In the second semester of my sophomore year of college I signed up for a Milton course. I had no idea who Milton was, but taking that course (along with one on the Romantics) was the only way I could get out of the second half of the Brit Lit survey. I'd disliked the instructor I'd had for the first half of the survey and I'd heard that the Milton prof was great. . . so, yeah, whatever: sign me up.
You ask what I am thinking of? So help me God, an eternity of fame. What am I doing? Growing my wings and practising flight.
-- John Milton, Letter to Charles Diodati (1637)
It's still hard for me to know to what degree my becoming a Miltonist is due to Milton and to what degree it's due to that particular instructor. All I know is that from the second week I was in love with either Milton or the version of him my professor delivered.
I mean--Milton dreamed vaguely of greatness, but feared he was already too late to achieve it? Hey! I dreamed vaguely of greatness! Milton went back and lived in his father's house for seven years after graduating from college? Hey! I was majoring in English! I'd probably wind up back in dad's basement myself!
As I'm suggesting, my initial feelings of affinity for Milton weren't profound or even deeply-rooted in the works themselves. Still, I think the young Milton is a more sympathetic and recognizable figure to college students than most instructors assume--and for me, anyway, the same held true for the older Milton: I probably only half understood the content of his prose, but I knew I loved its language and the fierceness of that mind.
So while Donne wins most people's votes, it's Milton who's always been my secret boyfriend. (Come to think of it, that might explain some of my actual boyfriends.)
This is something that teachers of Milton have to acknowledge: that the personality of Milton is so central to his works that liking him--that personality--is almost a necessity for liking his works. If you don't respond to whatever you perceive his personality to be, you won't respond to his works. With other authors I try to limit or even eliminate the amount of biographical background I give, but with Milton there's no help for it; the man appears on every page.
So for those who love the guy, it's good news that the week of his birth also marks the birth of a new Renaissance blog--and only the second by a Miltonist.
Fuck the dramatists. This is the year of my boy JM.