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- John Milton -

John Milton was born on December 9th, 1608. His father, a successful composer, had turned away from Roman Catholicism and become a Protestant, an action which resulted in disinheritance by his wealthy family. Strains of this resistance to authority can be seen in Milton the younger's life and works, both in his disdain for the state of the Anglican Church and his opposition to the English monarchy.

In school, John Milton had the goal of becoming a clergyman and concentrated his energies in that direction. He had notoriously poor eyesight as child. He wrote only occasional pieces of poetry during his education, but as his distaste for the Anglican Church increased, he shelved his plans to join the clergy and embarked on a career as a poet and writer.

In 1642, he married Mary Powell, an individual that, at first glance, seemed to have absolutely nothing in common with Milton. She apparently thought so as well - a month after their marriage, she went on a extended visit to her family that lasted for three years. Three months after their marriage, the English Civil War broke out. Milton was a firm supporter of the Parliament's forces, while his brother Christopher joined the Royalist army. During these turbulent political times, Milton continued to write and publish. Of particular note is his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, published in 1643, a work that undoubtedly held personal meaning for the abandoned poet.

Initially the forces of Charles I had the upper hand, but after Oliver Cromwell's successful calvary charge in the Battle of Marston Moor (1644), things began to tip in favor of the Parliament's Roundheads. As the king's faction fell out of power, Mary Powell's Royalist family was expelled from Oxford in 1646. Bringing her family with her, Powell returned to Milton, who accepted both his wife and his in-laws into his house.

In 1649, Charles I was publicly executed, an event that proved a rich source of material as Milton wrote numerous pamphlets defending and justifying the action. The new English Commonwealth named Milton as the Secretary for the Foreign Tongues, and often ordered him to reply to (and defend the Commonwealth against) Royalist tracts. His wife Mary died in 1652, after giving birth to four children, and Milton became totally blind at about the same time. He remarried in 1656, but both wife Katherine and their daughter died in 1658.

After Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, died, the country was left without a strong unifying leader until arrival of the son of Charles I in 1660. Charles II was crowned king, and England found herself once again with a monarch and a parliament. John Milton had been one of the most outspoken critics of the Royalists, and faced the possibility of suffering at the hands of the new regime. He was imprisoned for a couple of months, but ultimately escaped any major repercussions for his political views.

Milton remarried again in 1663, this time to Elizabeth Minshull. In 1667, Milton published Paradise Lost, his most famous and enduring work. He continued to write until his death in November, 1674.

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Researched and written by L. E. MacDonald. Send any corrections or omissions to webmaster@darkmaterials.com

"..That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary."
-John Milton

"Had Milton been a man of very keen senses--I mean of all the five senses--his blindness would not have mattered so much. But for a man whose sensuousness, such as it was, had been withered early by book learning, and whose gifts were naturally aural, it mattered a great deal."
-T. S. Eliot

And Milton said, I go to Eternal Death! The Nations still /
Follow after the detestable Gods of Priam; in pomp /
Of warlike selfhood, contradicting and blaspheming. /
When will the Resurrection come; to deliver the sleeping body /
From corruptibility: O when Lord Jesus wilt thou come? /
Tarry no longer; for my soul lies at the gates of death. /
I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave. /
I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks! /
I will go down to self annihilation and eternal death, /
Lest the Last Judgment come & find me unannihilate /
And I be siez'd & giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood /
The Lamb of God is seen thro' mists & shadows, hov'ring /
Over the sepulchers in clouds of Jehovah & winds of Elohim /
A disk of blood, distant; & heav'ns & earth's roll dark between /
What do I here before the Judgment? without my Emanation? /
With the daughters of memory, & not with the daughters of inspiration /
I in my Selfhood am that Satan: I am that Evil One! /
He is my Spectre! in my obedience to loose him from my Hells /
To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death
-William Blake, Milton 14.14-32

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