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conformity with his good pleasure; and with a heart as strong and as steadfast as if I were a Lynceus, I bid you, my Philarus, farewell.”
This letter to Philarus was dated at Westminster, September 28, 1654, and speaks of the loss of sight as no recent event. Singularly enough the precise date of Milton's blindness has never been definitely ascertained, though circumstances seem to indicate that it occurred sometime in 1652–3.
Milton's enemies did not scruple to taunt him with his blindness, attributing it to the judgment of God upon him for his wicked writings. But the calm Christian philosophy, and the serene reliance upon the indisputable goodness of the Creator, which peculiarly characterized John Milton's mind, enabled him to bear without a murmur, and with pitying disdain, the heartless jibes of his relentless foes, from whose venomed shafts not even the sacred shelter of misfortune could cover him. There is nothing in history grander and more sublime than Milton's uncomplaining and sweet acceptance of a calamity which threatened to throw him out of the employment of the state,
to blight all prospect of a further literary career, and to lead him in darkness and
penury to a speedy grave.
This fortitude, and its source, he admirably displays in a touchingly beautiful sonnet addressed to his friend Cyriac Skinner, a grandson of that famous lawyer, Lord Coke.
"TO CYRIAC SKINNER. “Cyriac, this three years day, these eyes, though clear
To outward view of blemish or of spot,
Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
Or man, or woman: yet I argue not
Against heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
In Liberty's defence, my noble task,
"This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask Content, though blind, had I no better guide.”
When Milton came, a little later, to notice the slurs cast upon his loss of sight, he made it evident that he deliberately and serenely chose blindness and speech, rather than silence with sight. Actuated by the old martyr spirit, he tore out his eyes, in no metaphorical sense, and laid them upon the altar of slandered and outraged liberty.
“When the task of replying to the Defence of the King' was publicly committed to me at a time when I had to contend with ill-health, and when one of my eyes being nearly lost, my physicians clearly predicted that, if I undertook the laborious work, I should soon be deprived both of one and the other; undeterred by the warning, I seemed to hear a voice, not of a physician, nor issuing from the shrine of Epidaurian Esculapius, but of some internal and divine monitor; and conceiving that, by some fatal decree, the alternative of two lots was proposed to me, that I must either lose my sight, or must desert a high duty, the two destinies occurred to me which the son of Thetis reports to have been subunitted to him by his mother from the oracle of Delphi:
“For, as the goddess spoke who gave me birth,
Two fates attend me while I live on earth.
Deathless my fame, but certain is my fall;
My days shall flourish long-my glory die.' “Reflecting therefore with myself, that many had purchased less good with greater evil, and had even paid life as the price of glory,
while to me the greater good was offered at the expense of the less evil; that only by incurring blindness I might satisfy the demand of the most honorable duty; and that glory even by itself ought universally to be regarded as of all human possessions the most certain, the most desirable, and the most worthy of our esteem, I determined to dedicate the short enjoyment of my eyesight, with as much effect as I could, to the public advantage.
"You see then what I have preferred, what I have lost, what motives influenced my conduct. Let my slanderers therefore desist from their calumnies, nor make me the subject of their visionary and dreaming fancies. Let them know that I am far from regretting my lot, or from repenting of my choice; let them be assured that my mind and my opinions are immovably the same; that I am neither conscious of the anger of God, nor believe that I am exposed to it; but, on the contrary, that I have experienced in the most momentous events of my life, and am still sensible of, his mercy and paternal kindness."*
* Defensio Secunda, Prose Works, Vol. V., p. 216.
This beautiful sonnet exhibits still further the patient and Christian spirit of Milton, and shows that the principles of religious faith enabled him to triumph gloriously over the afflic: tions of the fleshly tabernacle, and "filled him with joy and peace in believing.”
“ON MY BLINDNESS.
“When I consider how my life is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Doth God exact day labor, light denied ?
Either man's works, or his own gift; who best
And post o'er land and ocean without rest :
Equally unascertained with that of his blindness," says Dr. Symmons, “is the precise date of his second marriage, which took place, as we are informed, about two years after his entire loss of sight. The lady whom he chose on this occasion was Catharine, the daughter of a Captain Woodcock of Hackney. She seems to have been the object of her husband's fond