John Milton

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


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John Milton—English Poet and Political Writer

December 19, 1608 (NS), London, England, 6:30 (6:33) AM, LMT. (Source: Minutes in the Life of John Milton, by John Aubrey, as per Lois Rodden) Died, November 8, 1674, Chalfont St. Giles, England.

(Ascendant and Sun in Sagittarius: Moon in Taurus with Jupiter and Pluto also in Taurus; Mercury and Venus conjunct in Capricorn with Saturn also in Capricorn; Mars in Pisces opposing Neptune in Virgo; Uranus in Gemini conjunct the cusp of H7)

John Milton is famous for writing his works of religious epic poetry—Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. The exaltation and grandeur of his masterpieces required the combined application of the fourth and sixth rays—as is the case with Dante and Blake, and found together whenever religion and the arts are united.

The sixth ray is powerfully indicated in his chart, given the double Sagittarius influence and the opposition between two sixth ray planets (Mars and Neptune) tenanted in signs which transmit the sixth ray (Virgo and Pisces, respectively). Thus all signs transmitting the sixth ray are emphasized. Two of the fourth ray signs (Taurus and Sagittarius) are also emphasized.        

Milton’s life held a number of tragedies and disappointments. His married life was unhappy and unstable—he was twice widowed (as unpredictable Uranus at the Descendant might suggest), and he became blind. The drama of darkness and light (a ray four theme, intensified by the sixth ray) is worked out on a grand scale in his poetry (and in his life); he seemed to have a fascination with the original luminosity of Lucifer, the “Fallen Angel”, who fell into darkness. Interestingly, Taurus is the sign of illumination (from an esoteric perspective) and holds both Jupiter, the orthodox ruler of both his Sagittarian Ascendant and Sun, and Pluto (“Lord of Darkness” in the sign of light. Chiron, the planet of wounding, rises in Sagittarius, the sign of vision, and T-Squares his two opposed sixth ray planets.


A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit.

Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.

Beauty is nature's brag, and must be shown in courts, at feasts, and high solemnities, where most may wonder at the workmanship.

Better to reign in hell than serve in heav'n.

Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined; Till at his second bidding darkness fled, Light shone, and order from disorder sprung.

Deep-versed in books and shallow in himself.

For what can war, but endless war, still breed?

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all liberties.

He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.

He who reigns within himself and rules passions, desires, and fears is more than a king.

Less excellent, as thou thyself perceivest.

Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live.

The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

The superior man acquaints himself with many sayings of antiquity and many deeds of the past, in order to strengthen his character thereby.

They also serve who only stand and wait.

Though we take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left; you cannot bereave him of his covetousness.

True it is that covetousness is rich, modesty starves.

Truth never comes into the world but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her birth.

Virtue could see to do what Virtue would by her own radiant light, though sun and moon where in the flat sea sunk.

Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image, but thee who destroys a good book, kills reason its self.

Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.

What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
ATTRIBUTION: John Milton (1608–1674), British poet. Paradise Lost (l. Bk. I, l. 22–26). . .
The Complete Poetry of John Milton. John T. Shawcross, ed. (1963, rev. ed. 1971) Doubleday.

Blest pair of Sirens, pledges of Heav’n’s joy,
Sphear-born harmonious Sisters, Voice, and Vers,
ATTRIBUTION: John Milton (1608–1674), British poet. At a Solemn Musick (l. 1–2). . .
The Complete Poetry of John Milton. John T. Shawcross, ed. (1963, rev. ed. 1971) Doubleday.


John Milton
Born: December 9, 1608
Died: November 8, 1674

Occupation(s): Poet, Civil Servant

Life's father, also named John Milton, (c. 1560 – 1647), moved to London around 1583 after having been disinherited by his devout Catholic father Richard Milton, a wealthy landowner in Oxfordshire, on account of revealing his Protestantism. Milton senior soon established himself as a prosperous goldsmith. Around 1600, the poet's father married Sara Jeffrey (1572 – 1637), and the poet was born on December 9, 1608, in Cheapside, London, England.

Milton was educated at St Paul's School (London). He was originally destined for a ministerial career, but his growing dissatisfaction with the state of the Anglican Church under Archbishop Laud led him to give this up. He matriculated at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1625 and studied there for seven years before he graduated as Master of Arts cum laude on July 3, 1632. At Cambridge, Milton tutored the American theologian Roger Williams in Hebrew, in exchange for lessons in Dutch.[citation needed] There is evidence to suggest that Milton’s experiences at Cambridge were not altogether positive and were later to contribute to his views on education. On graduating from Christ's College, Milton undertook six years of self-directed private study in both the ancient and modern disciplines of theology, philosophy, history, politics, literature and science, in preparation for his prospective poetical career. As a result of such intensive study, Milton is considered to be among the most learned of all English poets. In a Latin poem, possibly composed in the mid-1630s, Milton thanks his father for supporting him during this period.

After completing his private study in early 1638, Milton embarked on a tour of France and Italy in May of the same year, seeing the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei during his journeys (There is some debate as to whether Milton actually talked with Galileo. Scholars have debated whether the term "visited" as used in "Areopagatica" is evidence of a conversation or simply allowing Milton to see Galileo from a distance while the famed astronomer was under house arrest).[citation needed] He is recorded as staying at the Venerable English College in 1638. This was cut short 13 months later by what he later termed 'sad tidings' of civil war in England. In June 1642, at the age of 33, Milton married 17 year-old Mary Powell. One month later, she visited her family and did not return, perhaps because of the outbreak of the English Civil War. Over the next three years, quite possibly influenced by Mary's desertion, Milton published a series of pamphlets arguing for the legality and morality of divorce. The first was entitled The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, in which he attacked the English marriage law (which had been taken over almost unchanged from medieval Catholicism, sanctioning divorce on the grounds of incompatibility or childlessness only). The hostile response to the divorce tracts inspired Milton to pen his celebrated attack on pre-publication censorship, Areopagitica. In 1645, the same year Milton published a collection of poems in both English and Latin, Mary finally returned when mutual friends effected a reconciliation. In 1646, Mary's family, having been ejected from Oxford for supporting Charles I in the Civil War, moved in with the couple. They had four children: Anne, Mary, John, and Deborah. Mary died on May 5, 1652, from complications following Deborah's birth on May 2, which may have affected Milton deeply, as evidenced by his 23rd sonnet (although this poem may refer to Milton's second wife). In June, Milton's son John died at the age of 15 months; his three sisters all survived to adulthood. On November 12, 1656, Milton married Katherine Woodcock. She died on February 3, 1658, less than four months after giving birth to their daughter Katherine, who died on March 17. On February 24, 1663, Milton married Elizabeth ("Betty") Minshull, who cared for him until his death on November 8, 1674. During the Great Plague of London in 1665, Milton retired to Chalfont St Giles (his only extant home), which is where he completed his epic poem Paradise Lost. He is buried in St Giles-without-Cripplegate church in the City of London.

Milton spent several years devoted almost entirely to prose work in the service of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause, serving as the Latin secretary for Cromwell's foreign council. The onset of glaucoma eventually led to blindness, forcing him, from 1654, to dictate his verse and prose to amanuenses. Milton wrote propaganda for the English Republic in the early 1650s, including the Eikonoklastes, which attempts to justify the execution of Charles I. After the Restoration Milton was arrested in October 1660 and risked execution, but several influential people spoke on his behalf, including the poet and MP Andrew Marvell, a former assistant. Milton then lived in retirement, devoting himself once more to poetical work, and in 1667 publishing Paradise Lost, the epic which gained him widespread fame (blind and impoverished, he sold the publishing rights to this work on April 27 that year for £10). This was followed by Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, a drama on the Greek model, in 1671. Milton issued an updated edition of his 1645 Poems in 1673, the year before his death.

Milton composed Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained through dictation because of his blindness. This required him to store vast portions of the poems in his memory for oral recitation— remarkable, considering how much planning such complex works would require. Milton did the organizing without visual aids.

Milton later in lifeGiven the scope of Milton's intellectual enquiry, influences upon his work can be easily found and include the Biblical books of Genesis, Job, and Psalms, as well as Homer, Virgil, and Lucan's works. Milton’s favorite historian was Sallust. Although Milton's work often reflects his classical and biblical knowledge, allusions to Spenser, Sidney, Donne, and Shakespeare are also detectable. Some commentators have suggested that Milton sought to undermine the tropes and style of cavalier poets such as John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, and Sir John Suckling, in the conversations between Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost. Milton's literary career cast a formidable shadow over English poetry in the 18th and 19th centuries; he was often judged equal or superior to all other English poets, including Shakespeare. We can point to Lucy Hutchinson's epic poem about the fall of Humanity, Order and Disorder (1679), and John Dryden's The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man: an Opera (1677) as evidence of an immediate cultural influence.

The scope of Paradise Lost, his masterpiece, sees Milton justifying the ways of God to men. The poem depicts the creation of the universe, earth, and humanity; conveys the origins of sin, death, and evil; imagines events in Hell, Chaos, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the garden of Eden; presents the sacred history of Israel; engages with political ideas of tyranny, liberty and justice; and defends theological positions on predestination, free will, and salvation. Milton's influence on the literature of the Romantic era was profound.[1] John Keats found the yoke of Milton's style debilitating; he exclaimed that "Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or rather artist's humour." Keats felt that Paradise Lost was a "beautiful and grand curiosity," but his own unfinished attempt at epic poetry, Hyperion, is said to have suffered from Keats's failed attempt to cultivate a distinct epic voice. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein draws heavily on Paradise Lost. The novel begins with a quotation from Paradise Lost, and the relationship between the Creature and Dr. Frankenstein is often seen as a metaphor for the relationship between God and Adam in Paradise Lost. The Victorian age witnessed a continuation of Milton's influence; George Eliot[2] and Thomas Hardy being particularly inspired by Milton's poetry and biography. By contrast, the 20th century, owing to the critical efforts of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, witnessed a reduction in Milton's stature. Aside from his importance to literary history, Milton's career has influenced the modern world in other ways. Milton coined many words that are now familiar; in Paradise Lost readers were confronted by neologisms like dreary, pandæmonium, acclaim, rebuff, self-esteem, unaided, impassive, enslaved, jubilant, serried, solaced, and satanic. In the political arena, Milton's Areopagitica and republican writings were consulted during the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America. More recently, there has been renewed interest in the poet's greatest work following the publication of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which is heavily based on Paradise Lost.

The John Milton Society for the Blind was founded in 1928 by Helen Keller to develop an interdenominational ministry that would bring spiritual guidance and religious literature to deaf and blind persons.

John Milton (1608-1674)

One of the greatest poets of the English language, best-known for his epic poem PARADISE LOST (1667). Milton's powerful, rhetoric prose and the eloquence of his poetry had an immense influence especially on the 18th-century verse. Besides poems, Milton published pamphlets defending civil and religious rights.

"Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden."
(from Paradise Lost) was born in London. His mother, Sarah Jeffrey, a very religious person, was the daughter of a merchant sailor. Milton's father, also named John, had risen to prosperity as a scrivener or law writer - he also composed music. The family was wealthy enough to afford a second house in the country. Milton's first teachers were his father, from whom he inherited love for art and music, and the writer Thomas Young, a graduate of St Andrews University. At the age of twelve Milton was admitted to St Paul's School near his home and five years later he entered Christ's College, Cambridge. During this period, while considering himself destined for the ministry, he began to write poetry in Latin, Italian, and English. One of Milton'e earliest works, 'On the Death of a Fair Infant' (1626), was written after his sister Anne Phillips has suffered from a miscarriage.

Milton did not adjust to university life. He was called, half in scorn, "The Lady of Christ's", and after starting a fist fight with his tutor, he was expelled for a term. On leaving Cambridge Milton had given up his original plan to become a priest. He adopted no profession but spent six years at leisure in his father's home, writing during that time L'ALLEGRO, IL PENSEROSO (1632), COMUS (1634), and LYCIDAS (1637), written after the death of his friend Edward King. In 1635 the Miltons moved to Horton, Buckinghamshire, where John pursued his studies in Greek, Latin, and Italian. He traveled in France and Italy in the late 1630s, meeting in Paris the jurist and theologian Hugo Grotius and the astronomer Galileo Galilei in Florence - there are references to Galileo's telescope in Paradise Lost. His conversation with the scientist Milton recorded in his celebrated plea for a free speech and free discussion, AREOPAGITICA (1644), in which he stated that books "preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect bred in them." Milton returned to London in 1639, and set up a school with his nephews and a few others as pupils. During this period he did not write much, earlier he had planned to write an epic based on the Arthurian legends. The Civil War silenced his poetic work for 20 years. War divided the country as Oliver Cromwell fought against the king, Charles I.

Concerned with the Puritan cause, Milton wrote a series of pamphlets against episcopacy (1642), on divorce (1643), in defense of the liberty of the press (1644), and in support of the regicides (1649). He also served as the secretary for foreign languages in Cromwell's government. After the death of Charles I, Milton published THE TENURE OF KINGS AND MAGISTRATES (1649) supporting the view that the people had the right to depose and punish tyrants.

In 1651 Milton became blind, but like Jorge Luis Borges centuries later, blindness helped him to stimulate his verbal richness. "He sacrificed his sight, and then he remembered his first desire, that of being a poet," Borges wrote in one of his lectures. One of his assistants was the poet and satirist Andew Marvell (1621-78), who spoke for him in Parliament, when his political opinions arouse much controversy. After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Milton was arrested as a noted defender of the Commonwealth, but was soon released. Milton paid a massive fine for his opposition. Besides public burning of EIKONKLASTES (1649) and the first DEFENSIO (1651) in Paris and Toulouse, Milton escaped from more punishment after Restoration, but he became a relatively poor man. The manuscript of Paradise Lost he sold for £5 to Samuel Simmons, and was promised another £5 if the first edition of 1,300 copies sold out. This was done in 18 months.

Milton was married three times. His first marriage started unhappily; this experiences promted the poet to write his famous essays on divorce. He had married in 1642 Mary Powell, seventeen at that time. She grew soon bored with her busy husbandand went back home where she stayed for three years. Their first child, Anne, was born in 1646. Mary died in 1652 and four years later Milton married Katherine Woodcock; she died in 1658. For her memory Milton devoted the sonnet 'To His Late Wife'. In the 1660s Milton moved with his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, again a much younger woman, to what is now Bunhill Row. The marriage was happy, in spite of the great difference of their ages. Milton spent in Bunhill Row the remaining years of his life, apart from a brief visit to Chalfont St Giles in 1665 during a period of plague. His late poems Milton dictated to his daughter, nephews, friends, disciples, and paid amanuenses.

In THE DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF DIVORCE (1643), composed after Mary had deserter him, Milton argued that a true marriage was of mind as well as of body, and that the chaste and modest were more likely to find themselves "chained unnaturally together" in unsuitable unions than those who had in youth lived loosely and enjoyed more varied experience. Though Milton was a Puritan, morally austere and conscientious, some of his religious beliefs were very unconventional, and came in conflict with the official Puritan stand. Milton who did not believe in the divine birth, "believed perhaps nothing", as Ford Madox Ford says in The March of Literature (1938).

Milton died on November 8, 1674. He was buried beside his father in the church of St Giles, Cripplegate. It has been claimed that Milton's grave was desecrated when the church was undergoing repairs. All the teeth and "a large quantity of the hair" were taken as souvenirs by grave robbers.

Milton's achievement in the field of poetry was recognized after the appearance of Paradise Lost. Before it the writer himself had showed some doubt of the worth of his work: "By labor and intent study (which I take to be my portion in this life), joined with the strong propensity of nature, I might perhaps leave something so written to after-times, as they should not willingly let it die." (from The Reason of Church Government, 1641) Milton's cosmic vision has occasionally provoked critical discussion. Even T.S. Eliot has attacked the author and described him as one whose sensuousness had been "withered by book-learning." Eliot claimed that Milton's poetry '"could only be an influence for the worse."

The theme of Fall and expulsion from Eden in Paradise Lost had been in Milton's mind from the 1640s. His ambition was to compose an epic poem to rival the ancient writers, such as Homer and Virgil, whose grand vision in Aeneid left traces in his poem. It was originally issued in 10 books in 1667, and in 12 books in the second edition of 1674. Milton, who wanted to be a great poet, had also cope with the towering figure of Shakespeare, who had died in 1616 - Milton was seven at that time. Milton's first published poem was the sonnet 'An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatic Poet, W. Shakespeare', which was printed anonymously in the Second Folio of Shakespeare's works (1632). In his own hierarchy, Milton placed highest in the scale the epic, below it was the drama.

Paradise Lost is not easy to read with its odd syntax, difficult vocabulary, and complex, but noble style. Moreover, its cosmic vision is not actually based on the Copernican system, but more in the traditional Christian cosmology of its day, where the Earth (and man) is the center of the universe, not the sun. The poem tells a biblical story of Adam and Eve, with God, and Lucifer (Satan), who is thrown out of Heaven to corrupt humankind. Satan, the most beautiful of the angels, is at his most impressive: he wakes up, on a burning lake in Hell, to find himself surrounded by his stunned followers. He has been defeated in the War of Heaven. "All is not lost; th' unconquerable Will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate, / And courage never to submit or yield... /" Milton created a powerful and sympathetic portrait of Lucifer. His character bears similarities with Shakespeare's hero-villains Iago and Macbeth, whose personal ambition is transformed into metaphysical nihilism.

Milton's view influenced deeply such Romantic poets as William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who regarded Satan as the real hero of the poem - a rebel against the tyranny of Heaven. The troubled times, in which Milton lived, is also seen on his theme of religious conflict. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake stated that Milton is "a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it." Many other works of art have been inspired by Paradise Lost, among them Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Creation, Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, John Keat's poem Endymion, Lord Byron's The Vision of Judgment, the satanic Sauron in J.R.R. Tolkien's saga The Lord of the Rings. Noteworthy, Nietzsche's Zarathustra has more superficial than real connections with Milton's Lucifer, although Nietzsche knew Milton's work.


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