The Sense of Others
How WE LOOK on others depends, first of all, on how we look on ourselves. Milton's sense of other persons is a kind of mirror held up to himself. It shows something of his capacity for awareness of others, and something of his limitations. It may sometimes enlarge or distort his needs and fears, but it gives an essential insight into his inner life. As with all of us, that inner life may be one that its possessor is unwilling or unable to face himself, much less knowingly reveal it to others. He was speaking for many people when he wrote, in the Seventh Prolusion, that "the chief part of human happiness is derived from the society of one's fellows and the formation of friendships" ( Prose, I, 295). It is a question as to whether it proved true for him.
Milton's sense of other persons developed and changed in the course of his life, though some of the central points remained more or less fixed. From what he wrote on the subject at different times, we may draw several different conclusions. Some of his comments are so memorable that we may be tempted to take any one of several as a fair epitome of his entire field of vision. For example:
still govern thou my Song, Urania, and fit audience find, though few. But drive far off the barbarous dissonance Of Bacchus and his Revellers.
These lines from the Invocation to Book VII of Paradise Lost express contempt for the mob and admiration for the elite, and they