Catalogue Entry: THEM00342

Book II: Chapter 9

Author: John Milton

Source: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, Compiled from the Holy Scriptures Alone, vol. 2 (Boston: 1825).

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


Abstinence in diet, says a biographer of Milton, was one of his favourite virtues, which he practised invariably through life, and availed himself of every opportunity to recommend in his writings. He is reported to have partaken rarely of wine or of any strong liquors. In his Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, the following passage occurs: 'How great a virtue is temperance, how much of moment through the whole life of man.' Yet God commits the managing so great a trust, without particular law or prescription, wholly to the demeanour of every grown man.' Prose Works, I. 290. Again, in Paradise Lost:

..... well observe

The rule of not too much, by temperance taught,

In what thou eat'st and drink'st, seeking from thence

Due nourishment, not gluttonous delight,

Till many year? over thy head return. XI. 530.

See also Sampson Agonistes, 542, &c. and the second elegy to Deodati. In the Apology for Smetctymnuus, he vindicates himself with some indignation against the charge of being a sack-drinker, which one of his opponents had brought against him. He concludes his defence with the following sentence. 'For the readers [of the book in which the accusation appeared] if they can believe me, principally for those reasons which I have alleged, to be of life and purpose neither dishonest nor unchaste, they will be easily induced to think me sober both of wine and of word; but if I have been already successless in persuading them, all that 1 can further say will be but vain; arid it will be better thrift to save two tedious labors, mine of excusing, and theirs of needless hearing.' 1 Prose Works, I. 126.


Milton's habit of early rising is mentioned by all his biographers. In summer he rose at four, in winter at five; or if he remained in bed beyond these hours, he employed a person to read to him from the time of his awaking. He has left the following account of his mode of living during his early years in the Apology for Smectymnuus. 'Those morning haunts are where they should be, at home; not sleeping, or concocting the surfeits of an irregular feast, but up and stirring, in winter, often ere the sound of any bell awake men to labour or devotion; in summer as oft with the bird that first rouses, or not much tardier, to read good authors, or cause them to be read, till the attention be weary, or memory have its full fraught: then with useful and generous labours preserving the body's health and hardiness to render lightsome, clear, and not lumpish obedience to the mind, to the cause of religion, and our country's liberty, when it shall require firm hearts in sound bodies to stand and cover their stations, rather than to see the ruin of our protestation, and the inforcement of a slavish life.' Prose Works, I. 220.


The same enemy of Milton who was alluded to in a preceding page as charging him with intemperance in drinking, also accuses him of licentiousness, and of frequenting 'play-houses and the bordelloes'. The, imputation is thus repelled: 'Having had the doctrine of Holy Scripture, unfolding those chaste and high mysteries, with timeliest care infused, that the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, thus also I argued to my self, that if unchastity in a woman, whom St. Paul terms the glory of man, be such a scandal and dishonour, then certainly in a man, who is both the image and glory of God, it must, though commonly not so thought, be much more deflowering and dishonourable; in that he sins both against his own body, which is the perfecter sex, and his own glory, which is in the woman; and that which is worst, against the image and glory of God, which is in himself. Nor did I slumber over that place expressing such harsh rewards of ever accompanying the Lamb, with those celestial songs to others inapprehensible, but not to those who were not defiled with women, which doubtless means fornication, for marriage must not be called a defilement. Thus large I have purposely been, that if I have been justly taxed with this crime, it may come upon me, after all this my confession, with a ten fold shame; but if I have hitherto deserved no such opprobrious word or suspicion, I may hereby engage myself now openly to the faithful observation of what I have professed.' Apology for Smectymnuus. Prose Works, I. 226. See also the noble passage in Comus; 418-475.

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