JOHN MILTON (1608 – 1674 )

Milton was born in Bread Street, Cheapside, London. His father was a money-scrivener, an occupation that combined the duties of the modern banker and lawyer. Milton was educated at St. Paul’s School, London, and at Cambridge. At the university his stubborn and irascible nature declared itself, and owing to insubordination he was ‘sent down’ for a term. He was recalled to England by the news that civil was imminent. He settled down in London and set up a small private school and when hostilities broke out a year or two later he took part in the fighting. In 1643 he married a a woman much younger than himself, and almost immediately his wife left him, and did not return for 2 years. This unfortunate circumstance led Milton to write two strong pamphlets on divorce, which caused a great scandal at the time.Then in 1649, after the execution of the King he was appointed by the commonwealth Government Secretary for Foreign Tongues. Most of Milton’s prose written during the middle period of his life (1640 – 1660), when he was busy with public affairs. In all they amount to 25 pamphlets, of which 21 are in English and the remaining 4 in Latin. He began pamphleteering quite early (1641), when he engaged in a lively controversy with Bishop Hall over episcopacy. Then while teaching, he wrote a rather poor tract, Of Education (1644). when his wife deserted him he composed 2 pamphlets on divorce (1643 and 1644). To this, Milton retorted with the greatest of all his tracts, Aeropagitica (1644), a noble and impassoned plea for the liberty of the press. The great bulk of Milton’s poetry was written during two periods during separated from each other by 20 years – a) the period of his university
career and his stay at Horton , from 1629 to 1640: and b) the last years of his life, from
about 1660 to 1674. While still an undergraduate Milton began to compose poems of rem-
-arkable maturity and promise. They include the fine and stately Ode on the Morning of 
Christ’s Nativity (1629), and the poems on Shakespeare (1630) and On the Arriving at
the Age of Twenty-three (1631). While at Horton (probably in 1632), he composed
L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, two longish poems in octosyllabic couplets dealing with the
respective experiences of the gay and thoughtful man. Comus (1634) belongs to this
period, and is a masque containing some stiff but beautiful blank verse and some quite
charming lyrical measures, Lycidas (1637) is an elegy on his friend Edward King, who
was drowned on a voyage to Ireland . The best of Milton’s sonnets are On his Blindness
and On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.The great work of this time is Paradise Lost. In
1671 Milton issued his last volume of Poetry, which contained Paradise Regained, and
Samson Agonistes. 

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