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will have shown, this pamphlet has great value as a biographical document. These productions carried Milton's fame as a controversialist and writer of Latin prose far and wide through educated Europe. That they raise many questions of importance respecting the author's political opinions will of course be understood. But as we have here to do only with Milton the poet, and with other aspects of his work merely in relation to his poetical activity, such questions must now be left undiscussed. On one very general matter a single remark may be made. It is often regarded as paradoxical that so staunch a champion and so eloquent an apostle of freedom should have lent his support to the despotic rule of Cromwell. His position clearly needs justification. It can be justified only when it is considered in connection with the practical conditions of the time. His “choice lay," as Macaulay has admirably said, “not between Cromwell and liberty, but between Cromwell and the Stuarts. That Milton chose well no man can doubt who fairly compares the events of the protectorate with those of the thirty years which succeeded, the darkest and most disgraceful in the English annals." It must, moreover, be remembered that however willing he might be to co-operate for a time with those with whom he was in general agreement, Milton was altogether too independent and too progressive in thought to remain within the trammels of any particular system. The principles of the various sects and parties of his age were only temporary resting-stages in his intellectual development. In the end he outgrew them all, and became a sect and a party by himself.


Meanwhile, in the midst of all these activities, a dreadful calamity had fallen upon him. His eyes had always been weak; from boyhood up he had continually overstrained them by strenuous and unremitting study. At the time of his return from the Continent his sight was already beginning to fail ; by 1650 he had lost that of the left eye entirely ; and he was now warned by the doctor that absolute desistence from reading and writing was necessary if the use of the remaining eye was to be preserved. But he had just then undertaken his “ Defence of the English People," and this at all costs he determined to finish. The choice lay before me,” he writes in his “Second Defence," “ between dereliction of a supreme duty and loss of eyesight; in such a case I could not listen to a physician, not if Æsculapius himself had spoken from his sanctuary, I could not but obey that inward monitor, I know not what, that spake to me from Heaven. I considered with myself that many had purchased less good with worse ill, as they who give their lives to reap only glory, and I thereupon concluded to employ the little remaining eyesight I was to enjoy in doing this, the greatest service to the commonweal it was in my power to render." So Milton did his duty and paid the penalty. Early in 1653, when he was only forty-five years of age, he became totally blind. Upon the varied consequences of this dire catastrophe to one still in the prime of manhood it is scarcely needful to dwell. But we must remember that in Milton's case the full tragedy of it can be realised only when account is taken of the fact that the great life-work upon which he had set his heart was as yet not even begun.

There are many passages in Milton's writings, both in prose and in verse, in which reference is made to the grievous affliction which God had thus laid upon him, and these are all touching and impressive as the expressions, now of simple sorrow over his forlorn state, now of resignation to the Divine will, now again, as Mr. Masson has put it, “ of a proud conviction that God, in blinding his bodily eyes, had meant to enlarge and clear his inner vision, and make him one of the world's truest seers and prophets. One of the first, if not quite the first, of these autobiographical utterances is the following sonnet, which must have been written soon after complete darkness had closed in about him. In the nobility of its religious feeling, and especially in its supremely beautiful and oft-quoted conclusion, it may well stand beside the sonnet written On his having attained the Age of Twentythree.

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

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To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest He, returning, chide ;
“ Doth God exact day-labour, light denied ?"

I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur,

soon replies, God doth not need 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 ;
They also serve who only stand and wait.''

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.

ing. 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.

Cyriack, this three years' day these eyes, though clear,

To outward view, of blemish or of spot,1
Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot ;

Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year,

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,
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world's

vain mask
Content though blind, had I no better guide.

One more of the poet's references to his affliction a 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!
Or of th' Eternal coeternal beam
May I express Thee unblamed ? since God is Light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity-dwelt then in Thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate !
Or hear'st Thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
Whose fountain who shall tell ? Before the Sun,
Before the Heavens, thou wert ; and, at the voice
Of God, as with a mantle, didst invest
The rising World of waters dark and deep,
Won from the void and formless Infinite.
Thee I revisit now with bolder wing,
Escaped the Stygian Pool, though long detained
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight,
Through utter and through middle darkness borne,
With other notes than to th’Orphean lyre
I sung of Chaos and eternal Night,
Taught by the Heav'nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to re-ascend,

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