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his best known works were written after he had gone blind
John Milton was born in London, England, on December 9, 1608. His father was a scrivener (law writer), as well as composer of church music of some renown. Though not wealthy, the family had enough money to afford private tutors for John and his siblings, and for him to enter Christ's College at Cmbridge in 1625. Although he had entered Cambridge intending to study for the clergy, he soon became disenchanted with the church and chose instead to become a writer. While still in college he wrote several poems in Latin, including On the Morning of Christ's Nativity (1629), L'Allegro (1631) and Il Penseroso (1631). He graduated with his M.A. degree in 1632, after which he moved to his father's home in Horton to study and write.
Milton's first major published work was Comus (1634), a dramatic presentation with music; the music was written by Henry Lawes. In 1627 he published Lycidas, a pastoral elegy commemorating the death of Edward King, a close friend of his while at Christ's College.
As was customary for young men of means of his day, Milton embarked on a tour of Europe in 1638, during which he met some of the most noted men of letters of the day, including Galileo. He returned to England after about 15 months upon learning of the civil war between supporters of King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell and supported the Puritan cause and Oliver Cromwell through a series of political writings. In Of Reformation in England (1641), he argued that bishops should be deprived of power. He defended freedom of the press in Areopagitica (1644). In The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), he declared that the people had the right to choose and depose their rulers. He moved from Horton to London about this time.
As a result of his political writings, Milton was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State by Cromwell, in which capacity he was responsible for translating dispatches to other countries into Latin. During his tenure in this position he wrote Eikonoklastes (1649), Defensio Pro Populo Anglicano (1651), and other tracts defending the Commonwealth.
Interior lighting was negligible in Milton's day, and the effort he put into his writing eventually caused him to lose his sight, in 1652. Rather than end his career, however, Milton simply hired assistants and kept on writing. In 1655, he published When I Consider How My Light Is Spent (1655), a sonnet on his blindness.
After Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the government executed several Puritans believed responsible for the death of Charles I. Milton was arrested, but he was allowed to pay fines and then released. He then retired from public life and devoted the rest of his life to writing poetry. The works for which he is best known were written during this period. Paradise Lost (1667) was a 12-volume epic in blank verse based on the biblical stories of creation, Adam and Eve, and the fall of Satan. He followed this work with Paradise Regained (1671), a 4-volume blank verse poem showing how Christ overcame Satan's temptations. His final work, Samson Agonistes (1671), which was modeled after Greek tragedies, told how Samson finally defeated his captors after being betrayed by Dalila and blinded by the Philistines.
Milton married 16-year-old Mary Powell in 1643. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and Mary left after two months and stayed away for two years. During her absence, Milton wrote a series of pamphlets advocating divorce in certain cases, including The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643). Despite being estranged from her husband throughout most of the marriage, Mary bore him three daughters and one son before her death in 1652. He married Katherine Woodcock in 1656; she died in 1658. After Katherine's death he published the sonnet Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint (1658). He married Elizabeth Minshull in 1663; she survived him.
John Milton died in Buckinghamshire, on November 8, 1674. He is buried at the Church of St. Giles in Cripplegate, London.
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This page was last updated on 08/07/2018.