Sunday, April 29, 2007


John Milton (1609-1674) wrote Paradise Lost, long considered one of the great works of English literature. The book was first published in 1667.

Milton came from a middle class family. According to biographer Gordon Teskey, as a youth, Milton routinely studied and churned over homework until midnight. By the time he was college age, Milton was fluent in English, Latin, and Greek, and further had a proficient understanding of Italian, Hebrew, and French. After years of failing eyesight, in 1652, this man who devoted so much of his life to reading and writing became totally blind. In the same year his first wife died, leaving Milton a widower with three daughters, the oldest of whom was not even six. Milton remarried four years later to a woman who died soon after in childbirth, along with the child.

To write Paradise Lost, Milton had to dictate the entire epic poem to a transcriber. In those days, punctuation was more a concern of copyists and printers, and the person doing his dicatation did not know how to use commas, quotation marks, or other tools of grammar, forcing the blind poet to dictate the poem's punctuation as well. The book's first printing was considered a success. The edition sold barely 1300 copies in just under two years.

It is said that to achieve the standard of living an average American enjoys today, a person in 1667 would have required 200 servants.