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it off, nor am drawn away from it by any other interest, 'til I have arrived at the goal.” All the time he was at Horton he was planning a great poem. He writes to a friend, “ Yes, I am pluming my wings for a flight.” His nature, education, and city life had unfitted him to be a “nature poet"; and his flight was to be, not “ somewhat near the moon,” to use Carlyle's phrase, but to the Highest Heaven and to the Deepest Hell.
In 1638 we find him at Paris, on a journey through France and Italy. He visited Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice, Geneva, and other cities, meeting noted literary and scientific men of the time. He was well received everywhere, for the fame of his scholarship had preceded him. The most important acquaintance he made was that of Galileo, whom he visited at his home near Florence. The persecuted old scientist at this time was blind, but the strength of his mighty mind was unimpaired. The student will find in Paradise Lost the lines that refer to Galileo, and he will then know how the memory of this visit must, in after years, have impressed itself upon the poet. The poet had intended to visit Sicily and Greece, but the first muttering of the coming storm in England had reached his ear in that far-off land, and he expressed his feelings at the time as follows: "I considered it dishonorable to be enjoying myself at my
ease in foreign lands, while my countrymen were striking a blow for freedom.” So he returned to England, making his visit to Galileo on the way.
Upon his return to England in 1639, he did not, as one might expect, rush into politics, nor did he return to Horton. He opened a school in London, where he undertook the education of his nephews, John and Edward Phillips. Milton's definition of education has become very famous. It is as follows: “I call a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war." An examination of this definition will show that it is a very good one; but his Tractate on Education, in which the definition occurs, shows that Milton was far from understanding just how this state of mind was to be produced. His idea was that the accumulation of knowledge is education, while the definition would seem to indicate that he believed in training for power, as we now believe.
It will be seen that, on his return from Italy, he is no longer a poet. He enters a new field, that of teaching. In 1643 this quiet student one day suddenly brought into the midst of his school a wife seventeen years of age, one Mary Powell, the daughter of a Cavalier family living not far from Horton. Milton was aow thirty-five. It seems that, like the hero of Par.
adise Lost, he had not carefully considered consequences. The earlier years of his married life were most unhappy ones. Mary Powell left her husband without good reason, as most biographers maintain, and returned to the home of her mother. After two years of separation, however, the wife returned, and a reconciliation was effected. Milton
allude to this incident in Paradise Lost, B. X., 909–946, where he describes Adam's reconcilement to Eve. Mary Milton died in 1652, at the age of twenty-six, having borne him four children, three of whom grew up to be the daughters who treated the poet so unkindly in his blind old age.
From 1640 to 1660 his life was largely occupied with the tremendous political affairs of that troubled time. Pamphlet after pamphlet, in defence of religion and liberty, came hotly from his pen; and his wrath is as sublime as that of his hero in Paradise Lost. At times he stooped to language which seems now severe and uncalled-for, but at other times he rose to sublime heights of patriotic utterance. The pamphlets, a part of the titles of which are given upon p. xlii, must be read to give an idea of his “Miltonic rage.”
This soul-storm was necessary to his later work; and perhaps his Paradise Lost is the far away reverberation in his mighty soul when a new era, with his blindness and the ingratitude of his
daughters, had turned his soul inward to feed upon its remembrances.
From 1649 to 1658 he was Latin Secretary to the council of state and to Oliver Cromwell, his duty being to translate into Latin, the diplomatic language of the time, the correspondence with foreign powers. Cromwell's death, in 1658, left him without occupation; and the restoration of Charles II., in 1660, made his positioni a very dangerous one; for he was in imminent danger from those who were punishing the regicides. His pamphlets had made him equally guilty in their eyes; and since 1652 he had been totally blind. He had, despite the warnings of his physicians, deliberately given his eyesight for Eng. lish liberty. Truly he had “fallen on evil days”; but, —
36 though fallen on evil days,
he was as undaunted as the hero of his Paradise Lost. Blind, deserted, proscribed, and neglected by his daughters, who would not read to him, who sold his books, and cheated him in his accounts, he had, indeed, “fallen on evil days."
But no man produces what in him is greatest " until
he has suffered much." It is not wonderful that, after considering a hundred or more subjects, he chose, at last, Paradise Lost as the “flight” for which, in happier days, he had “plumed his wings.” During this dreadful period, he had been dictating, twenty or thirty lines at a time, to any one who would write for him, his immortal poem, which was finished about the year 1665, and published in 1667. He sold his rights in the poem for a sum that would now be equal to about $87.50, with a contingency of about $262.50 more. It
be said that the merit of the poem was at once recognized by those qualified to judge; but the price paid for it illustrates how little a contemporaneous public appreciates true greatness.
At the age of sixty, says Professor Masson, he might have been seen "every other day led about in the streets in the vicinity of his Bunhill residence, a slender figure, of middle stature or a little less, generally dressed in a gray cloak or overcoat, and wearing sometimes a small silver-hilted sword, evidently in feeble health, but still looking younger than he was, with his lightish hair, and his fair, rather than aged or pale, complexion.” His blindness does not seem to have affected the appearance of his eyes, at least in the early days of his blindness. (See second sonnet to Cyriack Skinner. For lines on his blindness, see sonnet On His Blindness, and the opening lines of