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NARRATED IN CONNECTION WITH
THE POLITICAL, ECCLESIASTICAL, AND LITERARY
HISTORY OF HIS TIME.
DAVID MASSON, M. A.,
PORTRAITS, AND SPECIMENS OF HIS HANDWRITING AT DIFFERENT PERIODS.
NEW YORK: SHELDON AND COMPANY.
CINCINNATI: GEORGE S. BLANCHARD.
18 5 9.
It is intended that the title of this Work should indicate its character. Such an alternative title as “The Life and Times of Milton” might suggest more familiarly, perhaps, the precedents which the Author has had in view. While his first object has been to narrate the Life of Milton fully, deliberately and minutely, with as much of addition fact and illustration as might be supposed to result, even at this distance of time, from new research and from a further examination of the old materials, he has not deemed it unfit, in the instance of such a Life, to allow the forms of Biography to overflow into those of History. In other words, it is intended to exhibit Milton's Life in its connections with all the more notable phenomena of the period of British history in which it was cast — its state-politics, its ecclesiastical variations, its literature and speculative thought. Commencing in 1608, the Life of Milton proceeds through the last sixteen years of the reign of James I., includes the whole of the reign of Charles I. and the subsequent years of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, and then, passing the Restoration, extends itself to 1674, or through fourteen years of the new state of things under Charles II. No portion of our national history has received more abundant or more admirable elucidation than these sixty-six years; but, perhaps, in traversing it again in that mood and with that special bent of inquiry which may be natural where the Biography of Milton is the primary interest, some facts may be seen in a new light, and, at all events, certain orders of facts lying by the sides of the main track may come into notice. As the great poet of the age, Milton may, obviously enough, be taken as the representative of its literary efforts and capabilities; and the general history of its literature may, therefore, be narrated in connection with his life. But even in the political and ecclesiastical departments Milton was not one standing aloof. He was not the man of action of the party with which he was associated, and the actual and achieved deeds of that party, whether in war or in council, are not the property of his life; but he was, as nearly as any private man in his time, the thinker and idealist of the party — now the expositor and champion of their views, now their instructor and in advance of them; and hence, without encroaching too much on common ground, there are incidents and tendencies of the great Puritan Revolution which illustrate his Life especially, and seek illustration from it.
As if to oblige Biography, in this instance, to pass into History, Milton's Life divides itself, with almost mechanical exactness, into three periods, corresponding with those of the contemporary social movement, — the first extending from 1608 to 1610, which was the period of his education and of his minor poems; the second extending from 1640 to 1660, or from the beginning of the Civil Wars to the Restoration, and forming the middle period of his polemical activity as a prose-writer; and the third extending from 1660 to 1674, which was the period of his later muse and of the publication of “Paradise Lost.” It is the plan of the present work to devote a volume to cach of these periods.