JOHN MILTON 1608 -
Milton: c1629, artist unknown – National Portrait Gallery, London. Dictating: by the Hungarian painter Mihaly Munkacsy (1844-
xxxxxParadise Lost, written in 1667 by the English poet John Milton, ranks as one of the finest poems in western literature, whilst his powerful prose was ably used in the defence of human liberties. He began writing poems while at Cambridge, and these included The Passion, On Shakespeare, and the sonnet To the Nightingale. After touring on the continent he returned to England in 1639 and, as a staunch Puritan, wrote a number of prose works in support of the parliamentary cause. His Areopagitica was a powerful plea for the freedom of the press, and in his The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates he defended the execution of Charles I. With the coming of the Restoration he was fined and imprisoned, but by this time he was totally blind and needed help to continue his literary work. It was then that he wrote his masterpiece Paradise Lost, an epic poem in 12 cantos in which he traces in grand style the struggle between good and evil, beginning with the Fall of Man. There followed Paradise Regained -
xxxxxTwo early works in particular, the masque Comus, performed at Ludlow Castle in 1637, and the pastoral elegy Lycidas, written in 1638, gave clear proof and promise of the exceptional lyrical talent of the English poet and writer John Milton. His most famous work, the epic Paradise Lost of 1667, now ranks amongst the finest poems of English, indeed Western literature, whilst his prose was put to powerful and telling use in the defence of human liberties.
xxxxxHe was born in Cheapside, London, near the Mermaid Tavern, and after attending St. Paul's School, studied with a "pure mind and behaviour" at Christ's College, Cambridge. It was during his seven-
xxxxxThen after touring France and Italy for two years (1638-
xxxxxNor was his contribution confined to the writing of pamphlets. From 1649 he also had a hand in the working of government, serving as Latin Secretary on Cromwell's Council of State. By this time, however, his sight had begun to fail, and come 1652 he was totally blind, obliged to carry out his duties and his literary work with the aid of relatives, friends and a series of paid assistants. With the coming of the Restoration, a disillusioned Milton was fined and imprisoned, his political works being regarded as “treacherous and slanderous”. However, his name was included in the amnesty -
xxxxxDespite its unpromising start, the Restoration marked the beginning of Milton's most productive period. He could now give his time over to his masterpiece Paradise Lost, the great work which had occupied his mind for so long -
xxxxxMilton married three times. His first marriage was not totally successful, but produced three daughters. His second wife died in childbirth within in a short time, but his third wife, his former nurse, survived him and, by all accounts, brought him happiness in his last years. In his private life, it appears, he was a gentle, thoughtful man, but this was in stark contrast to the demands he made upon himself and others in his public role and literary work. His blindness made him bitter at times -
xxxxxAs a poet and writer Milton towered over his contemporaries, and his influence on 18th century verse was immense. It must be said that, for today's reader, some of his poetry is not always easy to understand, steeped as it is in classical allusions, but no poet has written such lofty, majestic and beautiful verse, nor shown such a technical mastery of the English language. And no writer has fought harder for the rights of the individual.
xxxxxIncidentally, Paradise Lost was completed in a little cottage in the village of Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, to where he and his family had moved in 1665 to escape the Great Plague, then raging in London. Today, the cottage is a museum, dedicated to his life and work.
xxxxxThe poet Andrew Marvell (1621-
xxxxxAndrew Marvell (1621-
xxxxxAs a poet he belongs in part to the metaphysical school, some of his work dealing with the inner depths of human feeling. It was while working at Nun Appleton that he wrote a number of well-