Born in London in 1608, Milton was devoted to his studies and took an interest in poetry at a young age. His father, who was a legal scrivener and an amateur composer influenced Milton’s poetry style by helping him develop a love for music. Milton’s family’s financial status allowed him to be taught classical languages by private tutors and he became fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian, and obtained a familiarity with Old English and Dutch as well. He was admitted into Christ’s College in Cambridge at the age of 15, with aspirations of becoming a member of the clergy. He was expelled during his first year after having a dispute with his tutor, and upon his return decided he no longer wanted to pursue religious studies and received his M.A. in 1632.
Upon finishing school, Milton returned to one of his family’s homes in Buckinghamshire where he dedicated himself to six years of self-implemented private study. He composed sonnets, lyrics, and various other pieces of poetry during this time. In 1638, he went on a 13-month tour of France and Italy, in which he is suspected to have met many great minds and important people of the time including Galileo, Giovanni Batista, and the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Barberini. He returned to England when he learned of the religious and political turmoil taking place.
In 1642, after returning to England with a 16-year-old bride, Milton joined forces with Oliver Cromwell, an independent puritan political and military leader, as the English Civil War raged on. Milton began political pamphleteering, writing about his support of a variety of controversial topics like the freedom of the press, the morality of divorce, populism, and the judicial execution of King Charles I. He also composed official statements on behalf of the Commonwealth of England while serving as secretary of foreign languages in Cromwell’s government.
When Charles II regained power of the throne, Milton was imprisoned for his support of the downfall of the monarchy and many of his books were burned. He was released a short time later under a general pardon, and secluded himself in the English countryside, focusing on his writing. It was at this time that he composed his epic poem, Paradise Lost. He was completely blind at this point, and was forced to remember things he wanted to write and dictate them to hired aides. Paradise Lost chronicles the Biblical story of Creation, Satan’s rebellion against God and fall from heaven, and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their eventual expulsion from paradise. It is considered Milton’s magnum opus and one of the greatest epic poems ever written. It is hailed for its theological themes, political commentary, and depiction of Satan as the story’s protagonist.
In 1674, Milton died peacefully from natural causes in a small house near Bunhill Fields in England. His work has inspired many other famous writers including Alexander Pope, John Keats, William Blake, and many more.