Sunday 19 February 2023

Shakespeare vs Milton: The Kings of English Literature Debate

Following my earlier post the other half of my pleasant Sunday morning Milton lie-in came courtesy of an Intelligence Squared video - Shakespeare vs Milton: The Kings of English Literature Debate. In one sense it's a spurious debate in the sense that both are deserving of their classic status. However, this isn't Eurovision and the format works well to highlight the two writers' individual strengths. 

Apart from a few theatre trips long ago, I've not interacted much with Shaekspeare's work outside of required school readings and I really should change that. However, this video reinforces the importance of performance in enjoying these works. I think this applies to Paradise Lost as well. One of my recommendations for people new to Milton's epic poem is to hear it first and from an enjoyment perspective I'm coming to the same opinion.

There are a couple of reasons for this but when deconstructing them it all comes down to my inner reading voice. I've never actually spoken to anyone about this as it's only just occurred to me but I am interested to learn if this applies to other people or whether it's just me being weird!

My inner reading voice is essentially a rapid text-to-speech equivalence amazingly quick and effective with most prose and strangely doesn't remove emotive context. However it does lack tempo and performance, Both attributes are essential to a proper appreciation of a poem or play in my opinion. There are downsides of course, for example, it's slightly more inconvenient when encountering a new word or phrase to pause the play (especially if live!) to quickly look it up. In this case, I make a mental note as if it's something you end up enjoying overall then you'll listen to it again.

Getting back on topic not only does the video reinforce the performance element they are incredible performances and I wish there'd been more for both cases. I'd have enjoyed seeing a bit more actual debate but the points raised were mostly interesting and informative. In particular, I appreciated the take on Milton's apparent lack of humour and salaciousness. In sum, it's an excellent watch and highly recommended.

A Pleasant Milton Sunday Morning

It's a lovely Sunday morning and even better with a Paradise Lost and John Milton themed morning while lazing in bed - marvellous!

It all kicked off with a random YouTube recommendation for a BBC documentary called Armando Iannucci in Milton's Heaven and Hell. It covers the major points in Milton's life and the documenter's connection with the poem. It also touches on Milton's relative obscurity these days which is something I hope to address in a small way with these posts.

Saturday 4 February 2023

The Original Manuscript - Part IV

Here we have the final batch of all that remains of the original manuscript for Paradise Lost. It is a shame that only Book I has survived and I'll confess to a little sadness when including the last couple of page fragments. 

It's a bit silly really as Milton didn't physically write Paradise Lost himself due to his blindness. He dictated it in a similar fashion to Stephen Hawking (another of my personal heroes) but there's still something magnificent about a handwritten manuscript. A project for the future perhaps with all the spare time I have :-)

I've visited the US a few times, but not New York yet. Hopefully one day I'll be able to see these pages in person.

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Tuesday 17 January 2023

The Original Manuscript - Part III

Here we have the penultimate batch of the original manuscript for Book I of Paradise Lost. I'm very tempted to get a handwritten version done or maybe even have a go myself. Although 10,000 lines is a little daunting :-)

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Sunday 8 January 2023

The Original Manuscript - Part II

Thanks to a potent stomach bug I've slipped behind schedule in posting this second part but it was fascinating reading the next batch of 10 pages so I'm not going to stress about it :-) The SP Books printed version of these pages has arrived and I'll put together a little show and tell on that after the next two batches have been posted. I hope to get that done over the coming week but I do have a lot of work and GSD Welfare Fund stuff to catch up on so we'll see. In the meantime feast your eyes upon these pages. I'll even refrain from idle commentary!

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I know it's an impossible dream but I'd love to have a proper look up close!

Friday 30 December 2022

Paradise Lost AI Illustrated Edition - John Milton Biography

As mentioned when going through the Front Matter for the version I'm scanning, this particular edition doesn't have a biography for John Milton. This is unusual from the editions I've seen, so I've decided that my AI Illustrated version is going to include one.

This also necessitates a suitable portrait and following the rules of the edition it must be generated by AI. I'm still using Midjourney for this purpose. For some reason, I thought I'd make things harder on myself and put the portrait together using text prompts only. After many attempts, I did get close but could get some of the final details correct. So I made the task a bit easier for myself and used a target image as a guide. I'm fairly happy with the end result.

If you have any feedback on the portrait or biography then please use the comments section below.

John Milton's fame stems principally from writing Paradise Lost, an epic poem in blank verse (a non-rhyming form of poetry that still follows an established metre, iambic in this case - unrhymed five-beat lines) describing Lucifer's rebellion in Heaven and Adam and Eve's original sin and subsequent banishment from the Garden of Eden. Its immense scope and the bold declaration "to explain the ways of God to mankind" certainly didn't lack ambition. The fact that he achieved his goal, and in such sublime fashion cemented the poem's rightful position as one of the greatest works of English literature. He's now considered one of the finest English writers in history, perhaps only eclipsed by Shakespeare.

Whilst Paradise Lost no doubt represents the pinnacle of his achievement, he attained notable fame for his other poems and well-reasoned writings in support of his republican political beliefs. He lived in and around the political turmoil of the English Civil War, its fallout over the years and associated religious upheaval. Regarding religion his opinions were non-conformist, and as with his political stance required courage to be so bold with his thoughts. With some elements (particularly later in life and in English society) he gained more notoriety than fame.

John Milton was born on the 9th December 1608 to parents John Milton Snr (1562-1647) and Sara Jeffrey (1572-1637)  in their house on Bread Street in London, situated near St. Paul's Cathedral. He had an older sister Anne (date of birth unknown) and a younger brother Christopher born in 1615. Two other younger sisters Sara and Tabitha both died in infancy.

Milton's father, John Milton Snr moved to London around 25 years before his son's birth. Upon arrival, he signed up as a scrivener's apprentice and ultimately achieved hard-earned success. John Milton Snr married Sarah Jeffrey in 1600/. The business he operated from the family home on Bread Street in Hammersmith. Even so, he spent most of his time working and spent relatively little with the family.

1n 1633 Milton Snr became warden for the Chapel of St Paul. He continued as a scrivener for another three years and upon his retirement moved to Horton. Music occupied much of his attention when not working and he composed many well-regarded musical pieces. The majority of his work focused on religious themes, his strict protestant beliefs caused a rift with his father as he was a strict catholic. He also wrote some poetry although they were never published. John Milton Snr's well-rounded education proved a significant influence on his son's future.

With his father earning a more than comfortable living John Milton's early education benefitted from a private tutor named Thomas Young. This tutor also introduced the young Milton to more controversial elements of Presbyterianism. 

He then began attendance at St Paul's School in London and began studies in Latin and Greek. He enjoyed these languages and later in life wrote masterfully in them. The influence of these classical languages in his English writing can also be observed. Aged 15 he also released his first work of two psalms in the parish of Long Bennington in Lincolnshire.

After leaving school in 1625 Milton studied at Christ's College, Cambridge and graduated with honours for a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1629. At that time he intended to become an Anglican priest and so continued his studies with a Master of Arts degree. He received his Master's Degree in July 1632.

Despite his academic success, Milton didn't enjoy many of his studies at Cambridge. His first printed work Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare was released during this time and he wrote other short poems in English and Latin including "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" and "Il Penseroso".

Upon completing his formal studies Milton moved to Hammersmith to live with his father who'd moved to the then-suburban village in the previous year. There and in Horton in Berkshire from the following year he studied under his own direction in a diverse range of subjects including theology, history, science, philosophy and literature. He also possessed a good understanding of a range of languages mostly focused on the romance languages such as French, Italian and Spanish as well as classics like Latin, Greek and Hebrew. His poems Arcades and Comus were written during this time.

After six years of intense study, he travelled with his manservant on a tour of France and then Italy for just over a year. This in effect proved another period of study as he met and engaged with other intellectuals of the time. His interest mainly concerned art and religious traditions but also offered the opportunity for him to demonstrate his poetic talent. He met many notable thinkers such as Galileo while the astronomer was under house arrest. 

In Rome, he featured praise in a mention of an epigram written by Giovanni Salzilli. Although while in the city he was warned that his frank opinions on religion, specifically Catholicism had attracted attention and placed him in some danger. Milton remained in the city without any major incidents.

Milton returned to England in the summer of 1639 with the increasing likelihood of the Civil War. The Bishops' Wars were underway. These occurred in 1639 and 1640 preceding and leading to what became known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms from 1639 to 1653. This conflict revolved around the imposition of governance of the Church of Scotland by the Church of England. The Scots gained support from elements in England and Ireland and so expanded the scope of the wars. This series of conflicts included the Irish Confederate wars, the first and second English Civil Wars, the Anglo-Scottish war and the conquest of Ireland under Cromwell.

In this environment, Milton wrote a series of works supporting the Parliamentary and Puritan positions. His extensive studies and written eloquence enabled his writings to stand out as significant elements for the vigorous debates accompanying the conflicts. In particular, he campaigned against the High Church Party within the Church of England.

June of 1642 saw Milton marry Mary Powell. She was half his age the start of their marriage proved an unsettled one as she didn't conform to his Puritan lifestyle or his anti-royalist views. Mary subsequently moved back to her parents and didn't return until the following year. This occurred soon after Milton attempted to court a woman named Davis who denied his advances.

While they remained apart Milton penned a number of pamphlets arguing for allowing divorce for grounds beyond adultery. This did attract some trouble from the authorities spurring the writing of Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc'd Printing, to the Parlament of England condemning pre-printing censorship.

During this period he took a position as a private schoolmaster providing education to the local wealthy children including his nephews. He also met Samuel Hartlib and these two factors resulted in Milton writing "Of Education" in 1644 concerning reform for universities.

1645 saw the publication of a collection of Milton's earlier poems written in various languages notably English, and Latin and a few in Italian as well.

After the conclusion of the English Civil War Milton continued to write in public support for the Commonwealth. This included The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates in 1649 defending the right for rulers to be held to account by their people and also for regicide. This last aspect was argued further in Eikonoklastes published in October of the same year as a rebuttal to the popular Eikon Basilike portraying Charles I as a Christian martyr.

This spirited and well-regarded defence resulted in Milton's appointment as Secretary for Foreign Tongues by the Council of State in March 1649. This role required him to handle Parliament's foreign correspondence as well as to continue writing propaganda. With some irony regarding his earlier counter stance, he would also act as a censor. The role would later come to haunt him after the Restoration.

Mary Powell gave birth to their first daughter Anne on the 29th of July 1646. She was followed by another daughter they named Mary on 25th October 1648. Their third child was a boy called John born on the 16th of March 1651 but sadly he lived for just a season past a year. Deborah, their third daughter arrived on the 2nd of May 1652. Difficulties during the birth claimed Mary's life.

Milton became fully blind in 1652 with the precise cause unknown. Despite this, he remained in this role until 1660 although much of the work would be done by various deputies during that period. He also wrote further works for the government via dictation. These included Defensio secunda in which he defended attacks of a personal nature as well as praising Lord Protector Cromwell. A further personal attack was defended in the autobiographically natured "Defensio pro se".

Katherine Woodcock married Milton at St Margaret's in Westminster on the 12th of November 1656. She passed less than two years later four months after giving birth to a daughter they named Katherine, but she also died.

Cromwell's demise in 1658 triggered a period of unrest as military and political forces vied for supremacy. This ultimately resulted in the Restoration of 1660 of King Charles II as the monarch for England, Scotland and Wales which remained separate countries at this time. Throughout these unsettled two years, Milton would publish further works defending the concepts of Parliamentarian rule and a state-sponsored church. Several of these were published in 1959.

An oil painting on canvas by
Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix
illustrating Milton dictating Paradise Lost
 to his daughters.
Around this time Milton started work on what would become his Magnificient Octopus [Yes this jest will need removing]. Being blind and experiencing a considerable drop in political and financial status failed to tarnish one of what would become one of English literature's greatest accomplishments. 

The first edition of Paradise Lost was released in 1664 with a second edition in 1674. This new edition contained revisions and restructured the 10,000 lines of verse into 12 books rather than 10. The Arguments for each book were also added to aid readers' comprehension.

After the Restoration, a warrant for Milton's arrest was issued and he went into hiding and fearing for his life. Much of his writing was publically burned and it wasn't until a general pardon was released that he emerged. Despite the pardon authorities still arrested him and it required the intervention of influential friends to secure his release from prison.

On the 24th of February 1663, Milton married for the third and last time. He married Betty Ninshull then aged 24 from Wistaston in Cheshire.

Photo by Doyle of London
The final decade of his life was spent mostly in London although he did move to his cottage in Chalfont St Giles during the Great Plague of London in 1665 and 1666. He continued to publish during these years although Milton stayed away from politics for the most part.

1671 saw the publication of Paradise Regained alongside the Samson Agonistes.

On the 8th of November 1674, Milton died and was subsequently buried at the Anglican church St Giles-without-Cripplegate in London. The exact cause of his death remains unknown although contemporary sources indicate that it was either consumption or gout. A statue sculpted by John Bacon the Elder was later added in 1793.

Sunday 25 December 2022

The Original Manuscript - Part 1

I only recently discovered that only the first book of the manuscript for Paradise Lost still exists. I'd foolishly assumed that somewhere a beautiful original existed. And one day via the power of the Zuckerberg Machine I was targetted quite expectedly for a reproduction of John Milton's Paradise Lost. And just as I was about to order the moment led me to discover that there isn't a complete manuscript.  That bummed me out man - okay I'm not a sixties child, but it really did.

I've still ordered it though.

So after learning there wasn't a complete manuscript I researched what had survived. Only the first book it seems and so I searched online and learned that it had crossed the pond after being purchased by J P Morgan. It now resides in the Morgan museum which means I'm unlikely to get to see it in person any time so wondered what to do about that. You can learn more about what they have in the museum here:

I did want to do more on this site than just post a link and so contacted them to see what I could do and ended up licensing the images non-commercially so I can post them all here and expand this site as a resource on this site. It's also sparked an idea, but I'll keep quiet on that until I see how feasible it is.

But for now please enjoy the first batch of photos of what remains of John Milton's original manuscript for Paradise Lost. If you weren't already aware then Milton became blind before authoring the poem so this isn't his penmanship.

Page 1 - Blank inside cover very exciting and included for completeness.

Page 2 - Another blank page included for completeness - it does get more interesting soon!

Page 3 - We get to the good part :-)

Page 4 - Note the page numbers in the top left. The numbers don't match my numbering simply because I counted the blank sheets as well 

Page 5 - In the left margin you can the lines being counted

Page 6 - I remember having nice handwriting. I only write notes these days so it looks a bit like I'm filling out a prescription form :-)

Page 7 - I did wonder if the pages matched the print and of course, they don't

Page 8 - I always love noticing the differences and how the English language has changed over the years

Page 9 - And for purists who try to lock language into a fixed edifice we wouldn't have the word 'Pandemonium' in our vocabulary

Page 10 - My commentary hasn't added much of value, but I have enjoyed examining these pages again as I've posted them so refuse to apologise! 

That's the first batch - I'll try and poster the other two batches by the New Year. |I hope you've enjoyed them as I have and please remember these are not mine and my licence only allows displaying on this site.