“To be blind is not to be miserable; not to be able to bear blindness, that is miserable.” –John Milton
Even when John Milton was a young boy he enjoyed staying up late into all hours of the night to read books by candlelight alone. Later in life he began to experience severe headaches. Caused by the candlelight reading? Eyestrain perhaps? What about a life full of writing? I guess that it was only destined for Milton to love reading the way that he did. His father was a scrivener, which meant it was his job to be able to read and write. Milton’s actions eventually caught up with him and resulted in loss of eyesight. Milton was completely blind by the year 1652. However, the precise cause of his blindness is unknown. We can only speculate. However, an alternative to how Milton lost his sight is that he worked so tirelessly for the Puritan and Oliver Cromwell cause he wrote himself blind. Milton wrote a series of pamphlets advocating for radical politics, some of his better-known topics being divorce and freedom of speech. GOOD THING these ideas are no longer radical. As Milton spent so much of his time defending his beliefs of divorce, freedom of speech, and populism he steadily lost his eyesight until he was totally blind. But truthfully, it could have just been glaucoma.
Although Milton couldn’t see, this didn’t stop him from writing. At this time Brail hadn’t even been invented but Milton still wrote. (How impressive.) Of course he had help from aids, most notably Andrew Marvell. Many of his greatest pieces were published after his blindness, including Paradise Lost. He is also noted for speaking out about his blindness and even writing poetry about his loss of sight.
It’s obvious that blindness couldn’t stop John Milton…but gout could. Gout is a disease that causes pain in the smaller bones of ones’ feet, usually around the big toe. The pain comes from a build up of uric acid deposits, which results in painful arthritis. Gout can be referred to in many different ways such as “big toe disease.” Interestingly enough, gout has also been referred to a “rich man’s disease” because gout is caused by a rich diet. Gout results from a diet that is rich in meat and alcohol is a major cause of flair ups associated with the disease. It is clear that Milton was eating and drinking well because in November of 1674, at the age of sixty-six, Milton died in his own home of complications due to gout. Today, there is a memorial in Milton’s memory that is placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. So– he’s sort of a big deal.
So, keep John Milton in mind next time you’ve sat in front of the computer for hours on end straining your eyes. It might affect your sight more than you know.
You might also want to think of Milton next time you have a juicy steak or a glass of wine.
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