Milton’s sight had been long threatened before it was finally extinguished. In a letter to the Greek Philaras, the agent in London of the Duke of Parma, dated September 1654, Milton says it was ten years, more or less, since he had first found his eyes failing. The blindness had become total probably about March 1652, in which month Weckherlin was appointed by the Council of State to assist Milton as secretary. The calamity was precipitated by his persistence in writing his Defension pro populo Anglicano contra Salmasium, though warned by his physician of the consequences.
The reader will observe that in the present lament, Milton does not bewail his own privation, but insists wholly on the wreck of the heaven-appointed task to which he considered himself called and set apart.
‘My often thought is,’ he writes to Philaras, 1654, ‘that since to all of us are decreed many days of darkness, as saith the Wise Man, Eccles. 11, 8, my dark thus far, by the singular favour of Providence, hath been much tolerable than that dark of the grave, passed as it hath been amid leisure and study, cheered by the visits and conversation of friends.’