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Hebrew or Puritan note is distinctly struck. A
friend perhaps his old tutor Young, but of this
we cannot be sure-had written remonstrating
with him on his apparently aimless way of life.
He replied at length in a letter apologetic in tone
but full of self-searching and anxiety; towards
the end of which he says: "Yet that you may
see that I am something suspicious of myself,
and do take notice of a certain belatedness in me,
I am the bolder to send you some of my night-
ward thoughts some while since . . . made up
in a Petrarchian stanza.'
"" Then follows what
has been justly called " one of the most solemn
and beautiful pieces of personal writing in
English poetry "-the sonnet, not so named by
Milton himself, who left it nameless, but now
generally entitled :


How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol'n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth
That I to manhood am arrived so near;
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy sp'rits endu'th.
Yet, be it less or more, or soon or slow,


It shall be still in strictest measure ev'n, To that same lot, however mean or high, Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav'n. All is, if I have grace to use it so,

As ever in my great Task-Master's eye.

This sonnet was written by Milton on the eve of his leaving Cambridge, and clearly marks his sense that he was now about to open a new chapter in his history. Youth was over; he stood on the threshold of manhood, with all its temptations and duties; and it was in this fine spirit of self-dedication to the highest aims in life that he turned his back upon his college walls and went forth into the world. Come what might, he was solemnly resolved henceforth to live as in God's sight and for God's service.


IS father had designed that he should

Henter the Church, and this he had him

regarded, from childhood up, as his settled vocation. But before his Cambridge course had closed he had come to realise that for him Holy Orders were impossible. "To the . service of the Church," he afterwards wrote,

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by the intentions of my parents and friends, I was destined of a child, and by mine own resolution; till coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the Church, that he who would take orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that would retch [stretch], he must either straight perjure, or split his faith; I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of

speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing." Here we have the first indication of Milton's quarrel with the ecclesiasticism of his time. The Church abandoned, he thought next of the Law; but he thought of it only to dismiss it from his mind. Thereupon he determined to devote himself, not to practical life under any of its aspects, or to the amassing of wealth, but to study, self-culture, and poetry. That in poetry he now saw, as he believed, his true calling, is evident; nor is it less evident that he had already a strong conviction of his fast-growing powers; he knew nothing of false modesty, and again and again in autobiographical passages in his writings his superb self-confidence is frankly expressed. Fortunately for him, his father was willing, and, owing to his comfortable circumstances, was also able, to allow him to take his own course. No outside pressure appears to have been brought to bear upon him, and he was left to shape his career in accordance with his personal desires and aims. Few poets standing on the threshold of life have been as happily placed as Milton was in respect of immediate conditions and opportunities.

The elder Milton, now retired from business, had bought a country house in the village of Horton, Buckinghamshire, some seventeen miles from London. It was in this rural spot, set in the midst of a beautiful and peaceful landscape, that Milton now took up his abode, and here, "The Reason of Church Government" (1641).

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from July 1632 to April 1638, he spent nearly six years of scholarly seclusion. During this time, he tells us, he "occasionally visited the metropolis, either for the sake of purchasing books or of learning something new in mathematics or in music 1 but save for these slight interruptions, life at Horton was placid and uneventful-a life of steady industry passed day by day and week by week "in the quiet air of delightful studies." If, as I have said, he had already come to regard poetry as the great business to which all his genius and energies were to be given, it is now important to add that no poet before or since has ever devoted himself more ardently, more persistently, more singleheartedly to self-preparation for his future work. The range of his reading was enormous, comprehending the whole field of history and all that was best in ancient and modern literatures ; and his learning was accurate as well as wide. Nor was he satisfied, like the mere scholar, simply to absorb. He read always with mind alert and vigilant, thus making his studies fruitful in personal growth. Many years later he wrote:

Who reads

Incessantly, and to his reading brings not

A spirit and judgment equal or superior,
Uncertain and unsettled still remains,

Deep vers'd in books, and shallow in himself.2

Milton knew from personal experience and his long years of patient self-discipline the difference

1 "Defensio Secunda." 2 "Paradise Regained," IV. 322-326.

between the right way of using books and the wrong way. With him extending scholarship meant at the same time increase in power and depth. His learning thus became part and parcel of himself; it was, as Hartley Coleridge put it, amalgamated and consubstantiated with his native thought; and when he employed it in his poetry with, as most of us are rather humiliated to feel, too little respect for the ignorance of the average reader, still he employed it in no pedantic spirit, and simply because it was for him a natural instrument of expression. It is quite true that he often abused his scholarship. But let us understand how it came to be so distinctive a feature of his poetic work. His mind was literally stored with varied learning, and when this learning was touched and fired by the imagination, it poured out, flood-like, into his verse. It is evident that in later life, when the "total eclipse" of blindness had fallen upon him, he loved to let his memory travel far and wide over the vast fields of knowledge which he had formerly explored, and that it gave him the keenest pleasure to recall his early studies, and to draw upon the treasures which as a young man he had amassed. Hence the learned borrowings and illustrations, the bookish analogies and metaphors, the long erudite digressions and disquisitions, which abound in "Paradise Lost." We call Milton a scholar-poet, as we call Spenser and Gray, Tennyson and Longfellow, scholar-poets, not because he was a scholar who also wrote poetry,

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