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John Milton
by [?]

But no matter–father, mother and sister joined hands to make the pale, handsome boy a prodigy of learning: one that would surprise the world and leave his impress on the time.

And they succeeded.

Of the three Milton children that passed away in childhood, I can not but think that they succumbed to overtraining, being crammed quite after the German custom of stuffing geese so as to produce that delicious diseased tidbit known to gourmets as pate de foies gras. John Milton stood the cramming process like a true hero. His parents set him apart for the Church–therefore he must be learned in books, familiar with languages, versed in theories. They desired that he should have knowledge, which they did not know is quite a different thing from wisdom.

So the boy had a private tutor in Greek and Latin at nine years of age, and even then began to write verse. At ten years of age his father had the lad’s portrait painted by that rare and thrifty Dutchman, Cornelius Jansen. We have this picture now, and it reveals the pale, grave, winsome face with the flowing curls that we so easily recognize.

No expense or pains were spared in the boy’s education. The time was divided up for him as the hours are for a soldier. One tutor after another took him in hand during the day; but the change of study and a glad respite of an hour in the morning and the same in the afternoon, for music, bore him up.

He was the pride of his parents, the delight of his tutors.

Three years were spent at Saint Paul’s School; then he was sent to Cambridge. From there he wrote to his mother, “I am penetrating into the inmost recesses of the Muses; climbing high Olympus, visiting the green pastures of Parnassus, and drinking deep from Pierian Springs.”

This is terrible language for a child of fourteen. A boy who should talk like that now would be regarded with anxious concern by his loving parents. The present age is incredulous of the Infant Phenomenon. And no fond parent must for a moment imagine that by following the system laid out for the education of John Milton can a John Milton be produced. The Miltonian curriculum, if used today, would be sufficient ground for action on the part of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

But John Milton, though but a weak-eyed boy with a chronic headache, had a deal of whipcord fiber in his make-up. He stood the test and grubbed at his books every night until the clock tolled twelve. He was born at a peculiar time, being a child of the Reformation married to the Renaissance. The toughness and grimness of Calvin were united in him with the tenderness of Erasmus. From out of the Universal Energy, of which we are particles, he had called into his being qualities so diverse that they seemed never to have been before or since united in one person.

He remained at Cambridge seven years. The beauty of his countenance had increased so that he was as one set apart. His finely chiseled features, framed in their flowing curls, challenged the admiration of every person he met. A writer of the time described him as “a grave and sober person, but one not wholly ignorant of his own parts.”

There is a sly touch in this sentence that sheds light upon “The Lady of Christ’s.” John Milton was a bit of a poseur, as Schopenhauer declares all great men are and ever have been. With the masterly mind goes a touch of the fakir or charlatan. Milton knew his power–he gloried in this bright blade of the intellect. He was handsome–and he knew it. And yet we will not cavil at his velvet coats, or laces, or the golden chain that adorned his slender, shapely person. These things were only the transient, springtime adornments that passion puts forth.