John Milton 1608-1674

From Book Owners Online

John MILTON 1608-1674

Biographical Note

Born in London, son of John Milton, scrivener and composer. BA Christ's College, Cambridge 1629, MA 1631. He had begun writing poetry by the time he was at Cambridge, and in 1634 he was commissioned by the musician Henry Lawes to write the masque which became Comus, performed for John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater. In 1636 he moved with his family to Horton, Buckinghamshire and two years later he spent time travelling in Italy; in 1640 he returned to London and established himself as a schoolmaster. He became increasingly involved in politics and wrote numerous polemical tracts on church government, while also published a first collection of poems in 1645. He was appointed secretary for foreign tongues in 1649 and was increasingly drawn into writing for the Interregnum regime; his Eikonoklastes (1649) was a response to the hugely popular Eikon Basilike, written to bolster the perception of Charles I as a martyr. Numerous political writings followed, despite his loss of his sight in 1652. At the Restoration, he was briefly imprisoned, his books were burnt, and he fell into financial hardship, but he was allowed to remain in London. Paradise lost, the epic poem for which he is best known, was published in 1667, having been in preparation for several decades. Although he was at least as important, and in the public eye, for his political writings during his lifetime, it is as a poet that he is now remembered as one of the leading literary figures of his time.


Although an attempt has been made to deduce the contents of Milton's library from his writings (see Boswell, below), and there are various pieces of documentary evidence testifying to his owning or buying books, only a small number of books survive today which were demonstrably his. His Bible, with typical family events inscribed in his hand (begun in the 1640s), is now British Library Add MS 32310; his commonplace book is BL Add MS 35354. In 2019 Milton's copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare was identified, from the marginalia, in the Free Library of Philadelphia. Post-Milton ownership evidence in surviving books suggests that some at least of his books were dispersed soon after his death.