John Milton

John Milton was born December 9, 1608, in London, England.  His father, John Milton Sr., a sympathizer with the Puritan Reformation, was disinherited by his own Catholic father, who saw him as a heretic.  As a scrivener, John Milton Sr. was able to amass a moderate estate, resulting in his ability to provide his son with a comprehensive private education, a deed Milton later shows appreciation for in his poem “Ad Patrem” (To His Father).  Milton attended Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he originally prepared to become a clergyman, and also began composing poems in Latin, English and Italian. Following seven years at Cambridge, Milton continued further studies at home, becoming proficient in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Italian.  In addition to his rigorous study of language and literature, the poet also immersed himself in works of religion, science, and politics, and began composing some of his first important poems, including “On Shakespeare,” “L’Allegro,” and “Lycidas.” 

In 1642, Milton returned from travel abroad with Mary Powell whom he had married.  The couple had four children before Mary died in 1952.  Milton married Catherine Woodcock in 1656, but she died during childbirth two years later.  He was married a final time in 1662, to Elizabeth Minshull.  It was also during this period that Milton concentrated largely on his support of the Puritan cause in England.  He spent two decades writing a series of pamphlets concerning his religious, political, and civic views in defense of the Commonwealth.  He was imprisoned for a brief period as a result, and afterward continued his writing career out of the spotlight.  Despite going completely blind by 1651, he published his most famous work Paradise Lost, an epic blank-verse poem, in 1667.  Even today, the composition is considered one of the most important in Western literature, influencing modern epic poets to succeed him.  Following in 1671, he published its sequel, Paradise Regained, and a tragedy Samson Agonistes.  Milton died three years later, on November 8, 1674.