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JOHN MILTON

1608-1674
English

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

John Milton was born on 09 December 1608 in London, England. Milton's 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. Milton, who attended Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1625, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1629, and his Master of Arts degree in 1632.

Upon receiving his M.A., Milton moved to Hammersmith, his father's home since the previous year. He also lived at Horton, Berkshire, from 1635 and undertook six years of self-directed private study. He read both ancient and modern works of theology, philosophy, history, politics, literature and science, in preparation for a prospective poetical career. In addition to the knowledge which he gained through years of private study, Milton had command of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian from his school and undergraduate days. He added Old English to his linguistic repertoire in the 1650s while researching his History of Britain, and probably acquired proficiency in Dutch soon after.

Milton continued to write poetry during this period of study, his Arcades and Comus were both commissioned for noble patrons, and performed in 1632 and 1634 respectively. Comus argues for the virtuousness of temperance and chastity. In May 1638, Milton embarked upon a tour of France and Italy that lasted up to July or August 1639. His travels supplemented his study with new and direct experience of artistic and religious traditions, especially Roman Catholicism. He met famous theorists and intellectuals of the time, and was able to display his poetic skills.

The phases of Milton's life parallel the major historical and political divisions in Stuart Britain. Under the increasingly personal rule of Charles I and its breakdown in constitutional confusion and war, Milton studied, travelled, wrote poetry - mostly for private circulation, and launched a career as pamphleteer and publicist. During the English Commonwealth, (1649 - 1660), from being thought dangerously radical and even heretical, the shift in accepted attitudes in government placed him in public office, and he even acted as an official spokesman in certain of his publications.

The Restoration of 1660 deprived Milton, now completely blind, of his public platform. However, this period saw him complete most of his major works of poetry. Milton had a great impact on the Romantic Movement in England, as shown in fellow poet William Wordsworth's sonnet London, 1802. Wordsworth calls upon him to rise from the dead and aid in returning England to its former glory. The Victorian age witnessed a continuation of Milton's influence, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy being particularly inspired by Milton's poetry and biography.

Milton's use of blank verse, in addition to his stylistic innovations, such as grandiloquence of voice and vision, strange diction and phraseology, influenced later poets. Milton’s magnum opus, the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost, was composed by the blind and impoverished Milton from 1658 to 1664, with small but significant revisions published in 1674, the year of his death.

Wordsworth Editions publish The English Poems of John Milton.