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John Milton (1608-1674) ranks among the greatest poets of the English language.
He is best known for the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), but he also
wrote prose works on history, religion, and contemporary politics. Although
his academic talents marked him for a career in the Anglican church, Milton
turned away from the Church of England at an early age and was a consistent
supporter of the Puritan cause. He spent most of his life in academia or as
a civil servant working for the Puritan Commonwealth. Many consider him a transitional
figure between the Renaissance and the Reformation.
The essence of Milton's work is the theme of human freedom: It is individual
choice and decision that bring value to the life given by God. Milton therefore
opposed censorship, arguing in Areopagitica (1644) that freedom of
expression is the first condition of morality and virtue; no person can be certain
he has found the right way unless he can compare it with the multitude of errors
in the world and do battle with falsehood. Milton opposed political as well
as religious tyranny. This theme of a testing of good by evil, or knowing good
by knowing evil, is the thread that ties all of his works together. The idea
is most notably worked out in his epic poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise
Regained, and Samson Agonistes. In Paradise Regained,
for instance, Christ's triumph over Satan is offered as an example of proper
moral aspiration. In Areopagitica the theme is revisited:
"Good and evil we know in the field of this World grow
up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved
and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and is in so many cunning resemblances
hardly to be discerned. . . . He that can apprehend and consider vice
with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish,
and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian."
Milton wrote several of his prose works to support the Commonwealth. In addition,
he served in several official capacities during its reign. Unlike many of those
associated with Cromwell, his life was spared following the Restoration (1660),
either because the authorities did not consider the blind poet dangerous or
because of the intercession of his friends. Although Milton had completed most
of his prose work by this time, the three epic poems for which he is remembered
were written during the last fourteen years of his life.
 John Milton, Milton's
Prose, in Areopagitica (Oxford University Press, 1937), p. 290.
Emphasis added by Pierre Goodrich.
Works by the Author
Areopagitica and Other Political Writings of John Milton, ed. John
Alvis (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999). Available from Liberty Fund's online
John Milton, "The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth"
(London, 1660) in The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English
Political Tracts, ed. Joyce Lee Malcolm 2 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty
Fund, 1999), vol. 1, pp. 505-25.
John Milton, Political Writings, ed. Martin Dzelzainis (Cambridge University
John Milton, Selected Prose, ed. C.A. Patrides (Harmondsworth: Penguin,
Milton, John. Complete Poetry and Selected Prose. New York: Random
Milton, John. The Poetical Works of John Milton. Edited by H.C. Beeching.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952.
Milton, John. Milton's Prose. Edited by Malcolm W. Wallace. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1937.
Milton, John. Areopagitica and Other Prose Works. New York: E.P.
Dutton & Company, 1927.
Milton, John. The Prose Works of John Milton. Translated by George
Burnett. London: John Miller, 1809.
Milton, John. The Works of John Milton. London: Bickers & Bush,
Works about the Author
John Alvis, "Foreword: Milton's Political Writings," in Areopagitica
and Other Political Writings of John Milton, ed. John Alvis (Indianapolis:
Liberty Fund, 1999).
David Armitage, Armand Himy, and Quentin Skinner eds., Milton and Republicanism
(Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Arthur E. Barker, Milton and the Puritan Dilemma 1641-1660 (University
of Toronto Press, 1976).
Martin Dzelzainis, "Introduction" to John Milton, Political Writings,
ed. Martin Dzelzainis (Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. ix-xxxii.
J.M. Evans, Paradise Lost and the Genesis Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon
Robert Thomas Fallon, Captain or Colonel: The Soldier in Milton's Life and
Art (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984).
Sir Charles Firth, "Milton as an Historian" in Essays Historical
and Literary (Oxford, 1938), pp. 61-102.
James A. Freeman, Milton and the Martial Muse: Paradise Lost and European
Traditions of War (Princeton University Press, 1980).
C.R. Geisst, The Political Thought of John Milton (London: Macmillan,
John Hackett, Milton and the Idea of Matrimony: A Study of the Divorce Tracts
and 'Paradise Lost' New Haven, 1970).
Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution (Harmondsworth:
Christopher Hill, The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985).
Michael Lieb and John T. Shawcross, eds., Achievements of the Left Hand:
Essays on the Prose of John Milton (Amherst: University of Massachussetts
Herman Ould ed., Freedom of Expression: A Symposium... to Commemorate the
Tercentenary of... 'Areopagitica' (1945).
W.R. Parker, Milton: A Biography, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
C.A. Patrides, "Introductions" to John Milton, Selected Prose,
ed. C.A. Patrides (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974).
C.A. Patrides, Milton and the Christian Tradition (Oxford, 1966).
Mary Ann Radzinwicz, Toward "Samson Agonistes": The Growth of
Milton's Mind (Princeton University Press, 1978).
Stella P. Revard, The War in Heaven: "Paradise Lost" and the Tradition
of Satan's Rebellion (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980).
Hugh H. Richmond, The Christian Revolutionary: John Milton (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1974).
George F. Sensabaugh, That Grand Whig, Milton (Stanford University Press,
John M. Steadman, Milton and the Renaissance Hero (Oxford, 1967).
Don M. Wolfe, Milton in the Puritan Revolution (1941).
R. Zaller, "Milton" in Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals
in the Seventeenth Century. Vol. II: G-O, ed. Richard L. Greaves and Robert
Zaller (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1983) pp. 239-243.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.