Who Wrote Paradise Lost?
Paradise Lost, one of the world’s noblest epics, was written by the great Puritan poet John Milton (1608-74). It has probably had more influence on English thought and language than any other literary work except the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays.
Milton first formed the intention of writing an epic in 1639 and began drafting the general outline the following year. But it was not until 1658, six years after he became blind, that he finally embarked on the task. His poem was finished five years later, but was not printed until 1667 because he had difficulty in finding a publisher. For his 10,000 immortal lines the poet received only pound 20.
In magnificent, rolling blank verse Milton tells the story of Eve’s temptation by Satan in the Garden of Eden and her expulsion with Adam from Paradise. The poem ends with God’s promise of redemption for mankind. In 1671 Milton published a sequel, Paradise Regained, in which he tells how Christ the Redeemer resisted Satan’s temptation in the wilderness.
Milton was born at the Sign of the Spread Eagle in Broad Street, Cheap-side, and city of London. All his early life seems to have been a preparation for the masterpiece that was to crown his career: a childhood supervised in an enlightened way by a Puritan father who attached great importance to providing his son with the best possible education; seven years at Cambridge University where he wrote his first poems and studied the classics; six more tranquil and happy years of leisured study during which he wrote several of his loveliest poems; and travel in Italy.
His tour abroad was interrupted by the news that the dispute between Charles I and Parliament was nearing a crisis. Milton strongly supported Parliament and when the Civil War ended in the defeat of the royalists, he wrote a pamphlet defending the King’s execution.
Shortly afterwards he was appointed Latin Secretary to the new administration, a post that involved corresponding with the ministers of foreign countries and composing pamphlets supporting his government’s actions. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Milton was arrested and released after payment of a heavy fine. His writings were burned by the common hangman.
Milton married three times. In June 1642 he married Mary Powell, 17-year old daughter of royalists, who failed to return from a visit to her parents when the Civil War broke out in August, and did not rejoin him until 1645. She died in 1653, leaving three daughters. His second wife, Catherine Woodcock, died in 1658, only 15 months after their marriage. But the last 12 years of his life were spent in domestic harmony with his third wife, who was 30 years his junior.
During the Great Plague of 1665 Milton lived at Chalfont St Giles, Buckingham shire, in a cottage which is still preserved. The following year, three-quarters of his fortune was destroyed by the Great Fire of London. But a year later, in 1667, came the greatest event of his career, the publication of Paradise Lost.