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178

THE GOSSIP OF HISTORY.

fore him. He did not turn pale, nor did he nervously break the paper-knife he held in his hand. He only said "Good Lord!" and then he added, "I suppose he must have it at any cost."

It was in the second week in August that Mr. Hugh Balfour, M.P. for Ballinascroon, was married to Lady Sylvia Blythe, only daughter of the Earl of Willowby, of Willowby Hall, Surrey; and immediately after the marriage, the happy pair started off to spend their honeymoon in Germany.




THE GOSSIP OF HISTORY.

"There are," says Macaulay, in that fine essay which laid the foundations of his fame, "a few characters which have stood the closest scrutiny and the severest tests, which have been tried in the furnace and have proved pure, which have been weighed in the balance and have not been found wanting, which have been declared sterling by the general consent of mankind, and which are visibly stamped with the image and superscription of the Most High." Of these the great historian considered Milton to be one, and we should most of us like to agree with him. Yet there are some curious stories about Milton, who was perhaps not the pleasantest of men in private life. Thus he is said to have taught his daughters the Greek alphabet, without attempting to instruct them in the language, in order that they might the sooner be qualified for the irksome task of reading to him authors of whose works they could not understand a syllable. To the common mind this seems a piece of gross selfishness, though it is quite possible that Milton, whose conception of woman's mission was not the highest, may never have imagined he was guilty of an act of injustice in turning intelligent beings into machines. His ideal of female perfection seems to have been the Eve of his own "Paradise Lost," before the fall Adam lived "for God only—she for God in him"—a view of the marriage tie for which there is assuredly no warrant in the New Testament. And many will consider Dinah, in "Adam Bede," preaching herself to the simple village folk, as a nobler picture of womanly goodness. In Milton's system there would hardly have been room for St. Teresa, or Mrs. Fry, much less for Queen Elizabeth, of glorious memory.

Another story of Milton is only ludicrous, but one hopes it is not true, for one would like only the loftiest associations to centre round his name. A friend once condoled with him on the loss of his sight, from the point of view that he could never have the pleasure of seeing his wife. "Ah," replied Milton with a sigh, "would that I were deaf as well!" In truth Milton seems to have looked upon his Bessy (No. 3) as a necessary evil, necessary for purposes of housekeeping and cookery. Some of his biographers have represented him as a man of austere life, who made himself miserable by supping on olives and cold water, but it seems more probable that he was something of an epicure in a quiet way, and that a savory stew was very much indeed to his taste. His wife once set before him a dish of which he was exceedingly fond, dressed with nicest culinary art, and as the poet ate, he observed, with his mouth full, by way of expressing his thanks, "Thou knowest that I have left thee all I have." History is silent as to the precise nature of this memorable refection, whether "grisamber steamed," or game "built up in pastry," but those who think Milton had no idea of a good dinner, have only to turn to the description of the banquet with which the devil tempts our Saviour in "Paradise Regained;" how unlike, he exclaims, "to that crude apple which diverted Eve!"

Yet it seems almost sacrilege to repeat gossip concerning the inspired martyr of English liberty. One is tempted to use the formula employed by Herodotus, when that charming story-teller had given some particularly naughty story relating to a venerated personage, "May I not incur the anger of any god or hero!" The truth is that half of what constitutes the amus-ing in the annals of our curious race is composed of facts more or less to the discredit of those who have made a stir in the world. Who, for instance, that has read Fitztraver's song has not learnt to connect the name of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, with all that is brightest in chivalry, in poesy, and in love? Yet his passion for Geraldine is well-nigh an exploded myth, and all its romantic incidents have long since receded into the domain of fable. The facts about him are more prosaic, and he seems to have spent his youth much as other "swells" of the sixteenth century—partly, one grieves to find, in the mediæval substitute for wrenching off knockers. Thus we find him summoned before the privy council for eating flesh in Lent, and for walking about the streets at night in a "lewd and unseemly manner,"