John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth (republic) of England under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost.
John Milton was born in a house on Bread Street, in Cheapside, London, on 9 December 1608. His father, also John Milton, was a scrivener by trade, and in his hours of leisure an amateur composer and musician of considerable accomplishment.
In the years 1618-1620 Milton was tutored in the family home. One of his tutors was Thomas Young, who became chaplain to the English merchants in Hamburg during the 1620s. Though he departed England when Milton was approximately eleven years old, Young's impression on the young pupil was long standing.
John Milton is best known for <i>Paradise Lost</i>, widely regarded as the greatest epic poem in English. Together with <i>Paradise Regained</i>, it formed his reputation as one of the greatest English poets. In his prose works he advocated the abolition of the Church of England. His influence extended not only through the civil wars and interregnum but also to the American and French revolutions.
Milton composed the ten books of <i>Paradise Lost</i> between 1658 and 1663. He had first planned the work as early as 1640, intending to write a tragedy titled <i>Adam Unparadised</i>. By 1652 he had become completely blind, probably due to glaucoma. Blindness forced him to compose orally, rendering him entirely reliant upon amanuenses (casual copyists among his friends and family circle) to whom he gave dictation. He composed the poem mostly at night or in the early morning, committing his composition to memory until someone was available to write down his words.
The general thrust of his political writings is towards Puritan reformation in the church, and the replacement of the monarchy with a free commonwealth. His enduring support for Cromwell resulted in his appointment in 1649 as Secretary for Foreign Languages, a position which involved acting as the voice of the English revolution to the world at large.
Milton's chief polemical prose was written in the decades of the 1640s and 1650s, during the strife between the Church of England and various reformist groups such as the Puritans and between the monarch and Parliament. Designated the antiepiscopal or antiprelatical tracts and the antimonarchical or political tracts, these works advocate a freedom of conscience and a high degree of civil liberty for humankind against the various forms of tyranny and oppression, both ecclesiastical and governmental. In line with his libertarian outlook, Milton wrote <i>Areopagitica</i> (1644), often cited as one of the most compelling arguments on the freedom of the press.
The general opinion of Milton's use of the classical myths is that he proceeds in a straight line from pagan poems in his youth to the bitter denunciation of myths along with the rest of pagan culture in <i>Paradise Regained</i>.
Milton's choice of the contrast between "plain" and "ornate" styles as a way of making perceptible the difference between perfection and imperfection, innocence and sinfulness, can be explained and, in a sense, "justified" by the sensitivity to rhetorical distinctions the poet could expect from a mid-seventeenth-century audience.
"Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."
"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, till one greater Man