Yesterday was the anniversary of poet John Milton's birth. You can probably tell from the style of his clothing that he lived in the 1600s. He lived through the English Civil War and used his pen to support republicanism, and social and ecclesiastical reform.
Milton is best known for the epic poem, "Paradise Lost," written in blank verse after he was blind in the later years of his life. This poem was Frances Rolleston's first acquaintance of Milton's works:
I liked it at ten years old as a wild story; it then grew dull to me, but I thought I ought to like it, and did not confess to myself that I did not, but persevered in reading it frequently; for the last five or seven years it has been gradually rising in my opinion; every book I read, every years I live, gives me more insight into, and greater admiration of, Milton.
Frances was about twenty-four at the time she wrote this. Her admiration of Milton never diminished. In her late seventies and early eighties, while putting the Psalms of the Bible into meter, she calls upon Milton's work as a model:
I also wish to preserve Hebraisms as often as I can. Milton is my only justification, he thinks and writes Hebraically, and his is the only metre justifiying mine, especially his "Samson Agonistes." . . . I find the eleven syllabled line, so often used by Milton in "Samson," is the natural tendency of all long Hebrew lines; ten seldom will hold them, twelve should only end a verse or subject.
Milton's life makes interesting reading—in hiding during the Restoration because of his pro Parliament writing, three wives, unorthodox views, and support of freedom of the press, among other things.
August 9, 1847
FR wrote to her friend the Rev. Irons that the first lines of poetry she ever felt were those from John Milton's "Il Penseroso":
And may at last my weary eye
Find out the peaceful hermitage.
She misquoted—eye rather than age--but the lines haunted her and became a prayer. She was weary of homelessness. Then she came to the Lakes District, to Bowness, to a home "strangely fulfilling my visioned dwelling."
She describes it: "A lonely stone-walled house with ivy and creepers, standing in a hollow half way up a rocky hill, the garden with starting-out rocks and bursting springs, all run wild, but capable of great beauty, 'wooded Winandermere the river-lake' from my bedroom window, and from the garden top the splendid amphitheatre of mountains. . . slate floors and stairs, beams for ceilings, walls near three feet thick, of rough stone outside. All very hermit-like."
FR began bringing in moss for the window sills long before she realized she was completing the "mossy cell," image of the poem. The last ten lines of "Il Penseroso" go thus:
And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage,
The Hairy Gown and Mossy Cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell
Of every Star that Heav'n doth shew,
And every Herb that sips the dew;
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain.
These pleasures Melancholy give,
And I with thee will choose to live. (lines 168-76)
How fitting these lines for one who so loved the natural world—the stars, the herbs—and who felt within herself the melancholy poetic spirit.