Milton's Literary Milieu

Milton's Literary Milieu

Milton's Literary Milieu

Milton's Literary Milieu

Excerpt

Because of the renaissance in the study of Milton, informed readers are discarding the traditional notion that he was merely the sheltered, austere, and lonely poet of Puritanism. From recent discoveries and just evaluations of old records Milton emerges in his true character: a great poet, devoted to his art but also intensely interested in current religious and political problems; an artist whose work springs from a strong character, powerfully molded by but transcending his age; a protestant humanist of profound convictions and broad culture. In the light of modern scholarship, one is scarcely justified in roundly declaring that Milton's education was "a too careful, a too ideal education under parental supervision and control," an education in which religion predominated, a special and cloistered discipline which spoiled him for contact with the rough and ready world. It is further from the truth to say that Milton was an almost complete embodiment of the ascetic, not only disciplined and self-restrained, but also characterized by an instinctive severity, a natural repulsion from the amusements, the occupations, the sins of the world. It is not true to say that he dwelt in a kind of moral solitude, neither tempted himself nor appreciating the temptations of others. It is certainly wrong to insist that Milton was a lonely recluse: lonely in his isolated youth; lonely in middle age, "waiting on the Muse, seated alone, in the loneliness of London"; lonelier even than Dante and Virgil, who were lonely men; an old man, "lonely and musical, seated at his chamber organ, sliding upon the key-board a pair of hands pale as its ivory in the twilight of a shabby lodging of which the shabbiness and the gloom molest not him; for he is blind--and yet he sees." These statements are not altogether false; as half-truths they are indeed plausible. But without qualification they are, in effect, quite misleading.

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