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Title: A Day with John Milton
Author: Byron, May Clarissa Gillington, -1936
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Day with John Milton" ***

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[Illustration: Colour plate of book cover]

[Illustration: Byron portrait plate]


    PARADISE LOST. BK. XII. _Painting by S. Meteyard._

    "They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
    Through Eden took their solitary way."

                           (_Paradise Lost. Bk. XII._)


[Illustration: Paradise lost plate]



    A DAY WITH
    JOHN MILTON

    BY MAY BYRON


[Illustration: "Angel" plate]


    HODDER & STOUGHTON



    _In the same Series._

    _Tennyson._
    _Browning._
    _E. B. Browning._
    _Burns._
    _Byron._
    _Longfellow._
    _Whittier._
    _Rossetti._
    _Shelley._
    _Scott._
    _Coleridge._
    _Morris._
    _Wordsworth._
    _Whitman._
    _Keats._
    _Shakespeare._



A DAY WITH JOHN MILTON


About four o'clock on a September morning of 1665,--when the sun was
not yet shining upon his windows facing the Artillery Fields, and the
autumnal dew lay wet upon his garden leaves,--John Milton awoke with
his customary punctuality, and, true to his austere and abstemious mode
of life, wasted no time over comfortable indolence. He rose and
proceeded to dress, with the help of his manservant Greene. For,
although he was but fifty-four years in age, his hands were partly
crippled with gout and chalkstones, and his eyes, clear, bright and blue
as they had always been to outward seeming, were both stone-blind.

Milton still retained much of that personal comeliness which had won
him, at Cambridge, the nickname of "Lady of Christ's College." His
original red and white had now become a uniform pallor; his thick,
light brown hair, parted at the top, and curling richly on his
shoulders--(no close-cropt Roundhead this!)--was beginning to fade
towards grey. But his features were noble and symmetrical; he was
well-built and well-proportioned; and he was justified in priding
himself upon a personal appearance which he had never neglected or
despised. In his own words, he was "neither large nor small: at no time
had he been considered ugly; and in youth, with a sword by his side, he
had never feared the bravest."

Such was the man who now, neatly dressed in black, was led into his
study, upon the same floor as his bedroom,--a small chamber hung with
rusty green,--and there, seated in a large old elbow-chair, received the
morning salutations of his three daughters.

One after another they entered the room, and each bestowed a
characteristic greeting upon her father. Anne, the eldest, a handsome
girl of twenty, was lame, and had a slight impediment in her speech. She
bade him good-morning with a stammering carelessness, enquired casually
as to his night's rest, and stared out of window, palpably bored at the
commencement of another monotonous, irksome day. Mary, the second,
--dark, impetuous, and impatient,--was in a state of smouldering
rebellion. She addressed him in a tone of almost insolent mock-civility,
--he must needs have been deaf as well as blind not to detect the
unfilial dislike beneath her words. Ten-year-old Deborah, the most
affectionate of the three, ventured to kiss her father, even to stroke
his long, beautiful hair, and to re-tie the tassels of his collar.

"Mary will read to me this morning," said Milton, gravely inclining his
head in acknowledgment of Deborah's attentions. The dark girl, with a
mutinous shrug of her shoulders, sat down and began to read aloud, in a
hard, uninterested voice, out of the great leather-bound Hebrew Old
Testament which lay upon the table. And not one single sentence did she
understand--not one word of what she was reading.

John Milton's theories of education, which he had expounded at length in
pamphlets, were a curious blend of the practical and the ideal. Vastly
in advance of his time in his demand for a practical training, he had
evolved that "fine definition which has never been improved upon,"--"I
call a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform,
justly, skilfully and magnanimously, all the offices, both private and
public, of peace and war." But he made no allowances for slowness or
stupidity: all his schemes were based upon the existence of scholars
equally gifted with himself. And he entirely left out of all
calculations, much as a Mahommedan might, that complex organism the
female mind. He wished it, one must conjecture, to remain a blank. So
his daughters had received no systematic schooling, only some sort of
home-instruction from a governess. And he had himself trained them to
read aloud in five or six languages,--French, Italian, Latin, Greek,
Hebrew and even Syriac,--in total ignorance of the meaning.
"One tongue," observed Milton brusquely, almost brutally, "is enough
for any woman."

Mary read on, steadily, stolidly, sullenly, for a full hour. The others
had left the room and were busy upon household tasks. At the conclusion
of two chapters, "Leave me," commanded Milton, "I would be alone now for
contemplation,"--and Mary willingly escaped to breakfast.

The great poet reclined in his chair,--wrapt in such solemn and
melancholy meditation as might have served as the model for his own
_Penseroso_. A severe composure suffused his fine features, a serious
sadness looked out of his unclouded eyes; his entire expression was
"that of English intrepidity mixed with unutterable sorrow." For Milton
was a bitterly disappointed man.

It was not merely his comparative poverty,--because the Restoration,
besides depriving him of his post as Latin or Foreign Secretary to the
Commonwealth Council of State, had reduced his means from various
sources almost to vanishing point.

Nor was his melancholy mainly the result of his affliction; that he had
deliberately incurred, and was as deliberately enduring. Constant
headaches, late study, and perpetual recourse to one nostrum after
another, had eventuated in the certainty of total blindness if he
persisted in his mode of work.

    "The choice lay before me between dereliction of a supreme duty and
     loss of eyesight; ... and I therefore concluded to employ the
     little remaining eyesight I was to enjoy in doing this, the
     greatest service to the common weal it was in my power to render."

No: it was not a personal matter which could sadden John Milton to the
very roots of his stern, ambitious, courageous soul. It was the
contravention of all that he held most dear in life,--the frustration,
as he conceived it, of that liberty which was his very heart's blood by
the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. He had resolved, in his own
words, to transfer into the struggle for liberty "all my genius and all
the strength of my industry." It appeared that he had flung away both
in vain. The Stuart monarchy, to him, lay monstrously black,
overshadowing all the land, like his own conception of Satan.

The Restoration was not merely the political defeat of his party, it was
the total defeat of the principles, of the religious and social ideals,
with which Milton's life was bound up. He had always stood aloof from
the other salient men of the time. Of Cromwell he had practically no
personal knowledge: with the bulk of the Presbyterians he was openly at
enmity. "Shut away behind a barrier of his own ideas," he did not care
to associate with men of less lofty intellectual standing. But now he
was even more isolated. Since the downfall of the Puritan régime, he of
necessity "stood alone, and became the party himself." And he presented,
in his _Samson Agonistes_, "the intensest utterance of the most intense
of English poets--the agonised cry of the beaten party," condensed into
the expression of one unflinching and heroic soul.

Upon the mysterious and inscrutable decrees of Providence, which had
laid in the dust what seemed to him the very cause of God, Milton sat
and pondered, in a despondency so profound, a disappointment so
poignant, that his own great lines had sought in vain to voice it:

    "... I feel my genial spirits droop,
    My hopes all flat: Nature within me seems
    In all her functions weary of herself;
    My race of glory run, and race of shame,
    And I shall shortly be with them that rest."

                          (_Samson Agonistes_).

Yet his indomitable spirit was by no means quenched in despair: and an
outlet was now open to him at last, which for eighteen years he had
foregone,--the outlet of poetic expression. He was conscious of his
capacity to travel and to traverse the regions which none had dared
explore save Dante. And with that tremendous chief of pioneers he was
measuring himself, man to man.

He was able, above the turmoil of faction and the tumult of conflicting
troubles, to weigh

    "... his spread wings, at leisure to behold
    Far off the empyreal Heaven, extended wide
    In circuit, undetermined square or round,
    With opal towers and battlements adorned
    Of living sapphire, once his native seat."

                           (_Paradise Lost_).

That Milton had been silent for so long a period was due, firstly to his
preoccupation with political and polemical questions, into which he had
thrown the whole weight of his mind; and, secondly, to the effect of his
own firm resolve that the great epic, which, he had always secretly
intended, should be the outcome of matured and ripened powers: the
apotheosis of all that was worthiest in him: the full fruit of his
strenuous life. He had long since arrived at that conclusion, never
surpassed in its terseness and truth, that true poetry must be "simple,
sensuous, impassioned,"--words which might serve as the text and
touchstone of art. "And long it was not after" when he

    "was confirmed in this opinion, that he who would not be frustrate of
     his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to
     be a true poem."

For poetry, to John Milton, was no sounding brass or tinkling cymbal; in
his hand "the thing became a trumpet," apt to seraphic usages and the
rallying of celestial cohorts.

Therefore, when he ceased to touch the "tender stops of various quills"
that trembled into silence in _Lycidas_, it was not as one discomfited
of his attainment. Rather it was as one convinced of a mighty purpose,
and patiently awaiting the just time of its fulfilment. The "woodnotes
wild" of _Comus_, the exquisitely stippled _genre_ painting of
_Allegro_ and _Penseroso_, were mere childish attempts compared with
that monumental work to which Milton firmly proposed to devote the
fruition of his genius. And now, having become a man through mental and
physical experience even more than through the passage of years, he had
put away childish things. He had resolved at last upon, and had at last
undertaken, the one subject most congenial to his taste, and most
suitable to his style and diction. _Paradise Lost_ was the triumphant
offspring of his brain. It had sprung, like light, from chaos. Out of
the darkness of poverty, blindness and defeat arose the poem which was
to set him on the pinnacles of Parnassus.

"You make many enquiries as to what I am about" he wrote in bygone years to
his old schoolfellow, Charles Diodati. "What am I thinking of? Why with
God's help, of immortality! Forgive the word, I only whisper it in your
ear. Yes, I am pluming my wings for a flight." Nor was this the idle
boasting of an egotist, the empty imagination of a dreamer.

Consumed by "the desire of honour and repute and universal fame,
seated," as he put it, "in the breast of every true scholar," Milton
sedulously and assiduously had prepared himself for the achievement of
his aims. That he should "strictly meditate the thankless Muse" required
a certain self-control. "To scorn delights and live laborious days" is
not the customary delight of a handsome young scholar, expert in
swordsmanship as in languages. To equip himself for his self-chosen
task, still a misty, undefined prospect in the remotest future, required
strenuous and disciplined study; and necessitated his forgoing too
frequently the scenes of rustic happiness which he had pictured so
charmingly in _L'Allegro_,--absenting himself from "The groves and
ruins, and the beloved village elms ... where I too, among rural scenes
and remote forests, seemed as if I could have grown and vegetated
through a hidden eternity."

And this, though Milton had neither the eye nor the ear of a born
nature-lover, was in itself a sufficient deprivation and sacrifice. For
beauty appealed to him with a most earnest insistence,--and the purer,
the more abstract form it took, the more urgent was that appeal. "God
has instilled into me, at all events," he declared, "a vehement love of
the beautiful. Not with so much labour is Ceres said to have sought
Proserpine, as I am wont, day and night, to search for the idea of the
beautiful through all forms and faces of things, and to follow it
leading me on with certain assured traces."

Yet not alone among "forms and faces" was he predestined to discover
that Absolute Beauty. The passionate love of music, so frequently
characteristic of a great linguist, which led him into sound-worlds as
well as sight-worlds, was fated to remain with him, an incalculable
consolation, when "forms and faces" could be no more seen. And into the
vocabulary of _Paradise Lost_, that incomparably rich vocabulary, with
its infallible ear for rhythm, for phrase, for magnificent consonantal
effects and the magic of great names that reverberate through open
vowels,--into this he poured forth his whole sense of beautiful sound,

         "as the wakeful bird
    Sings darkling, and in shadiest covert hid,
    Tunes her nocturnal note."

_Paradise Lost_ remains, as has been observed, "The elaborated outcome
of all the best words of all antecedent poetry--the language of one who
lives in the companionship of the great and the wise of all past time,
equally magnificent in verbiage, whether describing man, or God, or the
Arch-Enemy visiting" this pendent world, when

    Thither, full fraught with mischievous revenge,
    Accursed, and in a cursed hour, he lives.

At seven o'clock the body-servant Greene re-entered, followed by Mrs.
Milton, the poet's third wife, and by Mary Fisher, their maid-servant,
bringing in his breakfast, a light, slight repast. Mrs. Milton, _née_
Elizabeth Minshull, of Nantwich, was a comely, active, capable woman,
"of a peaceful and agreeable humour," so far at least as her husband was
concerned: for she shared the traditional destiny of a stepmother in not
"hitting it off" with the first wife's daughters. Her golden hair and
calm commonsense were in striking contrast, alike with the dark beauty
and petulant spirit of Mary Powell, and with the fragile sweetness of
Catherine Woodcock, Milton's former spouses. If she did not in her heart
confirm her husband's celebrated theory of the relative position of man
and wife,--"He for God only, she for God in him,"--(which, it has been
said, "condenses every fallacy about woman's true relation to her
husband and to her Maker"), she managed very adroitly to convey an
impression of entire acquiescence in the will of her lord. And at least
she was entirely adequate as a housewife.

Had Milton ever encountered that "not impossible She" whom he portrayed
in his ideal Eve? or was this latter a mere visionary abstract of great
qualities, "to show us how divine a thing a woman may be made"? Neither
of his three wives, nor yet that "very handsome and witty gentlewoman,"
Miss Davis, to whom he had at one time paid his addresses, conformed to
this description: one cannot even conjecture that it was a _pasticcio_
of their respective fine attributes.

Mrs. Milton, third of that name, as she bustled and busied herself about
the study, was by no means a new Eve. She regarded her husband's
ambitions and achievements with that good natured tolerance so
characteristic of the materially-minded. Only genius can appreciate
genius; and the man who shut himself away from his _confrères_ in
scholarship and literature was not likely to unbosom himself to his
housewifely, provincial wife.


    COMUS.   _Painting by S. Meteyard._

    Sabrina rises attended by water nymphs,
        "By the rushy-fringed bank,
        Where grows the willow and the osier dank,"

                                         (_Comus_).


[Illustration: Comus colour plate]


The manservant Greene, breakfast being concluded, read aloud, or wrote
to his master's dictation for some hours. This had formerly been the
girls' daily office, but they were revolting more and more,--the whole
position was becoming untenable, for they resented the presence of their
stepmother as much as they disliked the duties which fettered them to
their father's side, and forced them to parrot-like, futile drudgery in
unknown tongues. To-day, however, Greene was relieved of the task, for
which he was manifestly but ill-fitted, by the entrance of Milton's two
favourite visitors.

No celebrity ever had fewer friends. From all who might have called
themselves such, he was separated by hostility of party, rancour of
sect or by that almost repellent isolation of character to which
reference has already been made. When at the highest of his political
fame, he had almost boasted himself of this "splendid isolation,"--"I
have very little acquaintance with those in power, inasmuch as I keep
very much to my own house, and prefer to do so." At heart a Republican
beyond the conception of any Roundhead,--cherishing a form of religion
so recondite that it could be classed under no heading, since he ignored
both public worship and family prayer,--having given offence to all and
sundry by his outspoken theories upon divorce and divine right,--Milton
presented to most men a dangerous personality. And most of all now, when
the wits of the Restoration roués could be sharpened upon him, and when
the heathen, as he considered them, roistered and ruffled it through the
city that had "returned to her wallowing in the mire."

Yet those who had sat at his feet as pupils, retained a singular
affection for their former master. For all such young folk as adopted
the disciple's attitude, the stern self-contained man had a very soft
spot in his heart. With such, he was not only instructive, but genial,
almost cheerful; and they alone could move him to the only utterances
which were neither "solemn, serious or sad." Chief among his former
pupils were those who now made entrance--Henry Lawrence and Cyriac
Skinner.

It may be guessed, therefore, with what pleasure the blind poet received
these loyal and affectionate men. His pensive face became transformed
with interest and animation, as with gentle courtesy and unfeigned
delight he turned his sightless eyes from one speaker to another. Upon
every subject he had a ready flow of easy, colloquial conversation,
seasoned with shrewd satire: his deep and musical voice ran up and down
the whole gamut of worthy topics. Sometimes he fell into the stately,
almost stilted diction of his great prose pamphlets,--sometimes he spoke
in racy English vernacular,--sometimes, warming to his subject, he
assumed an almost fiery eloquence. But when, at twelve o'clock, he was
escorted downstairs to dinner in the parlour, the metamorphosis was
complete. This was no longer the brooding introspective man of the early
morning, but one "extreme pleasant in his conversation," almost merry in
society so congenial,--the life of the party: abstinent, but not ascetic,
having a healthy, human enjoyment of the dishes set before him.

"These are the victuals most to my liking," he observed as he ate,
"being seasonable and withal of no great cost. For that which is of great
rarity or richness, and must be procured with care or toil, hath no
temptation for me."

"I do always my best, Mr. Milton," replied his wife, "that you shall be
well satisfied: and methinks to-day I have hit your taste right fairly."

"God ha' mercy, Betty," said Milton, regarding her with an air of kindly
tolerance, "I see thou wilt perform according to thy promise in providing
me such dishes as I think fit while I live; and when I die, thou knowest
I have left thee all." Here Anne, Mary and Deborah sat up very straight,
and directed looks of fury and astonishment towards their stepmother.

"Talk not o' dying, in God's name, man," responded the embarrassed Betty,
"we have enough to do to make shift to live, nowadays," and she hastily
pressed her good but simple fare, homely Cheshire dishes well-prepared,
upon the two guests. "Such a many learned foreign folk have visited our
poor house these latter days,--time hath failed me for my
cheese-cakes,--and of the havercakes I made two days agone, why, not a
crumb is left. But eat, my masters, eat and drink. Though these be but
country victuals, none of your Court kickshaws, I warrant you they are
fresh and savoury. I would commend you, now, to this rabbit pie--"

"Peace, Betty, peace. The woman prates o' pies like a pie (magpie)
herself. What saith the Apostle? _I suffer not a woman to speak_ in
presence of the man's authority. Ha' done, good Betty, with thy harping
on kitchen matters,--let thy savoury messes be companioned with a sauce
of silence."

Temporary eclipse of Mrs. Milton: obvious and malevolent satisfaction of
Anne and Mary: desperately suppressed inclination to giggle on the part
of little Deborah: and a desire to cover up the situation with talk, as
regards kindly Lawrence and courtly Skinner.

The "foreign folk" were no new thing. Milton's fame, indeed, was European:
as a prose-writer and pamphleteer, be it understood, not as a poet. Had
he not refuted and put to shame the most erudite scholars of the day?
Foreign _savants_ of note, therefore, who might be visiting London, were
desirous to acquaint themselves with so powerful a personality: and the
little house in the Artillery Walk was the rendezvous for many
distinguished persons. They found their host no such recluse as town-talk
might have led them to imagine, but one ready and willing to converse
with them,--an English gentleman to the backbone, a scholar and artist
to the finger-tips. His Continental tours and Italian sojourns had made
him less insular than most of his compatriots, and his vast range of
reading had imparted a certain cosmopolitanism to his exceedingly
individual lines of thought. The visitors found him, moreover, employed
upon a work so important, and of a theme so lofty, as might well give
them pause, considering the circumstances under which it was being
accomplished: and whatever their particular religious tenets might be,
they could not fail to admire the magnitude of his aim in composing
_Paradise Lost_,--"To justify the ways of God to men."


    PARADISE LOST. BK. II   _Painting by S. Meteyard._

    "Satan with less toil, and now with ease, ...
    Weighs his spread wings, at leisure to behold ...
      This pendent world in bigness as a star
    Of smallest magnitude."

                            (_Paradise Lost. Bk. II._)


[Illustration: Satan in paradise colour plate]


Dinner despatched, the master of the house, led by his devoted friends,
went out into the garden. A garden was the desideratum of his existence,
and he had never been without one; for in seventeenth-century London
every house was fitly furnished in this respect. Here Milton was in the
habit of taking that steady exercise which was a _sine quâ non_ to a
sedentary and gouty man. He made a point of walking up and down out of
doors, in cold weather, for three or four hours at a time,--sometimes
composing his majestic lines, sometimes merely meditating. When weary
with walking, he would come in and either dictate what he had conceived,
or would take further exercise in a swing. In really warm weather, he
received his visitors sitting outside his house door, wrapped in a
coarse grey overcoat--gazing out upon the fields of the Artillery ground
with those "unblemished eyes" that belied their own clear beauty--"the
only point," as he said, "in which I am against my will a hypocrite."
To-day, being cool and cloudy, allowed but intermittent periods in the
open air. Milton, Lawrence and Skinner paced slowly to and fro, deep in
enthralling intercourse, until three o'clock: when the rain and Thomas
Elwood arrived simultaneously, and the other two men departed to their
respective avocations.

Thomas Elwood was a young Quaker of twenty-three, who was acting in some
degree as honorary secretary to Milton. Himself of a defective education,
and having been expelled from his father's house on account of his
religious opinions, he was only too glad to take a lodging in the
neighbourhood, and, by reading aloud to Milton every afternoon, acquire
an amount of information and a variety of learning, which by no other
means could he have obtained. And there was also a tacit sympathy
between them, insomuch as Milton was, more and more, as life went on,
inclining towards the Quaker tenets,--in those days, _bien entendu_,
viewed with horror and detestation by the majority of men.

Having re-entered the house, "We will not read as yet, Tom," Milton said,
"I desire greatly to comfort myself with sweet sounds. Bring me into the
withdrawing-room, and place me at the organ. A little bellows-blowing
will not hurt thee, Tom. And let my wife attend me, that we may have
song withal. She hath a good voice, though a poor ear."

Seated at his beloved instrument, the blind man steeped himself in the
principal pleasure that was left him. Milton's father, stout Puritan
though he might be, was an accomplished musician, and had taught his
son to play in early youth. The austerities of a narrow dogma had not
been able to crush out the inveterate artistry of either father or
son: and now the devotee of "divinest Melancholy" was able to solace
himself with such lovely concords, such "anthems clear,"

    "As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
     Dissolve me into ecstasies,
     And bring all heaven before mine eyes."

Sometimes he sang as he played; sometimes Mrs. Milton, with her clear
unemotional notes, sang to his accompaniment. Presently, that Elwood
should not be wearied in his blowing, he quitted the organ for the
bass-viol, on which he was no mean performer. At the conclusion of his
playing he sat with a rapt, transfigured face, such as might well have
called forth the Italian's encomium, thirty years before,--"If thy piety
were equal to thy understanding, figure, eloquence, beauty and manners,
verily thou wouldest not be an Angle but an Angel!"

"And, now, good Tom," quoth Milton to the young man, "let us to work: the
day moves on apace." They went upstairs to the study. "Before we read, I
have some forty lines to set down," continued the poet, "all day they
have been knocking for admission, and with that last music they made
entrance. Needs must I house them now in ink and paper."

"I am instant at thy bidding, friend," and Elwood seated himself with
dutiful alacrity at the table. Milton, placing himself obliquely athwart
his elbow-chair, with one leg thrown across the arm, dictated forty
lines, almost in a breath,--they burst from him, as it would seem, in a
stream no longer to be restrained.

"Gently, gently, good sir!" exclaimed Elwood, "slow-witted and slow
fingered I may be,--but I cannot keep pace with thee!"

A grim smile hovered over Milton's full lips, "Out of practice, Tom," he
replied indulgently, "it is a long while since I required this service
at thy hands. From the autumnal to the vernal equinox, as I have told
thee, my muse lies dumb,
            and silent as the moon,
    When she deserts the night,
    Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.


But now the winter is overpast, the singing of birds is heard in our
land, and she too awakes and sings. With the vernal equinox my thoughts
flow free as Helicon." Then, with slow and deliberate diction, he
repeated the lines once more: and, having had them read aloud to him, he
compressed, condensed, concentrated every thought and phrase, and
reduced them to twenty.

"There is more to come?" queried Elwood, his quill poised ready to write.

"No more. Not one word more at present," replied Milton, sighing as
though somewhat exhausted.

His inspiration was entirely intermittent: and sometimes he would lie
awake all night, trying, but without success, to complete one single
line to his liking. "They please me not wholly, these lines," he
continued, "much remains to be done before I set them down to be changed
no more."

"Not every man would say so," replied Elwood, "the learning and
erudition whereof these few lines alone give witness, would supply many
with just cause for boasting throughout a lifetime."

Milton shook his head. "Pomp and ostentation of reading," he remarked,
"is admired among the vulgar: but in matters of religion, he is
learnedest who is plainest."


    IL PENSEROSO.   _Painting by S. Meteyard._

        "And may at last my weary age
        Find out the peaceful hermitage,
        The hairy gown and mossy cell,
        Where I may sit and rightly spell
        Of every star that heaven doth show."

                           (_Il Penseroso._)


[Illustration: Il Penseroso colour plate]


"Yet, Mr. Milton, thee hast the reputation of such scope and range of
wisdom, as the greatest scholar in Europe might fitly envy. To me, I
confess, in my poor unlettered ignorance, it is not conceivable in what
manner thee acquired so great and witty powers."

"I gathered them not of mine own strength," said Milton, "but they were
mine for the asking and endeavour, and any man may obtain them in like
fashion. I ceased not, nor will cease, in devout prayer to the Holy
Spirit, that can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and send out
his Seraphim with the hallowed fire of His altar, to touch and purify
the lips of whom He pleases. To this must be added select reading, and
steady observation, and insight into all seemly and generous acts and
affairs.... And now, good Tom, to reading."

Elwood took up the Latin author which he was at present engaged upon,
and proceeded with it. Whenever the preternaturally acute ear of Milton
detected, by Elwood's intonation, that he did not quite understand a
sentence, he would stop him, examine him, and elucidate the difficult
passage. By and by, "You will find a saying very similar to that," he
observed, "in Virgil his Fourth Eclogue. Fetch down the book, and let us
hear what the Mantuan hath written therein."

Elwood searched along the bookshelves, but to no avail. "Friend," said
he, "thy Virgil is no longer here. Yesterday I handled it myself,--to-day
it is vanished. So is the Lucretius." A frown contracted Milton's
splendid brow. "These women-kind," he muttered like rumbling thunder,
"they are verily the root of all evil. Bid me hither my wife and
daughters, and Mary Fisher the maid moreover." The first and the last,
being summoned, arrived in all haste, and disavowed any knowledge of the
missing books. Anne and Mary Milton, it appeared, were gone out
marketing: but little Deborah, being strictly cross-examined, confessed
that she had seen sister Anne carrying books away from the study last
night when their father had retired: the wherewithal for "marketing"
was easily obtained in this way.

Milton groaned in his ineptitude. "How have I deserved this treacherous
dealing at their hands? Lord, how long shall I be

              dark in light exposed
    To daily fraud, contempt, abuse, and wrong,
    Within doors and without, still as a fool
    In power of others, never in my own?

                          (_Samson Agonistes_).


Here, by a happy coincidence, there was a sturdy hammering heard at the
front door, and Andrew Marvell was ushered in, "I am out of my due
time," said he, "for it is not yet gone six,"--(six to eight P.M. being
Milton's best time for receiving visitors). "Yet to so old an offender
as myself, John, I know thou wilt make an exception." Marvell was the
one friend of his own type and standing, the one constant and
inalienable comrade, upon whose fidelity the blind man could rely. He had
formerly been Milton's colleague under the Cromwellian Government: and
was his kindred spirit, so far as anyone could claim such relationship
with the frozen heights of the poet's intellect.

With him, during the next two hours--the learned physician Paget joining
them, and Elwood listening in respectful silence to the converse of these
mighty men--Milton forgot the vexations of his ill-assorted household. He
assured his friends that he was truly far happier now, in poverty,
infirmity and neglect, occupied solely upon his long-projected
masterpiece, than during the eighteen years of his manly prime, when his
mind and pen were solely employed upon the controversies which he now
professed to hate. "Never again," he declared, "shall earthly ambitions
interrupt and thwart me: never now shall I endure to leave a calm and
pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to
embark in a tumbled sea of noises and hoarse disputes. Cast out of my
fool's Paradise of fame not worth the finding, shall, not I and the hope
whereunto I am wedded explore some fair and fragrant tract of outer
Eden? Even as I have set forth the banishment of our first parents:

    Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
    The world was all before them, where to choose
    Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
    They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
    Through Eden took their solitary way.

                                       (_Paradise Lost_).


I and my espoused hope indeed do tread through Eden."

The four men now, at eight o'clock, went down to supper: a very spare and
frugal meal, so far as Milton was concerned: for all he consumed was a
little light wine, a piece of bread and a few olives. His flow of speech
was still unwearied, his spirits as near vivacity as they could approach
it, when his friends rose to take leave. "The night is yet young," said
Paget, "but I know that nowadays you seek rest early." "That is so,"
Milton assented, "since I am no longer able to study o' nights, and
since the best of secretaries,"--he smiled towards Elwood--"must needs
grow weary of a blind man's whims, I were as well in bed as out of it.
Moreover, I can compose my lines to better advantage lying down."

"One thing, at least, you are spared," Marvell told him, "darkness
cannot discommode your doings, nor doth the eye-weariness of the
midnight student afflict you with grievous brow-aches in the morning as
of old."

Milton answered, "My darkness hitherto, by the singular kindness of God,
amid rest and studies, and the voices and greetings of friends, has been
much easier to bear than that deathly one. What should prevent me from
resting in the belief that eyesight lies not in eyes alone, but enough
for all purposes in God's leading and providence? And to you now I bid
farewell, with a mind not less brave and steadfast than if I were
Lynceus himself for keenness of sight."

In a short space of time he was at rest in his darkened room; not as yet
drowsy, but revolving great phrases, and deriving a greater joy from
these lonely silences of the night-watches than could ever accrue to him
by day. Gradually the aisles and bowers of the Paradise which his mental
eyes enjoyed took upon them more and more the lovely similitude of rural
England. The greennesses and sweetnesses of his childhood's home, the
Buckinghamshire village, were fused into the "eternal spring" of the
primeval garden. And from the "glassy, cool, translucent wave" of the
river that ran through Eden,

    "by the rushy-fringed bank
     Where grows the willow and the osier dank,"

arose "Sabrina, attended by water-nymphs" as once he saw her rise in
_Comus_, and sang the sightless bard to sleep with the plashing of
water-music.


[Illustration: "Rose"]


    _Printed by Percy Lund, Humphries & Co., Ltd._
    _Bradford and London._

                                          _10322_


                       ====================


Transcriber's Notes:

Some illustration's captions have been moved out of the paragraph.

The following captions have been added:
  Illustration: Colour plate of book cover;
  Illustration: Byron portrait plate;
  Illustration: Paradise lost plate;
  Illustration: "Angel" plate;
  Illustration: Comus colour plate;
  Illustration: Satan in paradise colour plate;
  Illustration: Il Penseroso colour plate;
  Illustration: "Rose".

The following noted Illustration was removed:
  Dropped Cap "A" at start of text - "About ..."

Spelling has been made consistent throughout.





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