JOHN MILTON
     
Poet, prose polemicist and civil servant, influenced by Dante Alighieri, Ludovico Ariosto, The Bible, Homer, Ovid, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser and Virgil and has influenced William Blake, John Keats, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth.

Most famed for his epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton is celebrated as well for his eloquent treatise condemning censorship, Areopagitica. Long considered the supreme English poet, Milton experienced a dip in popularity after attacks by T.S. Eliot and F.R. Leavis in the mid 20th century; but with multiple societies and scholarly journals devoted to his study, Milton’s reputation remains as strong as ever in the 21st century.
Very soon after his death – and continuing to the present day – Milton became the subject of partisan biographies, confirming T.S. Eliot’s belief that “of no other poet is it so difficult to consider the poetry simply as poetry, without our theological and political dispositions…making unlawful entry.” Milton’s radical, republican politics and heretical religious views, coupled with the perceived artificiality of his complicated Latinate verse, alienated Eliot and other readers; yet by dint of the overriding influence of his poetry and personality on subsequent generations--particularly the
Romantic movement--the man whom Samuel Johnson disparaged as “an acrimonious and surly republican” must be counted one of the most significant writers and thinkers of all time.

Milton’s magnum opus, the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost, which appeared in a quarto edition in 1667, was composed by the blind Milton from 1658-1664. It reflects his personal despair at the failure of the Revolution, yet affirms an ultimate optimism in human potential. Milton encoded many references to his unyielding support for the “Good Old Cause.” Though Milton notoriously sold the copyright of this monumental work to his publisher for a seemingly trifling £10, this was not a particularly outlandish deal at the time. Milton followed up Paradise Lost with its sequel, Paradise Regained, published alongside the tragedy Samson Agonistes, in 1671. Both these works also resonate with Milton’s post-Restoration political situation.


Just before his death in 1674, Milton supervised the release of a second edition of Paradise Lost, accompanied by an explanation of “why the poem rhymes not” and prefatory verses by Marvell. Milton republished his 1645 Poems in 1673, as well a collection of his letters and the Latin prolusions from his Cambridge days. A 1668 edition of Paradise Lost, reported to have been Milton's personal copy, is now housed in the archives of the University of Western Ontario.

During the Restoration Milton also published several minor prose works, such as a grammar textbook, his Art of Logic, and his History of Britain. His only explicitly political tracts were the 1672 Of True Religion, arguing for toleration (except for Catholics), and a translation of a Polish tract advocating an elective monarchy. Both these works participated in the Exclusion debate that would preoccupy politics in the 1670s and 80s and precipitate the formation of the Whig party and the Glorious Revolution. Milton's unfinished religious manifesto, De doctrina christiana, in which he laid out many of his heretical views, was not discovered and published until 1823.

By the late 1650s, Milton was a proponent of monism or animist materialism, the notion that a single material substance which is "animate, self-active, and free" composes everything in the universe--from stones and trees and bodies to minds, souls, angels, and God. Milton devised this position to avoid the mind-body dualism of Plato and Descartes as well as the mechanistic determinism of Hobbes. Milton's monism is most notably reflected in Paradise Lost when he has angels eat (5.433-39) and have sex (8.622-29).