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JOHN MILTON

A Short Study of his Life and Works

PART I. - LIFE

CHAPTER I

EARLY YEARS (1608-1639)

career.

THE fact that Milton was born in London on December 9, 1608, counts for not a little in his

He was born early enough to catch much of the power and inspiration of the age of Elizabeth, but not early enough to catch its spirit of universal open-mindedness and freeheartedness. Thus it happens that some of the finest qualities of Shakspere, who epitomized the Elizabethans, are found in Milton in a state of arrested development, — for example, genial humor and, in a less degree, human sympathy. Had Milton been born twenty years earlier, it is possible that he might have surpassed Shakspere in totality of accomplishment, just as the latter surpassed Marlowe ; for in point of grandeur, both of work and of character, the advantage seems to lie with Milton. Had his connections been even more entirely with the country instead of with the capital, the centre of political and religious activity, he might have lived his life under the spell of the Elizabethans, and left behind him poetical works more serenely, less strenuously artistic, than those we now possess, but also of wider range in point of underlying qualities. Yet these are might-have-beens, and some of us would not have Milton other than he is, - the greatest artist, man of letters, and ideal patriot, as we think, that the world has ever known. There are, however, certain points about his early career which are not at all hypothetical, and deserve careful though not, in this connection, minutely detailed attention.

He was the third child and namesake of a prosperous scrivener, of respectable family, whose puritanical leanings did not prevent him from conforming to the Established Church, from cultivating, with some success, the art of music, and from giving his children a broad education and a pleasant, happy home. From this father Milton probably inherited much of his genius, - a genius fostered by the wisdom and liberality of the parent to an extent that can scarcely be paralleled in our literary annals, save in the cases of Robert Browning and John Stuart Mill. That the youth was grateful is evidenced by his fine Latin verses, “Ad Patrem,” especially by the lines :

“Hoc utcumque tibi gratum, pater optime, carmen
Exiguum meditatur opus; nec novimus ipsi
Aptius a nobis quæ possint munera donis
Respondere tuis, quamvis nec maxima possint
Respondere tuis, nedum ut par gratia donis
Esse queat vacuis quæ redditur arida verbis.” 1

וי

To his mother also, whose maiden name, Sarah Jeffrey, has been only recently ascertained, he owed not a little as every good man does, as well as to his early tutors with whom

1 Thus rendered by Cowper :

" For thee, my Father! howsoe'er it please,
She frames this slender work, nor know I aught
That may thy gifts more suitably requite;
Though to requite them suitably would ask
Returns much nobler, and surpassing far
The meagre stores of verbal gratitude."

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