John Milton Biography

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Paradise Lost Author/Context

John Milton was born on December 9, 1608 on Bread Street in Cheapside, London, England to a scrivener and his wife. Milton's parents had six children, and Milton was one of the three who survived. Milton's father insisted that his son daily education, and at age 16 Milton entered Christ's College, Cambridge. Perhaps the finest student in his class, Milton received his B.A. in 1629 and M.A. in 1632. Milton was proficient in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Hebrew, (languages which would no doubt aid him in the eventual writing of Paradise Lost), and was an excellent swordsman. Milton had gone to Cambridge to become a clergyman, but he was dissuaded from this occupation due to "tyranny" in the church. So, Milton spent the 6 years after getting his M.A. reading the Greek and Latin classics, and studying mathematics and music.

Milton broke into the public literary scene in 1632 with a eulogy he'd written on Shakespeare which appeared in the second folio edition of Shakespeare. Even as his father was the subject of a lawsuit for misappropriating money and his mother died, Milton continued to write. In 1637, 7 months after his mother's death, he wrote the pastoral work "Lycidas." A year later, he visited Italy and met Galileo. He returned to England 1639 and began to think about writing an Arthurian epic. But he gave that idea up soon and wavered between writing on Biblical subjects and heroic figures in British history. In 1640, he decided to write on Paradise Lost.

It would be a while before the poem was completed, however. In 1642, at the age of 34, Milton married Mary Powell, age 17. Sadly, his wife ran away before the year was through, and Milton proceeded to write his famous treatise advocating divorce. He and his wife reconciled in 1645, and Milton's daughter Anne was born in 1646. He worked as a secretary for the government starting in 1649, and became blind in 1652. That year his only son and wife died, leaving him a blind widower with three children. He remarried in 1656, but she died in childbirth a year later, ending "the happiest time" in Milton's life. In the following years Milton wrote against the Royalists, mysteriously escaping the scaffold for his scandalous comments. Milton got a third wife in 1663, since his rebellious daughters would not care for him. In 1667, Milton finally concluded an agreement with a publisher for the printing of Paradise Lost. Scholars were perplexed when the poem came out, since it shunned the rhyming of other epic poems in its blank verse. But in 1669, the first edition was sold out. In 1671 Paradise Regained came out, and in the last year of Milton's life, 1674, the second edition of Paradise Lost was published. The poem, originally arranged in ten books, was now arranged in twelve. On the day before his 66th birthday, November 8, 1674, Milton died of gout-fever. He was buried in the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, beside his father.


Milton, John. Paradise Lost: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Sources, and Criticism. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1993.

Masson, David. Life of John Milton: Narrated in Connection with the Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of His Time, 7 vols. London: 1859-94. An excerpt from this work appeared in The Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 9th ed., 1888, and a portion of that excerpt appeared in Ed. Scott Elledge. Paradise Lost: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Sources, and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1993.

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