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Weing the Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity and the enthusiastic Epitaph on Shakspere. Among all the writings of that period, however, the most interesting autobiographically is the Sonnet on his Being Arrived at the Age of Twenty-three, which may be quoted here to show how he anticipated the criticisms upon his apparent lack of purpose and achievement:
How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th
That I to manhood am arrived so near;
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean or high,
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
We may note implied here (besides the consciousness that he might seem open to reproach) an attitude of awaiting without impatience the fulfilment of his destiny, and a determination that, to whatever goal he might ultimately be led, there should be no doubt as to the principles by which he was to be governed on his road thither. Both things were profoundly characteristic. In his own ultimate greatness Milton never ceased to believe; yet he looked forward to it in no vainglorious spirit, but with a legitimate pride in the part allotted to him in the purposes of Providence. With equal certainty did he hold to the necessity of personal purity and integrity in the man who was to perform noble deeds, whether in affairs or in literature. The man who “speaks of high matters,” he insists, must live temperately and have “a youth chaste and free from guilt, and rigid morals, and hands without stain." And again; “He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition, and pattern of the best and honourablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy." Such was the spirit in which Milton prepared himself for his life-work. | Among the results of the years spent at Horton between 1632 and 1638 were à Latin poem, Ad Patrem, apparently written n reply to some mild remonstrance from his father on his giving up the prospect of a regular profession in favor of scholarship and letters; L'Allegro; Il Penseroso; Arcades
(part of an entertainment given in honor of the Dowager Countess of Derby); Comus; and Lycidas.
In Milton's days and for long afterwards, no young gentleman's education was regarded as complete until he had made “the Grand Tour” of the continent. It was, then, in accordance with fashion, as well, no doubt, as with his own taste,, that in 1638 Milton set out on a journey to Italy. V After some days in Paris, he passed on by way of Nice to Genoa, Leghorn, Pisa, and Florence, in which last city he spent about two months in the society of wits and men of letters. He seems to have been received with marked courtesy, and to have appreciated the reception. In or near Florence he “found and visited the famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition for thinking in Astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licencers thought," a martyr to truth who doubtless appealed strongly to Milton's indignation, and who would have touched him still more deeply could he have foreseen that one day they were to suffer in common the fate of blindness. After two months more spent in Rome, he visited Naples, and had intended to cross to Sicily and go thence to Greece, when rumors of civil war in England led him to turn his face homewards, “inasmuch,” he says, “as I thought it base to be travelling at my ease for intellectual culture while my countrymen at home were fighting for liberty.”
He may have learned that things had not gone so far as he feared, for he did not go directly to England, but paid second visits to Rome (where his boldness in religious discussion led him to run risks from the Jesuits), and to Florence, thence to Venice, Verona, Milan, and Geneva, and so by Paris to England, where we find him in August, 1639. His writings produced abroad were all in Italian or Latin, and seem to have brought him
considerable distinction among the Italian men of ✓ letters whom he met.
(6) Second Period (1640-1660) Thus was closed the period of Milton's education; and had public affairs permitted it, he might now have begun to carry out his plan for the great poem which was the most persistent of the many schemes he had meditated for literary production on a large scale. But public affairs did not permit it. Whatever view one takes of the merits of the political and religious questions involved, or of the permanent value of the prose writings which formed Milton's contribution to their settlement, it seems clear that a man of his temperament and principles could not have done otherwise than he did. There has been much not very fruitful discussion on what he might have written in pure literature had he turned his back upon the cause I of liberty, the cause whose welfare was his deepest passion. But such conduct in such a man would
have been desertion, and, according to his own principles, would have unfitted him for noble achievement in any field.
Yet Milton did not plunge rashly into the conflict. Shortly after he returned from the Continent, the household at Horton was broken up, and he went to London to resume his studies, and decide on the form and subject of his great poem. V Part of his time was occupied in teaching his two nephews, and afterwards he took under his care a small number of other youths, sons of his friends, In 1643, he married Mary Powell, the daughter of an Oxfordshire Royalist. In about a month she left him and remained away for two years, at the end of which time she sought and obtained a reconciliation. She died in 1653 or 1654, leaving him three little daughters. He married a second time in 1656, but this wife lived only fifteen months after the marriage.
The main occupation of his first years in London was controversy. We have said that liberty was Milton's deepest passion, and in liberty we sum up the theme of his prose writings. There are “three species of liberty,” he says, “which are essential to the happiness of social life--religious, domestic, and civil,” and for all three he fought. His most important prose works may, indeed, be roughly classed under these heads: