Little Bits of History

John Milton

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 27, 2013
John Milton and Paradise Lost

John Milton and Paradise Lost

April 27, 1667: John Milton enters into a publishing agreement with Samuel Simmons for the epic poem, Paradise Lost. It is said to be “the most noticed, most read, most criticized, and finally the most exalted Poem in the English Tongue.” Milton was paid £5 up front and three printings were to follow with 1,500 impressions per printing, the maximum at the time. Milton would be paid £5 after each new print run. The poem was not written in a conventional manner and was difficult to understand. Simmons suggested Milton add explanatory text in simple language so the meaning could be grasped. Milton originally composed the epic as 10 books and was encouraged to split books VII and X into two, creating 12 books.

Milton was born in 1608 and was radical in his politics and heretical in his theology. Milton’s life is best understood against the historical background of Stuart Britain. He was well-educated and well-traveled, although his European tour was cut short by civil war at home. Milton put aside poetry composition in favor of penning political tracts. Milton’s political ideals came to fruition and then collapsed. Even so, he hung on to his beliefs.

Milton’s personal life was in disarray. He married in 1642 at age 34. His wife was half his age. A few weeks after the wedding, she went to visit family and didn’t come back. Milton campaigned for divorce laws to permit dissolution of a marriage because of incompatibility at a time when adultery was the only cause for action. He was vehemently censured. The couple eventually reconciled. His sight began to deteriorate in 1644 and by 1651 he was completely blind. He had to dictate later works to a series of amanuenses.

Paradise Lost is the story of the Fall of Man with Adam and Eve being driven from Paradise. The work shows Satan after the demon enters a war with God. Issues dealing with free will and self-determination show us Lucifer’s side of the story. Eve, and through her, Adam, are deceived and both must be punished. The Son of God intercedes on behalf of the ruined couple and God forgives them but still expels them from Paradise. The poem was met with mixed reviews. Samuel Johnson praised it but with the caveat, “None ever wished it longer than it is.”

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

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

“He who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.”

“Truth never comes into the world but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her birth.” – all from John Milton

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Paradise Lost has a total of over ten thousand lines of verse. The writing style is blank verse meaning it is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. This means there are five pairs of syllables with the first unstressed and the second stressed. Because Virgil’s Aeneid was such a revered work, Paradise Lost was changed to twelve books to emulate it. However, unlike the Latin poet, Milton’s work has books of varying length. The longest is Book IX with 1,189 lines. The shortest is Book VII which only has 640 lines. The Arguments at the beginning of each book were the parts added later to help with the understanding of the work. Satan is the first major character introduced in the book and he is followed by Adam, Eve, the Son of God, God the Father, Raphael, and Michael.

Also on this day: Sultana – In 1865 the steamship Sultana has a boiler explode.
Appendectomy – In 1887, the first successful appendectomy was performed.
Expo 67 – In 1967, the Expo held official opening ceremonies.

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