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John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) was an English poet, author, polemicist and civil servant for the Commonwealth of England. He is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost and for his treatise condemning censorship, Areopagitica.

He was both an accomplished, scholarly man of letters and polemical writer, and an official serving under Oliver Cromwell. His views may be described as broadly Protestant, if not always easy to locate in a more precise religious category. Milton was writing at a time of religious and political flux in England, and his poetry and prose reflect deep convictions, often reacting to contemporary circumstances. He wrote also in Latin and Italian, and had an international reputation during his lifetime.

After his death, Milton's personal reputation oscillated, a state of affairs that has largely continued through the centuries. He early became the subject of partisan biographies, such as that of John Toland from the nonconformist perspective, and a hostile account by Anthony à Wood. Samuel Johnson described him as "an acrimonious and surly republican"; but William Hayley's 1796 biography called him the "greatest English author", at a time when his reputation was particularly in play. He remains, however, generally regarded "as one of the preeminent writers in the English language and as a thinker of world importance."

Biography

One can situate both Milton's poetry and his politics historically. The phases of his life closely parallel major historical divisions of Stuart Britain. Under the increasingly personal rule of Charles I and its breakdown in constitutional confusion and war, Milton studied hard, travelled, wrote poetry mostly for private circulation, and launched a career as pamphleteer and publicist; a more detailed treatment can be found at John Milton's early life. Under the Commonwealth of England, from being thought dangerously radical and even heretical, the shift in accepted attitudes in government placed him in responsible public office, and he was acting as an official spokesman in certain of his publications. The Restoration of 1660 deprived Milton, now completely blind, of his public platform, but this period saw him complete most of his major works of poetry. Milton had a great impact on the Romantic movement in England, as was shown in fellow poet William Wordsworth's London, 1802. Wordsworth calls upon him to rise from the dead and aid in returning England to its former glory.

Milton's views developed from his very extensive reading, as well as travel and experience, from his student days of the 1620s to the English Revolution. By the time of his death in 1674, Milton was impoverished and on the margins of English intellectual life, yet unrepentant for his political choices, and of Europe-wide fame.

Early life

John Milton was born 9 December 1608 to a prosperous and cultured middle class Puritan family. His family consisted of his grandmother who lived with them until 1611, his older sister Anne (birth date unknown), and his younger brother Christopher (1615). He had two additional sisters, Sara and Tabitha, who died at infancy.

John Milton’s father, also named John Milton, was born in 1562 and died in 1647. He was cast out of his family when his father, Richard Milton, discovered him reading a Bible in English. Richard Milton was a strong believer in the Roman Catholic faith. John moved to London in 1583. He joined the Company of Scriveners. His profession combined the functions of a notary, financial adviser, money lender and contract lawyer. He drew bonds between lawyers and borrowers, invested money for others, bought and sold property, loaned money at high interest rates, and gave depositions for legal cases. He also composed madrigal and psalms. Milton’s mother, Sara Jeffrey (1572–1637), was the eldest daughter of a merchant tailor. She was described as a “woman of purest reputation, celebrated throughout the neighborhood through her acts of charity.”

In Milton’s childhood and much into this teen years, he attended church where Richard Stock was the minister. Stock had a profound influence on John Milton, and died shortly before Milton started university. They shared the same beliefs of “antipapist diatribes and the readiness to censure the sins of the powerful.” John developed many attitudes and character traits that lasted with him throughout his lifetime. He held in such regard human institutions of marriage, school, church, government, and had a ‘disposition to challenge and resist institutional authorities who fell short of such standards.” At a young age, Milton became conscious of political, religious and cultural strains on the nation.

His father's prosperity provided his eldest son with a private tutor, Thomas Young, a Scottish Presbyterian who may have influenced his gifted student in religion and politics while they maintained contact across subsequent decades"John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>., and then a place at St Paul's Schoolmarker in London. There he met Charles Diodati, a fellow student who would become his confidant through young adulthood. He also began the study of Latin and Greek, and the classical languages left an imprint on his poetry in English (he wrote also in Italian and Latin). He may have heard some poetry from John Donne, dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. His first datable compositions are two psalms done at age 15 at Long Benningtonmarker. One contemporary source is the Brief Lives of John Aubrey, an uneven compilation including first-hand reports. In the work, Aubrey quotes Christopher, Milton's younger brother: "When he was young, he studied very hard and sat up very late, commonly till twelve or one o'clock at night".

‘My father,’ Milton wrote in 1654, ‘destined me in early childhood for the study of literature, for which I had so keen an appetite that from my twelfth year scarcely did I leave my studies for my bed before the hour of midnight.’


John Milton enrolled at Christ's College, Cambridgemarker, in 1625 to be educated for the ministry. He was temporarily expelled because of a conflict with one of his tutors, William Chappell and later reinstated with another tutor, Nathanial Tovey."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1629, ranking fourth of 24 honours graduates that year in the University of Cambridgemarker, and a Master of Arts degree in 1632.

He was at home in the Lent term 1626; there he wrote his Elegia Prima, a first Latin elegy, to Charles Diodati. Based on remarks of John Aubrey, Chappell "whipt" Milton. This story is now disputed. Certainly Milton disliked Chappell. Christopher Hill cautiously notes that Milton was "apparently" rusticated, and that the differences between Chappell and Milton may have been either religious or personal, as far as we can know. Another factor, possibly, was the plague, by which Cambridge was badly affected in 1625.

At Cambridge Milton was on good terms with Edward King, for whom he later wrote Lycidas. He also befriended Anglo-American dissident and theologian, Roger Williams. Milton tutored Williams in Hebrew in exchange for lessons in Dutch. Otherwise at Cambridge he developed a reputation for poetic skill and general erudition, but experienced alienation from his peers and university life as a whole. Watching his fellow students attempting comedy upon the college stage, he later observed that 'they thought themselves gallant men, and I thought them fools'. Milton, due to his hair, which he wore long, and his general delicacy of manner, was known as the "Lady of Christ's College".

While studying at Cambridge, he recognized that poetry and life are closely related: "And long it was not after, when I confirm'd in this opinion, that he who would not be frustrated of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought him selfe to bee a true Poem, that is, a composition, and patterne of the best and honorablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroick men, or famous Cities, unless he have in himselfe the experience and the practice of all that which is praise-worthy."

He also found alternatives between life and poetry. These alternatives included "sensuous delight and asceticism, eroticism and chastity, retired leisure and arduous labor, academic oratory and poetry, classical and Catholic myth, Latin and English language, elegy, and the higher poetic forms, mirth and melancholy." His poems contained the dating formula of 'anno aetatis' which means "written at the age of.".

The university curriculum was dour, and worked towards formal debates on topics, conducted in Latin. Yet his corpus is not devoid of humour, notably his sixth prolusion and his epitaphs on the death of Thomas Hobson. While at Cambridge he wrote a number of his well-known shorter English poems, among them On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, his Epitaph on the admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare, his first poem to appear in print, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso.

Despite his intention to enter the ministry, he did not. It is possible that he did not due to the lack of respect for his fellow students who were also planning on becoming ministers, or his Puritan inclinations caused him to dislike the hierarchy of the established church, and its insistence on uniformity of worship. Either way, his obvious dissatisfaction impelled the Church of England to reject him from the ministry."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>.

Study, poetry and travel

Milton, c.
1629.
Unknown 17th century artist.


In 1632 Milton returned to live with his parents in Hammersmith, on the outskirts of London. Three years later, perhaps because of the plague outbreak, the family moved to Horton, Berkshire, and Milton undertook six years of self-directed private study. Christopher Hill points out that this was not retreat into a rural or pastoral idyll at all: Hammersmith was then a "suburban village" falling into the orbit of London, and even Horton was becoming deforested, and suffered from the plague. He read both ancient and modern works of theology, philosophy, history, politics, literature and science, in preparation for a prospective poetical career. Milton's intellectual development can be charted via entries in his commonplace book, now in the British Librarymarker. As a result of such intensive study, Milton is considered to be among the most learned of all English poets; in addition to his years of private study, Milton had command of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian from his school and undergraduate days; he also added Old English to his linguistic repertoire in the 1650s while researching his History of Britain, and probably acquired proficiency in Dutch soon after.

In 1628 Milton composed an occasional poem, On the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of a Cough, which mourns the loss of his niece Anne, the daughter of his older sister. Milton tenderly commemorates the child, who was two years old. The poem’s conceits, Classical allusions, and theological overtones emphasize that the child entered the supernal realm because the human condition, having been enlightened by her brief presence, was ill-suited to bear her any longer."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>.

Milton continued to write poetry during this period of study: his Arcades and Comus were both commissioned for masques composed for noble patrons, connections of the Egerton family, and performed in 1634 on Michaelmas at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. It was first published as A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle in 1638. Comus celebrates the installation of John Egerton, earl of Bridgewater and Viscount Brackley and a member of Charles I’s Privy Council, as lord president of Wales. In addition to various English and Welsh dignitaries, the installation was attended by Egerton’s wife and children; the latter—Alice (15 years old), John (11), and Thomas (9)—all had parts in the dramatic entertainment. Other characters include Thyrsis, an attendant spirit to the children; Sabrina, a nymph of the River Severn; and Comus, a necromancer and seducer. Henry Lawes, who played the part of Thyrsis, was a musician and composer, the music teacher of the Egerton children, and the composer of the music for the songs of Comus.

The masque develops the theme of a journey through the woods by the three Egerton children, in the course of which the daughter, called “the Lady,” is separated from her brothers. While alone, she encounters Comus, who is disguised as a villager and who claims that he will lead her to her brothers. Deceived by his amiable countenance, the Lady follows him, only to be victimized by his necromancy. Seated on an enchanted chair, she is immobilized, and Comus accosts her while with one hand he holds a necromancer’s wand and with the other he offers a vessel with a drink that would overpower her. Within view at his palace is an array of cuisine intended to arouse the Lady’s appetites and desires. Despite being restrained against her will, she continues to exercise right reason (recta ratio) in her disputation with Comus, thereby manifesting her freedom of mind. Whereas the would-be seducer argues that appetites and desires issuing from one’s nature are “natural” and therefore licit, the Lady contends that only rational self-control is enlightened and virtuous. To be self-indulgent and intemperate, she adds, is to forfeit one’s higher nature and to yield to baser impulses. In this debate the Lady and Comus signify, respectively, soul and body, ratio and libido, sublimation and sensualism, virtue and vice, moral rectitude and immoral depravity. In line with the theme of the journey that distinguishes Comus, the Lady has been deceived by the guile of a treacherous character, temporarily waylaid, and besieged by sophistry that is disguised as wisdom. As she continues to assert her freedom of mind and to exercise her free will by resistance, even defiance, she is rescued by the attendant spirit and her brothers. Ultimately, she and her brothers are reunited with their parents in a triumphal celebration, which signifies the heavenly bliss awaiting the wayfaring soul that prevails over trials and travails, whether these are the threats posed by overt evil or the blandishments of temptation."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>.

He contributed his pastoral elegy Lycidas to a memorial collection, “Obsequies in Memory of Edward King”, for one of his Cambridge classmates, who died while crossing the Irish Sea in 1637. Drafts of these poems are preserved in Milton’s poetry notebook, known as the Trinity Manuscript because it is now kept at Trinity College, Cambridgemarker. Lycidas is an English poem, where most of the others were in Latin or Greek. Comparing bishops to vermin infesting sheep and consuming their innards, Milton depicts the prelates in stark contrast to the ideal of the Good Shepherd that is recounted in the Gospel According to John. The prelates and ministers, though prospering on earth, will encounter St. Peter in the afterlife, who will smite them in an act of retributive justice.

In May 1638, Milton, accompanied by a manservant, embarked upon a tour of France and Italy that lasted for fifteen months. His travels supplemented his study with new and direct experience of artistic and religious traditions, especially Roman Catholicism. He also met many of the famous theorists and intellectuals of the time, and was able to display his poetic skills. For specific details to what happened within Milton's "grand tour", there is just one major source: Milton's own Defensio Secunda. Although there are other records, some letters, some mentions in his other prose tracts and the rest, the bulk of the information we have about it comes therefore from a work that, according to Barbara Lewalski, "was not intended as autobiography but as rhetoric, designed to emphasize his sterling reputation with the learned of Europe."

In [Florence], which I have always admired above all others because of the elegance, not just of its tongue, but also of its wit, I lingered for about two months. There I at once became the friend of many gentlemen eminent in rank and learning, whose private academies I frequented — a Florentine institution which deserves great praise not only for promoting humane studies but also for encouraging friendly intercourse.
– Milton's account of Florence in Defensio Secunda
He travelled a route common to other Englishmen touring Europe at the time. He first went to Calaismarker, and then on to Paris, riding horseback. While in Paris, he brought a letter from Henry Wotton which allowed him to be introduced at the British embassy. From John Scudamore, Milton received other letters of introduction and met Hugo Grotius. Milton quickly left France after this meeting and after visiting a few landmarks. He traveled south, from Nice to Genoa and then onto Livorno and Pisa. Eventually, he reached Florence in July 1638. The similar humanistic interests appealed to Milton, and he found their admiration for him invigorating. While there, Milton enjoyed many of the sites and structures of the city. He also met many intellectuals, including Galileo, who was under virtual house arrest at the time, and spent time at the Florentine academies."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>. In particular, Milton probably visited the Florentine Academy and the Academia della Crusca along with smaller academies in the area including the Apatisti (those free from the pathos, hence free from emotions and passions) and the Svogliati. His candor of manner and erudite neo-Latin poetry made him many friends in Florentine intellectual circles, and he met a number of famous and influential people through these connections including the astronomer Galileo at Arcetrimarker, Benedetto Buonmattei, Antonio Malatesti and others.

He left Florence in September to continue onward to Rome. With the many connects from Florence, Milton was able to have easy access into Rome's intellectual society. His poetic abilities impressed those like Giovanni Salzilli, who praised Milton within an epigram. In late October, Milton despite his dislike for the Society of Jesus attended a dinner given by the English College, Romemarker, meeting there English Catholics who were other guests, Henry Holden and the poet Patrick Cary. There is little else known about this time beyond that he met David Codner, an English Benedictine with court connections, who also praised Milton's poetry, and that he attended various musical events, including oratorios, operas, and melodramas. Milton left for Naplesmarker near the end of November, where he stayed only for a month because of the Spanish control. During that time, he was introduced to Giovanni Battista Manso, patron to both Torquato Tasso and to Giovanni Battista Marino. Manso became Milton's guide through Naples. He gave Milton books, and a teasing distich based on Gregory the Great's pun on "Angle" and "angel" when describing the English. Milton responded in his Mansus that he was grateful for the gesture of good will and claims Manso as his patron.

Originally, Milton wanted leave Naples in order to travel to Sicily, and then on to Greece, but he returned to England during the summer of 1639 because of what he claimed, in Defensio Secunda, were "sad tidings of civil war in England." To further complicate matters, in 1638, Milton received word that his childhood friend, Diodati, had died, possibly from the plague. Milton in fact stayed another seven months on the continent, and spent time at Geneva with Diodati's uncle after he returned to Rome. In Defensio Secunda, Milton proclaimed that he was warned against returning to Rome because of his frankness about religion, but he stayed in the city for two months and was able to experience Carnival and meet Lukas Holste, a Vatican librarian who guided Milton through the collection. He was also introduced to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who invited Milton to an opera hosted by the Cardinal. Around March, Milton traveled once again to Florence and stayed there for two months, attendind further meetings of the academies and spending time with friends. After leaving Florence, he traveled through Lucca, Bologna, and Ferrara before eventually coming to Venice. In Venice, Milton was exposed to a model of Republicanism, but he soon found another model when he traveled to Geneva. From Switzerland, Milton traveled to Paris and then to Calais before finally arriving back in England, which was in either July or August 1639. He returned to London, not too far from Bread street, and lived with his nephews, John and Edward Phillips, whom he had tutored. Upon his return he composed an elegy in Latin, Epitaphium Damonis (“Damon’s Epitaph”), which commemorated Diodati."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>.

Civil war, prose tracts and marriage

On returning to England, where the Bishops' Wars presaged further armed conflict, Milton began to write prose tract against episcopacy, in the service of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. Milton's first foray into polemics was Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England (1641), which examines the historical changes in the Church of England since King Henry VIII, followed by Of Prelatical Episcopacy, the two defences of Smectymnuus (a group of presbyterian divines named from their initials: the "TY" belonged to Milton's old tutor Thomas Young), and The Reason of Church-Government Urged against Prelaty. In "The Reason of Church and Government" Milton appears to endorse Scottish Presbyterianism as a replacement for the episcopal hierarchy of the Church of England. A few years thereafter, he came to realize that Presbyterianism could be as inflexible as the Church of England in matters of theology, and he became more independent from established religion of all kinds, arguing for the primacy of Scripture and for the conscience of each believer as the guide to interpretation."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>. With frequent passages of real eloquence lighting up the rough controversial style of the period, and deploying a wide knowledge of church history, he vigorously attacked the High-church party of the Church of England and their leader, William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was also showing remarkable versatility with poetry, talent as a linguist and translator. in 1641–42, Milton composed five tracts on the reformation of the church government.

Though supported by his father’s investments, at this time Milton also became a private schoolmaster, educating his nephews and other children of the well-to-do. This experience, and discussions with educational reformer Samuel Hartlib, led him to write in 1644 his short tract, Of Education, urging a reform of the national universities. Milton outlined a curriculum of Greek and Latin languages, much like his own education at St. Paul's. This tract is aimed at the nobility, and does not mention public education, possibly due to his own dissatisfaction with Cambridge.

In June 1643 Milton paid a visit to the manor house at Forest Hill, Oxfordshiremarker and returned with a 16-year-old bride, Mary Powell. A month later, finding life difficult with the severe 35-year-old schoolmaster and pamphleteer, Mary returned to her family. Because of the outbreak of the Civil War, she did not return until 1645; in the meantime her desertion prompted Milton, over the next three years, to publish a series of pamphlets arguing for the legality and morality of divorce. In 1643 Milton had a brush with the authorities over these writings, in parallel with Hezekiah Woodward who had more trouble. It was the hostile response accorded the divorce tracts that spurred Milton to write Areopagitica, his celebrated attack on censorship.

Secretary for Foreign Tongues

With the parliamentary victory in the Civil War, Milton used his pen in defence of the republican principles represented by the Commonwealth. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649) defended popular government and implicitly sanctioned the regicide; Milton’s political reputation got him appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues by the Council of State in March 1649. Though Milton's main job description was to compose the English Republic's foreign correspondence in Latin, he also was called upon to produce propaganda for the regime and to serve as a censor. In October 1649 he published Eikonoklastes, an explicit defence of the regicide, in response to the Eikon Basilike, a phenomenal best-seller popularly attributed to Charles I that portrayed the King as an innocent Christian martyr.

A month after Milton had tried to break this powerful image of Charles I (the literal translation of Eikonoklastes is 'the image breaker'), the exiled Charles II and his party published a defence of monarchy, Defensio Regia Pro Carolo Primo, written by the leading humanist Claudius Salmasius. By January of the following year, Milton was ordered to write a defence of the English people by the Council of State. Given the European audience and the English Republic's desire to establish diplomatic and cultural legitimacy, Milton worked much more slowly than usual, as he drew upon the vast array of learning marshalled by his years of study to compose a suitably withering riposte. On 24 February 1652 Milton published his Latin defence of the English People, Defensio Pro Populo Anglicano, also known as the First Defence. Milton's pure Latin prose and evident learning, exemplified in the First Defence, quickly made him a European reputation, and the work ran to numerous editions.

In 1654, in response to a Royalist tract, Regii sanguinis clamor, a work that made many personal attacks on Milton, he completed a second defence of the English nation, Defensio secunda, which praised Oliver Cromwell, now Lord Protector, while exhorting him to remain true to the principles of the Revolution. Alexander More, to whom Milton wrongly attributed the Clamor, published an attack on Milton, in response to which Milton published the autobiographical Defensio pro se in 1655. In addition to these literary defences of the Commonwealth and his character, Milton continued to translate official correspondence into Latin. The probable onset of glaucoma finally resulted in total blindness by 1654, forcing him to dictate his verse and prose to amanuenses, one of whom was the poet Andrew Marvell. One of his best-known sonnets, "On His Blindness," is presumed to date from this period.

Family

In 1642, John married Mary Powell (1625 – 1652) and they had four children.
  • Anne
  • Mary
  • John (1651 – June 1652)
  • Deborah (2 May 1652 – ?)


Mary, died on 5 May 1652 from complications following Deborah's birth. Milton's daughters survived to adulthood, but he always had a strained relationship with them. On 12 November 1656, Milton remarried, this time to Katherine Woodcock. She died on 3 February 1658, less than four months after giving birth to their daughter, Katherine, who also died.

Two nephews John Phillips and Edward Phillips, were known as writers. They were sons of Milton's sister Anne; John acted as a secretary, and Edward was Milton's first biographer.

Milton and the Restoration

Milton later in life
Though Cromwell’s death in 1658 caused the English Republic to collapse into feuding military and political factions, Milton stubbornly clung to the beliefs that had originally inspired him to write for the Commonwealth. In 1659 he published A Treatise of Civil Power, attacking the concept of a state-dominated church (the position known as Erastianism), as well as Considerations touching the likeliest means to remove hirelings, denouncing corrupt practises in church governance. As the Republic disintegrated, Milton wrote several proposals to retain a non-monarchical government against the wishes of parliament, soldiers and the people:
  • A Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth, written in October 1659, responsed to General Lambert's recent dissolution of the Rump Parliament
  • Proposals of certain expedients for the preventing of a civil war now feared, written in November 1659
  • The Ready and Easy Way to Establishing a Free Commonwealth, in two editions, responded to General Monck's march towards London to restore the Long Parliament (which eventually led to the restoration of the monarchy). The work is an impassioned, bitter, and futile jeremiad damning the English people for backsliding from the cause of liberty and advocating the establishment of an authoritarian rule by an oligarchy set up by unelected parliament.


Upon the Restoration in May 1660, Milton went into hiding for his life, while a warrant was issued for his arrest and his writings burnt. Re-emerging after a general pardon was issued, he was nevertheless arrested and briefly imprisoned before influential friends, such as Marvell, now an MP, intervened. On 24 February 1663 Milton remarried, for a third and final time, a Wistastonmarker, Cheshiremarker-born woman Elizabeth (Betty) Minshull, then aged 24, and spent the remaining decade of his life living quietly in London, only retiring to a cottagemarker in Chalfont St. Gilesmarker (his only extant home) during the Great Plague.

During this period Milton published several minor prose works, such as a grammar textbook, his Art of Logic, and his History of Britain. His only explicitly political tracts were the 1672 Of True Religion, arguing for toleration (except for Catholics), and a translation of a Polish tract advocating an elective monarchy. Both these works participated in the Exclusion debate that would preoccupy politics in the 1670s and '80s and precipitate the formation of the Whig party and the Glorious Revolution.

Milton died of kidney failure on 8 November 1674 and was buried in the church of St Giles Cripplegatemarker; according to an early biographer, his funeral was attended by “his learned and great Friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the Vulgar.”

Published poetry

Milton's poetry was slow to see the light of day, at least under his name. His first published poem was On Shakespear (1630), anonymously included in the Second Folio edition of Shakespeare. In the midst of the excitement attending the possibility of establishing a new English government, Milton collected his work in 1645 Poems. The anonymous edition of Comus was published in 1637, and the publication of Lycidas in 1638 in Justa Edouardo King Naufrago was signed J. M. Otherwise the 1645 collection was the only poetry of his to see print, until Paradise Lost appeared in 1667.

Paradise Lost

Milton’s magnum opus, the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost, which appeared in a quarto edition in 1667, was composed by the blind Milton from 1658–1664 through dictation given to a series of aides in his employ. It reflects his personal despair at the failure of the Revolution, yet affirms an ultimate optimism in human potential. Milton encoded many references to his unyielding support for the "Good Old Cause."

Milton had abandoned his initial plan to compose an epic on Arthur, and instead turned to a Christian idea of heroism. Paradise Lost was first published in ten books in 1667, and then 12 books in 1674. It consists of almost 11,000 lines, and Milton adapts a number of classical epic conventions. Among these conventions is a focus on the elevated subjects of war, love, and heroism. In Book 6, Milton describes the battle between the banished angels, and the ones still in heaven. In the battle, the Son is invincible against Satan and his cohorts. But Milton’s emphasis is less on the Son as a warrior and more on his love for humankind. The Father, in his celestial dialogue with the Son, foresees the sinfulness of Adam and Eve, and the Son chooses to become incarnate and to suffer humbly to redeem them. Though his role as saviour of fallen humankind is not enacted in the epic, Adam and Eve before their expulsion from Eden learn of the future redemptive ministry of Jesus, the exemplary gesture of self-sacrificing love. The Son’s selfless love contrasts strikingly with the selfish love of the heroes of Classical epics, who are distinguished by their valour on the battlefield, which is usually incited by pride and vainglory. Their strength and skills on the battlefield and their acquisition of the spoils of war also issue from hate, anger, revenge, greed, and covetousness. If Classical epics deem their protagonists heroic for their extreme passions, even vices, the Son in Paradise Lost exemplifies Christian heroism both through his meekness and magnanimity and through his patience and fortitude."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>. The epic begins in medias res: in the middle of the action. Book 1 starts in the aftermath of the war in heaven. Paradise Lost is not only about the downfall of Adam and Eve, but also of Satan and the Son. Satan's traits reflect those of other epic heroes, like Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas. The Son, though, is more heroic, because of his love for humankind.

Milton sold the copyright of this monumental work to his publisher for a seemingly trifling £10; this was not a particularly outlandish deal at the time. Milton followed up Paradise Lost with its sequel, Paradise Regained, published alongside the tragedy Samson Agonistes, in 1671. Both these works also resonate with Milton’s post-Restoration political situation. Just before his death in 1674, Milton supervised a second edition of Paradise Lost, accompanied by an explanation of "why the poem rhymes not" and prefatory verses by Marvell. Milton republished his 1645 Poems in 1673, as well a collection of his letters and the Latin prolusions from his Cambridge days. A 1668 edition of Paradise Lost, reported to have been Milton's personal copy, is now housed in the archives of the University of Western Ontariomarker.

Paradise Regained

Paradise Regained hearkens back to the Book of Job, whose principal character is tempted by Satan to forgo his faith in God and to cease exercising patience and fortitude in the midst of ongoing and ever-increasing adversity. By adapting the trials of Job and the role of Satan as tempter and by integrating them with the accounts of Matthew and Luke of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, Milton dramatizes how Jesus embodies Christian heroism. Less sensational than that of Classical protagonists and not requiring military action for its manifestation, Christian heroism is a continuous reaffirmation of faith in God and is manifested in renewed prayer for patience and fortitude to endure and surmount adversities. By resisting temptations that pander to one’s impulses toward ease, pleasure, worldliness, and power, a Christian hero maintains a heavenly orientation that informs his actions. Satan as the tempter in Paradise Regained fails in his unceasing endeavours to subvert Jesus by various means in the wilderness. As powerful as the temptations may be, the sophistry that accompanies them is even more insidious."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 as /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>.

Samson Agonistes

Like Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes focuses on the inner workings of the mind of the protagonist. This emphasis flies in the face of the biblical characterization of Samson in the Book of Judges, which celebrates his physical strength. Milton’s dramatic poem, however, begins the story of Samson after his downfall—after he has yielded his God-entrusted secret to Dalila (Delilah), suffered blindness, and become a captive of the Philistines. Tormented by anguish over his captivity, Samson is depressed by the realization that he, the prospective liberator of the Israelites, is now a prisoner, blind and powerless in the hands of his enemies. Samson vacillates from one extreme to another emotionally and psychologically. He becomes depressed, wallows in self-pity, and contemplates suicide; he becomes outraged at himself for having disclosed the secret of his strength; he questions his own nature, whether it was flawed with excessive strength and too little wisdom so that he was destined at birth to suffer eventual downfall. When Dalila visits him during his captivity and offers to minister to him, however, Samson becomes irascible, rejecting her with a harsh diatribe. In doing so, he dramatizes, unwittingly, the measure of his progress toward regeneration. Having succumbed to her previously, he has learned from past experience that Dalila is treacherous."John Milton." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2009 /www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383113/John-Milton>.

Milton's views

An unfinished religious manifesto, De doctrina christiana, probably written by Milton, lays out many of his heterodox theological views, and was not discovered and published until 1823. Milton's key beliefs were idiosyncratic, not those of an identifiable group or faction, and often they go well beyond the orthodoxy of the time. Their tone, however, stemmed from the Puritan emphasis on the centrality and inviolability of conscience. He was his own man, but it is Areopagitica, where he was anticipated by Henry Robinson and others, that has lasted best of his prose works.

Philosophy

By the late 1650s, Milton was a proponent of monism or animist materialism, the notion that a single material substance which is "animate, self-active, and free" composes everything in the universe: from stones and trees and bodies to minds, souls, angels, and God. Milton devised this position to avoid the mind-body dualism of Plato and Descartes as well as the mechanistic determinism of Hobbes. Milton's monism is most notably reflected in Paradise Lost when he has angels eat (5.433–39) and engage in sexual intercourse (8.622–29) and the De Doctrina, where he denies the dual natures of man and argues for a theory of Creation ex Deo.

Political thought

In his political writing, Milton addressed particular themes at different periods. The years 1641–42 were dedicated to church politics and the struggle against episcopacy. After his divorce writings, Areopagitica, and a gap, he wrote in 1649–54 in the aftermath of the execution of Charles I, and in polemic justification of the regicide and the existing Parliamentarian regime. Then in 1659–60 he foresaw the Restoration, and wrote to head it off.

Milton's own beliefs were in some cases both unpopular and dangerous, and this was true particularly to his commitment to republicanism. In coming centuries, Milton would be claimed as an early apostle of liberalism. According to James Tully:

A friend and ally in the pamphlet wars was Marchamont Nedham. Austin Woolrych considers that although they were quite close, there is "little real affinity, beyond a broad republicanism", between their approaches. Blair Worden remarks that both Milton and Nedham, with others such as Andrew Marvell and James Harrington, would have taken the problem with the Rump Parliament to be not the republic, but the fact that it was not a proper republic. Woolrych speaks of "the gulf between Milton's vision of the Commonwealth's future and the reality". In the early version of his History of Britain, begun in 1649, Milton was already writing off the members of the Long Parliament as incorrigible.

He praised Oliver Cromwell as the Protectorate was set up; though subsequently he had major reservations. When Cromwell seemed to be backsliding as a revolutionary, after a couple of years in power, Milton moved closer to the position of Sir Henry Vane, to whom he wrote a sonnet in 1652. The group of disaffected republicans included, besides Vane, John Bradshaw, John Hutchinson, Edmund Ludlow, Henry Marten, Robert Overton, Edward Sexby and John Streater; but not Marvell, who remained with Cromwell's party. Milton had already commended Overton, along with Edmund Whalley and Bulstrode Whitelocke, in Defensio Secunda. Nigel Smith writes that

As Richard Cromwell fell from power, he envisaged a step towards a freer republic or “free commonwealth”, writing in the hope of this outcome in early 1660. Milton had argued for an awkward position, in the Ready and Easy Way, because he wanted to invoke the Good Old Cause and gain the support of the republicans, but without offering a democratic solution of any kind. His proposal, backed by reference (amongst other reasons) to the oligarchical Dutch and Venetian constitutions, was for a council with perpetual membership. This attitude cut right across the grain of popular opinion of the time, which swung decisively behind the restoration of the Stuart monarchy that took place later in the year. Milton, an associate of and advocate on behalf of the regicides, was silenced on political matters as Charles II returned.

Theology

Like many Renaissance artists before him, Milton attempted to integrate Christian theology with classical modes. In his early poems, the poet narrator expresses a tension between vice and virtue, the latter invariably related to Protestantism. In Comus Milton may make ironic use of the Caroline court masque by elevating notions of purity and virtue over the conventions of court revelry and superstition. In his later poems, Milton's theological concerns become more explicit. In 1648 he wrote a hymn How lovely are thy dwelling fair , a paraphrase of Psalm 84, that explains his view on God.

Milton embraced many heterodox Christian theological views. He rejected the Trinity, in the belief that the Son was subordinate to the Father, a position known as Arianism; and his sympathy or curiosity was probably engaged by Socinianism: in August 1650 he licensed for publication by William Dugard the Racovian Catechism, based on a non-trinitarian creed.

In his 1641 treatise, Of Reformation, Milton expressed his dislike for Catholicism and episcopacy, presenting Romemarker as a modern Babylonmarker, and bishops as Egyptian taskmasters. These analogies conform to Milton's puritanical preference for Old Testament imagery. He knew at least four commentaries on Genesis: those of John Calvin, Paulus Fagius, David Pareus and Andreus Rivetus.

Through the Interregnum, Milton often presents England, rescued from the trappings of a worldly monarchy, as an elect nation akin to the Old Testament Israelmarker, and shows its leader, Oliver Cromwell, as a latter-day Moses. These views were bound up in Protestant views of the Millennium, which some sects, such as the Fifth Monarchists predicted would arrive in England. Milton, however, would later criticise the "worldly" millenarian views of these and others, and expressed orthodox ideas on the prophecy of the Four Empires.

The Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 began a new phase in Milton's work. In Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes Milton mourns the end of the godly Commonwealth. The Garden of Eden may allegorically reflect Milton's view of England's recent Fall from Grace, while Samson's blindness and captivity – mirroring Milton's own lost sight – may be a metaphor for England's blind acceptance of Charles II as king.Illustrated by Paradise Lost is mortalism, the belief that the soul lies dormant after the body dies.

Despite the Restoration of the monarchy Milton did not lose his personal faith; Samson shows how the loss of national salvation did not necessarily preclude the salvation of the individual, while Paradise Regained expresses Milton's continuing belief in the promise of Christian salvation through Jesus Christ.

Though he may have maintained his personal faith in spite of the defeats suffered by his cause, the Dictionary of National Biography recounts how he had been alienated from the Church of England by Archbishop William Laud, and then moved similarly from the Dissenters by their denunciation of religious tolerance in England.

"Milton had come to stand apart from all sects, though apparently finding the Quakers most congenial. He never went to any religious services in his later years. When a servant brought back accounts of sermons from nonconformist meetings, Milton became so sarcastic that the man at last gave up his place".


Divorce

A few months after his marriage, his wife deserted him and returned to her family in Oxfordshire. The reason is unknown, but there are many possibilities. During this, Milton probably began the arguments for his four Divorce Tracts.

His thinking on divorce caused him the most trouble with the authorities. An orthodox presbyterian view of the time was that Milton's views on divorce constituted a one-man heresy:

Even here, though, his originality is qualified: Thomas Gataker had already identified "mutual solace" as a principal goal in marriage. Milton abandoned his campaign to legitimize divorce after 1645, but he expressed support for polygamy in the De doctrina christiana, the theological treatise that provides the clearest evidence for his views.

Milton believed that marriage depended on compatibility between partners, and without that, people are violating their own personal liberty.

History

History was particularly important for the political class of the period, and Lewalski considers that Milton "more than most illustrates" a remark of Thomas Hobbes on the weight placed at the time on the classical Latin historical writers Tacitus, Livy, Sallust and Cicero, and their republican attitudes. Milton himself wrote that "Worthy deeds are not often destitute of worthy relaters", in Book II of his History of Britain. A sense of history mattered greatly to him:

Legacy and influence

After the restoration, Milton continued to advocate freedom of worship and republicanism of England while he supervised the publication of his poems. Soon after the succession of Charles II, Milton was arrested and threatened with execution for regicide. People such as his brother, Christopher, Andrew Marvell and William Davenant interceded and on his behalf. The exact date and location of his death is unknown, but it is thought to be in London on 8 November 1674 from complications from gout, possibly renal failure. He was buried inside St. Giles Cripplegate Church in London.

Once Paradise Lost was published, Milton's stature as epic poet was immediately recognised. He cast a formidable shadow over English poetry in the 18th and 19th centuries; he was often judged equal or superior to all other English poets, including Shakespeare. Very early on, though, he was championed by Whig, and decried by Tories: with the regicide Edmund Ludlow he was claimed as an early Whig, while the High Tory Anglican minister Luke Milbourne (1649–1720) lumped Milton in with other "Agents of Darkness" such as John Knox, George Buchanan, Richard Baxter, Algernon Sidney and John Locke.

Milton coined many words that are now familiar; in Paradise Lost readers were confronted by neologisms like dreary, pandæmonium, acclaim, rebuff, self-esteem, unaided, impassive, enslaved, jubilant, serried, solaced, and satanic. The term space was first used by Milton to mean the region beyond Earth's sky.

Early reception of the poetry

John Dryden, an early enthusiast, in 1677 began the trend of describing Milton as the poet of the sublime. Dryden's The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man: an Opera (1677) is evidence of an immediate cultural influence. In 1695, Patrick Hume became the first editor of Paradise Lost, providing an extensive apparatus of annotation and commentary, particularly chasing down allusions.

In 1732 the classical scholar Richard Bentley offered a corrected version of Paradise Lost. Bentley was considered presumptuous, and was attacked in the following year by Zachary Pearce. Christopher Ricks judges that, as critic, Bentley was both acute and wrong-headed, and "incorrigibly eccentric"; William Empson also finds Pearce to be more sympathetic to Bentley's underlying line of thought than is warranted.

There was an early, partial translation of Paradise Lost into German by Theodore Haak, and based on that a standard verse translation by Ernest Gottlieb von Berge. A subsequent prose translation by Johann Jakob Bodmer was very popular; it influenced Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. The German-language Milton tradition returned to England in the person of the artist Henry Fuseli.
Titlepage of a 1752-1761 edition of "The Poetical Works of John Milton with Notes of Various Authors by Thomas Newton" printed by J.
& R.
Tonson in the Strand.
Many enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century revered and commented on Milton's poetry and non-poetical works. In addition to John Dryden, among them were Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Thomas Newton, and Samuel Johnson. For example in The Spectator nos 267, 273, 279, 285, 291, 297, 303, 309, 315, 321, 327, 333, 339, 345, 351, 357, 363, and 369, Joseph Addison wrote extensive notes, annotations, and interpretations of certain passages of Paradise Lost. Jonathan Richardson, senior, and Jonathan Richardson, the younger, co-wrote a book of criticism, "Explanatory Notes and Remarks on Milton's Paradise Lost" (1734). In 1749, Thomas Newton published an extensive annotated edition of Milton's poetical works with the annotations provided by himself, Dryden, Pope, Addison, the Richardsons (father/son) and others. Newton's edition of Milton was a culmination of the honor bestowed upon Milton by early Enlightenment thinkers. Newton's edition may also have been published in reaction to Richard Bentley's infamous edition, described above. Samuel Johnson wrote numerous essays on Paradise Lost, and Milton was included in his monumental "Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets with Critical Observations on their Works" (1779-1781).

Milton and Blake

Frontispiece to Milton: a Poem.


William Blake considered Milton the major English poet. Blake placed Edmund Spenser as Milton's precursor, and saw himself as Milton's poetical son. In his Milton: a Poem, Blake uses Milton as a character.

Romantic theory

Edmund Burke was a theorist of the sublime, and he regarded Milton's description of Hell as exemplary of sublimity as aesthetic concept. For Burke it was to set alongside mountain-tops, a storm at sea, and infinity. In The Beautiful and the Sublime he wrote "No person seems better to have understood the secret of heightening, or of setting terrible things, if I may use the expression, in their strongest light, by the force of a judicious obscurity than Milton."

The Romantic poets valued his exploration of blank verse, but for the most part rejected his religiosity. William Wordsworth began his sonnet "London, 1802" with "Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour" and modeled The Prelude, his own blank verse epic, on Paradise Lost. John Keats found the yoke of Milton's style uncongenial; 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, was unsatisfactory to the author because, amongst other things, it had too many "Miltonic inversions". In The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar note that Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein is, in the view of many critics, "one of the key 'Romantic' readings of Paradise Lost."

Later legacy

The 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 early 20th century, with the efforts of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, witnessed a reduction in Milton's critical stature. Harold Bloom, in The Anxiety of Influence, could still write that "Milton is the central problem in any theory and history of poetic influence in English [...]".

Milton's Areopagitica is still cited as relevant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. A quotation from Areopagitica – "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life" – is displayed in many public libraries, including the New York Public Librarymarker.

The title of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is derived from a quotation, "His dark materials to create more worlds", line 915 of Book II in Paradise Lost. Pullman was concerned to produce a version of Milton's poem accessible to teenagers, and has spoken of Milton as "our greatest public poet".

T. S. Eliot believed that "of no other poet is it so difficult to consider the poetry simply as poetry, without our theological and political dispositions... making unlawful entry".

Poetic and dramatic works



Political, philosophical and religious prose



Notes

References

  • Beer, Anna. Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.
  • Campbell, Gordon and Corns, Thomas. John Milton: Life, Work, and Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Dick, Oliver Lawson. Aubrey's Brief Lives. Harmondsworth, Middl.: Penguin Books, 1962.
  • Eliot, T. S. "Annual Lecture on a Master Mind: Milton", Proceedings of the British Academy 33 (1947).
  • Hill, Christopher. Milton and the English Revolution". New York: Viking Press, 1977.
  • Hunter, William Bridges. A Milton Encyclopedia. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1980.
  • Lewalski, Barbara K. The Life of John Milton. Oxford: Blackwells Publishers, 2003.
  • Masson, David. The Life of John Milton and History of His Time, vol. 1. Cambridge: 1859.
  • McCalman, Iain. et al., An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British Culture, 1776–1832. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Milton, John. Complete Prose Works 8 Vols. gen. Ed. Don M. Wolfe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.
  • Pfeiffer, Robert H. "The Teaching of Hebrew in Colonial America", The Jewish Quarterly Review, (April 1955).
  • Toland, John. Life of Milton in The Early Lives of Milton. Ed. Helen Darbishere. London: Constable, 1932.
  • von Maltzahn, Nicholas. "Milton's Readers" in The Cambridge Companion to Milton. ed. Dennis Richard Danielson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Wedgwood, C. V. Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford 1593–1641. New York: Macmillan, 1961.
  • Wilson, A. N. The Life of John Milton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.


To find and add:
  • Edward Chaney, The Grand Tour and the Great Rebellion (Geneva, 1985) and "Milton's Visit to Vallombrosa: A literary tradition", The Evolution of the Grand Tour, 2nd ed (London, 2000).


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