John Milton

John Milton: Poetic Genius, Paradise Lost Creator

John Milton, an eminent English poet, scholar, and political thinker of the 17th century, stands as a towering figure in the annals of English literature. His life and works reflect the tumultuous times in which he lived, marked by political upheaval, religious strife, and cultural transformation. In this article by Academic Block, we will delve into his early years, his literary contributions, his political engagement, and the enduring legacy he left behind.

Early Life and Education

Born on December 9, 1608, in London, John Milton was the third child of John Milton Sr. and Sara Jeffrey. His father, a scrivener by profession, provided his son with a solid education. Milton’s early schooling took place at St. Paul’s School, where he exhibited exceptional intellectual prowess and linguistic dexterity. His linguistic abilities were honed in the classics, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and modern languages, setting the stage for his later literary accomplishments.

In 1625, Milton enrolled at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he continued his intellectual pursuits. He immersed himself in the study of classical literature, philosophy, and theology, showcasing a voracious appetite for knowledge. His commitment to learning was apparent, and Milton’s academic prowess laid the foundation for his later literary and scholarly achievements.

Literary Beginnings: Early Poems and Comus

Milton’s literary career began to take shape during his time at Cambridge. His early poems, composed in Latin and Greek, demonstrated his mastery of classical forms and themes. Among these early works, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” and “L’Allegro” are notable examples that foreshadowed the brilliance that would characterize his later writings.

One of Milton’s early masterpieces, the masque “Comus,” was written in 1634 for the Earl of Bridgewater’s family. This allegorical work weaves together elements of mythology and morality, showcasing Milton’s skill in combining poetic expression with moral and philosophical depth. “Comus” serves as a precursor to the epic style and themes that would dominate his later works.

Milton’s Political Engagement

As England experienced political turbulence, Milton’s life became increasingly intertwined with the unfolding events. His early years were marked by the Stuart monarchy’s attempts to consolidate power, leading to conflicts with Parliament. Milton, a staunch supporter of republican ideals and individual liberty, found himself drawn into the political arena.

In 1641, Milton penned a series of tracts advocating freedom of the press, including “Areopagitica,” a powerful defense of the unlicensed printing of books. His impassioned plea for intellectual freedom remains a landmark text in the history of free speech and continues to resonate in contemporary discussions on censorship and expression.

The English Civil War erupted in 1642, pitting Parliamentarians against Royalists. Milton, a fervent supporter of the Parliamentarian cause, took up the pen as a weapon in the service of his convictions. His political pamphlets, such as “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” (1649), asserted the right of the people to depose a tyrannical ruler, a radical idea that challenged the prevailing notions of divine right monarchy.

Milton’s Role in the Commonwealth

The execution of King Charles I in 1649 marked a pivotal moment in English history, leading to the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell’s leadership. Milton, an outspoken advocate for the new government, was appointed as Secretary for Foreign Tongues, a position that involved composing official documents in Latin.

During this period, Milton continued to produce influential political writings, including “The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth” (1660), in which he defended the Commonwealth against the looming threat of the monarchy’s restoration. However, with the return of Charles II in 1660, the political tide turned against the republicans, and Milton faced personal and legal consequences for his support of the Commonwealth.

Works of John Milton

John Milton produced a body of work that spans a wide range of genres and themes. His writings include poetry, prose, political tracts, and theological treatises. Here is an overview of some of John Milton’s most notable works:

1. “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” (1629): One of Milton’s early poems, this piece reflects on the nativity of Christ and explores themes of redemption and salvation.

2. “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” (1631): These companion poems contrast the pleasures of a cheerful, active life (“L’Allegro”) with the contemplative and introspective aspects of a more sedate existence (“Il Penseroso”).

3. “Comus” (1634): A masque written for a noble family, “Comus” combines elements of mythology and morality, telling the story of a virtuous lady who encounters the sorcerer Comus. The work explores themes of virtue, temptation, and chastity.

4. “Areopagitica” (1644): A powerful prose work advocating for freedom of the press, “Areopagitica” is a speech addressed to the English Parliament, arguing against censorship and in favor of the free exchange of ideas.

5. “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” (1649): This political tract, written in the aftermath of King Charles I’s execution, argues for the legitimacy of regicide and defends the rights of the people to overthrow a tyrannical ruler.

6. “Paradise Lost” (1667): Milton’s magnum opus, “Paradise Lost” is an epic poem that retells the biblical story of the fall of man. The work explores themes of free will, disobedience, and the consequences of sin, with Satan as a complex and compelling character.

7. “Paradise Regained” (1671): A sequel to “Paradise Lost,” this poem focuses on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. It explores themes of spiritual triumph and redemption.

8. “Samson Agonistes” (1671): A dramatic poem that presents the biblical story of Samson’s captivity, blindness, and eventual destruction of the Philistine temple. “Samson Agonistes” is considered a tragedy and a reflection on the theme of divine providence.

9. “Aeropagitica” (1644): In this prose work, Milton argues against censorship and defends the freedom of the press, asserting that the government should not regulate the publication of books.

10. “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce” (1643) and “Tetrachordon” (1645): These prose works express Milton’s views on divorce and his arguments for the dissolution of unhappy marriages.

11. “The Reason of Church Government” (1642) and “Eikonoklastes” (1649): These prose works reflect Milton’s views on church government and his defense of the Commonwealth against the Royalists during the English Civil War.

John Milton’s works are characterized by their depth of thought, linguistic skill, and engagement with the political, religious, and philosophical debates of his time. His influence on literature and intellectual thought has endured for centuries, and his writings continue to be studied and appreciated today.

Blindness and Late Works

Around 1652, Milton’s eyesight began to deteriorate, eventually leading to total blindness. Despite this profound setback, Milton did not succumb to despair. Instead, he dictated his later works to scribes, showcasing an indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication to his craft.

During this period of darkness, Milton composed his magnum opus, “Paradise Lost” (1667), an epic poem that explores the biblical story of the fall of man. In this monumental work, Milton grapples with profound theological and philosophical questions, examining themes of free will, disobedience, and redemption. “Paradise Lost” is hailed as one of the greatest achievements in English literature, with its influence extending far beyond the realms of poetry.

“Paradise Regained” and “Samson Agonistes,” Milton’s other major works from this period, further demonstrate his intellectual prowess and literary skill. “Paradise Regained” (1671) explores the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, while “Samson Agonistes” (1671) presents a tragic portrayal of the biblical figure Samson.

Legacy and Influence

John Milton’s contributions to literature, politics, and philosophy have left an indelible mark on Western culture. His commitment to individual liberty, advocacy for freedom of expression, and fearless engagement with political and religious ideas have inspired generations of thinkers and writers.

Milton’s influence extends to diverse fields, from literature and theology to political philosophy. His innovative use of blank verse, his exploration of complex moral and theological themes, and his enduring impact on the English language continue to captivate readers and scholars alike.

Final words

John Milton’s life and works offer a captivating journey through the tumultuous landscape of 17th-century England. From his early poetic endeavors to his fearless engagement in political and religious debates, Milton’s legacy is one of intellectual courage and unwavering commitment to principles he held dear. As we navigate the intricacies of Milton’s writings and the historical context in which he lived, we gain insight into the mind of a literary giant whose influence resonates across centuries. In the tapestry of English literature, John Milton’s name stands as a testament to the enduring power of words and ideas. What are your thoughts about John Milton? Do let us know in the comments section about your view. It will help us in improving our upcoming articles. Thanks for reading!

Academic References on John Milton

Books:

  • “John Milton: A Biography” by Neil Forsyth
  • “Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot” by Anna Beer
  • “The Life of John Milton” by Barbara K. Lewalski
  • “Milton’s Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty” by Michael Lieb
  • “John Milton: Life, Work, and Thought” by Gordon Campbell
  • “John Milton: The Self and the World” by John T. Shawcross
  • “Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost” by William Poole
  • “Milton’s Epic Voice: The Narrator in ‘Paradise Lost'” by John Rumrich
  • “The Cambridge Companion to Milton” edited by Dennis Danielson

Articles:

  • “John Milton and the English Revolution” by Christopher Hill
  • “Milton’s Satan and the Grand Style” by Stanley Fish
  • “Milton’s Areopagitica and the Modern First Amendment” by Steven M. Dworetz
  • “John Milton’s Last Thoughts on Earthly Pleasures” by William B. Hunter
  • “The Rhetoric of Controversy: John Milton’s ‘Areopagitica'” by Thomas H. Luxon
John Milton
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 9th December 1608
Died : 8th November 1674
Place of Birth : London, England
Father : John Milton Sr.
Mother : Sarah Jeffrey Milton
Spouse/Partner : Mary Powell, Katherine Woodcock, and Elizabeth Minshull
Children : Anne, Mary, Deborah, John Jr.
Alma Mater : Christ’s College, Cambridge
Professions : Poet, Prose Writer, and Polemicist

Famous quotes by John Milton

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

“The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.”

“He who reigns within himself and rules his passions, desires, and fears is more than a king.”

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”

“A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit.”

“The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him, to be like Him.”

“The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

“For man will hearken to his glozing lies, Suspects not God; for though his dreadful power be praised and feared, yet God’s benignity may have such favour as to be propitious.”

“What in me is dark illumine, what is low raise and support.”

“Virtue could see to do what virtue would by her own radiant light, though sun and moon where in the flat sea sunk.”

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

“Truth never comes into the world but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her birth.”

“The star that bids the shepherd fold Now the top of heaven doth hold; And the gilded car of day His glowing axle doth allay In the steep Atlantic stream.”

Facts on John Milton

Birth and Early Life: John Milton was born on December 9, 1608, in London, England, to John Milton Sr. and Sara Jeffrey.

Educational Background: Milton attended St. Paul’s School in London, where he excelled in his studies, displaying a particular aptitude for languages, including Latin and Greek.

Cambridge Education: He matriculated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1625, and pursued a rigorous course of study in literature, philosophy, and languages.

Poetic Beginnings: Milton started writing poetry at a young age, and some of his early works, including Latin poems, showcased his literary talent.

European Travel: After completing his studies at Cambridge, Milton undertook a tour of continental Europe (1638–1639), visiting France and Italy. During this time, he met prominent intellectuals and absorbed diverse cultural influences.

Blindness: Milton’s eyesight began to deteriorate in the early 1650s, leading to total blindness. Despite his loss of vision, he continued to compose works with the assistance of scribes.

Political Engagement: Milton became increasingly involved in political and religious debates of his time. He was a staunch supporter of republican ideals and wrote numerous political tracts defending the Commonwealth.

Official Position: In 1649, during the Commonwealth period, Milton was appointed as Secretary for Foreign Tongues, responsible for composing diplomatic correspondence in Latin.

Marriage and Family: Milton married Mary Powell in 1642, but the marriage ended in separation. He later married Katherine Woodcock, who died shortly after giving birth. His third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, survived him.

Major Political Works: Some of Milton’s significant political works include “Areopagitica” (1644), a defense of freedom of the press, and “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” (1649), advocating the right of the people to depose a tyrannical monarch.

Epic Poetry: “Paradise Lost” (1667) is Milton’s most celebrated epic poem, narrating the biblical story of the fall of man. It is considered one of the greatest works of English literature.

Other Major Works: Milton’s other major works include “Paradise Regained” (1671), a sequel to “Paradise Lost,” and “Samson Agonistes” (1671), a tragic drama based on the biblical character Samson.

Death: John Milton died on November 8, 1674, in London, at the age of 65. He was buried in St. Giles Cripplegate Church in London.

John Milton’s family life

John Milton Sr.: John Milton’s father, also named John Milton, was a scrivener by profession. He provided his son with a solid education, laying the foundation for Milton’s intellectual pursuits.

Mother: Sara Jeffrey Milton Sara Jeffrey Milton was John Milton’s mother. Her background and details about her life are less known compared to her son’s achievements.

Mary Powell Milton (m. 1642): Milton’s first wife, Mary Powell, whom he married in 1642, hailed from a Royalist family. The marriage faced challenges, and Mary left Milton. They were later reconciled, and Mary died in 1652.

Katherine Woodcock Milton (m. 1656): After Mary’s death, Milton married Katherine Woodcock in 1656. Sadly, Katherine passed away shortly after giving birth to a daughter who also died.

Elizabeth Minshull Milton (m. 1663): Milton’s third and final wife was Elizabeth Minshull, whom he married in 1663. Elizabeth outlived Milton and managed his estate after his death.

Anne Milton: Anne was John Milton’s daughter from his first marriage to Mary Powell. She survived into adulthood and married Thomas Agar.

Mary Milton: Mary, the daughter of John Milton and Mary Powell, died in infancy.

John Milton (the Younger): John Milton’s second daughter with Mary Powell, also named John, survived to adulthood. He became a notable historian and writer, publishing a biography of his father.

Controversies related to John Milton

Divorce Tracts: One of the early controversies in Milton’s life arose from his writings on divorce. In works such as “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce” (1643) and “Tetrachordon” (1645), Milton advocated for the legalization of divorce in cases of incompatibility or other grievances. These views were considered radical and sparked debates on the institution of marriage in 17th-century England.

Political Controversies: Milton was an active participant in the political and religious debates of his time, particularly during the English Civil War and the establishment of the Commonwealth. His defense of the regicide (execution of King Charles I) in “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” (1649) and his subsequent service as Latin Secretary for the Commonwealth led to controversy and, after the Restoration, to his arrest and temporary imprisonment.

Anti-Monarchical Views: Milton’s republican views and staunch opposition to monarchy were controversial, especially in the context of the political changes occurring in England. His writings, such as “Eikonoklastes” (1649), which attacked the posthumously published royalist work “Eikon Basilike,” contributed to the heated political climate of the time.

Defense of Free Speech in “Areopagitica” (1644): In “Areopagitica,” Milton defended freedom of the press and opposed censorship. This work was controversial because it challenged established notions of control over the publication of books, advocating for the open exchange of ideas. It remains a seminal text on free speech.

Religious Controversies: Milton’s theological positions, as reflected in his epic poem “Paradise Lost,” raised some controversies. His portrayal of Satan as a complex and somewhat sympathetic character challenged traditional theological interpretations.

Milton’s Blindness and Political Fallout: As Milton gradually lost his eyesight in the early 1650s, it became a personal and professional challenge. His political fortunes also suffered after the Restoration, as he was arrested and imprisoned briefly. The loss of his political influence and the hardships he faced during this period contributed to the controversies surrounding his life.

This Article will answer your questions like:

  • What is John Milton best known for?
  • Who was John Milton?
  • Is John Milton a Renaissance poet?
  • What was John Milton’s education?
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x