The Sense of the Self
THE KIND OF REGARD we have for ourselves has a fundamental effect on all that we think and all that we do. Milton's sense of self-esteem can, if we understand it fairly, help us to appreciate a good many features of his behavior and of his writing.
An inquiry into such a topic requires caution, however. It is not usually given to us to be able to understand, with much sense of confidence, how others think about themselves. Even the estimates we have of ourselves are almost always oblique or elusive, and sometimes hidden away or disguised. But Milton was much more straightforward than most of us in his measures of himself, and he was clear about the importance of inner drives that are usually observable only indirectly. The unusual degree of his straightforwardness may lead us (if we are not careful) to a harsher judgment of him than the facts warrant.
When he came to write, in the Christian Doctrine, about the special virtues connected with the duty of man toward himself (Book II, chapter IX; Prose, VI, 724-37), he first dealt with the "virtues which regulate our appetite for external advantages . . . either to the pleasures of the flesh or to the material possessions and distinctions of our life." But he reserved a special place, after that, for "the appropriate virtues" that obtain "where the distinctions of public life are concerned." From the examples, I judge that he meant not simply kings and rulers and public figures but all prominent people of high talent, including persons like John Milton.