Milton, now twice-widowed and completely blind, was forced by his disability to abandon the public life he so enjoyed. He was arrested and briefly imprisoned for his political beliefs, which had fallen out of favor with the Restoration of the throne under Charles II.
He lived in semi-exile in the countryside. Yet his personal collapse strengthened his faith and his poetic abilities. Ironically, once all else was lost, Milton finally achieved his dream of becoming a great poet. Milton was at heart a Christian writer, and his strongest themes were those that preoccupied seventeenth century Puritans: morality, righteousness, salvation. John Martin's illustrations for Paradise Lost , The only surviving manuscript of Paradise Lost , c. John Milton's Paradise Lost. View all related collection items. Andrew Marvell. PDF Download Available.
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John Milton: Life, Work and Thought by Gordon Campbell and Thomas N Corns - review
British Library newsletter Sign up to our newsletter Email. Supported since inception by. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates , Milton's defence of regicide, was published within a fortnight of Charles I's execution. Eikonoklastes published. Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes Timeline by Sarah Howe. I won't lie to you: biographies are often pretty dull, and you might think that the life of a middle-class, well-educated, religious poet born four hundred years ago would be duller than a blunt spoon, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Aside from the obvious academic benefit of being able to understand the context of his work, Milton's life is an interesting and inspiring tale - a tale of the frustration and rebellion of a genius. The story starts on December 9th the same decade as the accession of James I, and the first performances of Shakespeare's King Lear and Jonson's Volpone , when our protagonist was born in Bread Street, London , an important street that also housed the Mermaid Tavern which was patronized by many notable literary figures of the time.
His father, John Milton senior, was a successful scrivener a sort of solicitor and money-lender and respected amateur musician. Despite having been disinherited by his Catholic father for vigorously embracing Protestantism, he was able to provide a very good education for his son, sending him to St.
Paul's School and employing a string of private tutors. From a young age our poet showed a strong interest in and talent for academic subjects, particularly languages, and from the age of twelve presumably having no PlayStation , he regularly stayed up past midnight to study. In , at the age of sixteen actually rather late for the time , Milton started his studies at Christ's College, Cambridge.
It seems he was a bit of an outsider. He was nicknamed the 'Lady of Christ's' for his effeminate ways and youthful looks, and was in his turn scornful of the majority of his peers, disparaging their buffoonery and carousing. There is also a sense of frustration at the curriculum, and in a verse letter to his best friend Charles Diodati, Milton wrote of having been suspended over a clash with his tutor.
His bombastic yet playfully tongue-in-cheek sense of self-worth is attested by his comparison of his suspension to Ovid's exile from eighth century BC Rome.
Christ's College, Cambridge, where Milton studied from Take an interactive tour of Milton's Christ's. This requires the Adobe Flash Player. In poems and exercises written during Milton's time at Cambridge, we see the seeds of poetic ambition germinating, and witness his growing interest in the English language and the service to which it could be put.
In this time he wrote a number of notable short poems including 'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso'. His poem 'On Shakespeare' was published in the second folio of Shakespeare's plays in , the year he graduated from Cambridge with his MA. Milton then spent a period of time at his father's home in Hammersmith and later Horton in private study - what has now been deemed his poetic apprenticeship.
Works of this period include the masque now known as Comus , a courtly entertainment celebrating chastity in the face of temptation, written for an aristocratic family who had recently been involved in a licentious scandal.
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This period of time may seem uneventful, but it is interesting that while Milton felt he was destined for greatness, he had the maturity to see that he wasn't ready to compose a masterwork just yet, and indeed as well as the self-aggrandizing sections of his writing that are frequently noted, there is a concurrent, more subtle, theme of the piety of waiting for grace.
Towards the end of this period a young fellow at Christ's, Edward King, died in a shipwreck. In a book of poems composed by members of the college was published. Milton's pastoral elegy, Lycidas , was the most outstanding contribution, and is now regarded as one of the greatest lyric poems in the English language. The genre of elegy has many interesting tensions; its works are prompted by grief and are presented as an emotional outpouring, but often serve as self-conscious apprenticeship pieces for aspiring poets.
Milton's complex poem mourns the loss of one so young, but also sees a galvanization of intent for the poet to rise to greatness, spurred on by fear at the example of King, a man cut down in his prime before glory had been achieved. In the middle section of the poem Milton takes the opportunity of contemplating King's piety to level some heavy criticism against the church in the first sally of his long attack against the prelates or bishops.
In , still unknown in England, Milton embarked on a fifteen-month Grand Tour a visit to major places in Europe , as many young middle- and upper-class men did after university. He spent most of his time in Italy, and in spite of his anti-Catholic views, happily mingled with the literati and intelligentsia including Galileo, then under house arrest for heresy, who is mentioned in Paradise Lost.
Milton's poems in Latin and Italian won him great respect as a contemporary literary figure, but his return was a sharp comedown from this time of contentment. There was personal grief waiting for him - Charles Diodati had died, prompting the poem Epitaphium Damonis , a beautiful but heart-rending poem of genuine loss. He also returned to the turmoil of a country on the verge of civil war.