John Milton


John Milton is most famous as the author of Paradise Lost, one of the classic epic poems of English Literature. The poem tells the story of the fall of Adam and Eve from the point of view of Satan, who is presented sympathetically, in order to emphasize how alluring the temptations of sin are. Milton was a strong Christian with passionate religious and political views, but also a tremendous artist. The poem was produced late in his life, after considerable suffering and disappointment, and composed entirely after he had become completely blinded by Glaucoma.

Although Milton is primarily known as a poet, he was also a very prominent character in English history, particularly during the Civil War and Commonwealth periods. In his early life he was an accomplished scholar who received a degree from Cambridge but also dedicated many years to self-study. Politically, he was strongly republican, and a proponent of free speech and freedom of conscience. Philosophically, he opposed the hierarchical church, and sympathized with the Puritans, but at the same time, held to some heretical beliefs. Although sometimes portrayed as a "liberal", his views were quite out-of-step with those of his age in the domains of both politics and religion, and he did not hesitate to take unpopular stands. For example, he wrote pamphlets strongly defending both divorce and regicide. He was severe in his personal habits, but a close friend and confidant of Oliver Cromwell.

He was married twice, and but both of his wives died following childbirth, and he was alone for most of his life, and blind for the last twenty years of it. He lived to see the ideals of the commonwealth that he had worked most of his life for abandoned, and for a time was exiled from England. It was after all this had passed that he wrote his masterpiece and it reflects an understanding of the human condition nearly impossible to grasp without such knowledge of both pride and suffering.

Key events during the life of John Milton:

Born in London to a middle-class family.
Studies at Christ Church, Cambridge.
Leaves Cambridge. Embarked on six years of private study.
Commenced a year-long tour of France and Italy.
Wrote parliamentarian tracts, in anticipation of the civil war.
Married Mary Powell, but separated for three years.
  Wrote tracks defending divorce, attacking censorship, and promoting the puritan cause.
  Befriended Cromwell, and became a secretary of Parliament.
Death of first wife, following childbirth.
Becomes totally blind due to glaucoma.
Remarries, but second wife dies in childbirth.
Exiled after the Restoration, but returned to England after a general pardon.
Published his masterpiece, Paradise Lost.
Published Paradise Regained.
Death of Milton.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Milton—Sight and Growth  in  English Literature for Boys and Girls  by  H. E. Marshall
John Milton  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Milton visiting Galileo at Florence
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Milton sitting in his garden at the door of his house.
 in English Literature for Boys and Girls

John Milton
 in  Sir Walter Raleigh

John Milton
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Cromwell's family listening to Milton playing the organ at Hampton Court
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Short Biography
Oliver Cromwell Military leader of Parliament who headed the Commonwealth government after death of Charles I.
Roger Williams Religious dissident. Founded Rhode Island and asserted freedom of religion.
Hugo Grotius Dutch humanist who wrote a treatise laying the foundation for International Law.
Galileo Galilei Promoted Heliocentric theory against pressure from the Pope. Invented the telescope.
Charles I Second Stuart king. His quarrels with Parliament led to civil war and his execution.
Charles II Restored to the throne after death of Cromwell. Presided over the great fire and plague of London.
Thomas Fairfax Commander of the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. Declined to condemn Charles I to death.