Happy Birthday, John Milton!
1656. THREE WIVES, BLINDNESS, PRISON, AND AN EPIC.
Before Milton went completely blind, he married his second wife Katherine Woodcock, the love of his life. She died, also in childbirth, less than fifteen months later, and her daughter lived only a month. Milton still had three school-age daughters to care for, yet he spent his time writing for Cromwell and for himself. By 1658, however, Cromwell died. His son was unable to rule, and Charles II was restored to the throne. Milton's life was in very real danger now because of the propaganda pamphlets he had written for the Cromwell administration, and he was imprisoned for three months.
In the meantime, his spoiled girls were in need of discipline and attention, so in 1663 amid his daughters' protests, Milton married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull. It was a marriage of convenience. Milton was independently wealthy by this time and could provide a stable home while Elizabeth could care for his girls so that he could have freedom to both tutor students and write without interruption. According to letters at the time, Milton would compose parts of his epic in his mind before he slept, and upon waking, would recite entire passages of blank verse to his aides and secretary. In that manner, all of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (1671) were written. From the time he was a teen until now, he had determined to write an epic and he did. Fifty years in the making, Paradise Lost remains one of the most eloquent and lush features of the English language.
Of True Religion and Poems, &c. upon Several Occasions were published in 1673. In summer 1674, the second edition of Paradise Lost was published in twelve books, two more than the first. Milton died peacefully of gout in November, 1674, and was buried in the church of St. Giles, Cripplegate. His funeral was attended by "his learned and great Friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the Vulgar." A monument to Milton rests in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.
*post originally published December 2016
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