25 April 2012

John Milton's Cottage in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

John Milton (1608–74) lived here for about a year between 1665 and 1666 as an escape from the plague in London.

Thomas Ellwood, a Quaker convert living with Isaac Penington's family at Chalfont Grange (Chalfont St Peter), had been a Latin student of and a reader to the blind Milton. He rented this cottage for Milton in June 1665, describing is as a 'Pretty Box', and it is now Grade I listed.

Milton moved here with his third wife Elizabeth (née Minshull), and perhaps his daughter Deborah. The Restoration had come in 1660, Ellwood was in prison in Aylesbury for attending a Quaker funeral, Penington too was in prison: the booklet John Milton's Cottage (Milton's Cottage Trust, n.d.) declares that the new Republican resident was disappointed, disillusioned, and initially was probably isolated here. Contrary to John Aubrey's statement that Paradise Lost (1667) was finished in 1663, the booklet claims that it was completed in the cottage. Certainly Milton gave Ellwood (recently released from prison) the manuscript to read at Chalfont St Giles, and it appears that a comment by Ellwood, on returning it, suggested the idea of Paradise Regained (1671).

The entrance to Milton's Cottage, with a few plaques announcing the past presence of royalty, and a wash furnace and copper dating of course from many years after the presence of the Milton family here.

In the room where Milton would have done his writing, a first edition of Justa Edouardo King Naufrago (1638), which contains the famous 'Lycidas', which is dedicated to the memory of Edward King, a former student at Cambridge with Milton who drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Wales in August 1637.

Bust of Milton in the same room.

A reproduction of a portrait of Milton aged ten, made in 1618 by Cornelis Janssen. A note next to the portrait, by Dr G. C. Williamson, mentions that the young Janssen painted it in the same year that he came over to live in Blackfriars, staying briefly in Bread Street, off Cheapside (and where Milton was born). He also provides information about Milton's surviving daughter, Deborah Clarke, who was old and living in poverty in Spitalfields early in the 18th century: as a result of a newspaper appeal she was suddenly rich, but died four months later.

A facsimile of the agreement for the sale of the copyright of Paradise Lost.

A small Staffordshire pottery statue of Milton.

The fireplace in the kitchen.

The only copy of The Milton Shield, by Morel-Ladeuil (1820–88), described as 'steel and silver, repoussé and damascened', is also described as 'the most notable single object in the Paris Exhibition of 1897'. The original is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The shield depicts events in Paradise Lost:

Center: Archangel Raphael telling Adam and Eve about the war in heaven (Canto 5)

Side medallions: Rebel angels marching to assault, and becoming thunderstruck on seeing the Messiah

Below: The fight between archangel Michael and Satan (Canto 6)

Bas-reliefs above: God the father. The Creation (Canto 7)

Lower part: Death and Sin (Canto 2).

The back of the cottage looking from the entrance to the (Grade II-listed) garden.

'Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat'ry floor.'

 'Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours'.

Again, the unseeing eyes.

'So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat!'

'In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out, and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.'
Below is a link to my post on the church where Milton is buried.

John Milton in St Giles without Cripplegate Church: London#23

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