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literature which should uplift or inspire. The utter worldliness of this literature, reflecting the time, gives us a clew to the progress of the Puritan movement and to the final (though temporary) triumph of the "otherworldliness" to which reference has been made. The chief representative of the triumphant spirit was
JOHN MILTON, 1608-1674
The opinion has been expressed above that Milton was not typical of Puritanism, and that certain sentiments in
his early poems can hardly have met with Puritan approval. His whole-souled devotion to literature as an art, except during the time of his government service, is another characteristic that shows lack of sympathy with his sect. His attitude toward life and toward his work is remote, indeed, from that of the Cavalier poets; but it is almost equally remote from anything expressed in literature by members of the opposite party. The mirth of L'Allegro is not of close kin to that of Charles the First's poets; and the melancholy of Il Penseroso has equally slight resemblance to that of the followers of Cromwell. The former is always under the control of a cultured mind; the latter shows no trace of the long face or the whine of the Protector's psalm-singing "Ironsides."
Periods of Milton's Life. - Milton's life and writings fall into three clearly defined periods: first, his education and foreign travel, and his minor poems; second, his secretaryship for foreign tongues under Cromwell, and his prose works third, his retirement from public view, and his major poems.
Early Life and Education.
The poet was born in London, December 9, 1608, in a house which came to be a literary shrine, but which was destroyed in the great fire of 1666. His father was a scrivener, an occupation combining duties of a lawyer and broker. Of his mother virtually nothing is known. After a careful preliminary training under tutors and at St. Paul's School, London, Milton entered Christ's College, Cambridge, at the age of seventeen. There he remained seven years, receiving the degrees of A.B. and A.M.
Partly from his delicate beauty, partly from the correctness of his life, probably not at all from any effeminacy or excessive display of religion, he was nicknamed at the University "The Lady of Christ's." He himself expresses satisfaction at the "more than ordinary respect" shown him in his College.
Retirement at Horton; and Foreign Travel. Though from an early age Milton had been designed for the ministry, he was not disposed, on graduation, to enter that calling. He was, in fact, not disposed to take up any remunerative occupation; and with his father's full consent, he spent the succeeding five years in self-directed study at Horton, a country place some twenty miles from London, where his father had settled on retiring from business.
A desire to complete his education in accepted fashion led him to make a tour on the Continent. With excellent introductions to literary and learned circles, he left England in April, 1638, and spent sixteen months abroad, visiting Paris, Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, and meeting Grotius, the famous Swedish diplomat, and Galileo. Milton's original itinerary included Sicily and Greece; but at Naples, he received news of impending civil war in England, and turned back. "For I considered it base," said he, "that, while my countrymen were fighting at home for liberty, I should be travelling abroad at ease for intellectual culture."
Poems of the First Period. With his landing in England in August, 1639, the first period of Milton's life ends. His writings during this time include some poems in Latin and Italian, paraphrases of two of the Psalms, two sonnets, and seventeen other English poems. Of these the most worthy of notice are L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, the companion pieces on mirth and melancholy already mentioned; On the Morn
ing of Christ's Nativity; the mask of Comus; and the pastoral, memorial poem Lycidas. The Nativity ode was composed while he was still at the University; Comus and Lycidas belong to the Horton years; and all the available evidence justifies us in assigning L'Allegro and Il Penseroso also to Horton.
66 Comus." Comus is considered by Masson1 the most important of Milton's minor poems. It is, as has been said, the only great mask written after the time of Ben Jonson. A mask usually inculcated a moral; and Milton's moral is quite suited to the Puritan. Comus, the god of sensual pleasure, after being withstood for a time by youthful innocence, is finally routed by an Attendant Spirit sent from heaven. The closing lines of the poem express the moral in a speech by the Spirit:
"Mortals, that would follow me,
Love Virtue; she alone is free.
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the sphery chime;
Heaven itself would stoop to her."
Lycidas was written for a collection of poems in memory of Edward King, a college friend of Milton, who was drowned in the Irish Sea. The name Lycidas is common in classic and pastoral poetry, and was used by Milton because King was ambitious
"To tend the homely, slighted, shepherd's trade,"
that is, to write poetry. It is full of classical allusions and imagery, but is amply worth any effort necessary to under
1 David Masson is the authority on Milton's life, and wrote an exhaustive biography in six volumes. He also edited Milton's poetical works in three volumes, with extensive introductions and notes.
2 See page 85.
stand it. Perhaps the finest and certainly the most memorable passages in Lycidas are those dealing with the low state
John Milton was born the 9th of December 1608 die Veneris half an hour after 6 'in the. morning
Christofer, Milton was bom on Friday about
My daughter Anne was born July the 2g
My son. John was born on Sunday March the
this my wife fir mother dyed about J.day's after. And my his mothers
katherin my daughter, by batherin my second wife, was 1942 of October between 5 and 6 in Jo mornings and dyed ye 1712 of March following, 6 weebs after hir mother, who dyed y. 3. of Feb. 1674
The first six entries are believed to be in his handwriting.
of contemporary poetry (lines 64-83) and the corruption in the clergy (lines 108-131). Although, as has been often