Milton, John

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Milton, John

John Milton, 1608–74, English poet, b. London, one of the greatest poets of the English language.

Early Life and Works

The son of a wealthy scrivener, Milton was educated at St. Paul's School and Christ's College, Cambridge. While Milton was at Cambridge he wrote poetry in both Latin and English, including the ode "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" (1629). Although the exact dates are unknown, "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" were probably written not long after this. His dislike of the increasing ritualism in the Church of England was the reason he later gave for not fulfilling his plans to become a minister. Resolved to be a poet, Milton retired to his father's estate at Horton after leaving Cambridge and devoted himself to his studies. There he wrote the masque Comus (1634) and "Lycidas" (1638), one of his greatest poems, an elegy on the death of his friend Edward King.

Political and Moral Tracts

In 1638 Milton went to Italy, where he traveled, studied, and met many notable figures, including Galileo. Returning to England in 1639, he supported the Presbyterians in their attempt to reform the Church of England. His pamphlets, which attacked the episcopal form of church government, include Of Reformation in England (1641) and The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelaty (1642).

In 1643 Milton married Mary Powell, a young woman half his age, who left him the same year. Disillusioned by the failure of his marriage, he started work on four controversial pamphlets (1643–45) upholding the morality of divorce for incompatibility. His Areopagitica (1644), one of the great arguments in favor of the freedom of the press, grew out of his dissatisfaction with the strict censorship of the press exercised by Parliament.

Milton gradually broke away from the Presbyterians, and in 1649 he wrote The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, which supported the Independents who had imprisoned King Charles in the Puritan Revolution. In it he declared that subjects may depose and put to death an unworthy king. This pamphlet secured Milton a position in Oliver Cromwell's government as Latin secretary for foreign affairs, and he continued to defend Cromwell and the Commonwealth government in his Eikonoklastes [the image breaker] (1649)—an answer to Eikon Basilike—and in the Latin pamphlets First Defense of the English People (1651), Second Defense of the English People (1654), and Defense of Himself (1655).

Later Life

In the midst of his heavy official business and pamphleteering, Milton, whose sight had been weak from childhood, became totally blind. From then on, he had to carry on his work through secretaries, one of whom was Andrew Marvell. Mary Powell returned to Milton in 1645 but died in 1652 after she had borne him three daughters. He married Catharine Woodcock in 1656, and she died two years later. She is the subject of one of his most famous sonnets, beginning, "Methought I saw my late espoused saint." In 1663 he married Elizabeth Minshull, who survived him. Milton supported the Commonwealth to the very end. After the Restoration (1660) he was forced into hiding for a time, and some of his books were burned. He was included in the general amnesty, however, and lived quietly thereafter.

Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained

For many years Milton had planned to write an epic poem, and he probably started his work on Paradise Lost before the Restoration. The blank-verse poem in ten books appeared in 1667; a second edition, in which Milton reorganized the original ten books into twelve, appeared in 1674. It was greatly admired by Milton's contemporaries and has since then been considered the greatest epic poem in the English language. In telling the story of Satan's rebellion against God and the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Milton attempted to account for the evil in this world and, in his own words, to "justify the ways of God to man."

Paradise Regained, a second blank-verse poem in four books, describes how Jesus, a greater individual than Adam, overcame the temptations of Satan. In both works, Milton's characterizations of Satan, Adam, Eve, and Jesus are penetrating and moving. Indeed, his portrayal of Satan is so compelling that many 19th-century critics maintained that he rather than Adam was the hero of Paradise Lost. In these two great works Milton's language is dignified and ornate, replete with biblical and classical allusions, allegorical representations, metaphors, puns, and rhetorical flourishes. Samson Agonistes, a poetic drama modeled on classical Greek tragedy but with biblical subject matter, appeared together with Paradise Regained in 1671.

Other Works

Milton's theology, although in the Protestant tradition, is extremely unorthodox and individual on many points; it is set forth in the Latin pamphlet De doctrina Christiana [on Christian doctrine]. Unpublished during Milton's lifetime, this work was discovered and published in 1825. Milton also wrote 18 sonnets in English and 5 in Italian, which generally follow the Petrarchan style and are accepted as among the greatest ever written.

Bibliography

See his complete works (ed. by F. A. Patterson, 20 vol., 1931–40); collections by F. A. Patterson (rev. ed. 1933), D. Bush (1965), and J. T. Shawcross (1971); variorum commentary on the poems (M. Y. Hughes, general editor; Vol. I, 1970; Vol. II, in 3 parts, 1972); Yale edition of his prose works (Vol. I-VI, 1953–73); biographies by W. A. Raleigh (1900, repr. 1967), J. H. Hanford (1949), W. R. Parker (2 vol., 1968, rev. ed. 1996), E. Wagenknecht (1971), B. K. Lewalski (2001), and G. Campbell and T. N. Corns (2008); studies by M. Nicolson (1963), D. Bush (1964), E. M. W. Tillyard (3 studies: 1938, repr. 1963; 1951, repr. 1960; and rev. ed. 1965), D. Daiches (1957, repr. 1966), J. M. Steadman (1967 and 1968), A. D. Ferry (1963 and 1969), J. T. Shawcross (1966, 1967, and 1970), F. Kermode (1960, repr. 1971), C. A. Patrides (1971), J. D. Simmonds, ed. (1969 and 1971), and A. Beer (2008).

See also J. H. Hanford and V. G. Taffe, A Milton Handbook (1970); L. Potter, A Preface to Milton (1972); J. Broadbent, ed., John Milton: Introductions (1973); M. Lieb and J. T. Shawcross, ed., Achievements of the Left Hand (1974).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Milton, John
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.