Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Milton > His continental tour
  Milton’s life at Cambridge and Horton His first marriage; Mary Powell  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

V. Milton.

§ 2. His continental tour.

But the elder John “was for Thorough” in regard to his son’s education. He had given him the best English training of public school and university. He had allowed him a full lustrum of private study to “ripen the wine.” He now completed the process, at what must have been a very considerable expense, by sending him to the continent—the recognised finishing of the time, but usually open only to men of considerable station and means like Evelyn, to those who had special professional training to acquire like Browne, or to travellers on definite business like Howell. The father was not left alone: for, though his wife died in April, 1637, and his daughter had long been married, Christopher and his wife established themselves at Horton. Milton left home just a twelvemonth after his mother’s death, with good letters of introduction, including one from Sir Henry Wotton. He travelled by Paris (where he met Grotius), Nice and Genoa to Florence, where he spent August and September, 1638, frequented the Florentine academies, and enjoyed, with what, no doubt, was a perfectly genuine enjoyment, the curious manége of learned and literary compliment and exercise which formed the routine of those societies. We shall not understand Milton if we do not realise his intense appreciation of form—an appreciation which, in all non-ecclesiastical matters, was probably intensified further by his violent rejection of ceremonial in religion. He next spent another two months at Rome, made various friends, heard and admired the famous singer Leonora Baroni, celebrated another lady, who may have been real or not, aired his protestantism with impunity and then went on to Naples. Here (through an “eremite friar,” whose good offices, on this occasion, might have saved a future association  2  with “trumpery”), he made the acquaintance of a very old and very distinguished nobleman of letters, the marquis of Villa, Giovanni Baptista Manso. He did not go further than Naples, though he had thought not only of Sicily but of Greece. The reason he gave for relinquishing this scheme was the threatening state of home politics and the impropriety of enjoying himself abroad while his countrymen were striking for freedom.   8
  It was inevitable that this deliverance, after Milton had exhausted the vocabulary of personal vituperation and sarcasm against his own antagonists, should be turned against himself. The phrase “what you say will be used against you” is not only a decent police warning but a universal—and universally useless—phylactery of life. But there was no hypocrisy in him; and the saying is as illuminative as his appreciation of the Florentine academies. He did not hurry home, but repeated his two months’ sojourns at Rome and at Florence, meeting Galileo (with memorable poetical results) at the latter place, and then travelling by Ferrara and Venice to Geneva. Here, he was at home in faith, if an exile in taste; here, he seems to have heard of the death of his friend Charles Diodati, whose uncle was a minister there; here, he left one of the most personal touches we have of him;  3  and here, or on the way home, or after reaching it, he wrote Epitaphium Damonis. He reached England in August, 1639, being then in his thirtyfirst year; and, at this point, the first period in his life and work closed. The curtain, in fact, fell on more than an act: it practically closes the first play of a trilogy, the second of which had hardly anything to do with the first, though the third was to resume and complete it.   9
  The next twenty years saw the practical fulfilment of Milton’s unluckily worded resolve to break off his continental tour. He was still not in a hurry, establishing himself first in lodgings, then in a “pretty garden house” outside Aldersgate, with books to which he had added largely in Italy. Here he took as pupils first his two nephews, and then others. To his adoption of this occupation was, in part, due the famous little letter or tractate Of Education: to Master Samuel Hartlib. Another result seems to have been the exercise of that “overpressure” on his pupils which, in his own case, had been largely voluntary. “Can’t you let him alone?” was a counsel of perfection in this matter which Milton, like others, never realised.   10

Note 2P. L. III, 474, 475. [ back ]
Note 3. His autograph in the album of a Neapolitan named Camillo Cerdogni—a refugee in religion—with the addition of the last two lines of Comus and the Coelum non animum of Horace. [ back ]

  Milton’s life at Cambridge and Horton His first marriage; Mary Powell  

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