Without him nothing would be terrific, nobody would be sensuous, and we would never have gone into space. Those three words are among the many still in use that were invented by John Milton, author of Paradise Lost and second only to Shakespeare among English poets. This week, there is an unprecedented chance to see how his mind worked, when Cambridge University Library displays documents written by Milton rarely or never viewed by the public before.
Among them is a first attempt at his greatest work, although nothing like the epic poem that Paradise Lost became. Adam and Eve, Lucifer and the Chorus of Angels are listed as characters in a possible five-act play, crossed out, repeated and scrawled all over, as Milton gathers his thoughts. "They are priceless," said a spokesman for the library, which is displaying them to mark the 400th anniversary of the poet's birth.
Another 17th-century manuscript, notes written by the scientist Robert Hooke, sold recently for 1m - but the so-called "Trinity Manuscript", containing drafts of Milton's poems, would fetch many times that if it ever came up for sale. …