John Milton

John Milton

John Milton John Milton[2†]

John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) was an English poet, pamphleteer, and historian, considered the most significant English author after William Shakespeare[1†][2†]. He is best known for his epic poem “Paradise Lost”, widely regarded as the greatest epic poem in English[1†][2†]. His works have had a profound influence on writers and thinkers, and his advocacy for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in his celebrated “Areopagitica” (1644) has made him one of history’s most influential defenders of these freedoms[1†][2†].

Milton’s 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[1†][2†]. He was the first modern writer to employ unrhymed verse outside of the theatre or translations[1†][2†]. His influence extended not only through the civil wars and interregnum but also to the American and French revolutions[1†].

In his prose works, Milton advocated the abolition of the Church of England and the execution of Charles I[1†]. As a civil servant, Milton became the voice of the English Commonwealth after 1649 through his handling of its international correspondence and his defense of the government against polemical attacks from abroad[1†].

Early Years and Education

John Milton was born on December 9, 1608, in London, England[1†][3†]. He was the middle child of John and Sara Milton, with an older sister Anne and a younger brother Christopher[1†][3†]. Only three of their children survived infancy[1†][3†].

Milton’s father, John Milton Sr., was a composer and scrivener[1†][3†]. He was from a yeoman family and was raised in Oxford, where he trained as a chorister[1†][3†]. However, when Richard Milton, his father and a staunch Roman Catholic, discovered that John Milton Sr. had Protestant leanings, he disinherited his son[1†][3†]. John Milton Sr. left for London and became a scrivener apprentice in 1583[1†][3†]. He ran his business from his home on Bread Street and was constantly at work[1†][3†]. In his spare time, he composed music, which brought him into a close relationship with other musicians and composers[1†][3†].

Milton’s mother, Sara Jeffrey, was the daughter of a tailor[1†][3†]. Little is known about her, except that her mother Ellen lived with the Miltons until her death in 1611[1†][3†].

John Milton was educated under a strong Protestant influence[1†][3†]. He attended St. Paul’s School[1†][4†] and then went on to Christ’s College, Cambridge, with the intention of pursuing a career as a minister[1†][3†]. During his college years, Milton produced his poems “L’Allegro” and "Il Penseroso"[1†][3†]. After leaving Cambridge, Milton changed his mind about his future, and hesitated during many years of study[1†][3†]. Instead, he spent time composing poetry, which led to the production of the dramatic verse of “Arcades” and "Comus"[1†][3†].

Milton knew at least ten languages and was enormously well-read in literature, history, theology, philosophy, and natural sciences[1†][5†]. After completing his MA with honors, Milton moved to his father’s home where he spent several years in private study and writing[1†][6†].

Career Development and Achievements

John Milton was a prominent figure during a time of significant religious and political turmoil in England[7†][2†]. He was a very famous English poet, historian, and civil servant in the British government[7†]. He is considered one of the most learned poets of all times and the greatest writer of English verse after William Shakespeare[7†][2†].

Milton took an active part in advocating the overthrow of a cruel monarchy and the establishment of a democratic government elected by its citizens[7†]. He wrote hundreds of pamphlets criticizing the role and influence of the monarchy and the clergy in the life of the citizens of the country and demanded their freedom from religious and political oppression[7†]. He called upon the Catholic clergy to give up their control over religious thoughts and make Christianity a better religion[7†]. He was imprisoned for protesting against the monarchy and for proposing a free civil society[7†].

Milton’s career as a poet, political theorist, and embattled publicist was marked by his pursuit of discovering ground for his love of liberty in laws of nature and of nature’s God[7†][8†]. During the Civil Wars and the Cromwellian republic (1642–60), Milton saw his role as the intellectual serving the state in a glorious cause[7†][9†]. He devoted his energies to pamphleteering, first in the cause of church reform and then in defense of the fledgling republic[7†][9†]. He became Latin secretary to Cromwell’s Council of State[7†][9†].

In 1649, following the English civil war, Milton earned a political reputation that led to his appointment by the state as the ‘secretary of foreign tongues’[7†][10†]. This job involved Milton writing the English Republic’s foreign correspondence in Latin and also producing propaganda pieces[7†][10†].

Milton’s most famous work, his 1667 epic poem “Paradise Lost”, was written in a time of immense religious flux and political upheaval[7†][2†]. 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[7†][2†]. “Paradise Lost” elevated Milton’s reputation as one of history’s greatest poets[7†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

John Milton’s works have greatly influenced the literary world, with his most famous being the epic poem "Paradise Lost"[1†][2†]. This poem, written in blank verse and including over ten chapters, was written during a time of immense religious flux and political upheaval[1†][2†]. 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[1†][2†]. “Paradise Lost” elevated Milton’s reputation as one of history’s greatest poets[1†][2†].

In addition to “Paradise Lost”, Milton wrote several other significant works. Here are some of them:

Each of these works has contributed to Milton’s enduring legacy and reputation as one of the greatest English authors[1†][2†]. His works span a wide range of genres and themes, reflecting his intellectual depth and his passionate advocacy for human freedom[1†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

John Milton’s works have been analyzed and evaluated by scholars and critics for centuries. His poetry represents only about one-fifth of his total literary production, but it is his most well-known and influential work[11†]. His prose works are more obscure, largely because he wrote in genres that no longer appeal to a large audience[11†].

Milton’s most prominent theme was liberty—religious, domestic, and civil[11†]. His works, including his tracts justifying divorce and defending the English Puritan cause against the monarchists, reflect this theme[11†]. His tract “Of Education” and the classical oration upholding freedom of the press, “Areopagitica”, are the most familiar titles among his prose works[11†].

Milton’s strongest inclination as a poet was to produce a synthesis of classical and Christian elements, a blend that critics have labeled his Christian humanism[11†]. He stressed the importance of the individual will by making his most common theme that of the soul in ethical conflict—the wayfaring, warfaring Christian[11†].

By common agreement, literary historians have ranked John Milton second among English poets[11†]. He wrote during the English Renaissance, when authors were attempting to develop a national literature in the vernacular[11†]. In this endeavor, they had exceedingly rich sources on which to draw: the classics, many recently translated, which provided both genres and themes; the Judeo-Christian tradition, an area of broad interest and intensive study following the Reformation; and national sources—historical, folk, mythical; and literature from the Continent, particularly Italy and France[11†].

Milton’s ability to combine his poetry with his polemics in his works was key to his genius[11†][12†]. The classical influences in his work can be clearly delineated: Homer, Ovid, and especially Virgil[11†][12†].

Milton’s works, particularly “Paradise Lost”, have been admired for his readiness to judge received doctrine by the standards of reason, charity, human experience, and human good[11†][13†]. His far-reaching commitment to intellectual freedom and toleration, his republican ideals, his insistence on free will as the ground of human dignity, his delight in natural beauty and exuberant creativity, and his efforts to imagine marriage and its sexual pleasure as founded on companionship of the mind and spirit are all reflected in his works[11†][13†].

Personal Life

John Milton was known to be quite attractive in his youth and had a reputation as a lady’s man[10†]. He married for the first time in 1642 to a woman named Mary Powell[10†].

Milton’s father, John Milton Sr., was a scrivener, a person who draws up deeds and wills[10†][14†]. Around 1600, he married Sara Jeffrey, the wealthy daughter of a merchant-tailor[10†][14†]. They had three children who survived infancy: Anne, John, and Christopher[10†][14†].

Milton’s personal life was marked by his deep devotion to his studies and his early interest in poetry[10†][14†]. His love for music, which permeates his poetry, was inherited from his father, who was an amateur composer[10†][14†].

Conclusion and Legacy

John Milton’s intellectual legacy has enriched the lives of millions of people and continues to resonate today[15†]. He is considered one of the iconic figures of English literature[15†][16†], and his influence extended not only through the civil wars and interregnum but also to the American and French revolutions[15†][1†].

Milton is best known for his epic poem “Paradise Lost”, which is widely regarded as the greatest epic poem in English[15†][1†][2†]. His powerful portrayal of Satan in “Paradise Lost” created Western Literature’s first antihero[15†]. He also served as a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell[15†][2†].

His celebrated “Areopagitica” (1644), written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship, is among history’s most influential and impassioned defenses of freedom of speech and freedom of the press[15†][2†]. 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[15†][2†]. He was the first modern writer to employ unrhymed verse outside of the theatre or translations[15†][2†].

However, Milton’s legacy is not without controversy. Some critics argue that even the most nobly expressed vision of a better society will always be corrupted and undermined so long as it fails to confront and surmount the legacy of colonialism and chauvinism that has lain at the heart of England’s political and literary culture from Milton’s day to ours[15†][17†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - John Milton: English poet [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - John Milton [website] - link
  3. Wikipedia (English) - Early life of John Milton [website] - link
  4. Biography - John Milton [website] - link
  5. Academia - John Milton Early life and education Politics and religion [website] - link
  6. LibreTexts Humanities - 4.5: John Milton (1608–1674) [website] - link
  7. The Famous People - John Milton Biography [website] - link
  8. Online Library of Liberty - Timeline: The Life and Work of John Milton (1608-1674) [website] - link
  9. Britannica - English literature - Milton, Poetry, Epic [website] - link
  10. FactsKing.com - 10 Interesting Facts about John Milton [website] - link
  11. eNotes - John Milton Analysis [website] - link
  12. GradeSaver - John Milton Biography [website] - link
  13. Wiley - The Life of John Milton - A Critical Biography - Revised Edition by Barbara Kiefer Lewalski - Just a moment... [book sample] - link
  14. Encyclopedia of World Biography - John Milton Biography [website] - link
  15. Milton's Cottage - The Lycidas Society [website] - link
  16. Libertarianism.org - None [website] - link
  17. The Guardian - Advocate of colonialism and torture [website] - link
  18. CSUN University Library - The Works of John Milton [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.