« AnteriorContinuar »
John Milton was born on Friday, December 9, 1608, in a house designated as “The Spread Eagle,” in Bread Street, Cheapside, in the very heart of old London.
His father, also John Milton, belonged to a respectable yeoman family of the neighbourhood of Oxford. Having become a Protestant, he was disinherited by his father, Richard Milton, the second of the name known in the line of the poet's ancestry, and went to London, where he engaged in the lucrative business of a scrivener, which at that time seems to have combined the duties of an attorney and a lawy stationer.
In 1600, about a year after his admission to the Scriverer's Company, he was married to Sarah, daughter to Paul Jeffrey, or Jetireys,. formerly a merchant tailor of St. Swithin's Parish.
Six children were born to them. John Milton was third. Twobesides John — lived to maturity — Anne, several years older, and Christopher, seven years younger than John.
John Milton was carefully educated, his father, well known as a musical composer of ability; taking personally great pains with him and giving him the advantage of studying under private tutors and in St. Paul's School, where he was for some time a day scholar.
That he was a diligent student is proved by his own statement that from the twelfth year of his age he scarcely ever went from his lessons to bed before midnight, and by his paraphrases on Psalms cxiv and cxxxvi, composed in 1624, his last year at St. Paul's.
His school friendship with Charles Diodati, the son of an exiled Italian physician, probably turned his attention to Italian literature and was afterwards commemorated in beautiful verse.
Italian, French, and Hebrew, as well as Greek and Latin, were a part of his equipment when he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, as a
Details of Milton's literary life will be found in the Introductions to the various poems.
then in vogue.
“Lesser Pensioner." From April, 1625, until July, 1632, Milton resided most of the time in the rooms which are still shown, though he made frequent visits to London, and during his first year was suspended owing to an altercation with his tutor, “a man of dry, meagre nature.”
By the students - there were about twenty-nine hundred in the sixteen colleges at that time and two hundred and sixty-five in Christ's College Milton was nicknamed “the Lady,” because of his fair complexion, long hair, graceful elegance of appearance, irreproachable morals, and delicacy of taste; he was also unpopular with the authorities, probably because of his outspoken criticism of the University system
Nevertheless his abilities were recognised, and when he took his degree of Master of Arts, which then required seven years' residence, he was regarded as the foremost scholar of the University.
His first intention was to take orders in the Church ; had he done so, he might have remained in residence much longer as a clerical Fellow. He indeed subscribed to the Articles on taking his degree, but he had no sympathy with the strict Church discipline represented by Archbishop Laud.
It is evident both from the draft of a letter written to some dissatisfied well-wisher, and from his “Sonnet on arriving at the Age of Twentythree,” that these years were a period of despondency and uncertainty. What career was open to him?' He had already written enough poems, in Latin and English, including the “Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity," and the Sonnet to Shakspere, to make a volume that would surely have established his reputation, but all save two were still in manuscript.
Milton's father had retired to Horton in Buckinghamshire, about twenty miles from London, and here the poet, after leaving Cambridge, lived for five years and eight months, during which he himself says
"he was wholly intent through a period of absolute leisure on a steady perusal of the Greek and Latin writers, but still so that occasionally he exchanged the country for the city either for the purpose of buying books, or for that of learning anything new in mathematics or in music in which he then took delight.?
At Horton, Milton was inspired to compose the best of his shorter poems: the “Sonnet to the Nightingale,” the beautifully contrasted pictures in “ L'Allegro" and "11 Penseroso,” the “ Arcades,” the masque of “Comus," and the classic lament for “ Lycidas.”. “Comus." was played at Ludlow Castle on Michaelmas Night, 1634, but there is no proof that Milton himself was present. If he had been, he would perhaps have found further inspiration in the historic castle where among other famous memories that of the magnificent installation of Charles I. as Prince of Wales was at that time still vivid.
In 1637 an anonymous edition of “The Masque presented at Ludlow Castle” was published by Milton's friend, the musician, Henry Lawes, and a copy was presented to Sir Henry Wotton or Wootton, Provost of
Eton, who wrote to the author: “I should much commend the tragical part if the lyrical did not ravish me with a certain Dorique delicacy in your songs and odes, whereunto I must plainly confess to have seen yet nothing parallel in our language.”
In September of that same year Milton wrote to his friend Diodati complaining of his cramped situation in the country and announcing a project of taking chambers in London. The death of his mother undoubtedly had much to do with his discontent, and the quiet though nightingale-haunted banks of the sluggish Colne were not best adapted to satisfy the mind of a young man who was beginning to pine for a wider existence. But before he should take up his residence in London, a period of foreign travel seemed requisite and necessary, and, accordingly, armed with letters of introduction from Sir Henry Wotton and others, he found himself in Paris in April or May, 1638. Here he was kindly received by the English Ambassador, Lord Scudamore, who introduced him to the famous Hugo Grotius, the Swedish envoy. Accompanied by his man servant, Milton leisurely travelled to Italy, making brief stops at Nice, Genoa, Leghorn, and Pisa. At Florence he spent the months of August and September, enjoying the “ acquaintance of many noble and learned.” He especially mentions seven young Italian literati as distinguished friends of his, and, while none of them left a very deep mark on their native literature, they are remembered for their connection with the English poet. Two of them sent commemorative verses to be inserted in the “Paradise Lost.” At Florence, Milton met “the starry Galileo,” recently released from confinement at Arcetri and dwelling under the surveillance of the Inquisition. Milton mentions him twice in “ Paradise Lost once by name - and was unquestionably greatly influenced by “the Tuscan artist's " theories.
From Florence he went by way of Siena to “the Eternal City," where he also spent two months and was received in the most select society. He tells of being present at a magnificent concert at the palace of Cardinal Barberini : “ himself waiting at the doors, and seeking me out in so great a crowd, nay, almost laying hold of me by the hand, admitted me within in a truly most honourable manner.” At this concert he heard the singer Leonora Baroni, whose singing so impressed him that he composed three Latin epigrams in her honour. A voice inspired him more than all the relics of that antiquity which he had made such a large part of his education.
He spent the two last months of the year at Naples, whither he proceeded in company with “a certain Eremite Friar," by whom he was introduced to the Marquis of Villa, Giovanni Battista Manso, then over eighty years of age.
Manso had been the friend and patron of the poet Tasso, and this title to fame Milton commemorates in a Latin poem wherein he expressed his obligations for hospitality received. In this epistle also he unfolds his project of writing an epic on King Arthur and the Table
Round, and assured Manso that Britain was not wholly barbarous since the Druids had been poets in their day. Chaucer and Shakspere would probably have seemed to the Italian as little less than barbarians, as did the one to the English contemporary of Milton and Dryden, and the other to Voltaire. He did not mention them.
Manso presented Milton with two silver cups, and remarked that he should have liked him better if he had abstained from religious controversy. Milton was certainly not one to hold his peace when a chance arose to defend his faith.
To be sure, he made the resolution not of his own accord“ to introduce conversation about religion, but if interrogated about the faith, whatsoever he should suffer, to dissemble nothing." He was not molested, but it is said that in Rome the Jesuits kept their eyes on him.
From Naples Milton intended to cross over to Sicily and to continue his tour even as far as Greece, but as he himself explained: “The sad news of civil war in England determined him to return, inasmuch as he thought it base to be travelling at his ease for intellectual culture while his fellow-countrymen at home were fighting for their liberty.'
The news is supposed to have been the revolt of Scotland and Charles's resolution to put the rebellion down by arms. Later reports seem to have countermanded any haste, for, though he gave up his Eastern journey he spent yet another two months in Rome in spite of the English Jesuits who tried to entrap him in indiscreet utterances. Again he was in Florence during March and April, 1639. He spent May in Venice, whence he sent to England by sea the books that he had bought in Italy. He himself crossed the Pennine Alps to Geneva, taking Bologna and Ferrara on the way. It is possible that he wrote his Italian Sonnets at Bologna, the lady to whom they are all addressed being mentioned as an inhabitant of “Reno's grassy vale,” but it is not known whether this lady was a myth or a reality.
For a week or two in June, 1639, he was in Geneva, where he spent much time in conversation with
Dr. Jean Diodati, the theologian, the uncle of his friend Charles. Thence by way of Paris he returned home, which he reached in August, 1639, after an absence of nearly sixteen months.
His next important, step must have been a trial to one who was contemplating "flights above, the Aonian mount": his only surviving sister, having been left a widow with two sons, had married again and Milton found it his duty to undertake the education of his two nephews, Edward and John Phillips, aged respectively eight and nine. The younger came to live with his uncle, who
“ took him a lodging in St. Bride's Churchyard, at the house of one Russel, a tailor.” The other went daily from his mother's house to his lessons.
In the memorable year 1640 Milton bired “a house sufficiently large for himself and his books,' and removed there with his two nephews. His elder n'ephew describes it as “a pretty garden-house in Aldersgate Street, at the end of an entry, and therefore the fitter for his turn by
reason of the privacy.” It was described a few years later as resembling “an Italian street by reason of the spaciousness and uniformity of the buildings and straightness thereof, with the convenient distance of the houses."
Here he hoped to have the leisure to contribute to English literature some lofty work that would make his name famous. But he was to be disappointed. The “Long Parliament” met on the third of November, 1640, and Milton soon saw that his duty was to take part in the broil of politics. “I could not,” he said, “ be ignorant what is of Divine and what is of human right; I resolved, though I was then meditating certain other matters, to transfer into this struggle all my genius and all the strength of my industry."
This course was to lead him into controversies, but he wished it to be understood with what unwillingness he endured "to interrupt the pursuit of no less hopes than these and leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes; put from beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies to come into the dim reflection of hollow 'antiquities sold by the seeming bulk."
Among the first acts of the new Parliament was the trial and execution of Strafford, the impeachment and imprisonment of Laud, and various other proceedings that looked toward the security and permanence of their government. No essential division was manifested till the question arose whether the Church should be governed on an Episcopal or on a Presbyterian basis. Into this important controversy Milton threw himself with all his energy, and within a year brought out five "Anti-Episcopal Pamphlets" – the first general, the others rejoinders to the attacks which it invited. Although these have no longer any interest except to the antiquarian, they contain magnificent specimens of impassioned and poetic prose which are worth study by the student of English. Shortly after, in 1642, the Civil War began. In this Milton took no active part, unless a curiously whimsical one. Once, when there seemed some danger of an assaul: upon the city, he wrote a sonnet addressed to the “ Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,” who might chance to seize upon his defenceless doors, begging him to guard them and protect from harms the poet who, in return for such gentle acts, could spread his name over all the world. This appeal to lift not the spear against the Muses' bower, Milton placarded upon his outside door, but the enemy did not come to read it.
Milton, however, brought the war into his own house, and in the same way as his own Samson. In the latter part of May, 1643, Milton made a mysterious journey to the neighbourhood of Oxford, where his ancestors had lived. This region was in the hands of the Royalists. Attached to their cause was Mr. Richard Powell, a justice of the peace, who had been at one time well off, and kept his own carriage. Milton's