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John Milton

Alec Samuels

It begins: “John Milton is one of the world’s greatest poets and writers. Born into the London of Shakespeare and dying in the London of Pepys….”.
Milton and Pepys had a good deal in common, Londoners, educated at St Paul’s School (Greek and Latin) and Cambridge; though Milton born in 1608 was some 25 years older. Both had eye trouble and had a “reader”, a literate servant to read to them, though Milton went completely blind. Both were very considerable book lovers and book collectors. Both played a prominent part in government.
However, in character and personality they were very different men indeed. There is no evidence that they ever met, no reference to Milton in the Diary. Milton was a great scholar, a great thinker – Areopagatica thundering against censorship – and a great poet, second only to Shakespeare, Paradise Lost, a deeply committed non-Episcopalian protestant; and sexually inhibited.
Milton was a revolutionary republican, he deplored monarchical tyranny, and he served Cromwell. Though he was not a regicide, the 1660 Restoration put him in real peril, and he was imprisoned, but in the event he was permitted to retire into obscurity. Pepys, though not unsympathetic to republicanism, saw the way things were going in 1660, went to Holland to assist in welcoming Charles II back, found the new licentiousness very acceptable, and faithfully served the Stuarts until 1688, without inwardly approving of them.
Milton was a much greater man than Pepys, but not a lovable human being like our Sam.