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Mary Powell & Deborah's Diary   By: (1807-1879)

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Mary Powell & Deborah's Diary


Anne Manning

A tale which holdeth children from play & old men from the chimney corner Sir Philip Sidney

London: published by J. M. Dent & Co.

and in New York by E. P. Dutton & Co.



In the Valhalla of English literature Anne Manning is sure of a little and safe place. Her studies of great men, in which her imagination fills in the hiatus which history has left, are not only literature in themselves, but they are a service to literature: it is quite conceivable that the ordinary reader with no very keen flair for poetry will realise John Milton and appraise him more highly, having read Mary Powell and its sequel, Deborah's Diary , than having read Paradise Lost . In The Household of Sir Thomas More she had for hero one of the most charming, whimsical, lovable, heroical men God ever created, by the creation of whose like He puts to shame all that men may accomplish in their literature. In John Milton, whose first wife Mary Powell was, Miss Manning has a hero who, though a supreme poet, was "gey ill to live with," and it is a triumph of her art that she makes us compunctious for the great poet even while we appreciate the difficulties that fell to the lot of his women kind. John Milton, a Parliament man and a Puritan, married at the age of thirty four, Mary Powell, a seventeen year old girl, the daughter of an Oxfordshire squire, who, with his family, was devoted to the King. It was at one of the bitterest moments of the conflict between King and Parliament, and it was a complication in the affair of the marriage that Mary Powell's father was in debt five hundred pounds to Milton. The marriage took place. Milton and his young wife set up housekeeping in lodgings in Aldersgate Street over against St. Bride's Churchyard, a very different place indeed from Forest Hill, Shotover, by Oxford, Mary Powell's dear country home. They were together barely a month when Mary Powell, on report of her father's illness, had leave to revisit him, being given permission to absent herself from her husband's side from mid August till Michaelmas. She did not return at Michaelmas; nor for some two years was there a reconciliation between the bride and groom of a month. During those two years Milton published his pamphlet, On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce , begun while his few weeks old bride was still with him. In this pamphlet he states with violence his opinion that a husband should be permitted to put away his wife "for lack of a fit and matchable conversation," which would point to very slender agreement between the girl of seventeen and the poet of thirty four. This was that Mary Powell, who afterwards bore him four children, who died in childbirth with the youngest, Deborah (of the Diary) , and who is consecrated in one of the loveliest and most poignant of English sonnets.

Methought I saw my late espous├ęd Saint Brought to me like Alkestis from the grave, Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave, Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint. Mine, as whom washed from spot of child bed taint Purification in the Old Law did save; And such, as yet once more, I trust to have Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint, Came vested all in white, pure as her mind: Her face was veiled, yet to my fancied sight Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined So clear, as in no face with more delight. But oh! as to embrace me she inclined, I waked; she fled; and Day brought back my Night.

It is a far cry from the woman so enshrined to the child of seventeen years who was without "fit and matchable conversation" for her irritable, intolerant poet husband.

A good many serious writers have conjectured and wondered over this little tragedy of Milton's young married life: but since all must needs be conjecture one is obliged to say that Miss Manning, with her gift of delicate imagination and exquisite writing, has conjectured more excellently than the historians... Continue reading book >>

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