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voice through a thousand modulations, may be by right of knowledge heir to Arion's name. If it has been your lot to beget me a poet, why should you think it strange that, close-joined as we are by the dear tie of blood, we pursue kindred arts and studies? Phoebus wished to divide himself, and gave one half himself to me and the other half to you. Father and son, we share between us the god.
But for all your pretence of hatred against poetry I do not believe that you hate it. For you did not command me, father, to go where the way lies open broad, and there is freer field for earning lucre; where the hope of gain shines golden and sure. Nor did you drag me to the bar, to grope among the nation's illguarded laws, nor damn my ears to the insipid clamor of pleaders. Nay, rather you wished to enrich still more my mind, already well-nurtured, and led me far from the city uproar into high retirement, and permitted me to enjoy happy leisure by the Aonian stream, and to walk a glad companion at Apollo's side.
I will say nothing of the common love and duty due to a dear parent; your claims on me are higher. When, at your cost, dear father, I had mastered the tongue of Romulus and seen all the graces of it, and had learned the noble idiom of the magniloquent Greeks, fit for the great mouth of Jove himself, you persuaded me to add to these the flowers which France boasts; and the speech which the modern Italian pours from his degenerate lips, bearing witness in every accent of the barbarian tumults; and the language in which the singers of Palestine speak their mysteries. Afterwards, whatever the sky holds, or mother earth under the sky, or the air of heaven between; whatever the wave hides, or the restless marble of the sea, of all this through you I am enabled to learn, through you,
if I care to learn. From the parted cloud comes Science, naked and lovely, and bends her entrancing face to my kisses; - unless I wish to flee, unless I find it irksome to taste her lips....
FROM A LATIN LETTER TO CHARLES
Dated from London, September 23, 1637, i.e., in the last year of the Horton period. Diodati’s death occurred a year later, when Milton was traveling in Italy. In the following passage Milton interprets their friendship in terms of Platonic idealism, a mode of thought which played an important part in moulding the experience of his youth.
Whatever the Deity may have bestowed upon me in other respects, he has certainly inspired me, if any ever were inspired, with a passion for the good and fair. Nor did Ceres, according to the fable, ever seek her daughter Proserpine with such unceasing solicitude, as I have sought this perfect model of the beautiful in all the forms and appearances of things (for many are the forms of the divinities). I am wont day and night to continue my search; and I follow in the way in which you go before. Hence I feel an irresistible impulse to cultivate the friendship of him who, despising the prejudices and false conceptions of the vulgar, dares to think, speak, and be that which the highest wisdom has in every age taught to be the best....
FROM THE EPITAPH OF DAMON Toward the close of the great Latin elegy (written about 1640) in which he paid tribute to the memory of Charles Diodati under the pastoral name of Damon, Milton pauses to speak, with the intimacy of one who is accustomed to share all confidences with his friend, of his own cherished poetic plans and aspirations. He has made a beginning at an epic poem on the events of early British history, culminating in the victories of Arthur against the pagan Saxons. The conception has been too high for his
not yet matured powers of expression, accustomed to lesser themes, but he enthusiastically describes the project of a truly national poem, written in his mother tongue for all Englishmen to read. Some of the reasons why Milton ultimately abandoned the Arthurian subject in favor of the more universal one of the Fall of Man are implied in the invocation to the Ninth Book of Paradise Lost.
... Ah, how many times I said, aye even when the urn was holding thy ashes, 'Now Damon is singing, or setting traps for the hare. Now, he is plaiting osiers for his various uses.' With easy mind I hoped, and lightly I fitted the future to my wish, picturing it all present before my eyes. 'Heigh, friend,' I would say, ‘art thou busy? If nothing is to hinder, shall we go lie and chat a bit in the shade, by the waters of Colne or on the heights of Cassebelaunus? Thou shalt tell over to me thy herbs and medicines, hellebore, and the lowly crocus, and hyacinth-leaf; thou shalt tell me what simples are to be found in such and such a pond, and reveal to me all the arts of healing. Ah, perish the simples! Perish the arts of healing! They could not profit their master! And as for me, o't is eleven nights and a day now since I - ah, I know not what large strain my pipe was trying to sound - I was accustoming my lips to new reeds perhaps: suddenly the fastening burst; the reeds flew asunder, unable to endure longer the grave sounds to which I racked them. I know not - perhaps I am over-bold: still, I will tell about it. Give way, my woodland song, to a sterner theme.
Go to your folds unfed, my lambs; your master has no time for you. I am about to sing of the Trojan ships that passed along our Kentish coast, and the old realm of Imogene, daughter of Pandrasus and the chiefs Brennus and Arviragus and old Belinus and the colonists who settled at last in Armorica under
British laws. Then I shall tell of Igraine, pregnant with Arthur through the fatal wizardry of Merlin, who gave to Uther Pendragon the face and the armor of her husband Gorloïs. Oh then, if life is granted me, thou, my shepherd-pipe, shalt hang neglected on the gnarled pine, or be changed to shrill forth the strains of my native land, and the cry of Britons in battle. Native strains, do I say? Yea, one man cannot hope to accomplish all things. It will be sufficient reward and honor for me, even though I remain forever unknown and inglorious among the other nations of the world, if only blond-haired Ouse shall read me, and he who drinks of Alan-water, and the whirling Humber, and the woods of Trent; above all, if my Thames shall sing my songs, and Tamur mineral-stained, and the far-off wave-beaten Orkneys....
FROM A LATIN LETTER TO PETER HEIMBACH Milton's last published letter, dated London, August 15, 1666, and addressed to one of the many learned foreigners with whom he had correspondence. Milton's fortunes had fallen at the Restoration and he was apparently badly off at times for the scholarly assistance upon which his blindness had forced him to depend. It is not strange as you write that report should have induced you to believe, that I had perished among the numbers of my countrymen who fell in a year so fatally visited by the ravages of the plague. If that rumor sprung, as it seems, out of solicitude for my safety, I consider it as no unpleasing indication of the esteem in which I am held among you. But by the goodness of God, who provided for me a place of refuge in the country, I yet enjoy both life and health; which, so long as they continue, I shall be happy to employ in any useful undertaking. It gives me pleasure to think that, after so long an interval, I have again occurred to your rememberance; though, owing to the luxuriance of your praise, you seem almost to lead me to suspect that you had quite forgotten one in whom you say that you admire the union of so many virtues; from such a union I might dread too numerous a progeny, if it were not evident that the virtues flourish most in penury and distress. But one of those virtues has made me but an ill return for her hospitable reception in my breast; for what you term policy, which I wish that you had rather called patriotic piety, has, if I may so say, almost left me, who was charmed with so sweet a sound, without a country. The other virtues harmoniously agree. Our country is wherever we are well off. I will conclude after first begging you if there be any errors in the diction or the punctuation, to impute it to the boy who wrote this, who is quite ignorant of Latin, and to whom I was, with no little vexation, obliged to dictate not the words, but, one by one, the letters of which they were composed.
FROM THE REASON OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT The following important autobiographical passage occurs in the introduction to the second book of Milton's English tract against the Prelates, published in 1641. He is endeavoring to prove the sincerity of his motives for writing the work by exhibiting the personal reasons which would have dissuaded him from doing so had he not felt the urgency of the cause. This leads him to speak of his own ambitions and to set forth his lofty ideas of the function of the poet in the commonwealth. He appears still to hesitate regarding the form and subject of his proposed work, though it is evident that he has not yet abandoned the thought of an epic on King Arthur. Note that Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained are examples of the two types of epic discussed in the second paragraph, while Samson Agonistes is representative of “those dramatic constitutions wherein Sophocles and Euripides reign.”
Lastly, I should not choose this manner of writ