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John Milton

John Milton was born on Bread Street in central London (the street where Mary Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley were married) on 9 December 1609. He was educated at St. Paul's School, where he was a deeply serious student and struck up a close friendship with the son of an Italian Protestant physician, Charles Diodati. (Diodati's uncle owned the villa outside Geneva where Lord Byron would stay during the summer of 1816, when Frankenstein was begun.) In 1625 Milton was admitted to Christ's College of Cambridge University, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1629 and a master's degree in 1632. Ordinarily, these degrees would have prepared their holder for ordination in the Church of England, but Milton held back from that commitment from dislike over the direction in which this institution seemed to be heading. For the next six years, instead, he resided with his parents, continuing his educational program, which amounted to reading virtually everything every written in the western languages. In 1638 he undertook a tour of the continent, where, particularly in Italy, he made the acquaintance of major European intellectuals.

Upon his return to England Milton threw himself into the sectarian disputes of the time, taking the side of parliament against the assertion of monarchical rights made by Charles I , and writing numerous pamphlets in its cause. He married in 1642, but his wife Mary Powell soon thereafter returned to her Royalist family home. She returned to her husband in 1645, the year in which Milton laid claim to a major reputation as a poet with Humphrey Mosely's publication of his Poems. From this point forward, however, the stresses of the Civil Wars occupied Milton's mind. With the capture and public execution of Charles I in 1649, a Commonwealth was formed in which Milton took the position of Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State, in effect the Secretary of State to the republican regime led by Oliver Cromwell. Milton held that position through the life of the Commonwealth, sacrificing his poetic career and (in 1652) his eyesight in the process. His first wife died in 1652; he married Katherine Woodstock in 1656, but she also died two years afterwards. Later in 1658 Cromwell too died, leaving Milton in both personal and public shock. With the collapse of the Commonwealth Milton's political position became truly precarious, and he was forced into hiding for over a year before he was discovered and imprisoned. He was saved by the intercession of major cultural figures, including Andrew Marvell. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Milton thereafter prudently devoted himself to his poetry. Paradise Lost was published in 1667, followed by Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in 1671. In the summer of 1674 Milton published a second edition of Paradise Lost. restructured from its original ten books to the twelve in which we read it today. On November 12 of that year he died in London.