Mark Pattison

Part 1 out of 4

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FIRST PERIOD. 1608-1639.




SECOND PERIOD. 1640-1660.









THIRD PERIOD. 1660--1674





_FIRST PERIOD_. 1608-1639.



In the seventeenth century it was not the custom to publish two
volumes upon every man or woman whose name had appeared on a
title-page. Nor, where lives of authors were written, were they
written with the redundancy of particulars which is now allowed.
Especially are the lives of the poets and dramatists obscure and
meagrely recorded. Of Milton, however, we know more personal details
than of any man of letters of that age. Edward Phillips, the poet's
nephew, who was brought up by his uncle, and lived in habits of
intercourse with him to the last, wrote a life, brief, inexact,
superficial, but valuable from the nearness of the writer to the
subject of his memoir. A cotemporary of Milton, John Aubrey (b.1625),
"a very honest man, and accurate in his accounts of matters of fact,"
as Toland says of him, made it his business to learn all he could
about Milton's habits. Aubrey was himself acquainted with Milton, and
diligently catechised thepoet's widow, his brother, and his nephew,
scrupulously writing down each detail as it came to him, in the
minutee of lives which he supplied to Antony Wood to be worked up in
his _Athenae_ and _Fasti_. Aubrey was only an antiquarian collector,
and was mainly dependent on what could be learned from the family.
None of Milton's family, and least of all Edward Phillips, were of a
capacity to apprehend moral or mental qualities, and they could only
tell Aubrey of his goings out and his comings in, of the clothes
he wore, the dates of events, the names of his acquaintance. In
compensation for the want of observation on the part of his own kith
and kin, Milton himself, with a superb and ingenuous egotism,
has revealed the secret of his thoughts and feelings in numerous
autobiographical passages of his prose writings. From what he directly
communicates, and from what he unconsciously betrays, we obtain an
internal life of the mind, more ample than that external life of the
bodily machine, which we owe to Aubrey and Phillips.

In our own generation all that printed books or written documents
have preserved about Milton has been laboriously brought together by
Professor David Masson, in whose _Life of Milton_ we have the most
exhaustive biography that ever was compiled of any Englishman. It is a
noble and final monument erected to the poet's memory, two centuries
after his death. My excuse for attempting to write of Milton alter Mr.
Masson is that his life is in six volumes octavo, with a total of some
four to five thousand pages. The present outline is written for a
different class of readers, those, namely, who cannot afford to know
more of Milton than can be told in some two hundred and fifty pages.

A family of Miltons, deriving the name in all probability from the
parish of Great Milton near Thame, is found in various branches spread
over Oxfordshire and the adjoining counties in the reign of Elisabeth.
The poet's grandfather was a substantial yeoman, living at Stanton St.
John, about five miles from Oxford, within the forest of Shotover, of
which he was also an under-ranger. The ranger's son John was at school
in Oxford, possibly as a chorister, conformed to the Established
Church, and was in consequence cast off by his father, who adhered
to the old faith. The disinherited son went up to London, and by
the assistance of a friend was set up in business as a scrivener. A
scrivener discharged some of the functions which, at the present day,
are undertaken for us in a solicitor's office. John Milton the father,
being a man of probity and force of character, was soon on the way to
acquire "a plentiful fortune." But he continued to live over his shop,
which was in Bread Street, Cheapside, and which bore the sign of the
Spread Eagle, the family crest.

It was at the Spread Eagle that his eldest son, John Milton, was
born, 9th December, 1608, being thus exactly contemporary with Lord
Clarendon, who also died in the same year as the poet. Milton must be
added to the long roll of our poets who have been natives of the
city which now never sees sunlight or blue sky, along with Chaucer,
Spenser, Herrick, Cowley, Shirley, Ben Jonson, Pope, Gray, Keats.
Besides attending as a day-scholar at St. Paul's School, which was
close at hand, his father engaged for him a private tutor at home. The
household of the Spread Eagle not only enjoyed civic prosperity, but
some share of that liberal cultivation, which, if not imbibed in the
home, neither school nor college ever confers. The scrivener was not
only an amateur in music, but a composer, whose tunes, songs, and airs
found their way into the best collections of music. Both schoolmaster
and tutor were men of mark. The high master of St. Paul's at that time
was Alexander Gill, an M.A. of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who was
"esteemed to have such an excellent way of training up youth, that
none in his time went beyond it." The private tutor was Thomas Young,
who was, or had been, curate to Mr. Gataker, of Rotherhithe, itself
a certificate of merit, even if we had not the pupil's emphatic
testimony of gratitude. Milton's fourth elegy is addressed to Young,
when, in 1627, he was settled at Hamburg, crediting him with having
first infused into his pupil a taste for classic literature and
poetry. Biographers have derived Milton's Presbyterianism in 1641 from
the lessons twenty years before of this Thomas Young, a Scotchman,
and one of the authors of the _Smectymnuus_. This, however, is a
misreading of Milton's mind--a mind which was an organic whole--"whose
seed was in itself," self-determined; not one whose opinions can be
accounted for by contagion or casual impact.

Of Milton's boyish exercises two have bean preserved. They are English
paraphrases of two of the Davidic Psalms, and were done at the age of
fifteen. That they were thought by himself worth printing in the same
volume with _Comus_, is the most noteworthy thing about them. No words
are so commonplace but that they can be made to yield inference by a
biographer. And even in these school exercises we think we can discern
that the future poet was already a diligent reader of Sylvester's _Du
Bartas_ (1605), the patriarch of Protestant poetry, and of Fairfax's
_Tasso_ (1600). There are other indications that, from very early
years, poetry had assumed a place in Milton's mind, not merely as a
juvenile pastime, but as an occupation of serious import.

Young Gill, son of the high master, a school-fellow of Milton, went
up to Trinity, Oxford, where he got into trouble by being informed
against by Chillingworth, who reported incautious political speeches
of Gill to his godfather, Laud. With Gill Milton corresponded; they
exchanged their verses, Greek, Latin, and English, with a confession
on Milton's part that he prefers English and Latin composition to
Greek; that to write Greek verses in this age is to sing to the deaf.
Gill, Milton finds "a severe critic of poetry, however disposed to be
lenient to his friend's attempts."

If Milton's genius did not announce itself in his paraphrases of
Psalms, it did in his impetuosity in learning, "which I seized with
such eagerness that from the twelfth year of my age, I scarce ever
went to bed before midnight." Such is his own account. And it
is worthnotice that we have here an incidental test of the
trustworthiness of Aubrey's reminiscences. Aubrey's words are, "When
he was very young he studied very hard, and sate up very late,
commonly till twelve or one o'clock at night; and his father ordered
the maid to sit up for him."

He was ready for college at sixteen, not earlier than the usual age
at that period. As his schoolmasters, both the Gills, were Oxford men
(Young was of St. Andrew's), it might have been expected that the
young scholar would have been placed at Oxford. However, it was
determined that he should go to Cambridge, where he was admitted a
pensioner of Christ's, 12th February, 1625, and commenced residence in
the Easter term ensuing. Perhaps his father feared the growing High
Church, or, as it was then called, Arminianism, of his own university.
It so happened, however, that the tutor to whom the young Milton was
consigned was specially noted for Arminian proclivities. This was
William Chappell, then Fellow of Christ's, who so recommended himself
to Laud by his party zeal, that he was advanced to be Provost of
Dublin and Bishop of Cork.

Milton was one of those pupils who are more likely to react against
a tutor than to take a ply from him. A preaching divine--Chappell
composed a treatise on the art of preaching--a narrow ecclesiastic of
the type loved by Land, was exactly the man who would drive Milton
into opposition. But the tutor of the seventeenth century was not
able, like the easy-going tutor of the eighteenth, to leave the young
rebel to pursue the reading of his choice in his own chamber. Chappell
endeavoured to drive his pupil along the scholastic highway of
exercises. Milton, returning to Cambridge after his summer vacation,
eager for the acquisition of wisdom, complains that he "was dragged
from his studies, and compelled to employ himself in composing
some frivolous declamation!" Indocile, as he confesses himself
(indocilisque aetas prava magistra fuit), he kicked against either the
discipline or the exercises exacted by college rules. He was punished.
Aubrey had heard that he was flogged, a thing not impossible in
itself, as the _Admonition Book_ of Emanuel gives an instance of
corporal chastisement as late as 1667. Aubrey's statement, however, is
a dubitative interlineation in his MS., and Milton's age, seventeen,
as well as the silence of his later detractors, who raked up
everything which could be told to his disadvantage, concur to make us
hesitate to accept a fact on so slender evidence. Anyhow, Milton was
sent away from college for a time, in the year 1627, in consequence
of something unpleasant which had occurred. That it was something of
which he was not ashamed is clear, from his alluding to it himself in
the lines written at the time,--

Nec duri libet usque minas perferre magistri
Caeteraque ingenio non subeunda meo.

And that the tutor was not considered to have been wholly free from
blame is evident from the fact that the master transferred Milton from
Chappell to another tutor, a very unusual proceeding. Whatever the
nature of the punishment, it was not what is known as rustication; for
Milton did not lose a term, taking his two degrees of B.A. and M.A. in
regular course, at the earliest date from his matriculation permitted
by the statutes. The one outbreak of juvenile petulance and
indiscipline over, Milton's force of character and unusual attainments
acquired him the esteem of his seniors. The nickname of "the lady
of Christ's" given him in derision by his fellow-students, is an
attestation of virtuous conduct. Ten years later, in 1642, Milton
takes an opportunity to "acknowledge publicly, with all grateful
mind, that more than ordinary respect which I found, above many of my
equals, at the hands of those courteous and learned men, the Fellows
of that college wherein I spent some years; who, at my parting after I
had taken two degrees, as the manner is, signified many ways how much
better it would content them that I would stay; as by many letters
full of kindness and loving respect, both before that time and long
after, I was assured of their singular good affection towards me."

The words "how much better it would content them that I would stay"
have been thought to hint at the offer of a fellowship at Christ's. It
is highly improvable that such an offer was ever made. There had been
two vacancies in the roll of fellows since Milton had become eligible
by taking his B.A. degree, and he had been passed over in favour of
juniors. It is possible that Milton was not statutably eligible, for,
by the statutes of Christ's, there could not be, at one time, more
than two fellows who were natives of the same county. Edward King, who
was Milton's junior, was put in, not by college election, but by
royal mandate. And in universities generally, it is not literature or
general acquirements which recommend a candidate for endowed posts,
but technical skill in the prescribed exercises, and a pedagogic

Further than this, had a fellowship in his college been attainable, it
would not have had much attraction for Milton. A fellowship implied
two things, residence in college, with teaching, and orders in the
church. With neither of these two conditions was Milton prepared to
comply. In 1632, when he proceeded to his M.A. degree, Milton was
twenty-four, he had been seven years in college, and had therefore
sufficient experience what college life was like. He who was so
impatient of the "turba legentum prava" in the Bodleian library, could
not have patiently consorted with the vulgar-minded and illiterate
ecclesiastics, who peopled the colleges of that day. Even Mede, though
the author of _Clavis Apocalyptica_ was steeped in the soulless
clericalism of his age, could not support his brother-fellows without
frequent retirements to Balsham, "being not willing to be joined
with such company." To be dependent upon Bainbrigge's (the Master of
Christ's) good pleasure for a supply of pupils; to have to live in
daily intercourse with the Powers and the Chappells, such as we know
them from Mede's letters, was an existence to which only the want
of daily bread could have driven Milton. Happily his father's
circumstances were not such as to make a fellowship pecuniarily an
object to the son. If he longed for "the studious cloister's pale,"
he had been, now for seven years, near enough to college life to
have dispelled the dream that it was a life of lettered leisure and
philosophic retirement. It was just about Milton's time that the
college tutor finally supplanted the university professor, a system
which implied the substitution of excercises performed by the pupil
for instruction given by the teacher. Whatever advantages this system
brought with it, it brought inevitably the degradation of the teacher,
who was thus dispensed from knowledge, having only to attend to
form. The time of the college tutor was engrossed by the details of
scholastic superintendence, and the frivolous worry of academical
business. Admissions, matriculations, disputations, declamations, the
formalities of degrees, public reception of royal and noble visitors,
filled every hour of his day, and left no time, even if he had had the
taste, for private study. To teaching, as we shall see, Milton was
far from averse. But then it must be teaching as he understood it, a
teaching which should expand the intellect and raise the character,
not dexterity in playing with the verbal formulae of the disputations
of the schools.

Such an occupation could have no attractions for one who was even now
meditating _Il Penseroso_ (composed 1633). At twenty he had already
confided to his schoolfellow, the younger Gill, the secret of his
discontent with the Cambridge tone. "Here among us," he writes from
college, "are barely one or two who do not flutter off, all unfledged,
into theology, having gotten of philology or of philosophy scarce so
much as a smattering. And for theology they are content with just what
is enough to enable them to patch up a paltry sermon." He retained the
same feeling towards his Alma Mater in 1641, when he wrote (Reason of
Church Government), "Cambridge, which as in the time of her better
health, and mine own younger judgment, I never greatly admired, so now
much less...."

On a review of all these indications of feeling, I should conclude
that Milton never had serious thoughts of a college fellowship, and
that his antipathy arose from a sense of his own incompatibility of
temper with academic life, and was not, like Phineas Fletcher's, the
result of disappointed hopes, and a sense of injury for having been
refused a fellowship at King's. One consideration which remains to be
mentioned would alone be decisive in favour of this view. A fellowship
required orders. Milton had been intended for the church, and had been
sent to college with that view. By the time he left Cambridge, at
twenty-four, it had become clear, both to himself and his family, that
he could never submit his understanding to the trammels of church
formularies. His later mind, about 1641, is expressed by himself
in his own forcible style,--"The church, to whose service by the
intention of my parents and friends I was destined of a child, and
in mine own resolutions, till coming to some maturity of years, and
perceiving what tyranny had invaded in the church, that he who would
take orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal.... I
thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred
office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing."
When he took leave of the university, in 1632, he had perhaps not
developed this distinct antipathy to the establishment. For in a
letter, preserved in Trinity College, and written in the winter of
1631-32, he does not put forward any conscientious objections to the
clerical profession, but only apologises to the friend to whom the
letter is addressed, for delay in making choice of some profession.
The delay itself sprung from an unconscious distaste. In a mind of
the consistent texture of Milton's, motives are secretly influential
before they emerge in consciousness. We shall not be wrong in
asserting that when he left Cambridge in 1632, it was already
impossible, in the nature of things, that he should have taken orders
in the Church of England, or a fellowship of which orders were a



Milton had been sent to college to quality for a profession. The
church, the first intended, he had gradually discovered to be
incompatible. Of the law, either his father's branch, or some other,
he seems to have entertained a thought, but to have speedily dismissed
it. So at the age of twenty-four he returned to his father's house,
bringing nothing with him but his education and a silent purpose. The
elder Milton had now retired from business, with sufficient means but
not with wealth. Though John was the eldest son, there were two other
children, a brother, Christopher, and a sister, Anne. To have no
profession, even a nominal one, to be above trade and below the status
of squire or yeoman, and to come home with the avowed object of
leading an idle life, was conduct which required justification. Milton
felt it to be so. In a letter addressed, in 1632, to some senior
friend at Cambridge, name unknown, he thanks him for being "a good
watchman to admonish that the hours of the night pass on, for so I
call my life as yet obscure and unserviceable to mankind, and that the
day with me is at hand, wherein Christ commands all to labour." Milton
has no misgivings. He knows that what he is doing with himself is the
best he can do. His aim is far above bread-winning, and therefore his
probation must be long. He destines for himself no indolent tarrying
in the garden of Armida. His is a "mind made and set wholly on the
accomplishment of greatest things." He knows that the looker-on will
hardly accept his apology for "being late," that it is in order to
being "more fit." Yet it is the only apology he can offer. And he is
dissatisfied with his own progress. "I am something suspicious of
myself, and do take notice of a certain belatedness in me."

Of this frame of mind the record is the second sonnet, lines which are
an inseparable part of Milton's biography--

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol'n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
Yet, be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven.
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Taskmaster's eye.

With aspirations thus vast, though unformed, with "amplitude of mind
to greatest deeds," Milton retired to his father's house in the
country. Five more years of self-education, added to the seven years
of academical residence, were not too much for the meditation of
projects such as Milton was already conceiving. Years many more than
twelve, filled with great events and distracting interests, were to
pass over before the body and shape of _Paradise Lost_ was given to
these imaginings.

The country retirement in which the elder Milton had fixed himself was
the little village of Horton, situated in that southernmost angle of
the county of Buckingham, which insinuates itself between Berks and
Middlesex. Though London was only about seventeen miles distant, it
was the London of Charles I., with its population of some 300,000
only; before coaches and macadamised roads; while the Colne, which
flows through the village, was still a river, and not the kennel of a
paper-mill. There was no lack of water and woods meadow and pasture,
closes and open field, with the regal towers of Windsor--"bosom'd high
in tufted trees," to crown the landscape. Unbroken leisure, solitude,
tranquillity of mind, surrounded by the thickets and woods, which
Pliny thought indispensable to poetical meditation (Epist.9.10), no
poet's career was ever commenced under more favourable auspices. The
youth of Milton stands in strong contrast with the misery, turmoil,
chance medley, struggle with poverty, or abandonment to dissipation,
which blighted the early years of so many of our men of letters.

Milton's life is a drama in three acts. The first discovers him in
the calm and peaceful retirement of Horton, of which _L'Allegro_, _Il
Penseroso_, and _Lycidas_ are the expression. In the second act he
is breathing the foul and heated atmosphere of party passion and
religious hate, generating the lurid fires which glare in the
battailous canticles of his prose pamphlets. The three great poems,
_Paradise Lost_, _Paradise Regained_, and _Samson Agonistes_, are the
utterance of his final period of solitary and Promethean grandeur,
when, blind, destitute, friendless, he testified of righteousness,
temperance, and judgment to come, alone before a fallen world.

In this delicious retirement of Horton, in alternate communing with
nature and with books, for five years of persevering study he laid in
a stock, not of learning, but of what is far above learning, of wide
and accurate knowledge. Of the man whose profession is learning, it
is characteristic that knowledge is its own end, and research its own
reward. To Milton all knowledge, all life, virtue itself, was already
only a means to a further end. He will know only "that which is of use
to know," and by useful, he meant that which conduced to form him for
his vocation of poet.

From a very early period Milton had taken poetry to be his vocation,
in the most solemn and earnest mood. The idea of this devotion was the
shaping idea of his life. It was, indeed, a bent of nature, with roots
drawing from deeper strata of character than any act of reasoned will,
which kept him out of the professions, and now fixed him, a seeming
idler, but really hard at work, in his father's house at Horton. The
intimation which he had given of his purpose in the sonnet above
quoted had become, in 1641, "an inward prompting which grows daily
upon me, that by labour and intent study, which I take to be my
portion in this life, joined with the strong propensity of nature,
I might perhaps leave something so written to after times, as they
should not willingly let it die."

What the ultimate form of his poetic utterance shall be, he is in no
hurry to decide. He will be "long choosing," and quite content to be
"beginning late." All his care at present is to qualify himself
for the lofty function to which he aspires. No lawyer, physician,
statesman, ever laboured to fit himself for his profession harder
than Milton strove to qualify himself for his vocation of poet.
Verse-making is, to the wits, a game of ingenuity; to Milton, it is
a prophetic office, towards which the will of heaven leads him. The
creation he contemplates will not flow from him as the stanzas of the
_Gerusalemme_ did from Tasso at twenty-one. Before he can make a poem,
Milton will make himself. "I was confirmed in this opinion, that he
who would not be frustrated of his hope to write well hereafter in
laudable things ought himself to be a true poem.... not presuming to
sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have
in himself the experience and practise of all that which is

Of the spontaneity, the abandon, which are supposed to be
characteristic of the poetical nature, there is nothing here; all
is moral purpose, precision, self-dedication. So he acquires ail
knowledge, not for knowledge' sake, from the instinct of learning, the
necessity for completeness, but because he is to be a poet. Nor will
he only have knowledge, he will have wisdom; moral development shall
go hand in hand with intellectual. A poet's soul should "contain of
good, wise, just, the perfect shape." He will cherish continually a
pure mind in a pure body. "I argued to myself that, if unchastity in
a woman, whom St. Paul terms the glory of man, be such a scandal and
dishonour, then certainly in a man, who is both the image and glory of
God, it must, though commonly not so thought, be much more deflouring
and dishonourable." There is yet a third constituent of the poetical
nature; to knowledge and to virtue must be added religion. For it is
from God that the poet's thoughts come. "This is not to be obtained
but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit that can enrich with all
utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed
fire of his altar, to touch and purify the life of whom he pleases. To
this must be added industrious and select reading, steady observation,
and insight into all seemly and generous acts and affairs; till which
in some measure be compast, I refuse not to sustain this expectation."
Before the piety of this vow, Dr. Johnson's morosity yields for a
moment, and he is forced to exclaim, "From a promise like this, at
once fervid, pious, and rational, might be expected the _Paradise

Of these years of self-cultivation, of conscious moral architecture,
such as Plato enacted for his ideal State, but none but Milton ever
had the courage to practise, the biographer would gladly give a minute
account. But the means of doing so are wanting. The poet kept no diary
of his reading, such as some great students, e.g. Isaac Casaubon, have
left. Nor could such a record, had it been attempted, have shown us
the secret process by which the scholar's dead learning was transmuted
in Milton's mind into living imagery. "Many studious and contemplative
years, altogether spent in the search of religious and civil
knowledge" is his own description of the period. "You make many
inquiries as to what I am about;" he writes to Diodati--"what am I
thinking of? Why, with God's help, of immortality! Forgive the word, I
only whisper it in your ear! Yes, I am pluming my wings for a flight."
This was in 1637, at the end of five years of the Horton probation.
The poems, which, rightly read, are strewn with autobiographical
hints, are not silent as to the intention of this period. In _Paradise
Regained_ (i. 196), Milton reveals himself. And in _Comus_, written
at Horton, the lines 375 and following are charged with the same

And wisdom's self
Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,
Where, with her best nurse, contemplations
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That in the various bustle of resort
Were all-to ruffled and sometimes impair'd.

That at Horton Milton "read all the Greek and Latin writers" is one of
Johnson's careless versions of Milton's own words, "enjoyed a complete
holiday in turning over Latin and Greek authors." Milton read, not as
a professional philologian, but as a poet and scholar, and always in
the light of his secret purpose. It was not in his way to sit down to
read over all the Greek and Latin writers, as Casaubon or Salmasius
might do. Milton read with selection, and "meditated," says Aubrey,
what he read. His practice conformed to the principle he has himself
laid down in the often-quoted lines (_Paradise Regained_, iv. 322)--

Who reads
Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
A spirit and judgment equal or superior,
Uncertain and unsettled still remains,
Deep vers'd in books, and shallow in himself.

Some of Milton's Greek books have been traced; his _Arattis,
Lyeophron, Euripides_ (the Stepharnis of 1602), and his _Pindar_ (the
Benedictus of 1620), are still extant, with marginal memoranda, which
should seem to evince careful and discerning reading. One critic
even thought it worth while to accuse Joshua Barnes of silently
appropriating conjectural emendations from Milton's _Euripides_. But
Milton's own poems are the beat evidence of his familiarity with all
that is most choice in the remains of classic poetry. Though the
commentators are accused of often, seeing an imitation where there
is none, no commentary can point out the ever-present infusion of
classical flavour, which bespeaks intimate converse far more than
direct adaptation. Milton's classical allusions, says Hartley
Coleridge, are amalgamated and consubstantiated with his native

A commonplace book of Milton's, after having lurked unsuspected for
200 years in the archives of Netherby, has been disinterred in our
own day (1874). It appears to belong partly to the end of the Horton
period. It is not by any means an account of all that he is reading,
but only an arrangement, under certain heads, or places of memoranda
for future use. These notes are extracted from about eighty different
authors, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, and English. Of Greek authors
no less than sixteen are quoted. The notes are mostly notes of
historical facts, seldom of thoughts, never of mere verbal expression.
There is no trace in it of any intention to store up either the
imagery or the language of poetry. It may be that such notes were
made and entered in another volume; for the book thus accidentally
preserved to us seems to refer to other similar volumes of
collections. But it is more likely that no such poetical memoranda
were ever made, and that Milton trusted entirely to memory for the
wealth of classical allusion with which his verse is surcharged. He
did not extract from the poets and the great writers whom he was
daily turning over, but only from the inferior authors and secondary
historians, which he read only once. Most of the material collected
in the commonplace book is used in his prose pamphlets. But when so
employed the facts are worked into the texture of his argument, rather
than cited as extraneous witnesses.

In reading history it was his aim to get at a conspectus of the
general current of affairs rather than to study minutely a special
period. He tells Diodati in September, 1637, that he has studied
Greek history continuously, from the beginning to the fall of
Constantinople. When he tells the same friend that he has been long
involved in the obscurity of the early middle ages of Italian History
down to the time of the Emperor Rudolph, we learn from the commonplace
book that he had only been reading the one volume of Sigonius's
_Historia Regni Italici_. From the thirteenth century downwards he
proposes to himself to study each Italian state in some separate
history. Even before his journey to Italy he read Italian with as much
ease as French. He tells us that it was by his father's advice that he
had acquired these modern languages. But we can, see that they were
essential parts of his own scheme of self-education, which included,
in another direction, Hebrew, both Biblical and Rabbinical and even

The intensity of his nature showed itself in his method of study. He
read, not desultorily, a bit here and another there, but "when I take
up with a thing, I never pause or break it off, nor am drawn away from
it by any other interest, till I have arrived at the goal I proposed
to myself," He made breaks occasionally In this routine of study by
visits to London, to see friends, to buy books, to take lessons in
mathematics, to go to the theatre, or to concerts. A love of music was
inherited from his father.

I have called this period, 1632-39, one of preparation, and not of
production. But though the first volume of poems printed by Milton did
not appear till 1645, the most considerable part of its contents was
written during the period included in the present chapter.

The fame of the author of _Paradise Lost_ has overshadowed that of the
author of _L'Allegro, Il Penseroso,_ and _Lycidas_. Yet had _Paradise
Lost_ never been written, these three poems, with _Comus_, would have
sufficed to place their author in a class apart, and above all those
who had used the English language for poetical purposes before him. It
is incumbent on Milton's biographer to relate the circumstances of the
composition of _Comus_, as it is an incident in the life of the poet.

Milton's musical tastes had brought him the acquaintance of Henry
Lawes, at that time the most celebrated composer in England. When the
Earl of Bridgewater would give an entertainment at Ludlow Castle to
celebrate his entry upon his office as President of Wales and the
Marches, it was to Lawes that application was made to furnish the
music. Lawes, as naturally, applied to his young poetical acquaintance
Milton, to write the words. The entertainment was to be of that
sort which was fashionable at court, and was called a Mask. In that
brilliant period of court life which was inaugurated by Elisabeth and
put an end to by the Civil War, a Mask was a frequent and favourite
amusement. It was an exhibition in which pageantry and music
predominated, but in which dialogue was introduced as accompaniment or

The dramatic Mask of the sixteenth century has been traced by the
antiquaries as far back as the time of Edward III. But in its
perfected shape it was a genuine offspring of the English renaissance,
a cross between the vernacular mummery, or mystery-play, and the Greek
drama. No great court festival was considered complete without such a
public show. Many of our great dramatic writers, Beaumont, Fletcher,
Ben Jonson, Middleton, Dekker, Shirley, Carew, were constrained by the
fashion of the time to apply their invention to gratify this taste for
decorative representation. No less an artist than Inigo Jones must
occasionally stoop to construct the machinery.

The taste for grotesque pageant in the open air must have gradually
died out before the general advance of refinement. The Mask by a
process of evolution would have become the Opera. But it often happens
that when a taste or fashion is at the point of death, it undergoes a
forced and temporary revival. So it was with the Mask. In 1633,
the Puritan hatred to the theatre had blazed out in Prynne's
_Histriomastix_, and as a natural consequence, the loyal and cavalier
portion of society threw itself into dramatic amusements of every
kind. It was an unreal revival of the Mask, stimulated by political
passion, in the wane of genuine taste for the fantastic and
semi-barbarous pageant, in which the former age had delighted. What
the imagination of the spectators was no longer equal to, was to
be supplied by costliness of dress and scenery. Those last
representations of the expiring Mask were the occasions of an
extravagant outlay. The Inns of Court and Whitehall vied with each
other in the splendour and solemnity with which they brought out,--the
Lawyers, Shirley's _Triumph of Peace_,--the Court, Carew's _Coelum

It was a strange caprice of fortune that made the future poet of the
Puritan epic the last composer of a cavalier mask. The slight plot, or
story, of _Comus_ was probably suggested to Milton by his recollection
of George Peele's _Old Wives' Tale_, which he may have seen on the
stage. The personage of _Comus_ was borrowed from a Latin extravaganza
by a Dutch professor, whose _Comus_ was reprinted at Oxford in
1634, the very year in which Milton wrote his _Mask_. The so-called
tradition collected by Oldys, of the young Egertons, who acted in
_Comus_, having lost themselves in Haywood Forest on their way to
Ludlow, obviously grew out of Milton's poem. However casual the
suggestion, or unpromising the occasion, Milton worked out of it a
strain of poetry such as had never been heard in England before. If
any reader wishes to realise the immense step upon what had gone
before him, which was now made by a young man of twenty-seven, he
should turn over some of the most celebrated of the masks of the
Jacobean period.

We have no information how _Comus_ was received when represented at
Ludlow, but it found a public of readers. For Lawes, who had the MS.
in his hands, was so importuned for copies that, in 1637, he caused an
edition to be printed off. Not surreptitiously; for though Lawes does
not say, in the dedication to Lord Brackley, that he had the author's
leave to print, we are sure that he had it, only from the motto. On
the title page of this edition (1637), is the line,--

Eheu! quid volui miscro mihi! floribus anstrum

The words are Virgil's, but the appropriation of them, and their
application in this "second intention" is too exquisite to have been
made by any but Milton.To the poems of the Horton period belong also
the two pieces _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, and _Lycidas_. He was
probably in the early stage of acquiring the language, when he
superscribed the two first poems with their Italian titles. For there
is no such word as "Penseroso," the adjective formed from "Pensiero"
being "pensieroso". Even had the word been written correctly, its
signification is not that which Milton intended, viz. thoughtful, or
contemplative, but anxious, full of cares, carking. The rapid
purification of Milton's taste will be best perceived by comparing
_L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ of uncertain date, but written after
1632, with the _Ode on the Nativity_, written 1629. The Ode, notwith-
standing its foretaste of Milton's grandeur, abounds in frigid conceits,
from which the two later pieces are free. The Ode is frosty, as written
in winter, within the four walls of a college chamber. The two idylls
breathe the free air of spring and summer, and of the fields round
Horton. They are thoroughly naturalistic; the choicest expression our
language has yet found of the fresh charm of country life, not as that
life is lived by the peasant, but as it is felt by a young and lettered
student, issuing at early dawn, or at sunset, into the fields from his
chamber and his books. All rural sights and sounds and smells are here
blended in that ineffable combination, which once or twice perhaps in
our lives has saluted our young senses before their perceptions were
blunted by

alcohol, by lust, or ambition, or diluted by the social
distractions of great cities.

The fidelity to nature of the imagery of these poems
has been impugned by the critics.

Then to come, in spite of sorrow,
And at my window bid good morrow.

The skylark never approaches human habitations in this way, as the
redbreast does, Mr. Masson replies that the subject of the verb "to
come" is, not the skylark, but L'Allegro, the joyous student. I cannot
construe the lines as Mr. Masson does, even though the consequence
were to convict Milton, a city-bred youth, of not knowing a skylark
from a sparrow when he saw it. A close observer of things around us
would not speak of the eglantine as twisted, of the cowslip as wan,
of the violet as glowing, or of the reed as balmy. Lycidas' laureate
hearse is to be strewn at once with primrose and woodbine, daffodil
and jasmine. When we read "the rathe primrose that forsaken dies," we
see that the poet is recollecting Shakespeare (Winter's Tale, 4. 4),
not looking at the primrose. The pine is not "rooted deep as high"
(_P.R._ 4416), but sends its roots along the surface. The elm, one of
the thinnest foliaged trees of the forest, is inappropriately named
starproof (_Arc_. 89). Lightning does not singe the tops of trees
(_P.L._ i. 613), but either shivers them, or cuts a groove down the
stem to the ground. These and other such like inaccuracies must be set
down partly to conventional language used without meaning, the vice
of Latin versification enforced as a task, but they are partly due to
real defect of natural knowledge.

Other objections of the critics on the same score, which may be met
with, are easily dismissed. The objector, who can discover no reason
why the oak should be styled "monumental," meets with his match in
the defender who suggests, that it may be rightly so called because
monuments in churches are made of oak. I should tremble to have to
offer an explanation to critics of Milton so acute as these two. But
of less ingenious readers I would ask, if any single word can be found
equal to "monumental" in its power of suggesting to the imagination
the historic oak of park or chase, up to the knees in fern, which has
outlasted ten generations of men; has been the mute witness of the
scenes of love, treachery, or violence enacted in the baronial hall
which it shadows and protects; and has been so associated with man,
that it is now rather a column and memorial obelisk than a tree of the

These are the humours of criticism. But, apart from these, a
naturalist is at once aware that Milton had neither the eye nor the
ear of a naturalist. At no time, even before his loss of sight, was he
an exact observer of natural objects. It may be that he knew a
skylark from a redbreast, and did not confound the dog-rose with the
honeysuckle. But I am sure that he had never acquired that interest in
nature's things and ways, which leads to close and loving watching
of them. He had not that sense of outdoor nature, empirical and not
scientific, which endows the _Angler_ of his cotemporary Walton, with
its enduring charm, and which is to be acquired only by living in the
open country in childhood. Milton is not a man of the fields, but of
books. His life is in his study, and when he steps abroad into the air
he carries his study thoughts with him. He does look at nature, but he
sees her through books. Natural impressions are received from without,
but always in those forms of beautiful speech, in which the poets of
all ages have clothed them. His epithets are not, like the epithets of
the school of Dryden and Pope, culled from the _Gradus ad Parnassum_;
they are expressive of some reality, but it is of a real emotion in
the spectator's soul, not of any quality detected by keen insight
in the objects themselves. This emotion Milton's art stamps with an
epithet, which shall convey the added charm of classical reminiscence.
When, e.g., he speaks of "the wand'ring moon," the original
significance of the epithet comes home to the scholarly reader with
the enhanced effect of its association with the "errantem lunam" of
Virgil. Nor because it is adopted from Virgil has the epithet here the
second-hand effect of a copy. If Milton sees nature through books, he
still sees it.

To behold the wand'ring moon,
Riding near her highest noon,
Like one that had been led astray.
Through the heaven's wide pathless way,
And oft, as if her head she bow'd,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.

No allegation that "wand'ring moon" is borrowed from Horace can hide
from us that Milton, though he remembered Horace, had watched the
phenomenon with a feeling so intense that he projected his own soul's
throb into the object before him, and named it with what Thomson calls
"recollected love".

Milton's attitude towards nature is not that of a scientific
naturalist, nor even that of a close observer. It is that of a poet
who feels its total influence too powerfully to dissect it. If, as I
have said, Milton reads books first and nature afterwards, it is not
to test nature by his books, but to learn from both. He is learning
not books, but from books. All he reads, sees, hears, is to him but
nutriment for the soul. He is making himself. Man is to him the
highest object; nature is subordinate to man, not only in its more
vulgar uses, but as an excitant of fine emotion. He is not concerned
to register the facts and phenomena of nature, but to convey the
impressions they make on a sensitive soul. The external forms of
things are to be presented to us as transformed through the heart and
mind of the poet. The moon is endowed with life and will, "stooping",
"riding", "wand'ring", "bowing her head", not as a frigid
personification, and because the ancient poets so personified her, but
by communication to her of the intense agitation which the nocturnal
spectacle rouses in the poet's own breast.

I have sometimes read that these two idylls are "masterpieces of
description". Other critics will ask if in the scenery of _L'Allegro_
and _Il Penseroso_ Milton has described the country about Horton, in
Bucks, or that about Forest Hill, in Oxfordshire; and will object that
the Chiltern Hills are not high enough for clouds to rest upon their
top, much less upon their breast. But he has left out the pollard
willows, says another censor, and the lines of pollard willow are the
prominent feature in the valley of the Colne, even more so than the
"hedgerow elms." Does the line "Walk the studious cloister's pale,"
_mean_ St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey? When these things can continue
to be asked, it is hardly superfluous to continue to repeat, that
truth of fact and poetical truth are two different things. Milton's
attitude towards nature is not that of a "descriptive poet", if indeed
the phrase be not a self-contradiction.

In Milton, nature is not put forward as the poet's theme. His theme
is man, in the two contrasted moods of joyous emotion, or grave
reflection. The shifting scenery ministers to the varying mood.
Thomson, in the _Seasons_ (1726), sets himself to render natural
phenomena as they truly are. He has left us a vivid presentation in
gorgeous language of the naturalistic calendar of the changing year.
Milton, in these two idylls, has recorded a day of twenty-four
hours. But he has not registered the phenomena; he places us at the
standpoint of the man before whom they deploy. And the man, joyous
or melancholy, is not a bare spectator of them; he is the student,
compounded of sensibility and intelligence, of whom we are not told
that he saw so and so, or that he felt so, but with whom we are
made copartners of his thoughts and feeling. Description melts into
emotion, and contemplation bodies itself in imagery. All the charm of
rural life is there, but it is not tendered to us in the form of a
landscape; the scenery is subordinated to the human figure in the

These two short idylls are marked by a gladsome spontaneity which
never came to Milton again. The delicate fancy and feeling which play
about _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ never reappear, and form a strong
contrast to the austere imaginings of his later poetical period. These
two poems have the freedom and frolic, the natural grace of movement,
the improvisation, of the best Elizabethan examples, while both
thoughts and words are under a strict economy unknown to the diffuse
exuberance of the Spenserians.

In _Lycidas_ (1637) we have reached the high-water mark of English
Poesy and of Milton's own production. A period of a century and a half
was to elapse before poetry in England seemed, in Wordsworth's _Ode
on Immortality_ (1807), to be rising again towards the level of
inspiration which it had once attained in _Lycidas_. And in the
development of the Miltonic genius this wonderful dirge marks the
culminating point. As the twin idylls of 1632 show a great advance
upon the _Ode on the Nativity_ (1629), the growth of the poetic mind
during the five years which follow 1632 is registered in _Lycidas_.
Like the _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, _Lycidas_ is laid out on the
lines of the accepted pastoral fiction; like them it offers exquisite
touches of idealised rural life. But _Lycidas_ opens up a deeper vein
of feeling, a patriot passion so vehement and dangerous, that, like
that which stirred the Hebrew prophet, it is compelled to veil itself
from power, or from sympathy, in utterance made purposely enigmatical.
The passage which begins "Last came and last did go", raises in us a
thrill of awe-struck expectation which. I can only compare with that
excited by the Cassandra of Aeschylus's _Agamemnon_. For the reader to
feel this, he must have present in memory the circumstances of England
in 1637. He must place himself as far as possible in the situation of
a contemporary. The study of Milton's poetry compels the study of his
time; and Professor Masson's six volumes are not too much to enable
us to understand that there were real causes for the intense passion
which glows underneath the poet's words--a passion which unexplained
would be thought to be intrusive.

The historical exposition must be gathered from the English history of
the period, which may be read in Professor Masson's excellent summary.
All I desire to point out here is, that in _Lycidas_, Milton's
original picturesque vein is for the first time crossed with one
of quite another sort, stern, determined, obscurely indicative of
suppressed passion, and the resolution to do or die. The fanaticism of
the covenanter and the sad grace of Petrarch seem to meet in Milton's
monody. Yet these opposites, instead of neutralising each other, are
blended into one harmonious whole by the presiding, but invisible,
genius of the poet. The conflict between the old cavalier world--the
years of gaiety and festivity of a splendid and pleasure-loving court,
and the new puritan world into which love and pleasure were not to
enter--this conflict which was commencing in the social life of
England, is also begun in Milton's own breast, and is reflected in

For we were nurs'd upon the self-same hill.

Here is the sweet mournfulness of the Spenserian time, upon whose joys
Death is the only intruder. Pass onward a little, and you are in presence
of the tremendous

Two-handed engine at the door,

the terror of which is enhanced by its obscurity. We are very sure
that the avenger is there, though we know not who he is. In these
thirty lines we have the preluding mutterings of the storm which was
to sweep away mask and revel and song, to inhibit the drama, and
suppress poetry. In the earlier poems Milton's muse has sung in the
tones of the age that is passing away; the poet is, except in his
austere chastity, a cavalier. Though even in _L'Allegro_ Dr. Johnson
truly detects "some melancholy in his mirth." In _Lycidas_, for a
moment, the tones of both ages, the past and the coming, are combined,
and then Milton leaves behind him for ever the golden age, and one
half of his poetic genius. He never fulfilled the promise with which
_Lycidas_ concludes, "Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new."



Before 1632 Milton had begun to learn Italian. His mind, just then
open on all sides to impressions from books, was peculiarly attracted
by Italian poetry. The language grew to be loved for its own sake.
Saturated as he was with Dante and Petrarch, Tasso and Ariosto, the
desire arose to let the ear drink in the music of Tuscan speech.

The "unhappy gift of beauty," which has attracted the spoiler of all
ages to the Italian peninsula, has ever exerted, and still exerts, a
magnetic force on every cultivated mind. Manifold are the sources of
this fascination now. The scholar and the artist, the antiquarian and
the historian, the architect and the lover of natural scenery, alike
find here the amplest gratification of their tastes. This is so still;
but in the sixteenth century the Italian cities were the only homes
of an ancient and decaying civilization, Not insensible to other
impressions, it was specially the desire of social converse with the
living poets and men of taste--a feeble generation, but one still
nourishing the traditions of the great poetic age--which drew Milton
across the Alps.

In April, 1637, Milton's mother had died; but his younger brother,
Christopher, had come to live, with his wife, in the paternal home at
Horton. Milton, the father, was not unwilling that his son should have
his foreign tour, as a part of that elaborate education by which he
was qualifying himself for his doubtful vocation. The cost was not
to stand in the way, considerable as it must have been. Howell's
estimate, in his _Instructions for Forreine Travel_, 1642, was 300 l.
a year for the tourist himself, and 50 l. for his man, a sum equal to
about 1000 l. at present.

Among the letters of introduction with which Milton provided himself,
one was from the aged Sir Henry Wotton, Provost of Eton, in Milton's
immediate neighbourhood. Sir Henry, who had lived a long time in
Italy, impressed upon his young friend the importance of discretion on
the point of religion, and told him the story which he always told to
travellers who asked his advice. "At Siena I was tabled in the house
of one Alberto Scipioni, an old Roman courtier in dangerous times....
At my departure for Rome I had won confidence enough to beg his advice
how I might carry myself securely there, without offence of others,
or of mine own conscience. 'Signor Arrigo mio,' says he, '_pensieri
stretti ed il viso sciolto_ (thoughts close, countenance open) will go
safely over the whole world.'" Though the intensity of the Catholic
reaction had somewhat relaxed in Italy, the deportment of a Protestant
in the countries which were terrorised by the Inquisition was a matter
which demanded much circumspection. Sir H. Wotton spoke from his own
experience of far more rigorous times than those of the Barberini
Pope. But he may have noticed, even in his brief acquaintance with
Milton, a fearless presumption of speech which was just what was most
likely to bring him into trouble, The event proved that the hint was
not misplaced. For at Rome itself, in the very lion's den, nothing
could content the young zealot but to stand up for his Protestant
creed. Milton would not do as Peter Heylin did, who, when asked as to
his religion, replied that he was a Catholic, which, in a Laudian, was
but a natural equivoque. Milton was resolute in his religion at Rome,
so much so that many were deterred from showing him the civilities
they were prepared to offer. His rule, he says, was "not of my own
accord to introduce in those places conversation about religion,
but, if interrogated respecting the faith, then, whatsoever I should
suffer, to dissemble nothing. What I was, if any one asked, I
concealed from no one; if any one in the very city of the Pope
attacked the orthodox religion, I defended it most freely." Beyond the
statement that the English Jesuits were indignant, we hear of no evil
consequences of this imprudence. Perhaps the Jesuits saw that Milton
was of the stuff that would welcome martyrdom, and were sick of the
affair of Galileo, which had terribly damaged the pretensions of their

Milton arrived in Paris April or May, 1638. He received civilities
from the English ambassador, Lord Scudamore, who at his request gave
him an introduction to Grotius. Grotius, says Phillips, "took Milton's
visit kindly, and gave him entertainment suitable to his worth, and
the high commendations he had heard of him." We have no other record
of his stay of many days in Paris, though A. Wood supposes that "the
manners and graces of that place were not agreeable to his mind." It
was August before he reached Florence, by way of Nice and Genoa, and
in Florence he spent the two months which we now consider the most
impossible there, the months of August and September. Nor did he
find, as he would find now, the city deserted by the natives. We hear
nothing of Milton's impressions of the place, but of the men whom he
met there he retained always a lively and affectionate remembrance.
The learned and polite Florentines had not fled to the hills from the
stifling heat and blinding glare of the Lung' Arno, but seem to have
carried on their literary meetings in defiance of climate. This
was the age of academies--an institution, Milton says, "of most
praiseworthy effect, both for the cultivation of polite letters
and the keeping up of friendships." Florence had five or six such
societies, the Florentine, the Delia Crusca, the Svogliati,
the Apotisti, &c. It is easy, and usual in our day, to speak
contemptuously of the literary tone of these academies, fostering,
as they did, an amiable and garrulous intercourse of reciprocal
compliment, and to contrast them unfavourably with our societies for
severe research. They were at least evidence of culture, and served to
keep alive the traditions of the more masculine Medicean age. And
that the members of these associations were not unaware of their own
degeneracy and of its cause, we learn from Milton himself. For as
soon as they found that they were safe with the young Briton, they
disclosed their own bitter hatred of the church's yoke which they had
to bear. "I have sate among their learned men," Milton wrote in 1644,
"and been counted happy to be born in such a place of philosophic
freedom as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing
but bemoan the servile condition into which learning amongst them was
brought, that this was it which had dampt the glory of Italian wits,
that nothing had been written there now these many years but flattery
and fustian." Milton was introduced at the meetings of their
academies; his presence is recorded on two occasions, of which the
latest is the 16th September at the Svogliati. He paid his scot by
reciting from memory some of his youthful Latin verses, hexameters,
"molto erudite," says the minute-book of the sitting, and others,
which "I shifted, in the scarcity of boots and conveniences, to patch
up." He obtained much credit by these exercises, which, indeed,
deserved it by comparison. He ventured upon the perilous experiment of
offering some compositions in Italian, which, the fastidious Tuscan
ear at least professed to include in those "encomiums which the
Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps."

The author of _Lycidas_ cannot but have been quite aware of the small
poetical merit of such an ode as that which was addressed to him by
Francini. In this ode Milton is the swan of Thames--"Thames, which,
owing to thee, rivals Boeotian Permessus;" and so forth. But there is
a genuine feeling, an ungrudging warmth of sympathetic recognition
underlying the trite and tumid panegyric. And Milton may have yielded
to the not unnatural impulse of showing his countrymen, that though
not a prophet in boorish and fanatical England, he had found
recognition in the home of letters and arts. Upon us is forced, by
this their different reception of Milton, the contrast between the
two countries, Italy and England, in the middle of the seventeenth
century. The rude north, whose civilisation was all to come,
concentrating all its intelligence in a violent effort to work off the
ecclesiastical poison from its system, is brought into sharp contrast
with the sweet south, whose civilisation is behind it, and whose
intellect, after a severe struggle, has succumbed to the material
force and organisation of the church.

As soon as the season allowed of it, Milton set forward to Rome,
taking what was then the usual way by Siena. At Rome he spent two
months, occupying himself partly with seeing the antiquities, and
partly with cultivating the acquaintance of natives, and some of the
many foreigners resident in the eternal city. But though he received
much civility, we do not find that he met with the peculiar sympathy
which endeared to him his Tuscan friends. His chief ally was the
German, Lucas Holstenius, a native of Hamburg, who had abjured
Protestantism to become librarian of the Vatican. Holstenius had
resided three years in Oxford, and considered himself bound to repay
to the English scholar some of the attentions he had received himself.
Through Holstenius Milton was presented to the nephew, Francesco
Barberini, who was just then everything in Rome. It was at a concert
at the Barberini palace that Milton heard Leonora Baroni sing. His
three Latin epigrams addressed to this lady, the first singer of
Italy, or of the world at that time, testify to the enthusiasm she
excited in the musical soul of Milton.

Nor are these three epigrams the only homage which Milton paid to
Italian beauty. The susceptible poet, who in the sunless north would
fain have "sported with the tangles of Neaera's hair," could not
behold Neaera herself and the flashing splendour of her eye, unmoved.
Milton proclaims (_Defensio Secunda_) that in all his foreign tour he
had lived clear from all that is disgraceful. But the pudicity of his
behaviour and language covers a soul tremulous with emotion, whose
passion was intensified by the discipline of a chaste intention. Five
Italian pieces among his poems are to the address of another lady,
whose "majestic movements and love-darting dark brow" had subdued him.
The charm lay in the novelty of this style of beauty to one who came
from the land of the "vermeil-tinctur'd cheek" (_Comus_) and the
"golden nets of hair" (_El._ i. 60). No clue has been discovered to
the name of this divinity, or to the occasion on which, Milton saw

Of Milton's impression of Rome there is no record. There are no traces
of special observation in his poetry. The description of the city in
_Paradise Regained_ (iv. 32) has nothing characteristic, and could
have been written by one who had never seen it, and by many as well
as by Milton. We get one glimpse of him by aid of the register of the
English College, as dining there at a "sumptuous entertainment" on
30th October, when he met Nicholas Carey, brother of Lord Falkland.
In spite of Sir Henry Wotton's caution, his resoluteness, as A.
Wood calls it, in his religion, besides making the English Jesuits
indignant, caused others, not Jesuits, to withhold civilities. Milton
only tells us himself that the antiquities detained him in Rome about
two months.

At the end of November he went on to Naples. On the road he fell in
with an Eremite friar, who gave him an introduction to the one man in
Naples whom it was important he should know, Giovanni Battista Manso,
Marquis of Villa. The marquis, now seventy-eight, had been for
two generations the Maecenas of letters in Southern Italy. He had
sheltered Tasso in the former generation, and Marini in the latter. It
was the singular privilege of his old age that he should now entertain
a third poet, greater than either. In spite of his years, he was able
to act as cicerone to the young Englishman over the scenes which he
himself, in his _Life of Tasso_, has described with the enthusiasm of
a poet. But even the high-souled Manso quailed before the terrors of
the Inquisition, and apologised to Milton for not having shown him
greater attention, because he would not be more circumspect in the
matter of religion. Milton's Italian journey brings out the two
conflicting strains of feeling which were uttered together in
_Lycidas_, the poet's impressibility by nature, the freeman's
indignation at clerical domination.

The time was now at hand when the latter passion, the noble rage
of freedom, was to suppress the more delicate flower of poetic
imagination. Milton's original scheme had included Sicily and Greece.
The serious aspect of affairs at home compelled him to renounce his
project. "I considered it dishonourable to be enjoying myself at my
ease in foreign lands, while my countrymen were striking a blow for
freedom." He retraced his steps leisurely enough, however, making a
halt of two months in Rome, and again one of two months in Florence.
We find him mentioned in the minutes of the academy of the Svogliati
as having been present at three of their weekly meetings, on the 17th,
24th, and 31st March. But the most noteworthy incident of his second
Florentine residence is his interview with Galileo. He had been unable
to see the veteran martyr of science on his first visit. For though
Galileo was at that time living within the walls, he was kept a close
prisoner by the Inquisition, and not allowed either to set foot
outside his own door, or to receive visits from non-Catholics. In the
spring of 1639, however, he was allowed to go back to his villa at
Gioiello, near Arcetri, and Milton obtained admission to him, old,
frail, and blind, but in full possession of his mental faculty.
There is observable in Milton, as Mr. Masson suggests, a prophetic
fascination of the fancy on the subject of blindness. And the deep
impression left by this sight of "the Tuscan artist" is evidenced by
the feeling with which Galileo's name and achievement are imbedded in
_Paradise Lost_.

From Florence, Milton crossed the Apennines by Bologna and Ferrara
to Venice. From this port he shipped for England the books he had
collected during his tour, books curious and rare as they seemed to
Phillips, and among them a chest or two of choice music books. The
month of April was spent at Venice, and bidding farewell to the
beloved land he would never visit again, Milton passed the Alps to

No Englishman's foreign pilgrimage was complete without touching at
this marvellous capital of the reformed faith, which with almost no
resources had successfully braved the whole might of the Catholic
reaction. The only record of Milton's stay at Geneva is the album of a
Neapolitan refugee, to which Milton contributed his autograph, under
date 10th June, 1639, with the following quotation:--

If virtue feeble were,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.
(From _Comus_).

Caelum non animum muto, dum trans mare curro.
(From _Horace_.)

But it is probable that he was a guest in the house of one of the
leading pastors, Giovanni Diodati, whose nephew Charles, a physician
commencing practice in London, was Milton's bosom friend. Here Milton
first heard of the death, in the previous August, of that friend. It
was a heavy blow to him, for one of the chief pleasures of being at
home again would have been to pour into a sympathetic Italian ear the
story of his adventures. The sadness of the homeward journey from
Geneva is recorded for us in the _Epitaphium Damonis_. This piece is
an elegy to the memory of Charles Diodati. It unfortunately differs
from the elegy on King in being written in Latin, and is thus
inaccessible to uneducated readers. As to such readers the topic of
Milton's Latin poetry is necessarily an ungrateful subject, I
will dismiss it here with one remark. Milton's Latin verses are
distinguished from most Neo-latin verse by being a vehicle of real
emotion. His technical skill is said to have been surpassed by others;
but that in which he stands alone is, that in these exercises of
imitative art he is able to remain himself, and to give utterance to
genuine passion. Artificial Arcadianism is as much the frame-work of
the elegy on Diodati as it is of _Lycidas_. We have Daphnis and Bion,
Tityrus and Amyntas for characters, Sicilian valleys for scenery,
while Pan, Pales, and the Fauns represent the supernatural. The
shepherds defend their flocks from wolves and lions. But this
factitious bucolicism is pervaded by a pathos, which, like volcanic
heat, has fused into a new compound the dilapidated debris of the
Theocritean world. And in the Latin elegy there is more tenderness
than in the English. Charles Diodati was much nearer to Milton than
had been Edward King. The sorrow in _Lycidas_ is not so much personal
as it is the regret of the society of Christ's. King had only been
known to Milton as one of the students of the same college; Diodati
was the associate of his choice in riper manhood.

The _Epitaphium Damonis_ is further memorable as Milton's last attempt
in serious Latin verse. He discovered in this experiment that Latin
was not an adequate vehicle of the feeling he desired to give vent to.
In the concluding lines he takes a formal farewell of the Latian
muse, and announces his purpose of adopting henceforth the "harsh and
grating Brittonic idiom" (_Brittonicum stridens_).

_SECOND PERIOD_. 1640-1660.



Milton was back in England in August, 1639. He had been absent a year
and three months, during which space of time the aspect of public
affairs, which had been perplexed and gloomy when he left, had been
growing still more ominous of a coming storm. The issues of the
controversy were so pervasive, that it was almost impossible for any
educated man who understood them not to range himself on a side. Yet
Milton, though he had broken off his projected tour in consequence,
did not rush into the fray on his return. He resumed his retired and
studious life, "with no small delight, cheerfully leaving," as he
says, "the event of public affairs first to God, and then to those to
whom the people had committed that task."

He did not return to Horton, but took lodgings in London, in the house
of Russel a tailor, in St. Bride's churchyard, at the city end of
Fleet-street, on the site of what is now Farringdon-street. There is
no attempt on the part of Milton to take up a profession, not even for
the sake of appearances. The elder Milton was content to provide the
son, of whom he was proud, with the means of prosecuting his eccentric
scheme of life, to continue, namely, to prepare himself for some great
work, nature unknown.

For a young man of simple habits and studious life a little suffices.
The chief want is books, and of these, for Milton's style of reading,
select rather than copious, a large collection is superfluous. There
were in 1640 no public libraries in London, and a scholar had to find
his own store of books or to borrow from his friends. Milton never
can have possessed a large library. At Horton he may have used
Kederminster's bequest to Langley Church. Still, with his Italian
acquisitions, added to the books that he already possessed, he soon
found a lodging too narrow for his accommodation, and removed to a
house of his own, "a pretty garden-house, in Aldersgate, at the end of
an entry." Aldersgate was outside the city walls, on the verge of the
open country of Islington, and was a genteel though not a fashionable
quarter. There were few streets in London, says Phillips, more free
from noise.

He had taken in hand the education of his two nephews, John and Edward
Phillips, sons of his only sister Anne. Anne was a few years older
than her brother John. Her first husband, Edward Phillips, had died in
1631, and the widow had given her two sons a stepfather in one Thomas
Agar, who was in the Clerk of the Crown's office. Milton, on settling
in London in 1639, had at once taken his younger nephew John to live
with him. When, in 1640, he removed to Aldersgate, the elder, Edward,
also came under his roof.

If it was affection for his sister which first moved Milton to
undertake the tuition of her sons, he soon developed a taste for the
occupation. In 1643 he began to receive into his house other pupils,
but only, says Phillips (who is solicitous that his uncle should not
be thought to have kept a school), "the sons of some gentlemen that
were his intimate friends." He threw into his lessons the same energy
which he carried into everything else. In his eagerness to find a
place for everything that could be learnt, there could have been few
hours in the day which were not invaded by teaching. He had exchanged
the contemplative leisure of Horton for a busy life, in which no hour
but had its calls. Even on Sundays there were lessons in the Greek
Testament and dictations of a system of Divinity in Latin. His
pamphlets of this period betray, in their want of measure and
equilibrium, even in their heated style and passion-flushed language,
the life at high pressure which their author was leading.

We have no account of Milton's method of teaching from any competent
pupil. Edward Phillips was an amiable and upright man, who earned his
living respectably by tuition and the compilation of books. He held
his uncle's memory in great veneration. But when he comes to
describe the education he received at his uncle's hands, the only
characteristic on which he dwells is that of quantity. Phillips's
account is, however, supplemented for us by Milton's written theory.
His _Tractate of Education to Master Samuel Hartlib_ is probably known
even to those who have never looked at anything else of Milton's in

Of all the practical arts, that of education seems the most cumbrous
in its method, and to be productive of the smallest results with the
most lavish expenditure of means. Hence the subject of education is
one which is always luring on the innovator and the theorist.
Every one, as he grows up, becomes aware of time lost, and effort
misapplied, in his own case. It is not unnatural to desire to save our
children from a like waste of power. And in a time such as was that
of Milton's youth, when all traditions were being questioned, and all
institutions were to be remodelled, it was certain that the school
would be among the earliest objects to attract an experimental
reformer. Among the advanced minds of the time there had grown up a
deep dissatisfaction with the received methods of our schools, and
more especially of our universities. The great instaurator of all
knowledge, Bacon, in preaching the necessity of altering the whole
method of knowing, included as matter of course the method of teaching
to know.

The man who carried over the Baconian aspiration into education was
Comenius (d. 1670). A projector and enthusiast, Comenius desired, like
Bacon, an entirely new intellectual era. With Bacon's intellectual
ambition, but without Bacon's capacity, Comenius proposed to
revolutionise all knowledge, and to make complete wisdom accessible to
all, in a brief space of time, and with a minimum of labour. Language
only as an instrument, not as an end in itself; many living languages,
instead of the one dead language of the old school; a knowledge of
things, instead of words; the free use of our eyes and ears upon the
nature that surrounds us; intelligent apprehension, instead of loading
the memory--all these doctrines, afterwards inherited by the party
of rational reform, were first promulgated in Europe by the numerous
pamphlets--some ninety have been reckoned up--of this Teuto-Slav,

Comenius had as the champion of his views in England Samuel Hartlib,
a Dantziger by origin, settled in London since 1628. Hartlib had even
less of real science than Comenius, but he was equally possessed by
the Baconian ideal of a new heaven and a new earth of knowledge. Not
himself a discoverer in any branch, he was unceasingly occupied in
communicating the discoveries and inventions of others. He had an ear
for every novelty of whatever kind, interesting himself in social,
religious, philanthropic schemes, as well as in experiments in the
arts. A sanguine universality of benevolence pervaded that generation
of ardent souls, akin only in their common anticipation of an unknown
Utopia. A secret was within the reach of human ingenuity which would
make all mankind happy. But there were two directions more especially
in which Hartlib's zeal without knowledge abounded. These were a grand
scheme for the union of Protestant Christendom, and his propagand of
Comenius's school-reform.

For the first of these projects it was not likely that Hartlib would
gain a proselyte in Milton, who had at one-and-twenty judged Anglican
orders a servitude, and was already chafing against the restraints of
Presbytery. But on his other hobby, that of school-reform, Milton was
not only sympathetic, but when Hartlib came to talk with him, he
found that most or all of Comenius's ideas had already independently
presented themselves to the reflection or experience of the
Englishman. At Hartlib's request Milton consented to put down his
thoughts on paper, and even to print them in a quarto pamphlet of
eight pages, entitled, _Of Education: to Master Samuel Hartlib_.

This tract, often reproduced and regarded, along with one of Locke's,
as a substantial contribution to the subject, must often have
grievously disappointed those who have eagerly consulted it for
practical hints or guidance of any kind. Its interest is wholly
biographical. It cannot be regarded as a valuable contribution to
educational theory, but it is strongly marked with the Miltonic
individuality. We find in it the same lofty conception of the aim
which Milton carried into everything he attempted; the same disdain of
the beaten routine, and proud reliance upon his own resources. He had
given vent elsewhere to his discontent with the system of Cambridge,
"which, as in the time of her better health, and mine own younger
judgment, I never greatly admired, so now (1642) much less." In the
letter to Hartlib he denounces with equal fierceness the schools and
"the many mistakes which have made learning generally so unpleasing
and so unsuccessful." The alumni of the universities carry away with
them a hatred and contempt for learning, and sink into "ignorantly
zealous" clergymen, or mercenary lawyers, while the men of fortune
betake themselves to feasts and jollity. These last, Milton thinks,
are the best of the three classes.

All these moral shipwrecks are the consequence, according to Milton,
of bad education. It is in our power to avert them by a reform of
schools. But the measures of reform, when produced, are ludicrously
incommensurable with the evils to be remedied. I do not trouble the
reader with the proposals; they are a form of the well-known mistake
of regarding education as merely the communication of useful
knowledge. The doctrine as propounded in the _Tractate_ is complicated
by the further difficulty, that the knowledge is to be gathered out of
Greek and Latin books. This doctrine is advocated by Milton with the
ardour of his own lofty enthusiasm. In virtue of the grandeur of zeal
which inspires them, these pages, which are in substance nothing more
than the now familiar omniscient examiner's programme, retain a place
as one of our classics. The fine definition of education here given
has never been improved upon: "I call a complete and generous
education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and
magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and
war." This is the true Milton. When he offers, in another page, as an
equivalent definition of the true end of learning, "to repair the ruin
of our first parents by regaining to know God aright," we have the
theological Milton, and what he took on from the current language of
his age.

Milton saw strongly, as many have done before and since, one weak
point in the practice of schools, namely, the small result of much
time. He fell into the natural error of the inexperienced teacher,
that of supposing that the remedy was the ingestion of much and
diversified intelligible matter. It requires much observation of
young minds to discover that the rapid inculcation of unassimilated
information stupefies the faculties instead of training them. Is it
fanciful to think that in Edward Phillips, who was always employing
his superficial pen upon topics with which he snatched a fugitive
acquaintance, we have a concrete example of the natural result of the
Miltonic system of instruction?



We have seen that Milton turned back from his unaccomplished tour
because he "deemed it disgraceful to be idling away his time abroad
for his own gratification, while his countrymen were contending for
their liberty." From these words biographers have inferred that he
hurried home with the view of taking service in the Parliamentarian
army. This interpretation of his words seems to receive confirmation
from what Phillips thinks he had heard,--"I am much mistaken if
there were not about this time a design in agitation of making him
Adjutant-General in Sir William Waller's army." Phillips very likely
thought that a recruit could enlist as an Adjutant-General, but
it does not appear from Milton's own words that he himself ever
contemplated service in the field. The words "contending for liberty"
(de libertate dimicarent) could not, as said of the winter 1638-39,
mean anything more than the strife of party. And when war did break
out, it must have been obvious to Milton that he could serve the cause
better as a scholar than as a soldier.

That he never took service in the army is certain. If there was a
time when he should have been found in the ranks, it was on the 12th
November, 1642, when every able-bodied citizen turned out to oppose
the march of the king, who had advanced to Brentford. But we have the
evidence of the sonnet--

Captain, or Colonel, or Knight in arms,

that Milton, on this occasion, stayed at home. He had, as he announced
in February, 1642, "taken labour and intent study" to be his portion
in this life. He did not contemplate enlisting his pen in the service
of the Parliament, but the exaltation of his country's glory by the
composition of some monument of the English language, as Dante or
Tasso had done for Italian. But a project ambitious as this lay too
far off to be put in execution as soon as thought of. The ultimate
purpose had to give place to the immediate. One of these interludes,
originating in Milton's personal relations, was his series of tracts
on divorce.

In the early part of the summer of 1643, Milton took a sudden journey
into the country, "nobody about him certainly knowing the reason, or
that it was any more than a journey of recreation." He was absent
about a month, and when he returned he brought back a wife with him.
Nor was the bride alone. She was attended "by some few of her nearest
relations," and there was feasting and celebration of the nuptials, in
the house in Aldersgate-street.

The bride's name was Mary, eldest daughter of Richard Powell, Esq., of
Forest Hill, J.P. for the county of Oxford. Forest Hill is a village
and parish about five miles from Oxford on the Thame road, where Mr.
Powell had a house and a small estate of some 300 l. a year, value of
that day. Forest Hill was within the ancient royal forest of Shotover,
of which Mr. Powell was lessee. The reader will remember that the
poet's father was born at Stanton St. John, the adjoining parish
to Forest Hill, and that Richard Milton, the grandfather, had been
under-ranger of the royal forest. There had been many transactions
between the Milton and the Powell families as far back as 1627. In
paying a visit to that neighbourhood, Milton was both returning to the
district which had been the home of all the Miltons, and renewing an
old acquaintance with the Powell family. Mr. Powell, though in receipt
of a fair income for a country gentleman--300 l. a year of that day may
be roughly valued at 1000 l. of our day--and his wife had brought him
3000 l., could not live within his means. His children were numerous,
and, belonging as he did to the cavalier party, his house was
conducted with the careless hospitality of a royalist gentleman.
Twenty years before he had begun borrowing, and among other
persons had had recourse to the prosperous and saving scrivener of
Bread-street. He was already mortgaged to the Miltons, father and
sons, more deeply than his estate had any prospect of paying, which
was perhaps the reason why he found no difficulty in promising a
portion of 1000 l. with his daughter. Milton, with a poet's want
of caution, or indifference to money, and with a lofty masculine
disregard of the temper and character of the girl he asked to share
his life, came home with his bride in triumph, and held feasting in
celebration of his hasty and ill-considered choice. It was a beginning
of sorrows to him. Hitherto, up to his thirty-fifth year, independent
master of leisure and the delights of literature, his years had passed
without a check or a shadow. From this day forward domestic misery,
the importunities of business, the clamour of controversy, crowned by
the crushing calamity of blindness, were to be his portion for more
than thirty years. Singular among poets in the serene fortune of the
first half of life, in the second half his piteous fate was to rank in
wretchedness with that of his masters, Dante or Tasso.

The biographer, acquainted with the event, has no difficulty in
predicting it, and in saying at this point in his story, that Milton
might have known better than, with his puritanical connections, to
have taken to wife a daughter of a cavalier house, to have brought her
from a roystering home, frequented by the dissolute officers of the
Oxford garrison, to the spare diet and philosophical retirement of a
recluse student, and to have looked for sympathy and response for his
speculations from an uneducated and frivolous girl. Love has blinded,
and will continue to blind, the wisest men to calculations as easy and
as certain as these. And Milton, in whose soul Puritan austerity was
as yet only contending with the more genial currents of humanity, had
a far greater than average susceptibility to the charm of woman. Even
at the later date of _Paradise Lost_, voluptuous thoughts, as Mr.
Hallam has observed, are not uncongenial to him. And at an earlier
age his poems, candidly pure from the lascivious inuendoes of his
contemporaries, have preserved the record of the rapid impression of
the momentary passage of beauty upon his susceptible mind. Once, at
twenty, he was set all on flame by the casual meeting, in one of his
walks in the suburbs of London, with a damsel whom he never saw again.
Again, sonnets III. to V. tell how he fell before the new type of
foreign beauty which crossed his path at Bologna. A similar surprise
of his fancy at the expense of his judgment seems to have happened on
the present occasion of his visit to Shotover. There is no evidence
that Mary Powell was handsome, and we may be sure that it would
have been mentioned if she had been. But she had youth, and country
freshness; her "unliveliness and natural sloth unfit for conversation"
passed as "the bashful muteness of a virgin;" and if a doubt intruded
that he was being too hasty, Milton may have thought that a girl of
seventeen could be moulded at pleasure.

He was too soon undeceived. His dream of married happiness barely
lasted out the honeymoon. He found that he had mated himself to a
clod of earth, who not only was not now, but had not the capacity
of becoming, a helpmeet for him. With Milton, as with the whole
Calvinistic and Puritan Europe, woman was a creature of an inferior
and subordinate class. Man was the final cause of God's creation, and
woman was there to minister to this nobler being. In his dogmatic
treatise, _De doctrina Christiana_, Milton formulated this sentiment
in the thesis, borrowed from the schoolmen, that the soul was
communicated "in semine patris." The cavalier section of society had
inherited the sentiment of chivalry, and contrasted with the roundhead
not more by its loyalty to the person of the prince, than by its
recognition of the superior grace and refinement of womanhood. Even in
the debased and degenerate epoch of court life which followed 1660,
the forms and language of homage still preserved the tradition of a
nobler scheme of manners. The Puritan had thrown off chivalry as being
parcel of Catholicism, and had replaced it by the Hebrew ideal of the
subjection and seclusion of woman. Milton, in whose mind the rigidity
of Puritan doctrine was now contending with the freer spirit of
culture and romance, shows on the present occasion a like conflict of
doctrine with sentiment. While he adopts the oriental hypothesis of
woman for the sake of man, he modifies it by laying more stress upon
mutual affection, the charities of home, and the intercommunion of
intellectual and moral life, than upon that ministration of woman to
the appetite and comforts of man, which makes up the whole of her
functions in the Puritan apprehension. The failure in his own case to
obtain this genial companionship of soul, which he calls "the gentlest
end of marriage," is what gave the keenest edge to his disappointment
in his matrimonial venture.

But however keenly he felt and regretted the precipitancy which had
yoked him for life to "a mute and spiritless mate," the breach did not
come from his side. The girl herself conceived an equal repugnance to
the husband she had thoughtlessly accepted, probably on the strength
of his good looks, which was all of Milton that she was capable of
appreciating. A young bride, taken suddenly from the freedom of a
jovial and an undisciplined home, rendered more lax by civil confusion
and easy intercourse with the officers of the royalist garrison,
and committed to the sole society of a stranger, and that stranger
possessing the rights of a husband, and expecting much from all who
lived with him, may not unnaturally have been seized with panic
terror, and wished herself home again. The young Mrs. Milton not only
wished it, but incited her family to write and beg that she might be
allowed to go home to stay the remainder of the summer. The request to
quit her husband at the end of the first month was so unreasonable,
that the parents would hardly have made it if they had not suspected
some profound cause of estrangement. Nor could Milton have consented,
as he did, to so extreme a remedy unless he had felt that the case
required no less, and that her mother's advice and influence were the
most available means of awakening his wife to a sense of her duty,
Milton's consent was therefore given. He may hare thought it desirable
she should go, and thus Mrs. Powell would not have been going very
much beyond the truth when she pretended some years afterwards that
her son-in-law had turned away his wife for a long space.

Mary Milton went to Forest Hill in July, but on the understanding that
she was to come back at Michaelmas. When the appointed time came, she
did not appear. Milton wrote for her to come. No answer. Several other
letters met the same fate. At last he despatched a foot messenger
to Forest Hill desiring her return. The messenger came back only to
report that he had been "dismissed with some sort of contempt." It was
evident that Mary Milton's family had espoused her cause as against
her husband. Whatever may have been the secret motive of their
conduct, they explained the quarrel politically, and began to repent,
so Phillips thought, of having matched the eldest daughter of their
house with a violent Presbyterian.

If Milton had "hasted too eagerly to light the nuptial torch," he had
been equally ardent in his calculations of the domestic happiness upon
which he was to enter. His poet's imagination had invested a dull
and common girl with rare attributes moral and intellectual, and had
pictured for him the state of matrimony as an earthly paradise, in
which he was to be secure of a response of affection showing itself in
a communion of intelligent interests. In proportion to the brilliancy
of his ideal anticipation was the fury of despair which came upon him
when he found out his mistake. A common man, in a common age, would
have vented his vexation upon the individual. Milton, living at a time
when controversy turned away from details, and sought to dig down to
the roots of every question, instead of urging the hardships of his
own case, set to to consider the institution of marriage in itself. He
published a pamphlet with the title, _The Doctrine and Discipline
of Divorce_, at first anonymously, but putting his name to a second
edition, much enlarged. He further reinforced this argument in chief
with three supplementary pamphlets, partly in answer to opponents and
objectors; for there was no lack of opposition, indeed of outcry loud
and fierce.

A biographer closely scans the pages of these pamphlets, not for the
sake of their direct argument, but to see if he can extract from them
any indirect hints of their author's personal relations. There is
found in them no mention of Milton's individual case. Had we no other
information, we should not be authorised to infer from them that the
question of the marriage tie was more than an abstract question with
the author.

But though all mention of his own case is studiously avoided by
Milton, his pamphlet, when read by the light of Phillips's brief
narrative, does seem to give some assistance in apprehending the
circumstances of this obscure passage of the poet's life. The mystery
has always been felt by the biographers, but has assumed a darker hue
since the discovery by Mr. Masson of a copy of the first edition of
_The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce_, with the written date
of August 1. According to Phillips's narrative, the pamphlet was
engendered by Milton's indignation at his wife's contemptuous
treatment of him, in refusing to keep the engagement to return at
Michaelmas, and would therefore be composed in October and November,
time enough to allow for the sale of the edition, and the preparation
of the enlarged edition, which came out in February, 1644. But if the
date "August 1" for the first edition be correct, we have to suppose
that Milton was occupying himself with the composition of a vehement
and impassioned argument in favour of divorce for incompatibility of
temper, during the honeymoon! Such behaviour on Milton's part, he
being thirty-five, towards a girl of seventeen, to whom he was bound,
to show all loving tenderness, is so horrible, that a suggestion has
been made that there was a more adequate cause for his displeasure, a
suggestion, which Milton's biographer is bound to notice, even if he
does not adopt it. The suggestion, which I believe was first made by a
writer in the _Athenaeum_, is that Milton's young wife refused him
the consummation of the marriage. The supposition is founded upon a
certain passage in Milton's pamphlet.

If the early date of the pamphlet be the true date; if the _Doctrine
and Discipline_ was in the hands of the public on August 1 if Milton
was brooding over this seething agony of passion all through July,
with the young bride, to whom he had been barely wedded a month, in
the house where he was writing, then the only apology for this outrage
upon the charities, not to say decencies, of home is that which is
suggested by the passage referred to. Then the pamphlet, however
imprudent, becomes pardonable. It is a passionate cry from the depths
of a great despair; another evidence of the noble purity of a nature
which refused to console itself as other men would have consoled
themselves; a nature which, instead of an egotistical whine for its
own deliverance, sets itself to plead the common cause of man and of
society. He gives no intimation of any individual interest, but his
argument throughout glows with a white heat of concealed emotion, such
as could only he stirred by the sting of some personal and present

Notwithstanding the amount of free opinion abroad in England, or at
least in London, at this date, Milton's divorce pamphlets created a
sensation of that sort which Gibbon is fond of calling a scandal.
A scandal, in this sense, must always arise in your own party; you
cannot scandalise the enemy. And so it was now. The Episcopalians
were rejoiced that Milton should ruin his credit with his own side by
advocating a paradox. The Presbyterians hastened to disown a man who
enabled their opponents to brand their religious scheme as the parent
of moral heresies. For though church government and the English
constitution in all its parts had begun to be open questions,
speculation had not as yet attacked either of the two bases of
society, property or the family. Loud was the outcry of the
Philistines. There was no doubt that the rigid bonds of Presbyterian
orthodoxy would not in any case have long held Milton. They were
snapped at once by the publication of his opinions on divorce, and
Milton is henceforward to be ranked among the most independent of the
new party which shortly after this date began to be heard of under the
name of Independents.

But the men who formed the nucleus of this new mode of thinking were
as yet, in 1643, not consolidated into a sect, still less was their
importance as the coming political party dreamt of. At present they
were units, only drawn to each other by the sympathy of opinion. The
contemptuous epithets, Anabaptist, Antinomian, &c., could be levelled
against them with fatal effect by every Philistine, and were freely
used on this occasion against Milton. He says of himself that he now
lived in a world of disesteem. Nor was there wanting, to complete
his discomfiture, the practical parody of the doctrine of divorce.
A Mistress Attaway, lacewoman in Bell-alley, and she-preacher in.
Coleman-street, had been reading Master Milton's book, and remembered
that she had an unsanctified husband, who did not speak the language
of Canaan. She further reflected that Mr. Attaway was not only
unsanctified, but was also absent with the army, while William
Jenney was on the spot, and, like herself, also a preacher. Could a
"scandalised" Presbyterian help pointing the finger of triumphant
scorn at such examples, the natural fruits of that mischievous book,
_The Doctrine and Discipline_?

Beyond the stage of scandal and disesteem the matter did not proceed.
In dedicating _The Doctrine and Discipline_ to the Parliament, Milton
had specially called on that assembly to legislate for the relief of
men who were encumbered with unsuitable spouses. No notice was taken
of this appeal, as there was far other work on hand, and no particular
pressure from without in the direction of Milton's suit. Divorce for
incompatibility of temper remained his private crotchet, or obtained
converts only among his fellow-sufferers, who, however numerous, did
not form a body important enough to enforce by clamour their demand
for relief.

Milton was not very well pleased to find that the Parliament had no
ear for the bitter cry of distress wrung from their ardent admirer and
staunch adherent. Accordingly, in 1645, in dedicating the last of
the divorce pamphlets, which, he entitled _Tetrachordon_, to the
Parliament, he concluded with a threat, "If the law make not a
timely provision, let the law, as reason is, bear the censure of the

This threat he was prepared to put in execution, and did, in 1645, as
Phillips tells us, contemplate a union, which could not have been a
marriage, with another woman. He was able at this time to find some
part of that solace of conversation which his wife failed to give him,
among his female acquaintance. Especially we find him at home in the
house of one of the Parliamentary women, the Lady Margaret Ley, a lady
"of great wit and ingenuity," the "honoured Margaret" of Sonnet x. But
the Lady Margaret was a married woman, being the wife of a Captain
Hobson, a "very accomplished gentleman," of the Isle of Wight. The
young lady who was the object of his attentions, and who, if she were
the "virtuous young lady" of Sonnet ix., was "in the prime of earliest
youth," was a daughter of a Dr. Davis, of whom nothing else is now
known. She is described by Phillips, who may have seen her, as a very
handsome and witty gentlewoman. Though Milton was ready to brave
public opinion. Miss Davis was not. And so the suit hung, when all
schemes of the kind were pat an end to by the unexpected submission of
Mary Powell.

Since October, 1643, when Milton's messenger had been dismissed
from Forest Hill, the face of the civil struggle was changed. The
Presbyterian army had been replaced by that of the Independents, and
the immediate consequence had been the decline of the royal cause,
consummated by its total ruin on the day of Naseby, in June, 1645.
Oxford was closely invested, Forest Hill occupied by the besiegers,
and the Powell family compelled to take refuge within the lines of
the city. Financial bankruptcy, too, had overtaken the Powells. These
influences, rather than any rumours which may hare reached them of
Milton's designs in regard to Miss Davis, wrought a change in the
views of the Powell family. By the triumph of the Independents Mr.
Milton was become a man of consideration, and might be useful as a
protector. They concluded that the best thing they could do was to
seek a reconciliation. There were not wanting friends of Milton's
also, some perhaps divining his secret discontent, who thought that
such reconciliation would be better for him too, than perilling his
happiness upon the experiment of an illegal connexion. A conspiracy of
the friends of both parties contrived to introduce Mary Powell into
a house where Milton often visited in St. Martin's-le-Grand. She was
secreted in an adjoining room, on an occasion when Milton was known
to be coming, and he was surprised by seeing her suddenly brought in,
throw herself on her knees, and ask to be forgiven. The poor young
thing, now two years older and wiser, but still only nineteen,
pleaded, truly or falsely, that her mother "had been all along the
chief promoter of her frowardness" Milton, with a "noble leonine
clemency" which became him, cared not for excuses for the past. It was
enough that she was come back, and was willing to live with him as his
wife. He received her at once, and not only her, but on the surrender
of Oxford, in June, 1646, and the sequestration of Forest Hill, took
in the whole family of Powells, including the mother-in-law, whose
influence with her daughter might even again trouble his peace.

It is impossible not to see that Milton had this impressive scene,
enacted in St. Martin's-le-Grand in 1645, before his mind, when he
wrote, twenty years afterwards, the lines in _Paradise Lost_, x.

... Eve, with tears that ceas'd not flowing
And tresses all disorder'd, at his feet
Fell humble, and embracing them, besought
His peace...

... Her lowly plight
Immovable, till peace obtain'd from fault
Acknowledg'd and deplor'd, in Adam wrought
Commiseration; soon his heart relented
Tow'rds her, his life so late and sole delight,
Now at his feet submissive in distress!
Creature so fair his reconcilement seeking,

* * * * *

At once disarm'd, his anger all he lost.

The garden-house in Aldersgate-street had before been found too small
for the pupils who were being now pressed upon Milton. It was to a
larger house in Barbican, a side street leading out of Aldersgate,
that he brought the Powells and Mary Milton. Milton probably abated
his exactions on the point of companionship, and learned to be content
with her acquiescence in the duties of a wife. In July, 1646, she
became a mother, and bore in all four children. Of these, three, all
daughters, lived to grow up. Mary Milton herself died in giving birth
to the fourth child in the summer of 1652. She was only twenty-six,
and had been married to Milton nine years.



We have now seen Milton engaged in teaching and writing on education,
involved in domestic unhappiness, and speculating on the obligations
of marriage. But neither of these topics formed the principal
occupation of his mind during these years. He had renounced a
cherished scheme of travel because his countrymen were engaged at home
in contending for their liberties, and it could not but be that the
gradually intensified stages of that struggle engrossed his interest,
and claimed his participation.

So imperative did he regard this claim that he allowed it to override
the purposed dedication of his life to poetry. Not indeed for ever and
aye, but for a time. As he had renounced Greece, the Aegean Isles,
Thebes, and the East for the fight for freedom, so now to the same
cause he postponed the composition of his epic of Arthurian romance,
or whatever his mind "in the spacious circuits of her musing proposed
to herself of highest hope and hardest attempting." No doubt at first,
in thus deferring the work of his life, he thought the delay would be
for a brief space. He did not foresee that having once taken an oar,
he would be chained to it for more than twenty years, and that he
would finally owe his release to the ruin of the cause he had served.
But for the Restoration and the overthrow of the Puritans, we should
never have had the great Puritan epic.

The period then of his political activity is to be regarded as an
episode in the life of the poet Milton. It is indeed an episode which
fills twenty years, and those the most vigorous years of manhood, from
his thirty-second to his fifty-second year. He himself was conscious
of the sacrifice he was making, and apologises to the public for thus
defrauding them of the better work which he stood pledged to execute.
As he puts it, there was no choice for him. He could not help himself,
at this critical juncture, "when the Church of God was at the foot
of her insulting enemies;" he would never have ceased to reproach
himself, if he had refused to employ the fruits of his studies in her
behalf. He saw also that a generation inflamed by the passions of
conflict, and looking in breathless suspense for the issue of battles,
was not in a mood to attend to poetry. Nor, indeed, was he ready to
write, "not having yet (this is in 1642) completed to my mind the full
circle of my private studies."

But though he is drawn into the strife against his will, and in
defiance of his genius, when he is in it, he throws into it the whole
vehemence of his nature. The pamphlet period, I have said, is an
episode in the life of the poet. But it is a genuine part of Milton's
life. However his ambition may have been set upon an epic crown, his
zeal for what he calls the church was an equal passion, nay had, in
his judgment, a paramount claim upon him, He is a zealot among
the zealots; his cause is the cause of God; and the sword of the
Independents is the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. He does not
refute opponents, but curses enemies. Yet his rage, even when most
delirious, is always a Miltonic rage; it is grand, sublime, terrible!
Mingled with the scurrilities of the theological brawl are passages
of the noblest English ever written. Hartley Coleridge explains the
dulness of the wit-combats in Shakspeare and Jonson, on the ground
that repartee is the accomplishment of lighter thinkers and a less
earnest age. So of Milton's pamphlets it must be said that he was not
fencing for pastime, but fighting for all he held most worthy. He had
to think only of making his blows tell. When a battle is raging, and
my friends are sorely pressed, am I not to help because good manners
forbid the shedding of blood?

No good man can, with impunity, addict himself to party. And the best
men will suffer most, because their conviction of the goodness of
their cause is deeper. But when one with the sensibility of a poet
throws himself into the excitements of a struggle, he is certain to
lose his balance. The endowment of feeling and imagination which
qualifies him to be the ideal interpreter of life, unfits him
for participation in that real life, through the manoeuvres and
compromises of which reason is the only guide, and where imagination
is as much misplaced as it would be in a game of chess. "The ennobling
difference between one man and another is that one feels more than
another." Milton's capacity of emotion, when once he became champion
of a cause, could not be contained within the bounds of ordinary
speech. It breaks into ferocious reprobation, into terrific blasts of
vituperation, beneath which the very language creaks, as the timbers
of a ship in a storm. Corruptio optimi pessima. The archangel
is recognisable by the energy of his malice. Were all those
accomplishments; those many studious years hiving wisdom, the
knowledge of all the tongues, the command of all the thoughts of
all the ages, and that wealth of English expression--were all these
acquirements only of use, that their possessor might vie in defamation
with an Edwards or a Du Moulin?

For it should be noted that these pamphlets, now only serving as a
record of the prostitution of genius to political party, were, at the
time at which they appeared, of no use to the cause in which they
were written. Writers, with a professional tendency to magnify their
office, have always been given to exaggerate the effect of printed
words. There are examples of thought having been influenced by
books. But such books have been scientific, not rhetorical. Milton's
pamphlets are not works of speculation, or philosophy, or learning, or
solid reasoning on facts. They are inflammatory appeals, addressed to
the passions of the hour. He who was meditating the erection of an
enduring creation, such as the world "would not willingly let die,"
was content to occupy himself with the most ephemeral of all hackwork.
His own polemical writings may be justly described in the words he
himself uses of a book by one of his opponents, as calculated "to
gain a short, contemptible, and soon-fading reward, not to stir the
constancy and solid firmness of any wise man ... but to catch the
worthless approbation of an inconstant, irrational, and image-doting

It would have been not unnatural that the public school and university
man, the admirer of Shakspeare and the old romances, the pet of
Italian academies, the poet-scholar, himself the author of two Masks,
who was nursing his wings for a new flight into the realms of verse,
should have sided with the cavaliers against the Puritans, with the
party of culture and the humanities against the party which shut up
the theatres and despised profane learning. But we have seen that
there was another side to Milton's mind. This may be spoken of as his
other self, the Puritan self, and regarded as in internal conflict
with the poet's self. His twenty years' pamphlet warfare may be
presented by his biographer as the expression of the Puritanic Milton,
who shall have been driven back upon his suppressed instincts as a
poet by the ruin of his political hopes. This chart of Milton's life
is at once simple and true. But like all physiological diagrams it
falls short of the subtlety and complexity of human character. A study
of the pamphlets will show that the poet is all there, indeed only too
openly for influence on opinion, and that the blighted hope of
the patriot lends a secret pathos to _Paradise Lost_ and _Samson

This other element in Milton is not accurately named Puritanism. Even
the term republicanism is a coarse and conventional description of
that sentiment which dominated his whole being, and which is the
inspiration at once of his poetry and of his prose. To give a name
to this sentiment, I must call it the love of liberty. It was an
aspiration at once real and vague, after a new order of things, an
order in which the old injustices and oppressions should cease; after
a new Jerusalem, a millennium, a Utopia, an Oceana. Its aim was to
realise in political institutions that great instauration of which
Bacon dreamed in the world of intelligence. It was much more negative
than affirmative, and knew better, as we all do, how good was hindered
than how it should be promoted. "I did but prompt the age to _quit
their clogs_." Milton embodied, more perfectly than any of his
cotemporaries, this spirit of the age. It is the ardent aspiration,
after the pure and noble life, the aspiration which stamps every line
he wrote, verse or prose, with a dignity as of an heroic age. This
gives consistency to all his utterances. The doctrinaire republican of
to-day cannot understand how the man who approved the execution of the
would-be despot Charles Stuart, should have been the hearty supporter
of the real autocrat Oliver Cromwell. Milton was not the slave of a
name. He cared not for the word republic, so as it was well with the
commonwealth. Parliaments or single rulers, he knew, are "but means
to an end; if that end was obtained, no matter if the constitutional
guarantees exist or not. Many of Milton's pamphlets are certainly
party pleadings, choleric, one-sided, personal. But through them all
runs the one redeeming characteristic--that they are all written
on the side of liberty. He defended religious liberty against the
prelates, civil liberty against the crown, the liberty of the
press against the executive, liberty of conscience against the
Presbyterians, and domestic liberty against the tyranny of canon law.
Milton's pamphlets might have been stamped with the motto which Selden
inscribed (in Greek) in all his books, "Liberty before everything."

One virtue these pamphlets possess, the virtue of style. They are
monuments of our language so remarkable that Milton's prose works must
always be resorted to by students, as long as English remains a medium
of ideas. Yet even on the score of style, Milton's prose is subject to


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