(MILTON'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY)
(A) Milton's Life
, 1608. His father at an early age destined him to the "study of letters", and Milton became a devoted student first at St. Paul's School, then at Christ's College, Cambridge. After leaving Cambridge (1632) he lived with his father in studious retirement at Horton (Bucks); but in 1638 travelled for eighteen months on the Continent (mainly in Italy.) Returning to England, he took up cudgels against the Established Church and on behalf of the freedom of the Press. His first marriage (1643) proved unhappy. In 1649 he became foreign Secretary to the Common-wealth. He lost his sight in 1653, the year of the death of his wife. Married a second time, in 1656; a third time in 1663. After the Restoration he was deprived of all his offices, forced to go into hiding, but by the Act of Indemnity allowed to return to London, where he died in 1674. London
(B) Milton's Works
1. 1629. Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, a poem characteristic of his beliefs and his imaginings.
2. 1634. Comus, Masque, one of the most exquisite and perfect of his shorter poems.
3. 1637. Lycidas, a monody on the death. This friend, Edward King, published in the volume of 1638 which contained L' Allegro and IL Pensoroso, Comus, and other verses.
4. 1644. Areopagetica an address to Parliament, pleading for freedom of the Press. The noblest and most impressive of his many prose writings. "The balance of epithet, the delicate music, the sentence that resembles a chain with link added to link rather than a loop whose ends are welded together with a hammer- these are the characteristics of Milton's prose" (Herford).
5. 1667. Paradise Lost (originally divided into ten, afterwards into twelve books) the greatest of English epics, and ranking with the two great epics of the ancient world (the Iliad and the Aeneid). Written (like Paradise Regained) in blank verse throughout.
6. 1671. Paradise Regained (in four books) and Samson Agonistes (a noble drama on the Greek model).
7. His Sonnets ("soul-animating strains-alas, too few") were mainly written during his "Prose period"; viz. 1638-60; but one or two belong to an earlier date.
(C) Three Periods of Milton's Literary Career
(i) The third period extends from 1632 to 1637. This is popularly known as the Horton period. In this period there are the poetical characteristics of a belated Elizabethan in Milton. But the Puritanic note is manifested even in these early poems.
(ii) The second period extends from 1640 to 1660 - the period of the momentous constitutional struggles. Milton's poetic faculty was largely held in abeyance during this period and he was mainly engaged in writing controversial pamphlets during this time. This is also the period of his sonnets, every one of which is a gem in the quarry of English poetry. They form a noble autobiography of Milton and show that a change has come over his poetic career.
(iii) The third period. The storm has blown over. The old, blind, disappointed poet has seen much of life and things. This is the period of Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. The deep spiritual import, soul-stirring music, political symbolism, serious elevation, magnificent diction etc., of these poems show that Milton's poetic power is at its highest.
(D) Chronology of Milton's works
Below is given a list of his chief works in poetry and prose in the order of their composition.
The first period - 1629: Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity 1630-3. Two English sonnets 'O Nightingale and 'How soon hath time' and five Italian ones. '
1631-34. L'Allegro and IL Penseroso.
The second Period - 1641-42: The antiprelatical pamphlets: Church Discipline, Prelatical Episcopacy, Animadversions, The Reasons of Church Government and Apology for Smectymnius.
1643-45. The divorce pamphlets: Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, The judgement of Martin Bucer, Tetrachordon and Celasterion
1644. Of Education.
1649. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.
1651. Defensio pro populo.
1654. Defensio Secunda
1955. Defensio pro Se.
1660. The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Common-wealth.
1642-58. The remaining sixteen English sonnets.
The Third Period -1658-65: Paradise Lost.
16,65-67 Paradise Regained.
1668-70 Samson Agonistes.
(E) Milton's Personality and Temperament
Milton is one of those English poets, whose personality and character are indelibly stamped upon their poetry. Milton's poetry is inseparable from Milton the man.
1. Humanist and Puritan: The first thing that strike one in Milton's poetic personality is that he combines in himself what is best in classical and in Christian culture. If, on the one hand, he had the humanist's scholarship, culture, refinement, and love of beauty, and love of art and music, on the other hand, he possessed the moral earnestness and religious zeal of the puritan. He always insisted on the purity and simplicity of private life. He was a man of lofty ideals, and his life was a constant endeavour to live upto them.
2. Stern lover of liberty: Milton was stern lover of liberty. He was an uncompromising upholder of the liberty of individual conscience, and was intolerant of the forces which aimed to suppress it. He fought against monarchy, because monarchy aimed to destroy the civil liberties of the people and assumed divine right to rule the people. He denounced the Church, because the Church aimed to impose upon the people a particular mode of worship, tyrannised over them and was corrupt.
3. Noble conception of poet's vocation: Milton had a noble conception of the poet's vocation. According to Milton, a poet's life should be "a true poem" that is, a poet should live a pure and chaste life. To him poetry was a sacred vocation, and he always regarded his life as one dedicated to the purest and noblest ideals. He never lost sight of his life's mission. In his old age, fallen upon evil days, he fulfilled the mission of his life. Poor, blind, and overwhelmed by misfortune, he gave to the world his immoral work, Paradise Lost, Paradise regained, and Samson Agonistes.
To Sum up
An ardent love of learning, intolerance of tyranny and corruption in all forms, intense love of liberty and fanatical zeal of fight for it, high seriousness of purpose - all these combined with a broad culture and high scholarship are some of the feature that distinguished Milton the man. Long years of continuous struggle, no doubt, made him bitter, and at places, his work shows the narrowness of outlook born of this bitterness; but the nobility and purity of his character, and his fortitude and piety and stamped everywhere on his poetry.