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  • 12/6/2003

John Milton

(December 9,1608 -November 8,1674)

John was anEnglishpoet, most famous for hisblank verseepicParadise Lost.
He was the son of ascrivener of strongPuritan tendencies, and was educated atSt. Paul's School,London, and atChrist's College, Cambridge (1625-32). While still atCambridge he wrote some fine poems, among them the "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity".
He was originally destined to aministerial career, but his independent spirit led him to "prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking bought and begun with servitude and forswearing." He spent five quiet years atHorton inBuckinghamshire, reading and writing. To this period belongL'Allegro andIl Penseroso, "Arcades", "Comus", and "Lycidas", all breathing the lofty spirit of his religious convictions.
In1638 and1639 he traveled on the continent, coming into contact with such men asGrotius,Galileo, andLucas Holete, but was recalled by a rumor of the outbreak of the armed struggle for liberty at home.
The next twenty years of his life were devoted almost entirely toprose work in the service of thePuritan cause. In1641 and1642 appeared his tractatesOf Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, Of Prelatical Episcopacy,the two defenses of Smectymnuus, andThe Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelaty.With frequent passages of real eloquence lighting up the rough controversial style of the period, and with a wide knowledge of ecclesiastical antiquity, he struck weighty blows at the intolerant High-church party which seemed to dominate theChurch of England.
The ill-success of his first marriage, with the daughter of a Royalist squire inOxfordshire, who left him in a month, led him to write four tracts dealing withdivorce, the first entitledThe Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,attacking the English marriage law as it had been taken over almost unchanged from medieval Catholicism, and sanctioning divorce on the ground of incompatibility or childlessness.
His intercourse withHartlib andComenius led him to write in1644 a short tract onEducation,urging a reform of the national universities; and in the same year appeared the most popular of his prose writings,Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.
The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649) announced his adhesion to the cause of the Commonwealth, to which he was made Latin secretary in March. As part of his duties in this post, he wrote hisEikonoklastes (1649) in reply to theEikon basilike popularly attributed toCharles I, the firstPro populo Anglicano defensio(1651) againstSalmasius, and in 1654 hisDefensio secundaandPro se defensio;and his fine Latin style was of great avail for the drafting of the state papers which passed betweenOliver Cromwell's government and the continent.
His incessant labours cost him his eyesight, but he retained his office until theRestoration. He then lived in retirement, devoting himself once more to poetical work, and publishingParadise Lost in1667, the epic by which he attained universal fame, to be followed by the much inferiorParadise Regained,together withSamson Agonistes,a drama on the Greek model, in1671.
Milton's religious position, partially expressed in the treatises named above and in hisCivil Power in Ecclesiastical Causesand Considerations touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church(1659), is most clearly seen in his posthumousDe doctrine Christiana,the manuscript of which, long lost, was discovered only in1823.
His point of view is entirely subjective and individualistic; his faith is deduced from Scripture by the inner illumination of the Spirit, not tied to human traditions. It is not therefore surprising to find him taking his own view on theTrinity, the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost,predestination, the creation of the world, etc., as also in regard to practical questions such asmarriage, infantbaptism, and the observance ofSunday.
What he attempts to give is not a complete scientific treatment in the modern sense but an exposition of the clear and universally acceptable teaching ofscripture. In many points he is the prophet and herald of a new era, aProtestant individualist and idealist, as well as a typical figure for the revolutionary cause to which he devoted the best powers of his life.


·     twenty-three sonnets, written throughout his life.

·     "Lycidas"

·     "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity"

·   Paradise Lost

·   Paradise Regained

·   Samson Agonistes

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