John Milton (1608-1674)

John Milton (1608-1674)
Milton was a poet as well as a prose writer. He was born in London on 9th December 1608. His grandfather was an ardent Roman Catholic who disinherited his son (the poet’s father) for his turning Protestant. The poet’s father settled down in London and gradually established himself as a scrivener, law stationer, and money-lender. Milton was sent to St. Paul School in 1620 for the first phase of his education where he studied Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and Hebrew. His headmaster, Alexander Gill, an eminent scholar, instilled in Milton a special fondness for Spenser. While at school he wrote the paraphrase of Psalm 136 which is used in English hymn- books to the present day. Milton entered Christ College, Cambridge at the age of seventeen and became popular as “The Lady of Christ’s on account of his oval face, grey eyes, and exceedingly fair complexion. He completed his M.A. Degree in 1632. Thereafter he lived for the next five years at his father’s house at Horton.
Milton imbibed the love of religion, art, music and literature, and even politics from his father and the qualities of generosity and charity from his mother.
Milton traveled abroad, chiefly in Italy, and established contact with Florentine intellectuals. His continental journey was interrupted early in 1939 at Naples where he heard about the political crisis in England. Subsequently, he claimed that he thought it ‘base that I should travel about at my ease for the cultivation of my mind while my fellow citizens at home were fighting for liberty.’ Returning home, he became a political prose writer and propagandist for the anti-Royalist cause in the civil war. Milton wrote little poetry between 1640 and 1655 since his energies were fully engaged on the side of the republican forces in England though he was not an uncritical supporter of the new experiment in government.
The period after 1660 is usually acknowledged as the third and final phase of his career. Milton became totally blind at the age of 44 and wrote his famous epic Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes thereafter.
Works Milton’s literary and intellectual life falls into three periods which are enumerated below:

  1. First Phase (1608-38): This period covers his entire student life. He wrote all his early poems during this period. The important ones are:
    (i) Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629)
    (ii) Sonnets:
    (a) To The Nightingale
    (b) On His Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty-Three
    (iii) L’ Allegro (1633)
    (iv) Il’ Penseroso (1633)
    (v) Arcades (1630-34)- a masque
    (vi) Comus (1634)-a masque
    (vii) Lycidas (1637)-an elegy.
  2. Second Phase (1638-60): This period covers Milton’s political life up to the year of the Restoration. During this period Milton wrote prose work. The important works of this period are:
    (i) Tracts and Pamphlets (1641-45)
    (ii) Areopagitica (1644)
    (iii) The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649)
    (iv) Eikonoklastes (1649)
    (v) Defensio Pro Populo Anglicano (1651)
    (vi) Defensio Secunda (1654)
    (vii) Defensio Pro Se (1655)
    (viii) The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660)
    (ix) Sixteen English Sonnets (1642-58).
    The sonnets of Milton are as follows:
    (i) To the Nightingale.
    (ii) On His Having Arrived at the age of Twenty- Three.
    (iii) When the Assault was Intended to the City.
    (iv) To a Virtuous Young Lady.
    (v) To the Lady Margaret Ley.
    (vi) On the Detraction which followed upon My Writing Certain Treatises.
    (vii) On the Same.
    (viii) To Mr. H. Lawes, On His Airs.
    (ix) Religious Memory of Mrs. Catherine Thomas. (x) To the Lord General Fairfax, at the Siege of Colchester.
    (xi) To the Lord General Cromwell.
    (xii) To Sir Henry Vane the Younger.
    (xiii) On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.
    (xiv) On His Blindness.
    (xv) To Mr. Lawrence.
    (xvi) To Cyriack Skinner.
    (xvii) To the Same.
    (xviii) On His Deceased Wife.
    (xix) On the New Forces of Conscience under the Long Parliament.
  3. Third Phase (1660-64): This is the period of the culmination of the poet’s literary talent and poetical works. The important works of this period are:
    (i) Paradise Lost (12 books-1667): an epic
    (ii) Paradise Regained (1671)
    (iii) Samson Agonistes (1671): a poetic play.

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