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The three

periods in Milton's life.

MILTON'S life falls into three clearly defined divisions. The first period ends with the poet's return from Italy in 1639; the second at the Restoration in 1660, when release from the fetters of politics enabled him to remind the world that he was a great poet, if not a great controversialist; the third is brought to a close with his death in 1674. Paradise Lost belongs to the last of these periods; but we propose to summarise briefly the main events of all


John Milton was born on December 9, 1608, in London. He came, in his own words, ex genere honesto. A Born 1608; the family of Miltons had been settled in Oxfordshire poet's father. since the reign of Elizabeth. The poet's father had been educated at an Oxford school, possibly as a chorister in one of the College choir-schools, and imbibing Anglican sympathies had conformed to the Established Church. For this he was disinherited by his father. He settled in London, following the profession of scrivener. A scrivener combined the occupations of lawyer and law-stationer. It appears to have been a lucrative calling; certainly John Milton (the poet was named after the father) attained to easy circumstances. He married about 1600, and had six children, of whom several died young. The third child was the poet.

The elder Milton was evidently a man of considerable culture, in particular an accomplished musician, and a com

poser1 whose madrigals were deemed worthy of being printed side by side with those of Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and other leading musicians of the time. To him, no doubt, the poet owed the love of music of which we see frequent indications in the poems. Realising, too, that in his son lay the promise and possibility of future greatness, John Milton took the utmost pains to have the boy adequately educated; and the lines Ad Patrem show that the ties of affection between father and child were of more than ordinary closeness.

Milton was sent to St Paul's School as a day scholar about the year Early train1620. He also had a tutor, Thomas ing. Young, a Scotchman, who subsequently became Master of Jesus College, Cambridge. More important still, Milton grew up in the stimulating atmosphere of cultured home-life. This was a signal advantage. Most men do not realise that the word 'culture' signifies anything very definite or desirable before they pass to the University; for Milton, however, home-life meant, from the first, not only broad interests and refinement, but active encouragement towards literature and study. In 1625 he left St Paul's. He was not a precocious genius, a 'boy poet,' like Chatterton or Shelley. Of his extant English poems3 only one, On the Death of a Fair Infant, was written in his school-days. But his early training had done that which was all-important: it had laid the foundation of the far-ranging knowledge which makes Paradise Lost unique for diversity of suggestion and interest.

Milton entered at Christ's College, Cambridge, commencing residence in the Easter term of 1625. Seven years At Cambridge. were spent at the University. He took his B.A. degree in 1629, proceeded M.A. in 1632, and in the latter year

1 See the article on him in Grove's Dictionary of Music.

2 Milton was very fond of the organ; see Il Penseroso, 161, note. During his residence at Horton Milton made occasional journeys to London to hear, and obtain instruction in, music.

3 His paraphrases of Psalms cxiv, cxxxvi, scarcely come under this heading.

left Cambridge. His experience of University life had not been wholly fortunate. He was, and felt himself to be, out of sympathy with his surroundings; and whenever in after-years he spoke of Cambridge1 it was with something of the grave impietas of Gibbon who, unsoftened even by memories of Magdalen, complained that the fourteen months spent at Oxford were the least profitable part of his life. Milton, in fact, anticipates the laments that we find in the correspondence of Gray, addressed sometimes to Richard West and reverberated from the banks of the Isis. It may, however, be fairly assumed that, whether consciously or not, Milton owed a good deal to his University; and it must not be forgotten that the uncomplimentary and oft-quoted allusions to Cambridge date for the most part from the unhappy period when Milton the politician and polemical dogmatist had effectually divorced himself at once from Milton the scholar and Milton the poet. A poet he had proved himself before leaving the University. The short but exquisite ode At a Solemn Music, and the Nativity Hymn (1629), were already written.

1 That Milton's feeling towards the authorities of his own college was not entirely unfriendly would appear from the following sentences written in 1642. He takes, he says, the 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."-Apology for Smectymnuus, P. W. III. III. Perhaps Cambridge would have been more congenial to Milton had he been sent to Emmanuel College, long a stronghold of Puritanism. Dr John Preston, then Master of the college, was a noted leader of the Puritan party. (Throughout this Introduction Milton's prose-works, in Bohn's edition, are referred to under the abbreviation P. W.)


Milton's father had settled1 at Horton in Buckinghamshire. The five years Thither the son retired in July, 1632. He had (1632-1637) spent at Hor- gone to Cambridge with the intention of qualifying for some profession, perhaps the Church. This purpose was soon given up, and when Milton returned to his father's house he seems to have made up his mind that there was no profession which he cared to enter. He would choose the better part of studying and preparing himself, by rigorous self-discipline and application, for the far-off divine event to which his whole life moved.

The key to

It was Milton's constant resolve to achieve something that should vindicate the ways of God to men, someMilton's life. thing great that should justify his own possession of unique powers-powers of which, with no trace of egotism, he proclaims himself proudly conscious. The feeling finds repeated expression in his prose; it is the guiding-star that shines clear and steadfast even through the mists of politics. He has a mission to fulfil, a purpose to accomplish, no less

1 As tenant of the Earl of Bridgewater, according to one account; but probably the tradition arose from Milton's subsequent connection with the Bridgewater family.

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2 Cf. Milton's own words, "The Church, to whose service by the intention of my parents and friends I was destined of a child, and in my own resolutions." What kept him from taking orders was not, at first, any difference of belief, but solely his objection to Church discipline and government. Coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the church, that he who would take orders must subscribe slave...... (I) thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing."-Reason of Church Government, P. W. II. 482. Milton disliked in particular the episcopal system, and spoke of himself as "Church-outed by the prelates."

8 Cf. the second sonnet; "How soon hath Time." Ten years later (1641) Milton speaks of the "inward prompting which grew 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 aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die."-Reason of Church Government, P. W. II. 477, 478.

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