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compares him aptly to Rousseau and to Shelley. "The chief lesson," he says, to be drawn from Milton's prose works is the recognition of his position as the great idealist, the Rousseau or the Ruskin of his generation. The current view of his character does him great injustice, while in itself natural and almost inevitable. A man of strict and austere life, living in a Puritan age and siding with Puritanism in almost all the questions at issue between it and contending tendencies, can hardly be taken for anything but a Puritan. . . . It requires study to discover that, like the great Protestant cathedral, the great Protestant epic descends from the Renaissance. Even as his poetry reveals Milton in the character of a humanist, so the more important of his prose works display him as a revolutionist, eager to sweep away everything obstructive of an ideal existing solely in his own mind. . . . He took Puritanism up partly, no doubt, because it embodied his favourite virtues of fortitude and temperance, but also because it was the only organized force in that age which, by overthrowing the old order, would offer a chance for the realization of his ideals. . The spiritual kinship with Shelley would be more evident if the younger poet's exuberant fancy had not veiled his figure in a radiant mist, which conceals the real Shelley as the Genevan habit conceals the real Milton."1
Milton came from a family in which religious passion seems at first sight to run deep. But on looking more closely into the question, it appears that this passion was hardly as religious as one might expect. There was, at bottom, in Milton himself, very little religious fury; his vehemence was always directed against some form of reli
1 The Prose of Milton Selected (London, 1893), pp. xi-xiii.
gion he disapproved of, and never supported any precise religious dogma. He attacked; he never praised. He founded no sect; he followed none. And the passion he brought to the attack on Episcopalian or Presbyterian was not the zeal of the fanatic that wanted to destroy a rival sect, but that of the intellectual who was fighting for liberty of thought.
The poet's grandfather, Richard Milton, was a Catholic. In July, 1601, he was fined sixty pounds for not having attended service in the Established Church for more than three months, and in October of the same year, the fine was renewed for the same offense.2 Richard's son became a Protestant, and was consequently turned out of his home and disinherited. Both the father and the grandfather of our John Milton show thus the same intractableness as the poet himself in matters of conscience. But were these cases of fanaticism, or merely of the need of asserting personal opinion, a rebellion to conquer liberty for a Catholic in a Protestant community, for a Protestant in a Catholic family? Richard Milton had held some position in an Anglican church; his son, as we shall see, was never conspicuous for fanaticism. It seems probable that in both father and son a strong dose of pride and obstinacy mingled with religious feeling, if indeed the need to get one's own way was not the essential motive of rebellion for both. Thus in Milton himself the feeling for personal independence is much stronger than religious zeal.
We know the poet's father, John Milton, much better than his grandfather. There was nothing of the pedantic and narrow-minded Puritan about him. He had been 2 Masson, I, 17-18. 3 Ibid., I, 23.
given a liberal education, and had perhaps studied at Oxford. Love of music was in him already, and he was known as a composer, being one of twenty-five who set to music a series of madrigals in honor of Queen Elizabeth: The Triumphs of Oriana - essentially non-religious music. The scrivener had literary ambitions too, and a sonnet from his pen survives; his modesty and good taste are proved by the fact that he did not try to force the Muse's favors, and desisted after that attempt. His literary ambition centered in his son, and his discernment and disinterestedness cannot be overpraised. He was convinced from the first of the extraordinary merits of his son, and grudged no sacrifice to make him a great man. He had thought of the Church for him, but rather in order to give him an opportunity than out of religious zeal; in the dreams by the family fireside, the young Milton did not appear as a future Calvin, but as a second Homer; and surely here is the most intimate proof that there was nothing of the fanatic about John Milton the father: an over-religious family would have coveted the fame of a reformer for such a richly gifted son; Milton's family brought him up for poetical glory. When Milton decided he could not enter the Church, his father does not seem to have been hard to win over, and he went on allowing the young poet, for culture and travel, the use of a laboriously acquired fortune.
The retired business man had a calm and happy old age in his eldest son's house, " without the least trouble imaginable," says Phillips: no sign of violent religious zeal, considering the fact that at the time there lived in the same house the royalist, and possibly Catholic, family ♦ Ibid., I, 23. ■ Ibid., I, 51–54. • Quoted by Masson, II, 508.
5 of Milton's wife. Besides, this same John Milton, who had left his father's house over a religious quarrel, lived in perfect harmony with his son Christopher for several years - and Christopher was destined to become a Catholic. This family changed religion a little too often; their ideas were evidently broad enough, since Christopher, a royalist, found shelter in his brother's home when the royalist cause was lost; and we do not know that good harmony was ever broken among the three men.' All this confirms the hypothesis that what was the matter with this family was not fanaticism, but the need for personal independence. When they agreed to respect each other's rights to think as they liked, they lived quite happily in spite of all their divergences of opinion- an impossible thing for fanatics to do.
As for our John Milton, he wrote verses which were considered marvelous in the home circle when he was about ten years old, and he was henceforward brought up deliberately to be a man of genius. What colossal pride must have been latent in a family where such a thing was accepted as normal, where such an enterprise was carried through successfully, to the complete satisfaction of all participants in this unique conspiracy! The habit of looking upon himself as a great man was thus acquired by the poet in early childhood. He came to accept it as a simple and natural thing. His greatness was taken for granted, first of all by himself. During the whole course of his life, he was to make candid and stupendous admissions concerning his own genius. He did not boast of it; it was a natural, well known fact, which needed not to be insisted upon in itself; but it was an 7 Ibid., II, 490, 508. 8 Masson, I, 65.
advantage of which he would deprive neither his cause nor his ideas. The form of his exhortations to the people or to the great was always, more or less: 'Aunv àμǹv λéɣw vμiv Verily, I, Milton, say unto you!
Another characteristic of his pride may also have come from its home origin. Milton never clearly perceived that the world was not made of Miltons. Anticipating the Kantian formula, he legislated as though what was valid for him was valid for the universe. He appraised man's powers too high, judging by himself. No doubt this tendency came from the time when he accepted in all good faith his family's cult, and probably believed that every family was similarly educating a young Milton.
II. THE UNIVERSITY AND HORTON
Milton went to Cambridge in 1625. His proud and sensitive nature seems to have been put at first to a severe test. The students were not likely to surround him with the affection of the home circle, and his delicacy must have rebelled against the grossness and indifference of his new companions. Anyhow he succeeded in acquiring neither the good opinion of his teachers, as the quarrel between him and his tutor Chappell proves, nor that of his comrades, as is visible in the opening sentences of the first of his Prolusiones. And yet, when he left the University in 1632, he had conquered: he went regretted by many, admired by all."
This change in public opinion is a sure proof of the amiability of his character: a stiff Puritan, having once made an unfavorable impression, would never have gained his companions' affection. This human side of his nature
9 See Masson, I, 159-61, 276-77, 307.