Monday, August 12, 2013

Biography of John Milton

John Milton was born in 1608 in London.  His father was a composer of some note, successful enough that Milton was raised with a tutor.  At an early age he learned both Latin and Greek.  A contemporary of his said that "When he was young, he studied very hard and sat up very late, commonly till twelve or one o'clock at night".
He spent time at Cambridge, where he was apparently suspended for fighting a few times.  While there he also made contacts with various people, like Roger Williams a theologian.  While at Cambridge, Milton was already marked for his poetic skills.  After school he went to his father's house and studied hard on subjects of his own choosing for the next six years.  He kept a record of his studies, which is now in the British Library.
Milton toured Europe, mostly France and Italy.  While doing so, his poetic skills were given a larger audience and he met several of the leading intellectual lights of the continent.  He skipped a visit to Greece because he wanted to return to England before civil war erupted there.
During the civil war, Milton was outspoken against Catholicism and a vocal proponent of 'republicanism', the belief that the head of state should be elected, not inherited.  He also made an ill considered marriage and wrote about the advisability of divorce.  These writings were attacked and Milton wrote the subject of this month, 'Areopagitica'.
After the war was over, Milton worked for Cromwell's government as the 'Secretary for Foreign Tongues'.  His job was mainly to translate the correspondence into Latin but he also worked as a propagandist and censor.  He wrote several defenses of the regicide of Charles I.  By 1654, he was totally blind and had to dictate his work to assistants.
Cromwell died in 1658 and the Restoration (of the monarchy) period was a hard one for him.  He went into hiding, only emerging after a general pardon had been issued.  He was still arrested and briefly spent time in prison.  Some influential friends sprung him and he lived quietly in London, being forced to move out of the city during the plague of 1665.
In 1667, 'Paradise Lost' was published.  He'd been working on it since at least 1658.  It's widely regarded as one of the best poems ever written in English.  He followed it up with 'Paradise Regained' and other notable poems such as 'Samson Agonistes'.
He died of kidney failure in November of 1674.

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