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John Milton
A Biography

. © 1999 . Joseph Lanzara . All rights reserved

ENGLISH POET and political activist John Milton was born on December 9, 1608. The son of a wealthy scrivener, Milton was educated at St. Paul's school and, at the age of fifteen, entered Christ College, Cambridge, with intentions of becoming a priest in the Church of England. There he wrote poetry in both Latin and English, including the ode: On the Morning of Christ's Nativity (1629). It was not long after that he penned his famed L'Allegro and Ill Penseroso.

After leaving Cambridge, Milton retired to his father's estate, where he produced the masque Comus (1634) and Lycidas (1638), one of his greatest poems.

Milton traveled and studied in Italy, where he met many notables, including Galileo. In his return to England, he lent his support to reformation of the Church of England, with pamphlets that attacked the episcopal form of church government.

In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a woman half his age, who left him the same year. This led to his controversial pamphlets which upheld the morality of divorce.

His dislike of ritualism in the church caused Milton to abandon his plans to enter the ministry. In 1644, the strict censorship imposed on the press by Parliament led him to write Areopagitica, in defense of free speech and freedom of the press. Milton hated the tyranny of the royals. He urged separation of Church and State and argued for preservation of a republic.

Mary Powell returned to Milton in 1645 and gave him three daughters before her death in 1652. He then married Catharine Woodcock in 1656, who died two years later. In 1663 he married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, who survived him.

In 1660, Milton was forced into hiding for a period. Several of Milton's books were burned and he was harassed and briefly imprisoned for supporting the overthrow of the monarchy.

In his lifetime Milton composed 18 sonnets in English and 5 in Italian, which are considered among the greatest ever written.

In later life, Milton became blind, and some of his greatest works were accomplished through dictation to his secretaries. His literary genius culminated in his epic poems, Paradise Lost, published in 1667, and Paradise Regained, which appeared together with Samson Agonistes in 1671.

To this day the Catholic Church repudiates Milton's epic themes and his religious philosophies. Meanwhile, Paradise Lost remains widely regarded the greatest epic poem in the English Language.

John Milton died in London on November 8, 1674.