John Milton Biography & Facts
John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) was an English poet and intellectual. His 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost, written in blank verse and including over ten chapters, was written in a time of immense religious flux and political upheaval. It addressed the fall of man, including the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and God's expulsion of them from the Garden of Eden. Paradise Lost is widely considered one of the greatest works of literature ever written, and it elevated Milton's widely-held reputation as one of history's greatest poets. He also served as a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell.
Writing in English, Latin, and Italian, Milton achieved global fame and recognition during his lifetime; his celebrated Areopagitica (1644), written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship, is among history's most influential and impassioned defences of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. His desire for freedom extended beyond his philosophy and was reflected in his style, which included his introduction of new words (coined from Latin and Ancient Greek) to the English language. He was the first modern writer to employ unrhymed verse outside of the theatre or translations.
Milton is described as the "greatest English author" by biographer William Hayley, and he remains generally regarded "as one of the preeminent writers in the English language", though critical reception has oscillated in the centuries since his death often on account of his republicanism. Samuel Johnson praised Paradise Lost as "a poem which...with respect to design may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind", though he (a Tory) described Milton's politics as those of an "acrimonious and surly republican". Milton was revered by poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Thomas Hardy.
Phases of Milton's life parallel the major historical and political divisions in Stuart Britain at the time. In his early years, Milton studied at Christ's College at the University of Cambridge, one of the world's most prestigious universities, and then travelled, wrote poetry mostly for private circulation, and launched a career as pamphleteer and publicist under Charles I's increasingly autocratic rule and Britain's breakdown into constitutional confusion and ultimately civil war. While once considered dangerously radical and heretical, Milton contributed to a seismic shift in accepted public opinions during his life that ultimately elevated him to public office in England. The Restoration of 1660 and his loss of vision later deprived Milton much of his public platform, but he used the period to develop many of his major works.
Milton's views developed from extensive reading, travel, and experience that began with his days as a student at Cambridge in the 1620s and continued through the English Civil War, which started in 1642 and continued through 1651. By the time of his death in 1674, Milton was impoverished and on the margins of English intellectual life but famous throughout Europe and unrepentant for political choices that placed him at odds with governing authorities.
Early life and education
John Milton was born in Bread Street, London, on 9 December 1608, the son of composer John Milton and his wife Sarah Jeffrey. The senior John Milton (1562–1647) moved to London around 1583 after being disinherited by his devout Catholic father Richard "the Ranger" Milton for embracing Protestantism. In London, the senior John Milton married Sarah Jeffrey (1572–1637) and found lasting financial success as a scrivener. He lived in and worked from a house on Bread Street, where the Mermaid Tavern was located in Cheapside. The elder Milton was noted for his skill as a musical composer, and this talent left his son with a lifelong appreciation for music and friendships with musicians such as Henry Lawes.The prosperity of Milton's father allowed his eldest son to obtain a private tutor, Thomas Young, a Scottish Presbyterian with a MA from the University of St. Andrews. Young's influence also served as the poet's introduction to religious radicalism. After Young's tutorship, Milton attended St Paul's School in London, where he began the study of Latin and Greek; the classical languages left an imprint on both his poetry and prose in English (he also wrote in Latin and Italian).
Milton's first datable compositions are two psalms written at age 15 at Long Bennington. One contemporary source is 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". Aubrey adds, "His complexion exceeding faire—he was so faire that they called him the Lady of Christ's College."In 1625, Milton gained entry to Christ's College at the University of Cambridge, where he graduated with a BA in 1629, ranking fourth of 24 honours graduates that year in the University of Cambridge. Then preparing to become an Anglican priest, Milton then pursued his Master of Arts degree at Cambridge, which he received on 3 July 1632.
Milton may have been rusticated (suspended) in his first year at Cambridge for quarrelling with his tutor, Bishop William Chappell. He was certainly at home in London in the Lent Term 1626; there he wrote Elegia Prima, his first Latin elegy, to Charles Diodati, a friend from St Paul's. Based on remarks of John Aubrey, Chappell "whipt" Milton. This story is now disputed, though certainly Milton disliked Chappell. Historian Christopher Hill notes that Milton was apparently rusticated, and that the differences between Chappell and Milton may have been either religious or personal. It is also possible that, like Isaac Newton four decades later, Milton was sent home from Cambridge because of the plague, which impacted Cambridge significantly in 1625.
At Cambridge, Milton was on good terms with Edward King; he later dedicated "Lycidas" to him. Milton also befriended Anglo-American dissident and theologian Roger Williams. Milton tutored Williams in Hebrew in exchange for lessons in Dutch. Despite developing a reputation for poetic skill and general erudition, Milton suffered from alienation among his peers during his time at Cambridge. Having once watched his fellow students attempting comedy upon the college stage, he later observed, "they thought themselves gallant men, and I thought them fools".Milton also was disdainful of the university curriculum, which consisted of stilted formal debates conducted in Latin on abstruse topics. His own 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, including "On the Morning of Christ'.... Discover the John Milton popular books. Find the top 100 most popular John Milton books.