Milton was an English poet, best-known for his epic poem Paradise
John Milton's eponymous father moved to London around 1583 having
been disinherited by his devout Catholic father Richard Milton,
a wealthy landowner in Oxfordshire, on account of revealing his
Protestantism. Around 1600, the poet's father married Sara Jeffrey
(1572 – 1637), and the poet was born on December 9, 1608,
in Cheapside, London, England.
was educated at St Paul's School, London. He was originally destined
for a ministerial career, but his independent spirit led him to
give this up. He matriculated at Christ's College, Cambridge in
1625 and studied there for seven years before he graduated as
Master of Arts cum laude on July 3, 1632. At Cambridge, Milton
tutored the American theologian Roger Williams in Hebrew, in exchange
for lessons in Dutch.
is evidence to suggest that Milton’s experiences at Cambridge
were not altogether positive and were later to contribute to his
views on education. On graduating from Christ's College, Milton
undertook six years of self-directed private study in both the
ancient and modern disciplines of theology, philosophy, history,
politics, literature and science, in preparation for his prospective
poetical career. As a result of such intensive study, Milton is
considered to be among the most learned of all English poets.
In a Latin poem, possibly composed in the mid-1630s, Milton thanks
his father for supporting him during this period.
completing this private study in early 1638, Milton embarked on
a tour of France and Italy in May of the same year, meeting with
the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei during his journeys. This
was cut short 13 months later by what he later termed 'sad tidings'
of civil war in England. In June 1642, Milton married 16 year-old
Mary Powell. A month later, she visited her family and did not
the next three years, Milton published a series of pamphlets arguing
for the legality and morality of divorce, the first entitled The
Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, in which he attacked the English
marriage law as it had been taken over almost unchanged from medieval
Catholicism, sanctioning divorce on the grounds of incompatibility
or childlessness only. In 1645, Mary finally returned. In 1646,
her family, having been ejected from Oxford for supporting Charles
I in the Civil War, moved in with the couple. They had 4 children:
Anne, Mary, John, and Deborah. Mary died on May 5, 1652, from
complications following Deborah's birth on May 2, which may have
affected Milton deeply, as evidenced by his 23rd sonnet.
June, John died at age 15 months; his three daughters all survived
to adulthood. On November 12, 1656, Milton married Katherine Woodcock.
She died on February 3, 1658, less than 4 months after giving
birth to their daughter, Katherine, who died on March 17. On February
24, 1663, Milton married Elizabeth Minshull, who cared for him
until his death on November 8, 1674.
Milton spent years devoted almost entirely to prose work in the
service of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. The onset of glaucoma,
exacerbated by his incessant labours setting the typeface for
numerous controversial pamphlets, eventuated in blindness, forcing
him, from 1654, to dictate his verse and prose to an amanuensis.
wrote propaganda for the English Republic in the early 1650s,
including the Eikonoklastes, which attempts to justify the execution
of Charles I. When he was caught and arrested in October 1659
he was not summarily executed: several influential people had
spoken on his behalf, including the poet Andrew Marvell, a former
then lived in retirement, devoting himself once more to poetical
work, and publishing Paradise Lost in 1667, the epic by which
he attained universal fame (blind and impoverished, he sold the
publishing rights to this work on April 27 that year for £10),
to be followed by Paradise Regained, together with Samson Agonistes,
a drama on the Greek model, in 1671.
penned Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained through dictation because
of his blindness. This required him to store vast portions of
the poems in his memory for oral recitation—all the more
remarkable considering how much planning such complex works would
require, even on paper, yet Milton did the organizing without
such tactile aids.
the comprehensive scope of Milton's intellectual enquiry, crucial
influences upon Milton’s literary work can be easily found
and include the Biblical books of Genesis, Job, and Psalms, as
well as Homer, Virgil, and Lucan. Milton’s favourite historian
was Sallust; however, though Milton's work often betrays his classical
and biblical influences, allusions to Spenser, Sidney, Donne,
and Shakespeare also are detectable; some commentators have suggested
that Milton also sought to undermine the tropes and style of cavalier
poets such as John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and Sir John Suckling
in the conversations of Adam and Eve.
literary career cast such a formidable shadow over English poetry
in the 18th and 19th centuries that he was often judged favourably
against all other English poets, including Shakespeare. We can
point to Lucy Hutchinson's epic poem about the fall of Humanity,
Order and Disorder (1679), and John Dryden's The State of Innocence
and the Fall of Man: an Opera (1677) as evidence of an immediate
unparalleled scope of Paradise Lost, his masterpiece, sees Milton
justifying the ways of God to men, and the poem also depicts the
creation of the universe, earth, and humanity; conveys the origin
of sin, death, and evil; imagines events in Hell, the Kingdom
of Heaven, the garden of Eden, and the sacred history of Israel;
engages with political ideas of tyranny, liberty and justice;
and defends theological positions on predestination, free will,
influence on the literature of the Romantic era was profound.7
John Keats found the yoke of Milton's style debilitating; he exclaimed
that "Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or
rather artist's humour." Keats felt that Paradise Lost was
a "beautiful and grand curiosity," but his own unfinished
attempt at epic poetry, Hyperion, is said to have suffered from
Keats's failed attempt to cultivate a distinct epic voice.
Victorian age witnessed a continuation of Milton's influence;
George Eliot and Thomas Hardy being particularly inspired by Milton's
poetry and biography. By contrast, the 20th century, owing primarily
to the critical efforts of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, witnessed
a reduction in Milton's stature. Aside from his importance to
literary history, Milton's career has impacted upon the modern
world in other ways.
coined many familiar modern words; in Paradise Lost readers were
confronted by neologisms like dreary, pandæmonium, acclaim,
rebuff, self-esteem, unaided, impassive, enslaved, jubilant, serried,
solaced, and satanic. In terms of politics, Milton's Areopagitica
and republican writings were consulted during the drafting of
the Constitution of the United States of America. More recently,
there has been renewed interest in the poet's greatest work following
the publication of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy,
which is heavily based on Paradise Lost.
John Milton Society for the Blind was founded in 1928 by Helen
Keller to develop an interdenominational ministry that would bring
spiritual guidance and religious literature to deaf and blind
1. A 1668 edition of Paradise Lost, reported to be Milton's personal
copy, is now housed in the archives of the University of Western
2. John Milton was born on Bread Street, the same road where The
Myrmaid Tavern was located, where William Shakespeare and Ben
Jonson were often seen drinking.