Happy 410th birthday, John Milton! Here’s how you can thank him for Paradise Lost.


And there was a little party tonight chez lui – cake and champers in Buckinghamshire!

Happy 410th birthday to the man who lost paradise, and then regained it – for all of us! There was a lovely little party to celebrate the event at the poet’s digs in Chalfont St. Giles, his only surviving home. Wish I’d been there! (I wrote about my own stay earlier this year here.)

Like to get him a little prezzie for the occasion? Here’s what he really needs, and you have a few more days to get it: make a contribution to keeping his place tidied up. The Milton Cottage in Chalfont St. Giles is his only surviving residence, and it’s a charmer. But after half a millennium, it needs a few repairs. “I visited the cottage last summer. It is an absolute gem and the staff are delightful,” according to Milton scholar Joe Nutt.

But move quickly: Thanks to a generous benefactor, any time up midnight on 14th December 2018 your donation will be quadrupled! For a tax-deductible contribution (via credit card or Paypal), Americans should go HERE to donate. Scroll down to note that your intended target for funding is “Paradise Maintain’d: Milton’s Cottage”!

“Yes, I’ve donated to Milton’s Cottage for several years. It is the only structure associated with Milton that remains intact, and it’s where he completed ???????? ????,” wrote Milton enthusiast Mark Hackler. He continued:

Milton was a Londoner for most of his life, but every house (at least four) that he lived in has been obliterated over time. One or two were burned during the Great Fire of London in 1666, and others were destroyed during the Blitz in WWII.

You can view the exterior of the “dorms” at Christ College at the University of Cambridge, where Milton shared a room with a half-dozen pensioners (scholarship students), and there is a memorial window dedicated to Milton at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey; sometimes his portrait is on display at the National Portrait Gallery. But nothing physical remains of Milton in London, except his corpse, which is buried in the floor of the St. Giles without Cripplegate church.

If you visit Bread Street in London, the street on which Milton was born and grew up, you’ll find nothing but soulless office buildings and a tiny gap between two banks called Milton’s Way. The school he attended (St. Paul’s) is gone; the Mermaid, the pub at the end of the street, where Shakespeare and other greats ate and drank, is gone (perhaps a young Milton, who was 12 when Shakespeare died, met the playwright as he stumbled from the pub on a foggy London afternoon); St. Paul’s Cathedral, just around the corner, looks very different now than it did in Milton’s day. Nearly everything in this part of East London (Cheapside) was bombed and burned during WWII.

The London of Milton – and of Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Byron and many others – has vanished.

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