JOHN MILTON, the most illustrious of English poets, was born in London on the 9th of December, 1608. His father was of an ancient, Catholic family, but was disinherited on becoming a Protestant. He followed the occupation of scrivener, and was a man of great musical accomplishment. From him his son derived his matchless ear, and that strict integrity of character for which he is as famous as for his verse.
Milton was carefully nurtured and educated. He was first placed under the care of a privaie tutor, and at the age of twelve was sent to St. Paul's school, London, and afterwards to Christ's College, Cambridge. He took his degree of M. A., and having relinquished the idea of following either divinity or law, he left Cambridge in 1631, and went to reside at his father's house at Horton, in Buckinghamshire. There he lived for five years reading the Greek and Latin poets and composing Comus, Lycidas, Arcades, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. In 1643, he married Mary, the daughter of Richard Powell, an Oxfordshire royalist, but the union did not at first prove happy. His wife, who had been accustomed to "dance with the King's officers at home," found her husband's society too austere for her gay tastes. After the severe honeymoon was over, she obtained permission to visit her relatives, till Michaelmas; but when Michaelmas came she refused to return. Stern and proud, Milton repudiated her at once; and the matrimonial disagreement made the world the richer by four Treatises on Divorce. A reconciliation, however, took place, which we have no reason to doubt was both genuine and permanent. Mary Powell died in 1652, leaving him three daughters. After the execution of Charles he was appointed Latin Secretary to the Council of State, with a salary of 290 pounds In his new position his pen was as terrible as Cromwell's sword. His second wife, whom he married November 12th 1657, was a daughter of Captain Woodcock ot Hackney. She died in February 1658, and her husband has enshrined her memory in an exquisitely pure and tender sonnet.
Unceasing study had affected his eyesight, and about 1654, Milton became totally blind. His great poem, Paradise Lost, was published in 1667. He received five pounds from his publishers, and the promise of five pounds more when 1300 copies should have been sold. In 1670, he published his History of England. Next year he printed Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. He died on Sunday, the 8th of November, 1674, and was buried next his father, in the chancel of St. Giles at Cripplegate.
Milton was above all English poets, stately and grandiose. In comparison, other poets are like sailing-ships, at the mercy ot the winds of Passion and Circumstance; he resembles the ocean steamer; which, by reason of internal energy, can pierce right through the hurricane. Never, perhaps, was a mind more richly furnished. His Comus is the very morning-light of poetry; while in his great epic there is a massiveness of thought and a sublimity of imagery, a pomp of sound - as of rolling organs and the outbursting of cathedral choirs - which can be found no where else.