which and all other your great Favours both to my mother and myself, I shall ever remayne, Your Honour’s must humble and obedient Servaunt. William Garret, May 29th, 1667, Mr. Powell lived at Forest Hill, neare Oxon.” This letter is not addressed to anyone, but I have since found an original draft of an answer to it in the hand of the Secretary Nichols, in which he certifies to the writer’s “ particular diligence and faithfulness in the late troubles to do his Majesty of blessed memory service, n)t only by supplying his Majesty according to his ability, but by giving frequent and good intelligence through my hand whilst his Majesty was at Oxford of the Rebells movements and other matters. ” I ought to remark that the postscript of Garret’s letter, “Mr. Powell lived at Forest Hill, neare Oxon,” is in another hand—tkat, I believe, of Sir Joseph Williamson.

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Bibliographic details

Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 104, 25 May 1880

Word Count

AN INTERESTING LETTER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 104, 25 May 1880