Son of a music composer, Milton was educated at St Paul's School and
Christ's College, Cambridge. He began writing poetry at university, where he
gained the nickname of "the Lady of Christ's" which he attributed to "a
certain niceness of nature". On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, composed
the Christmas of the year in which he received his first degree, marked the
abandoning of his previous frivolous style. From then on Milton sought to
instruct his audience in a style later considered "Miltonic". His central moral
belief is in individual responsibility: only when one is allowed choice can one
become a moral being.
After Lycidas in 1637, Milton wrote only a few minor poems until twenty
years later when he began Paradise Lost. During this period he travelled in
Italy, meeting Galileo amongst others. He was also increasingly involved in
campaigning for civil, religious and domestic liberties, which prompted his
publication of various pamphlets, including his notorious defences of divorce.
In the mid 1640s he became aware of his deteriorating vision, which would
leave him completely blind by 1652.
In 1649 Milton was employed as Latin Secretary to the Council of State, and
was helped in his duties by the poet Marvell. After the Restoration of Charles
II in 1660, his publication of the republican The Ready and Easy Way to
Establish a Free Commonwealth in the same year resulted in his arrest, at
which Marvell intervened on his behalf. Perhaps not surprisingly, Milton chose
this time to return to poetry; his late poems being composed in his head and
dictated to his daughters, two nephews and various paid and unpaid helpers.
What needs my Shakespeare for his honored bones
The labor of an age in piled stones?
Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame,
What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thy self a livelong monument.
For whilst, to th' shame of slow-endeavoring art,
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving,
And so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.