John Milton, an English poet, born in London, Dec. 9, 1608, died there, Nov. 8, 1674. His father had been disinherited at an early age for abandoning the Catholic faith, adopted the profession of scrivener or copying lawyer, and retired with an independence. Though inclined to Puritanic habits, he had cultivated literature in his leisure, and holds a respectable rank among the contemporary composers of madrigals, songs, and psalms. Milton thus received the training of a Puritan family, and was also taught the art and science of music, becoming an accomplished organist. In his writings, whenever he speaks of music, he is always technically and strictly correct. His father secured for him the best educational advantages, and both as a boy and a man Milton was severely and constantly studious. He was still under the care of a private tutor when, being scarcely 12 years old, he was sent to the school of St. Paul's. Even at that age he seldom retired to rest from his studies till after midnight. There began his memorable friendships with Diodati and Gill. He was able to compose Latin prose and verse with ease and elegance, was familiar with Greek and Hebrew, and had " no mean apprehension of the sweetness of philosophy," when he was entered, Feb. 12, 1625, as a pensioner at Christ's college, Cambridge. Though destined to the church, he resolved early in his university career upon a life of continued study, with no professional aim, but with a view to authorship.
He led a life of singular intellectual independence, did not conceal his disinclination to the scholastic sciences, and for a time was at variance with the authorities and was rusticated. His personal beauty is uniformly mentioned by those who describe his youth as very remarkable. His light brown hair, parted in the middle, fell in curls upon his shoulders; the expression of his clear gray eyes was serene and thoughtful; and, though he excelled in manly exercises, his fair complexion, slight figure, and innocent life caused him to be styled by his fellow collegians "the lady of Christ's." On quitting the university in 1632, he took up his abode in the village of Horton, Buckinghamshire, whither his father had retired from London. There he spent the next five years in "a ceaseless round of study and reading," devoting his time chiefly to the Greek and Latin poets. At this time he wrote the "Sonnet to the Nightingale," the companion pieces "L'Allero" and "II Penseroso," the masques of " Arcades " and " Comus," and the elegy of "Lycidas." None of his other compositions are so tranquil and happy in tone, or indicate so distinctly his love of the lighter graces of poetry. 1 They are replete witli rural imagery, delicate fancies, playful allusions, and sensuous descriptions, and the themes and the idyllic treatment strikingly contrast with the poems which he produced after 20 years of conflict in public life.
On the death of his mother in 1637 he obtainea his father's permission to travel on the continent, especially in Italy; and he set out in the following year, attended by a single servant. In Paris he was welcomed by the English ambassador and introduced to Grotius; in Florence, where he remained two months, he made the acquaintance of Galileo and was received into the literary academies, before which, according to custom, he gave evidence of his learning, and recited some of his Latin poems and three Italian sonnets, which won the encomiums of Italian wits and scholars; in Rome he made another stay of two months, protected by Lucas Holstein, the librarian of the Vatican, and by Cardinal Bar-berini. He abandoned his purpose of going to Sicily and Greece on receiving tidings of the impending rupture between the king and people in England, as he considered it dishonorable to be pursuing his own gratification abroad while his countrymen were contending for liberty. He returned to England by way of Rome, where he again remained two months, and, though warned of Jesuitical plots, openly " defended the reformed religion in the very metropolis of popery " without fear or molestation. He reached home in August, 1639, after an absence of 15 months.
He had already determined to write a great poem, but his meditations were interrupted by the civil commotions, and by a period of 20 years during which the literature of England was almost exclusively polemical. He entered into the political disputes of the day, and during the whole splendid and vexed era of Puritan supremacy in England, with the exception of a few soniots, he appears only as a polemical prose writer and champion of the revolution. During his absence his father had broken up his household at Horton. Milton therefore hired apartments and afterward a house in London, and received his two young nephews Edward and John Phillips, sons of his sister Anne, to board with him as pupils. A few more pupils, sons of intimate friends, were afterward admitted; and while pursuing his private studies he devoted a part of his time to their education after a peculiar system of his own. He was thus occupied with studying and teaching when he published his first pamphlet. The long parliament met in 1040; Laud and Strafford were overthrown; the danger from free speech was removed; and the circumstances of the time offered an invitation to thinkers.
Prominent among topics of public interest was that of church reform, and Milton published a vehement attack on the episcopal form of government entitled "Of Reformation, touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that hitherto have hindered it" (1641). In the same year Bishop Hall of Norwich, at the request of Laud, undertook a defence of episcopacy, and was answered by a combination of five Puritan ministers under the title of Smectym-nuus, a word composed of the initials of their names. Archbishop Usher replied to the Smec-tymnuans, and Bishop Hall published a defence of himself. Milton published two pamphlets in answer to the former, entitled "Of Prelati-cal Episcopacy11 and "The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty," and a tract in the form of a dialogue entitled "Animadversions" upon Bishop Hall's defence. The last drew forth an anonymous and slanderous response, attributed to a son of the bishop; and the controversy was concluded by Milton's "Apology for Smectymnuus" (1642), in which in an eloquent self vindication he gives an interesting account of his education, studies, and pursuits, and a eulogy of the long parliament.
In 1043 he was resting from controversy, occupied with his pupils, and meditating the great poetic work to which he wished to transfer all his mental power and industry. But in the midst of civil war and of epical contemplations he contracted a singular marriage. "About Whitsuntide," says Phillips, "he took a journey into the country, nobody about him certainly knowing the reason, or .that it was more than a journey of recreation. After a month's stay, home he returns a married man, who sot out a bachelor; his wife being Mary, the eldest daughter of Mr. Richard Powell, then a justice of the peace at Forest Hill, near Shotover, in Oxfordshire." It appears that his father had made a memorandum to him of a debt due from Powell, the larger part of which was never paid; that his numerous rides to Forest Hill in quest of money resulted only in a matrimonial engagement; that he never receive a shilling of the £1,000 promised with wife; and that he encountered "a mute and spiritless mate" where he had expected "an intimate and speaking help." Moreover, it was a marriage amid civil conflict between a renowned parliamentarian and a lady of a royalist family.
She remained only one month with her husband, and then accepted an invitation from her family, probably suggested by herself, to go buck and spend" some time in the country; and at a secure distance she treated both the letters and messengers of the poet with contempt, and refused to return. The pleas suggested on her side are that she was used to company and merriment, and disliked Milton "spare diet and hard study;" the poetfs chief and singular ground of complaint was that his wife would not talk; it is probable that they simply disliked each other, and that nothing but an imprudent marriage suggested to him "the pious necessity of divorcing," even in cases that depend upon " ut-terless facts." Milton came to the conclusion that other reasons, besides those legally admitted, might be sufficient for the dissolution of the nuptial tie, and determined publicly to argue his case. With the intellectual clearness and boldness which are his special characteristics, he pushed his ideas of civil and ecclesiastical liberty into the realm of the domestic circle; and he resolutely advanced the doctrine that moral incompatibility as well as conjugal infidelity justifies divorce. It should be noticed that he does not disguise his opinion of the natural inferiority of woman.
His publications on this subject are: " The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce restored to the Good of Both Sexes from the Bondage of Common Law " (two editions in 1644); "The Judgment of Martin Bucer touching Divorce" (1044), in which he shows that a celebrated contemporary of King Edward VI. had been of the same opinion as himself; " Tetrachordon, or Expositions upon the four chief Places in Scripture which treat of Marriage or Nullities in Marriage " (1045); and " Colasterion: a Reply to a Nameless Answer against the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce " (1045). His efforts for a change of law were a failure, but he retained his opinions till the close of his life. The discussion of the subject which he raised was no less intolerant and impatient than that on episcopacy had been, and during its progress he was summoned to the bar of the house of lords, but was honorably dismissed. Meantime he had published his tractate " On Education " (1644), only the theoretical views of which are important, and had addressed to the parliament the noblest and most useful of his compositions in prose, the " Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing" (1644). It is a plea for freedom in literature; but though it contains some of his finest passages of prose eloquence, it was not successful in its aim of abolishing the newly established censorship.
In 1645 appeared in a small volume the first edition of his poems. In the same year a reconciliation was effected between him and his wife. She returned to his house, and her whole family were generously entertained by him for several months. After their departure, his abode, says Phillips, "looked again like a house of the muses." He lived successively in the Barbican and in Ilolborn, and was occupied with writing his history of England when the execution of King Charles (Jan. 30, 1649) had aroused throughout Europe a feeling of horror and indignation, and created a reactionary tendency even among the partisans of the revolution. Milton wrote " The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," published within a month after the death of the king, in which he undertook-to prove that subjects have a right to depose or put to death a wicked monarch. He also published "Observations " on the articles of peace which the earl of Ormond had concluded in the king's name with the Irish Catholics. On the establishment of the commonwealth, Latin was fixed upon as the official language of intercourse with foreign states.
To Milton, in view both of his scholarship and his services, was given the office of secretary for foreign tongues; and 1G letters and other documents first published by the Camden society in 1859 confirm all previous impressions of his skill in Latin composition, and of the eloquence, energy, and dignity he gave to the political despatches of the commonwealth. He vindicated the freedom of England on the seas, protested against the persecution of the Wal-denses by the duke of Savoy, and expounded to Europe the position and policy of the new government. The Eihon Basilihe was passing through numerous editions, and winning popular sympathy for the "royal martyr," and he therefore prepared a counteractive under the title of Eikonoldastes (1649). Claude de Sau-maise (Salmasius), one of the most distinguished contemporary scholars, was instigated by Charles II., then a refugee in Holland, to compose an elaborate defence of the inviolability of kings, and especially of royalty in England, in a treatise worthy to be submitted to the learned of Europe. The name of the author was sufficient to secure fame and extended influence to his work, and the council immediately made an order "that Mr. Milton do prepare something in answer to the book of Salmasius." This was the occasion of his Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio contra Salmasii DeferiMonem Regiam (1650), in which he assailed at once the philosophy and Latinity of his opponent, and surpassed him in scholastic vituperation.
It was deemed a triumph, and he received the thanks of the council and the congratulations of the foreign ministers in London. His eyesight had been failing for several years, and his physicians informed him before he undertook this defence that total blindness was threatened; but he regarded the task as a sacred duty, and it hastened the malady, the "drop serene" (gutta sexena) as it is termed in his plaintive account of it. Before 1654 he was completely blind, though pis eyes were perfectly cleAr, and without mark, speck, or disfigurement. He had already removed to the house in Petfty France, opening into St. James's park, in which he remained till the restoration, and which was afterward occupied by Ilazlitt. In 1652 appeared Regit Sanguinis Clamor ad Caelum, written by Dumoulin, a Frenchman resident in England, but attributed to Moore (Moras), a Scotchman resident in France, abounding in calumnious invective against Milton personally. This occasioned his Defensio Secunda (1654), a noble defence of his own conduct, a vindication of the parliament, and a merciless retaliation for the scurrilities of his antagonist. The dispute was prolonged by two additional pamphlets on each side.
Milton continued to write many of the more important state papers until the year of the restoration, and was also occupied with his history of England, with framing a body of divinity, and perhaps with the composition of his great poem, the subject of which he had at length determined. He also opposed to the last in divers tracts and letters the return of the monarchy. | For 20 years he had been the foremost literary champion of the principles of English liberty, then struggling for recognition. His polemical writings abound in passages of the finest declamation, marked by a peculiar majesty of diction, and by a sustained and passionate magniloquence. The political theory which he advanced was in some respects peculiar to himself. He advocated a free commonwealth, without a sovereign or a house of lords. The government should be intrusted to a general council of ablest men, chosen by the nation, and he opposed the coexistence of any popular assembly. He would not even have the members of the council chosen directly by a popular vote, but recommended three or four "sifting and refining" processes. After the restoration, a proclamation was issued for the arrest of Milton, and two of his books were publicly burned. He lived in concealment till the act of indemnity \ placed him in safety.
His first wife had died in 1652 or 1653, leaving him three little girls; he married a second time, Nov. 12,1656, Catharine, daughter of a Captain Woodcock of Hackney; but his wife, whose memory is embalmed in one of his most beautiful sonnets, survived only 15 months; and about 1663 he married Elizabeth Minshull, daughter of Ralph Minshull of Cheshire. The last was a marriage of convenience, arranged by a friend, because his daughters had ceased to treat him with kindness. They however lived in his house five or six years longer, in constant quarrel with their stepmother. Unsubdued by pain, obloquy, and blindness, anlid domestic infelicities and the profligacy of (the era of the comic •dramatists, and witnessing the public defeat of the principles which he had represented, he meditated and dictated the poems of " Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained." According to Ellwood, the former was completed and the latter was begun at Chalfont, whither Milton retired from London during the plague of 1665. "Paradise Lost" was sold to Samuel Simmons, bookseller, April 27, 1667, for £5 in hand, and a promise of the same sum on the sale of the first 1,300 copies of each edition, none of which was to exceed 1,500 copies.
The second payment was received in 1669, the second edition was issued in 1674, the third in 1678, and in 1681 Milton's widow gave up to Simmons all her interest in the work for £8. This poem has been the subject of a, great deal of criticism and research. Disraeli, in his "Amenities of Literature," has pointed out its remarkable similarity to the work of Csedmon, an Anglo-Saxon poet; others attempt to trace the character of Satan to Vondel's Lucifer, and cite a recently discovered record of Ley-don university (1874), which shows that Milton studied there, and probably acquired some knowledge of contemporary Dutch literature. " Paradise Regained" appeared in 1671, in the same volume with the drama of "Samson Ag-onistes." A second and enlarged edition of his minor poems was published in 1673. His principal later prose publications are the "History of Britain" (1670), down to the Norman conquest, containing many of the early traditions, much of which had been written before the restoration; a tract entitled " Of True Religion, Heresie, Schism, Toleration, and what best Means may be used against the Growth of Popery" (1673), in which he urges absolute toleration for all Protestant sects, but denies it to Roman Catholics; a short Latin grammar (1661); a compendium of logic (1672); and hi-; Latin epistles and oratorical exercises in the university (1674). He left in manuscript a Latin treatise entitled Be Doctrina Christiana, which had been unsuccessfully offered to Elzevir for publication.
Two years after his death it came into the hands of one of the English secretaries of state, by whom it was deposited in the state paper office, where it was accidentally discovered in 1823. It was translated and edited (4to, 1825) by C. R. Sumner, D. D., afterward bishop of Winchester, and it completely establishes Milton's Arianism, which had been suspected from passages in "Paradise Lo9t." Its heterodoxy was doubtless the reason why it was offered first to a Dutch publisher, and afterward withheld from the public. In his last years he was afflicted by the gout, which, according to Aubrey, "struck in" and caused his death. He died calmly and without pain, and his remains were laid beside those of his father in the church of St. Giles, Cripplegate. After his sight failed he had been accustomed to go to bed at 9 o'clock, and to rise at 4 in summer and 5 in winter. Before rising, he often had some one to read to him or to write at his dictation. He studied till 12, with the intervention of breakfast, then exercised for;.n hour, dined, played on the organ or bass viol, and resumed his studies till 6. from whirl, hour till 8 he conversed with visitors.
He fancied that "his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal," and was never satisfied with what he wrote in the other half of the year. He attended no church, belonged to no religious communion, and never had social prayers in his family. That he was somewhat haughty and overbearing, and of severe if not choleric temper, appears from other evidence as well as from passages in his controversial writings; yet his manners were usually urbane, and his conversation delightful. - The principal biographies of Milton are those by Toland, Todd, Sym-mons,Dr. Johnson, Mitford, Keightley (London, 1859), and Masson (2 vols., London, 1859-'71). The last is also a literary history of the time. The best edition of Milton's poetical works is Pickering's, with a life by the Rev. John Mitford (8 vols., London, 1851; the 2 vols, of poems reprinted, with Mitford's "Life," 1873). Among others are those of Bishop Newton (3 vols. 4to, 1749), the first critical edition; Todd, with variorum notes (6 vols., 1801); Hawkins (4 vols., Oxford, 1824); Sir E. Brydges (6 vols., 1831); C. D. Cleveland, with a verbal index (large 12mo, Philadelphia, 1853); Keightley (2 vols. 8vo, 1859); W. M. Rossetti, with memoir (8vo, 1871); David Masson (1874); and the minor poems by T. Warton (1785). The prose works were first collected by Toland (3 vols. fol., 1697 - '8), and have since been edited by Birch (2 vols., 1753), Charles Symmons (7 vols., 1806), Robert Fletcher (8vo, 1826), and Rufus W. Griswold (2 vols. 8vo, Philadelphia, 1845); but the only complete edition is in Bohn's "Standard Library" (5 vols, post 8vo, 1848-'53). A concordance to the poems by Pren-dergast was published at Madras in 1857. A German translation of his principal political writings (Politische Ilauptschriften) was published in Berlin in 1874 by Dr. W. Bernhardi, with annotations.