John Milton was born in 1608 to a century of revolution — in politics, in print media, in science and the arts. By the time he died in 1674, Britain had experienced the governments of three different Stuart monarchs, the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, and a few short-lived experiments in republican government. In the midst of this turbulent period, governmental controls on printing varied considerably, with the most profound release of censorship occurring in 1640–41, at the onset of the English Civil War, a war between Puritans and Anglicans, and between Parliamentarians and Royalists. But control of the press occurred during the wars and the Interregnum, and in part because of these political changes, the written word took an extraordinarily wide variety of forms, from short poems hand-written on a single manuscript leaf to printed treatises, from broadsides and incendiary pamphlets costing a few pennies to massive bound folios.
This exhibition of Milton´s writing represents the key moments in his long career in relation to the changing world of print and other forms of written expression. Milton´s early poetic career was interrupted in 1640 by civil wars that transformed England´s state from a hereditary monarchy into a republican experiment in government. During these turbulent years, Milton largely postponed his poetic aspirations to devote himself to polemical, theological, and historical prose. After the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, the now blind poet produced his greatest masterpieces, among them the epic Paradise Lost. The epic was immediately hailed, in the words of the poet John Dryden, as "one of the most sublime poems this age or nation has produced."
Thomas Fulton, Department of English, Rutgers University
Fernanda Perrone, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries
Thanks largely to the work of J. Milton French (or "Milton"), Rutgers professor from 1940 to 1960, and to the generosity of donors and alumni, Rutgers owns an exceptionally large collection of Milton´s works. It is among the top five collections in American public academic libraries. This digital exhibition is based on a physical exhibition, John Milton and the Cultures of Print, on display at the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery at Rutgers University Libraries from February 3 to May 31, 2011. The digital version represents this exhibition, but does not include every object or the complete text.