April 27

This Day in History

Literary

Apr 27, 1667:

John Milton sells the copyright to Paradise Lost

Blind poet John Milton sells the copyright to his masterpiece Paradise Lost (1667) for a mere 10 pounds.

Milton was born and raised the indulged son of a prosperous London businessman. He excelled at languages in grammar school and at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he took a bachelor's and a master's, which he completed in 1632. He then decided to continue his own education, spending six years reading every major work of literature in several languages. He published an elegy for a college classmate, Lycidas, in 1637 and went abroad in 1638 to continue his studies.

In 1642, Milton married 17-year-old Mary Powell, who left him just weeks later. Milton wrote a series of pamphlets arguing for the institution of divorce based on incompatibility. The idea, however mild it seems today, was scandalous at the time, and Milton experienced a vehement backlash for his writing.

Milton's wife returned to him in 1645, and the pair had three daughters. However, he continued espousing controversial views. He supported the execution of Charles I, he railed against the control of the church by bishops, and he upheld the institution of Cromwell's commonwealth, for which he became secretary of foreign languages.

In 1651, he lost his sight but fulfilled his government duties with the help of assistants, including poet Andrew Marvell. His wife died the following year. He remarried in 1656, but his second wife died in childbirth. Four years later, the commonwealth was overturned, and Milton was thrown in jail, saved only by the intervention of friends. The blind man lost his position and property.

He remarried in 1663. Blind, impoverished, and jobless, he began to dictate his poem Paradise Lost to his family. When the poem was ready for publication, he sold it for 10 pounds. Once printed, the poem was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of the English language. In 1671, he wrote Paradise Regained, followed by Samson Agonistes. He died in 1674.

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