(London: [Thomas Paine and Matthew Simmons], 1645). 185 x 138 mm. (7 1/4 x 5 3/8"). 4 p.l., 40, 37-98 pp. FIRST EDITION.
Late 19th or early 20th century sympathetic sheepskin, raised bands, red morocco label. Coleridge 67; Shawcross 72; Wickenheiser 303; Wing M-2184; ESTC R212199. Some (naturally occurring?) variation in the color of the leather, lower board with short (pre-existing?) cut to leather, title page trimmed close at foot, grazing imprint, occasional corner creases or rust spots, but an excellent copy, internally clean and crisp, in an unworn binding.
This is one of four tracts arguing in favor of permitting divorce, from a poet who was also a prolific polemicist. Milton (1608-74) took a very active interest in the political questions of his day and expressed his views in eloquent tracts, but perhaps no issue was as personal to him as the call to liberalize divorce laws. At the age of 34, Milton had taken a bride half his age, and young Mary Powell had left him to return to her parents just a few weeks later. Frustrated by his inability to extract himself from this alliance, Milton took on the restrictive divorce laws of England, issuing "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce" the following year. A second, heavily revised edition of that work and a second tract, "The Judgement of Martin Bucer Concerning Divorce," came out in 1644. The following year, Milton published the present work, citing biblical justifications for ending a marriage. ("Tetrachordon" refers to four-stringed musical instruments, and is intended to describe Milton's harmonizing of the four "strings" of Scriptural arguments for divorce, from Genesis, Deuteronomy, Matthew, and 1 Corinthians.) The polemic did not get the attention Milton felt it deserved and he lamented this oversight in his Sonnet 11, "A Book was Writ of Late called Tetrachordon." The fourth divorce tract, issued at about the same time as the present work, took its name from a torture device, "Colasterion." As Milton began to take steps to seek a divorce rather than just writing tracts about it, his wife's family flew into action and successfully affected a reconciliation. Mary returned to her husband in the autumn of 1645, and the couple had three children before she died giving birth to the fourth in 1652. While this title does appear on the market from time to time, copies as pleasing as the present one are not easy to come by. (ST15638)
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PJP Catalog: NY20BF.081