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JOHN MILTON, author of the most to have been flogged for insubordina. splendid epic poem in the English tion, though of this there is a good language, was born at the sign of the deal of doubt. Certain it is, however, Spread Eagle in Bread Street, Cheap- that in 1627 he was “sent, down” for a side, on the 9th of December, 1608. time, returning during the following His father was a scrivener, son of a term to study under another tutor. farmer of Stanton St. John, near
He took his B.A. degree on March 29, Oxford, and had come up to London 1629, and his M.A. three years later. after being disinherited by his father When he first went up to Camas the result of differences over re- bridge, Milton was meditating a ligious doctrine.
After coming to clerical career, but during his time London, the poet's father prospered in there he gradually discovered that his his profession, and was also distin- temperament was unsuited to holy guished as a musician, composing orders. He returned home, therefore, many pieces which took rank with the after taking his degree, with no settled best of their time. From him the poet prospects for the future, and in a someinherited a musical taste, which the
what discontented frame of mind. father's instruction further fostered and developed. The boy Milton attended
“My hasting days fly on with full career,
· But my late spring no bud or blossom St. Paul's School, the curriculum of
shew'th." which was further supplemented by a private tutor, one Thomas Young, His father had now retired from proafterwards Master of Jesus College, fessional work, and settled at Horton, Cambridge. Under this instruction a village in Buckinghamshire. Hither he improved apace, and was practising the young poet repaired, and here he the art of poetry at the age of ten. at once applied himself to the study The earliest of his poems preserved and practice of poetry. He had already are the paraphrases of the Psalms, produced several poems of conspicuwritten at the age of fifteen, and dis- ous power, notably the Hymn on the playing considerable command over Nativity, and now in this beneficent metre, though little of the Miltonic rural retirement he wrote L'Allegro, quality either of diction or music. Il Penseroso, Arcades, Comus, and
In February, 1625, Milton proceeded Lycidas. For five years he continued to Cambridge, being admitted a pen- at Horton, working with the utmost sioner of Christ's on the twelfth of that diligence and application. He dedimonth. His tutor was William Chap- cated himself to the poetic life with the pell, afterwards Bishop of Cork, who concentration of a novice in the cloister, seems to have attempted to drive the directing all his thought and energy to temperament of the poet along lines the perfection of the art of expression. too precise and formal for his taste. It was at the close of Milton's stay at In any case, Milton came into conflict Horton that his friend Edward King with the authorities, and is even said was drowned, and that Lycidas was
written in celebration of his
memory, of Divorce, which he afterwards followed and in the following year the young with other tractates on the same subpoet entered upon a period of Conti- ject. He was on the point also of nental travel towards which his fancy wooing another lady, when his wife had long been setting. He reached presented herself at a house which he Paris in the spring of 1638, and was was accustomed to visit at St. Martin. kindly received by Lord Scudamore, le-Grand, and on her knees begged his the English ambassador, through whose forgiveness. He received her back, good offices he was introduced to and removed to a new house in Grotius. From Paris, Milton journeyed Barbican. She bore him four children, to Italy, reaching Flcrence in August, herself dying at the birth of the last. and proceeding in October to Rome. She was 26 years old at the time of At the close of November he was in her death. Naples, and in the following February Milton was now plunged into a in Rome. Thence he re-visited period of political and social pamFlorence, and spent a month in Venice, phleteering, the result of which has returning to England in August, after
some noble English prose, an absence of fifteen months. He
much of it devoted to interests that took lodgings in the house of one are now no longer sympathetic. At Russel, a tailor, in St. Bride's Church- Michaelmas, 1647, he gave up taking yard, but soon moved to "a pretty pupils, and moved into High Holborn. garden-house, in Aldersgate, at the In 1649, after the judicial murder of end of an entry,” a spot that was then King Charles the First, Milton was considered one of the quietest in offered the secretaryship to the London. There he opened a school, Council of State, and accepted it. his first pupils being his nephews, This was a most unfortunate step for John and Edward Phillips. In the Milton, as for some while he became early summer of 1643 he took a journey a tool in the hand of the Parliamen into the country, and after being away tarians, who made full use of his a month returned with a wife, Mary, literary talents to serve and advance daughter of Richard Powell of Forest their own ends. Meanwhile, he moved Hill, a village about five miles from in 1651 to another "garden house” in Oxford. His first marriage, however, Petty France, near St. James's Park, was a very unhappy one. His wife which was the last of Milton's London was a woman of no intellectual endow- houses to disappear, about a quarter of ments, and found his company un- a century ago.
His secretarial duties congenial. Within a month of her consisted of translation and composiarrival in London she asked leave to tion, diversified by such ill-judged visit her parents, and when once she undertakings as the controversial was back in her girlhood's home, pamphlet in which he attacked the showed no inclination to return to her Defensio Regia of Salmasius, and the husband. Milton wrote to beg her to other more notorious paper in answer come back, but was treated with con- to the Eikon Basilike. It is pitiful to tempt, and he then decided upon a think of the genius of Milton commore public vindication of his wrongs. pelled to go in harness, and undergo In 1644 he published a pamphlet deal- the compulsion of a political mob! ing with the Doctrine and Discipline The immediate result of this severe application to secretarial work was to Milton in February, 1663, and that in 1650 his sight began to fail proved a good wife to him. For the him. By the end of that year the rest of his life she attended to him sight of his left eye was gone, and with great devotion, although it has the doctors warned him that, if he been said that the comfort of Milton's persisted in taxing his strength, the daughters was subordinated to that other would soon be blind also. But of the head of the house, and that in Milton could not reconcile it with his some respects she was a hard stepduty to give up the work which lay mother. But in any case she was a before him, with the result that in the faithful and considerate wife. beginning of 1652 he was totally un- Milton now moved to Little Britain, able to see. Most of his duties as and thereafter to Artillery Walk, BunLatin secretary had now to devolve hill Fields. In the meanwhile he had upon others, but he continued to hold
made great friends with a well-educated the post until after the death of Oliver and intelligent Quaker, named Thomas Cromwell; but with the Restoration Ellwood, who read to him in his hours his whole life necessarily changed. of solitude, and was entrusted with his When Charles II. came back to the literary plans and ambitions. It was throne, Milton fled from his house, and to Ellwood that Milton first mentioned lay concealed at a friend's until the his Paradise Lost, which was almost passing of the Act of Oblivion. It is completed when the Plague broke out said that he owed it to Andrew Marvel in 1665, and Ellwood hurried his friend that he was not more conspicuously into safety in the pretty little village of punished. He was for a while placed Chalfont St. Giles, in Buckinghamshire, under arrest by the Serjeant-at-arms, where the cottage of his sojourn is still and two of his books were burned by preserved intact. Here Ellwood read the common hangman. His political
the MS. of the greatest epic poem in and official career was finally closed. the English language, and added to
Milton was always changing his his praise the suggestion that much home, and his next move was to Jewin had been said in the poem of Paradise Street, Aldersgate. During the years Lost, but still more remained to be of his service as Latin secretary, he said of Paradise Found. This remark had married his second wife, Catherine was, no doubt, the germ from which Woodcock, who died within 15 months sprang the later and less successful of of her wedding, and was buried on the two poems with which Milton's February 10, 1658, in St. Margaret's, name is most popularly connected. Westminster. Now he began to think The poem was published in 1667; of yet a third union, for his blindness and Milton received from Simmons, rendered him very helpless, and the the publisher, £10 for two editions, education and care of three daughters and his widow later on another £8 in was a difficult thing for a man with his discharge of all claims. Milton was infirmity. In search of a wife, he con- now at work upon Paradise Regained sulted his friend Dr. Paget, who and Samson Agonistes, the manuscripts recommended a kinswoman of his of which rose, as it were, out of the own, Elizabeth Minshull, a lady of ruins of London, after the ravages of respectable lineage, living near Nant- the Great Fire. Both these poems, the wich, in Cheshire. She was married last fruits of his Muse, were published
in 1671, and the remaining years of of the English-speaking race. First his life were absorbed in uninspiring but one he is in very deed; for, as exercises in the regions of Logic and Mark Pattison well said, he yields Theological Controversy. In the precedence to Shakespeare alone. And autumn of 1674 he was attacked by here, in the body of his poetical work, gout, to which he had long been sub- the reader is presented to a treasury ject; the disease “struck in," as the which is in itself an education, and phrase runs, and he died on Sunday, without which no education can ap8th of November, 1674, a month before proach completeness. It should be the conclusion of his sixty-sixth year. the duty, as it is the privilege, of every He was buried in St. Giles's, Cripple- British boy and girl to learn to know gate, but it is no longer possible to iden- their Shakespeare and their Milton tify the spot which is hallowed as the only less early than they have learnt to resting-place of the first but one among know their Bible. For with these three those great poets whose genius is the books beside him, no one can be lonely chief glory and the richest inheritance or uninspired.