John Milton was born in London on December 9, 1608, into a middle-class family.
He was first educated by private tutors at home and then at St. Paul’s School. In 1625, Milton was admitted to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he began to write poetry in Latin, Italian, and English, and prepared to enter the clergy.
While Milton was a hardworking student, he was also argumentative to the extent that only a year later, in 1626, he got suspended after a dispute with his tutor, William Chappell. Life at Cambridge was still not easy on Milton; he felt he was disliked by many of his fellow students and he was dissatisfied with the curriculum. During his period of private study, Milton composed a number of poems, including
“On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,”
“On Shakespeareâ€ and the pastoral elegy “Lycidas.”
In May of 1638, Milton began a tour of France and Italy, during which he met many important intellectuals and influential people, including the astronomer Galileo Galilee in Florence ,Hugo Grotius, Giovanni Batista, biographer of Torquato Tasso.
In 1642, Milton returned from a trip into the countryside with a 16-year-old bride, Mary Powell, who bore him three daughters and a son before her death in 1652.
In early 1659, Milton published A Treatise of Civil Power and Ready and Easy Way To Establish a Free Commonwealth. For his propaganda writings, Milton had to go into hiding, for fear of retribution from the followers of King Charles II. In early autumn, Milton was arrested and thrown in prison, to be released by order of Parliament before Christmas. Milton escaped from more punishment, but he became a relatively poor man. The manuscript of Paradise Lost he sold for ‘5 to Samuel Simmons, and was promised another ‘5 if the first edition of 1,300 copies sold out. This was done in 18 months.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
‘Paradise Lost’ finally saw publication in 1667, in ten books. It was reissued in 1668 with a new title-page and additional materials. The book was met with instant success and amazement; even Dryden is reported to have said, “This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too.’Innocence, Once Lost, Can Never Be Regained.
Darkness, Once Gazed Upon, Can Never Be Lost.
In Milton’s achievement in the field of poetry was recognized after the appearance of Paradise Lost. Before it the writer himself had showed some doubt of the worth of his work: “By labor and intent study (which I take to be my portion in this life), joined with the strong propensity of nature, I might perhaps leave something so written to after-times, as they should not willingly let it die.” Milton’s cosmic vision has occasionally provoked critical discussion. Even T.S. Eliot has attacked the author and described him as one whose sensuousness had been “withered by book-learning.” Eliot claimed that Milton’s poetry ‘”could only be an influence for the worse.”
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.’ (John Milton)
Paradise Lost is not easy to read with its odd syntax, difficult vocabulary, and complex, but noble style. Moreover, its cosmic vision is not actually based on the Copernican system, but more in the traditional Christian cosmology of its day, where the Earth (and man) is the center of the universe, not the sun. The poem tells a biblical story of Adam and Eve, with God, and Lucifer (Satan), who is thrown out of Heaven to corrupt humankind. Satan, the most beautiful of the angels, is at his most impressive: he wakes up, on a burning lake in Hell, to find himself surrounded by his stunned followers. He has been defeated in the War of Heaven. Milton created a powerful and sympathetic portrait of Lucifer. His character bears similarities with Shakespeare’s hero-villains Iago and Macbeth, whose personal ambition is transformed into metaphysical nihilism.
‘What though the field be lost? All is not Lost; the unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And the courage never to submit or yeild.’
On the basis of clues in the writings Milton produced, several possible diagnoses have been pointed to in an effort to explain his vision loss. However, popular consensus is that he became the victim of glaucoma. Doctors warned him about straining what was left of his eyesight by continuing to write poetry and pamphlets supporting Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime. Milton was completely blind by age 43 but fulfilled his government duties as Latin Secretary with the help of assistants, including poet Andrew Marvell.
Paradise Lost was published when Milton was 55 years old and 16 different editions were printed before 1732. The latter fact because editor Richard Bentley’s argued that corrections needed to be made since Milton could not have proofread what was dictated blindly to a secretary. In the 1920s, Helen Keller named an interfaith society for the blind after him. Keller persuaded the leaders of several Christian denominations to develop the interdenominational ministry in an effort to bring spiritual guidance and religious literature to people who were blind and deaf. Milton was chosen as the namesake of the organization because of his strong Christian faith, and because, after losing his eyesight he went on to write volume after volume of prose and poetry, including a number of hymns.
Milton died on November 8, 1674. He was buried beside his father in the church of St Giles, Cripplegate. A monument to Milton rests in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey.
Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England .
The Reason of Church Government Urged Against Prelaty.
The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.
The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.
A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes.