The Project Gutenberg EBook of Milton's England, by Lucia Ames Mead This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: Milton's England Author: Lucia Ames Mead Release Date: December 1, 2010 [EBook #34526] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK MILTON'S ENGLAND *** Produced by Chris Curnow and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries.)
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|L. C. PAGE & COMPANY|
New England Building
From the miniature painted in 1667 by William Faithorne
By L. C. Page & Company
All rights reserved
Fifth Impression, April, 1908
Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.
Boston, U. S. A.
THIS LITTLE STUDY
OF BYGONE DAYS AND ANCIENT PLACES
IS INSCRIBED TO THE
PURITAN SCHOLAR AND DEAR FELLOW PILGRIM
WHO WANDERED WITH ME
ONE HAPPY SUMMER THROUGH
MAP OF MILTON’S ENGLAND
Milton’s Residences in London
|1.||Bread Street, 1608-1624.|
|2.||St. Bride’s Churchyard, in 1639 or 1640.|
|3.||Aldersgate Street, 1640-1645.|
|4.||The Barbican, 1645-1647.|
|5.||Holborn, near Lincoln’s Inn, 1647-1649.|
|6.||Charing Cross, opening into Spring Gardens,|
seven months in 1649.
|7.||Whitehall, by Scotland Yard, 1649-1652.|
|8.||Petty France, now York Street, 1652-1660.|
|9.||Bartholomew Close, and a prison, 1660.|
|10.||Holborn, near Red Lion Square, in 1660.|
|11.||Jewin Street, 1661-1663 or 1664.|
|12.||Artillery Walk, by Bunhill Fields Cemetery, 1664-1665,|
and from 1666 to November, 1674.
MAP OF MILTON’S LONDON
Map of Milton’s London
|1.||Clarendon House.||16.||Hatton Garden.||31.||Aldgate.|
|2.||St. James’s Field.||17.||St. John’s Gate.||32.||Whitechapel Street.|
|3.||St. James’s Palace.||18.||Smithfield.||33.||St. Olave.|
|4.||The New River.||19.||Charterhouse Yard.||34.||The Minories.|
|5.||St. James’s Park.||20.||Barbican.||35.||Custom House.|
|6.||Westminster Abbey.||21.||Jewin Street.||36.||St. Saviour’s.|
|7.||Pall Mall.||22.||St. Giles’s Cripplegate.||37.||Bedlam.|
|9.||Scotland Yard.||24.||Bread Street.||39.||Artillery Yard.|
|10.||Charing Cross.||25.||City Wall.||40.||Aldersgate Street.|
|11.||St. Martin’s Field.||26.||Austin Friars.||41.||Cheapside.|
|12.||The Temple.||27.||St. Ethelburga.||42.||Lambeth Palace.|
|13.||Lincoln Inn Fields.||28.||St. Helen’s.||43.||Petty France.|
|14.||Gray’s Inn Fields.||29.||Crosby Hall.||44.||Birdcage Walk.|
|I.||The London into Which Milton Was Born||11|
|II.||Milton’s Life on Bread Street||42|
|III.||Milton at Cambridge||57|
|IV.||Milton at Horton||78|
|V.||Milton on the Continent.—In St. Bride’s Churchyard.—At Aldersgate Street.—The Barbican.—Holborn.—Spring Gardens||85|
|VI.||Milton at Whitehall.—Scotland Yard.—Petty France.—Bartholomew Close.—High Holborn.—Jewin Street.—Artillery Walk.|
|VII.||Chalfont St. Giles.—Artillery Walk.||112|
|VIII.||The Tower.—Tower Hill||126|
|IX.||All Hallows, Barking.—St. Olave’s.—St. Catherine Cree’s.—St. Andrew Undershaft||143|
|X.||Crosby Hall.—St. Helen’s.—St. Ethelburga’s.—St. Giles’s, Cripplegate||164|
|XI.||Gresham College.—Austin Friars.—Guildhall.—St. Mary’s, Aldermanbury.—Christ’s Hospital.—St. Sepulchre’s.||184|
|XII.||Charterhouse.—St. John’s Gate.—St. Bartholomew’s.—Smithfield.||202|
|XIII.||Ely Place.—Inns of Court.—Temple Church.—Covent Garden.—Somerset House||221|
|XV.||The Precincts of the Abbey.—Westminster Palace.—St. Margaret’s||264|
|XVI.||Lambeth Palace.—St. Saviour’s.—London Bridge||277|
|XVII.||The Plague.—The Fire.—Wren.—London Rebuilt||293|
|Old St. Paul’s Cathedral||47|
|Christ’s College, Cambridge||62|
|Part of Whitehall||101|
|In Milton’s House at Chalfont St. Giles||113|
|St. Catherine Cree Church in 1736||157|
|Church of St. Andrew Undershaft in 1737||163|
|Church of St. Giles Cripplegate in 1737||178|
|St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell||209|
|Westminster Abbey as Milton Knew It||250|
|In Lambeth Palace||280|
|The Royal Exchange||295|
|Bow Steeple, Cheapside||304|
o every well-read man whose mother tongue is English, whether he be born in America or Australia or within sound of Bow Bells, the little dot upon the map, marked “London,” has an interest which surpasses that of any spot on earth. Though in his school-days he was taught nothing of the city’s topography and little of its local history, while he has laboriously learned outlandish names on every continent, nevertheless, in his mind’s eye, Westminster Abbey looms larger than Chimborazo, and a half-dozen miles of the tidal Thames have more of meaning to him than as many thousand of the Amazon, the Oxus, and the Ganges. To know London—its mighty, historic past and its complex, stupendous present—is to know the religion, the art, the science, the[Pg 12] politics,—the development, in short, of the Anglo-Saxon race.
Perhaps there is no better method of coming to know what is most interesting in this centre of all English life than studying one of the supremely important periods of its long history, when it was touched by the spiritual genius of one of England’s most noble sons.
Three periods of a hundred years each stand out above all others since the Christian era in their significance and richness of accomplishment.
The third period began about 1790 with the birth of the American Republic and the outbreak of the French Revolution. The first was that one hundred years which from 1450 to 1550 included the beginning of the general use of gunpowder, which made the pigmy with a pistol more than the match for giant with spear and battleaxe. Then it was that
“Gutenberg made thought cosmopolite
And stretched electric wires from mind to mind.”
In this period Italian art made its most splendid achievements, and Luther, Calvin, and Columbus gave man new freedom and new possibilities.
The middle period—the one in which England made her greatest contribution to human advancement—is the one that we are to consider. Milton’s[Pg 13] life covered sixty-six of its one hundred years. It began with the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and included the brilliant period of exploration and adventure just before Milton’s birth, in which Hawkins, Drake, and Raleigh, and other ambitious and not too scrupulous sea-rovers sought, like Cecil Rhodes, jewels and gold, empire, expansion, and renown.
It covered the chief work of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Lord Bacon, Milton, Bunyan, Defoe, Dryden, and fifty other men still read to-day. It included all of Milton’s great Puritan contemporaries, who, fighting for the rights of Englishmen, fought the world’s battle for freedom. It ended in 1688 with the downfall of the house of Stuart and the final triumph of those principles for which Vane and Milton had struggled and died without seeing the fruit of their labours. Since 1688 no monarch has sat upon the English throne by any outworn theory of “divine right of kings,” but only, explicitly and emphatically, by the will of the English people.
For all believers in the people, for all who honour Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, Robert Burns, John Bright and Gladstone, the century that knew Cromwell and Milton, Sir Harry Vane and Sir John Eliot, John Hampden, John Winthrop and[Pg 14] William Bradford must, more than most others, have significance.
John Milton was born in London in 1608; and it is chiefly the London of the twenty years that intervened between the Spanish Armada and his birth which we are to consider in this chapter.
As neither man nor anything that he has made can be well understood except as they are related to their origins, so to understand the names, the customs, and the daily sights that the boy Milton knew in this city, where for nearly two millenniums before his day history had been making, one must go back and take a brief survey.
Into the mooted question of the origin of the name of London we need not enter. Suffice to say that when we first hear of London it was a little hamlet on a hill of perhaps one hundred feet in height, lying between two ranges of higher hills. At the north rose what we now call Highgate and Hampstead, about 450 feet high, and to the south, beyond the marshes and the Thames and a broad shallow lagoon, whose little islands once marked the site of Southwark, rose the Surrey hills, from one of which in our day the Crystal Palace gleams. Men with stone weapons slew antlered deer upon the little marshy island of Thorney, now Westminster. What is now St.[Pg 15] James’s Park was then an estuary. Streams flowed down the valleys between the wooded hills. Only their names remain to-day to tell us, among the present stony streets, where rivers and brooks once flowed. West Bourn, Ty Bourn, Hole Bourne, the southern part of which was called the “Fleet,” flowed from the hills in the northwest in a southeasterly direction into the Thames. Just east of the last named was the little brook called “Wallbrook,” by whose banks, on the present Cornhill, the first settlement was made. All these names, of course, belong to a time long subsequent to the first rude settlements made in unknown antiquity before the Christian era. The Tyburn at its mouth divided, enclosing the island Thorney, upon which in later times arose Westminster. Hole Bourne was so named because of its running through a deep hollow. The lower part of the river—the Fleet—was tidal, and formed the western bulwark of London for centuries. It emptied into the Thames where now is Blackfriars Bridge.
Far eastward from the Wallbrook, through broad marshes, flowed the river Lea down from the country known to us as Essex and Hertfordshire. It emptied into the Thames east of the Isle of Dogs, which is now covered with huge docks for the shipping of the great modern city. The Lea still flows as in[Pg 16] the time of the Romans and Saxons, though its marshes have largely disappeared. But the other smaller streams are now obliterated, though in Milton’s time their course could still partly be discerned, and their degradation into drains was not complete.
Through Bread Street, on which Milton was born, passed Watling Street, the old Roman road, named later by the Saxons, which with the Roman wall around the city alone left traces of the Roman occupation in the poet’s day. The mosaic floors, the coins, bronze weapons and scanty remains of the Roman period, before the fourth century A. D., are better known to us than to the Londoners of his time. The Roman city spread itself along the river from the Fleet on the west to the site of the present Tower of London on the east, and then gradually crept northward. By the time the Roman wall was built in about 360 A. D., the circumference of the city, counting the river front, was two miles and three quarters. Here stood the town, not in an area of fertile fields, but surrounded by forests on the north, and on all other sides by wide-spreading marshes. The enclosed space was originally 380 acres, to which later additions were made upon the north and east. The wall was built of layers of thin red brick and stone about twenty[Pg 17] feet high, and was finished by bastions and additional defences at the angles. Though scant traces of any of the original construction now remain, much of the Roman wall, and, at all events, a complete wall of mingled Roman and mediæval work, encircled the site of the ancient city limits in Milton’s day, and its gates were nightly locked until long after his death.
At first, two land gates had sufficed, but in 1600 there were seven; on the east, Aldgate; further north was Bishopsgate; further west, upon the northern wall, were Moorgate and Cripplegate; upon the west, Aldersgate, protected by the Barbican, one of the gateway towers; and south of this, Newgate and Ludgate. Upon the waterside, Dowgate, at the mouth of the ancient Wallbrook, now covered by the narrow street of the same name, and Billingsgate, further east toward the Tower of London, gave access to the city.
In Roman days the whole enclosure was crossed by two great streets,—Watling Street, which came from the northwest and entered near Newgate, and Ermyn Street, which came from the northeast. Where these two met was later the market or chepe, from the Saxon word meaning sale.
Of the Saxon period, which followed the sudden and mysterious abandonment of their city by the[Pg 18] Romans after their occupation of it for three centuries, we have to-day a thousand traces in London names. Evidently the early Anglo-Saxon, like his descendants, had a marked love of privacy and seclusion. His sense of the sacred nature of property was as marked in him as it has always been in his posterity. The idea of inclosure or protection is made prominent in the constantly recurring terminations of ton, ham, worth, stoke, stow, fold, garth, park, hay, burgh, bury, brough, borrow. Philologic study of continental terms displays no such marked emphasis upon the idea of property and demarkation lines. Says the learned Taylor: “It may indeed be said, without exaggeration, that the universal prevalence throughout England of names containing this word, Homes [viz., ham, ton, etc.], gives us the clue to the real strength of the national character of the Anglo-Saxon race.” Kensington, Brompton, Paddington, Islington, are but a few of the local names which illustrate in their suffix the origin of the word town—originally a little hedged enclosure. [German zaun or hedge.] The most important remnant of the Saxon influence is to be found in the syllable ing which occurs in thousands of London names. This was the usual Anglo-Saxon patronymic, and occurs most often in the middle syllable, as in Buckingham, the home of Buck’s[Pg 19] son; Wellington, the village of Wells’s son, or the Wells clan. Family settlements are traceable by this syllable ing.
Chipping or chepe was the old English term for market-place, and Westcheap and Eastcheap were the old London markets of Saxon days. When the word market takes the place in England of the old Anglo-Saxon chipping, we may assume the place to be of later origin.
The Saxons, unlike the Romans, were not road-makers, and when they applied the English word street, corrupted from the Latin strata, as in the case of Watling Street—the ancient road which they renamed—we shall usually find that it marks a work of Roman origin.
Clerkenwell, Bridewell, Holywell, and names with similar suffixes indicate the site of wells from which it would seem that the ancient Londoners derived their water supply when it was not taken from the Thames, the Holborn, or the Tyburn. Hithe, which means landing-place, has in later times largely disappeared, except at Rotherhithe near Greenwich.
With the conversion of the Saxons in the seventh century appear the names of Saxon saints. Among the notable ones to whom churches were built was holy St. Ethelburga, the wife of Sebert, the first[Pg 20] Christian king, whose church to-day stands on the site of its Saxon predecessor beside Bishopsgate, on the very spot where stood the Roman gate. Another was St. Osyth, queen and martyr, whose name also survives in Sise, or St. Osyth’s Lane, and whose black and grimy churchyard was doubtless green in Milton’s day. To these must be added St. Dunstan, St. Swithin, St. Edmund the Martyr, and St. Botolph, to whom no less than four churches were erected.
The devastating fire of 1135 swept London from end to end, and not a Saxon structure remained, though the new ones that replaced them were built in similar fashion. With the coming of the Danes were built churches to their patrons, St. Olaf and St. Magnus; and in the centre of the Strand, St. Clement’s, Danes, is said to mark the spot where tradition assigns a settlement of Danes.
As of the Saxons, so of the Danes, the most permanent record of their influence on London and the Danish district of England was in their suffixes to words which still survive. By, meaning first a farm and later a village, is one which occurs some six hundred times. To this day our common term, a by-law, recalls the Dane.
The names of the street on which Milton was born and of those in the near neighbourhood to the[Pg 21] booths that once surrounded Cheap indicate the products formerly sold there, or the trades carried on within them. To the north the streets were called: Wood, Milk, Iron, Honey, Poultry; to the south they were named after Bread, Candles, Soap, Fish, Money-Changing. Friday Street was one on which fish and food for fast days were sold.
Of Saxon and Danish London there remains in the old city proper not one stone. Of Norman London, we have to-day the great White Tower, the crypt of Bow Church, from whose round arches it received its name, the crypt of St. John’s Priory outside the city, part of the church of St. Bartholomew’s the Great, and part of St. Ethelburga’s, Bishopsgate. Much more existed before the Great Fire of 1666. The chief characteristics of the English Norman work are the half-circular Roman arch, seen in all Romanesque work: massive walls unsupported by great buttresses and not pierced by the large windows which appear in the later Gothic style; square towers without spires; barrel vaulting over nave and aisles in the churches; massive piers; the use of colour upon ornaments and wall surfaces instead of in the windows as in Gothic buildings; small interlacing round arches in wall surfaces; zigzag and “dog tooth” decoration; “pleated” capitals; carvings, more or less grotesque, of human or[Pg 22] animal forms. English Norman, like English Gothic, never equalled the French work in both these styles.
In Milton’s boyhood the impress of Plantagenet London was everywhere visible. Throughout the centuries, from the earliest to the latest Plantagenet, the influence of the Church reigned supreme. It has been estimated that then at least one-fourth of the area of all London was in some way connected with the Church, or the extensive conventual establishments belonging to it. Their Gothic towers and steeples rose clean and pure to the soft blue of the London sky, unfouled with coal smoke. Their lofty walls, over which English ivy crept and roses bloomed, shut from the narrow streets of the old town stretches of soft greensward and shady walks. Among these rose dormitories, refectories, cloisters, and the more prosaic offices. At every hour bells pealed and constantly reminded the citizens of prayer and service.
Hardly a street but had its monastery or convent garden. Most of these were just within or just without the city wall, as they were founded when the city had already become of a considerable size, and they were therefore located in the more open parts. The enormous size of the equipment of these religious establishments before the Reformation, in[Pg 23] the century when Milton’s grandfather was young, can scarcely be conceived to-day when the adjuncts of the Church have shrunk almost to nothingness. In Milton’s boyhood, it must have been an easy task among the recent ruins and traditions of these great establishments to reconstruct them to the imagination in their entirety. Sir Walter Besant in his graphic book on “London” details the numbers supported in this earlier period by St. Paul’s alone. The cathedral body included the bishop, dean, the four archdeacons, the treasurer, the precentor, the chancellor, thirty greater canons, twelve lesser canons, about fifty chaplains or chantry priests, and thirty vicars. Of lower rank were the sacrist and three vergers, the servitors, the surveyor, the twelve scribes, the book transcriber, the bookbinder, the chamberlain, the rent-collector, the baker, the brewer, the singing men and choir boys, of whom priests were made, the bedesmen and the poor folk. In addition to these were the servants and assistants of all these officers; the sextons, gravediggers, gardeners, bell ringers, makers and menders of the ecclesiastical robes, cleaners and sweepers, carpenters, masons, painters, carvers, and gilders.
A similar body, though somewhat smaller, was required in every other religious foundation. No wonder that not only one-fourth of the area but also[Pg 24] one-fourth of the whole city population was needed to supply these demands.
From Norman London there remained, besides St. Paul’s vast monastic house, the priory of St. Bartholomew’s, the house of St. Mary Overie’s, the hospital of St. Katharine’s, and the priory of the Holy Trinity. In Plantagenet London, we find the priory of Crutched—that is, Crossed—Friars, who wore a red cross upon their back and carried an iron cross in their hands. Farther north upon the other side of Aldgate stood the great monastery of Holy Trinity, the richest and most magnificent in the city; and the priory of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, whose noble ruins had not disappeared more than a century after Milton’s death. Farther west and north of Broad Street stood the splendid house of Austin Friars; still farther west was St. Martin’s le Grand, and just beyond, the foundation of the Gray Friars or Franciscans. Christ’s Hospital, which lies chiefly on the site of this old monastery, we shall consider in a later chapter. In the southwest corner of the London wall dwelt the Black Friars—the Dominicans—whose name to-day is perpetuated in Blackfriars Bridge.
Outside the walls were other establishments as rich and splendid as these that were within them. Farther west than the house of the Black Friars was[Pg 25] the monastery of White Friars or Carmelites, and beyond these the ancient site of the Knights Templar, whose Temple church, in Milton’s day, as well as ours, alone remained. North of the Norman St. Bartholomew’s was the house of the Carthusians, whose long history, ending in the Charterhouse, must be reserved to a later chapter. Northwest from the Norman house of St. Bartholomew’s stood the Norman priory of St. John’s of Jerusalem. Adjacent to it lay the twin foundation—the priory of Black Nuns.
South of the Thames lay two great establishments, Bermondsey and St. Thomas’s Hospital, while of the hospitals situated among the priories and monasteries to the north were the hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem and the great hospital of St. Mary Spital, both of which were originally planned for religious houses. This is but a dry, brief catalogue, not of all the great religious houses, but only of those whose walls, more or less transformed or ruined, were within walking distance and most familiar to the boy Milton in his rambles around the city of his birth.
Milton must have seen several “colleges” as well as monasteries; among these were St. Michael’s College on Crooked Lane, and Jesus Commons, and a “college” for poor and aged priests, called the[Pg 26] “Papey.” A portion of the “college” of Whittington still remained, and on the site of the present Mercers’ Chapel stood a college for the education of priests, whose splendid church remained until the Great Fire.
Every lover of the beautiful must fondly dwell upon the glorious period of Gothic architecture during which these structures rose. Though London in the Tudor period eclipsed in wealth and magnificence the city of earlier times, the Elizabethan age had no power in its development of pseudo-classic forms to equal the dignity and beauty of the Norman and Gothic work. Then the unknown reverent artist wrought not for fame or earthly glory, but dedicated his labour to the God of Nature, whose laws and principles were his chief guide. These were the days when vine and tendril and the subtle curves of leaf and flower or supple animal form suggested the enrichment of capital and corbel. No cheap and servile imitation of lute and drum, of spear and sword and ribbon, of casque and crown and plume, displayed a paucity of inventive genius and abandonment of nature’s teaching for that of milliner and armourer. Let John Ruskin, in many ways the spiritual son of the beauty-loving Puritan, John Milton, interpret to us the meaning of those poems reared in stone, which Milton’s age was fast displacing:
[Pg 27]“You have in the earlier Gothic less wonderful construction, less careful masonry, far less expression of harmony of parts in the balance of the building. Earlier work always has more or less of the character of a good, solid wall with irregular holes in it, well carved wherever there was room. But the last phase of Gothic has no room to spare; it rises as high as it can on narrowest foundations, stands in perfect strength with the least possible substance in its bars; connects niche with niche and line with line in an exquisite harmony from which no stone can be removed, and to which you can add not a pinnacle; and yet introduces in rich, though now more calculated profusion, the living elements of its sculpture, sculpture in quatrefoils, gargoyles, niches, in the ridges and hollows of its mouldings—not a shadow without meaning and not a line without life. But with this very perfection of his work came the unhappy pride of the builder in what he had done. As long as he had been merely raising clumsy walls and carving them, like a child, in waywardness of fancy, his delight was in the things he thought of as he carved; but when he had once reached this pitch of constructive science, he began to think only how cleverly he could put the stones together. The question was not now with him, What can I represent? but, How high can I [Pg 28]build—how wonderfully can I hang this arch in air? and the catastrophe was instant—architecture became in France a mere web of woven lines,—in England a mere grating of perpendicular ones. Redundance was substituted for invention, and geometry for passion.” (“The Two Paths.”)
It is in this later Gothic, for example the much admired Chapel of Henry VII. at Westminster, that we find this redundancy of motive and poverty of invention, as, for instance, in the repetition of the portcullis—the Tudor heraldic ornament. Ruskin would teach us that heraldic signs, though suited for a few conspicuous places, as proclaiming the name or rank or office of the owner, become impertinent when blazoned everywhere, and are wholly devoid of beauty when they reproduce by the hundred some instrument of prosaic use.
Plantagenet London, and its many remnants of domestic architecture, in Milton’s day, illustrated fully Ruskin’s dictum that “Gothic is not an art for knights and nobles; it is an art for the people; it is not an art [merely] for churches and sanctuaries; it is an art for houses and homes.... When Gothic was invented houses were Gothic as well as churches.... Good Gothic has always been the work of the commonalty, not of the churches.... Gothic was formed in the baron’s[Pg 29] castle and the burgher’s street. It was formed by the thoughts and hands and powers of labouring citizens and warrior kings.” (“Crown of Wild Olive.”)
In a memorable passage in his lectures on Architecture in Edinburgh, Ruskin recalls the power with which the Gothic forms appeal to the imagination when embodied in poetry and romance. He asks what would result were the words tower and turret, and the mental pictures that they conjure up, removed. Suppose Walter Scott had written, instead of “the old clock struck two from a turret adjoining my bedchamber,” “the old clock struck two from the landing at the top of the stair.” “What,” he asks, “would have become of the passage?” “That strange and thrilling interest with which such words strike you as are in any wise connected with Gothic architecture, as for instance, vault, arch, spire, pinnacle, battlement, barbican, porch,—words everlastingly poetical and powerful,—is a most true and sure index that the things themselves are delightful to you.” As to stylobates, and pediments, and triglyphs, and all the classic forms, even when pure and unvulgarised by decadent Renaissance work, how utterly they fail to satisfy the poetic instinct of the man of English lineage is well expressed by James Russell Lowell, as he stood within the portals of Chartres Minster:
“The Grecian gluts me with its perfectness
Unanswerable as Euclid, self-contained,
The one thing finished in this hasty world.
But ah! this other, this that never ends,
Still climbing, luring fancy still to climb,
As full of morals, half divined, as life,
Graceful, grotesque, with ever new surprise
Of hazardous caprices, sure to please,
Heavy as nightmare, airy light as fern,
Imagination’s very self in stone!”
Of the type of architecture most favoured by Milton’s contemporaries, Ruskin says:
“Renaissance architecture is the school which has conducted men’s inventive and constructive faculties from the Grand Canal [in England, he might have said, old Chester or old Canterbury] to Gower Street, from the marble shaft and the lancet arch and the wreathed leafage ... to the square cavity in the brick wall.” This is a strong expression of a half truth. But the baldness and blankness of Gower Street and a thousand other streets is not so hopeless as the pretentious bastard Renaissance work which modern London shows. The rich modern world can not plead poverty as its excuse for ugliness. Even the village cottage of three centuries ago, as well as the city streets, showed a popular love of beauty and a power to attain it which few architects, or rather few of their patrons, permit the modern world to see.
[Pg 31]But let the lover of past beauty take new courage. Hundreds of signs disclose the dawn of a revival of true taste in which England and America bid fair to lead the world.
Though in most of its forms the Renaissance art that accompanied the new age of discovery and expansion of commerce in the century before Milton indicates a decadence of the love of beauty, exception must be made to much delightful domestic architecture that has the Tudor stamp and is distinctly English, and unknown on the Continent.
The introduction into the background of portraits of such classic outlines as domes, arches, and marble pilasters, is a device used by painters when they would flatter the vanity of their patrons and give them a courtly setting. No Byzantine or Norman arch, or Gothic spire or portal, however rich in decoration, can equal the severe but pompous lines of the Renaissance in conveying a sense of pride. Says Ruskin: “There is in them an expression of aristocracy in its worst characters: coldness, perfectness of training, incapability of emotion, want of sympathy with the weakness of lower men, blank, hopeless, haughty insufficiency. All these characters are written in the Renaissance architecture as plainly as if they were graven on it in words. For, observe, all other architectures have something in them that common[Pg 32] men can enjoy; some concession to the simplicities of humanity, some daily bread for the hunger of the multitude; quaint fancy, rich ornament, bright colour, something that shows a sympathy with men of ordinary minds and hearts, and this wrought out, at least in the Gothic, with a rudeness showing that the workman did not mind exposing his own ignorance if he could please others. But the Renaissance is exactly the contrary of this. It is rigid, cold, inhuman; incapable of glowing, of stooping, of conceding, for an instant. Whatever excellence it has is refined, high-trained, and deeply erudite, a kind which the architect well knows no common mind can taste. He proclaims it to you aloud.... All the pleasure you can have in anything I do is in its proud breeding, its rigid formalism, its perfect finish, its cold tranquillity.... And the instinct of the world felt this in a moment.... Princes delighted in it, and courtiers. The Gothic was good for God’s worship, but this was good for man’s worship.... The proud princes and lords rejoiced in it. It was full of insult to the poor in its every line. It would not be built of materials at the poor man’s hand.... It would be of hewn stone; it would have its windows and its doors and its stairs and its pillars in lordly order and of stately size.”
[Pg 33]To the novice, who is beginning to decipher the inner meaning of sermons in stones in which the ages have recorded, all unconsciously, the life and aspiration of the past, these words may sound harsh and fantastic.
With the memory of such rare geniuses as Michael Angelo and Wren, and their awe-inspiring cathedrals, built in the Renaissance forms, one may hesitate before completely accepting Ruskin’s dictum. Ruskin himself has done homage to their genius and the greatness of their work. “There were of course,” he says, “noble exceptions.” Yet surely the devout Christian must feel under their glorious domes not so much like praying and reverencing his Maker as glorifying the work of men’s hands. Under any dome and architectural reminder of Roman thought and life, whether it be Wren’s mighty St. Paul’s, or his small and exquisitely proportioned St. Stephen’s, Wallbrook, almost in its shadow, the worshipper must feel something akin to Ruskin’s sentiment. A meek and contrite heart feels alien and uncomforted amid its perfection.
But Ruskin’s word chiefly concerns the more perfect Gothic of the Continent, and the manifestations there—worse than any in England—of riotous and insolent excess in its Renaissance work. The most ostentatious and offensive monument in [Pg 34]Westminster Abbey, which is adorned with meaningless mouldings, artificial garlands, and cherubs weeping hypocritic tears, is not so odious as those which Venice, Rome, Antwerp, and a hundred other cities reared upon the Continent. Those tasteless, costly structures which modern Englishmen are but now learning to condemn illustrate completely the pride and arrogance of a world drunk with new wealth, in which fashion supplants beauty.
Yet to a large extent the England of the splendid Tudor period and the England of the Stuarts substituted for the beautiful and sincere forms of an earlier period a style of construction and decoration which showed distinct decadence. Witness the carvings in the chapel and dining-hall of the Charterhouse, new in Milton’s boyhood, the carvings in the dining-halls of the different Inns of Court, and mural tablets everywhere with their obese cherubs and ghastly death’s heads. In the quaint beam and plaster front of Staple’s Inn on Holborn still remains the ancient type of domestic architecture which antedated and accompanied Milton’s boyhood. Hundreds of such cosy, homelike residences with their ample windows of many leaded panes lined the city streets. The merchants who lived in them sold their wares in the shops beneath, and, if they were artificers, housed their apprentices within them. They[Pg 35] were built solidly to last for centuries. Strong beams upheld the broad, low-studded ceilings. Capacious fireplaces opened into chimneys whose construction was often made a work of art. Around the house-door were carvings of saints or devils, of prophets, hobgoblins or grotesque dragons, of birds and bees, and any wild or lovely fancy that the craftsman loved to perpetuate in wood or stone. The home must be made beautiful as well as the sanctuary. In those days the mania of migration had not yet destroyed the permanence and sacredness of the homestead. Where the young man brought his bride, even in a city home, there he hoped to dwell and dandle his grandchildren upon his knee. It was Milton’s fate to know many homes in London. Discoveries and travel of the Elizabethan period had broken many traditions of the past, and the old order in his day was yielding to the new. But half the architecture of two hundred years before him still remained, and all the traditions of the past were fresh. The dingy and mutilated relics of the time before the Tudors which, outside the Gothic churches, alone remain to us, reveal but little of what he saw.
With Henry VIII. and the widespread and thorough dissolution of religious houses, London became a far more commercial and prosaic place. Green[Pg 36] convent gardens were sold for the erection of narrow wooden tenements; ancient dormitories, refectories, and chapels were pulled down or transformed for more secular purposes. Crutched Friars’ Church became a carpenter’s shop and tennis court; Shakespeare and his friends erected a playhouse on the site of the Black Friars’ monastery. A tavern replaced the church of St. Martin’s le Grand, and far and wide traces of the despoiler and rebuilder were manifest.
Stow had then but just written his invaluable chronicles, and little antiquarian interest prevailed. For the first time in human history men sailed around the globe. New worlds were opening to men’s visions. Not only dreams of wealth without labour, but golden actualities had dazzled the imagination of thousands. Drake and Hawkins, Frobisher and Raleigh were adding new lustre to an age hitherto unparalleled in prosperity and enterprise. Emerson’s description of the Englishman as having a “telescopic appreciation of distant gain” was exemplified.
England was rich in poets, great even in Shakespeare’s time. Of two hundred and forty who published verses, forty are remembered to-day. Yet of England’s six million people, half could not read at all. Never was there among people of privilege[Pg 37] such a proportion of accomplished men. Every man tried his hand at verses, and learned to sing a madrigal, and tinkle the accompaniment with his own fingers. Gentlemen travelled to Italy and brought back or made themselves translations of Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tasso. Not only learned ladies like Queen Elizabeth, who had had Roger Ascham for instructor, wrote Latin, but many others were accomplished in those severer studies which ladies in a later age neglected.
Sir Walter Besant tells us that from Henry IV. to Henry VIII. herbs, fruits, and roots were scarcely used. At this period, however, the poor again began to consume melons, radishes, cucumbers, parsley, carrots, turnips, salad herbs, and these things as well graced the tables of the gentry. Potatoes were unknown until a much later time. Much meat was eaten, and in different fashion from our own, e. g., honey was poured over mutton. Tobacco cost eighteen shillings a pound, and King James complained that there were those who “spent £300 a year upon this noxious weed.” No vital statistics existed to show the average of longevity. But certain it is that, with modern sanitation and cleanliness, the great modern London, which to-day houses about as many souls as did all England then, has a much lower death-rate. When one remembers[Pg 38] that, spite of stupendous intellectual attainments, of exquisite taste in art and literature, spite of wise statesmanship and all manly virtues, the wise men of that day were children in their knowledge of chemistry and medicine, we cannot wonder at the recurrence of the plague in almost every generation.
In 1605 the bills of mortality included the ninety-seven parishes within the walls, sixteen parishes without the walls, and six contiguous outparishes in Middlesex and Surrey. During Milton’s lifetime, they included the city of Westminster and the parishes of Islington, Lambeth, Stepney, Newington, Hackney, and Redriff. Scarlet fever was formerly confounded with measles, and does not appear to be reported as a separate disease until 1703.
In 1682 Sir William Petty, speaking of the five plagues that had visited London in the preceding hundred years, remarks: “It is to be remembered the plagues of London do commonly kill one-fifth of the inhabitants, and are the chief impediment against the growth of the city.”
In Milton’s boyhood common folk were crowded into such narrow, wooden tenements as one may still see within the enclosure of St. Giles’s Church, Cripplegate,—almost the only ones that still remain within the city. There were no sewers and no adequate pavement until 1616. House refuse was not[Pg 39] infrequently thrown into the street, and sometimes upon the heads of passers-by, though ancient laws enjoined each man to keep the front of his house clean and to throw no refuse into the gutter. In short, ideas on sanitation in London were much like those in Havana before the summer of 1898.
It is difficult to obtain accurate statistics of the population of London, but Loftie estimates that in 1636 seven hundred thousand people lived “within its liberties.”
Where now lofty, gray stone buildings of pretentious and nondescript architecture shelter banks and offices, gabled buildings with overlapping stories darkened the streets. The city was not dependent on the suburbs or upon other towns for aught but food and raw material. Wool and silk and linen, leather and all metals were wrought close to the shops where they were sold. The odours of glue and dyestuffs tainted the fresh air. The sound of tools and hammers, and of the simple looms and machinery of the day, worked by foot or hand power, were heard.
New objects of luxury began to be manufactured—fans, ladies’ wigs, fine knives, pins, needles, earthen fire-pots, silk and crystal buttons, shoe-buckles, glassware, nails, and paper. New products from foreign lands were introduced and [Pg 40]naturalised—among them, turkeys, hops, and apricots. Forks had not yet appeared as a necessary table furnishing. Kissing was a universal custom, and a guest kissed his hostess and all ladies present.
Though in the time of Milton’s father the amenities of life had much increased, cruelty and severe punishments were more frequent than in an earlier age. Three-fourths of all the heretics burned at the stake in England suffered in those five years of the bloody queen who, with her Spanish husband at her court, ruled from 1553 to 1558 over unhappy England. Many a time must the boy Milton have heard blood-curdling tales from aged men of these ghastly days when Ridley, Cranmer, Hooper, and John Rogers withered in the flames. His own father may have seen the later martyrdoms of Roman Catholics in Elizabeth’s reign, or of that Unitarian in 1585 who suffered at the stake for the denial of the divinity of Christ—a theological view with which Milton himself is shown to have had much sympathy.
The historian tells us of men boiled and women burned for poisoning; of ears nailed to the pillory and sliced off for libellous and incendiary language. We read of frightful floggings through the streets and of an enormous number of men hanged. Many rogues escaped punishment altogether, for, though[Pg 41] punishment when it came was terrifically out of proportion to the offence, and in its publicity incited by suggestion to more crime, the law was often laxly administered.
All periods are more or less transitional, but the England into which Milton came in the first years of the seventeenth century was peculiarly in a state of transformation and unsettlement. As in the beginning of the twentieth century, men’s minds were receiving radical, new impressions, and had not yet assimilated or comprehended them. The doctrines of religious and political freedom were the dreams of prophets, and were yet to be conceived a possibility by the masses, who through dumb centuries had toiled and laughed and wept, and then stretched themselves in mother earth and slept among their fathers. The tender, growing shoots which in the days of Wiclif had sprung from the seed, small as a mustard seed, which he had planted, had grown. Birds now lodged among its branches. The time was ripening when, with the axe and hammer of Milton and his mighty compeers, some of its timbers should help rear a new structure for church and state; and others should be driven deep under the foundations of the temple which men of English blood should in the future rear to democracy.
irectly under the shadow of St. Mary le Bow Church, and almost within bowshot of old St. Paul’s, in a little court off Bread Street, three doors from Cheapside, John Milton, the son of John Milton, scrivener, was born, December 9th in 1608. The house was marked by the sign of a spread eagle, probably adopted from the armorial bearings of the family, which appear on the original agreement for the publication of “Paradise Lost.” John Milton, scrivener, whose business was much like that of the modern attorney, was the son of a well-to-do Catholic yeoman of Oxfordshire, and is said to have studied for a time at Christ Church, Oxford. Certain it is that he turned Protestant, was cast off by his father, and in Elizabeth’s reign settled in London; by 1600, when he married his wife Sarah, the worldly goods with which he her endowed in the church of All Hallows, Bread Street, included two houses on that street, besides others elsewhere.
[Pg 43]We know little of Milton’s mother, except that she was a woman of a warm heart and generous hand, and had weak eyes which compelled her to wear spectacles before she was thirty, while her husband read without them at the age of eighty-four. Three of their six little ones died in babyhood, but the little John’s elder sister, Anne, and younger brother, Christopher, grew with him to middle life.
It was a musical household; an organ and other instruments were part of the possessions most highly prized in the Bread Street home. The little lad must have looked with pride at the gold chain and medal presented to his father by a Polish prince for a composition in forty parts which the former had written for him. Many chimes in country churches played the psalm tunes that he had harmonised. To this day a madrigal and other songs of his are known to music lovers. No wonder that the boy reared in this home was ever a lover of sweet sounds, and learned to evoke them with his own little fingers upon the organ keyboard.
The Bread Street of Milton’s day, though swept over by the Great Fire, was not obliterated, and still covers its old site. Just at the head of it, on Cheapside, stood the “Standard in Cheap”—an ancient monument in hexagonal shape, with sculptures[Pg 44] on each side, and on the top the figure of a man blowing a horn. Here Wat Tyler and Jack Cade had beheaded prisoners. A little west was the Gothic Cross in Cheap, one of the nine crosses erected in memory of Queen Eleanor, somewhat similar to the modern one at Charing Cross.
Only a few steps from his father’s house the little John found himself in the thickest traffic and bustle of the city. Here were mercers’ and goldsmiths’ shops, and much coming and going of carts, and occasionally coaches, which, as the antiquarian Stow declared, “were running on wheels with many whose parents had been glad to go on foot,” for coaches were but newly come into fashion. As the little lad stood at the street corner looking east and west along Cheapside,—the ancient market-place,—his eye fell on well-built houses three and four stories high; they were turned gable end to the street, were built of timber, brick, and plaster, and had projecting upper stories of woodwork. Stow describes a row built by Thomas Wood, goldsmith, of “fair large houses, for the most part possessed of mercers,” and westward, beginning at Bread Street, “the most beautiful frame of fair houses and shops that be within the walls of London or elsewhere in England. It containeth in number ten fair dwelling-houses and fourteen shops, all in one[Pg 45] frame, uniformly builded, four stories high, beautified toward the street with the goldsmiths’ arms and the likeness of woodmen, in memory of his name, riding on monstrous beasts; all of which is cast in lead, richly painted over and gilt.”
The modern visitor, as he turns from the jostling crowds of Cheapside into Bread Street, which is scarcely wider than a good sidewalk, will find no trace of aught that Milton saw. The present mercantile establishment, at numbers 58-63, that covers the site of his house, covers as well the whole Spread Eagle Court, in which it stood. It bears no inscription, but, if one enters, the courteous proprietor may conduct him to the second story where a bust of Milton is placed over the spot where he was born.
A little farther south, on the corner of Watling Street, is the site of All Hallows Church, where Milton was baptised, and which is marked by a gray stone bust of the poet and the inscription:
Born in Bread Street
Baptised in Church of All Hallows
Which Stood here Ante
The register of his baptism referred to him as “John, sonne of John Mylton, Scrivener.”
[Pg 46]Here the Milton family sat every Sunday and listened to the sermons of Reverend Richard Stocke, a zealous Puritan and most respected man, who is said to have had the gift of influencing young people.
Further south, on the same side as All Hallows, were “six almshouses builded for poor decayed brethren of the Salter’s Company,” and beyond this the church of St. Mildred, the Virgin. Upon crossing Basing Lane, Milton saw the most noted house upon the street, known as “Gerrard Hall.” This was an antique structure “built upon arched vaults and with arched gates of stone brought from Caen in Normandy,” as Stow relates. A giant is said to have lived here, and the large fir pole in the high hall, which reached to the roof, was said to have been his staff. Stow thought it worth while to measure it, and declares it was fifteen inches in circumference. Small boys in Bread Street may well have stood in awe of such a cane.
Whether the famous “Mermaid” Tavern was in Bread or Friday Street or between them seems doubtful, but Ben Jonson’s lines plainly indicate Bread Street:
“At Bread-street’s Mermaid having dined and merry,
Proposed to go to Holborn in a wherry.”
OLD ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
The two upper views show the porch by Inigo Jones. The two lower views show the “Lesser Cloisters.” Milton’s school stood at the rear of the church.
From an old engraving.
[Pg 47]As Milton was early destined for the Church, his unusually thoughtful disposition and quick perception must have given promise of his fulfillment of his father’s hope. At the age of ten he was writing verses. At this time, a Dutch painter, Jansen, reputed to be “equal to Van Dyck in all except freedom of hand and grace,” was employed to paint the scrivener’s little son, as well as James I. and his children and various noblemen.
This portrait shows us a sweet-faced, sober little Puritan in short-cropped auburn hair, wearing a broad lace frill about his neck, and an elaborately braided jacket. This portrait is now in private hands, from whence it is to be hoped that it will some day find its way to the National Portrait Gallery, and be placed beside the striking and noble likeness of the poet in middle life.
The lines which were written beneath the first engraving of it may have been the poet’s own:
“When I was yet a child, no childish play
To me was pleasing; all my mind was set
Serious to learn and know, and thence to do
What might be public good; myself I thought
Born to that end, born to promote all truth
And righteous things.”
Milton appears to have been very fond of his preceptor, a Scotch Puritan named Young. He seems to have well grounded the lad in Latin, aroused in him a love of poetry, and set him to[Pg 48] making English and Latin verses. But the little John must go to school with other boys; and what more natural than that the famous St. Paul’s School, within five minutes’ walk, should have been selected?
When Milton went to school in 1620, St. Paul’s Cathedral was become old and much in need of restoration. It had been built on the site of an older church and was in process of erection and alteration from about 1090 to 1512, when its new wooden steeple, covered with lead, was completed. Its cross was estimated later by Wren to have been at least 460 feet from the ground. This had disappeared in a fire in 1561, and none replaced it. What Milton saw was a huge edifice, chiefly Gothic, with a central tower about 260 feet high. The classical porch by Inigo Jones was not added, neither were certain buildings which abutted the nave torn down until after Milton’s school-days were over. On the east end, next his schoolhouse, was a great window thirty-seven feet high, above which was a circular rose window. The choir stretched westward 224 feet, which, with the nave, made the entire length 580 feet. When Jones’s portico was added, its whole length was 620 feet. The area which it covered was 82,000 feet, and it was by far the largest cathedral in all England. Upon the southwest[Pg 49] corner was a tower once used as a prison, and also as a bell and clock tower. This was the real Lollards’ tower, rather than the one at Lambeth which is so called. The northwest tower was likewise a prison. The nave was of transitional Norman design, of twelve bays in length, and with triforium and clerestory. For many decades a large part of the cathedral was desecrated by a throng of hucksters, idlers, and fops.
Ben Jonson makes constant allusion to “Paul’s.” Here he studied the extravagant costumes of the day. According to Dekker, the tailors frequented its aisles to catch the newest fashions: “If you determine to enter into a new suit, warn your tailor to attend you in Paul’s, who with his hat in his hand, shall like a spy discover the stuff, colour, and fashion of any doublet or hose that dare be seen there; and stepping behind a pillar to fill his table-book with those notes, will presently send you into the world an accomplished man.”
Bishop Earle, writing when Milton was twenty years of age, describes St. Paul’s as follows: “It is a heap of stones and men with a vast confusion of languages; and were the steeple not sanctified, nothing liker Babel. The noise in it is like that of bees mixed of walking tongues and feet. It is the exchange of all discourse, and no business [Pg 50]whatsoever but is here stirring and afoot. It is the market of young lecturers, whom you may cheapen here at all rates and sizes. All inventions are emptied here, and not few pockets. The best sign of a temple in it is that it is the thieves’ sanctuary.”
Well may John Milton senior have cautioned his young son not to tarry in “Duke Humphrey’s Walk,” as this scene of confusion was called, on his way home from school, though he may well have taken him to inspect the lofty tomb of Dean Colet or the monuments to John of Gaunt and Duke Humphrey and the shrine of St. Erkenwald, which was behind the high altar. As a man, in later years, Milton may have walked down from Aldersgate on a December in 1641 and attended the funeral of the great painter, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, who for nine years had made his residence in England, and was buried here.
In a corner of the churchyard stood a covered pulpit surmounted by a cross, where in ancient times the folkmote of the citizens was held. For centuries before Milton, this was a famous spot for outdoor sermons and proclamations. Here the captured flags from the Armada had waved above the preacher. But in 1629, when Milton was in Cambridge, Oliver Cromwell, in his maiden speech in Parliament, declared that flat popery was being[Pg 51] preached at Paul’s Cross. When Cromwell’s day of power was come, and the cathedral during the war was sometimes used to stable horses, Paul’s Cross was swept away, and its leaden roof melted into bullets. Before that, in 1633, preaching had been removed from there into the choir.
Of the architecture of the bishop’s palace, which stood at the northeast of the cathedral, we know nothing, but we know that it existed in Milton’s school-days. Adjoining the palace was a “Haw,” or small enclosure surrounded by a cloister, filled with tombs, and upon the walls was a grisly picture of the Dance of Death. Death was represented by a skeleton, who led the Pope, and emperor, and a procession of men of all conditions. In brief, the little “Haw” was a small edition of the Pisan Campo Santo.
At the east end of the churchyard stood the Bell Tower, surmounted by a spire covered with lead and bearing a statue of St. Paul. The cloister of the Chapter House or Convocation House hid the west wall of the south transept and part of the nave. It was, unlike most structures of that character, two stories in height, and formed a square of some ninety feet, which was called the “Lesser Cloisters,” doubtless to distinguish it from the other cloisters in the “Haw.” During his most impressionable[Pg 52] years, the city boy John Milton could not have stirred from home without being confronted by majestic symbols of the Christian faith, and mighty structures already venerable with age, and rich in treasures of a great historic past. Religion and beauty played as large a part in the influences that moulded the life of his young contemporaries as science and athletics do in the life of every American boy to-day. Whatever faults the methods of education in Milton’s age may be accused of, it can not be denied that they developed industry, reverence, and moral courage—three qualities which with all our child study and pedagogical improvements are perhaps less common to-day than they were then.
About the year 1620, when William Bradford was writing his famous journal, and John Carver and Edward Winslow were sailing with him in the Mayflower, when Doctor Harvey had told London folk that man’s blood circulates, and many new things were being noised abroad, twelve-year-old John Milton first went to school. His school had been founded in 1512 by Dean Colet, whose great tomb, just mentioned, was but a stone’s throw distant. It was a famous school. Ben Jonson and the famous Camden had studied there, and learned Latin and Greek, the catechism, and good manners. There were 153 boys in all; the number prescribed[Pg 53] had reference, curiously, to the number of fishes in Simon Peter’s miraculous draught. Over the windows were inscribed the words in large capital letters: “Schola Catechizationis Puerorum In Christi Opt. Max. Fide Et Bonis Literis.” On entering, the pupils were confronted by the motto painted on each window: “Aut Doce, Aut Disce, Aut Discede”—either teach or learn or leave the place. There were two rooms, one called the vestibulum, for the little boys, where also instruction was given in Christian manners. In the main schoolroom the master sat at the further end upon his imposing chair of office called a cathedra, and under a bust of Colet said to have been a work of “exquisite art.” Stow tells us that somewhat before Milton’s time the master’s wages were a mark a week and a livery gown of four nobles delivered in cloth; his lodgings were free. The sub-master received weekly six shillings, eight pence, and was given his gown. Children of every nationality were eligible; on admission they passed an examination in reading, writing, and the catechism, and paid four pence, which went to the poor scholar who swept the school. The eight classes included boys from eight to eighteen years of age, though the curriculum of the school extended over only six years. Milton’s master was Doctor Alexander Gill, who from 1608-1635[Pg 54] held the mastership of St. Paul’s School. A progressive man was this same reverend gentleman—a great believer in his native English and in spelling reform. Speaking of Latin, this remarkable Latin master said: “We may have the same treasure in our own tongue. I love Rome, but London better. I favour Italy, but England more. I honour the Latin, but worship the English.” He was also an advocate of the retention of good old Saxon words as against the invasion of Latinised ones. “But whither,” he writes, “have you banished those words which our forefathers used for these new-fangled ones? Are our words to be exiled like our citizens? O ye Englishmen, retain what yet remains of our native speech!” Under Mr. Gill’s instruction, and that of his son, who was usher, Milton spent about four years of strenuous study. So great was his ambition for learning during the years when most boys find school hours alone irksome enough that he says: “My father destined me when a little boy for the study of humane letters, which I seized with such eagerness that from the twelfth year of my age I scarcely ever went from my lessons to bed before midnight; which indeed was the first cause of injury to my eyes, to whose natural weakness there were also added frequent headaches.” Philips writes:
[Pg 55]“He generally sat up half the night as well in voluntary improvements of his own choice as the exact perfecting of his school exercises; so that at the age of fifteen he was full ripe for academical training.” During these years the boy probably learned French and Italian, as well as made a beginning in Hebrew.
It was in his last year at school that he paraphrased the ninety-fourth Psalm, beginning:
“When the blest seed of Terah’s faithful son
After long toil their liberty had won,
And passed from Pharian fields to Canaan’s land
Led by the strength of the Almighty’s hand,
Jehovah’s wonders were in Israel shown,
His praise and glory were in Israel known.”
Likewise Psalm one hundred and thirty-six, beginning:
“Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord, for he is kind:
For his mercies aye endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.”
The present St. Paul’s School is now splendidly housed in a great establishment in Hammersmith. But Milton’s school and the one which arose on its ashes after the Great Fire are remembered by the following inscription: “On this site, A. D. 1512 to A. D. 1884, stood St. Paul’s School, founded by[Pg 56] Dr. John Colet, Dean of St. Paul’s.” From the studio of Mr. Hamo Thornycroft at Kensington, whence came the heroic figures of Cromwell at Westminster and King Alfred at Winchester, St. Paul’s School is to receive a noble statue of the great scholar.
he schoolmate whom Milton most loved was a physician’s son, Charles Diodati, almost exactly his own age, who went to Cambridge a little in advance of him.
After his sister, who was then eighteen years old, had been wooed and won by Mr. Philips, and had made the first break in the home on Spread Eagle Court, Milton, now sixteen years old, followed his friend to Cambridge. Doubtless he rode on the coach, which every week the hale old stage-coach driver—Hobson—drove from the Bull’s Inn on Bishopsgate Street. A well-to-do man was this worthy, who, in spite of eighty winters, still cracked his whip behind his span, and kept forty horses in his livery stable. Milton took a great fancy to him. He soon learned, as did every young gentleman intent on hiring a nag, that “Hobson’s choice” meant taking the horse that stood nearest the stable door. Hobson is said to have been the first man in England to let out hackney-coaches. The modern[Pg 58] visitor to the university town finds the old carrier honoured by a memorial; for he became a public benefactor, and among many generous gifts bequeathed a sum that to this day provides for a fine conduit and for the runnels of sparkling water that flow along the streets and around the town.
Under the mastership of Doctor Thomas Bainbrigge, Milton became a “lesser pensioner” in February, 1624, at Christ’s College. Students were classified according to social rank and ability to pay, and Milton stood above the poorer students, called “sizars,” who had inferior accommodation; he probably paid about £50 a year for his[Pg 59] maintenance. Christ’s College, as regards numbers, then stood nearly at the head of the sixteen colleges and had one master, thirteen fellows, and fifty-five scholars, which, together with students, made the number two hundred and sixty, about the same that it has to-day. It stands between Sidney Sussex College and Emmanuel. In the former, Cromwell studied, from April, 1616, to July, 1617, and the room with its bay window and deep window-seats and little bedroom opening out of it, which is said to have been his, may still be seen in the second story of the building next to the street. The window is modern. His portrait, painted in middle life, hangs in the dining-hall. Doctor William Everett, in what is the best book on life in Cambridge,—his “On the Cam,”—thus sums up his estimate of the Protector: “Bigots may defame him, tyrants may insult him, but when the hosts of God rise for their great review and the champions of liberty bear their scars, there shall stand in the foremost rank, shining as the brightness of the firmament, the majestic son of Cambridge, the avenger and protector, Oliver Cromwell.” A Royalist has written in a note that is appended to Cromwell’s name in the college books: “Hic fuit grandis ille impostor carnifex perditissimus;” and it is as “impostor” and “butcher” that two-thirds[Pg 60] of Englishmen would have described him before Carlyle resurrected the real man.
Emmanuel College is preëminently the Puritan college. It is dear to Americans as the one where William Blackstone, the learned hermit of Shawmut, John Harvard, the founder of Harvard College, and Henry Dunster, its first president, Bradstreet, the colonial governor, and Hugh Peters, the regicide, who lived in Boston, once studied. Here also Thomas Hooker, the founder of Connecticut, was a student, and here John Cotton was a fellow. This beloved preacher afterward left his ministry over St. Botolph’s Church in Boston, England, to go to the little settlement of Winthrop’s, which had changed its earlier names of “Shawmut” and “Trimountaine” to “Boston” before his arrival. American tourists, who find their way to the spacious grounds of Jesus College to see the Burne-Jones and Morris windows in the chapel, will be glad to note that in these stately halls John Eliot walked a student. Little he then dreamed of his future life in wigwams, a guest of mugwumps, in the forests of Natick, Massachusetts, and of the laborious years to be spent in turning Hebrew poetry and history and gospel message into their barbarous tongue. Francis Higginson, the minister to Salem, and the ancestor of Colonel Thomas W.[Pg 61] Higginson, studied here as well. John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts colony, and President Chauncy of Harvard College studied at Trinity a generation before Wren erected its great library, and Isaac Newton was a student there. John Norton, Cotton’s successor at the First Church, Boston, studied in Peterhouse, the oldest of all the colleges, and Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, entered Pembroke College the year before Milton entered Christ’s. Whether the two, whose lives were to touch so closely later, knew each other then or not is doubtful. William Brewster was the only man who came in the Mayflower who had a college education. He too studied at Cambridge; and so did John Robinson, the dearly loved pastor of the Pilgrims, who remained with the other English refugees at Leyden.
It was these men, with Shepard, Saltonstall, and a score more of Oxford and Cambridge men, who were the spiritual fathers of Samuel Adams, Warren, Otis, Hancock; of Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Channing, Beecher, and Phillips Brooks; of Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant, Holmes, and Hawthorne; of Garrison, Phillips, and Sumner; of Motley, Bancroft, Prescott, and John Fiske. The Cambridge that Milton knew was the mother and the grandmother of the founders of states[Pg 62] and of the architects of national constitutions and ideals.
Though most of the New England Puritan leaders came from Cambridge, Oxford furnished several of the great Puritans who remained at home—Pym, Vane, John Eliot, and Hampden.
It is estimated that nearly one hundred university men, between 1630 and 1647, left their comfortable homes and the allurements that Oxford, Cambridge, and the picturesque England of their time presented, to undergo the hardships of pioneers in the raw colony upon Massachusetts Bay. Of these, two-thirds came from Cambridge, a particularly large proportion from Emmanuel College. Of the forty or fifty Cambridge or Oxford men who were in Massachusetts in 1639, one-half were within five miles of Boston or Cambridge. It was this element of culture and character that determined the history of New England, and forced its stony soil to bring forth such a crop of men in the ages that were to come as made New England, in the words of Maurice, “the realisation in plain prose of the dreams which haunted Milton his whole life long.”
CHRIST’S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
A, Chapel; B, Library; C, Dining-Hall; D, Head Master’s Rooms; E, Kitchen; F, Master’s Garden; H, Tennis Court.
From an old engraving.
Sidney Sussex, Christ’s, and Emmanuel Colleges were erected during the Tudor period, Christ’s College, founded in 1505, being the earliest of the three. The buildings of the latter now present a more [Pg 63]commonplace appearance than when the “Lady of Christ’s,” as the students called young Milton, walked among them in his cap and gown. One still may climb the narrow, shabby stairway to the room, with a tiny, irregular bedroom and cupboard, where Milton lived, and which probably he shared with a roommate. It has no inscription or special mark, and probably few strangers seek it out. The visitor will note its two windows opposite each other, whose heavy window-frames, with the wainscoting and cornice, bear mark of age.
No one, however, fails to seek within the secluded inner garden the decrepit mulberry-tree, which is said to have been planted by Milton. Its trunk is muffled high in a mound of sod, and its aged limbs, which still bear foliage and black berries, rest on supports. High, sheltering walls shut in the exquisite green lawns around it, and birds, blossoms, and trees make the spot seem a paradise regained.
Among the students of Christ’s College, none in later years brought it such renown as two men of widely differing types—the authors of “Evidences of Christianity” and “The Origin of Species.” William Paley in 1766, when he was but twenty-three years old, was elected a fellow, and remained in Cambridge ten years. His famous work to-day forms part of the subjects required for the “Little[Pg 64] Go.” Charles Robert Darwin, the Copernicus of the nineteenth century, entered Christ’s with the intention of studying for the ministry. He left it to journey on the Beagle through the southern seas, and to bring back results which, with his later study, led to such a revolution in human thought as made it only second to that wrought in the minds of men who lived a generation before Milton was born.
Masson tells us that in Milton’s college days the daily routine was chapel service at five o’clock in the morning, followed sometimes by a discourse by one of the fellows, then breakfasts, probably served in the students’ own rooms, as they are to-day. This was followed by the daily college lectures or university debates, which lasted until noon, when dinner was served in the college dining-halls; there the young men, then as now, sat upon the hard, backless benches, and drank their beer beneath painted windows and portraits, perchance by Holbein, of the eminent men who had been their predecessors.
After dinner, if they supped at seven, and attended evening service, they could do much as they pleased otherwise. In Milton’s day, the rule of an earlier time, which prescribed that out of their chambers students should converse in some dead language, had been much relaxed. Probably the barbarous[Pg 65] Latin and worse Greek and Hebrew, which this prescription must have caused, finally rendered it a dead letter. Smoking was a universal practice, and boxing matches, dancing, bear fights, and other forbidden games were not unknown. Bathing in the sedgy little Cam was prohibited, but was nevertheless a daily practice.
In many colleges the undergraduates wore “new fashioned gowns of any colour whatsoever, blue or green, or red or mixt, without any uniformity but in hanging sleeves; and their other garments light and gay, some with boots and spurs, others with stockings of divers colours reversed one upon another.” Some had “fair roses upon the shoe, long frizzled hair upon the head, broad spread bands upon their shoulders, and long, large merchants’ ruffs about their necks, with fair feminine cuffs at the wrist.”
The portrait of Milton, which hangs in a spacious apartment used by the dons at Christ’s College, shows him a youth of rare beauty, in a rich and tasteful costume with broad lace collar. He holds a gilt-edged volume in his hand, and has the mien of a refined and elegant scholar, but not effeminate withal, for he was used to daily sword practice.
Corporal punishment was then still in vogue, and delinquents under eighteen years old were not infrequently chastised in public. In fact, at Trinity[Pg 66] College, “there was a regular service of corporal punishment in the hall every Thursday evening at seven in the presence of all the undergraduates.” Masson discredits the story that Milton was once subjected to corporal punishment.
In Milton’s day the old order was changing, and we note that on Fridays men ate meat, and that the clergy indulged in impromptu prayers, to the scandal of the good churchmen. It was complained that “they lean or sit or kneel at prayers, every man in a several posture as he pleases; at the name of Jesus, few will bow, and when the Creed is repeated, many of the boys, by men’s directions, turn to the west door.”
Milton seems to have attended plays at the university, and to have been a critical observer. Toland quotes him as saying: “So many of the young divines and those in next aptitude to Divinity have been seen so often on the stage writhing and unboning their Clergy Lims to all the antic and dishonest Gestures of Trinculos, Buffoons, and bands; prostituting the shame of that ministry which either they had or were nigh having, to the eyes of Courtiers and Court Ladies, with their grooms and Mademoiselles. There where they acted and overacted among other young Scholars, I was a Spectator; they thought themselves gallant Men[Pg 67] and I thought them Fools; they made sport, and I laughed; they mispronounced, and I misliked; and to make up the Atticisms, they were out and I hist.”
It is the boast of Cambridge that she educated Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, the three martyrs whom Oxford burned. It must likewise be noted that Erasmus, Spenser, Coke, Walsingham, and Burleigh were Cambridge men.
The Cambridge of Milton’s time was but a small town of seven thousand inhabitants, about one-sixth of its present size, but rich with a history of nearly six hundred years. Its most beautiful building then as now was King’s College Chapel—in fact, the most beautiful building in either Oxford or Cambridge, despite Mr Ruskin’s just criticism upon it. No doubt, it would look less like a dining-table bottom-side up, with its four legs in air, were two of its pinnacles omitted; doubtless also the same criticism on its monotonous decoration of the alternate rose and portcullis, which we made in regard to the Chapel of Henry VII., is here applicable. But its great length, its noble proportions, its rare rich windows, its splendid organ-screen—old in Milton’s college days—must appeal to every lover of beauty. One loves to think of the young poet musing here upon those well-known lines in “Il[Pg 68] Penseroso” which this stately building may have inspired.
“But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloisters pale,
And love the high, embowered roof,
With antick pillars massy proof,
And storied windows, richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.
There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full voiced Quire below,
In service high and anthem clear,
As may with sweetness through mine ear
Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all heaven before mine eyes.”
In King’s Chapel Queen Elizabeth attended service several times, and listened with delight to a Latin sermon from the text “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” On the afternoon of the same Sunday she returned to the antechapel and witnessed a play of Plautus.
Among many buildings which were very old even in Milton’s time must be mentioned the church of St. Benedict on Bene’t Street, which was once the chapel of Corpus Christi College. Its ancient tower is especially noteworthy. Its little double windows are separated by a baluster-shaped column. The tower is similar to one at Lincoln, and, with the whole structure, antedates the Norman conquest.
A generation before Milton’s time Robert Browne,[Pg 69] the father of Congregationalism, drew great crowds within this venerable edifice to listen to his radical doctrine. At Cambridge, where he had studied, he became impressed with the perfunctoriness and worldliness of the Church of his time, and he resolved to “satisfy his conscience without any regard to license or authority from a bishop.”
When the Pilgrim Fathers fled from Austerfield and Scrooby in 1608, it was as Brownists or Separatists that they went to Holland. They sought a refuge where they might worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, without interference of bishop or presbyter. It was Browne’s doctrine, not only of the absolute separation of Church and state, but also of the independence of each individual congregation, that laid the foundation of church government in New England. Presbyterianism has gained little root east of the Hudson. After Browne had suffered for his faith in thirty of the dismal dungeons of that day, and, shattered in mind by his suffering, had recanted and returned to Mother Church, his disciples remained true to the light that he had shown them; the generation of scholars with whom Milton talked at Cambridge were as familiar with Browne’s doctrine as the present generation is with that of Maurice and Martineau, and Milton must have been much influenced by it.
[Pg 70]Opposite St. John’s Chapel is the little round church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the earliest of the four churches in England built by the Templars which still remain. It is similar to the Temple church in London, and was probably begun a little later than St. Benedict’s, which has just been mentioned. It is questionable whether the students of Milton’s college days appreciated the beauty of this beautiful remnant of the Norman period that was in their midst. The taste of that day was decidedly for architecture of the Renaissance type, of which Cambridge boasts many examples.
In Milton’s time the most beautiful quadrangle in Cambridge, and perhaps in the world, that of Trinity, had been but newly finished by the architect, Ralph Symons, who altered and harmonised a group of older buildings. In the centre of the court is Neville’s fountain, built in 1602, which is a fine example of good English Renaissance work. During four years of Milton’s residence, part of St. John’s College was in process of erection in the Italian Gothic style. This was at the expense of the Lord Keeper Williams, whose initials and the date, 1624, are lettered in white stone near the western oriel. It was completed in 1628. Clare Bridge was not finished until 1640, and most of the other beautiful bridges that span the Cam to-day were unknown[Pg 71] to Milton when he mused beside its shady banks where
“Camus, reverend sire, went footing slow,
His mantle hairy and his bonnet sedge
Inwrought with figures dim, and on the edge
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.”
Only fifteen miles away, across the level fields, lay Ely Cathedral, built on what was once hardly more than an island in the Fens. Many a time during his seven years in the university town must Milton have walked over there, or ridden on one of Hobson’s horses, perhaps with his dear Charles Diodati, to view the mighty structure, or to study its Norman interior. Its gray towers and octagonal lantern dominate the little town that clusters around it, and may be seen from far across the plain.
During these studious years, while Milton walked among the colleges where Chaucer, Bacon, Ben Jonson, and Erasmus had likewise walked as students, he was not only busied with logic, philosophy, and the literature of half a dozen living and dead languages, but his tender emotions seem to have been briefly touched by some unknown fair one; and his interest in public matters, for instance, Sir John Eliot’s imprisonment in the Tower, is evident. In one letter he mentions the execution of a child but nine years old, for setting fire to houses. A scourge[Pg 72] of the plague afflicted London on the year that he entered Cambridge, and five years later he was driven from town by its devastation there. The university ceased all exercises, and the few members of it that remained shut themselves in as close prisoners. So great was the poverty and suffering incident to this calamity, that the king appealed to the country for aid to the stricken town.
During these years of quiet growth, Milton’s first noteworthy poems appear, of which the Latin poems, according to good judges, deserve the preference. We here mention only some of his English poems. The longest of these, which was written the month and year when he came to his majority, was begun on Christmas morning, 1629. This serious youth of twenty-one longed to give “a birthday gift for Christ,” and thus appeared his poem, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Three or four years earlier he had written on the death of his baby niece, Mrs. Philips’s child, his lines “On the Death of a Fair Infant.” The revelation of self in his sonnet “On His Being Arrived to the Age of Twenty-Three,” makes the latter the most interesting of these early flights of song.
The most precious literary treasure which Cambridge possesses, and as Mr. Edmund Gosse asserts, “the most precious manuscript of English [Pg 73]literature in the world,” is the packet of thirty loose and ragged folio leaves covered with Milton’s handwriting, which since 1691 has lain in Trinity College Library. For a generation, they attracted no attention, but later they were examined and handled by so many that they suffered seriously; within fifty years, seventeen lines of “Comus” were torn out and stolen by some unknown thief. Mr. Gosse, in a delightful article in the Atlantic Monthly, upon “The Milton Manuscripts at Cambridge,” gives reins to his imagination in picturing the sudden temptation of this man, who, passing down the long ranges of “storied urn and animated bust,” which adorn the interior of Wren’s famous structure, advances beyond the beautiful figure of the youthful Byron to the gorgeous window in which the form of Isaac Newton shines resplendent. The careless attendant places in his hands the richly bound thin folio,—“and now the devil is raging in the visitor’s bosom; the collector awakens in him, the bibliomaniac is unchained. In an instant the unpremeditated crime is committed.... And so he goes back to his own place certain that sooner or later his insane crime will be discovered ... certain of silent infamy and unaccusing outlawry, with no consolation but that sickening fragment of torn verse which he can never show to a single friend, can never sell nor give nor[Pg 74] bequeath. Among literary criminals, I know not another who so burdens the imagination as this wretched mutilator of ‘Comus.’” These pages are the laboratory or studio of the poet, and reveal most interestingly the progress of his art during his earlier creative years. Like Beethoven’s note-book, they teach the impatient and inaccurate that genius condescends carefully to note little things and to take infinite pains, whether it be with symphonies or sonnets. Charles Lamb, on looking over the Milton manuscripts, whimsically recorded his astonishment that these lines had not fallen perfect and polished from the poet’s pen. “How it staggered me to see the fine things in their ore! interlined, corrected! as if their words were mortal, alterable, displaceable at pleasure!” But the average man, who despairs of ever attaining artistic excellence, and finds every kind of literary composition a formidable task, takes consolation in the fact here revealed, that even the creator of “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” before he reached the perfect phrase,—“endless morn of light,”—experimented with no less than six others: “ever-endless light,” “ever glorious,” “uneclipsèd,” “where day dwells without night,” and “in cloudless birth of night.” The authorities of Trinity College, having of late realised the invaluable service to men of letters that this glimpse into the poet’s[Pg 75] workshop would be, have issued a limited edition, in sumptuous form, of a perfect facsimile of the Milton manuscripts. “Now, for the first time,” as Mr. Gosse remarks, “we can examine in peace, and without a beating heart and blinded eyes, the priceless thing in its minutest features.” When it is remembered that no line of Shakespeare’s remains in his own handwriting, and nothing of any consequence of Chaucer’s or Spenser’s, Mr. Gosse cannot be accused of over-statement when he says that to all lovers of literature this volume is “a relic of inestimable value. To those who are practically interested in the art of verse, it reads a more pregnant lesson than any other similar document in the world.”
Some day the great university may add to its charms not only an adequate memorial to its Puritans, but one to its poets—Spenser, Milton, Pope, Gray, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and Tennyson, who have enriched it by their presence, and have made Cambridge par excellence the university of the poets. It must be remembered that Chaucer and Shakespeare were not university men.
The time for a pilgrimage to Cambridge is term time, when window-boxes, gay with blossoms, brighten gray old walls within the “quads,” and when the streets are enlivened by three thousand[Pg 76] favoured youths intent on outdoor sport. Then all points of interest are accessible, and perchance one may be so fortunate as to get entrance up narrow, worn stone stairways into some student’s cosy study; the visitor will find it lined with books, rackets, and boxing-gloves, and decorated with trophies and photographs of some one else’s sister. Bits of college gossip and local slang, hints of college traditions, prejudices, and customs pleasantly vary the tourist’s hours spent over the fine print of Baedeker and in search for the tombs of eminent founders.
Even if one is a tourist and not a “fresher,” he will find it profitable to study contemporary Cambridge through “The Fresher’s Don’t,” written by “A Sympathiser, B. A.,” and addressed to freshers “in all courtesy.” As to dress, the “fresher,” among other pieces of sage advice, is told: “Don’t forget to cut the tassel of your cap just level with the board. Only graduates wear long tassels.”
“Don’t wear knickerbockers with cap and gown, nor carry a stick or umbrella. These are stock eccentricities of Fresherdom.” (The genuine Cambridge student would rather be soaked to his skin and risk pneumonia, than encounter the derisive grin which an umbrella would evoke.)
“Don’t aspire to seniority by smashing your cap or tearing your gown, as you deceive no one.”
[Pg 77]“Don’t be a tuft-head. The style is more favoured by errand boys than gentlemen.”
“Don’t by any chance sport a tall hat in Cambridge. It will come to grief.”
Under other headings, the following injunctions may be selected:
“Don’t sport during your first month. You will only earn the undesirable appellation of ‘Smug.’”
“Don’t speak disrespectfully of a man ‘Who only got a third in his Trip., and so can’t be very good.’ Before you go down your opinion will be ‘That a man must be rather good to take the Trip. at all.’”
“Don’t mistake a Don for a Gyp. The Gyp is the smarter individual.”
“Don’t forget that St. Peter’s College is ‘Pot-House,’ Caius is ‘Keys,’ St. Catherine’s is ‘Cats,’ Magdalene is ‘Maudlen,’ St. John’s College Boat Club is ‘Lady Margaret,’ and a science man is taking ‘Stinks.’”
“Don’t forget that Cambridge men ‘keep’ and not ‘live.’”
n leaving Cambridge, when he was nearly twenty-four years old, Milton retired to his father’s new home at Horton, about seventeen miles west of London. Here he tells us that, “with every advantage of leisure, I spent a complete holiday in turning over the Greek and Latin writers; not but that I sometimes exchanged the country for the town, either for the purpose of buying books, or for that of learning something new in mathematics, or in music, in which sciences I then delighted.”
As Milton’s father was in easy circumstances his son never earned money until after he was thirty-two years of age. These free and quiet years at Horton, when he was his own master, and was without a care, were the happiest of his life.
The visitor from London now alights at the little station of Wraysbury, and if it be upon a July 4th, as when the writer made a pilgrimage to Horton, he will find no pleasanter way to celebrate the day than to stroll through level fields by the[Pg 79] green country roadside a mile and a half to the little hamlet among the trees. On the way he will espy to the left, on the horizon, the gray towers of Windsor, and may imagine the handsome young poet, whose verse has glorified this quiet rural landscape, pausing some morning in the autumn on his early walk to listen to the far sound of the huntsman’s horn, and presently to see the merry rout of gaily clad dames and cavaliers dash by, leaping fearlessly the hedgerows and barred gates.
Horton is a tiny, tranquil village, with little that remains to-day, outside the ancient parish church, that John Milton saw, except the Horton manor-house of the Bulstrode family, which had had connections with Horton from the time of Edward VI. The modern Milton manor, situated in beautiful grounds, may or may not stand upon the site of Milton’s former home, which remained until 1798, when it was pulled down. The old tavern of uncertain date upon the one broad street may perhaps have gathered around its antique hob, within the little taproom, gray-haired peasants who guided clumsy ploughs through the rich loam of the fields of Horton, while the white-handed poet sat on a velvet lawn under leafy boughs, and penned his blithe tribute to the nightingale, or in imagination sported with Amaryllis in the shade, or with the shepherds,[Pg 80] sprites, and nymphs who peopled his youthful dreams.
As in Cambridge, runnels of clear water, which come from the little river Colne not far distant, flow beside the road. Even to-day one has not far to seek to find the suggestion for those exquisite lines in “Comus” which Milton wrote in Horton:
“By the rushy-fringèd bank,
Where grows the willow and the osier dank,
My sliding chariot stays,
Thick set with agate and the azurn sheen
Of turkis blue and emerald green
That in the channel strays:
Whilst from off the waters fleet
Thus I set my printless feet
O’er the cowslip’s velvet head
That bends not as I tread.”
The student of Milton finds the centre of interest in Horton to-day to be the beautiful old church where the Milton family attended service for five years, and where the mother lies buried.
It stands in the green churchyard, back from the village street. Yew-trees and rose-bushes lend it shade and fragrance. The tombs for the most part are not moss-grown with age, but are rather new, though the slab at the entrance over which Milton passed is marked “1612.” The battlemented stone tower is draped with ivy and topped with reddish[Pg 81] brick. Like scores of churches of the twelfth or thirteenth century, in which it was built, the gabled portico is on the side. The interior is well-preserved; it has a nave with two aisles and a chancel, and in the porch is an old Norman arch. Upon the wall at the rear are wooden tablets which record curious bequests of small annuities for monthly doles of bread to needy people.
Never since those five joyous years at Horton has any English poet blessed the world with verse of such rare loveliness and perfection as fell from the pen of Milton during this time, when spirit, heart, and mind were in attune. The world’s clamour had not broken in upon his peace.
Probably at the request of his friend, the composer Lawes, he wrote his “Arcades” in honour of the Countess Dowager of Derby, who had been Spenser’s friend. The venerable lady lived about ten miles north of Horton on her fine old estate of Harefield, where Queen Elizabeth had visited her and her husband. On that occasion a masque of welcome had been performed for her in an avenue of elms, which thus received the name of the “Queen’s Walk.” It was in this verdant theatre that Milton’s “Arcades” was performed by the young relatives of the countess. Among these were Lady Alice and her boy-brothers, who on the [Pg 82]following year took part in Milton’s “Comus,” which he wrote anonymously to be played at Ludlow Castle upon the Welsh border, when the children’s father was installed as lord president of Wales. Besides these longer poems, Milton wrote his “Il Penseroso” and “L’Allegro” at Horton, as well as the noble elegy “Lycidas,” which was written in memory of his gifted friend, Edward King, who was drowned in the summer of 1637, just before Milton left his father’s home.
In this peaceful valley of the Thames, his clear eye searched out every sight, his musical ear sought out every sound that revealed beauty or that suggested the antique, classic world in which his whole nature revelled. He walked in “twilight groves” of “pine or monumental oak;” he listened to “soft Lydian airs” and curfew bells, to the lark’s song, and Philomel’s. He watched “the nibbling flocks,” the “labouring clouds,” and saw, “bosomed high in tufted trees,” towers and battlements arise, and beheld in vision his—
Under the glassy, cool translucent wave
In twisted braids of lilies knitting
The loose train of her amber dropping hair.”
He lived in a world enchanted by the magic of his genius. Yet in his little world of loveliness[Pg 83] he was not deaf to the distant hoarse cry of the coming storm, and at the last the Puritan within him awoke and cried out at those—
“who little reckoning make
Than how to scramble at the shearers’ feast ...
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheephook—or have learnt aught else the least
That to the faithful herds-man’s art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs,
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up and are not fed
But swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw
Rot inwardly and foul contagion spread.”
In the spring of 1637, the last year that the poet spent at Horton, just before another outbreak of the plague, his mother died. We may think of brother Christopher, a young student of laws of the Inner Temple, and the widowed sister Anne and her two boys coming post-haste from London, and standing beside the desolate father and the poet-brother in the chancel, when the tabernacle of clay was lowered to its resting-place. A plain blue stone now bears the record: “Heare lyeth the Body of Sarah Milton, the wife of John Milton, who died the 3rd of April, 1637.”
The American visitor to Horton on the day that commemorates his country’s declaration of [Pg 84]independence will remember Runnymede and Magna Charta Island. And he will find nothing more consonant with his feeling, after visiting the home of the republican Milton, than to wend his way across the fields, golden with waving grain and gay with scarlet poppies, to the spot where his ancestors and Milton’s in 1215 brought tyrant John to sullen submission to their just demands.
On the margin of the river he may embark, and as the sun casts grateful shadows eastward, he may drift gently down beside the long, narrow island in the rushy margin of the stream, where white swans build their nests. A notice warns him not to trespass, for the gray stone house upon it, whose gables are half hid by dense shrubbery, is private property. Some day perhaps this English nation that so loves its own great history will reclaim this historic spot, and mark Magna Charta Island with a memorial of the brave men who made it world-famous. Or perhaps,—who knows?—some American, who has spent three years at Oxford, and learned to love the history of the race from which he sprang, may be impelled to honour that which is best in her, and after placing in Cambridge and in Horton fit memorials of Milton, may be moved to erect here a worthy monument to the bold barons.
ne year after his mother’s death, and probably just after Christopher’s wedding, the poet, now a man of thirty, arrived in Paris, accompanied by his servant, and bearing valuable letters of introduction, among others, some from Sir Henry Wotton. As we are dealing with Milton’s England, scant space must be allowed to this year or more spent among the savants and the unwonted sights of France and Italy. In Paris the young scholar was introduced by Lord Scudamore to the man whom he most desired to see,—the great Hugo Grotius, a man of stupendous erudition and lofty character. Milton declared that he venerated him more than any modern man, and well he might, for the Dutch hero and exile had not his equal upon the Continent, even in that age of great men.
Passing through Provence, Milton entered Italy[Pg 86] from Nice, and found himself in the land whose melodious language he had made his own, and whose history and literature few Italians of his age knew better than he. He went to Genoa, “La Superba,” which then boasted of two hundred palaces; thence to Leghorn, and fourteen miles farther to Pisa on the Arno, and, farther up the Arno, to beautiful Florence. Here he paused two months, lionised by the best society, and hobnobbing with painters, poets, prelates, and noblemen as he walked in Santa Croce, or on the heights of Fiesole, or in the leafy shade of Vallombrosa. Here it was that he was presented to the blind Galileo, “grown old,” he writes, “a prisoner to the Inquisition for thinking in Astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought.” Doubtless, in later years, when blindness and royal disfavour had embittered but failed to crush his spirit, the gray-haired poet often recalled this visit made in his radiant youth.
Going by way of Siena, on its rocky height, Milton passed on to Rome in the autumn, and here spent two months in the splendid city of the Popes, in which great St. Peter’s was but newly finished. The city swarmed with priests and prelates, but the poet spoke freely of his own faith. One of his great joys was to listen to the incomparable singing of[Pg 87] Leonora Baroni, the Jenny Lind of his time, to whom he wrote exuberant panegyrics in Latin.
In November, Milton drove to Naples, a hundred miles away, where he was favoured with the hospitality of the aged Manso, the friend of Tasso, and the wealthy patron of letters; he showed the young Englishman his beloved city, presented him with valuable gifts, and welcomed him in his villa at Pozzuoli, overlooking the bay of Naples.
Milton had planned to visit Sicily and Greece, but he writes: “The sad news of civil war coming from England called me back; for I considered it disgraceful that, while my fellow countrymen were fighting at home for liberty, I should be travelling abroad at ease for intellectual purposes.”
War, however, had not yet broken out, and Milton lingered another two months in Rome, little aware of the relics of the Cæsars that lay buried in the Forum under the cow-pasture of his time.
Another visit to Florence, where he was again the centre of attraction, was followed by trips to the quaint mediæval cities of Lucca, Ferrara, Bologna, and to Venice by the sea. Guido Reni, Guercino, Domenichino, and Salvator Rosa were then living, and he may have chanced upon them in his wanderings. From Venice he turned back through Verona and Milan, and paused a little in Geneva, which was[Pg 88] still under the strong influence of its great reformer, Calvin; then he journeyed on to Paris, where a royal infant, Louis XIV., had been born during his travels. On reaching home, after this journey into the great splendid world full of temptations to every man who was dowered with keen susceptibilities and a passionate, vehement disposition, Milton writes: “I again take God to witness that in all those places where so many things are considered lawful, I lived sound and untouched from all profligacy and vice, having this thought perpetually with me, that though I could escape the eyes of men, I certainly could not the eyes of God.”
It was a chaste and modest love that inspired the six amatory sonnets in Italian, which were probably written during his stay abroad. It was a refined and high-bred man, who knew the world and took it at its just measure, who was now to lend his hand to fight the people’s battle.
On his return to England Milton did not take up his residence again in his father’s home at Horton, which was then kept by his younger brother and his wife. He went to London, and for a brief time made his home with a tailor named Russel in St. Bride’s Churchyard, near Fleet Street, within view of Ludgate Hill and St. Paul’s. Here in the winter of 1639-40 he began teaching the little Philips[Pg 89] boys, his nephews, and took entire charge of his small namesake John, but eight years old. His sister Anne by this time had remarried, and was now Mrs. Agar. During his stay in St. Bride’s Churchyard, Milton jotted down on seven pages of the manuscript that is now in Trinity College Library suggestions for future work with which his brain was teeming. Of the ninety-nine subjects that he considered, sixty-one, including “Paradise Lost” and “Samson,” are Scriptural, and thirty-eight, including “Alfred and the Danes” and “Harold and the Normans,” are on British subjects. Like the young Goethe who projected “Faust,” which was not finished until his hair had whitened, Milton conceived his epic when it was to wait a quarter of a century for completion.
Says Edward Philips, the elder nephew whom he taught: “He made no long stay in his lodgings on St. Bride’s Churchyard: necessity of having a place to dispose his books in, and other goods fit for the furnishing of a good handsome house, hastening him to take one; and accordingly, a pretty garden-house he took in Aldersgate Street, at the end of an entry, and therefore the fitter for his turn, besides that there are few streets in London more free from noise than that.”
At that time the entrance to the street from St.[Pg 90] Martin’s-le-Grand was one of the seven gates of the city wall. A new one, on the site of a far older one, had been erected when Milton was nine years old; this had “two square towers of four stories at the sides, pierced with narrow portals for the foot passengers and connected by a curtain of masonry of the same height across the street, having the main archway in the middle.” Besides the figures of Samuel and Jeremiah, the gate was adorned with an equestrian statue of James I. on the Aldersgate side, and the same monarch on his throne on the St. Martin’s-le-Grand side. In 1657 Howell says: “This street resembleth an Italian street more than any other in London, by reason of the spaciousness and uniformity of the buildings and straightness thereof, with the convenient distance of the houses.”
Amid the labyrinth of dingy, crowded alleys with which the garden spaces of the seventeenth century now are covered, one looks in vain to-day for any trace of Milton’s home; in short, of all the houses that he occupied in London, no one remains, or even has its site marked. All we know of the house on Aldersgate Street is, that it stood in the second precinct of St. Botolph’s parish, between the gate and Maidenhead Court on the right, and Little Britain and Westmoreland Alley on the left. Near by dwelt his old teacher, Doctor Gill, and[Pg 91] Doctor Diodati, the father of his dearest friend, whose recent death he mourned in a touching elegy written in Latin. Upon his walks into the open fields, which were not then far distant, he must have passed many fine town houses of the gentry, their sites now covered by a dreary waste of shops and factories. During these years we learn that he varied his studies in the classics, and his keen observations on the doings of the newly assembled Long Parliament by an occasional “gaudy-day,” in company with some “young sparks of his acquaintance.”
It was in Aldersgate Street that Milton began writing his vehement pamphlets, and it was Thomas Underhill, at the sign of the “Bible” in Wood Street, Cheapside, who published the first polemics which he and young Sir Harry Vane sent forth upon the burning questions of the day, into which the scope of this volume forbids us to enter. Milton’s future career was a complete refutation of Wordsworth’s conception of him as a lonely star that dwelt apart. The gentle author of “Comus” and the composer of elegant sonnets had changed his quill for that “two-handed engine” which was to smite prelate and prince.
During these days the post brought daily news of the horrors of the insurrection in Ireland; Milton[Pg 92] read “of two and twenty Protestants put into a thatched house and burnt alive” in the parish of Kilmore; of naked men and pregnant women drowned; of “eighteen Scotch infants hanged on clothiers’ tenterhooks;” of an Englishman, wife, and five children hanged, and buried when half alive; of eighty forced to go on the ice “till they brake the ice and were drowned.” These, and the hideous tortures upon thousands, which history relates, may explain, if they do not palliate the cruelties a few years later which Cromwell committed, and which have made his name synonymous with “monster” to this day throughout this much tormented and turbulent Irish people.
Americans who sharply condemn the devastation which old Oliver wrought will also do well to cry out no less loudly at the like barbaric slaughter in the island of Samar, which was ordered two hundred and fifty years later by some of their own officers.
War opened. There were doubtless anxious days in the house on Aldersgate Street, for brother Christopher, who stood with the royal party, had moved with his father from Horton to Reading, which was besieged. But war was not the sole cause for anxiety. When old Mr. Milton arrived safely in London late in the summer he found his[Pg 93] son John married and already parted from his bride of seventeen, who had lived with him but one short month. Of the brief courting of Mary Powell at her father’s house at Forest Hill, near Oxford, we know little. But one day in May, when King Charles I. had driven her brothers and all other students out of Christ Church, and had taken up temporary residence there himself, the venturesome lover came into the enemy’s country and called on her. The family was well known to him; their comfortable mansion housed ten or eleven children and had fourteen rooms. We read of their “stilling-house,” “cheese-press house,” “wool-house,” of their two coaches, one wain, and four carts. It was a merry household, and one well-to-do in worldly goods.
Whether the girl was deeply enamoured of the grave, handsome man, twice her age, who asked her hand, is doubtful, but they were soon married, and in the Aldersgate house, the nephew relates, there was “feasting held for some days in celebration of the nuptials, and for entertainment of the bride’s friends.” Then the relatives bade the bride goodbye. But the young wife, having been brought up and lived “where there was a great deal of company and merriment, dancing, etc., when she came to live with her husband found it very solitary; no[Pg 94] company came to her;” consequently at the end of a month her preoccupied husband gave consent to the girl’s request to pay a visit home, with the promise of returning in September.
Some sons of intimate friends joined the nephews as pupils, and the elder Milton was added to the household. But the bride declined to answer her husband’s letters or to return; during the following months the irate man, thus deserted, wrote his pamphlets on “Divorce,” while all England was astir with the meeting of the famous Westminster Assembly, the spread of Independency, and the king’s defeat at Marston Moor. During these days also Milton wrote his remarkable scheme for the education of gentlemen’s sons, in which he showed himself as radical and original and as ready to make learning a delightful and not an odious process as did Rousseau and Froebel a century or more later. Marvellous was the work accomplished by Milton’s young pupils at Aldersgate Street. We read of these boys of fourteen and sixteen, though even their learned teacher knew not yet of the microscope and the law of gravitation, studying not only Greek and Latin, but Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and Italian.
Milton’s noble “Areopagitica”—a plea for freedom of the press—was written during these [Pg 95]melancholy, wifeless months, while the din of civil war was in the air, and he mused in wrath and bitterness over his country’s miseries and his own.
The fortunes of the Powell family had waned with the king’s cause. One day, when Milton called on a relative who lived near by his home, on the site of the present post-office, “he was surprised,” writes his nephew, “to see one whom he thought to have never seen more, making submission and begging pardon on her knees before him.” A reconciliation was effected, and, with the wife of nineteen now two years older and wiser than since their first attempt at matrimony, they began housekeeping in the Barbican.
This was a larger house than the one in Aldersgate Street, and only a three minutes’ walk from it. It remained until Masson’s lifetime and had, he says, “the appearance of having been a commodious enough house in the old fashion.” “And I have been informed,” he adds, “that some of the old windows, consisting of thick bits of glass lozenged in lead, still remained in it at the back, and that the occupants knew one of the rooms in it as a schoolroom, where Milton had used to teach his pupils.” The visitor to the noisy, bustling Barbican to-day, close to old London wall, will find nothing that Milton saw.
[Pg 96]Here he published the first edition of his collected poems. The title-page tells us that the songs were set to music by the same musician, Henry Lawes, “Gentleman of the King’s Chapell,” who had engaged him to write the “Arcades” and “Comus.” It was to be “sold at the signe of the Princes Arms in Paul’s Churchyard, 1645.” The wretched botch of an engraving of the poet which accompanied it displeased him, and he humourously compelled the unsuspecting and unlearned artist to engrave in Greek beneath it the following lines:
“That an unskilful hand had carved this print
You’d say at once, seeing the living face;
But finding here no jot of me, my friends,
Laugh at the botching-artist’s mis-attempt.”
Unfortunately this was the only published portrait of Milton during his life, and gave strangers at home and abroad the impression that his face was as grim as his pamphlets were caustic.
By strange coincidence this house, where Milton lived when “Comus” was first published, was but a few yards distant from the town house of the earl in whose honour the masque had been composed a dozen years or more before this. With him was the “Lady Alice,” now nearly twenty-four years old, who, as a girl of eleven, had sung [Pg 97]Milton’s songs in Ludlow Castle. The earl loved music, and his children’s music teacher, Lawes, and others who had acted in the merry masque comforted his invalidism with concourse of sweet sounds, almost within hearing of the old scrivener and organist and his poet-son. Milton loved Lawes, and wrote a sonnet to him; doubtless during these days they were much together.
About the time that Milton’s first baby daughter appeared, the Barbican house was crowded with the disconsolate Powell family, who had nearly lost their all, and fled to Mary’s husband for protection. Mother Powell seems to have been a woman of strong personality, and the new baby was christened “Anne” for her. Within two months, both the Milton and Powell grandfathers were buried from the house in Barbican. In the burials at St. Giles’s Cripplegate appears, in March, 1646, the record: “John Milton, Gentleman, 15.”
While worrying over the settlement of the Powell estates and brother Christopher’s as well, Milton continued his teaching; his pupil writes: “His manner of teaching never savoured in the least anything of pedantry.” Cyriack Skinner, grandson of the great Coke, to whom he wrote two sonnets in later years, was his pupil in the Barbican.
In 1647, just after the march of Fairfax and[Pg 98] Cromwell through the city, Milton removed to a smaller house in High Holborn, “among those that open backward into Lincoln’s Inn Fields,” which had been laid out by Inigo Jones. Here he ceased playing the schoolmaster, became definitely a republican at heart, and busied himself with the writing of a history of England, and compiling of a Latin dictionary and a System of Divinity. The new home was among pleasant gardens, and near the bowling green and lounging-place for lawyers and citizens. Its exact site is unknown. In 1648 a second baby girl, called Mary, was born to the Miltons in the new home.
By his bold tractate on the “Tenure of Kings and Magistrates,” which was written during the terrible days of the king’s trial and execution, Milton put himself on the side of the regicides. Exactly a month after its appearance he was waited on at High Holborn by a committee from the Council of State, who asked him to accept the position of “Secretary for Foreign Tongues.” His eyesight was already failing; he could no longer read by candle-light; but here was a great opportunity for public service, and he did not long hesitate. On March 20th, when he entered upon office, he learned that all letters to foreign states and princes were to be put into dignified Latin form, so as to be instantly[Pg 99] read by government officials in all countries, and not into the “wheedling, lisping jargon of the cringing French,” as his nephew calls it. His salary was a trifle over £288—worth about five times that sum to-day. Sometimes an early breakfast at High Holborn was necessary in order to meet the council at seven A.M. in Whitehall, but usually it met at eight or nine. It seemed, however, best for the Miltons to move nearer Whitehall, and while he waited for his apartments to be ready, Milton took lodging at Charing Cross, opening into Spring Garden, where now is the meeting-place of the London County Council. This was on the royal estate, and was so named from a concealed fountain which spurted forth when touched by the unwary foot. It must have been a pleasant spot, with its bathing pond and bowling green and pheasant yard, which led from what is now Trafalgar Square into St. James’s Park. Opposite, at Charing Cross, was the palace of the Percys, later called “Northumberland House,” and next to it, where now stands the Grand Hotel, was the home of Sir Harry Vane. Queen Eleanor’s Cross had been taken down in 1647 and the statue of Charles I., which on the year of Milton’s death replaced it on its site, was at this time kept in careful concealment.
St. Martin’s Lane was a genuine shady lane, [Pg 100]bordered with hedges. The church which Milton saw upon the site of the present one was erected by Henry VIII., and was even then in reality St. Martin’s in the Fields.
Upon the north side of what is now Trafalgar Square, which is occupied by the National Gallery, stood the Royal Stables. Pall Mall, which leads westward, was so named from the Italian outdoor game, resembling croquet, which was played upon a green in the vicinity. It was then a resort for travellers and foreigners, who, like the Londoners Pepys and Defoe, frequented the chocolate and coffee houses in the neighbourhood and for a shilling an hour were carried about in sedan-chairs. The latter tells us that “the chairmen serve you for porters to run on errands, as your gondoliers do at Venice.”
St. James’s Palace, with its picturesque brick gateway, had but just seen the last hours of the monarch whom Milton had helped dethrone. Here Charles II. had been born in 1630, and here the Princess Mary was born in 1662, and was married to William, Prince of Orange, fifteen years later.
PART OF WHITEHALL
The Banquet-Hall by Inigo Jones is in the centre at the rear.
From an old engraving.
ilton remained in Spring Gardens about seven months, when his new apartments in the north end of Whitehall Palace were ready. These opened from Scotland Yard, in which was the Guard House. The yeomen of the guard wore red cloth roses on back and breast, and must have seemed very gay and imposing personages to the little girls of the Milton family. Their rooms were connected with the various courts and suites of apartments that extended down to the Privy Garden. The palace in Cromwell’s time probably retained in residence a large portion of the small army of caterers, butchers, brewers, confectioners, glaziers, etc., who provided for the constant needs of the huge establishment. The Horse Guards, built for gentlemen pensioners, was erected in 1641, and was[Pg 102] still quite new. This apparently was not on the site of the present Horse Guards, which was built in 1753.
At Scotland Yard, Milton’s only son, John, was born, and here his protracted labours in his vehement controversy with Salmasius brought on the blackness of great darkness which, at the age of forty-three, for ever shut his world from view. For the next twenty years and more it is the blind poet whose life we follow, during the period when his fiery spirit was chastened not only by his own afflictions, but by the nation’s also.
In 1652 Milton moved to Petty France, now York Street, near the Bird Cage Walk, which was so named from the king’s aviary there. Here the next year his little daughter Deborah was born, and soon after his wife, at the age of twenty-six, after nine years of married life, died. After the first estrangement and reconciliation, so far as we know, all had gone well. Her little John, who had scarcely learned to speak his father’s name, soon followed her to the grave.
The household then consisted of the poet, his nephew and amanuensis John, and his three motherless little girls. Masson describes the house as he saw it before its destruction in 1875. It was then No. 19 York Street, and had a squalid shop in its[Pg 103] lower part, and a recess on one side of it used for stacking wood. On entering by a small door and passage at the side of the shop, one groped up a dark staircase, where several tenants lived, in the rooms that were once all Milton’s. “The larger ones on the first floor are not so bad, and what are now the back rooms of the house may have been even pleasant and elegant when the house had a garden of its own behind it, and that garden opened directly into the park.”
Jeremy Bentham, who over a century later was landlord of the house and lived close by, placed a tablet on the rear wall inscribed “Sacred to Milton, Prince of Poets.” After 1811 Bentham’s tenant was William Hazlitt; before that his friend James Mill occupied the house.
Lord Scudamore, who had given Milton an introduction to Grotius, was his next-door neighbour at York Street. To-day the loftiest apartment house in London stands upon the unmarked site of Milton’s house. The frequent walk which Milton took to Whitehall, with a guide to his dark steps, during his eight years’ residence here, led him half a mile across St. James’s Park from Queen Anne Gate to Spring Gardens or the Horse Guards. The ornamental water was not then there, but there were ponds and trees and pleasant stretches of green turf.[Pg 104] Charles II. had it later all laid out by the famous French landscape artist, Le Nôtre.
Occasional sonnets—those to Cromwell, Vane, “On his Blindness,” and “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont”—appeared in the increasing leisure of this period, when his duties lessened, and he retired on a diminished salary. But Milton was become a man who was sought out by foreigners of note and persons of quality; among his friends, Andrew Marvell, the poet, and his pupil, Cyriack Skinner, were frequent visitors, with charming Lady Ranelagh, his neighbour, who persuaded him to teach her little son, and who he said had been to him in the place of kith and kin.
After four years of widowerhood, when his little girls were sadly in need of a mother, Milton married Katharine Woodcock, daughter of a Captain Woodcock of Hackney, in the church of St. Mary Aldermanbury, on November 12, 1656. Her coming into the home in Petty France brought serenity and happiness to all its inmates. During the brief fifteen months of their married life, a little daughter came, who followed her soon after to her grave in St. Margaret’s Church beside the Abbey, and the sorrowing husband was again left in his blindness to bring up his three motherless little daughters.
After eighteen years, the poem, sketched out in[Pg 105] St. Bride’s Churchyard, was resumed, and in the lonely house in Petty France, the first lines of “Paradise Lost” were dictated, just before the closing days of Cromwell’s life. Under Richard Cromwell, Milton retained his secretaryship, but with the return of Charles II., in May, 1660, he fled his home in Petty France, for he well knew the vengeance that might follow. His little girls were sent no one knows whither, and he took refuge in a friend’s house in Bartholomew Close, a passage which led from West Smithfield, through an ancient arch. It was filled with quaint old tenements, where Doctor Caius, the founder of Caius College, Cambridge, had lived, and also Le Sœur, who had modelled the statue of Charles I., which, as has been stated, was concealed during the Commonwealth, and was soon to be erected. Sixty-five years later, young Benjamin Franklin set up type in a printing-office here. To the blind refugee, it mattered little that he had left his garden to be hemmed in by narrow walls. The labyrinth of little courts and tortuous passages was his safeguard. During those days of arrests and executions of his friends, Milton must have known that any day might bring the hangman’s summons for him. Many a time during the nearly four months that he was hidden here must he in imagination have heard the shouts of the fickle[Pg 106] populace, and seen himself haled in a cart to Tyburn gallows. Says Masson: “Absolutely no man could less expect to be pardoned at the Restoration than Milton,” and “there is no greater historical puzzle than this complete escape.” But his faithful friend, Andrew Marvell, pleaded for him, and other powerful friends did their utmost in his behalf; the brain that was to give birth to a great epic was spared to England.
Though Milton lay in some prison for a little time, during which his “infamous” books “were solemnly burnt at the Session house in the Old Bailey by the hand of the common hangman,” he was soon a free man, though many of his companions were meanwhile hanged and quartered, or like Goffe and Whalley fled beyond seas and even there scarcely escaped the king’s swift avengers.
In December, Milton emerged from prison and moved temporarily into a little house on the north side of Holborn near Red Lion Square, which was behind it, and nearer Bloomsbury than was his former residence upon the street. Close by was the Red Lion Inn, where in January, on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I., lay on a hurdle, amidst a howling mob, the ghastly bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw, which had been disinterred and were on their way to Tyburn to be[Pg 107] swung upon the gallows. It was well for Milton to sit behind barred doors in silence in those days, while Sir Harry Vane languished in prison, bold Algernon Sidney was in exile, and the England that he loved seemed in eclipse.
In 1661, Milton, who had good reason to reside as far away from Petty France and the court end of town as possible, returned to the neighbourhood of his early married life, and took a house in Jewin Street, off Aldersgate, at the end of the street nearest St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, where his father lay buried. For the remainder of his life, here and in Artillery Walk, he was a parishioner of this church. During the three years spent here, Vane was beheaded, two thousand clergy were ejected from their livings, and many, as Richard Baxter tells us, starved on an income of only eight or ten pounds a year for a whole family; men of Milton’s way of thinking struggled for daily bread on six days in the week, and preached on the seventh with the police upon their track.
During these fruitful years in Jewin Street, while “Paradise Lost” was growing apace, Milton had about him his motherless and ill-educated girls. The oldest, about seventeen years of age, was handsome, but lame, and had a defect of speech. It fell to Mary and little eleven-year-old Deborah to[Pg 108] read, with scanty comprehension of the words, as their father required their services, from his Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian works. To them, and to a group of young men who felt it an honour to serve him, he dictated the sonorous lines of his great epic. No wonder that girls of a dozen or sixteen years of age found life in Jewin Street dull, and Greek dictionaries and the daily records of the doings of the hosts of heaven and hell abominably irksome. They served their father with grudging pen, and pilfered from him, and tricked him in his helpless sightlessness—small blame to them, perhaps, whose rearing had been by servants and governesses, but pitiable for the father of fifty years, who fought his daily battles with fate alone in the dark.
Andrew Marvell and Cyriack Skinner sought him out, and doubtless told him the latest literary news of Henry More, the Platonist; of Howell, but just appointed historiographer royal; of Samuel Butler, who had just gone with the Lady Alice of “Comus” to Ludlow Castle; of Richard Baxter, whose popular book, “The Saints’ Everlasting Rest,” Milton had doubtless read when it appeared five years before; of Pepys, now secretary to the Admiralty; of Izaak Walton, whose “Complete Angler” Milton may have read ten years before; of Evelyn and[Pg 109] of the poet Cowley; of Bishop Jeremy Taylor; of George Fox, the valiant Quaker, and the philosophers, Hobbes, and John Locke, who was then at Oxford; and the budding poet, John Dryden.
We learn from Richardson that Milton usually dictated “leaning backward obliquely in an easy chair, with his leg flung over the elbow of it, though often when lying in bed in a morning.” Sometimes he would lie awake all night without composing a line, when a flow of verse would come with such an impetus that he would call Mary and dictate forty lines at once. During these days a newly converted young Quaker, Thomas Ellwood, who was desirous of improving his Latin, and to see John Milton, who, he writes, “was a gentleman of great note for learning throughout the learned world,” betook himself to the modest home on Jewin Street, got lodging hard by, and engaged to read Latin to him six afternoons a week. Milton, noticing that he used the English pronunciation, told him that if he wanted to speak with foreigners in Latin he must learn the foreign pronunciation. This Ellwood by hard labour accomplished, when Milton, seeing his earnestness, helped him greatly in translation. These happy hours were interrupted by Ellwood’s arrest for attending the Quaker meeting in Aldersgate Street. Three months were spent[Pg 110] in Bridewell and Newgate, where he saw the bloody quarters and boiled heads of executed men, and wrote out in detail an account of the hideous spectacle. One heavenly day in a quiet library reading of Dido and Æneas with Milton, the next in an English hell of bestiality, filth, and cruelty—a memorable experience for a young man of twenty-two, was it not?
Household affairs were going from bad to worse in Jewin Street, and the unhappy home needed a wife and mother. When the news came to the daughter Mary that her father was to marry again, she exclaimed that it was “no news to hear of his wedding, but if she could hear of his death, that would be something.” The third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, was twenty-four years old when Milton married her, in the church of St. Mary Aldermary, a little south of his boyhood’s home near Cannon Street. She proved an excellent wife, and was of a “peaceful and agreeable humour.” There are traditions that the young stepmother had golden hair and could sing; her good sense and housewifely accomplishments brought peace, comfort, and thrift into the discordant household.
Soon after his marriage, the Milton family removed to a house in Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields. This was on the roadway which is[Pg 111] the southern part of Bunhill Row. Not only was there a garden here, but the site of the present Bunhill Fields Cemetery, where Defoe, Bunyan, Richard Cromwell, and Isaac Watts lie buried, was then an open field; while, close at hand, was Artillery Ground, where trained bands occasionally paraded, as they have done from 1537 to the present time. Of the house we know little, except that it had four fireplaces. Near by was “Grub” Street, since changed to “Milton” Street, partly perhaps to commemorate the fact of the poet’s residence in the neighbourhood. In June, 1665, while the Great Plague had begun its desolating course, Milton had completed the last lines of “Paradise Lost.” It was then that young Ellwood came to his assistance, and engaged for him “a pretty box in Giles-Chalfont,” whither he was driven with his wife and daughters.
f the pilgrim to the shrines of Puritans and poets has thought worth while to spend an afternoon at Horton, he may well spare two or three days more for a drive from there to Stoke Pogis, Harefield, and the region thirteen miles north of Horton in lovely Buckinghamshire, among the Chiltern hills.
Here stands, about twenty-three miles northwest of London, in the little village of Chalfont St. Giles, the only house that still exists in which Milton ever lived. The village lies in a quiet hollow among the hills, three or four miles removed from the shriek of any locomotive. One may approach it by train from the little stations of Chorley Wood or Chalfont Road. It will well repay one before doing so to make a detour of a mile and a half to Chenies,—one of the loveliest villages in all England,—beside the tiny Chess, where Matthew Arnold loved to angle. A delightful hostelry is the “Bedford Arms,” where he always “put up.” The chief [Pg 113]feature of the place is the mortuary chapel of the Russells, where the family have been buried from 1556 until the present day. But the lover of the picturesque will more admire the adjoining Tudor mansion. American multi-millionaires have built no Newport palace that is so attractive to the lover of the beautiful.
IN MILTON’S HOUSE AT CHALFONT ST. GILES
As one drives toward Chalfont, he enters it at the end farthest from Milton’s cottage, which is one of the last houses upon the left of the main street. It is on the road that leads to Beaconsfield, four miles away. The cottage lies at the foot of a slope close by the roadside; it is built of brick and timber, and has two entrances, four sitting-rooms, and five bedrooms.
On the floor which is level with the garden are two sitting-rooms that look toward the hill slope and Beaconsfield. Their quaint old windows are filled with diamond panes, which are set in lead and open outward. The long carved dining-table, in the room at the left, and the small table, cabinet, and stools in the room at the right, which is seen in the illustration, were Milton’s own. Here at the open casement, during those days of horror in the stricken city, Milton sat and breathed the fragrant air, and in the evening listened to the nightingales which haunt the Chalfont groves. Hither the brave[Pg 114] young Ellwood came to greet him, fresh as he was from another imprisonment; he returned with his comments the manuscript of “Paradise Lost,” which Milton had loaned to him, and added: “Thou hast said much here of Paradise lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise found?” To which the poet answered nothing at the time, but, as the result proved, the query brought later a fitting response in “Paradise Regained.” Perhaps the visitor may be allowed to ascend the narrow winding stair with its carved railing to the humble chambers under the gables, whither the poet groped his way to bed, and to glance into narrow cupboards, where he may have piled his books and manuscripts. There is a tender, pathetic charm about the place, which even the greater poet’s house at Stratford lacks. The man Shakespeare—the successful dramatist—we know little of; his inner life we only guess at and infer. His consummate genius wins our worship; it does not touch our hearts. But the blind poet, the passionate lover of liberty and fearless pleader for justice, the man who like blind Samson shook his locks in defiance of fate, and would not be cast down, this man we know. We have followed step by step his brilliant youth, his strenuous manhood, and his brave, declining years. With all his faults of temper we love him as we love Dante and Michael[Pg 115] Angelo and Beethoven. We linger reverently in the little house made dear to England by his presence there.
Then we wander back a little on our way, to a row of antique houses and go through a passage to the venerable parish church and churchyard where Milton’s feet doubtless have trod.
En route to Beaconsfield the traveller will not fail to pause at Jordan’s, a plain, square structure in a leafy grove, beside a green God’s Acre. It was the Quaker meeting-house in Milton’s day as it is still. At the rear is a concealed gallery where the worshippers took refuge when their service was broken up by armed pursuers. Close by are many unmarked graves, and among them is Ellwood’s. But the grave of William Penn, the founder of a great American State, and the graves of his wife and children, have low modern headstones, for their position was well known. Here the man of gentle birth, the hero and saint, who is dear to all Americans, sleeps peacefully among his English kindred. During the year when Milton was at Chalfont, Penn was a youth in Paris, seeing the world, but keeping himself unspotted from it.
At Beaconsfield we drive through a broad country road to the Saracen’s Head—a conspicuous landmark. We turn our steps at once to the gray old[Pg 116] church and its battlemented tower, whose walls of flint rise in rugged strength from the churchyard with its mossy tombs. Within the centre aisle lies buried the valiant apostle of American freedom—Edmund Burke.
He was a man with whom the refugee at Chalfont would have found much in common had he lived a century and a quarter later. The inscription over his grave is modern, and so are the bas-relief and inscription to him on the side wall. His former seat within the parish church is marked upon the floor, and a fine carved desk is made from his old pew. Within the churchyard gay roses and solemn yews droop over ancient monuments, among them, the showy obelisk on Waller’s grave. Nothing is lovelier than the drive late in an afternoon over the high hills, from which one catches far distant views, to Amersham, which lies in a little valley among the hills. This was a seat of the Puritan revolt and earlier martyrdoms. John Knox preached here—an obnoxious personage to the worthy sexton of the beautiful church, who told the writer that he had buried every man and woman in the parish for forty years. “The fact is,” quoth this worthy, “John Knox traduced Mary Queen of Scots; now I’ve no use for a man who isn’t good to the ladies.” On being reminded that Elizabeth did worse and cut[Pg 117] her head off, he condoned that as being “probably an affair of state.” A lover of poets was this sexton. “I’ve read ’em all,” he said, “but my favourite is Pope.” Isaac Watts likewise shared his approval, and he volunteered upon the spot a number of his hymns from memory. “But I take a lugubrious view of life,” continued this digger of many graves, “for it’s just grub, grub, grub, all your life, and then be shovelled under; the fact is, as any man can see with half an eye, that this is the age of mammon and no mistake.” Shakespeare would have found a gravedigger to his mind in the sexton of Amersham.
Amersham does not offer so favourable accommodations for the night as does Wendover, which has a choice of hostelries, and is but a few minutes’ ride by train from the Amersham station, a quarter of a mile away. After viewing the early English church in Wendover next morning, one may hire a trap and drive to Great Hampden, three miles distant, to the stately home of John Hampden, within a large park. There are still traces of the ancient road which was cut through the park for Queen Elizabeth. The shady avenue of beeches around the side leads up to the little church of gray flint stone which stands near the great mansion and its mighty cedars of Lebanon. The little churchyard is carpeted with velvet turf, starred with tiny white flowers[Pg 118] which recall the foregrounds in the brilliant paintings of Van Eyck.
The reader of Puritan history is reminded of that mournful day after the battle of Chalgrove Field, when the body of John Hampden was brought home. As many soldiers as could be spared accompanied it, marching with arms reversed and muffled drums, while, with uncovered heads, they chanted the solemn words of comfort that begin the ninetieth Psalm: “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.” They laid him in a grave within the chancel, which still remains unmarked; it is close beside the slab on which he had written his beautiful epitaph to his wife. When they marched back beneath the beeches their voices rang out with the lines of Psalm Forty-three: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God.” Says a writer of that time: “Never were heard such piteous cries at the death of one man, as at Master Hampden’s.”
Within the spacious mansion, which once was red brick and now is covered with gray plaster, are various relics of Hampden and Cromwell, and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth in the room which she occupied on her visit here. Two miles further, on one of the finest estates in the county, is Chequer’s Court, an imposing brick mansion of the Tudor[Pg 119] period, once owned by Cromwell’s youngest daughter and her husband. It stands in a park, and contains the greatest collection of Cromwelliana in the kingdom. But these and the Hampden relics owned by the Earl of Buckingham at Great Hampden are rarely shown to visitors who do not apply in writing some time in advance of their visit. It is to be hoped that some day the nation may own these and make them freely accessible to all scholars. Through a circuitous drive between beautiful fields of grain, in view of the Chiltern Hills, the traveller reaches the old parish church at Great Kimble, where John Hampden, the sturdy cousin of Cromwell, in 1635 made his refusal to pay King Charles’s demands for ship money. Near by lies the field whose tax was in question. The sum was paltry,—only twenty shillings,—but, like George Third’s tax on tea in the colonies, the refusal to pay it meant war in the end. This whole section of beautiful Bucks is rich with memories of Milton, and of the men whom he knew and loved.
Ellwood records that “when the city was cleansed and become safely habitable,” the Miltons returned to Artillery Walk. This must have been about March, 1666. The open fields close to their house had been filled with the bodies of thousands of the plague victims, many of whom were uncoffined.[Pg 120] Thereafter it was made a regular cemetery, and was surrounded with a brick wall, and became what Southey called, “the Campo Santo of the Dissenters.” On a side street near by, next to a kind of institutional meeting-house belonging to the Friends, is a beautiful green inclosure where fourteen thousand Quakers lie buried in unmarked graves. One humble headstone alone marks a grave near the fence, which was opened in the nineteenth century, and was found to be that of Milton’s contemporary,—George Fox,—the tailor with the leather suit, who founded the sect of the uncompromising democrats who called no man “Lord,” who used no weapons but their tongues, and who thundered with them to such purpose as to make men quake.
While Milton was on the point of publishing his “Paradise Lost,” another calamity, to be described later, befell the stricken city. For three days the Great Fire crackled and roared, and drove man and beast before its fearful heat westward to Temple Bar, and swept away Milton’s birthplace, which he still owned. It wiped out the church where he was christened, the school where he had studied, and came so far north as almost to bury his father’s grave under the walls of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate. Amid the horror of smoke and the sound of distant explosions[Pg 121] and wild confusion, the poet sat during those awful days, when it seemed as if the fate of Sodom had befallen his dear London town. Up to that date his birthplace had been visited by admiring foreigners. This was the only real estate that he then owned, and its loss must have crippled his resources.
The precious manuscript of “Paradise Lost” fell to the censorship of the young clergyman of twenty-eight, who had married Milton to his youthful wife, Elizabeth. This man, named Tomkyns, like Pobedonostzeff two hundred and fifty years later, held that liberty of conscience was a “highly plausible thing,” but did not work well in practice, and he came near suppressing the volume, so tradition says, for imaginary treason in some lines; but he relented, and the world was spared its greatest epic poem since the Æneid.
The many booksellers around St. Paul’s suffered terrible losses, and Pepys estimates that books to the value of £150,000 were burnt in the vicinity. Most of them were hurriedly stowed in the crypt of old St. Paul’s Church, but when the walls of the great cathedral fell, they let in the fire which consumed them. In April, 1667, when the ruins had hardly ceased smoking, Milton agreed, for £5 down and three times as much at certain future dates, to sell his copyright to Samuel Symons, printer. [Pg 122]Thirteen hundred copies constituted the edition. Through the days of dusty turmoil while the new city was slowly rising on the ashes of the old, the proof-sheets passed from the printing-press in Aldersgate Street to Artillery Walk. There was only an interruption of five anxious days in June, when the bugle sounded, and terrified citizens assembled to ward off the Dutch, who, bent on vengeance, burnt English ships and sent cannon-balls hurtling at English forts. In August “Paradise Lost” appeared as a rather fine looking, small quarto of 342 pages, which could be bought for three shillings in three bookstores. For artistic purposes the poem is written according to the Ptolemaic theory of cosmos, though Milton of course accepted the Copernican view.
While John Milton was expecting £15 or £20 for his work of more than seven years, John Dryden, who was much more in fashion in those days of Nell Gwynne and the reopened theatres, was receiving a yearly income of £700. But John Dryden knew a poet when he read him. After reading “Paradise Lost,” he exclaimed: “This man cuts us all out, and the ancients, too.”
About 1670, Milton’s three daughters left their father’s home. Knowing that they needed to be fitted for self-support, he paid for their apprenticeship, and had them taught embroidery in gold and[Pg 123] silver. Doubtless bright silks and gay patterns were much more to their mind than their father’s folios, and the change was best for all concerned. Their father sat at his door on pleasant days, dressed in his gray camblet coat, wearing a sword with a small silver hilt. He received many visitors—some of them men of rank and note.
He is described as wearing at this time his light brown hair parted from the crown to the middle of the forehead, “somewhat flat, long and waving, a little curled.” His voice was musical and he “pronounced the letter r very hard.” He rose early, began his day by listening to the Hebrew Bible, and spent his morning listening and dictating. Music, as much walking as his gouty feet permitted, and, in the evening, a smoke, were his sole recreations. He belonged to no church, and attended no service at this period.
As his end drew near he told his brother that he left only the residue of his first wife’s property to their three daughters, who had “been very undutiful;” but everything else to his “loving wife, Elizabeth.” Just one month before he had completed his sixty-sixth year, John Milton died on a Sunday night, November 8, 1674. He was buried beside his father in St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, and was followed to the grave by many friends. What[Pg 124] hymns were sung we do not know, but certainly none could more fitly have been sung than that noble one by his dear friend, Sir Henry Wotton:
“How blessed is he born or taught
Who serveth not another’s will,
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his highest skill.
“This man is freed from servile bands,
Of hope to rise or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands,
And having nothing, yet hath all.”
Milton’s wife was thirty-six years old when the poet died. She lived to be nearly eighty-nine years old, but never remarried. Deborah lived until 1727, when Voltaire writes: “I was in London when it became known that a daughter of blind Milton was still alive, old and in poverty, and in a quarter of an hour she was rich.” The latest descendants of John and Christopher Milton died about the middle of the eighteenth century, but their sister Anne’s posterity may perhaps be traced to-day.
The forgotten Duke of York has his great column in Waterloo Place. The scholarly but uninspired Prince Consort has his gorgeous Memorial, and a hundred nobodies have their lofty monuments scattered all over England, teaching the rising generation[Pg 125] their fathers’ estimation of the relative worth of names in England’s history. The only statue of Milton known to me in England, except the one on the London University Building, is the modest figure which stands, together with Shakespeare and Chaucer, upon a fountain in Park Lane opposite Hyde Park.
No student of the period which is treated in this little volume should fail to visit the upper floor of the National Portrait Gallery, and view the portraits of the many noted men who were Milton’s contemporaries. Besides portraits of the royal families, he will note those of William Harvey, Samuel Pepys, Cowley, old Parr, Sir Henry Vane, Andrew Marvell, Cromwell and his daughter, Inigo Jones, Selden, Sir Julius Cæsar, Samuel Butler, Hobbes, Dryden, Ireton, Algernon Sidney, Sir Christopher Wren, and the Chandos Shakespeare portrait. Milton’s own portrait in middle life, which is little known, is most impressive, and very different from the common portraits.
xcept Westminster Abbey, no spot in England is so connected with every phase of England’s history as is the Tower of London. A map, printed in the generation before Milton, shows us the ancient moat full of water, and the space within its walls that now is gravelled then covered with greensward. North of St. Peter’s little church, where lay the bones of Anne Boleyn, stretched a row of narrow gabled houses like those seen in the neighbouring London streets. The White Tower, built by William the Conqueror, stands to-day practically as it stood in William’s time and Milton’s. Built of durable flint stones, it has withstood time’s decay as few other buildings erected far more recently have done, when they were of the soft, disintegrating quality of stone so often used in London. True, Christopher Wren faced the windows with stone in the Italian style, and somewhat modernised the exterior, but the interior[Pg 127] remains practically as it was built over eight hundred years ago.
As there is no need of duplicating here the main facts about its history, which are to be found in every guide-book, let us confine ourselves to the chief literary and historical associations with it, that must have appealed to the boy and man, John Milton.
One can imagine few things more exciting and stimulating to the mind of an observant boy in 1620 than a visit to the Tower. In the days when circuses were unknown, and menageries of strange beasts were a rare sight, the view of such behind the grated walls of Lion’s Tower must have delighted any London lad. The wild beasts were not very numerous,—only a few lions and leopards and “cat lions,”—but no doubt they were as satisfactory as the modern “Zoo” to eyes that were unsatiated with such novelties. Whether small boys were allowed for sixpence to see the rich display of state jewels is not quite clear, yet it is certain that they were shown to strangers.
Says that indefatigable antiquarian, Stow, whose old age almost touched the babyhood of Milton: “This Tower is a citadel to defend or command the city; a royal palace for assemblies or treaties; a prison of state for the most dangerous offenders; the only place of coinage for all England at the[Pg 128] time; the armory for warlike provisions; the treasury of the ornaments and jewels of the Crown; and general conserver of the records of the king’s courts of justice at Westminster.”
In Milton’s boyhood, the royal palace in the southeast corner of the inclosure was standing. But in his manhood, his staunch friend, Oliver, having got possession, it was pulled down. The little Norman chapel of St. John, within the Tower, is one of the best bits of Norman work now extant in England. Its triforium, which extends over the aisles and semicircular east end, probably was used in ancient days to permit the queen and her ladies to attend the celebration of the mass, unseen by the congregation below. The chapel was dismantled before Milton’s time. But doubtless as he entered it he could picture in it, more vividly than we in our later age, that scene when from sunset until sunrise forty-six noblemen and gentlemen knelt and watched their armour, before King Henry IV., on the next day, bestowed upon them the newly created Order of the Bath.
In this chapel, while he was kneeling in prayer, the lieutenant of the Tower received an order to murder the young Edward V. and his brother, and refused to obey it. Here Queen Mary attended mass for her brother, Edward VI.
In the present armory, once the council chamber,[Pg 129] King Richard II. was released from prison, and sceptre in hand and the crown on his head, abdicated in favour of Henry IV. Shakespeare thus depicts the scene, and puts the following words into the mouth of the mournful king:
“I give this heavy weight from off my head,
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duteous oaths,
My manors, rents, revenues I forego;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny.
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me,
God keep all oaths unbroke are made to thee.
Make me that nothing have with nothing grieved,
And thou with all pleased that hath all achieved!
Long may’st thou live in Richard’s seat to sit,
And soon lie Richard in an earthen pit!
God save King Henry, unkinged Richard says,
And send him many years of sunshine days!”
On this same spot, in 1483, the Protector, afterward Richard III., came in among the lords in council, and asked the Bishop of Ely to send to his gardens in Ely Place, off Holborn, for some strawberries. The terror which royalty inspired—and with good reason in that day—is well described by Sir Thomas More, who was himself a prisoner in[Pg 130] less than a half century after the scene which he so graphically describes:
“He returned into the chamber, among them, all changed, with a wonderful sour, angry countenance, knitting the brows, frowning and frothing and gnawing of the lips; and so sat him down in his place, all the lords much dismayed and sore marvelling of this manner of sudden change, and what thing should him ail.” Then asking what should be the punishment of those who conspired against his life, and being told that they should be punished as traitors, he then accused his brother’s wife and his own wife. “‘Then,’ said the Protector,” continues More, “‘ye shall see in what wise that sorceress and that other witch ... have by their sorcery and witchcraft wasted my body!’ And therewith he plucked up his doublet sleeve to his elbow upon his left arm, and he shewed a werish withered arm, and small as it was never other. And thereupon every man’s mind sore misgave him, well perceiving that this matter was but a quarrel ... no man was there present but well knew that his arm was ever such since his birth. Nevertheless the lord chamberlain answered, and said: ‘Certainly, my lord, if they have so heinously done they be worthy heinous punishment.’ ‘What,’ quoth the Protector, ‘thou servest me ill with ifs and with ands; I tell thee they[Pg 131] have so done, and that I will make good on thy body, traitor!... I will not to dinner until I see thy head off.’ Within an hour, the lord chamberlain’s head rolled in the dust.”
The author of the “Utopia,” being a knight, was leniently treated while in the Tower. He paid ten shillings a week for himself and five shillings for his servant. Occasionally his friends came to see him, and urged in vain that he should propitiate Henry VIII. and his wife, Anne Boleyn, against whose marriage he had objected. But he remained immovable. “Is not this house as nigh heaven as my own?” he asked, serenely, when wife and daughters pleaded with him to reconsider. Lady More petitioned Henry for her husband’s pardon, on the ground of his illness and her poverty; she had been forced to sell her clothing to pay her husband’s fees in prison. But Henry had no mercy on the gentle scholar, the greatest English genius of his day, and who had been lord chancellor of England.
For a time he was allowed to write, but later, books and writing materials were removed; yet he occasionally succeeded in writing to his wife and daughter Margaret on scraps of paper with pieces of coal. “Thenceforth,” says his biographer, “he caused the shutters of his cell to be closed, and spent most of his time in the dark.”
[Pg 132]When the end came, his sentence to be hanged at Tyburn was commuted by the king to beheadal at Tower Hill. Cheerful, and even with a tone of jest, he said to the lieutenant on the scaffold, “I pray thee, see me safely up, and for my coming down, let me shift for myself.” He removed his beard from the block, saying, “it had never committed treason,” and told the bystanders that he died “in and for the faith of the Catholic Church,” and prayed God to send the king good counsel. More’s body was buried in St. Peter’s Church, where that of the fair young Anne Boleyn herself was soon to lie. His head, after the savage custom of the time, was parboiled and affixed to a pole on London Bridge.
Dark and bloody were the associations that centre around the Tower in the century preceding Milton’s. Few of these have touched the popular heart more than those which cluster around the girl-queen of nine days—the fair Lady Jane Grey. In the Brick Tower, where she was imprisoned, she wrote her last brave, pathetic words to her father and sister upon the leaves of her Greek Testament. From her prison window she saw the headless body of her boy-husband pass by in a cart from Tower Hill, and cried: “Oh, Guildford! Guildford! the antepast is not so bitter that thou hast tasted, and which I soon shall taste, as to make my flesh tremble; it[Pg 133] is nothing compared with that feast of which we shall partake this day in heaven.”
When she was ready to lay her fair young head upon the block, she cried: “I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman.” “Then tied she the handkerchief about her eyes, and feeling for the block, she said, ‘What shall I do? Where is it?’ One of the standers-by guiding her thereunto, she laid her head down upon the block, and then stretched forth her body, and said: ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’” So perished this girl of eighteen, whose beauty, learning, and tragic fate make her one of the most pathetic figures in history.
The most interesting parts of the Tower, including St. Peter’s Church, the dungeons, Raleigh’s cell, and the spot where he wrote his “History of the World,” are not shown to ordinary visitors. They can be seen, however, by the receipt of a written order from the Constable of the Tower, and should not be missed by any student of English history. Even a few moments spent in those dark lower vaults help the torpid imagination of those who live in freedom as cheap and common as the air they breathe to realise through what horror and bloody sweat of brave men and women in the past his freedom[Pg 134] has been bought. Though these dungeons now are clean and a few modern openings through the massive walls admit some feeble rays of light, it is not difficult to conjure up the black darkness, filth, and vermin, and noisome odours of the past, or the shrieks of saint or sinner, who, like Anne Askew and Guy Fawkes, suffered upon the rack. Only two years before Milton’s birth, the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot were immured in these dungeons, and then hanged, cut down, and disembowelled while they were still living.
In Milton’s youth, in 1630, while he was writing Latin verses at Christ’s College, Cambridge, that brave, heroic, noble soul, Sir John Eliot, was committed to the Tower. Those were sad days for England. Free speech in Parliament was throttled. The nation’s ancient liberties were in jeopardy. Says the historian, Green: “The early struggle for Parliamentary liberty centres in the figure of Sir John Eliot.... He was now in the first vigour of manhood, with a mind exquisitely cultivated, and familiar with the poetry and learning of his day, a nature singularly lofty and devout, a fearless and vehement temperament. But his intellect was as clear and cool as his temper was ardent. What he believed in was the English Parliament. He saw in it the collective wisdom of the realm, and in that[Pg 135] wisdom he put a firmer trust than in the statecraft of kings.” Of the memorable scene in Parliament in which he moved the presentation to the king of a remonstrance, in the session of 1628, a letter of the times gives a description. By royal orders the Speaker of the House stopped him, and Eliot sat abruptly down amid the solemn silence of the members. “Then appeared such a spectacle of passions as the like had seldom been seen in such an assembly; some weeping, some expostulating, some prophesying of the fatal ruin of our kingdom, some playing the divines in confessing their sins and country’s sins.... There were above an hundred weeping eyes, many who offered to speak being interrupted and silenced by their own passions.”
Says President Theodore Roosevelt of Sir John Eliot: “He took his stand firmly on the ground that the king was not the master of Parliament, and of course this could but mean ultimately that Parliament was master of the king. In other words, he was one of the earliest leaders of the movement which has produced English freedom and English government as we now know them. He was also its martyr. He was kept in the Tower, without air or exercise, for three years, the king vindictively refusing to allow the slightest relaxation in his confinement, even when it brought on consumption.[Pg 136] In December, 1632, he died; and the king’s hatred found its last expression in denying to his kinsfolk the privilege of burying him in his Cornish home.”
At last the “man of blood,” who had tried to wrest England’s liberties, himself perished upon the scaffold at Whitehall, and in his condemnation the same author cites his treatment of Sir John Eliot as one of his greatest crimes. “Justice was certainly done, and until the death penalty is abolished for all malefactors, we need waste scant sympathy on the man who so hated the upholders of freedom that his vengeance against Eliot could be satisfied only with Eliot’s death; who so utterly lacked loyalty, that he signed the death-warrant of Strafford when Strafford had merely done his bidding; who had made the blood of Englishmen flow like water, to establish his right to rule; and who, with incurable duplicity, incurable double-dealing, had sought to turn the generosity of his victorious foes to their own hurt.”
These grisly tales of executions and of scenes of fortitude we close with a few words on that valiant, noble soul, Sir Harry Vane, to whom Milton dedicated the well-known sonnet beginning: “Vane, young in years, but in sage counsel old.”
Speaking before the Phi Beta Kappa of Harvard University, Wendell Phillips, America’s [Pg 137]silver-tongued orator, uttered a memorable word upon the man whose governorship of Massachusetts for two years of its infant history makes the name of Vane for ever dear to the American descendants of the Puritans:
“... Roger Williams and Sir Harry Vane, the two men deepest in thought and bravest in speech of all who spoke English in their day, and equal to any in practical statesmanship. Sir Harry Vane—in my judgment the noblest human being who ever walked the streets of yonder city—I do not forget Franklin or Sam Adams, Washington or Fayette, Garrison or John Brown. But Vane dwells an arrow’s flight above them all, and his touch consecrated the continent to measureless toleration of opinion and entire equality of rights. We are told we can find in Plato ‘all the intellectual life of Europe for two thousand years.’ So you can find in Vane the pure gold of two hundred and fifty years of American civilisation, with no particle of its dross. Plato would have welcomed him to the Academy, and Fénélon kneeled with him at the altar. He made Somers and John Marshall possible; like Carnot, he organised victory; and Milton pales before him in the stainlessness of his record. He stands among English statesmen preëminently the representative, in practice and in theory, of serene[Pg 138] faith in the safety of trusting truth wholly to her own defence. For other men we walk backward, and throw over their memories the mantle of charity and excuse, saying reverently, ‘Remember the temptation and the age.’ But Vane’s ermine has no stain; no act of his needs explanation or apology; and in thought he stands abreast of the age—like pure intellect, belongs to all time. Carlyle said, in years when his words were worth heeding, ‘Young men, close your Byron and open your Goethe.’ If my counsel had weight in these halls, I should say, ‘Young men, close your John Winthrop and Washington, your Jefferson and Webster, and open Sir Harry Vane.’ It was the generation that knew Vane who gave to our Alma Mater for a seal the simple pledge, Veritas.”—Wendell Phillips, in his Harvard address on the “Scholar in the Republic.”
To the profligate Charles II. few men must have seemed more dangerous than the man who had dared to teach that the king had three “superiors, God, Law, and Parliament.” The man who had once walked through the stately halls of Raby Castle as its master found a Tower cell his last earthly abiding-place.
When Sir Harry Vane was arraigned as a “false traitor,” he made his own defence, well knowing what the end would be, but determined, for the sake[Pg 139] of England and the cause he loved, to put his plea on record. For ten hours he fought for his life without refreshment, then later, in his prison, wrote out the substance of his plea. Though, as his biographer relates, “he had torn to pieces as if they were so much rotten thread the legal meshes in which his hunters sought to hold him fast,” his doom was sealed. Something was gained when the original sentence of hideous torture and dismemberment was commuted into simple beheading. The day before his execution, Vane said to his children: “Resolve to suffer anything from men rather than sin against God.... I can willingly leave this place and outward enjoyments, for those I shall meet with hereafter in a better country. I have made it my business to acquaint myself with the society of Heaven. Be not you troubled, for I am going home to my Father.”
“As one goes through Eastcheap to-day, out upon the open space of Tower Hill, he finds himself among prosaic surroundings. Over the pavement rattles the traffic from the great London docks close at hand. High warehouses rise at the side; the sooty trail of steamers pollutes the air toward the river. In one direction, however, the view has suggestions the reverse of commonplace. Looking thither the sensitive beholder feels with deep emotion[Pg 140] the fact brought home to him, that to men of English speech, the earth has scarcely a spot more memorable than the ground where he is standing. There rise, as they have risen for eight hundred years, the gray walls of the Tower,—the moat in the foreground, the battlemented line of masonry behind; within, the white keep, with its four turrets.... As mothers have shed tears there for imprisoned children, so children standing there have wondered which blocks in the grim masonry covered the dungeons of their fathers and mothers. Again and again, too, through the ages, all London has gathered, waiting in a hush for the dropping of the drawbridge before the Byward Tower, and the coming forth of the mournful train, conducting some world-famous man to the block draped with black, on the scaffold to the left, where the hill is highest.... On the 14th of June in 1662 in the full glory of the summer, Vane, in the strength of his manhood, was brought forth to die.” Thus writes James K. Hosmer in his scholarly biography of Vane. He quotes an eye-witness, who relates how cheerfully and readily Vane went from his chamber to the sledge which took him to the scaffold, and how “from the tops of houses, and out of windows, the people used such means and gestures as might best discover, at a distance, their respects and love[Pg 141] to him, crying aloud, ‘The Lord go with you, the great God of Heaven and Earth appear in you and for you.’ When asked how he did, he answered, ‘Never better in my life.’ Loud were the acclamations of the people, crying out, ‘The Lord Jesus go with your dear soul.’” As Vane stepped upon the scaffold, clad in a black suit and cloak and scarlet waistcoat, a silence fell, and calmly, serenely, he addressed the throng around him. His address displeased the officers, and the trumpets were commanded to silence him. His words, however, had been well prepared and delivered in writing to a friend, so that the world to-day knows with what dignity and truth he spoke. His prayer, however, was not thus broken. “Thy servant, that is now falling asleep, doth heartily desire of thee, that thou shouldst forgive his enemies, and not lay this sin to their charge.... I bless the Lord that I have not deserted the righteous cause for which I suffer.”
The heads of Cromwell and Bradshaw hung on the poles of Westminster Hall when Vane’s fell. Blake’s and Ireton’s bodies had been flung into dishonoured graves. Pym and Hampden had died early in the civil strife. Algernon Sidney was to be a later victim. In Jewin Street the blind Milton was solacing himself in an uncertain seclusion and quietude, with the preparation of his “Paradise[Pg 142] Lost.” Everything the Puritans had stood for seemed eclipsed. But the truths these men had lived and died for could not die. Says Lowell, writing for his countrymen: “It was the red dint on Charles’s block that marked one in our era.”
The reign of the Stuarts was doomed, and the Nemesis of what they stood for was assured. Says John Richard Green: “England for the last two hundred years has done little more than carry out in a slow and tentative way, but very surely, the programme laid down by Vane and his friends at the close of the Civil War.” It was government of the people, by the people, for the people, for which Vane and Washington and Lincoln lived. Without the foresight and the valour of the brave man who died on Tower Hill the work accomplished by the two later heroes might not have been assured.
t the end of Great Tower Street is the church of All Hallows, Barking, anciently known as “Berkynge Church by the Tower.” The edifice, which is situated close to Mark Lane Station on the Metropolitan Railway, ranks as the oldest parish church with a continuous history as such in the city of London. One hundred and fifty years before the union of the seven kingdoms under Egbert, over four hundred years before the Conqueror and the building of the White Tower, a thousand years before the boy Milton visited its historic site, the foundation of the church was laid. For six hundred years a close connection existed between the court and this church when the Tower was a royal residence.
Some traces of old Norman work remain, but the present building belongs to the Perpendicular type,[Pg 144] and assumed nearly its present shape about one hundred years before Milton’s age.
From its nearness to the Tower, the church became the burial-place of some of its victims. Here was placed the headless body of Lord Thomas Grey, uncle of Lady Jane, who was beheaded in 1554 for taking part in the rebellion under Wyatt. The heart of Richard the Lion Heart was once placed under its high altar. After his execution on Tower Hill, the body of Archbishop Laud rested here some years, and was “accompanied to earth with great multitudes of people, whom love or curiosity or remorse of conscience had drawn together, and decently interred ... according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, in which it may be noted as a remarkable thing, that being, whilst he lived, the greatest champion of the Common Prayer Book ... he had the honour, being dead, to be buried in the form therein provided, after it had been long disused and almost reprobated in most of the churches of London.”
Two hundred and fifty years later an Archbishop Laud Commemoration was celebrated here, and where the scaffold stood on Tower Hill services were held.
The chief interest of the church for American visitors may be the baptismal register, in which is[Pg 145] recorded the baptism, during Milton’s early manhood, of Sir William Penn’s infant son, the apostle of peace, who was destined to found a great state in the New World. The Great Fire of 1666 touched the church so closely that Pepys tells us the “dyall and part of the porch was burnt.” Its interior is beautifully preserved. Its old brasses attract so many who desire to make rubbings that a snug sum for church purposes has been raised by the small fees charged. The church possesses the oldest indenture for the construction of an organ known in England. Its date is 1519.
On the south side of Tower Street, at number 48, was formerly a public house painted with the head of the Czar of Muscovy. Here Peter the Great, when he was studying the dockyards and maritime establishments of England under William III., used to resort with his attendants and smoke his pipe and drink beer and brandy. Near by is Muscovy Court, a present reminder of the ancient name.
A little farther north, on Hart Street, once stood the richly decorated timber house, called “Whittington’s Palace.” According to doubtful tradition this was where the famous Dick Whittington, with princely magnanimity, burnt the royal bond for a debt of £60,000, when Henry V. and his queen came to dine with him. “Never had king such a subject,”[Pg 146] Henry is reported to have said, when Whittington replied to the hero of Agincourt, “Surely, Sire, never had subject such a king.” This palace, with its whole front of diamond-paned windows, stood in Milton’s time.
Near by, on Hart Street, is the church of St. Olave, which with All Hallows, Barking, escaped the Great Fire, and stands as it stood in Milton’s life. The tourist must time his visit to it on a week day to the noon hour, as, unlike All Hallows, Barking, it is not open all day.
The monastery of the Crutched Friars must have covered in ancient days a large part of the parish of this church. Its dimensions are of the smallest—it is only fifty-four feet long. Its name takes us back to the times of the Danish settlement, for St. Olave is but the corruption of St. Olaf, the Norwegian saint who was the martyred king of the Northmen. The body of this saint rests in the great cathedral at Trondheim, Norway. His history is closely connected with the immediate region. As a boy of twelve he started on his career as viking; later he fought with Ethelred against the usurping Danes in London. The latter held the bridge which connected the walled town with low-lying Southwark across the Thames. The struggle waxed desperate, when the bold Norwegian[Pg 147] at a critical juncture fastened cables to the bridge, and then ordered his little ships, which were attached to them, to row hard down stream. The piles tottered, the bridge, which swarmed with the Danes, fell, and those that were not drowned were driven away. When William the Conqueror sailed up the Thames a half century later, the stories of the intrepid Olaf, who had become Norway’s king and had died in battle, must have been fresh in mind.
Not only this church, but others in the city were erected in his name. The present structure was probably built about 1450, and was repaired about the time that Milton returned to London from Italy.
During the Reformation, in 1553, St. Olave’s had “a pair of organes.” During the Civil War in 1644, an ordinance was passed that all organs in churches “should be taken away and utterly defaced.” It is very certain that the music-loving Milton, who joyed to hear
“... the organ blow, to the full-voiced choir below”
must have mourned this stern decree. In consequence of this, most organ builders for sixteen years were obliged to work as carpenters and joiners.
The famous diarist, Pepys, who attended St. Olave’s, writes on June 17, 1660: “This day the organs did begin to play at Whitehall Chapel, where[Pg 148] I heard very good musique, the first time that ever I remember to have heard the organs and singing men in surplices in my life.” On April 20, 1667, he records: “To Hackney Church, and found much difficulty to get pews. That which I went chiefly to see was the young ladies of the schools, whereof there is great store, very pretty, and also the organ, which is handsome, and tunes the psalms and plays with the people, which is mighty pretty, and makes me mighty earnest to have a pair at our church”—which meant St. Olave’s.
About the time of Pepys’s writing, a peal of six remarkably sweet-toned bells was placed in the tower. In the church are quaint brasses and monuments, the most interesting of which is the tomb of Pepys. An elegant monument of alabaster, with a bust of Pepys, taken from his portrait in the National Gallery, was unveiled in 1884. It bears the dates: “b. 1632, d. 1703.” The monument is near the door where Pepys used to enter the church from Seething Lane.
Pepys, like Milton, was educated at St. Paul’s School. His fame rests chiefly on his diary, which was written in cipher, and not deciphered and published until 1825. On the unveiling of his monument, James Russell Lowell, in his address, spoke of Pepys as “a type perhaps of what is now called[Pg 149] a Philistine. We have no word in English which is equivalent to the French adjective ‘bourgeois,’ but at all events, Samuel Pepys was the most perfect type that ever existed of the class of people whom this word describes. He had all its merits, as well as many of its defects.” With all these defects, perhaps in spite of them, Lowell maintained, Pepys had written one of the most delightful books that it was man’s privilege to read in the English language, or in any other. There was no parallel to the character of Pepys in respect of naïveté unless it were found in that of Falstaff, and Pepys showed himself, too, “like Falstaff, on terms of unbuttoned familiarity with himself.... Pepys’s naïveté was the inoffensive vanity of a man who loved to see himself in the glass.” It was questionable, he said, whether Pepys could have had any sense of humour at all, and yet permitted himself to be so delightful. The lightest part of the diary was of value historically, for it enabled us to see the London of two hundred years ago, and, what was more, to see it with the eager eyes of Pepys. It was not Pepys the official, the clerk of the acts and secretary of the Admiralty, who had brought that large gathering together—it was Pepys the diarist.
Pepys’s diary was begun in 1660, when he was[Pg 150] in his twenty-seventh year. Ten years later, when he feared blindness, he ceased writing it. He bequeathed it in six volumes, written in cipher as above stated, with his library of three thousand books, to his old college, Magdalen, at Cambridge, and it is now its greatest treasure. Pepys was no Puritan. His comments on the Calvinistic teaching of his pastor, Daniel Mills, are characteristic. In 1666, he writes: “Up and to church, where Mr. Mills, a lazy, simple sermon upon the Devil’s having no right to anything in this world;” and again he writes: “Mr. Mills made an unnecessary sermon on original sin, neither understood by himself nor the people.” He writes that when he invited the reverend gentleman to dinner on a Sunday, he “had a very good dinner and very merry.”
Among the notable men buried near Pepys is William Turner, an early Puritan, who was educated under Latimer and died in 1568. He wrote the earliest scientific work by any Englishman on botany. His great object was to learn the materia medica of the ancients throughout the vegetable kingdom. But he wrote against the Roman Antichrist as well. The title of one book illustrates the orthography of his day: “The Hunting and Fynding of the Romish Fox: which more than seven years hath been among the Bysshoppes of England,[Pg 151] after that the Kynges Hyghnes, Henry VIII. had commanded hym to be driven out of hys Realme.” Of Sir James Deane, a merchant adventurer to India, China, and the Spice Islands, it is recorded that he gave generous bequests, and directed £500 to be expended on his funeral, a vast sum for those days, yet probably no more than was customary for wealthy men.
Of Sir John Mennes, who is buried here, Pepys tells us that “he brought many fine expressions of Chaucer which he doats on mightily,” and naïvely adds, “and without doubt he is a very fine poet.” Droll, lively, garrulous Pepys! Who would have dreamed that this boyish writer was in reality a great military authority, and in a large measure responsible for the care of England’s navy?
As in All Hallows, Barking, and several old “city” churches, the visitor will notice in St. Olave’s the remarkable, wrought-iron “sword-stands,” used in Elizabeth’s reign and placed in the pews of distinguished persons. The pulpit, with its elaborate carving, said to have been done by Grinling Gibbons, is one that was removed from the “deconsecrated” church of St. Benet.
St. Olave’s had one of the churchyards in which the victims of the plague were buried in great numbers, and of which Pepys writes: “It frightened[Pg 152] me indeed to go through the church, to see so many graves lie so high upon the churchyard where people have been buried of the plague.” The gruesome skulls and crossbones, carved over its gateway, are a dismal reminder of the horrors of that time. In the chapter on the “City of the Absent,” in his “Uncommercial Traveller,” Dickens thus graphically describes his visit to it: “One of my best beloved churchyards, I call the churchyard of Saint Ghastly Grim; touching what men in general call it, I have no information. It lies at the heart of the City, and the Blackwall Railway shrieks at it daily. It is a small, small churchyard, with a ferocious strong spiked iron gate, like a jail. This gate is ornamented with skulls and cross-bones, larger than the life, wrought in stone; but it likewise came into the mind of Saint Ghastly Grim that to stick iron spikes atop of the stone skulls, as though they were impaled, would be a pleasant device. Therefore the skulls grin aloft, horribly thrust through and through with iron spears. Hence there is attraction of repulsion for me in Saint Ghastly Grim, and having often contemplated it in the daylight and the dark, I once felt drawn toward it in a thunder-storm at midnight. ‘Why not?’ I said; ‘I have been to the Colosseum by the light of the moon; is it worse to go to see Saint Ghastly[Pg 153] Grim by the light of the lightning?’ I repaired to the Saint in a hackney cab, and found the skulls most effective, having the air of a public execution, and seeming, as the lightning flashed, to wink and grin with the pain of the spikes.”
In the chapter on “A Year’s Impressions,” in which Dickens depicts repeated visits to the deserted churches of the London of the past, he, with a deft touch, describes the commercial atmosphere which now impregnates all of what poetry, history, and romance remain to-day.
“From Rood Lane unto Tower Street, and thereabouts, there was often a subtle flavour of wine. In the churches about Mark Lane, for example, there was a dry whiff of wheat, and I accidentally struck an airy sample of barley out of an aged hassock in one of them. One church near Mincing Lane smelt like a druggist’s drawer. Behind the Monument the service had the flavour of damaged oranges, which, a little farther down toward the river, tempered into herrings and gradually toned into a cosmopolitan blast of fish.... The dark vestries and registers into which I have peeped, and the little hemmed-in churchyards that have echoed to my feet, have left impressions on my memory, distinct and quaint. In all those dusty registers that the worms are eating, there is not a line but made[Pg 154] some heart leap, or some tears flow, in their day. Still and dry now, still and dry, and the old tree at the window, with no room for its branches, has seen them all out. These churches remain like the tombs of the old citizens who lie beneath them—monuments of another age. They are worth a Sunday exploration, for they echo to the time when the City of London really was London; when the Prentices and Trained Bands were of mark in the state; when even the Lord Mayor himself was a reality.”
In Milton’s day, on the street of the Crutched Friars, named from the ancient convent of Crossed Friars, was the row of almshouses built by Sir John Milborne in 1535 in honour of God and the Virgin. In some way, the relief of the Assumption of the Virgin at the entrance gate escaped destruction by the Puritans, and remained with the almshouses to a late period. To the American, to whom the word “almshouse” signifies the English “workhouse,”—an institution of paupers where all live in common,—little idea is conveyed of the comfortable, and usually quaint and picturesque retreat which “almshouse” signifies to the English mind. In many London suburbs one may see little rows of cottages within walled gardens, where, in quiet and comfort and serenity, aged couples spend[Pg 155] their last days, in some ways the happiest of their lives, though it be in an almshouse.
At 53 Fenchurch Street, in Milton’s time, stood the Queen’s Head Tavern, where the Princess Elizabeth dined on pork and peas after her release from the Tower in 1554. The modern building erected on the site bears a commemorative statue of her.
Mincing Lane, in the vicinity, was named from houses which belonged to the Minchuns or nuns of Saint Helen’s. Near its entrance is the Hall of the Clothworkers’ Company, whose badge is a ram; within are gilt statues of James I. and Charles I., which were saved from the Great Fire. Its garden was once the churchyard of All Hallows, Staining, whose fine old tower, which escaped the Fire, still stands as when Milton strolled past and gazed on it. The church, which was demolished recently, was reputed to have been the earliest stone church in the city. “Stane” is the Saxon word for stone, and the word “Staining” indicates the fact mentioned above.
Passing north to Aldgate, Milton must have seen the great gate, which was not destroyed until 1760. It was the chief outlet to the eastern counties from the time of the Romans until its destruction.
In the dwelling over the gate, according to Loftie, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer lived in 1374. This[Pg 156] gate, however, was pulled down just before Milton’s birth, and rebuilt the year after he was born, in 1609. When he saw it, a gilded statue of James I. adorned its eastern side, and on the west were statues of Peace, Fortune, and Charity.
Aldgate to-day is the entrance into that sordid, dismal region, known as Whitechapel, where within easy walking distance from the site of the ancient gate is its chief attraction to all tourists. On Commercial Street, standing in a group, are the little church of St. Jude, and close beside it that Social Settlement, reared in memory of the gentle Oxford scholar and philanthropist, Arnold Toynbee. This is one of the few beautiful oases in a desert of squalor and commonplaceness, which the name Whitechapel now signifies to most readers.
ST. CATHERINE CREE CHURCH IN 1736
The steeple dates from about 1505. The old church was pulled down in 1628, and the present one finished in 1630. Cree Church is a corruption of Christ-Church.
From an old engraving.
But for Milton’s haunts, we need not wander farther east than Aldgate; for though Whitechapel Street was thickly lined with houses for some distance even in his day, little of interest remains. Turning back through Leadenhall Street, one sees a little gray stone church, with a low tower and round-arched windows, known as St. Catherine Cree’s. This was rebuilt in Milton’s youth in 1629, and consecrated two years later by the ill-fated Archbishop Laud. The ceremonies which he used on this occasion savoured so much of Popery, however, that [Pg 157]they were later brought against him, and helped to accomplish his downfall. In an older church, upon this site, the famous Hans Holbein, to whom we are indebted for his portraits of Henry VIII., Sir Thomas More, and other famous Englishmen, was buried in 1554, after his death by the plague. Within the church may be seen the effigy in armour of a man who played an important part in England when Milton’s father was a boy. To-day, only the historian recalls the name of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, whose daughter married Walter Raleigh, who was chamberlain of the exchequer, ambassador, and chief butler of England. The stories of his fruitless embassy to Mary Queen of Scots to prevent her marriage with Darnley, and the records of his trial, imprisonment, and death of a broken heart must have been as familiar to the youth of Milton’s time as the life of Disraeli or Joseph Chamberlain is to Cambridge youth to-day.
Above the gateway, in the churchyard, is a ghastly memorial to the builder of it in the form of a shrouded skeleton on a mattress. In Shakespeare’s time, within this churchyard, which is now much smaller than it was then, and is concealed by modern buildings, scaffolds were erected on all sides, and religious plays were performed on Sundays.
Every year, on October 16th, the “lion sermon”[Pg 158] is preached within the church in memory of an ancient worthy, who in 1648 gave it the sum of £200, in remembrance of his delivery from a lion’s paws in Arabia. As at St. Olave’s, the noon hour, when daily service is performed for the benefit of the one or two worshippers who may stray in, is the time to visit this historic church.
The first edition of “Paradise Lost” bears the imprint: “Printed, and are to be sold by Peter Parker, under Creed Church near Aldgate, 1667.” “Creed Church” was this same Catherine Cree’s.
A little north of Leadenhall, at the entrance to the ancient street called St. Mary Axe, stands the church of St. Andrew Undershaft, another of the churches which remain, of those that Milton saw within the city walls. Its name recalls the ancient English custom of the May-day dance. A lofty May-pole, higher than the tower of the church, once stood beside it, and was pulled down on “Evil May Day,” in the reign of Henry VIII., about the time the church was built, 1520-32. It is a gray stone edifice, well preserved, and well worth a visit if for no other end than to see the tomb of the learned and devoted chronicler, Stow—a name dear to every student of ancient London and of English history. Of his “Survey,” Loftie says: “It was a wonder even in the age which produced Shakespeare.”
[Pg 159]Stow was bred a tailor, but in middle life retired on a modest competence, and for forty years almost immediately preceding Milton’s birth had with unparalleled industry studied the history of his city and native land. His collection for the Chronicles of England, now in the British Museum, fills sixty quarto volumes. Every street of London and prominent building, every church, and almost every monument and inscription, are faithfully recorded in his volumes on London and Westminster. To him and to his editor, Strype, who has continued his work until a later period, modern London, and all who love her and her long history, owe an incalculable debt of gratitude.
But so little was his invaluable service recognised in his day that his great collection of books aroused suspicion in some quarters, and his outspoken words on public questions stirred up the jealous and malevolent, as his biographer shows. He was reduced to poverty in his old age, for he had spent his substance in his great enterprise. Like a genuine historian, he sought original sources, and “made use of his own legs (for he could never ride), travelling on foot to many cathedral churches and other places where ancient records and charters were; and with his own eyes to read them.” He studied the records in the Tower, and was expert in deciphering[Pg 160] old wills and registers and muniments belonging to monasteries. He seems to have been somewhat conservative; perhaps, as his biographer suggests, “being a lover of antiquity and of the old Religious Buildings and monuments, he was the more prejudiced against the Reformed Religion, because of the havoc and destruction those that pretended to it made of them in those days.” One instance of Protestant fanaticism that tended to make him more opposed to zeal without knowledge was that a curate of St. Paul’s, which was his parish, inveighed “fervently against a long Maypole called a Shaft in the next Parish to his, named St. Andrew Undershaft, and calling it an Idol; which so stirred up the devotion of many hearers that many of them in the afternoon went, and with violence pulled it down from the place where it hung upon hooks; and then sawed it into divers pieces, each householder taking his piece as much as hung over his door or stall, and afterward burnt it.”
Sir Walter Besant, in a delightful chapter in his “London,” describes an imaginary visit to the learned man, and a stroll with him through the town five years before Milton opened his eyes in Bread Street: “I found the venerable antiquary in his lodging. He lived—it was the year before he died—with his old wife in a house over against[Pg 161] the Church of St. Andrew Undershaft. The house itself was modest, containing two rooms on the ground floor, and one large room, or solar, as it would have been called in olden time, above. There was a garden at the back, and behind the garden stood the ruins of St. Helen’s Nunnery, with the grounds and gardens of that once famous house, which had passed into the possession of the Leathersellers’ Company.... I passed within, and mounting a steep, narrow stair, found myself in the library and in the presence of John Stow himself. The place was a long room, lofty in the middle, but with sloping sides. It was lit by two dormer windows; neither carpet nor arras nor hangings of any kind adorned the room, which was filled so that it was difficult to turn about in it, with books, papers, parchments, and rolls. They lay in piles on the floor, they stood in lines and columns against the walls; they were heaped upon the table. I observed too that they were not such books as may be seen in a great man’s library, bound after the Italian fashion, with costly leather, gilt letters, golden clasps, and silken strings. Not so; these books were all folios for the most part; their backs were broken; the leaves, where any lay open, were discoloured, many of them were in the Gothic black letter. On the table were paper, pens, and ink, and[Pg 162] in the straight-backed armchair sat the old man himself, pen in hand, laboriously bending over a huge tome. He wore a black silk cap; his long white hair fell down upon his shoulders. The casements of the window stood open, and the summer sunshine poured warm and bright upon the scholar’s head.”
In an age of many elaborate and tasteless monuments, Stow’s is singularly interesting and tasteful. An almost life-size figure of him is seated, dressed in a long robe, before a table on which rests a book in which he is writing. The whole is placed within a niche in the tomb; upon the sculptured sides, the artist has carved, among other devices, a beggar’s wallet, indicative of Stow’s poverty, for which James I. in his old age issued him letters patent permitting him to solicit aid. These letters grant “to our loving subject, John Stow, who hath to his own great charge, and with neglect to his ordinary means of maintenance, for the general good of Posteritie, as well as the present age, compiled and published diverse necessary books and chronicles, and therefore we in recompense of his painful labours, and for the encouragement of the like ... authorise him and his deputies to collect among our loving subjects their contributions and kind gratuities.” Thus was the man who has chiefly contributed to [Pg 163]our knowledge of ancient London allowed in his extreme old age to live in unappreciation and neglect.
CHURCH OF ST. ANDREW UNDERSHAFT IN 1737
From an old engraving.
The visitor cannot but query, as he surveys the handsome monument erected to him by his wife, how this was paid for, but there are many explanations that suggest themselves.
Many a time may Milton as a boy and man have stood before this tomb, and viewed the fine timber roof and the late Perpendicular windows, which to-day remain just as he saw them. If the modern visitor would study the fashions of his day, he can do no better than inspect such monuments as the costly Hammersley erected here. The date thereon is 1636, when Milton was a young man of twenty-eight. The absence in the life-size kneeling figure of the huge stiff crinoline on the tombs of a little earlier date shows that the fashions changed as sharply as in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The date of the handsome organ is 1695.
assing by the tiny churchyard of St. Andrew Undershaft, by several narrow and obscure passages amid crowded business blocks, one comes upon the famous Crosby Hall on Bishopsgate Street. This presents to-day one of the most picturesque examples of the beam and plaster houses of the fifteenth century to be found in England. It was, says Stow, “the highest at that time in London,” that is, about 1475. Doubtless his reference is to a high turret which once surmounted it, but of which no traces now remain. This was before the more pretentious Tudor buildings of the next century, of whose high towers Stow’s biographer says: “He could not endure the high turrets and buildings run up to a great height, which some citizens in his time laid out their money upon to overtop and overlook their neighbours. Such sort of advanced works, both towers and chimneys, they built both in their summerhouses in Moorfields[Pg 165] and in other places in the suburbs, and in their dwelling houses in the City itself. They were like midsummer Pageants, ‘not so much for use and profit as for show and pleasure,’ ‘bewraying,’ said he, ‘the vanities of men’s minds. And that it was unlike to the disposition of the ancient citizens, who delighted in the building of hospitals and almshouses for the poor; and therein both employed their wits, and spent their wealth in the preferment of the common commodity of this our city.’”
Crosby House was, as Sir Thomas More relates, where Richard, Duke of Gloucester, “lodged himself, and little by little all folks drew unto him, so that the Protector’s court was crowded and King Edward’s left desolate.” Here he probably planned his treasonable and malicious scheme for the death of the little princes. In his play of “Richard III.,” Shakespeare mentions Crosby Hall more than once; doubtless he knew it well, for ten years before the birth of Milton it seems evident that he resided in a house hard by. It is quite certain that it is to his immortalising Crosby Hall that its preservation to this day is due, when almost everything else that was contemporaneous in secular architecture has disappeared in its vicinity.
The building has been much restored, and its banquet-hall is now utilised for a first-class restaurant,[Pg 166] where he who will may dine where dukes and princes dined four centuries ago. Sir Thomas More lived here for several years, and here doubtless wrote his life of the base king, to the echo of whose voice these walls had once resounded. Sir Thomas sold the place to that dear friend to whom he wrote with a coal a sad letter of farewell from his Tower cell before his execution. Later, his daughter, who loved the place where her dear father had passed so many days, hired it, and came here to live.
Some years later, in 1594, the rich mayor of London, Sir John Spencer, bought the place, and entertained an ambassador from Henry IV. to King James I. An interesting incident of this visit is related in the memoirs of this ambassador. It appears that much scandal had been wrought by the mad pranks and rioting of the attendants of former envoys. What, then, was the horror of the French duke, when he discovered that one of the young nobles in his train, on going out of Crosby Hall in quest of sport, had got into a fight and murdered an English merchant close by in Great St. Helen’s. The duke, determined on making an example, bade all his servants and attendants range themselves in a row against the wall, and taking a lighted torch, he looked sharply in the face of each in turn until he found the terrified face of the guilty man. [Pg 167]Determined to wreak speedy vengeance, he ordered, after the arbitrary method of the times, his instant decapitation. But the lord mayor pleaded for mercy, and the youth’s life was spared; whereupon, the duke records, “the English began to love, and the French to fear him more.”
This same Lord Spencer, Mayor of London, had one fair daughter, a gay deceiver of her honoured sire, and as much a lover of fine clothes and service as any modern dame who orders gowns from Worth’s, or buys her jewels on Bond Street. She loved, or at all events made up her mind to marry the Earl of Northampton, a man who was persona non grata to her father, who had no mind to wed his daughter, the greatest heiress in England, to this gentleman. But the young folks were not daunted. One day when the mayor gave a sixpence to the baker’s boy, who had come with a covered barrow to bring bread, he learned later that the barrow contained not bread, but his own naughty Elizabeth, who was trundled off by her lover in disguise.
When their baby came, some time later, grandpapa was wheedled into a reconciliation, and the gay young bride again lived in Crosby Place, the past forgiven. As an illustration of what wealthy ladies in Milton’s boyhood demanded for their pleasure, a quotation from her letter written to her husband[Pg 168] shortly after marriage, may prove entertaining: “I pray and beseech you to grant me, your most kind and loving wife, the sum of £2,600 quarterly to be paid. Also I would, besides that allowance, have £600 quarterly to be paid, for the performance of charitable works; and those things I would not, neither will be, accountable for. Also I will have three horses for my own saddle, that none should dare to lend or borrow; none lend but I, none borrow but you. Also I would have two gentlewomen ... when I ride a hunting or a hawking, or travel from one house to another, I will have them attending; so for either of these said women, I must and will have for either of them a horse. Also I will have six or eight gentlemen. And I will have my two coaches, one lined with velvet to myself, with four very fine horses; and a coach for my women, lined with cloth and laced with gold, otherwise with scarlet and laced with silver, with four good horses. Also I will have two coachmen. Also, at any time when I travel, I will be allowed not only coaches and spare horses for me and my women, but I will be having such carriages as shall be fitting for all; orderly, not pestering my things with my women’s nor theirs with their chambermaids, nor theirs with their washmaids.... And I must have two footmen; and my desire is that you defray all the[Pg 169] charges for me. And for myself, besides my yearly allowance, I would have twenty gowns of apparel. Also I would have to put me in my purse £2,000 and £200, and so you to pay my debts. Also I would have £6,000 pounds to buy me jewels, and £4,000 to buy me a pearl chain. Now, seeing I have been and am so reasonable unto you, I pray you do find my children apparel and their schooling, and all my servants, men and women, their wages.... So for my drawing-chambers in all houses, I will have them delicately furnished, both with hangings, couch, canopy, glass, carpet, chairs, cushions, and all things thereunto belonging.... I pray you when you be an earl to allow me £2,000 more than I now desire, and double attendance.”
The Countess of Pembroke, sister of Sir Philip Sidney and friend of Ben Jonson, once lived as mistress in the halls of Crosby Place. The latter’s epitaph upon her is well known:
“Underneath this sable hearse
Lies the subject of all verse:
Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother.
Death, ere thou canst find another
Good and fair and wise as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.”
Crosby Hall originally occupied far more ground than is indicated by that part of it which stands[Pg 170] to-day. A wine cellar with finely groined roof probably belonged to a crypt of its chapel, which has vanished. In its great hall, fifty-four feet long and forty feet high, one sees to-day, in beautiful modern workmanship, the arms of St. Helen’s Priory, the earliest proprietor of the place; of Sir John Crosby, its builder; of the “crook-backed tyrant,” Richard, and of the wise, the gentle, the learned author of the “Utopia.” Its “louvre,” or opening in the roof, is found in ancient halls in lieu of a chimney. This hall, however, has a regular fireplace, but perhaps of later construction. The louvre now is closed by the same piece of woodwork that formerly was raised above it. The beautiful carved roof itself is now as it was over four centuries ago, the chief glory of the place. Beneath it the most accomplished musicians of the past discoursed sweet music, and the noble, the learned, and the fashionable gathered at the hospitable board. Not unlikely, the author of “Comus” and “Lycidas,” in the days before its owner fought under Charles I., may have been among their company.
In Milton’s blind old age, Crosby Hall became a Presbyterian meeting-house, and for a century afterward devout worshippers sang psalms beneath its carved oak roof, which had echoed for two hundred years to sounds of mirth and feasting.
[Pg 171]A little to the left of Crosby Hall, through a low gateway, the sightseer passes from the noisy thoroughfare into a quiet court. Its pavement covers the ancient garden of Crosby Place. But it is not all paved. A small green churchyard still occupies a part of the site of the ancient priory of St. Helen’s, and surrounds the low Gothic church to which one descends a few steps from the modern pavement.
Helena, the mother of Constantine, according to tradition, discovered the tomb of Christ and thereupon was canonised. From remote antiquity a church in her honour has stood here. Three centuries before Milton’s day, the Benedictine nuns built a priory close by the ancient church. They built their church, and finally, getting possession of St. Helen’s, incorporated it with their own. To-day the ends of the two naves, with a little cupola at the intersection, present an irregular and picturesque aspect; the interior, likewise, by its irregularities, recalls the curious origin of the structure. An agreeable harmony of differing forms and proportions has been accomplished. The old, old church, dim even on a sunshiny June day, is pervaded by a strange charm. Business has crowded to its very walls; but the rumble of the streets is dulled by the intervening structures of modern prosaic type that[Pg 172] hem in its peaceful solitude. Unlike the last three churches of which we have spoken, its doors are open all day long, and the traveller has not to make painful search amid warehouses and down cross streets for the sexton’s keys. St. Helen’s is large enough and beautiful enough to lure the frequent visitor; and perhaps it is a welcome refuge to many a perplexed and overwearied man of business, who, for a few moments, now and then, flees from his office and commercial cares, to rest and lift his thoughts to heavenly things within this sanctuary.
St. Helen’s is noted for its tombs, and has been called the Westminster Abbey of the “City.” Here lies that noted and remarkable man, Sir Thomas Gresham. The visitor to the upper floor of the National Portrait Gallery, in those rooms where hang the portraits of the Elizabethan era, will remember the strong face and figure, elegantly clad, of the man whose bones rest here, and of whom we shall have more to say in connection with his college and the exchange which rose under his direction. His monument is a large marble slab full of fossil shells, and raised table high. The date is 1579. From the beautiful, great window of the Nun’s Church, the coloured rays of his own arms fall on his tomb.
Upon the wall behind it are niches; one of them[Pg 173] faced by a little carved arcade, through which, it is said, the nuns who were in disgrace listened to the mass from the crypt below. A large ugly piece of masonry on the same wall near the farther end once contained the embalmed body of Francis Bancroft, whose face was visible through the glass lid of his coffin. A few years since both body and tomb were placed within the crypt. According to his will, on the occasion of an annual memorial sermon for which he had arranged, his body was exhibited to certain humble folk for whom he had erected, in expiation of his misdeeds, the almshouses now at Mile End. Browning has with characteristic power depicted the Roman Jew scourged to the Christian church, and forced to hear a sermon once a year for his conversion. Perhaps some later poet may find as gruesome a theme for his sarcastic pen in the scene which imagination conjures up when these feeble and aged recipients of the gift of this erratic snob were yearly brought to listen to the tale of his benefactions, and to gaze upon his shrivelling corpse. Bancroft as a magistrate had been so unpopular that the people tried to upset his coffin on its way to the tomb, and pealed the bells.
The oldest monument in the church is to Thomas Langton, chaplain, buried in the choir in 1350. One tomb bears the remarkable name of Sir Julius[Pg 174] Cæsar. The inscription is in form of a legal document with a broken seal, in which Sir Julius gives his bond to Heaven to surrender his life whenever it shall please God to call him. If one would see Sir Julius as Milton saw him, let him look upon his portrait that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery with his great contemporaries.
The obdurate father-in-law, the rich Sir John Spencer of Crosby Hall, is commemorated, by his son-in-law, the Earl of Northampton, in a stately alabaster tomb. The figures of Sir John and his wife rest under a double canopy, and at their feet kneels the runaway daughter, in the enormous stiff crinoline of 1609, the date of her father’s death. Some thousand men in mourning cloaks are said to have attended his funeral. The tomb of Sir John Crosby and his wife, of 1475, the beautiful and perfectly preserved tomb of Oteswich and his wife, of the time of Henry IV., and the fine figure of a girl reading, are a few of the works of art that deserve careful attention. The beauty of that which antedates the Tudor and Stuart periods, as contrasted with the works of art of those periods, is almost as marked as it is at Westminster Abbey.
When Milton lived he must have seen still standing the refectory and cloisters, and the old hall of the nuns, which was later used by the Company[Pg 175] of Leathersellers. The whole group of buildings, with the adjacent gardens, must have formed a highly picturesque reminder of the days before King “Hal” had ruthlessly swept his besom of destruction over the many houses in the land which sheltered nuns and friars.
During Milton’s life there stood on Bishopsgate Street the first charitable institution for the insane that was ever established. Its name, “Bethlehem Hospital,” was corrupted into Bedlam, and has become a term of general application to scenes of disorder. Just after Milton’s death, it was removed to Southwark, where the gray dome of the present structure rises conspicuous amid the London smoke.
Passing northeast along the crowded thoroughfare of Bishopsgate Street, but a short distance from St. Helen’s, the student of antiquities may see, almost concealed by parasitic houses, the little ancient church of St. Ethelburga. He will need to cross the street in order to perceive the name inscribed in large letters upon the church, beneath the short tower and cupola, and above the clock and the shop that masks its front. In Milton’s boyhood, this church was ancient, and had been standing for at least three hundred and fifty years, for it is mentioned as early as 1366. Here Chaucer may have knelt to say his Paternosters.
[Pg 176]The visitor should time his coming to the middle of the day, when the door opening upon the sidewalk is unlocked, and he may enter into the solemn little sanctuary, and at the farther end step out into the tiny garden at the rear. Here, if it be summer, he may sit in this shady retreat and meditate upon the history of the bit of ancient wall said by the verger to be a Roman wall, the fragments of which are preserved here. The church itself is plain and bare; simply a Gothic nave, with no side aisles. Its chief interest to some may be its antique organ, of uncertain date, but old enough from its appearance to have been heard by the little lad from Bread Street whose soul was full of music. One can easily imagine the father of John Milton, who was himself so skilled in the great art, bringing his son to every church within his neighbourhood that boasted such an instrument.
The church stands on the site of a much older one, and is named from the daughter of the French princess, Bertha, who brought to Canterbury, to the home of her Saxon husband, Ethelbert, the Christian religion, which was then new to pagan England. Visitors to the little church of St. Martin’s at Canterbury will recall the font in which this king was baptised into the faith of his wife.
Not far down Bishopsgate Street, upon the opposite[Pg 177] side from St. Ethelburga’s, when Milton lived, stood a house with such a marvellous carved front with oriel windows, that when it made way for a modern business block, it was transferred to the South Kensington Museum, where it may now be seen in one of its lofty halls. In Milton’s youth, Sir Paul Pindar, its owner, was the richest merchant in the kingdom, and often loaned money to James I. and his son Charles. As ambassador to Constantinople, he did much to improve England’s trade in the East. On his return, when Milton was a schoolboy of a dozen years at St. Paul’s School, he brought, among his other treasures, a great diamond, valued at £30,000, which he loaned to the king to wear at his opening of the Parliaments; it was afterward sold to Charles I. Twenty years later, when Cromwell and Milton were fighting for the rights of Englishmen, and Charles’s strength was failing, this same Paul Pindar provided funds for the escape of Queen Henrietta Maria and her children.
He gave £10,000 for the restoration, before the fire, of St. Paul’s Cathedral. But his loyalty to the house of Stuart was put to a hard test, for the king borrowed such enormous sums that he was all but ruined. When Milton walked down Bishopsgate Street, past his quaint dwelling-house, he must have seen the mulberry-trees planted in the park[Pg 178] to please James I. by his devoted subject. These ancient mulberry-trees disappeared only within the memory of men now living.
Passing westward along the northern site of the old city wall, in search of the few landmarks that escaped the Great Fire and still remain, we come to that church of all others most dear to Milton lovers. St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, is not easily entered on Sunday, except during hours of service. But a courteous question to the burly guardian of the peace who patrols the neighbourhood may effect an unlocking of the gates and a quiet stroll through the green garden that surrounds the church upon two sides. The big policeman is a good talker, and relates with gusto the ravages of the great fire a few years since, which came so near as to melt the lead upon the church roof.
The massive wall which forms a corner of the green yard is a bastion of the city wall in the time of Edward IV. Possibly the long, narrow bricks which still gleam red in the lower part may be a lingering remnant of the old Roman wall. Certainly they are the type that the Romans were wont to use. The policeman assures us that there are mysterious “submarine” passages leading from this wall, and one may well believe almost anything as one thinks of the strange sights that it has witnessed. [Pg 179]High walls of business blocks of nondescript style replace the gaps made by the recent fire, which fortunately stopped before it touched the narrow, gabled houses of wood which cluster close about the church. These give almost the only example to-day in London of the type of building which housed the poorer class of Londoners of Milton’s time.
CHURCH OF ST. GILES CRIPPLEGATE IN 1737
Dedicated to St. Giles, who lived about the year 700; founded in 1090; destroyed by fire in 1545, and rebuilt within the Liberty but without the City of London.
From an old engraving.
The church is on the site of an older one of 1090, and was built about one hundred years before Milton’s birth. It is late Perpendicular, and has some good detail.
As one enters the church from the garden, the first monument on his right is Milton’s, which contains his bust, under a Gothic canopy. The poet’s bones lie by his father’s, under the pavement near the choir. According to the evidence of a little book written about 1790, it seems that his coffin was opened by irresponsible persons, who found the lead much decayed and easily bent back the top. A servant-maid for a consideration let in sightseers through a window, some of whom, after satisfying their curiosity in gazing on the well-preserved figure, snatched hair and teeth and even an arm-bone to carry away as relics. A later authority questions whether it is certain that the grave thus desecrated was indeed Milton’s or another’s, and leaves a grain[Pg 180] of comfort in the thought that perhaps his honoured remains still rest untouched by vandals.
Within this church Ben Jonson was married in 1623, and here Oliver Cromwell, a sturdy youth of twenty-one, married his bride on August 22d in 1620. Little thought the parson, as he and Elizabeth Bourchier knelt before him, to be joined in holy wedlock, that one day he would be entitled not only “Protector of England,” but “Protector of Protestantism.” A marvellous man, this Oliver, whose deeds left much to be forgiven by a later age, for they sometimes had more of the spirit of Joshua than of the Founder of the Christian Faith, and yet as a lover of England, and a minister to the court of Queen Victoria from England’s lusty kin beyond the sea has said:
“He lived to make his simple oaken chair
More terrible, more grandly beautiful,
Than any throne before or after of a British king.
One of the few who have a right to rank
With the true Makers; for his spirit wrought
Order from Chaos; proved that right divine
Dwelt only in the excellence of truth;
And far within old Darkness’ hostile lines
Advanced and pitched the shining tents of Light
Nor shall the grateful Muse forget to tell,
That—not the least among his many claims
[Pg 181]To deathless honour—he was Milton’s friend,
A man not second among those who lived
To show us that the poet’s lyre demands
An arm of tougher sinew than the sword.”
—“A Glance Behind the Curtain,” Lowell.
One grave within the church may have been dear to Milton besides that of his honoured father. As he lived only one generation removed from the martyrs of Smithfield, he must often have pored over the record of their heroism and cruel deaths, by Fox, the famous martyrologist. Near the west door lies the slab above his grave. The date is 1587. Here, no doubt, Milton, who, as has been said, at different times had dwellings near the church, must often have entered within its doors and paused.
Says the historian Marsden: “Fox placed the Church of England under greater obligations than any writer of his time, and had his recompense in an old age of poverty and shame.... Nor were his writings undervalued even then; they were commanded to be chained up in churches by the side of the homilies and the English Bible;... thus the ‘Book of Martyrs’ stood amongst the high, authentic records of our Church, whilst its venerable author yet lived.”
Frobisher, the great navigator, is also buried within the church.
[Pg 182]On the left wall, as one faces the choir, is a curious doggerel inscription to one Busbie. If it be on a Sunday afternoon, and the children have gathered for the Sunday school, it may be interesting to pause a bit, as we have done, before the epitaph, and, while copying it, to lend a half ear to the teaching that goes on within hearing. Three small boys sit on a bench before a solemn youth who holds a book and instructs their infant minds as follows: “Who is God? Where is God? How many persons are there in the Godhead? Keep still there—don’t answer until it is your turn. When God put Adam and Eve out of Eden, what did he promise them?” “That they should be saved,” mumbles one youngster. “Whom did he promise should save them?” “His Son.” “What do we call his Son?” “Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The next class and all the others scattered through the church are progressing in Christian nurture in much the same way, and one wonders whether the pedagogical skill of the teachers has advanced one whit in all the hundreds of years since the church was built. We hear no “opening exercises,” no joyous singing, no tender, earnest talk about right-doing and the temptations that little boys on Fore Street may encounter on Monday morning. There is nothing but a purely formal catechising of these[Pg 183] eager, impressionable little souls as to a theology that they cannot understand, and a history of the world which their first lesson on geology will undermine. This modern Sunday school is the one blot upon the memory of the beautiful old church so dear to every lover of Milton.
On a week day one may stand on Redcross Street, and behold, as did the travellers in “The Hand of Ethelberta,” “the bold shape of the tower they sought, clothed in every neutral shade, standing clear against the sky, dusky and grim in its upper stages, and hoary gray below, where every corner of stone was rounded off by the waves of wind and storm. All people were busy here; our visitors seemed to be the only idle persons that the city contained; and there was no dissonance—there never is—between antiquity and such beehive industry.... This intramural stir was a fly-wheel, transparent by infinite motion, through which Milton and his day could be seen as if nothing intervened.”
hrough Milton’s lifetime and for nearly a century after, there stood on Gresham Street and Basinghall Street the famous Gresham College, founded in 1579, in honour of Sir Thomas Gresham, who gave the Royal Exchange to the city on condition that the corporation should institute lectures on divinity, civil law, astronomy, music, geometry, rhetoric, and physics, to be delivered at his residence. His dwelling-house was a spacious edifice of brick and timber, “with open courts and covered walks which seemed all so well suited for such an intention, as if Sir Thomas had it in view, at the time he built his house.” Seven professors were appointed and lectured in the morning in Latin, in the afternoon in English for two hours each day. Among the number was Sir Christopher Wren, who not only was the greatest architect, but, as is elsewhere said, was one of the[Pg 185] famous astronomers of his day. It was out of his lectures on astronomy, which were attended by learned men, that the Royal Society originated. On Cromwell’s death, all college matters were put in abeyance, and the college was temporarily turned into barracks, and so polluted that Bishop Sprat wrote to Wren that he “found the place in such a nasty condition, so defiled, and the smells so infernal, that if you should now come to make use of your tube [telescope] it would be like Dives looking out of hell into heaven.”
After the Fire, Gresham College was temporarily used for an Exchange, where merchants met. “Gresham College became an epitome of this great city, and the centre of all affairs, both public and private, which were then transacted in it.”
Except “London stone” and bits of the Old Wall, little more remains to consider among the important landmarks of the city that was nightly locked within the city gates, and which still endures after the Great Fire. Of this little part, Austin Friars Church, on the site of the Augustinian Convent, is the most notable. Of the extensive and magnificent establishment that was founded here in 1253, nothing to-day remains but the nave of the great church of former days, which is now reached through narrow passages from Old Broad Street[Pg 186] north of the Bank. Originally the church was cruciform, with choir, transepts, and a “most fine, spired steeple, both small and straight.” Henry VIII. at the Dissolution bestowed the house and grounds upon the first Marquis of Winchester, but the church was given by the young King Edward VI. “to the Dutch nation in London, to be their preaching place.” From that day to this the Dutch have worshipped here, and in the days of persecution it was the religious home of other Continental refugees. In the generation before Milton, thousands of the skilled artisans of the Netherlands and France had fled to England, impoverishing the lands of the short-sighted tyrants who drove them forth, to add to English industry and commerce. The most eminent pastor of these exiles was a Polish nobleman, John a Lasco, who shepherded, not only this flock, but all the other foreigners in England, and superintended their schools as well. He was a friend of Melanchthon and Erasmus, was with the latter when he died, and became possessed of his library.
It was to these refugees in London, Norwich, and other towns that harboured them, that England owed the introduction of many new, choice flowers, among them, the gillyflower, carnation, Provence rose, and others. The handiwork of these industrious folk produced many new stuffs unknown to[Pg 187] English ladies, among others the fine light fabric known as bombazine. One of the Dutch ladies, who taught the English to starch and launder cambric ruffs, was so much sought after and charged such high fees, that she soon earned herself a competence. Evidently these strangers paid their way.
The church assigned to them in London once possessed a marvellous array of tombs of noted men. The register is crowded with the names of earls and barons, all of whose monuments were sold by the impecunious and callous marquis for £100. Just before Milton’s birth the fourth Marquis of Winchester was compelled to part with all his possessions in Austin Friars. At about this time the tower, declared to be “one of the beautifullest and rarest spectacles” in the city, was pulled down, and the choir and transepts were demolished. The size of the original building may be imagined when we remember that the length of the nave alone is one hundred and fifty feet to-day. The chronicler records that in the beginning of the Dutch services, the church was filled to overflowing. Whether there are fewer Dutch in London four centuries later, or fewer who are glad to worship in their own tongue, cannot be said. But to-day, the visitor, who on a Sunday morning walks through the silent and deserted streets north of the Bank of England, and[Pg 188] penetrates to the seclusion of Austin Friars Church, will find but a scant congregation of perhaps two hundred, who gather cosily within the curtains in the centre of the nave, which shut out the great bare aisles. If he thinks of the old days when Roger Williams taught Dutch to his learned pupil, John Milton, he may let his fancy picture to him these men, who ranked among the nation-builders of their day, stepping some Sunday morning under its Gothic arches from out the greensward that then surrounded them, and listening to the gospel in the tongue of those brave exiles who, like them, had fought for freedom of conscience.
If the visitor waits after service, he may see in the pastor’s room the portrait of John a Lasco, to whom all the congregation point back with pride, as the first and greatest preacher in their history; and the courteous pastor may point out many things of interest that would escape the casual observer. Standing at the front of the church, beside the little tower at the left, whose beautiful spire no longer rises aloft, one finds himself in the heart of the modern business world, relentless, pushing, loving neither beauty nor the sacredness of age. One sign—Barnato Brothers—may attract his attention in a window close to the gray church walls. Here the ambitious and ill-starred king of African mines,[Pg 189] Barney Barnato, brought his power to bear upon the men on ’Change a decade since. A decade hence his name, like John a Lasco’s, will be remembered by few. These names and the associations they suggest are no unfitting theme for meditation on a Sunday morning stroll amid the stony streets of London past and present.
Further west, amid the district swept by the Great Fire, stands Guildhall, not as it stood either before or after the fire, but still worthy of mention in the category of buildings that withstood the flames. Only the roof perished in the fire, and its walls stood intact; but so great have been the changes since their restoration that very little which belonged to Milton’s London remains above the crypt.
A clergyman, writing the year after the Great Fire, thus describes it, as he saw it during that terrible conflagration: “And amongst other things that night, the sight of Guildhall was a fearful spectacle, which stood the whole of it together, after the fire had taken it, without flames (I suppose because the timber was such solid oake), like a bright shining wal, as if it had been a palace of gold, or a great building of burnished brass.”
The present roof is as nearly as possible a reproduction of the one that perished in the fire: it[Pg 190] is an open oak roof, and has a central louvre. The figures of giants in its hall represent Gog and Magog, who were the Corineus and Gogmagog of the ancient city pageants. The former was a companion of Brutus, the Trojan, and according to tradition killed Gogmagog, the aboriginal giant.
The crypt is reputed to be the finest now remaining in London. It is a portion of the ancient hall of 1411. The north and south aisles had formerly mullioned windows, which are now walled up. The vaulting, with four centred arches, is notable, and is probably of the earliest of that type.
The Guildhall was founded in 1411, in the time of Henry IV., and when Milton was a boy had attained a certain venerableness. Within its walls had taken place, not merely the civic banquets for which its modern successor is noted, but also many tragic scenes in English history. Here the evil-minded Protector who wished to supplant his boy-nephew, Edward V., had his name presented to the assembled multitudes as the legitimate monarch, by his oily courtier, Buckingham. The people, “marvellously abashed,” listened in dead silence, as the accomplished orator proclaimed the bastardy of the little prince, and urged the claims of his ambitious uncle. The speaker, somewhat disconcerted, explained again, louder and more explicitly, his meaning.[Pg 191] “But were it for wonder or fear, or that each looked that other should speak first, not one word was there answered of all the people that stood before; but all were as still as the midnight.” Then the recorder was summoned to use his efforts with the people. “But all this no change made in the people, which alway after stood as they were amazed.” At last some servants of the duke, and ’prentices and lads “thrusted into the hall amongst the press,” began suddenly to cry out aloud: “King Richard, King Richard,” and “they that stood before cast back their heads marvelling thereat, but nothing they said. And when the duke and the mayor saw this manner, they wisely turned it to their purpose, and said it was a goodly cry and a joyful to hear every man with one voice, and no man saying nay.” Thus a bold coup, struck with a masterful hand, surprised an honest people without organised opposition and leadership, and as so many times in the history of the Anglo-Saxon race, the voice of a small and powerful minority was impudently declared to be vox populi.
One of the saddest sights that the Guildhall Milton knew ever witnessed was the trial, in the reign of Henry VIII., of that young lady, Anne Askew, whose courage and devotion never were surpassed within the Colosseum, among the [Pg 192]Christians who fought with beasts or were sawn asunder. Having become a Protestant, she was driven by her husband, who was a papist, from his home. King Henry, it might have been supposed, would have at least taken no action against her, but she was arrested and examined. The lord mayor of London asked her whether the priest cannot make the body of Christ, to which she replied as shrewdly as Jeanne d’Arc to her inquisitors: “I have read that God made man; but that man can make God, I never yet read.” She was condemned at Guildhall to death for heresy. A daughter of a knight, this delicate lady, reared in comfort, was carried to the Tower, thrust into a cell, where but for a few brave friends she would have starved, and then her tender body was put on the rack, and Chancellor Wriothesley himself applied such power as nearly rent it in sunder. The story of her cruel death amid the flames at Smithfield belongs rather to that bloody spot than to the Guildhall. Her life she could have saved, even at the last moment, had her heroic soul faltered, and unsaid what conscience taught. Those were tales to freeze the life from out young hearts, that grandames told in Milton’s boyhood. To the men of his day, Guildhall stood chiefly connected with some of the most remarkable trials in England’s history.
[Pg 193]Among them was that of Throckmorton for complicity in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s attempt against the Catholic Queen Mary. In those days, when trial usually meant speedy death, his acquittal, due to his own forensic skill and eloquence, is recounted in detail by historians as most remarkable. He it was whose tomb in St. Catherine Cree’s is mentioned, and for whom a London street is named.
The church of St. Mary Aldermanbury is one that few visitors to London ever enter, but the follower in Milton’s footsteps will not fail to seek out, a little west of the Guildhall, this church, whose registers record that here Milton, at the age of forty-eight, married his second wife, Katherine Woodcocke. Aldermanbury derives its name from the ancient court or bery of the aldermen, which is now held at the Guildhall. The church stands in its tiny green churchyard closely surrounded by business blocks, amidst the bustle of the city; on a summer noontide, in its shady retreat, the seats are filled with loiterers who chat or meditate or read their papers around the central monument.
This monument, though modern, is of great interest. It records the fact that J. Heminge and Henry Condell, Shakespeare’s fellow actors and personal friends, lived many years in this parish, and are buried here. Says the inscription: “To their [Pg 194]disinterested affection the world owes all that it calls Shakespeare; they alone collected his dramatic writings, regardless of pecuniary loss, and without the hope of any profit gave them to the world.
“First Folio: ‘We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, without ambition of selfe-profit or fame, only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend alive, as was our Shakespeare.’
“Extract from Preface: ‘It had been a thing, we confesse, worthie to have been wished, that the author himselfe had lived to have set forth and overseene his own writings, but since it hath been ordained otherwise,... we pray you do not envy his Friends the office of their care and paine to have collected and published them, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them, who as he was a happy imitator of nature, was a most gentle expression of it. His mind and hand went together, and what he thought he uttered, with that easiness that wee have scarse received from him a blot on his papers.’” In 1656 Milton’s marriage took place in the earlier church, of very ancient foundation. The present building was designed by Wren, and was begun in 1668, during Milton’s blindness. It has a square tower capped by a square bell turret about ninety feet in height.
The register of the church, which was preserved,[Pg 195] records that: “The agreement and intention of marriage between John Milton, Esq., of the parish of Margaret’s in Westminster, and Mrs. Katharine Woodcocke of Mary’s in Aldermanbury, was published three several market days in three several weeks ... and no exception being made against their intentions, they were according to the act of Parliament, married on the 12th of November, by Sir John Dethicke, Knight and Alderman, one of the Justices for the Peace in the City of London.” A justice instead of a clergyman was prescribed by the Marriage Act which was then in force.
Judge Jeffreys of bloody memory is buried in the church (d. 1689).
A little west of it is Christ’s Hospital, which, since its establishment in 1552 by the boy-king, Edward VI., until the summer of 1902, has been one of the most noted of London schools. Its revenue is about £60,000. Its removal to Horsham in the country will provide the ample playgrounds and modern accommodations that the times demand; but even an American, to say nothing of native Londoners, must feel a pang of regret at the disappearance from the street of the bright-eyed, bare-headed lads, whose quaint costume has for centuries given their school its name of “Blue Coat School.” Anciently the boys wore caps, but now they go bare-headed through the year.
[Pg 196]The school was originally established on the site of the Gray Friars Monastery, as a kind of asylum for poor children. Stow gives the following account of the opening of the institution. “In the month of September they took in near four hundred orphans, and cloathed them in Russet, but ever after they wore Blue Cloath Coats, whence it is commonly called the Blue Coat Hospital. Their habit being now a long coat of blue warm cloth, close to their arms and Body, hanging loose to their Heels, girt about their Waist with a red leather girdle buckled, a round thrum Cap tyed with a red Band, Yellow Stockings, and Black Low-heeled Shoes, their hair cut close their Locks short.”
“Their fare was Breakfast, bread and beer, 6.30 summer, 7.30 winter. Sunday, beef and pottage for dinners. Suppers, as good legs and shoulders of mutton as can be bought. Tuesdays and Thursdays, same dinner as Sundays. Other days, no flesh—Monday, milk porridge; Wednesday, furmity; Friday, old peas and pottage; Saturday, water-gruel. Rost beef, 12 times a year. Supper, bread and butter or bread and cheese; Wednesday and Friday, pudding pies.”
This seems to have been a liberal table compared with that of the famous Winchester school in its early days, when two meals a day were all that were allowed, except for invalids.
[Pg 197]Stow mentions that “the King granted all Church Linnen formerly used in the Churches of London” to the hospital, as a superabundance had been found. Girls as well as boys were lodged and taught here. Stow tells us of the custom which prevailed from his day to ours: “One boy being appointed, goeth up into a pulpit there placed and readeth a chapter ... and prayers. At the end of every prayer all the boys cry ‘Amen,’ that maketh a very melodious sound. The boy that reads is designed for the university. A Psalm is named by the same boy; and all sing with a good organ that is placed in the said great Hall.” He describes the grace said by one boy in the pulpit, and the boys and girls quietly seating themselves while “multitudes of city and court” came to witness it.
An ancient writer recounts the joy of the half-starved youngsters when they were first taken into its dining-hall and saw the baskets heaped with bread, and knew that there was enough for all. Among the buildings which are about to be replaced by mercantile establishments there is little, if anything, that Milton saw. Christ’s Church, beside it, where Richard Baxter lies buried, was built by Wren a little after his time.
Where so many famous men in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were to be numbered as [Pg 198]students,—Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb, and others,—the one name on its register that would have most interested Milton was that of William Camden who studied here, as well as at St. Paul’s. A visitor from Boston, Massachusetts, is interested to know that in 1626, one little lad in yellow stockings and dark blue coat, who studied Latin here to some purpose, was Ezekiel Cheever, who became the master of the Boston Latin School. For thirty years he taught the Yankee boys in the little wooden house on School Street at the foot of Beacon Hill, and made them learn his famous “Accidence,” which went through many editions. Often as he wandered over the “rocky nook with hilltops three,” where “twice each day the flowing sea took Boston in its arms,” his thoughts must have turned back to the walled city with its spires and palaces and prisons which he and Milton knew when they were boys.
The London tourist, who visits London for the first time after 1902, will miss seeing one of its most fascinating sights, for he can never stand in the great dining-hall of Christ’s Hospital on a Sunday noon and see the procession of pink-cheeked lads in their knee-breeches and long skirts come trooping in an orderly procession into the great hall, bearing great platters of steaming meats and baskets piled with rolls. The “Grecians” and[Pg 199] “Deputy-Grecians,” and the less distinguished rank and file will never again pause here to listen to the Latin grace, nor will gaze at the huge canvas on the long wall between the galleries at either end. One wonders what will become of the old desks in the schoolroom, into which a score of generations of schoolboys have carved their names, and whether in their splendid new surroundings they will not look back half regretfully to the dim old cloisters which linked them with their great historic past.
Old Newgate was a foul prison in Milton’s day. Here in filthy chambers, gentlemen like Ellwood, Defoe, and William Penn were thrown together with felons. Diagonally across the street from the huge grim prison of later days, which since 1770 has stretched its length along the thoroughfare which bears its name, is St. Sepulchre’s Church. From its tower the knell was struck for executions at the neighbouring Newgate, and many a time must the boys in Christ’s Hospital and the Charterhouse School north of it have listened in horrified curiosity as the bell tolled, and they knew it meant that a man, blindfolded and with bound hands, was standing on the scaffold in front of Newgate. St. Sepulchre’s has been much altered since Milton entered it, perhaps in search of the same monument that first of all attracts Americans. This is the[Pg 200] monument of that bold discoverer and coloniser, John Smith, who settled Jamestown in Virginia the year before Milton was born. Who knows but Milton may have met him, or have gazed upon the dark-eyed Princess Pocahontas, who left her native forests and became the bride of the Englishman Rolfe, after she had saved the life of the gallant Captain Smith.
His old tombstone is nearly defaced, and lies in the side aisle, some yards from its original site. A replica of the original inscription is placed on a brass tablet near it:
“Here lyes one conquered, who hath conquered kings;
Subdued large territories and done things
Which to the world impossible will seem
But that the Truth is held in more esteem,...
Or shall I tell of his adventures since,
Done in Virginia, that large Continente?
How that he subdued kings unto his yoke,
And made those Heathen flee as wind doth smoke,
And made their land, being of so large a Station,
An habitation for our Christian nation.”...
The above-mentioned “kings” were doubtless Indian sachems. The Anglo-Saxon satisfaction at the way the heathen were made to flee like smoke, and make room for a Christian nation, as shown by the writer of this effusion, indicates that the white Christian of Smith’s day was not unlike his posterity[Pg 201] three centuries later in the time of Cecil Rhodes and of Philippine campaigns.
John Rogers, the Smithfield martyr, was vicar of this church. During his residence in Antwerp, he had made the acquaintance of Tyndale, the translator of the Bible, and continued Tyndale’s work after his death. Dean Milman tells us: “There is no doubt that the first complete English Bible came from Antwerp under his superintendence and auspices. It bore then and still bears the name of Matthews’s Bible. Of Matthews, however, no trace has ever been discovered. There is every reason for believing the untraceable Matthews was John Rogers. If so, Rogers was not only the protomartyr of the English Church, but, with due respect for Tyndale, the protomartyr of the English Bible.”
Among the most eminent men buried at St. Sepulchre’s was Roger Ascham, in 1568. Doubtless Milton, before writing his own remarkable treatise on education, must have studied the progressive theories of this man who taught Latin and Greek to Queen Elizabeth.
hen Milton was a lad at St. Paul’s School, it is more than likely that he sometimes visited the boys of Charterhouse. Let us imagine him on some holiday taking a stroll outside the city wall through Newgate, over Holborn Bridge, that arched the Hole Bourne or Fleet, which flowed southward to the Thames, at Blackfriars; then up Holborn Hill and to the right to Charterhouse Square. It is still a quiet square of green shut in by pleasant residences, which replace the handsome palaces, such as Rutland House, which stood here during the Stuarts’ reign.
If his father accompanied the lad he may have recalled to him the horror of the pestilence which three hundred years before had swept from Asia across Europe. In foul, crowded London, it so filled the churchyards to overflowing, that in 1348, when thousands of bodies were flung into pits without a Christian prayer said over them, the Bishop [Pg 203]of London purchased three acres for a burial-ground upon this spot. Near here fifty thousand bodies were buried, one above another in deep graves. But three hundred years is a long time to one who has lived something less than ten, and perhaps these grisly tales of a shadowy and forgotten past appealed less to Milton’s boyish heart than those of a nearer time, which his father’s life had almost touched.
From an old engraving.
Above the monastery doors which rose here after the Great Plague, might have been seen, only a half century before, the limb from the dismembered body of the martyred prior, who fell beneath the wrath of Henry VIII. He, with divers of his brethren, perished for their faith as nobly as John Rogers, a few years later, died for a different one. Heroism belongs to no one creed. Thus ended the monastic institution, the House of the Salutation of the Mother of God, which since 1371 had housed twenty-four Carthusian friars. Their quiet lives and austere fasts had been in sharp contrast to those of the Knights of St. John, their ancient neighbours, whose habitations perished at about the time when theirs arose.
Some remains of the old monastery may be seen within the gates to-day, and doubtless there were many more reminders of it when Milton was shown about by his boy-friends. Perhaps the tall youth,[Pg 204] Roger Williams, nine years his senior, whose later life was to touch his, may have noticed the handsome lad who read the Latin inscriptions as easily as boys of his age now read English, and who showed a marvellous comprehension of the antiquities of the place.
The visitor to-day on entering the chapel, as Milton did, may notice at the left of the door a white marble tablet framed in yellow marble, on which an American citizen, in memory of the founder of Rhode Island, almost the only tolerator of all religious faiths in an intolerant age, has recently inscribed the fact that Roger Williams studied here.
Since Milton’s day the character of Charterhouse has not much changed, though many buildings have been added. The present foundation marks the benevolence of one of the richest merchants of Elizabeth’s day, whose prayer was: “Lord, thou hast given me a large and liberal estate; give me also a heart to make use thereof.” In 1611, Thomas Sutton purchased the Charterhouse for £13,000, from the Earl of Suffolk and his relatives, and made over twenty manors and lordships and other rich estates, including the Charterhouse, in trust for the hospital.
The pensioners were originally eighty in number, and the boys, forty-four. Hubert Herkomer’s [Pg 205]well-known, beautiful painting in the Tate Gallery of the Charterhouse chapel and the venerable figures of the aged gentlemen who daily worship here in their quaint gowns, depicts a scene that Milton saw, and that the modern visitor may see to-day. Beyond the huge, pretentious monument of Sutton, that fills one corner of the chapel, is the side room, where, until quite recent years, the boys sat at morning service. Now their numbers are increased, and they are more happily housed out in the country, where outdoor sports and rural life can do more for them than this region, which is now hemmed in by the encroachments of commercial London. Stow tells us that the master was required to be twenty-seven years old, and that the highest form must every Sunday set up in the Great Hall four Greek and four Latin verses, “each to be made on any part of the second Lesson for that day.”
One cannot but feel that the old gentlemen must sadly miss their sprightly young comrades, and long for the sound of their merry shouts and whistles. Their numbers are falling off, for the revenues, drawn from agricultural sources, are diminishing. To-day about fifty-five are entered. All must be over sixty years of age. They have all the freedom of private citizens, except that they are expected to dine together in the great panelled dining-hall, and[Pg 206] at night to be in by eleven o’clock. Each pensioner has a bedroom and sitting-room, and a loaf and butter is brought him for his breakfast. About £30 a year are allowed each for clothing and other food, and a female attendant is assigned to each half dozen gentlemen. Thackeray’s description of Founder’s Day is most touching, and deserves to be read by all who visit Charterhouse, where he studied, and in imagination saw the last days of Colonel Newcome:
“The custom of the school is on the 12th of December, the Founder’s Day, that the head gown-boy shall recite a Latin oration, in praise of our founder and upon other subjects, and a goodly company of old Cistercians is generally brought together to attend this oration, after which we go to chapel and have a sermon, after which we go to a great dinner, where old condisciples meet, old toasts are given, and speeches made. Before marching from the oration hall to chapel, the stewards of the day’s dinner, according to the old-fashioned rite, have wands in their hands, walk to church at the head of the procession, and sit in places of honour. The boys are already on their seats with smug fresh faces and shining white collars; the old black-gowned pensioners are on their benches, the chapel is lighted, the founder’s tomb, with its grotesque[Pg 207] carvings, monsters, heraldries, darkles and shines with the most wonderful lights and shadows. There he sits, Fundator Noster, in his ruff and gown, awaiting the Great Examination Day. We oldsters, be we ever so old, become boys again as we look at that familiar old tomb, and think how the seats were altered since we were here, and how the doctor used to sit yonder and his awful eye used to frighten us shuddering boys on whom it lighted; and how the boy next us would kick our shins during the service time, and how the monitor would cane us afterward because our shins were kicked. Yonder sit forty cherry-cheeked boys, thinking about home and holidays to-morrow. Yonder sit some three-score old gentlemen—pensioners of the hospital, listening to the prayers and psalms. You hear them coughing feebly in the twilight—the old, reverend black gowns.... A plenty of candles light up this chapel, and this scene of youth and age and early memories and pompous death. How solemn the well-remembered prayers are here uttered again in the place where in childhood we used to hear them! How beautiful and decorous the rite! How noble the ancient words of the supplications which the priest utters, and to which generations of bygone seniors have cried, ‘Amen,’ under those arches.“
[Pg 208]We pass up, as Milton may have done, the broad carved oak staircase of the period antedating Sutton’s purchase, when Lord North welcomed the Princess Elizabeth as his guest and entertained her royally, five days before her coronation. In these spacious rooms, with deep-set windows, and richly decorated ceilings, the cautious princess held meetings daily with her councillors. The lofty fireplace and the tapestry hangings that remain recall in their dim splendour days when lords and dukes and maids of honour waited in trepidation upon the behest of the haughty woman who was soon to become their dread sovereign. It was in one of these rooms that the pupil orator gave his oration upon Founder’s Day.
One of the rooms not always shown to visitors should not be missed. It is the long, cosy library of the pensioners. Here, leaning out of the diamond-paned windows upon a summer’s day, or grouping themselves in easy chairs about the blazing hearth in gray November, one loves to think of these lonely gentlemen, who have seen better days, spending their last, quiet years among their books.
The visitor to the Charterhouse will not fail to spend a half day within the vicinity. In spite of its sordid and commercial aspect, it possesses many of the most precious relics of the past.
ST. JOHN’S GATE, CLERKENWELL
From an old engraving.
[Pg 209]A little to the northwest of Smithfield, where it spans a narrow and somewhat squalid street, stands the huge stone gateway of St. John’s. Nothing in its vicinity reveals the fact that once beside it stood a conventual church, and a bell-tower that was one of the glories of London, and nothing to indicate that, centuries before these, one of the richest and most famous of all the monastic establishments around London was built here. The history of the Knights of St. John is one of the longest and most romantic of mediæval histories. The prototype of their ancient hospital was in Jerusalem, where the knights of the order lived lives of abstinence and charity. The English establishment in Clerkenwell was founded in 1100 A. D., only a generation after the coming of the Norman Conqueror. This was the time of Godfrey of Bouillon and of the first Crusade. Forty years later the monks in Jerusalem became a military order, and thenceforth their history is one that seemed guided by Joshua rather than the Prince of Peace. Large gifts and power led them soon far from the simple habits of their early days. Of their fights with pirates and with Turks and with rival Christian bodies, there is no space to tell. Like the Christian Church itself, in many periods, they waxed fat and gross, and became the hated “plutocrats” of the working men[Pg 210] of their time. In that sweet story, written in Saxon English, by William Morris, of the monk, “John Ball,” we have a picture of the brave men of Kent who rose in wrath to destroy, as did the Paris mob of 1793, the men who long had mocked at their impotence and fed upon their toil. The rebels marched with spear and bow to London, and wreaked their vengeance on many, but especially those whose travesty on the teaching of the saint whose name they bore had maddened them to fury. They burnt all the houses belonging to St. John’s, and set on fire the beautiful priory, which burned seven days. King Richard II., safe in the Tower, in vain besought his Council for advice in this extremity. The prior himself did not escape, but fell beneath the relentless axe of the men of Kent, as thousands for a like cause fell under the guillotine in Paris.
The present gateway was not erected until the following century. In the reign of Edward VI., the church with the “graven gilt and enamelled bell-tower” was undermined and blown up with gunpowder, and the stone was used for building the Lord Protector’s House upon the Strand. To-day the members of the revived English League of the Order of St. John hold their meetings in the gate.
With the exception of Westminster Abbey, probably[Pg 211] no church has more of interest than St. Bartholomew’s at Smithfield. Within the century that saw the White Tower of the Conqueror begun, a monastery and church rose on this site. “A pleasant-witted gentleman, who was therefore called ‘the king’s minstrel,’” as Stow relates, was blest with a most singular vision on his pilgrimage to Rome. Like Saul of Tarsus, he felt the Lord’s command to leave his old life and begin anew. Accordingly on his return to England he established a priory for thirteen monks, and in 1123 built the Norman church, part of which stands practically as he left it. Says a nineteenth-century antiquary: “Except the Tower and its immediate neighbourhood, there is no part of London, old or new, around which are clustered so many events interesting in history, as that of the priory of St. Bartholomew-the-Great and its vicinity. There are narrow, tortuous streets, and still narrower courts, about Cloth Fair, where are hidden away scores of old houses, whose projecting eaves and overhanging floors, heavy, cumbrous beams and wattle and plaster walls must have seen the days of the Plantagenets. There are remains of groined arches, and windows with ancient tracery, strong buttresses, and beautiful portals, with toothed and ornate archways, belonging to times long anterior to Wyclif and John of Gaunt yet to be[Pg 212] found lurking behind dark, uncanny-looking tenements.... When Chaucer was young, and his Canterbury Pilgrims were men and women of the period, processions of cowled monks and chanting boys, with censers and crucifix, wended their way from the old priory of the Black Friars beside the Thames; and when Edward III. had spent the morning in witnessing the tourney of mailed knights at Smithfield, have they and their attendants, with all the pomp and pageantry of chivalry, passed beneath this old gateway to the grand entertainment of the good prior in the great refectory beyond the south cloisters.... As we go round the Great Close we pass by some very old houses that occupy the place where was once the east cloisters. Behind these houses used to be a great mulberry-tree, only removed in our own time.”
Here may Milton, during those dark days of the Restoration, when he retired to the seclusion of these narrow streets to escape observation, have sometimes ventured. Here sitting on the stone seat beneath its shade, he may have seen in fancy the processions of sandalled monks, with rosaries dangling against their long gray robes, move silently by as in the olden time, and pass within the portals of the church. And stepping beneath its round arches, he may himself have stood, as[Pg 213] countless monks and pilgrims before him have done, before the recumbent painted figure of the tonsured monk, Rahere, who lies under a beautifully wrought Gothic canopy of a much later period. Around him rise the solemn, massive pillars with their cubiform capitals, which seem scarcely less fresh and solid than when Rahere gazed on them with pride. Here are to be seen the slight intimations, even amid Norman semicircular arches, of the Gothic pointed arch that was to supersede them in the near future. Of the four superb arches which once supported the great central tower, two are the half-circle and two are slightly pointed.
An interesting and lovely feature of the church is the oriel window by the triforium, opposite Rahere’s grave, built by the famous Prior Bolton. Here the prior seems to have had a kind of pew or seat from whence he could overlook the canons when he pleased, without their being aware of his presence, as it communicated with his house. The aisles form a fine study for the architect. The horseshoe Moorish arch is much used, as well as the simpler Norman arch, and there is seen a regular gradation from one to the other.
Among the tombs that must have most interested Puritan Milton was one of James Rivers, who died in 1641 just as the civil war was about to break[Pg 214] forth, who evidently, had he lived, would have thrown in his lot where Milton did. His epitaph contains the lines:
“Whose life and death designed no other end,
Than to serve God, his country, and his friend;
Who, when ambition, tyranny, and pride
Conquered the age, conquered himself and died.”
A tomb that may have interested Milton is that of Sir Walter Mildmay, the founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, which sent so many Puritans to the new colonies in Massachusetts. It was this Mildmay to whom, when he came to court, Queen Elizabeth said: “I hear, Sir Walter, that you have erected a Puritan foundation.” “No, madam,” was the answer, “but I have set an acorn, which when it becomes an oak, God knows what will be the fruit thereof.”
In Milton’s time many Puritans lived in the parish, and a manuscript book preserved in the vestry records that there was “Collected for the children of New England uppon 2 Sabath daies following in february, 1643, £2, 8. 9.” This was a goodly sum for those days, and was doubtless much appreciated by the English cousins, who in their bare pine meeting-houses beside the tidal Charles remembered that the Puritans who remained at home[Pg 215] were called to wage a fiercer fight with priestcraft, prerogative, and privilege than they, with poverty.
The church to-day is but a fraction of its former size, in fact, hardly more than the choir of the noble building which Rahere erected. The entire length of the church as it left his hand is supposed to have been 225 feet. In 1539 Sir Richard Rich bought church and priory for little more than £1,000, and the thirteen evicted canons were pensioned off.
Close by old St. Bartholomew’s is Smithfield, so near that, in the reign of the Tudors, the ruddy light of martyrs’ fagots must have cast a glow upon its roof and its walls must have resounded to the screams of sufferers in their last agonising moments.
On the south side of Smithfield, in Milton’s day, rose St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, founded by Henry VIII., upon the site of Rahere’s earlier one. The great Harvey, the physician of Charles I., who discovered the circulation of the blood, was physician to this hospital for thirty-four years, and here, in 1619, he lectured on his great discovery. The present structure dates from a period early in the eighteenth century.
Directly opposite St. Bartholomew’s Church, in 1849, excavations three feet below the surface exposed to view a mass of unhewn stones, blackened as by fire, and covered with ashes and human bones,[Pg 216] charred and partially consumed. This marked the spot where martyrs, facing eastward toward the great gate of St. Bartholomew’s, were chained to the stake. The prior was generally present on such occasions. An old print of the burning of Anne Askew displays a pulpit erected for the sermon, and raised seats for the numerous spectators who came to view the spectacle with probably no more shrinking than the Londoners of the early nineteenth century viewed the hangings at Newgate.
Of the two hundred and seventy-seven persons who in Mary’s reign here perished for their faith, none is more lovingly remembered in Old England or in New England than John Rogers, the first martyr in the Marian persecution, to whom we have already referred. For a century or more, Calvinistic New England taught its children from that quaint little book known as the “New England Primer,” and now treasured in many families as a curiosity. No one among its wretched little woodcuts struck such a solemn awe into the child’s mind,—making the courage of the soldier on the battle-field shrink to nothing in comparison, as that picture where John Rogers, surrounded by his wife and nine children and another at the breast, testified to his faith within the flames. “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood,” said the indomitable man,[Pg 217] when offered pardon for recantation. “I will never pray for thee,” quoth his angry questioner. “But I will pray for you,” said Master Rogers. History does not record that his little children saw their father die, but only that they met him on the way, and sobbed out their farewells. But enough; we need not enter on the hideous story of this spot in the generation that followed this martyr.
In early days, Smithfield, or Smoothfield, was the Campus Martius for sham fights and tilts. All sorts of sports, archery, and bowls, and ball games were played here, and it was a resort for acrobats and jugglers. In 1615, says Howes, “The City of London reduced the rude, vast place of Smithfield into a faire and comely order, which formerly was never held possible to be done, and paved it all over, and made divers sewers to convey the water from the new channels which were made by reason of the new pavement; they also made strong rails round about Smithfield, and sequestered the middle part into a very fair and civil walk, and railed it round about with strong rails, to defend the place from annoyance and danger, as well from carts, as all manner of cattle, because it was intended hereafter that in time it might prove a fair and peaceable market-place, by reason that Newgate Market, Moorgate, Cheapside, Leadenhall, and Gracechurch Street,[Pg 218] were immeasurably pestered with the unimaginable increase and multiplicity of market folks. And this field, commonly called West Smithfield, was for many years called Ruffian’s Hall, by reason it was the usual place of frays and common fighting during the time that sword and bucklers were in use. But the ensuing deadly fight with rapier and dagger suddenly suppressed the fighting with sword and buckler.” In his “Henry IV.,” Shakespeare makes Page say of Bardolph: “He’s gone to Smithfield to buy your worship a horse.” To which Falstaff replies: “I bought him in Paul’s, and he’ll buy me a horse in Smithfield; an I could get me but a wife in the stews, I were manned, horsed, and wived.”
Ben Jonson’s merry play, “Bartholomew Fair,” written in 1613, gives a good account of the babel of entreaties and advertising boasts that assailed the ears of the unwary customer: “Will your worship buy any gingerbread, gilt gingerbread; very good bread, comfortable bread? Buy any ballads? New ballads! Hey!
“Now the fair’s a filling!
O, for a tune to startle
The birds of the booths here billing
Yearly with old St. Bartle.
[Pg 219]“Buy any pears, pears, very fine pears! What do you lack, gentleman? Maid, see a fine hoppy-horse for your young master. Cost you but a farthing a week for his provender.
“Buy a mouse-trap, a mouse-trap, or a tormentor for a flea?
“What do you lack? fine purses, pouches, pin cases, pipes? a pair of smiths to wake you in the morning, or a fine whistling bird?
“Gentlewomen, the weather’s hot; whither walk you? Have a care of your fine velvet caps; the fair is dusty. Take a sweet delicate booth with boughs, here in the way, and cool yourself in the shade, you and your friends. Here be the best pigs. A delicate show-pig, little mistress, with sweet sauce and crackling, like de bay-leaf i’ de fire, la! T’ou shalt ha’ the clean side o’ the table-clot’ and de glass vashed!”
From all which, and much more to the same purport, one may judge that whether in Ben Jonson’s time or Browning’s, whether in Smithfield or in the modern charity fair, the art of alluring or browbeating the man with a purse into buying what he does not want is much the same. Long after Milton’s death, the fair was famous, and drew gaping throngs to witness mountebanks swing in mid air, and to view the fat woman and double-headed[Pg 220] calf, for all the world like “The Greatest Moral Show on Earth” to-day.
Now Smithfield has banished mountebanks and bellowing herds. Only the carcases of the latter may be found in the huge brick market that covers a large part of the once open space. The original size of Smithfield was but three acres, but since 1834 it has been over six acres in extent.
olborn was paved long before Milton’s birth, and was a street of consequence, because of the Inns of Court, which opened north and south from it. From his time until 1868 a row of small houses southward from Gray’s Inn blocked up the street, and became even in his day “a mighty hindrance to Holborn in point of prospect.”
Ely Place, off Holborn, is little known to hasty tourists who have not time to leave the beaten track of sightseeing. But any one who has a quiet hour to spend in the exquisite little church of St. Etheldreda, and to recall the glories of the past which its Gothic walls have witnessed, will be well repaid.
Ely Place, a rectangle of dull, commonplace houses, at its entrance gives no glimpse of the chapel, which is shrinkingly withdrawn a little among the interloping walls that now replace the gardens and the palaces of Milton’s day. In Chaucer’s[Pg 222] lifetime, the Bishop of Ely built this very chapel to the Saxon saint, the daughter of the king of the West Angles, who was born about the year 630. She took part in the erection of the Cathedral of Ely amid the morasses of the “Fen” country, and was chosen as its patron saint. In 679 she died, the abbess of the convent of Ely. Singularly enough, this modest lady gave the origin to the word “tawdry,” so Thornbury declares. For her name was sometimes called St. Audry, and some cheap necklaces sold at St. Audry’s fair at Ely were known as “tawdry” laces, whence the name was applied to other cheap and showy ornaments.
After long continuance in the hands of Protestants, the church has again reverted to the faith of those who built it. It is the only instance of a “living” crypt in London, i. e., one in which tapers burn and kneeling worshippers assemble before shrines. On any week day, one may in three minutes turn from Holborn into its mediæval quiet and seclusion and tell one’s beads, either in the upper or lower sanctuary, or gaze at the glorious decorated east window, and on the chaste proportions of an unspoiled Gothic structure. Its wealth of windows remotely reminds one of the Sainte Chapelle of good King Louis, whose jewelled windows in their slender lofty frames are one of the marvels of the island in the Seine.
[Pg 223]In the Plantagenet and Tudor period, vineyards, kitchen garden, and orchard surrounded the magnificent buildings of Ely Place. Hither, at the Duke of Gloucester’s bidding, as Shakespeare, following history, records, the bishop sent hastily for the strawberries for which his garden was famous.
“My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn
I saw good strawberries in your garden there;
I do beseech you send for some of them.”
In the reign of Elizabeth, Sir Christopher Hatton was the owner of Ely Place. Except a cluster of houses,—Ely Rents,—standing on Holborn, the land round about this great estate seems to have been unbuilt upon.
Sir Christopher, who rose to be Elizabeth’s lord chancellor, was a striking looking man and a graceful dancer. He captivated the queen, who was very susceptible to manly beauty. The state papers in the Record Office, it is said, disclose her fond and foolish correspondence with him. In Milton’s lifetime, Lady Hatton—a gay and wealthy widow—was wooed and won by the famous Sir Edward Coke. But Hatton House saw many an open quarrel between the ill-matched pair.
In the time of Charles I., a pageant almost unparalleled in magnificence was arranged in Ely Place.[Pg 224] The redoubtable Prynne, who had preached against all such frivolities in the customary strong language of the time, had not yet lost his ears, as he did later, in the pillory. But his strictures had given offence at the court of Queen Henrietta Maria, who was minded to amuse herself with masques; consequently this famous masque came off. Mr. Lawes, the famous musician and friend of Milton, was set to composing music for the occasion. On an evening in 1633, when Milton was living at Horton, the magnificent procession wended its way through crowds of enthusiastic spectators toward Whitehall. One hundred gentlemen on the best horses that the stables of royalty and the nobility could offer, all clad in gold and silver, and each accompanied by a page and two lackeys carrying torches, were only one feature of the pageant; the others were some of them as odd as these were splendid. Tiny children, dressed like birds, rode on small horses; every beautiful or fantastic conceit imaginable was carried out, and the cost of the whole was no less than £21,000, a sum which meant far more in purchasing power than it does to-day. Some of the musicians, however, received £100 apiece—a fee quite satisfactory to many a prima donna in our time.
No more characteristic part of Milton’s London[Pg 225] exists to-day than the various Inns of Court that lead north and south from Holborn. As the sightseer passes from the jostle and turmoil of the thoroughfare, he is transported in a moment into a silence and seclusion that remind one of a Puritan Sabbath. Quadrangle opens out of quadrangle, shut in by rows of unpretentious buildings, whose monotony is broken by Gothic chapels or Tudor dining-halls surmounted by carved cupolas. Occasionally a cloistered walk under low Tudor arches, or a group of highly ornate terra cotta chimneys is seen, as one wanders around the dim and shadowy passages. All at once a turn, and behold, here in the heart of the life of this six million people of the great overgrown metropolis, still stretch long reaches of greensward, locked safely from the intrusion of the public by their handsome wrought-iron gates.
In Gray’s Inn, to the north of Holborn, Francis Bacon wrote his “Novum Organum,” which he published in 1620, when Milton was a schoolboy at St. Paul’s, and when the Leyden Pilgrims in the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock.
The gardens of Gray’s Inn, which Bacon set out with trees, became a fashionable promenade in Milton’s old age. Pepys tells us that he took his wife there after church one Sunday, “to observe[Pg 226] the fashions of the ladies, because of my wife’s making some clothes.” It was, in short, quite as much a dress parade as Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday in New York.
Lord Burleigh, Elizabeth’s great minister, was, next to Bacon, the most eminent of the members of Gray’s Inn.
Its hall, which dates from 1560, is little inferior to any hall in all the Inns of Court. It has carved wainscoting, and a timber roof, and windows emblazoned with the arms of Lord Bacon and Lord Burleigh. In Milton’s time, Gray’s Inn marked the northern limit of the town, and all beyond it was green fields and country lanes. Therefore we now turn south and west to explore briefly the numerous other inns that must often have echoed to the steps of Milton when he lived almost within stone’s throw of them.
Dickens’s description of the little Staple Inn gives the reader an exact impression of the place to-day: “Behind the most ancient part of Holborn, where certain gabled houses some centuries of age still stand looking on the public way, as if disconsolately looking for the Old Bourne that has long since run dry, is a little nook composed of two irregular quadrangles, called Staple Inn. It is one of those nooks, the turning into which, out of the clashing[Pg 227] street, imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet soles on his boots. It is one of those nooks where a few smoky sparrows twitter on smoky trees, as though they called to each other, ‘Let us play at country,’ and where a few feet of garden mould and a few yards of gravel enable them to do that refreshing violence to their tiny understandings. Moreover, it is one of those nooks that are legal nooks; and it contains a little hall with a little lantern in its roof.”
Walking through the further quadrangle, and following the narrow street down past the towering, vulgar conglomeration of every incongruous architectural device,—the new Birkbeck Bank,—we enter presently the wide spaces of Lincoln’s Inn.
The style of buildings, whether new or old, is largely Tudor of the type of Hampton Court. The walls of red brick are inlaid with diagonal lines of darker bricks. The chapel, of Perpendicular Gothic, built by Inigo Jones, is raised on arches which leave a kind of open crypt below, where Pepys tells us he used to walk. The stained glass windows antedate Laud’s time, and Laud is said to have wondered that the saints emblazoned on them escaped the “furious spirit” that was aroused against those “harmless, goodly windows” of his at Lambeth.
[Pg 228]At number 24 of the “Old Buildings,” the secretary of Oliver Cromwell lived from 1645 to 1659, where his correspondence was discovered behind a false ceiling. The tradition that the Protector was overheard to discuss with him here about the kidnapping of the three little sons of Charles I. may be dismissed as mythical.
Beside the noble brick gateway of Lincoln’s Inn, which bore the date 1518, it is said that rare Ben Jonson, in his early days of poverty, was found working with a trowel in one hand and his Horace in the other, when some gentlemen, having compassion on him, as did Cimabue on the gifted child, Giotto, rescued him, and let loose the imprisoned genius who found Shakespeare for a friend, and the Abbey for his tomb.
Of Furnivall’s, Scroope’s, and Barnard’s Inns, and Thavie’s, oldest of them all, we have no space to write. The characteristics of the four great inns are stated in the lines:
“Gray’s Inn for walks, Lincoln’s Inn for wall,
The Inner Temple for a garden,
And the Middle for a hall.”
The modern sightseer finds, as probably Milton found, much more of interest in the two latter, which lie south of Fleet Street, than in all the others combined.
[Pg 229]Before crossing Fleet Street, mention should be made of Temple Bar, which was erected by Wren four years before Milton’s death, and marked the transition from Fleet Street to the Strand. The “Old Cheshire Cheese” in the ancient and dingy Wine Office Court, which opens north from Fleet Street, probably was built a dozen years before Milton died. It was Doctor Johnson’s restaurant, and his fame brings many customers to sit in his old seat, which is still carefully preserved.
Between the Tower and Westminster stands half-way one little edifice more ancient than any other on that route. It is the little Temple Church of Norman and transitional design, which stands secluded from the traffic of the streets within a stone’s throw of Temple Bar.
Of its dimensions and manifold restorations, the ordinary guide-books say enough, and make a repetition unnecessary. The round church with its interesting arcade of grotesque, sculptured heads, and its rare proportions; the choir, “springing,” as Hawthorne says, “as it were, in a harmonious and accordant fountain out of the clustered pillars that support its pinioned arches,” are both a delight to every lover of the beautiful.
Hardly more than a century after the Norman conquest we find the Knights Templars on this spot.[Pg 230] The year after their removal here from Holborn in 1185, they built their Temple church, the finest of the four round churches that still remain in England. The choir, which is one of the most beautiful specimens of pure early English, was finished in 1240.
In early times, the discipline of the knights was most severe. The Master himself scourged disobedient brethren within its walls, and on Fridays there were frequent public whippings within the church. In a narrow, penitential cell to be seen in the church walls, only four and a half feet long and two and a half wide, a disobedient brother is said to have been starved to death.
The interesting recumbent figures clad in mail, upon the Temple floor, are not, as is popularly supposed, Knights Templars, but Associates of the Temple, who were only partly admitted to its great privileges.
Shortly after the downfall of the Templars, the property passed into the hands of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, whose priory, as we remember, was burned by the wrathful men of Kent in Wat Tyler’s rebellion. The knights leased it to the law students who belonged to the “King’s Court.” Therefore, when the rebels reached London, they poured down on the haunts of the Temple lawyers,[Pg 231] carried off the books, deeds, and rolls of remembrance, and, in vengeance on the Knights Hospitallers, burned them in Fleet Street. So determined were these men, goaded by years of tyranny, to put an end to all the laws that had oppressed them.
In later years, we find that the Temple church in the time of Henry VIII., and later still, of Milton and Ben Jonson, was used in term time for the students as a place for rendezvous. Discussions on legal questions sometimes waxed boisterous, and, as a contemporary said, as “noisy as St. Paul’s.”
In Elizabeth’s day the Middle Temple abandoned the old Templar arms—a red cross on a silver shield with a lamb bearing the sacred banner surmounted by a red cross—and substituted a flying Pegasus. Both of these emblems meet the visitor’s eye as he winds through the labyrinthine passages of the old quadrangles, and comes at every step upon some spot rich with the associations of centuries.
Of the well-known story of the origin of the Wars of the Roses within the Temple Gardens it is not necessary here to speak.
An old print of Milton’s later years shows the gardens of the Inner Temple laid out in many straight rows of trees, like apple-trees in orchards,[Pg 232] which extended down to the wall that bordered the Thames. North, toward Fleet Street, rows upon rows of gabled houses, four stories in height, enclosed quadrangles and courts. The dining-halls, built in the Tudor period, stand as they stood when Spenser, in the generation before Milton, wrote of—
“those bricky towers,
The which on Thames’ broad back do ride,
Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers;
There whilom wont the Temple knights to bide
Till they decayed through pride.”
The little Fountain in Fountain Court is dear to lovers of Dickens, for here Ruth Pinch tripped by with merry heart to meet her lover. In Queen Anne’s time, a fountain of much loftier altitude sparkled and splashed here, and for aught we know made music when Milton and Shakespeare wandered within the Temple precincts.
It was not until after Milton’s birth that James I. in 1609 granted the whole property to the two societies of the Inner and Middle Temples; whereupon they presented his Majesty with a precious gold cup of great weight, which cup was esteemed by the monarch as one of his most valued treasures. When the king’s daughter Elizabeth was married four years later, the Temple and Gray’s Inn men gave a masque, which Sir Francis Bacon planned[Pg 233] and executed. The bridal party came by water and landed at the foot of the Temple Gardens amid peals of the little cannon of that day, and with great pomp and merriment. The king gave a supper to the forty masquers. This masque, however, did not compare in splendour with the one given twenty years later, and already alluded to, which was planned by members of the Inns of Court meeting in Ely Place.
In Milton’s middle life the learned Selden, who died in 1654, was buried in the choir of the Temple church. Of him Milton writes that he is “one of your own now sitting in Parliament, the chief of learned men reputed in this land.” When Milton was in his thirty-sixth year and had published his treatise on divorce, he writes of Selden, then in his sixtieth year, whose acquaintance he had probably made, and begged those who would know the truth to “hasten to be acquainted with that noble volume written by our learned Selden, of ‘The Law of Nature and of Nations,’ a work more useful and more worthy to be perused, whoever studies to be a great man in wisdom, equity, and justice, than all those decretals ... which the pontifical clerks have doted on.” Of his well-known “Table Talk,” Coleridge observes: “There is more weighty bullion sense in this book than I ever found in the same number of pages of any uninspired writer.”
[Pg 234]One of the greatest names connected with the Temple is that of Richard Hooker, author of the famous “Ecclesiastical Polity.” He was for six years Master of the Temple—a position which Izaak Walton, who wrote his life, says he accepted rather than desired. The interest in music in the seventeenth century is evinced by the fierce contest which lasted for a year, as to the organ which should be erected in this church. Two organs were put up by rivals. The great Purcell performed on one which was finally selected by Judge Jeffreys of the Inner Temple. He was a capital musician, and in his case at least the adage seemed disproved that “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.”
With the Restoration and the opening of the floodgates of luxury and licentiousness, which the stern Puritan had for twenty years kept in abeyance, the Temple renewed the banquets and merry-makings of an earlier day. At a continuous banquet which lasted half a month, the Earl of Nottingham kept open house to all London, and entertained all the great and powerful of the time. Fifty servants waited on Charles II. and his company, while twenty violins made merry music at the feast.
The Great Fire of 1666 ceased ere it reached the Temple church, but it was not stopped until many sets of chambers and title-deeds of a vast number[Pg 235] of valuable estates had perished. Another fire only a dozen years later destroyed much more of the establishment which Milton knew. Of the Inner Temple Hall little exists to-day that his eyes rested on. But the stately Middle Temple Hall, built in 1572, still stands, and is one of the best specimens of Elizabethan architecture that London boasts. The open roof of hammer-beam design, with pendants, is especially characteristic of the work of that period. The screen is an elaborate one of Renaissance work, more interesting for its age and associations than for its conformity to true principles of art. This famous hall witnessed the performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in 1601. The same strong, oak tables of the days of Bacon, Coke, and Jonson still stretch from end to end. Viewed from the western dais, the portraits, armour, and rich windows combine with the massive furniture and carved screen to present a scene of sober richness hardly equalled outside of a few dining-halls of Oxford and Cambridge which belong to that same period. Among the eminent men of the Middle Temple whose lives Milton’s life touched were Sir Walter Raleigh, John Pym, Ireton,—Cromwell’s son-in-law,—Evelyn, Lord Chancellor Clarendon, and many others of equal note in their day.
[Pg 236]Only one who has delved long in the biography and literature of this great age can realise the stupendous scholarship of the men of this period,—Coke, Selden, Bacon, Newton, Milton, and their contemporaries across the Channel, Grotius, Spinoza, and Galileo,—who, with the men of action of their day, make the century in which they lived one of the most significant since time began. What period since the Golden Age of Greece can match their achievements? Where on earth since the days of Periclean eloquence and wisdom in Athens could be found one spot where so much genius and learning had its centre as in the England into which Milton was born, and in which he lived for two-thirds of a century?
“We are apt,” says Lowell, “to wonder at the scholarship of the men of three centuries ago and at a certain dignity of phrase that characterises them. They were scholars because they did not read so many things as we. They had fewer books, but those were of the best. Their speech was noble, because they lunched with Plutarch and supped with Plato.” Of the long list of eminent men who studied here in the century after Milton, perhaps none was more akin to him in scholarship than the learned Blackstone; none who more deeply understood his Puritan seriousness than Cowper; none[Pg 237] who in boldness, love of liberty, and justice more resembled him than Edmund Burke.
Fifty years before Milton’s birth, as Aggas’s old map of 1562 gives evidence, London had extended but a little way beyond the city walls and the Strand. But in Elizabeth’s prosperous age, noble mansions and extensive gardens began to replace the fields, commons, and pastures that stretched westward from St. Martin’s Lane. One of the busiest spots in modern London, that is, Covent Garden, begins to come into prominence in London history just as Milton reached early manhood. For three centuries before his time the abbots of Westminster had owned “fair spreading pastures” here, now all included in the general name of “Long Acre.” Part of this they are thought to have used for the burial of their dead. In Aggas’s old map, a brick wall enclosed all but the southern side where the houses and enclosures separated it from the Strand. The property belonged to John Russell, Earl of Bedford, to whom it was given by the Crown in 1552, at which time it had a yearly value of less than £7. To-day his successor holds one of the richest rentals in the world. In 1631 a square was formed, and the famous architect Inigo Jones built an open arcade about the north and east sides. Upon the west rose a Renaissance church by the design of[Pg 238] the same artist, and the south was bordered by the garden of Bedford House and a grove or “small grotto of trees most pleasant in the summer season.” The duke, in ordering the erection of the chapel, declared that he would go to no expense for it, and it might be a barn. “Then,” said Inigo Jones, “it shall be the handsomest barn in England,” and fulfilled his promise. It was the first important Protestant church erected in England. Only the portico of the original church remains, as the first building was destroyed by fire in 1795.
In the popular dramas written in the last part of Milton’s lifetime, constant allusion is made to the fashionable and even licentious companies that frequented the piazza of Covent Garden, and it is safe to say that it was never at any time a haunt of the serious-minded Puritan. The poet Gay, writing in the next generation after Milton, thus describes the Covent Garden that he knew:
“Where Covent Garden’s famous temple stands,
That boasts the work of Jones’ immortal hands,
Columns with plain magnificence appear,
And graceful porches lead along the square;
Here oft my course I bend, when lo! from far
I spy the furies of the football war:
The ’prentice quits his shop to join the crew,
Increasing crowds the flying game pursue.”
At first, peddlers of fruit and vegetables used the gravelled centre of the square for their booths, and [Pg 239]gradually the market grew into a well-recognised establishment, and the open square was finally in 1830 covered over. In Milton’s later years Covent Garden was fashionable as a residence for the nobility. Bishops, dukes, and earls had here their town houses, and among the titled residents was the painter, Sir Godfrey Kneller.
This view represents the house as it stood in Milton’s boyhood, previous to the alterations by Inigo Jones. Adjoining it is the Savoy, and immediately behind it is the only view extant of Exeter House.
From an ancient painting in Dulwich College.
The palace on the Thames known as “Somerset House” was in Milton’s lifetime a magnificent structure; built in 1544-49, it was from the time of Elizabeth to 1775 a residence much favoured by royalty. Pepys tells us in 1662: “Indeed it is observed that the greatest court nowadays is there.” It was then the residence of the queen mother, whose rooms he describes as “most stately and nobly furnished,” and he remarks upon the echo on the stairs, “which continues a voice so long as the singing three notes, concords one after another, they all three shall sound in concert together a good while most pleasantly.” The site occupied an area of six hundred feet from east to west and five hundred from north to south. The present large edifice, which was erected on the site of the old one, demolished in 1775, is used for many important public purposes.
cotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, discloses in its cramped and dingy quarters little if anything that remains of the time when Milton lived within its precincts. In the days when he dwelt here and assisted Cromwell as his Latin secretary, some remnants of the former palace of the Scottish kings, which once had occupied this site, were still to be seen. Hard by at one time lived both the greatest architects of that age of building, Jones and Wren. From Scotland Yard to Cannon Row, Westminster, there extended in Milton’s lifetime the stately old palace of Whitehall, built in the Tudor style of Hampton Court. A writer in the last days of Queen Elizabeth tells us that it was truly royal; enclosed on one side by the Thames, on the other by a park which connects it with St. James’s, another royal palace. He speaks of an immense number of swans,—birds favoured by royalty then as now,—which floated on the salty bosom of the tidal[Pg 241] Thames as now they do upon its sweeter waters at Runnymede and Windsor. He also mentions that deer were numerous. An open way led through the palace grounds from Charing Cross to Westminster, which, although shut in by gates at either end, was an open thoroughfare. When Cardinal Wolsey owned Whitehall, it was known as “York Place,” and did not receive the former title until Henry VIII. had taken possession of it. Here the voluptuous monarch visited his great rival in magnificence, and at a masque within these walls cast covetous eyes upon fair Anne Boleyn. Within these richly tapestried and stately halls a few months later, the “little great lord cardinal” bade a long farewell to all his greatness, and with a heavy heart entered his barge at the foot of Whitehall stairs.
Henry added many features to his new possessions, among others a stately gateway of three stories with mullioned windows and octagonal towers designed by Holbein. Sir Thomas More at Chelsea had discovered the merits of this artist, and there presented him to the king, who was a clever connoisseur in art as well as wives. It was in Whitehall that Hans Holbein painted the well-known portrait of the straddling monarch. From the advent of that shrewd politician, great sovereign, yet vain and silly woman, Elizabeth, Whitehall [Pg 242]became definitely the seat of royalty, though the Tower theoretically remained so. The library of this learned woman was well filled with books, not only English, but French, Latin, Greek, and Italian. Masques, tournaments, and every form of gorgeous entertainment, from Wolsey’s time to that of William III., made money flow like water in Whitehall, except during the short domination of the Puritan party. James I., upon the burning of the Banquet Hall in 1615, determined to commission Inigo Jones, not only to build a new one, but to build a whole new palace, of which this hall was but the fortieth part.
The Banquet Hall is in the Palladian style of architecture, and is 111 feet in length, and half as great in width and height. Its ceiling is decorated with pictures by Rubens, painted on canvas and sent from abroad. They represent the apotheosis of James I. and scenes from the life of Charles I. The original plan, which was not carried out, was to have included a number of mural paintings by Van Dyck, which should represent the history and ceremonies of the Order of the Garter. The palace was planned to cover the whole space from the Thames to St. James’s Park, and from Charing Cross to Westminster. In Milton’s time of residence in Whitehall upon the south was the Bowling Green,[Pg 243] and north of it the Privy Gardens. The front consisted of the existing Banquet Hall,—the only part of the plan of Inigo Jones that ever materialised,—the gateways, and a row of low gabled buildings. Behind these were three courts or quadrangles. East of the Banquet Hall were a row of offices, the Great Hall or Presence Chamber, and the Chapel and private rooms of the king and queen. The art treasures and library were in the “Stone Gallery,” which ran along the east side of the Privy Garden. The magnificence which was displayed at Whitehall in Milton’s early boyhood may be perceived from the pomp and luxury of George Villiers, afterward Duke of Buckingham, when he came to make his fortune at the court of James I. “It was common with him at any ordinary dancing to have his cloaths trimmed with great diamonds; hatbands, cockades, and earrings to be yoked with great and manifold knots of pearls—in short, to be manacled, fettered, and imprisoned in jewels, insomuch that at his going over to Paris in 1625, he had twenty-seven suits of cloaths made, the richest that embroidery, silk, velvet, gold, and gems could contribute; one of which was a white, uncut velvet, set all over, both suit and cloak, with diamonds valued at fourscore thousand pounds, besides a great feather stuck all over with diamonds; as were also his sword,[Pg 244] girdle, hatband, and spurs.” He drove in a coach with six horses, and was carried sometimes in a sedan-chair, which mode of conveyance then was new and caused much outcry against the using of men as beasts of burden.
We have already alluded to the famous masque, which was planned by members of the Inns of Court at Ely Place, and carried out in 1633 to please the queen—an entertainment so unique in its splendour as to be referred to in every account of Whitehall. But the palace is chiefly notable, not for scenes of gaiety, but for that mournful sight which struck terror to the breast of every European monarch, and horrified every believer in the divine right of kings. On the 27th of January, 1648-49, the death sentence was passed upon Charles I., of whom a few months later one of his followers wrote:
“Great Charles, thou earthly god, celestial man,...
Thy heavenly virtues angels should rehearse,
It is a theam too high for human verse.”
Cromwell hesitated long before he signed the death warrant. If banishment of the king could have secured their rights to Englishmen, gladly would he have urged a milder sentence. But with the king alive, he felt there was no surety of peace[Pg 245] or justice, and after painful hesitation he set his seal to the death warrant. Says Masson: “At the centre of England was a will that had made itself adamant, by express vow and deliberation beforehand, for the very hour which now had arrived. Fairfax had relented ... Vane had withdrawn from the work ... there was an agony over what was coming among many that had helped to bring it to pass. Only some fifty or sixty governing Englishmen, with Oliver Cromwell in the midst of them, were prepared for every responsibility and stood inexorably to their task. They were the will of England now, and they had the army with them. What proportion of England besides went with them, it might be difficult to estimate. One private Londoner, at all events, can be named who approved thoroughly of their policy, and was ready to testify the same. While the sentenced king was at St. James’s, there was lying on Milton’s writing-table in his house in High Holborn at least the beginnings of a pamphlet on which he had been engaged during the king’s trial, and in which in vehement answer to the outcry of the Presbyterians generally ... he was to defend all the recent acts of the army, Pride’s Purge included, justify the existing governments of the army chiefs and the fragment of Parliament that assisted them, inculcate [Pg 246]republican beliefs in his countrymen, and prove to them above all this proposition: ‘That it is lawful, and hath been held so through all ages, for any who have the power, to call to account a tyrant, or wicked king, and, after due conviction, to depose and put him to death, if the ordinary magistrate have neglected or denied to do it.’ The pamphlet was not to come out in time to bear practically on the deed which it justified; but while the king was yet alive, it was planned, sketched, and in part written.”
Three days after his sentence the king bade farewell to his sobbing little son and daughter at St. James’s Palace, and walked across the park between a line of soldiers to the stairs, which then were on the site of the present Horse Guards. From thence he crossed the street by a gallery, which led him past the scaffold draped in black, and into his own bedchamber in the Banquet Hall. From there, a little later, he passed through a window, or possibly an opening in the wall, upon the scaffold, with his attendant and Bishop Juxon. Two unknown men in masks and false hair had undertaken the grim and dangerous task of executioner. For among the throngs that filled the streets from Charing Cross down to Westminster there were many who would readily have torn them in pieces. The “martyr-king,”[Pg 247] as Jacobins still call him, now that the end of his arbitrary reign had come, behaved with dignity. His last words were: “To your power I must submit, but your authority I deny.” From the roof of a neighbouring mansion, Archbishop Usher stood until he sickened at the sight and swooned, and was carried to his bed. Andrew Marvell’s well-known lines upon this scene will be recalled:
“While round the armed bands,
Did clasp their bloody hands,
He nothing common did or mean,
Upon that memorable scene,
Nor called the gods with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his hopeless right;
But with his keener eye,
The axe’s edge did try;
Then bowed his kingly head,
Down, as upon a bed.”
Strangely enough, it was on this very spot where his death forecast the dawning of that new principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people, which his whole nature loathed, that London had seen the beginnings of the civil strife. Here a company of the citizens, “returning from Westminster, where they had been petitioning quietly for justice, were set upon by some of the court as they passed Whitehall, in the which[Pg 248] tumult divers were hurt, and one or more slain just by the Banqueting House.”
The regicides, who felt their bloody deed to be a sad necessity for England’s safety, had no desire to wreak a mean revenge upon the body of the king. Unlike those of many far nobler men who had died as “traitors,” his body was not dishonoured, but was treated with due respect. It was embalmed, and lay for days under a velvet pall at St. James’s Palace, where crowds came to see it. The authorities objected to his burial in Westminster Abbey, as the place was too public, and crowds might gather there. But they accorded him a burial in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, whither his body was taken in a hearse drawn by six horses and followed by four mourning coaches. His coffin was placed beside that of Henry VIII. within the choir. The next month after the death of Charles, the Parliament voted the use of a large part of Whitehall to Cromwell. Every Monday he dined with all his officers above the captain’s rank. Milton, as his Latin secretary, and Andrew Marvell must have been often at his board, and Waller, his kinsman, and perhaps the youthful Dryden. He was a great lover of music and entertained those who were skilful in any form of art. It is through Cromwell that England owns to-day the Raphael cartoons at Kensington. He[Pg 249] purchased many other of the paintings which had belonged to the magnificent collection of Charles I. and had been sold. Here his old mother died, and here in 1658, on a wild August day, amid the tumult of a storm that raged and howled over a large part of England, the great heart of the Protector ceased to beat. On the day that he lay dying, a lad of fifteen years, named Isaac Newton, turned the violence of the storm to his account by jumping first with the wind and then against it, and computing its force by the difference of the distances.
As the dying Oliver approached his end, he was much in prayer; an attendant has recorded some of these last utterances in which he commended God’s people to the keeping of the Almighty: “Give them,” he prayed, “consistency of judgment, one heart, and mutual love; and go on to deliver them and with the work of reformation; and make the name of Christ glorious in the world. Teach those who look too much on thy instruments, to depend more upon thyself. Pardon such as desire to trample upon the dust of a poor worm, for they are thy people too.” Probably never by any master of Whitehall was such a sincerely devout and magnanimous petition raised to heaven. Of the decapitation of his dead body and its subsequent history, when Charles II. was able to wreak his vengeance, we[Pg 250] need not speak. Neither need we rehearse the well-known record of the dissolute monarch who on the Restoration set up his profligate court at Whitehall. Of the last hours of Charles II. Evelyn paints a loathsome picture: “I can never forget the inexpressible luxury and profaneness, gaming, and all dissoluteness, and as it were total forgetfulness of God (it being Sunday evening) which I was witness of: the king sitting and toying with his concubines, a French boy singing love songs in that glorious gallery, whilst about twenty of the great courtiers and other dissolute persons were at basset around a large table, a bank of at least two thousand pounds in gold before them.... Six days after all was in the dust.” In the reign of William III. two fires, in 1691 and 1697, consumed all of the palace except the Banquet Hall of Inigo Jones.
WESTMINSTER ABBEY AS MILTON KNEW IT
From an old engraving.
The Westminster Abbey that Milton knew, unlike the old St. Paul’s of his day, was indeed a house of God, and was not defiled with the intrusion of hucksters and dandies and the bustle of the Exchange. Its lofty walls, ungrimed by smoke, rose fair and stately; the present towers of the west front were then unbuilt, and its mass presented a long, unbroken, horizontal sky-line. Under its high, embowered roof, Milton may have seen less warmth of colour than we, for the stained glass [Pg 251]is modern, but he was spared the majority of the pretentious and tasteless monuments which crowd the transepts and the side aisles to-day, and for the most part are in bulk in inverse proportion to their artistic merit, and to the importance of those whom they honour. Perhaps there was no man in England to whose sensitive soul the solemn minster spoke more eloquently. With a mind richly stored in history, and with the artist’s eye and prophet’s soul, every stone of this most venerable and beautiful of English churches must have been dear to him. It is not within the scope of this little volume even to touch upon the romantic history of this centre of English life or to examine its noble architecture, but only to indicate what may most have touched the mind and heart of the great scholar and patriot-reformer who often passed its portals on his walk from Petty France to Whitehall.
In the south aisle of the nave are buried two ladies whom Milton probably knew. They are the two wives of Cromwell’s secretary—Sir Samuel Morland, the inventor of the speaking trumpet and improver of the fire-engine. The inscriptions by their husband appear in Hebrew, Greek, Ethiopic, and English. In the north aisle is a curious monument of 1631 to Jane Hill. At the rear of the lady’s[Pg 252] figure is a skeleton in a winding-sheet. Among the memorials of his contemporaries which must have peculiarly interested Milton was the little slab in the nave marked, “O rare Ben Jonson,” which slab was later removed to the Poets’ Corner. Beneath a modern paving stone, which now covers the spot, in an upright posture was placed the coffin of the poet who in his last days of poverty, in 1637, asked Charles I. for eighteen inches of square ground in Westminster Abbey. He died in a house between the Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church. Newton’s tomb near by Milton never saw, as the youth of the man of science covered only Milton’s later years. On entering the south transept, the first monument that must have claimed his interest was that of Camden, the learned antiquary. Just before going to Cambridge, in 1623, Milton may have attended the funeral of this man, whose great work, “Britannia” added new lustre to Elizabeth’s glorious reign. Camden did for England what Stow did for London, and preserved the knowledge of the nation of that day. His bust, in the rich costume of his time, presents a speaking likeness, and with his portrait in the National Gallery make the eminent scholar seem a personality as real as Raleigh’s. Ben Jonson, who was one of his pupils when he was head master of[Pg 253] Westminster School, lovingly ascribes to him the source of his own inspiration:
“Camden, most reverend head, to whom I owe
All that I am in acts, all that I know.”
Camden wrote in 1600 the first guide-book of the Abbey, which, being in Latin, would have served Milton better than it would the modern visitor. In an unmarked grave lies the body of Richard Hakluyt, the great geographer, who died in 1616.
Just beyond Camden’s tomb is that of the great scholar, Casaubon. On its front are plainly scratched the initials of the gentle angler, Izaak Walton, by himself, with the date, 1658. A few feet distant on the pavement a slab marks the grave of the “old, old, very old” man who died in 1635 at the reputed age of one hundred and fifty-two. “Old Parr,” as he was known, is said to have been born in 1483, and married his first wife at the age of eighty, and his second in 1605, when he was one hundred and twenty-two years of age. The Earl of Arundel, determined to exhibit this “piece of antiquity,” had him carried by litter from Shrewsbury and presented to Charles I. On being questioned by the king about religious matters he cautiously replied that he thought it safest to hold whatever religion was held by the reigning monarch, “for he knew that he[Pg 254] came raw into the world, and thought it no point of wisdom to be broiled out of it,” an opinion quite to be expected of a man who had lived through the reigns of all the Tudors.
Further on, within the Poets’ Corner, two monuments especially must have been dear to the author of “Comus” and “Lycidas.” One marks the grave of Chaucer, who lies under a beautiful Gothic canopy erected in 1558, after the removal of his body to this spot; the other marks that of Edmund Spenser, who died in 1598 in King Street, hard by, “for lacke of bread.” Yet Dean Stanley tells us that “his hearse was attended by poets, and mournful elegies and poems, with the pens that wrote them, were thrown into his tomb. What a funeral was that at which Beaumont, Fletcher, Jonson, and, in all probability, Shakespeare, attended! What a grave in which the pen of Shakespeare may be mouldering away!” Of the author of the “Faërie Queene” Milton himself said: “Our sage and serious Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas.” Near by to Spenser’s tomb is the monument to Ben Jonson, at some distance from his grave, as has just been said, and close at hand are the memorials to Dryden, Drayton, Cowley, and Francis Beaumont, Milton’s famous contemporaries. If the poet could[Pg 255] have looked forward two generations he might have seen his own counterfeit presentment in marble upon these walls. By that time the royalist feeling against him had abated, and when in 1737 this belated recognition of his greatness was placed upon the wall, Doctor Gregory remarked to Doctor Johnson: “I have seen erected in the church a bust of that man whose name I once knew considered as a pollution of its walls.”
After Shakespeare’s death there was a strong desire to remove his bones from Stratford to the Abbey, upon which Milton and Jonson both protested. The former wrote:
“What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones
The labour of an age in pilèd stones?”
and Jonson more emphatically exclaimed:
“My Shakespeare rise! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further on to make thee room;
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And art alive still while thy book doth live
And we have wits to read and praise to give.”
In St. Benedict’s Chapel may be noted the graves of Bishop Bilson, Doctor Tunson, Sir Robert Anstruther, and Sir Robert Ayton,—famous men of Milton’s time.
[Pg 256]In St. Edmund’s Chapel, farther on, Milton as a lad of fourteen may have seen in 1622 the young man interred whose tomb is surmounted by a beautiful figure of a youth in Roman armour. Hard by under a lofty canopy lie two notable recumbent figures, which mark the grave of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury, and show the style of costume of Milton’s boyhood years.
Among the monuments of his contemporaries in the chapel of Henry VII. that must have awakened a sensation of disgust in the mind of the Puritan poet, was that of the Duke of Buckingham, whose barbaric splendour of attire has already been noted, and who was murdered in 1628. Near by his huge and ostentatious tomb, so characteristic of the man whom it commemorates, lie under the pavement the graves of his king, James I., and his consort.
We may be sure that the graves which most interested Milton here were those of Oliver Cromwell, his mother and sister, and his daughter, Elizabeth Claypole, his son-in-law, Ireton, and Bradshaw, who was president of the tribunal which condemned Charles I. The Genoese envoy of the time thus described Cromwell’s death and burial in his despatch to the Council of Genoa: “He left the world with unimaginable valour, prudence, and charity, and more like a priest or[Pg 257] monk than a man who had fashioned and worked so mighty an engine so few years.... His body was opened and embalmed, and little trace of disease found therein; which was not the cause of his death, but rather the continual fever which came upon him from sorrow and melancholy at Madame Claypole’s death.” Cromwell’s body lay in state at Somerset House, and was thence escorted to the tomb by an immense throng of mourners, which included the city companies. “The effigy or statue of the dead, made most lifelike in royal robes, crown on head, in one hand the sceptre and in the other the globe, was laid out on a bier richly adorned and borne hither in a coach made for the purpose, open on every side, and adorned with many plumes and banners.” It is said that Cromwell especially loved the Abbey, and instituted the custom of commemorating English worthies within its walls. Admiral Blake was the first to receive this honour in 1657. “Cromwell caused him to be brought up by land to London in all the state that could be; and to encourage his officers to adventure their lives that they might be pompously buried, he was with all solemnity possible interred in the Chapel of Henry VII., among the monuments of the kings.” Who can doubt that Milton stood in sightless grief beside these tombs,[Pg 258] before the desecration of “Oliver’s Vault?” Only the body of Cromwell’s daughter was left in peace, and still remains. His mother and sister were reburied in the green, and the reader already knows what was the vile treatment of the other bodies. It is said that to the royalist dean of Westminster, Thomas Sprat, we owe the refusal of interment in the Abbey to the “regicide” John Milton. Had he been buried later where Cromwell’s body had lain, he too might have been thrust forth. It was this dean who esteemed Cowley as a superior poet to Milton, and called the former the “Pindar, Horace, and Virgil of England.” In the south aisle lie General George Monck and Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, eldest daughter of James I., whose marriage we have seen was celebrated by a merry masque within the Temple grounds. This was the English princess for whom a part of Heidelberg Castle was built; she was mother of Prince Rupert, whose strenuous efforts to save the fortunes of his uncle, Charles I., did not endear him to Milton and his friends. In this chapel lies a wretched victim of her cousin, James I. This is the Lady Arabella Stuart, whose marriage so displeased the king that he immured her in the Tower, where, bereft of reason by her miseries, she died when Milton was a boy.
[Pg 259]At the eastern end of the north aisle of the chapel of Henry VII. is a baby’s cradle-tomb, which has been the frequent theme of verse. Standing beside the little marble form of this daughter of James I., Milton may have felt a pang of heart as he thought of his own little one buried in St. Margaret’s, but a stone’s throw distant. Of those who were associated with Milton’s public work at Whitehall, was Admiral Edward Popham, general of the Fleet of the Republic under Cromwell, who died in 1651. He was buried at the state’s expense in the chapel of Henry VII., but after the Restoration his monument, on which is his figure full size in armour, was removed to John the Baptist’s Chapel and the inscription on it was erased. Opposite his tomb is the grave of Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex, son of Elizabeth’s unhappy favourite, who, after serving King Charles, became General-in-Chief of the Parliamentarian army in 1642. He died in 1646, and was buried with high honours by the Independents. In St. John’s Chapel rests the body of the wife of Colonel Scot, one of the judges of Charles I., who was executed at Charing Cross.
At the foot of the steps which lead to the chapel of Henry VII., in 1674,—the same year in which Milton died,—was laid under a nameless stone the body of the famous Earl of Clarendon, who was[Pg 260] born in 1608-9, the same year in which the poet was born. This famous Tory, the historian of the Civil Wars and Restoration, was perhaps more responsible than any other man for creating that popular detestation of the name of Cromwell which prevailed until the present generation had been better instructed by less partisan critics. After two hundred years his name was inscribed upon the stone that covers his ashes. Within the Abbey rest twenty of his relatives and descendants, among them his royal granddaughters, Queen Mary and Queen Anne. Not far distant, in the north ambulatory was interred in 1643 the body of the redoubtable John Pym, nicknamed “King Pym” by the Royalists, for as Clarendon himself said: “He seemed to all men to have the greatest influence upon the House of Commons of any man, and in truth I think he was at that time (1640), and some months after, the most popular man and the most able to do hurt that hath lived in any time.” Two[Pg 261] years after Pym’s burial, there was laid close to his grave the body of William Strode, one of the five members demanded by Charles I. when he made his famous entry into the House of Commons with an armed force in 1641-2. The bodies of both were exhumed in 1661, and flung with others of their compatriots into a pit outside the Abbey walls. There is every reason to assume that Milton would have attended the funerals of both of these men. A man whom he must have known well by reputation, Doctor Peter Heylin, who died in 1662, is buried beneath the sub-dean’s seat in the north aisle of the choir. He was Laud’s chaplain, and wrote a life of the great archbishop; under Charles I. he had for a time supreme authority in the Abbey and superintended its repairs. During the Civil War he suffered and was deprived of his property, but on the accession of Charles II., he was reinstated in the Abbey. It is interesting to note that the coronation chair of oak, decorated with false jewels, which has been used at coronations since the time of Edward I., has never left the Abbey except when it was taken to Westminster Hall, when Oliver Cromwell was there installed as Lord Protector.
[Pg 262]A few of the scenes that the great minster witnessed in Milton’s time may be alluded to. The funeral of James I. in 1625 was the most magnificent that England had ever seen. The hearse was fashioned by Inigo Jones. The sermon was two hours in length. Mourning cloaks were given to nine thousand persons, and the rest of the outlay was proportionate. No wonder that Charles I. within two months sent word to the Commons that “the ordinary revenue is clogged with debts, and exhausted with the late king’s funeral and other expenses of necessity and honour.” The Abbey suffered somewhat from the Puritan hatred of images and “idolatry,” during the Commonwealth. By order of Parliament the sacred vestments were seized and burned. Of the curious wax effigies of monarchs who antedated Milton’s death, only one is still preserved. It is that of Charles II. and is robed in red velvet with collar and ruffles of real point lace. For a long time it stood above his grave in the chapel of Henry VII. These waxworks used to be publicly exhibited, after which the cap was passed around for contributions. Milton, in his boyhood, may have gazed in wonder at the gorgeous figure of Elizabeth arrayed as a later one still is to-day, in her own jewelled stomacher and velvet robe embroidered with gold; doubtless he found[Pg 263] a visit to the effigies of Westminster Abbey as entertaining as a modern boy finds a visit to Madame Tussaud’s to-day. From the time of Edward I. it was customary to make effigies of kings. Up to the time of Henry V. the embalmed bodies and not the effigies were displayed upon the funeral car. At first these figures were made of wood, with perhaps the faces and hands of plaster. These were set up in the church for a season, after which many of them were preserved in presses standing in a row, and shown as has been described. In Milton’s time it seems evident that the list included Edward I. and Eleanor, Edward III. and Philippa, Henry V. and Katherine, Henry VII. and Elizabeth of York, James I. and Anne of Denmark, and Henry, Prince of Wales.
It is probable that Sir Christopher Wren’s plan for the completion of the Abbey would have materially added to its beauty. His scheme is said to have included a graceful Gothic spire rising from the low central tower. The incongruous towers of the west front were chiefly due to Hawksmore.
uring the Civil War, the spot within Westminster which most interested every reformer was that where, for over five years, the famous Westminster Assembly gathered. During that time this body of one hundred and forty-nine prelates and learned men held over fifteen hundred sessions, at first in the chapel of Henry VII., and later in the warmer and cosier apartment known as the “Jerusalem Chamber.” This room was in the present generation occupied by the scholars who for years laboured together on the revised version of the Bible. The Assembly was called by Parliament “to be consulted with by them on the settling of the government and liturgy of the Church, and for the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the Church of England from false aspersions and interpretations.” In that age, when religious questions were paramount, the work that devolved upon these men demanded insight, honesty, and great courage. The members, for the most part,[Pg 265] were elected from the different counties and merely confirmed by Parliament; but to these, ten members of the House of Lords and twenty members of the House of Commons were added. Only those questions could be considered that should be proposed by either or both houses of Parliament. Four shillings a day for his expenses was allowed each clerical member, with freedom from all other duties except attendance on the Assembly. Among the one hundred and forty-nine were several members, like Archbishop Usher, who were defenders of Episcopacy. In that age no modern questions as to inspiration disturbed the minds of devout men, but church government was to them a matter of such serious moment as the modern mind can scarcely understand. As the results of these prolonged and serious conferences, Dean Stanley says we have the “Directory, the Longer and Shorter Catechism, and that famous Confession of Faith which, alone within these Islands, was imposed by law on the whole kingdom; and which, alone of all Protestant Confessions, still, in spite of its sternness and narrowness, retains a hold on the minds of its adherents to which its fervour and its logical coherence in some measure entitle it.”
During Milton’s lifetime the Chapter House, which had become public property after the Dissolution,[Pg 266] was used for storing public documents, and here he may have seen the ancient Domesday Book, which until within fifty years was treasured there. At the time of the Commonwealth, the ancient chamber close by the Chapter House, and known as the “Pyx,” held the regalia, and was broken open by the officers of the House of Commons, in order to make an inventory, when the Church authorities refused to surrender the keys. The Pyx no longer holds the regalia, which, after the Restoration, was transferred to the Tower. The keys of its double doors are seven, and are deposited with seven distinct officers of the Exchequer. The door is lined with human skins. Within the cloisters Henry Lawes, the musician, was buried in 1662.
Near by the Abbey stands Westminster School, founded early in the sixteenth century upon the site of the ancient monastery. The dormitory has been turned into a noble schoolroom ninety-six feet in length. Camden, the famous antiquary, was once master of the school, and among its famous pupils whose lives touched Milton’s, were the poets, George Herbert, Cowley, who published poems while he was at school here, and Dryden. Among men famous in other walks of life were the great geographer, Hakluyt, and Sir Christopher Wren. Hakluyt, who died the same year that Shakespeare died,[Pg 267] in 1616, tells us that his interest in discovery and in naval science began when he was a Queen’s Scholar in “that fruitful nurserie.” At Oxford he pursued his favourite studies, and read “whatsoever printed or written discoveries or voyages he found extant in Greeke, Latine, Italian, Spanish, Portugall, French, or Englishe languages.” Evelyn says in his “Diary:” On “May 13th, 1661, I heard and saw such exercises at the election of scholars at Westminster Schools to be sent to the university, in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, in themes and extempry verses, as wonderfully astonished me in such youths, with such readiness and wit, some of whom not above twelve or thirteen years of age.” Here Milton may have witnessed, on a Christmas-tide, a play of Plautus or of Terence, given by the boys of Westminster according to their annual custom, which is still maintained.
In the seventeenth century, the double Gatehouse of Westminster, which once stood on the site of the Royal Aquarium of to-day, held as prisoner Sir Walter Raleigh, who passed the last night of his life here. The night before his execution his cousin called on him; Raleigh tried to relieve his sadness with pleasantry, when his cousin remonstrated with the words, “Sir, take heed you go not too much upon the brave hand, for your enemies will take[Pg 268] exceptions at that.” “Good Charles,” replied Raleigh, “give me leave to be merry, for this is the last merriment that ever I shall have in this world, but when I come to the last part, thou shalt see I will look on it like a man,” and even so he did. When he had reached the scaffold in Palace Yard the next day, and had taken off his gown and doublet, he asked the executioner to show him his axe. When he had taken it in his hands he felt along the edge, and smiling said: “This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases.” Then he granted his forgiveness to the sheriff who knelt before him. When his head was on the block, before the fatal blow, he said: “So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lies.” So perished the bold discoverer and coloniser, the author and gallant knight, when ten-year-old John Milton lived in Bread Street. Near the spot where his body rests in the church of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, now rises a memorial window presented by Americans and inscribed by Lowell in remembrance of Raleigh’s connection with America:
“The New World’s sons, from England’s breasts we drew
Such milk as bids remember whence we came;
Proud of her past, wherefrom our future grew,
This window we inscribe with Raleigh’s name.”
In this prison, afterward, John Hampden and Sir John Eliot were confined, and Richard Lovelace,[Pg 269] who was imprisoned for his devotion to Charles I., wrote the well-known lines:
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.”
Where Westminster Palace Hotel now stands, in the ancient Almonry of the Abbey, Caxton set up his press, and in 1474 printed his first book—the “Game and Play of Chess.”
In Milton’s day, a grim old fortress marked the “Sanctuary,” or place of refuge for criminals. From the sacred shelter of this retreat the mother of the little Edward V. surrendered him with sad misgiving to his cruel uncle, who carried him to the Tower. This spot was a resort for persecuted saint and guilty sinner. Within its walls he was as secure as was the ancient Hebrew in his city of refuge. When Milton lived in Petty France and passed from there to Whitehall by the Sanctuary, it had fallen into disrepute and only the most abandoned sought its shelter. The Sanctuary at Westminster was only one of thirty known to have been contemporaneous with it in the monasteries of England before the Dissolution.
The magnificent royal palace of Westminster, which was built by Edward the Confessor, and[Pg 270] improved by William the Conqueror, had largely disappeared in Milton’s time. The Great Hall and the crypt under the chapel of St. Stephen are almost all that now remain, but Milton, in addition to these, saw the chapel itself and its cloisters, and the famous “Star Chamber” and “Painted Chamber,” which were preserved until the fire which burned the Houses of Parliament in 1834. Previous to the Dissolution, the Commons had sat within the ancient Chapter House of the Abbey, at an inconvenient distance from the House of Lords. Then they were transferred to St. Stephen’s Chapel, an oblong building ninety feet in length and thirty in width, which had externally at each corner an octagonal tower. It was lighted by five windows on each side, between which its walls were supported by great buttresses. It had two stories, and the upper one was occupied by the House of Commons. These walls have echoed to the ringing words of Eliot, Hampden, Pym, Sir Harry Vane, and Cromwell, to Burke and Fox and Pitt, and the long line of valiant Englishmen who never confounded patriotism and loyalty to country with subserviency to the will of any fallible man whom chance had placed upon the nation’s throne. Here Eliot, in sharp, emphatic words, which contrasted with the ponderous phraseology of the time, cried out against the[Pg 271] gorgeously apparelled and arrogant Buckingham: “He has broken those nerves and sinews of our land, the stores and treasures of the king. There needs no search for it. It is too visible. His profuse expenses, his superfluous feasts, his magnificent buildings, his riots, his excesses, what are they but the visible evidences of an express exhausting of the state, a chronicle of his waste of the revenues of the Crown?... Through the power of state and justice he has dared ever to strike at his own ends.” Bold words! which took more courage than to face the cannon’s mouth, for his protest then and later meant to face a dungeon in the Tower, from which only death gave him release.
But Eliot’s words were a tonic to his fellows, and when they met two years later, in 1628, Sir Thomas Wentworth showed himself a worthy follower: “We must vindicate our ancient liberties,” said he, “we must reinforce the laws made by our ancestors. We must set such a stamp upon them, as no licentious spirit shall dare hereafter to invade them.” Of the Petition of Right, and the Remonstrance; of the dissolution of Parliament, and the eleven years when these walls were silent; of Charles’s revival of Star Chamber trials to fill his empty exchequer by the fines, and the Parliamentary history of the Civil War, and all that centres around[Pg 272] these walls which echoed with the eloquence of England’s noblest statesmen, there is no space to speak.
The Star Chamber was probably so named from being anciently ornamented with golden stars. It stood parallel with the river on the eastern side of Palace Yard and was formerly the council chamber of the police. It was a beautiful panelled room with mullioned windows. The lords who tried offences were bound by no law, but they created and defined the offences which they punished. Every penalty except death could be inflicted. In such tyrannies the Star Chamber could have been exceeded only by the terrible Council of Ten in Venice. One of the first deeds of the new Parliament of 1641 was to abolish the Star Chamber. That year a mob of six thousand citizens in Old Palace Yard had come armed with swords and clubs, and had seized the entrance to the House of Lords and called for justice against Lord Strafford.
The Painted Chamber was named from its mural decorations, which antedated Milton’s time at least three hundred years. It was strangely proportioned, eighty feet long, twenty broad, and fifty feet high. Here the Confessor died. Here was the trial of Charles I. when it was adjourned from Westminster Hall. Here his death warrant was signed, which[Pg 273] is now preserved within the library of the House of Lords.
Says Knight: “Amid all the misgovernment of the reign of Charles II., the rights of the House of Commons and its true position in the Constitution were recognised in a manner in which they had never been in the former days of the monarchy. Attempts were made to manage the Parliament, and also to govern without it; but when it was suffered to meet, its debates were nearly as free as they are at present, and took as wide a range as they have ever done since. The Commons for session after session during this reign discussed the question of excluding the heir presumptive to the throne, the king’s own brother, and even passed a bill for that purpose. Would any approach to such an interference as that have been endured either by Elizabeth or James I.?... and this change, this gain had been brought about by the Long Parliament and the great Rebellion.”
In the time of Milton the pillory stood before Westminster Hall, and here he may have seen, on one of his trips from Horton in 1636, the stiff-necked Prynne branded on either cheek, and exposed with one ear cut off, according to the barbarous methods of the time, for writings which were supposed to have reflected on the queen. In those days the[Pg 274] noble proportions of the hall were partly masked by neighbouring shops. The architecture and the long history of this famous hall of William Rufus are almost as familiar as those of Westminster Abbey, and therefore need little comment here. The story of Guy Fawkes and the sentence passed upon the conspirators here in 1606 was one of the first bits of English history that a boy born but two years later would have heard. In 1640, Charles I. and his queen, concealed behind the tapestry of a dark cabinet, listened to the trial of Strafford, which lasted eighteen days. Nine years later the king sat at his own trial beneath the banners of his troops, which had been taken at the battle of Naseby. When the clerk read the words: “Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer,” etc., the king is said to have laughed in the face of the court. In Pepys’s diary we get a glimpse, a few years later, of the commercial uses to which this stately edifice had been degraded, for we find little booths and stalls for selling scarfs and trifles were ranged along the walls of the interior. More than a hundred years later, part of the hall seems to have been reserved for stalls, which presumably were removed for coronation days and the great functions, for which its stately proportions are so well fitted. The building is one of the most spacious edifices of stone whose [Pg 275]roof is unsupported. The roof of Irish oak is said to be always free from spiders and insects.
Begun by William Rufus in 1097. Here William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Robert Devereux (Earl of Essex), Guy Fawkes, the Earl of Strafford, and Charles I. were condemned to death. The chief access to the House of Commons in Milton’s lifetime was by an archway on the east side, through which Charles I. passed to arrest the Five Members. Here Cromwell, in 1653, wearing the royal purple, and holding a gold sceptre in one hand and a Bible in the other, was saluted as Lord Protector.
From an old engraving.
Close under the shadow of the towering Abbey lies the little church, St. Margaret’s, which must have had peculiarly tender associations in Milton’s mind. Here he buried his beloved second wife, whom, from Aldermanbury church, he had taken to his home in Petty France, near the Abbey, for one short happy year of married life. It is of her that he speaks in his beautiful sonnet beginning:
“Methought my late espoused saint,
Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave.”
The large memorial window to Milton at the west end of the church was in recent years presented by Mr. Childs of Philadelphia. This depicts numerous scenes from “Paradise Lost” and from Milton’s life. He is represented as a youth visiting the aged Galileo, and as the old blind poet dictating his immortal lines to his two daughters. The inscription by Whittier expresses the thought and feeling not only of the New England poet, but of every American scholar:
“The New World honours him whose lofty plea
For England’s freedom made her own more sure,
Whose song immortal as his theme shall be
Their common freehold while both worlds endure.”
[Pg 276]Amongst the Puritans who preached here was the famous Richard Baxter, author of “The Saints’ Rest,” whose glum visage in the National Gallery reveals little of the true nobility of his character and of his well-ordered mind. The modern inscription by Lowell on Raleigh’s memorial here has been already mentioned.
The church is rich in monuments of figures clad in the fashions of Milton’s time and that which just preceded it, the architectural accessories of which indicate the gradual deterioration of Renaissance decoration. The rare old glass of the chancel window is referred to in every guide-book, and its remarkable history need not be here detailed. In the reign of Charles I. fast-day sermons were preached here, and both houses of Parliament met here with the Assembly of Divines, and prayed before taking the covenant.
n Milton’s day, London Bridge, over the narrowest part of the Thames, was the only bridge that spanned the silent highway between the Tower and Lambeth. The venerable pile of buildings which then, as now, was the chief point of interest on the southern bank, was usually reached by one of the many barges that plied up and down and across from shore to shore. In Milton’s boyhood its gray towers had already marked for three centuries the residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury. It has now been the home of more than fifty primates. The student of English history will find no building, with the exception of the Tower and the Abbey, which brings him so closely into connection with the whole history of England as does Lambeth Palace. It lies low upon the site of an ancient marsh overflowed by the Thames at this, its greatest width, this side of London Bridge. As late as Milton’s boyhood the shore between Lambeth Church and Blackfriars was[Pg 278] a haunt of wild fowl and a royal hunting-ground. A grove stood then on the site of the long line of St. Thomas’s Hospital. Lambeth Bridge, so called, was at that time simply a landing-place. As every schoolboy remembers, it was here that on a December night in 1688, Mary of Modena, the fair queen of James II., alighted on her flight from Whitehall, disguised as a washerwoman; under the shelter of the tower of Lambeth she cowered, awaiting the coach that was to rescue her, while in an agony of fear she embraced the parcel of linen which held concealed the infant who was to be known in history as the “Pretender.”
The visitor to Lambeth will find it worth his while to pause a few minutes before presenting his letter of permission to enter the palace, and spend the brief time in Lambeth Church, if only to see the quaint old window of the peddler and his dog, a memorial of the peddler who centuries since gave an almost worthless acre of land to Lambeth, from which it has since drawn large revenues. There is a peal of eight bells in the old gray tower—the music of the bells was one that our forefathers loved apparently more than other folk. “The English are vastly fond of great noises that fill the air,” wrote Hentzner shortly before Milton’s birth, “such as firing of cannon, beating of drums, and ringing of[Pg 279] bells. It is common that a number of them who have got a glass in their heads do get up into some belfry, and ring bells for hours together, for the sake of exercise. Hence this country has been called ‘the ringing island.’”
In Milton’s time the buildings of Lambeth were less extensive than they are to-day. Its beautiful, lofty gateway known as “Morton’s,” which was built in 1490, is of red brick with stone trimmings, and has an arched doorway under a large window in the middle portion. It is perhaps the largest and best specimen of the early Tudor work that now remains in England. It is flanked by two massive square towers five stories high. At this gate, from earliest times until recently, a dole of money, bread, and provisions was weekly given to thirty poor parishioners of Lambeth. In earlier times the hospitality that was offered was excessive and encouraged beggary. Stow tells us of the gifts of farthing loaves which amounted to the sum of £500 a year. At present the doles amount to about £200 a year and are given only to well-known persons. In addition to these doles, huge baskets of fragments from the three tables in the long dining-halls sufficed, as Strype tells us, “to fill the bellies of a great number of hungry people that waited at the gate.” Some conception of the size of Cranmer’s establishment[Pg 280] may be gathered from the authentic list of his household: “Steward, treasurer, comptroller, gamators, clerk of the kitchen, caterer, clerk of the spicery, bakers, pantlers, yeomen of the horse, ushers, butlers of wine and ale, larderers, squilleries, ushers of the hall, porter, ushers of the chamber, daily waiters in the great chamber, gentlemen ushers, yeomen of the chamber, carver, sewer, cupbearer, grooms of the chamber, marshal groom ushers, almoner, cooks, chandler, butchers, master of the horse, yeomen of the wardrobe, and harbingers.” Over such a rich and splendid household did the Establishment place the man above all others who was to be to England its highest embodiment of the spirit of the young Carpenter of Nazareth. To-day the Archbishop of Canterbury is given two residences, and a salary of £15,000, that he may keep up these establishments; that of the average curate is about £100.
IN LAMBETH PALACE
From an old print.
The great hall, which to-day contains the library, is on the site of that of Boniface, who built the first in the thirteenth century. Archbishop Juxon, who attended Charles I. upon the scaffold, rebuilt the present edifice after the original model, which had been destroyed during the Commonwealth. One of the great treasures of this library is Caxton’s “Chronicles of Great Britain,” which was printed [Pg 281]in 1480 at Westminster. The Mazarin Bible, the Life of Laud, with the autograph of Charles I., and many books and manuscripts of great rarity and value are also preserved here. The library is open to the public under proper regulations on five days in the week. Among the names of eminent men who have served as librarians over this small but precious library, none interests us more than that of John Richard Green, the historian of the English people.
The chapel, built in the last half of the thirteenth century, is the oldest part that remains. An opening into Cranmer’s ancient “parloir” is now the organ-loft. From the chancel one has a glimpse of the original beautiful ceiling. The wall pillars of Purbeck marble in the atrium are said to be one thousand years old. In this chapel two of the first American bishops were consecrated. The oak screen was erected by Archbishop Laud. This chapel contained the windows that were destroyed in the Civil Wars, which served as such a theme of controversy in Laud’s trial. He testified as follows: “The first thing the Commons have in their evidence against me, is the setting up and repairing Popish images and pictures in the glass windows of my chapel at Lambeth, and amongst others the picture of Christ hanging on the cross between two thieves in the[Pg 282] east window; of God the Father in the form of a little old man with a glory, striking Miriam with a leprosy; of the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove; and of Christ’s Nativity, Last Supper, Resurrection, Ascension, and others.... To which I answer first, That I did not get these images up, but found them there before; Secondly, that I did only repair the windows which were so broken, and the chapel, which lay so nastily before that I was ashamed to behold, and could not resort to it but with some disdain, which caused me to repair it to my great cost; Thirdly, that I made up the history of these old broken pictures, not by any pattern in the mass book, but only by help of the fragments and remainders of them which I compared with the story.” It is related that at a dinner of the domestics during Laud’s primacy, the king’s jester pronounced the grace, “Give great praise to God, but little Laud to the devil,” for which jest he paid by long imprisonment.
In the so-called “Lollards’ Tower” at the west end of the chapel, the only part of the existing palace that is built of stone, is a niche in which was placed the image of St. Thomas à Becket, to which Dean Stanley tells us “the watermen of the Thames doffed their caps as they rode in their countless barges.”
[Pg 283]The small room at the top of the tower is wainscoted with oak over an inch thick, upon which prisoners chained to its iron rings have carved words in early English and Latin. Through the oubliette in the floor dead prisoners were doubtless dropped into the Thames, which in former days washed the very walls of Lambeth, and swept under this tower. Whether any Lollards were ever lodged here is very doubtful, although it is true that Wyclif, the arch-Lollard, was at one time examined for his opinions, by the bishops at Lambeth. The real Lollards’ Tower seems to have been an adjunct of old St. Paul’s Cathedral. More probably the prisoners here were Episcopalians of Milton’s own time.
In the dark crypt, the wretched queen, Anne Boleyn, heard from the lips of Cranmer the annulment of her marriage with Henry, and was forced to affirm the disinheritance of her offspring. From thence she went to the Tower and her doom. In this same palace, where she lay a prisoner in 1533, her predecessor, Katharine of Aragon, was a guest on her arrival in England in 1501. Milton must doubtless sometime have visited this princely residence, and have mused upon the martyred Cranmer and Latimer and Sir Thomas More, and the long list of kings and queens and men, who, as masters,[Pg 284] guests, or prisoners, have slept within these walls. Of all the noted men who were connected with Lambeth in his day, none, of course, so stirred his spirit as did Archbishop Laud, who lived here, and exercised his power in the Star Chamber, during the years when Parliament was silenced. From 1633 until his committal to the Tower on the charge of treason in 1641 after the assembling of the Long Parliament, he was master here. It was while here at Lambeth that he supervised the compilation of the Service Book; when this was enforced in 1637 upon the Scottish churches, it was so repugnant to them that the riot begun in Edinburgh, by Jenny Geddes flinging her stool in St. Giles’s Cathedral at the bishop’s head, initiated a national revolt, which led to the signing of the famous Scottish National Covenant. Milton at this time, at the age of thirty, was living at Horton. Little by little the resolute archbishop came to be looked upon by men of Milton’s way of thinking as one whose system demanded submission to absolutism in the state. The student of Milton’s prose writings is familiar with the troublous history of Laud’s time, and the ludicrously trivial matters that then estranged earnest men. But, while the ceremonies permitted in the church two generations later were practically those that Laud had so zealously striven for, the[Pg 285] result, says Gardiner, “was only finally attained by a total abandonment of all Laud’s methods. What had been impossible to effect in a church to the worship of which every person in the land was obliged to conform, became possible in a church which any one who pleased was at liberty to abandon.” After Laud’s execution the see of Canterbury was vacant nearly seventeen years. Among the many portraits of the archbishops which hang at Lambeth, the portrait of Laud by Van Dyck is one of the most admirable. We read that his successor, Sheldon, in 1665, in the time of the Great Plague, “continued in his palace at Lambeth whilst the contagion lasted, preserving by his charities multitudes who were sinking under disease and want, and by his pastoral exertions procured benevolences to a vast amount.” Admission to Lambeth must be obtained by written request, but is by no means difficult, yet no important spot in London is so rarely visited by the general public. The enthusiasm and intelligence of the resident guide, who has several times in the last ten years conducted the writer through its historic precincts, makes an hour at Lambeth a memorable lesson in English history. His huge gray cat, whose name, “Massachusetts,” in other years brought a smile to the lips of every American who chanced to learn it, no[Pg 286] longer purrs a welcome to the dim corridors and towers of the old palace, but has gone the way of all his short-lived contemporaries. Let us hope that his master may for many years to come live to tell the long, romantic tale of these old walls to all of England’s kin beyond the sea who journey hither to study with reverent eyes the history of the land from which they came.
Among places of minor interest in Southwark, which doubtless Milton well knew, was the “Tabard Inn,” the starting-point of Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims. This stood on High Street, and was not demolished until 1875. In Milton’s time it was inscribed: “This is the Inne where Sir Jeffrey Chaucer and the nine and twenty pilgrims lay in their journey to Canterbury anno 1380.” It had then a more modern façade than Chaucer saw. The Globe Theatre of Shakespearian fame was then on the site of the present brewery of Barclay, Perkins, & Co. The visitor to the region just south of London Bridge who would see a bit of quaint domestic architecture that recalls the past, would do well to seek out, amid the noisy, hideous streets, a tiny green oasis, bordered by what is known as the Red Cross Hall and cottages. Thanks to Miss Octavia Hill and her friends, the little Gothic hall, with its frescoes of civic heroes, designed by Walter[Pg 287] Crane, and its little row of picturesque gabled houses, stand here as a rest and solace to weary eyes and hearts that hunger amid ugliness for beauty. Just such houses Milton saw at every turn in the beautiful old London that he knew.
No church in Southwark and only two or three in London are of so great interest to the antiquarian as St. Saviour’s or St. Mary Overy’s, whose curious name is explained in every guide-book. It has a record of more than a thousand years. Chaucer, Cruden, the author of the “Concordance,” Doctor Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Baxter, and Bunyan were closely connected with this church and parish. In one of its chapels, in the generation preceding Milton, beneath its three-light window, the Bishops of Winchester and London, and others acting for the see of Rome, tried and condemned to death by the flames seven ministers of Christ. Their only crime was opposition to the “usurpations of the Papal Schism.” Among these were the rector of the church in which a half century later Milton was baptised, Bishop Hooper, who was burned at Gloucester, and John Rogers, the famous martyr of Smithfield. Another heretic, more fortunate than these seven, had just previously been condemned to the stake and pardoned for the sake of his musical talents. In this stately edifice, which has recently[Pg 288] been admirably restored, lies the dust of many dear to lovers of poetry. Chaucer’s fellow poet, friend, and teacher, John Gower, lies under a lofty Gothic canopy; his sculptured head rests on three large volumes, which represent his works. Milton’s contemporaries, Massinger and Fletcher, lie buried in the same grave. The latter died of the plague when Milton was at Cambridge. His well-known poem on “Melancholy,” beginning:
“Hence, all you vain delights,
As short as are the nights
Wherein you spend your folly!”
was probably familiar to the young poet at Horton, when he penned his “Il Penseroso,” although Fletcher’s poem was not published until after that. Both Massinger and Fletcher are commemorated by modern windows. The latter’s colleague, Francis Beaumont, whose writings are so indissolubly connected with his, is honoured with a window in which the friendship of the two is typified by the figures of David and Jonathan.
The year before Milton’s birth, the author of “Hamlet” and “Lear” doubtless stood within the choir of this church beside the grave of his young brother Edmond, an actor, who died at the age of twenty-seven, when his great elder brother’s genius[Pg 289] had nearly touched its zenith of creative power. The parish boasts that some of the most magnificent masterpieces of the world’s literature were written within its borders by this, its most distinguished parishioner, and England’s greatest son. In his youth Milton may well have attended the funeral of the great Bishop Andrewes, whose recumbent effigy is on one of the tombs that scholars will seek out. This man, who knew fifteen languages, was president of the little company of ten who gave the world a large part of the King James version of the Hebrew Scriptures, whose perfection of literary form has never been equalled. In the Lady-Chapel may still be seen inscribed upon the windows the virulent words which would not have as greatly offended Milton’s taste as that of the present parishioners: “Your sacrament of the Mass is no sacrament at all, neither is Christ present in it;” “From the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities, good Lord deliver us.”
The London Bridge of Milton’s day was one of England’s marvels. Standing on the site of two or three predecessors, it stood 60 feet above high water and stretched 926 feet in length. It contained a drawbridge, and nineteen pointed arches, with massive piers. Much of its picturesqueness must have resulted from the irregularity of the breadth of its[Pg 290] arches. The skilful chaplain who built it doubtless planned his spans according to the varying depth and strength of current of the tide, and would have scorned the modern mechanical habit of disregarding conditions in order to attain exact uniformity; thus his arches varied in breadth from ten to thirty-two feet. Over the tenth and longest was built a little Gothic chapel dedicated to the then new saint, Thomas of Canterbury. In Milton’s lifetime, rows of houses were added to the chapel and stretched across toward the Southwark side.
Between the chapel and the southern end of the bridge was a drawbridge, and at the north end of this was a remarkable edifice of wood in Milton’s boyhood. This was called “Nonsuch House.” It was said to have been built in Holland and brought over in pieces and put together by wooden pegs. It stretched across the bridge upon an archway, and was a curious, fantastic structure, carved elaborately on three sides. The towers on its four corners bore high aloft above the neighbouring buildings low domes and gilded vanes. It stood upon the site of the old tower whereon the heads of criminals had been exposed; when it was taken down, the heads were removed to the tower over the gate upon the Southwark side. This had four circular turrets, and was a notable and imposing entrance to the bridge.[Pg 291] At the north end of the bridge was an ingenious engine for raising water for the supply of the city. It was originally worked only by the tide flowing through the first arch; but for this work several of the water courses were later converted into waterfalls or rapids, and thereby greatly inconvenienced navigation. An extension of this simple, early mechanism lasted as late as 1822.
This bridge, which was to last six hundred and thirty years, was as long in building as King Solomon’s Temple, and, at the time, probably surpassed in strength and size any bridge in the whole world.
London Bridge is famous the world over in the nurseries of every English-speaking child. Milton himself, as the fair-haired little darling in the scrivener’s house on Bread Street, probably danced and sang the ancient ditty, as thousands had done before him:
“London bridge is broken down,
Dance over, my Lady Lee;
London bridge is broken down,
With a gay ladee.
“How shall we build it up again?
Dance over, my Lady Lee;
How shall we build it up again?
With a gay ladee.
“Build it up with stone so strong,
Dance over, my Lady Lee;
Huzza, ’twill last for ages long,
With a gay ladee.”
For centuries before Milton was born, Billingsgate, a little to the east of London Bridge, had been one of the city’s water-gates, and long before his time its neighbourhood was filled with stalls for the sale of fish, a far more necessary commodity in days when no fresh meat was to be bought in winter. When Stow was preparing his “Survey,” Billingsgate was “a large water-gate, port, or harbour for ships and boats commonly arriving there with fish, both fresh and salt, shellfish, salt, oranges, onions, and other fruits and roots, wheat, rye, and grains of divers sorts.”
n the summer of 1665, the Great Plague appeared in the midst of the alarm over the Dutch invasion. The three earlier visitations of the terrible disease during Milton’s youth were to be eclipsed in horror by this, the last great one that England was to know. Little connection between dirt and disease existed in the minds of even scientific men. Dirt was condemned as unæsthetic; but that earth floors covered with rushes, mixed with greasy bones and decaying cabbage leaves, had any connection with the griping pain of the groaning child upon the cot, its father did not dream. Some water was brought in pipes from Tyburn, but much of it was taken from the polluted Thames near London Bridge and carried about the streets in water-carts. How much was taken for bathing purposes may be imagined. When a luxurious monarch like Louis XIV. found a bath no necessity, we need not wonder that the English[Pg 294] cartman, and blacksmith, and craftsman, housed in his narrow tenements near Smithfield or in Southwark, considered it a superfluity.
The summer of 1665 was hot and oppressive. All through the pitiless heat the wretched inmates of the town, whence two hundred thousand of the fortunate ones like Milton had fled, walked around the gloomy and deserted streets gathering their dead. By September fifteen hundred were dying every day. The heat was aggravated by the bonfires which were kept burning in vain hope of purifying the atmosphere. Physicians, ignorant, but heroic, remained at their posts, cupping and blistering, and uselessly tormenting the helpless folk who with pathetic confidence looked to them for salvation. Some men became insane, and some died of sheer fright. The suddenness of the death was one of the most ghastly features of the scourge. The mother who nursed her child at morning handed its little corpse at night to the man with the bell and dreadful cart, and knew not where its tender limbs were rudely thrust with the haste of a great terror which possessed the wretched gravediggers.
Out of a population of less than seven hundred thousand, probably one hundred thousand perished, and starvation and poverty stared many others in the face.
Erected in 1564-70 by Sir Thomas Gresham, and burned in the Great Fire in 1666.
From an old engraving.
[Pg 295]Something must have been learned of the need of purer water, for we find London, after the fire next year, bestirring itself to get a general supply of water from a canal forty miles long, called “New River,” which conducted a supply from Chadswell Springs in Hertfordshire to a reservoir at Islington.
The summer of 1666 was likewise hot and dry, and a furious gale blew for weeks together. Conditions were the same as in Chicago before the conflagration that in November, 1871, swept over 1,687 acres, which covered a territory four miles long and nearly three miles wide, and entailed a loss of $300,000,000, though half of the buildings were of wood. The moment was as propitious for the fire fiend as when Mother O’Leary’s cow kicked over the lamp in the Windy City of the West. A baker’s oven took fire in Pudding Lane, two hundred and two feet from the site of the present Fire Monument, which Wren erected in memory of it that number of feet in height. The fire began on Sunday night. It was twenty-four hours before the dazed citizens attempted organised relief, but then it was too late. By Tuesday evening the flames had licked up everything as far west as the Temple. The resolute king came to the help of the inefficient mayor, and ordered gunpowder to be used to blow up buildings and thus create open spaces where the[Pg 296] fire would lack food. By Thursday evening the fire had practically ceased, and the citizens who had looked on at the destruction of their homes and churches and shops and the inestimable treasures of the past, sought shelter for their weary limbs. No telegraphic messages of sympathy, no carloads of provisions from neighbouring cities poured in to their relief, and homeless children cried for bread.
Evelyn, in describing the conflagration, says: “All the skie was of a fiery aspect like that of a burning oven, and the light seen above forty miles round about for many nights. God grant mine eyes may never behold the sight—who now saw ten thousand houses all in one flame; the noise and crackling and thunder of the impetuous flames; the shrieking of women and children; the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches was like an hideous storme and the aire all about so hot and inflamed that at last one was not able to approach it. The clouds also and smoke were dismall and reached upon computation neere 56 miles in length. The poore inhabitants were dispers’d about St. George’s Fields and Moorefields, as far as Highgate, and several miles in circle, some under tents, some under miserable hutts and hovells, many without a rag or any necessary utensils, bed or board, who from delicatenesse, riches, and easy [Pg 297]accommodations in stately and well-furnished houses, were now reduc’d to extremest misery and poverty.”
Pepys tells us that the entire lead roof of St. Paul’s Cathedral, no less than six acres by measure, “fell in, the melted lead running down into the streets and into the crypt where books had been carried for safety.” He notes that the fire burned just as many parish churches as there were hours from the beginning to the end of the fire.
Dryden, in the long section of his “Annus Mirabilis” which describes the “Great Fire,” has a few lines among his prosaic stanzas which bear quotation:
“The ghosts of traitors from the bridge descend,
With bold fanatic spectres to rejoice:
About the fire into a dance they bend,
And sing their sabbath notes with feeble voice.
“A key of fire ran all along the shore,
And lightened all the river with a blaze:
The wakened tides began again to roar,
And wondering fish in shining waters gaze.
“The rich grow suppliant, and the poor grow proud:
Those offer mighty gain, and these ask more:
So void of pity is the ignoble crowd,
When others’ ruin may increase their store.
[Pg 298]“The most in fields like herded beasts lie down,
To dews obnoxious on the grassy floor;
And while their babes in sleep their sorrows drown,
Sad parents watch the remnants of their store.”
The king, who for the time being had behaved in manly fashion, went back to his dalliance with courtesans and “the burning lusts, dissolute court, profane and abominable lives” of which Evelyn writes on the day of fast and humiliation ordered for the occasion.
Though there was not a particle of proof that the Catholics had anything whatever to do with the origin of the fire, the frenzy and prejudice of the populace attributed it to them, and an inscription to that effect, which later was erased, was placed upon the monument.
The fire destroyed eighty-eight churches besides St. Paul’s, together with the city gates, the Exchange, the Custom House, 13,200 dwelling-houses, and four hundred streets. A space of 436 acres, two-thirds of the entire city, was consumed; and property then valued at £7,335,000 was destroyed. For six months London remained a chaos of rubbish heaps. Pepys writes that in March he still saw smoke rising from the ruins. The eight churches in the city proper that still remain practically as Milton saw them have been described in detail. They are[Pg 299] All Hallows Barking, St. Ethelburga’s, St. Andrew Undershaft, of Saxon foundation; St. Olave’s, of Danish; and St. Helen’s, of Norman foundation; St. Catherine Cree, Austin Friars, which was the Dutch church, and St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, just beside the city wall. Of the six others that were not destroyed, All Hallows by the wall (Broad Street Ward) and St. Katherine Coleman (Aldgate) were rebuilt later. The four that then remained but have since disappeared were St. Christopher le Stocks, and St. Martin Outwich (Broad Street Ward), All-Hallows, Staining (Tower Ward), and St. Alphage, Aldermanbury.
Forty churches were rebuilt after the fire, and these were all designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who when he began his gigantic task was a young man of thirty-five. Wren, who was a nephew of the Bishop of Ely, was trained under Doctor Busby in Westminster School, and then at Wadham College, Oxford, and was there noted by John Evelyn as a “miracle of a youth,” “a prodigious young scholar,” who showed him “a thermometer, a monstrous magnet, and some dials.”
Wren was a little later one of the chief founders of the Royal Society, and its first meetings were held in his rooms. As versatile and original as Da Vinci, he excelled in Latin, mathematics, and[Pg 300] astronomy, and was a close student of anatomy, and other sciences as well. Ten years before the Great Fire he was professor of astronomy in Gresham College, London, and at the age of twenty-eight, he was elected to the professorship of astronomy in Oxford. Before he was thirty and had done any work in architecture, Isaac Barrow declared him to be “something superhuman.” About this time he invented an agricultural implement for planting, and a method of making fresh water at sea. A year before the Fire he solved a knotty problem in geometry which Pascal had sent to English mathematicians. Says Hooke, “I must affirm that since the time of Archimedes there scarce ever met in one man in so great a perfection such a mechanical hand and so philosophic a mind.” Had Wren never designed a building he would have been famous for his achievements in the study of the cycloid, in rendering practical the use of the barometer, in inventing a method for the transference of one animal’s blood to another, in methods for noting longitude at sea, and for other studies and inventions too numerous to mention.
Wren was a self-taught architect. Before the Fire he erected Pembroke College Chapel at Cambridge, and the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford. He then visited Paris, where he saw Bernini, and made[Pg 301] the most of observations of the Louvre and such Renaissance work as Paris then afforded. His bent of mind was wholly divergent from the Gothic, and as it proved, in the few instances in which he introduced its features into his Renaissance churches, the result was as incongruous as Chaucer’s cap and gown upon a Roman emperor.
London’s calamity was the opportunity for this little man of mighty intellect. Four days after the fire ceased he laid before the king the sketch of his plan for the restoration of the city. He looked far into the future, and in vision saw a splendid town built on a well-conceived, harmonious plan. He proposed to have Ludgate Hill widen as it approached St. Paul’s, where it would divide into two broad streets around the cathedral and leave ample space for its huge mass to be plainly viewed. One of these streets should lead to the Tower and the other to the Royal Exchange, which was to be the centre of the city. Around it should be a great piazza, from which ten streets were to lead, and on the outer edge of this piazza would be situated the Post-Office, the Mint, and other important buildings. “All churchyards, gardens, and trades that use great fires and noisome smells” were to be relegated to the country, and the churches with their spires were to be placed in prominent positions on the main thoroughfares.
[Pg 302]All this meant present sacrifice for future good; but the short-sighted and impatient Londoners thought of the crying needs of the present year alone. The architect might implore and weep bitter tears, but all in vain. London must rise again on its old, congested plan, with its crooked alleyways and narrow courts. But, though the ground-plan was discarded, Wren was to make the new city his monument. Besides St. Paul’s he built within and without the walls fifty parish churches, thirty-six of the companies’ halls, the Custom House, and much besides.
During the last eight years of Milton’s life, the destruction of the walls of St. Paul’s went on and the new edifice was assuming shape in the mind of its creator. The old walls were blown down by gunpowder explosions and by battering-rams. This took about two years, and the clearing away of rubbish and building the massive foundations, longer still. Several schemes were considered and rejected, and the plan which finally took its present form was not begun until the funeral wreaths were withered upon Milton’s grave. Into the history of this mighty structure we may not enter. In 1710 the last stone of the lantern above the dome was laid by Wren’s son in the presence of the now aged architect and of all London, which assembled for the proud spectacle.[Pg 303] The fair walls, ungrimed by soot and smoke, rose fresh and perfect, a monument to one of the greatest geniuses of all time.
One building erected the year after Milton’s death is worth mentioning as an illustration of the consideration shown for the insane at that period. Bethlehem Hospital, which has been referred to, was in Milton’s time situated on Bishopsgate Street Without. “This hospital stood in an obscure and close place near unto many common sewers; and also was too little to receive and entertain the great number of distracted Persons both men and women,” writes an old author. But the city with admirable public spirit gave ground for a better site against London wall near Moorfields. A handsome brick and stone structure 540 feet long was erected in 1675, and large gardens were provided for the less insane. Over the gate were placed two figures representing a distracted man and woman. This building had a cupola surmounted by a gilded ball; there was a clock within and “three fair dials without.” Men occupied one end of the building, and women the other. Hot and cold baths were provided, and there was a “stove room,” where in the winter the patients might assemble for warmth. Considering the ignorance of the time, astonishingly good sense was displayed in all the arrangements, insomuch that two out of every three persons were reported cured.
[Pg 304]As if this were not enough for one man’s work, Wren of course was busy all these years with the care of all the churches. Before Milton died he had been knighted, and lived in a spacious mansion in Great Russell Square. He had by then rebuilt St. Dunstan’s in the East in Tower Ward; St. Mildred’s, Bread Street Ward; St. Mary’s, Aldermanbury; St. Edmund the King’s; St. Lawrence’s, Jewry; St. Michael’s, Cornhill, where he attempted Gothic work; the beautiful St. Stephen’s, Wallbrook; St. Olave’s, Jewry; St. Martin’s, Ludgate; St. Michael’s, Wood Street; St. Dionis’s, Langbourne Ward; St. George’s, Botolph Lane; and the Custom House.
No interior, either of these or those that followed these, is so perfect as St. Stephen’s, Wallbrook. Architecturally speaking, it has been questioned whether St. Paul’s itself shows greater genius.
In most of his labours Wren was embarrassed by lack of adequate funds and the caprice of his employers. Most of his churches were ingenious compromises between his ideals and their necessities or whims. His spires were in the Renaissance forms, but of endless variations. The most beautiful are so placed as rarely to be seen to advantage. Probably the most admired of all of them are St. [Pg 305]Bride’s and St. Mary le Bow. The former, which overshadows the spot where Milton conceived the plan of “Paradise Lost,” is situated on a little narrow street called after St. Bride or Bridget, the Irish maiden, who died in 525. She had a holy well, which is commemorated by an iron pump within a niche upon its site.
BOW STEEPLE, CHEAPSIDE
From a print published in 1798.
The lofty spire of the church rises to an altitude of 226 feet, a trifle higher than Bunker Hill Monument, in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which is a measuring-rod for many Americans.
St. Mary le Bow is on the site of a Norman church of the Conqueror’s time, and so named because it was built on arches or “bows” of stone. This crypt still remains. The steeple of the later church, which rang its bells above the head of little John Milton on Bread Street, close by, was built a hundred and fifty years before his birth; the church was said to have been a rather low, poor building. Bow bells were nightly rung at nine o’clock, but an old couplet shows that they were not always punctual:
“Clark of the Bow Bell, with the yellow lockes,
For thy late ringing, thy head shall have knockes.”
To which the clerk responded:
“Children of Cheape, hold you all still,
For you shall have the Bow Bell rung at your will.”
[Pg 306]From the days when little Dick Whittington, a forlorn runaway, heard from far Bow bells summon him back to London, the bells have played a notable part in the life of Londoners. A true cockney is supposed to be one born within hearing of these bells. Certainly the boy in Spread Eagle Court deserved the title.
The spire of St. Mary le Bow rises a little higher than St. Bride’s, and bears a golden dragon nine feet long.
Upon the side of Bow Church, half hidden behind the tower, is an inscription which the pilgrim to Milton’s London will step aside to read. It is on the tablet which was transferred from All Hallows Church, in which Milton was baptised, when it was torn down. It closes with the familiar lines of Dryden, the poet whom England most admired when this new spire of Wren’s was rising upon the ruins of the old, and close beside the birthplace of the greatest soul ever born to London in all her two millenniums of history.
“Three poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.
The first in loftiness of thought surpassed,
The next in majesty, in both the last;
The force of nature could no farther go,
To make a third she joined the other two.”
Aldersgate Street, 89, 122.
All Hallows, Barking, 143.
All Hallows Church, Bread St., 42, 45, 306.
All Hallows, Staining, tower of, 155.
Andrewes, Bishop, 289.
Artillery Walk, 110, 119.
Ascham, Roger, 201.
Askew, Anne, 191.
Austin Friars, 24.
Austin Friars’ Church, 185-188.
Bacon, Francis, 225.
Bancroft, Francis, 173.
Bartholomew Close, 105.
Bartholomew Fair, 218.
Baroni, Leonora, 87.
Baxter, Richard, 107, 108, 197, 276.
Beaconsfield, 113, 115.
Bethlehem Hospital, 175, 303.
Blake, Admiral, 257.
“Blindness, On His,” Milton’s ode, 104.
Blue Coat School, 195-199.
Boleyn, Annie, 132, 283.
Bread Street, 42-46, 120.
Browne, Robert, 68.
Buckingham, Duke of, 243, 256.
Bunhill Fields, 111, 120.
Burke, Edmund, 116.
Cæsar, Sir Julius, 174.
university life in Milton’s time, 64.
Camden, William, 252, 266.
Caxton, William, 269.
Chalfont St. Giles, 111, 112.
Charles I., 244-248, 272, 274.
Charles II., 250, 262, 298.
Charing Cross, 99.
Cheever, Ezekiel, 198.
Chequer’s Court, 118.
“Cheshire Cheese, The,” 229.
Christ’s Church, 197.
Christ’s College, 59, 62.
Christ’s Hospital, 195-199.
Civil War, 87, 92.
Clarendon, Earl of, 259.
“Comus,” 80, 82, 96.
Conventual establishments, 22.
Covent Garden, 237-239.
[Pg 308]Cranmer, Archbishop, 280.
Cromwell, Oliver, 59, 92, 101, 141, 180, 228, 244, 248, 249, 256-258, 261.
“Cromwell, Ode to,” Milton’s, 104, 106.
Cromwell, Richard, 105, 111.
Crosby Hall, 164-170.
Danish Remains in London, 20.
Darwin at Christ’s College, 64.
Dickens on Old London Churches, 152-154.
Diodati, Charles, 88, 91.
Dryden, John, 122, 248, 297, 306.
Dutch in London, 186.
Education, Milton’s Essay on, 94.
Eliot, Sir John, 134-136, 268, 270.
Elizabethan Age, 36.
Elizabeth, Queen, 208, 241, 262.
Ellwood, Thomas, 109, 111, 115.
Ely Cathedral, 71.
Ely Place, 221.
Emmanuel College, 60, 62.
Evelyn, 267, 296.
Exchange, The Royal, 184, 298.
Fire of London, The Great, 120, 145, 189, 295-298.
Forest Hill, 93.
Fox, George, 120.
Fox, John, 181.
“Fresher’s Don’t, The,” 76.
Frobisher, Martin, 181.
Gatehouse, Westminster, 267.
Geneva, Milton at, 87.
Gill, Alexander, Milton’s schoolmaster, 53.
Globe Theatre, 286.
Gog and Magog, 190.
Gothic architecture, 26-30, 34.
Gray’s Inn, 225.
Great Hampden, 117.
Great Kimble, 119.
Gresham College, 184.
Gresham, Sir Thomas, 172, 184.
Grey, Lady Jane, 132.
Grotius, Hugo, 85.
Grub Street, 111.
Guild Hall, The, 189-193.
Hakluyt, Richard, 266.
Hampden, John, 117-119, 268.
Hatton, Sir Christopher, 223.
Haw, The, 51.
Heminge and Condell, monument to, 193.
Henry VIII., 249.
Heylin, Peter, 261.
Holbein, 157, 241.
Holborn, 98, 106, 225.
Hooker, Richard, 234.
Horton, 78-84, 92.
“Il Penseroso,” 68, 82.
Inns of Court, 225-235.
Ireland, Horrors in, 92.
Italy, Milton in, 86.
James I., 262.
Jeffreys, Judge, 196, 234.
Jerusalem Chamber, 264.
Jesus College, 60.
Jewin Street, 107.
Jones, Inigo, 238, 240, 242, 262.
Jonson, Ben, 180, 228, 252.
Juxon, Bishop, 246, 280.
King’s College Chapel, 67.
King, Edward, 82.
Knox, John, 116.
Lambeth Palace, 277-286.
Lasco, John a, 186, 188.
Laud, Archbishop, 144, 156, 281, 284.
Lawes, Henry, 81, 96, 97, 224.
Lincoln’s Inn, 227-228.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 98.
Lollard’s Tower, 49, 282.
London, origin and early topography, 14-25.
London life in Milton’s time, 38-40.
London Bridge, 289-291.
Long Acre, 237.
Lovelace, Richard, 268.
“Lycidas,” 82, 83.
Mary of Modena, 278.
Marvell, Andrew, 104, 108, 247, 248.
“Massacre in Piedmont, On the Late,” 104.
Mermaid Tavern, 46.
Milborne, Sir John, almshouses built by, 154.
Mildmay, Sir Walter, 214.
Milton, Anne, sister of the poet, 43, 57, 83, 89, 124.
Milton, Christopher, brother of the poet, 43, 83, 92, 97, 124.
Milton, Deborah, daughter of the poet, 102, 107, 108, 124.
Milton, John, father of the poet, 42, 78, 92, 94, 97.
Milton, John, son of the poet, 102.
Milton, Mary, daughter of the poet, 98, 107, 108, 110.
Milton, Sarah, mother of the poet, 43, 83.
Milton Street, 111.
Minshull, Elizabeth, Milton’s wife, 110, 123, 124.
More, Sir Thomas, 131, 166, 241.
Morland, Sir Samuel, 251.
“Morning of Christ’s Nativity, On the,” 72.
Newton, Isaac, 249.
Norman remains in London, 21, 24.
Oxford, 62, 67, 93.
Painted Chamber, Westminster, 270, 272.
Paley, William, at Christ’s College, 63.
Pall Mall, 100.
“Paradise Lost,” 89, 105, 107, 111, 114, 120-122, 158.
“Paradise Regained,” 114.
Paris, Milton in, 85, 88.
Parr, Old, 253.
Pembroke, Countess of, 169.
Penn, William, 115, 145.
Pepys, Samuel, 147-150.
Peter the Great, 145.
Petty France, 102.
Philips, Edward, 89, 94.
Philips, John, 89, 94.
Pindar, Sir Paul, 177.
Plague, The Great, 111, 293.
Plantagenet Period, 22, 28.
Powell, Anne, Milton’s wife’s mother, 97.
Powell, Mary, Milton’s wife, 93, 95, 97, 102.
Puritans at Cambridge, 60.
Pym, John, 260.
Queen’s Head Tavern, 155.
Raleigh, Sir Walter, 133, 267, 268.
Ranelagh, Lady, 104.
Raphael cartoons, 248.
Red Cross Hall, 286.
Red Lion Square, 106.
Renaissance architecture, 30-33.
Richard II., 129.
Richard III., 129, 165, 190.
Rogers, John, 201, 216, 287.
Roman remains in London, 16.
St. Andrew Undershaft, church of, 158.
St. Bartholomew the Great, church of, 24, 211-215.
St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, 215.
St. Bride’s Church, 305.
St. Bride’s Churchyard, 89.
St. Catherine Crees Church, 156.
St. Ethelburga’s Church, 175-176.
St. Etheldreda’s Church, 221-222.
St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, 248.
“Saint Ghastly Grim,” 152.
St. Giles’s Church, Cripplegate, 38, 97, 107, 120, 123, 178-183.
St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, 24, 171-175.
St. James’s Palace, 100, 246, 248.
St. James’s Park, 99, 103.
St. John’s Gate, 209.
St. John, Knights of, 209.
St. Jude’s Church, 156.
St. Margaret’s Church, 104, 268, 275.
St. Martin’s Lane, 99.
St. Martin in the Fields, 100.
St. Mary Aldermanbury, church of, 104, 193.
St. Mary Aldermary, church of, 110.
St. Mary le Bow, church of, 305.
St. Mary Overy’s Church, 24, 287.
St. Olave’s Church, 146.
St. Paul’s, old cathedral, 48, 121, 297;
new cathedral, 302.
St. Paul’s Cross, 50.
St. Paul’s School, 48, 52;
early cathedral body, 23.
St. Peter’s Church, 126, 132.
St. Saviour’s, Southwark, 287.
St. Sepulchre’s Church, 199.
St. Stephen’s Chapel, 270.
St. Stephen’s, Wallbrook, church of, 33, 304.
Sanctuary, Westminster, 269.
Saxon names in London, 17.
Scotland Yard, 101, 102, 240.
Scudamore, Lord, 85, 103.
Shakespeare, 165, 255, 288.
Sidney, Algernon, 107.
Sidney Sussex College, 59, 62.
Skinner, Cyriack, 97, 104, 108.
Smith, John, Captain, 200.
Somerset House, 239, 257.
Spencer, Sir John, 166, 174.
Spenser, Edmund, 254.
Sprat, Thomas, dean of Westminster, 258.
Spread Eagle Court, 45.
Spring Gardens, 99, 101, 103.
Staple Inn, 266.
Star Chamber, 270, 272.
Stow, John, 158-163.
Strode, William, 261.
Sutton, Thomas, 204.
Tabard Inn, 286.
Temple, The, 228-235.
Temple Bar, 229.
Temple Church, The, 229.
Thackeray on the Charterhouse, 206.
, Sir Nicholas, 157, 193.
Tower Hill, 139, 144.
Tower of London, The, 126-136.
Toynbee Hall, 156.
Trafalgar Square, 99, 100.
Trinity College Library, Milton manuscript in, 73, 89.
Turner, William, 150.
Usher, Archbishop, 247, 265.
Vane, Sir Harry, 91, 99, 107, 136-141.
Vane, Milton’s Ode to, 104.
Waller, Edmund, 116.
Westminster Abbey, 250-266.
Westminster Assembly, 264.
Westminster Hall, 261, 274.
Westminster Palace, 269.
Westminster School, 266.
Whitehall, 99, 101, 240-250.
Whittington’s Palace, 145.
Williams, Roger, 61, 188, 204.
Windsor, 79, 248.
Wolsey, Cardinal, 241.
Woodcocke, Katharine, 104, 193, 195, 275.
Wotton, Sir Henry, 85, 124.
Wren, Sir Christopher, 184, 240, 263, 266, 299-304.
York Street, 102.
Young, Milton’s early preceptor, 47.
 ONE OF MILTON’S TWO EPITAPHS ON HOBSON
“Here lies old Hobson. Death hath broke his girt,
And here, alas, hath laid him in the dirt;
Or else, the ways being foul, twenty to one,
He’s here stuck in a slough, or overthrown.
’Twas such a shifter, that if truth were known,
Death was half glad when he had got him down;
For he had any time these ten years full,
Dodged with him, betwixt Cambridge and the ‘Bull,’
And surely death could never have prevailed,
Had not his weekly course of carriage failed.
But lately finding him so long at home,
And thinking now his journey’s end was come,
And that he had ta’en up his latest inn,
In the kind office of a chamberlain,
Showed him his room, where he must lodge that night,
Pulled off his boots and took away the light;
If any ask for him, it shall be said,
‘Hobson has supt and’s newly gone to bed.’”S
 It is interesting here to contrast John Morley’s judgment with that of Clarendon:
“Surrounded by men who were often apt to take other views, Pym, if ever English statesmen did, took broad ones; and to impose broad views upon the narrow is one of the things that a party leader exists for. He had the double gift, so rare even among leaders in popular assemblies, of being at once practical and elevated; a master of tactics and organising arts, and yet the inspirer of sound and lofty principles. How can we measure the perversity of a king and counsellors who forced into opposition a man so imbued with the deep instinct of government, so whole-hearted, so keen of sight, so skilful in resource as Pym?”
Images have been moved from the middle of a paragraph to a nearby paragraph break.
The text in the list of illustrations is presented as in the original text, but the links navigate to the page number closest to the illustration’s loaction in this document.
Punctuation has been corrected without note.
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