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To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He, returning, chide ;
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best ; His state Is kingly : thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
Next to this we may place another sonnet, addressed to his friend Cyriack Skinner. This, as will be seen, was written on the third anniversary of the day from which he dated his total blindness. The contrast in tone between it and the one just quoted is very striking. In the one case we have the spirit of calm resignation ; in the other, the sustaining consciousness of work well done in a great cause which was indeed worthy of the sacrifice which it had entailed.
TO CYRIACK SKINNER
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,1
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not Against Heav'n's Hand or Will, nor bate a jot Of heart or hope ; but still bear up and steer · Perhaps it was a sense of his personal appearance which led Milton to emphasise this fact. He refers to it again in his “Second Defence,” in which he says that his eyes, "externally uninjured . shine with an unclouded light, just like the eyes of one whose vision is perfect."
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask ?
The conscience, Friend, to have lost them overplied
In Liberty's defence, my noble task,
One more of the poet's references to his afflictiona later one must be added to these two sonnets. This is embedded in the magnificent invocation to light which opens the third book of “ Paradise Lost.” The entire passage must be reproduced (11. I-55).
Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heav'n first-born!
Though hard and rare. Thee I revisit safe,
pow'rs Irradiate ; there plant eyes; all mist from thence Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
The chief event of Milton's private life during the years which immediately succeeded his loss of sight was his marriage in 1656 with Catharine Woodcock, the daughter of a Captain Woodcock of Hackney. That this second union brought him much quiet happiness seems certain. It was, however, destined to be very brief, for fifteen months later his wife died, leaving behind her a tender memory of the love, sweetness, goodness” which“ in her person shined.” Notwithstanding his blindness, he continued to hold his secretarial position, though necessarily some of its duties had now to be performed by deputy, his principal assistant being the well-known patriot and poet Andrew Marvell. His energy as a controversialist and pamphleteer also remained unabated till the very end of the Protectorate, the last production of his “ left hand "-his “Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth”. appearing in March 1660, only two months before the proclamation of Charles II. as king. This was a bold plea for a republican form of government. But whatever influence it might conceivably have exerted in different circumstances, it was, in fact, born out of date. The success of the Royalist cause in England was already assured.
We have now come to the end of the Commonwealth period in English history, and, with this, to the close of Milton's activities as prosewriter and public servant. That this long chapter in his life is full of interest on the biographical side will scarcely be denied ; nor, however small may now seem to be the essential value of his contributions to the political and ecclesiastical discussions of his time, and however regrettable the passion and violence which disfigure so many of his pages, is any sympathetic student likely to blame him for turning aside at what he conceived to be the imperative call of duty, from the broad highways of pure literature into the tortuous byways of noises and hoarse disputes." Yet, as we look back, we are inevitably most impressed by the enormous loss entailed by the course of action which he thus só resolutely pursued. Milton is now universally recognised as one of the supreme poets of all the world ; he had long nourished the ambition of producing some one great work in which his genius and his powers should find full and adequate expression; steadily and patiently, from youth onward, he had been preparing himself by severe study and mental discipline for the accomplishment of his gigantic task. Yet through the twenty years of his middle manhood, while his genius was in its very prime, that task remained untouched. During a period almost as long as that which embraced the whole of Shakespeare's dramatic activity, the greatest of English poets, busy with controversies which have long been dead and with personal quarrels which only served to degrade him to the level of the pettiest of his adversaries and traducers, produced, all told, & score or so of sonnets. Rarely, if ever else