« PreviousContinue »
AND SELECTED SONNETS.
THE REV. HENRY HUCKIN, M.A.,
MERCHANSI TA ORS' SCHOOL.
SEELEY, JACKSON, & HALLIDAY, FLEET STREET,
280. n. 368.
JOHN MILTON was born in London on the 9th of December, 1608, and died there on the 8th of November, 1674. He was thus a witness of the stirring events of the great Rebellion, in which he played a considerable part. He was educated at Cambridge, where, at a very early age, he attracted attention by his brilliant talents. After leaving Cambridge he passed some time upon the Continent, making himself thoroughly conversant with various languages, and studying the literature and the history of the countries in which he lived. He seems to have there acquired an intense love of liberty, and a vehement hatred of oppression—traces of which manifest themselves, in many of his writings.
Returning to England, he lived for a time in great retirement and poverty. But no distress could affect the vigour of his intellect or the fervour of his feelings and magination. He was constantly engaged upon writings
of the most varied description, and the fertility of his genius seems inexhaustible.
When Cromwell became Protector, he chose Milton for his confidential secretary, partly because so ardent an admirer of liberty could not fail to add lustre to the cause which he espoused; partly because Milton's great knowledge of Latin was invaluable in deciphering and preparing political documents—for at that time Latin was the language of diplomacy ; and partly because between the two men there existed a real affection, and each had a real admiration of the genius of the other. During this time Milton's sight began to fail him, and he became almost blind—a circumstance which gave rise to the sarcastic witticism of the Swedish Envoy : “ There is but one man in England who can write Latin, and he is blind.” This sad infirmity increased until Milton was completely deprived of sight.
After the Restoration, the poet was forced to seek the shelter of absolute seclusion from the world ; yet, even then, his life was in great danger from the vengeance of the Royalists; but his misfortunes were perhaps his safeguard. During his retirement he passed the greater part of his time in composing his great Epic of Paradise Lost, in which, as his blindness prevented him from writing, he was assisted by his daughters, who seem ever to have been ready to render him their aid. It is said that most of his brilliant passages were composed at night.
So little was Milton appreciated by his fellow-countrymen, that he received for his great Poem, which perhaps stands highest among the productions of English poets, only five pounds. The first who directed the attention of Englishmen to the splendid merits of their countryman, was Addison ; and since his time, Milton has ever ranked with the great Epic poets, the Greek Homer, the Roman Virgil, and the Italian Dante. Less original than the first, less polished than the second, less imaginative than the third, Milton will yet not suffer from comparison with his great rivals ; and we may well excuse whatever of exaggeration is found in the famous lines of Dryden :