The relative modernity of Milton's Of Education.

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Werlein, Halsey
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Middle Tennessee State University
Ernest Sirluck's essay on Milton's Of Education, in volume two of the Yale University Complete Prose Works of John Milton (1959), concludes that Of Education has virtually nothing "significant" in common with the educational works of John Amos Comenius, the Moravian pedagogical innovator, and that the Comenian disciple in England, Samuel Hartlib, who had originally solicited Milton's essay, refused to publish it due to Milton's "slighting" reference to the works of Comenius. Sirluck asserts that Of Education is thoroughly humanistic and not at all modern, except for some slight influence from Francis Bacon, and therefore future scholars should conduct their research where the essay's "true affiliation" lies: in the humanistic educational practices and documents of the Renaissance.
Although such humanistic research may very well shed some light on Of Education, not to see the modern elements of Milton's tractate is to fail to understand it fully. Written during the thick of the English Civil War, Milton's essay was just as revolutionary as was to be Oliver Cromwell's new commonwealth. With great emphasis on scientific (though not experimental) knowledge, Of Education justifies every one of its ideas by its potential usefulness to the state: the projected students were to end up being thoroughly "productive" citizens in both war and peace.
Although Milton's practical Puritanical bent was not as pronounced as that of Comenius, and the poet did not take his educational ideas to the extremes the Moravian did, Milton's Of Education was a link between the humanism of his own education and more modern educational systems. Thus, there was no reason for friction between Hartlib and Milton, and though Milton did happen to publish his essay himself, it was not the result of any falling out between them.