John Milton

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John Milton II

John Milton by Project Gutenberg[1]
Born 9 December 1608(1608-12-09)
Bread Street, Cheapside, London, England
Died 8 November 1674 (aged 65)
Bunhill, London, England
Occupation Poet, prose polemicist, civil servant
Notable work(s) Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, Areopagitica

John Milton II (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.

Milton was writing at a time of religious and political flux in England. His poetry and prose reflect deep convictions, often reacting to contemporary circumstances, but it is not always easy to locate the writer in an obvious religious category. His views may be described as broadly Protestant, and he was an accomplished, scholarly man of letters, polemical writer and an official in the government of Oliver Cromwell.

After his death, Milton became the subject of partisan biographies, such as those by Edward Phillips and John Toland, 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.[2]


[edit] Biography

The phases of Milton's life closely parallel the major historical divisions of Stuart Britain: the Caroline Ancien Régime, the Commonwealth of England and the Restoration. One can situate both his poetry and his politics historically. Both sprang from the philosophical and religious beliefs Milton developed from his reading and experience, from student days to the English Revolution.[3]

By the time of his death in 1674, Milton was blind, impoverished and yet unrepentant for his political choices. Milton had by then attained Europe-wide fame, and notoriety, for his radical political and religious beliefs, as well as his writings in English and Latin poetry.

[edit] Early life

John Milton's father, also named John Milton (1562-1647), moved to London around 1583 after being disinherited by his devout Catholic father, Richard Milton, for embracing Protestantism. In London, Milton senior married Sarah Jeffrey (1572-1637), the poet's mother, and found lasting financial success as a scrivener. He lived and worked out of 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 Milton with a lifetime appreciation for music and friendship with musicians like Henry Lawes.[4]

Blue plaque in Bread Street, London, where Milton was born.

After Milton was born, on 9 December 1608, his father's prosperity provided his eldest son with a private tutor, Thomas Young, and then a place at St Paul's School in London. There he 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). His first datable compositions are two psalms done at age 15 at Long Bennington. 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".[5]

John Milton matriculated at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1625 and graduated with a B.A. in 1629,[6] ranking fourth of 24 honours graduates that year in the University of Cambridge.[7] Preparing to become an Anglican priest, he stayed on to obtain his Master of Arts degree on 3 July 1632.

Milton was probably rusticated for quarrelling in his first year with his tutor, William Chappell. He was certainly at home in the Lent Term 1626; there he wrote his Elegia Prima, a first Latin elegy, to Carolo Diodati. Based on remarks of John Aubrey, Chappell "whipt" Milton.[5] This story is now disputed. Certainly Milton disliked Chappell.[8] 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.[9] Another factor, possibly, was the plague, by which Cambridge was badly affected in 1625. Later in 1626 Milton's tutor was Nathaniel Tovey.

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.[10] 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'.[11] Milton, due to his hair, which he wore long, and his general delicacy of manner, was known as the "Lady of Christ's".

The university curriculum 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.

[edit] Study, poetry and travel

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

Upon receiving his M.A. in 1632, Milton retired to Hammersmith, his father's new home since the previous year. He also lived at Horton, from 1635, and 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 that Horton was becoming deforested, and suffered from the plague.[12] 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 Library. As a result of such intensive study, Milton is considered to be among the most learned of all English poets; in addition to his six 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.[13]

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 1632 and 1634 respectively. He contributed his pastoral elegy Lycidas to a memorial collection for one of his Cambridge classmates in 1638. Drafts of these poems are preserved in Milton’s poetry notebook, known as the Trinity Manuscript because it is now kept at Trinity College, Cambridge.

After completing his course of private study in early 1638, Milton embarked upon a tour of France and Italy in May until either the July or August of 1639. This was a standard course of action that those in Milton's financial position entered into, and his travels exposed them to the urban environment of Europe that he was unable to be influenced by while living in Horton. While in Europe, Milton experienced various artistic traditions and religious traditions, especially variants of Roman Catholicism. He also met many famous theorists and intellectuals with whom he was able to display his poetic skills, which helped further him in his poetic pursuits. As for the specific details to what happened within Milton's European travel, there is only 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 comes 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."[14]

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.[15]
– 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 Calais then onto Paris, which he would accomplish riding horseback. While in Paris, he brought a letter from Wotton which allowed him to be introduced at the British embassy while at Paris. From John Scudamore, Milton received other letters of introduction and was directly introduced to 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. While there, Milton enjoyed many of the sites and structures of the city. He also met many intellectuals and spent time at the Florentine academies . In particular, Milton probably visited the Florentine Academy and the Academia della Crusca along with smaller academies in the area including the Apastisti 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 Arcetri, Benedetto Buonmattei, Antonio Malatesti and others.[16]

Although Milton enjoyed himself in Florence, he left 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 attended a dinner helped by the English Jesuit College even though he disliked the Jesuit order. There is little knowledge about the other major occurrences during this time beyond that he met David Codner, who also praised Milton's poetry, and that he attended various musical events, including oratorios, operas, and melodramas. Milton left for Naples near the end of November and he stayed only for a month because Spanish control diminished the local intellectual and artistic community. 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 and gifted Milton with books and distich that teases Milton through 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.[17]

Originally, Milton wanted leave Naples in order to travel to Sicily, and then onto Greece, but he returned to England during the summer of 1639 because of what he claimed, in Defensio Secunda,[18] were "sad tidings of civil war in England."[19] To further complicate matters, Milton received word that his childhood friend, Diodati, died. Milton stayed another seven months in Europe on his trip home and spent time at Geneva with Diodati's uncle after he returned to Rome. In Defensio Secunda, Milton proclaimed that he was warned away from returning to Rome because of his openness 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 Vatican's collection library. 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. While there, he attended more meetings of the academies and spent time with the friends that he made on his previous visit. 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 in England in either July or August 1639.[20]

[edit] Civil war, prose tracts and marriage

Milton Reading for his daughters the "Paradise Lost", c. 1826. Artist: Eugène Delacroix.

Upon returning to England, where the Bishops' Wars suggested that armed conflict between King Charles and his parliamentary opponents was imminent, Milton put poetry aside and began to write prose tracts 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), followed by Of Prelatical Episcopacy, the two defences of Smectymnuus (an organisation of Protestant divines named from their initials: the "TY" belonged to Milton's old tutor Thomas Young), and The Reason of Church-Government Urged against Prelaty. With frequent passages of real eloquence lighting up the rough controversial style of the period, and with a wide knowledge of ecclesiastical antiquity, he vigorously attacked the High-church party of the Church of England and their leader, William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.

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.

In June 1642, Milton took a mysterious trip into the countryside and returned with a 16-year-old bride, Mary Powell. A month later, finding life difficult with the severe 33-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.[21] It was the hostile response accorded the divorce tracts that spurred Milton to write Areopagitica, his celebrated attack on censorship.

[edit] Secretary of 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 one of Europe's most renowned orators and scholars, 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 slower than usual, as he drew upon the vast array of learning marshalled throughout 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.[22]

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 most well-known sonnets "On His Blindness" is presumed to date from this period.

After bearing him four children—Anne, Mary, John, and Deborah—Milton’s wife, Mary, died on 5 May 1652 from complications following Deborah's birth on 2 May. In June, John died at age 15 months; 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.

[edit] 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 church (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 elitist, unelected parliament.

Upon the Restoration in May 1660, Milton went into hiding for his life as 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 Wistaston, Cheshire-born woman Elizabeth (Betty) Minshull, then aged 24, and spent the remaining decade of his life living quietly in London, with the exception of retiring to a cottage in Chalfont St. Giles (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 Cripplegate; 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.”[23]

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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."[24]

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.[25] 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 Ontario.

[edit] Milton's views

Milton's idiosyncratic beliefs stemmed from the Puritan emphasis on the centrality and inviolability of conscience.[26] In all of his strongly held opinions, Milton can generally be called a "party of one" for going well beyond the orthodoxy of the time. He is in no sense a representative thinker of his time, across a range of issues where he was his own man: it is, though, one of his less original and more representative positions, in Areopagitica, where he was anticipated by Henry Robinson and others, that has lasted best of his works as engaged intellectual. His thinking on divorce caused him the most trouble with the authorities. 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.

[edit] 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.[27] 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.

[edit] 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.[28]

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.[29] According to James Tully:

... with Locke as with Milton, republican and contraction conceptions of political freedom join hands in common opposition to the disengaged and passive subjection offered by absolutists such as Hobbes and Robert Filmer.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] Woolrych speaks of "the gulf between Milton's vision of the Commonwealth's future and the reality".[33] 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.[34]

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.[35][36] 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.[37] Milton had already commended Overton, along with Edmund Whalley and Bulstrode Whitelocke, in Defensio Secunda.[38] Nigel Smith writes that

... John Streater, and the form of republicanism he stood for, was a fulfilment of Milton's most optimistic ideas of free speech and of public heroism [...][39]

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.[40] 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.[41] Milton, an associate of and advocate on behalf of the regicides, was silenced on political matters as Charles II returned.

[edit] 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.

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.[42][43]

Milton abandoned his campaign to legitimize divorce after 1645, but he expressed support for polygamy in the De doctrina christiana, the theological treatise left in manuscript that provides the clearest evidence for his views.[44]

In his 1641 treatise, Of Reformation, Milton expressed his dislike for Catholicism and episcopacy, presenting Rome as a modern Babylon, 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.[45]

Through the Interregnum, Milton often presents England, rescued from the trappings of a worldly monarchy, as an elect nation akin to the Old Testament Israel, 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.[46]

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.[47]

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".

[edit] Divorce

An orthodox view of the time was that Milton's views on divorce constituted a one-man heresy:

The fervently Presbyterian Edwards had included Milton’s divorce tracts in his list

in Gangraena of heretical publications that threatened the religious and moral fabric of the nation; Milton responded by mocking him as “shallow Edwards” in the satirical sonnet “On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament,” usually dated to the latter half of 1646.[48]

Even here, though, his originality is qualified: Thomas Gataker had already identified "mutual solace" as a principal goal in marriage.[49]

[edit] 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.[50] 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:

The course of human history, the immediate impact of the civil disorders, and his own traumatic personal life, are all regarded by Milton as typical of the predicament he describes as 'the misery that has bin since Adam'.[51]

[edit] Legacy and influence

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 Whigs, and decried by Tories: with the regicide Edmund Ludlow he was claimed as an early Whig,[52] 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.[53]

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.

[edit] Early reception of the poetry

John Dryden, an early enthusiast, in 1677 began the trend of describing Milton as the poet of the sublime.[54] 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.[55]

In 1732 the classical scholar Richard Bentley offered a corrected version of Paradise Lost.[56] 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.[57][58]

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.

[edit] 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.[59] In his Milton: a Poem, Blake uses Milton as a character.

[edit] 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.[60] 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."[61]

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"[62] and modeled The Prelude, his own blank verse epic, on Paradise Lost. John Keats found the yoke of Milton's style uncongenial;[63] he exclaimed that "Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or rather artist's humour."[64] 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".[64] 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."[65]

[edit] Later legacy

Statue of Milton in Temple of British Worthies, Stowe.

The Victorian age witnessed a continuation of Milton's influence, George Eliot[66] 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 [...]".[67]

Milton's Areopagitica is still cited as relevant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.[68] 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 Library.

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,[69] and has spoken of Milton as "our greatest public poet".[70][71]

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".[72]

[edit] Poetic and dramatic works

[edit] Political, philosophical and religious prose

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Project Gutenberg. Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great - Volume 05 by Elbert Hubbard. Retrieved on 02/22/09
  2. ^ McCalman 2001 p. 605.
  3. ^ Masson 1859 pp. v-vi.
  4. ^ Lewalski 2003 p. 3.
  5. ^ a b Dick 1962 pp. 270-5.
  6. ^ Milton, John in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922-1958.
  7. ^ Hunter 1980 p. 99.
  8. ^ Wedgwood 1961 p. 178.
  9. ^ Hill 1977 p. 34.
  10. ^ Pfeiffer 1955 pp. 363-373
  11. ^ Milton 1959 pp. 887-8.
  12. ^ Hill 1977 p. 38.
  13. ^ Lewalski 2003 p. 103.
  14. ^ Lewalski 2003 pp. 87–88
  15. ^ Milton 1959 Vol. IV part I. pp. 615–617
  16. ^ Lewalski 2003 pp. 88–94
  17. ^ Lewalski 2003 pp. 94–98
  18. ^ Lewalski 2003 p. 98
  19. ^ Milton 1959 Vol IV part I. pp. 618–619
  20. ^ Lewalski 2003 pp. 99–109
  21. ^ Lewalski 2003 pp. 181-2, 600.
  22. ^ von Maltzahn 1999 p. 239
  23. ^ Toland 1932 p. 193.
  24. ^ Hill, 1977
  25. ^ Wilson 1983 pp. 241-42.
  26. ^ See, for instance, Barker, Arthur. Milton and the Puritan Dilemma, 1641-1660. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1942: 338 and passim; Wolfe, Don M. Milton in the Puritan Revolution. New York: T. Nelson and Sons, 1941: 19.
  27. ^ Stephen Fallon, Milton Among the Philosophers (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 81.
  28. ^ Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England: John Milton, Andrew Marvell amd Marchamont Nedham (2007), p. 154.
  29. ^ Milton and Republicanism, ed. David Armitage, Armand Himy, and Quentin Skinner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  30. ^ James Tully, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts (1993), p. 301.
  31. ^ Austin Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate (1982), p. 34.
  32. ^ Worden, p. 149.
  33. ^ Austin Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate (1982), p. 101.
  34. ^ G. E. Aylmer (editor), The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement 1646-1660 (1972), p. 17.
  35. ^ Christopher Hill, God's Englishman (1972 edition), p. 200.
  36. ^ "Online Library of Liberty - To S r Henry Vane the younger. - The Poetical Works of John Milton". Retrieved on 2008-12-09. 
  37. ^ "John W. Creaser - Prosodic Style and Conceptions of Liberty in Milton and Marvell - Milton Quarterly 34:1". Retrieved on 2008-12-09. 
  38. ^ William Riley Parker and Gordon Campbell, Milton (1996), p. 444.
  39. ^ Nigel Smith, Popular Republicanism in the 1650s: John Streater's 'heroick mechanics' , p. 154, in David Armitage, Armand Himy, Quentin Skinner (editors), Milton and Republicanism (1998).
  40. ^ Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England: John Milton, Andrew Marvell amd Marchamont Nedham (2007), Ch. 14, Milton and the Good Old Cause.
  41. ^ Austin Woolrych, Last Quest for Settlement 1657-1660, p. 202, in G. E. Aylmer (editor), The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement 1646-1660 (1972), p. 17.
  42. ^ Lewalski, Life of Milton, p. 253.
  43. ^ William Bridges Hunter, A Milton Encyclopedia (1980), Volume VIII p. 13.
  44. ^ John Milton, The Christian Doctrine in Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Hughes (Hackett: Indianapolis, 2003), pp. 994-1000; Leo Miller, John Milton among the Polygamophiles (New York: Loewenthal Press, 1974)
  45. ^ Arnold Williams, Renaissance Commentaries on "Genesis" and Some Elements of the Theology of Paradise Lost, PMLA, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1941), pp. 151-164.
  46. ^ Walter S. H. Lim, John Milton, Radical Politics, and Biblical Republicanism (2006), p. 141.
  47. ^ John Rogers, The Matter of Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), p. xi.
  48. ^ (PDF) Nicholas McDowell, Family Politics; Or, How John Phillips Read His Uncle's Satirical Sonnets, Milton Quarterly Volume 42 Issue 1, Pages 1 - 21, Published Online: 17 Apr 2008
  49. ^ Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution" (1977), p. 127.
  50. ^ Lewalski, Life of Milton, p. 199.
  51. ^ Timothy Kenyon, Utopian Communism and Political Thought in Early Modern England (1989), p. 34.
  52. ^ Kevin Sharpe, Remapping Early Modern England: The Culture of Seventeenth-century Politics (2000), p. 7.
  53. ^ J. P. Kenyon, Revolution Principles (1977), p. 77.
  54. ^ "Audience and human nature in the poetry of Milton and Dryden/Milton ve Dryden'in siirlerinde izleyici ve insan dogasi - Interactions - Find Articles at BNET". Retrieved on 2008-12-09. 
  55. ^ Joseph M. Levine, The Battle of the Books: History and Literature in the Augustan Age (1994), p. 247.
  56. ^ Online text of one book
  57. ^ Christopher Ricks, Milton's Grand Style (1963), p. 9, p. 14, p. 57.
  58. ^ William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (1974 edition), p. 147.
  59. ^ S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary (1973), p. 274.
  60. ^ Bill Beckley, Sticky Sublime (2001), p. 63.
  61. ^ Part II, Section I:
  62. ^ Francis T. Palgrave, ed. (1824–1897). The Golden Treasury. 1875
  63. ^ Thomas N. Corns, A Companion to Milton (2003), p. 474.
  64. ^ a b Leader, Zachary. "Revision and Romantic Authorship". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 298. ISBN 0-1981-8634-7
  65. ^ Cited from the original in J. Paul Hunter (editor), Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1996), p. 225.
  66. ^ Nardo, Anna, K. George Eliot’s Dialogue with Milton
  67. ^ Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A theory of poetry (1997), p. 33.
  68. ^ Milton's Areopagitica and the Modern First Amendment by Vincent Blasi
  69. ^
  70. ^
  71. ^
  72. ^ Eliot 1947 p. 63.

[edit] 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).

[edit] External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:

NAME Milton, John
SHORT DESCRIPTION English poet and prose polemicist
DATE OF BIRTH 9 December 1608(1608-12-09)
PLACE OF BIRTH Bread Street, Cheapside, London
DATE OF DEATH 8 November 1674
PLACE OF DEATH Bunhill, London

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