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John Milton’s Cottage bids to become a world class museum

a photo of an open edition of Paradise Lost with John Milton's portrait on it

A rare second edition of Paradise Lost on display at Milton’s Cottage. Photo Museum Crush

John Milton’s Cottage has launched a campaign to raise the funds to become a world class museum for its priceless collection

At the Age of 58, having fled the Great Plague in London, John Milton settled for two productive years in a cottage in Chalfont St Giles.

It was here, in the leafy folds of the Buckinghamshire countryside, that he sat and completed his opus, Paradise Lost, and where he was inspired to write its sequel, Paradise Regain’d.

A museum since 1887, after Shakespeare’s birthplace Milton’s sixteenth century cottage is the second oldest writer’s home museum in the world. The Grade I listed building with its charming brick and timber frame facade also houses a range of priceless artefacts, including a first edition of Paradise Lost, the Milton chair (upon which he wrote Paradise Lost) a lock of Milton’s hair and an original proclamation, issued by Charles II, banning Milton’s books.

Now to mark 350 years since Milton’s publisher, Samuel Simmons, registered the copyright for the now legendary poem with Stationers’ Hall on August 20 1667 (a document that also resides at the cottage) the Milton Cottage Trust charity is launching a £3.5 million fundraising campaign called the Paradise Maintain’d Endowment Fund, to secure the museum’s future and preserve its unique and precious collections.

a photo of a brick built cottage

Milton’s Cottage and garden. Courtesy Milton Cottage Trust

a photo of a ledger conating the copyright application for John Milton's Paradise Lost

The Stationer’s Company Copyright registration. Courtesy Milton Cottage Trust

a photo of a carved chair

Milton’s Chair, on which he sat and wrote Paradise Lost, at Milton’s cottage. Photo copyright Museum Crush

Charles II’s Proclamation suppressing Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Courtesy Milton Cottage Trust

The Trust has recently been awarded a Heritage Endowments grant of £250,000, meaning that the Heritage Lottery Fund will match-fund every donation to Paradise Maintain’d up to that figure.

The last time a public appeal took place was around the cottage’s launch in 1887. The first donation, of £20, came from Queen Victoria and kick started a campaign that drew support from a cast of influential and eminent Victorians, ranging from Charles Dickens to Disraeli. The Trust is now asking donors to match the royal sum to help them towards their goal.

“We can think of no better way to celebrate the 350th anniversary of its publication than to launch an appeal to preserve, in perpetuity, the place where Paradise Lost was completed,” says Simon Avery, Chair of the Trust. “The income generated by the endowment will enable us to protect this unique literary landmark for future generations, as well as engage people with Milton’s legacy in new ways. ”

Paradise Lost is widely regarded as one of the most influential poems ever written. A retelling of the Book of Genesis, it depicts Satan’s war with Heaven, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and their subsequent Fall from Paradise.

“This is a poem that changed the course of literary history and Milton’s views on freedom of the press, divorce, education, religion and parliamentary democracy still resonate today,” adds Avery whose organisation is using the 1802 quote of another great English poet, William Wordsworth, to bring the literary loving public into the fold of their campaign. “Milton! Thou shouds’t be living at this hour. / England hath need of thee.”

a photonof a handwritten letter with a the Windsor Castle address top left

Queen Victoria’s letter confirming her £20 donation to help preserve Milton’s cottage. Courtesy Milton Cottage Trust

a photo of a handwritten letter by Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria’s letter continued. Courtesy Milton Cottage Trust

A photo of the open frontispiece of Paradise Regained

One of the editions of Paradise regained at John Milton’s Cottage. Courtesy John Milton’s Cottage

Paradise Lost was a bold and revolutionary work, which came at a time when religious dissent was considered heresy, and Milton lived during a very turbulent period in history. A supporter of the Republican cause, he had written compellingly to justify the regicide of Charles I in the aftermath of the Civil War, and in March 1649 was appointed Oliver Cromwell’s Secretary for Foreign Tongues – a lucrative position in which he oversaw the translation of Latin government documents. In between the translating duties he turned out propaganda tracts for Cromwell’s government.

“Milton is credited with inventing more English words than any other writer, including William Shakespeare.”

However, after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, it became a treasonable offence to own his work and he was briefly imprisoned. His fall from grace, failing physical health and the dramatic events that surrounded the completion of his great work – the Great Plague, the Great Fire – are reflected in Paradise Lost.

Due to late-onset blindness, he was forced to dictate the poem to others, which many say lends it its musical quality. Nevertheless, Milton is credited with inventing more English words than any other writer, including William Shakespeare. Paradise Lost was the origin of many words including self-delusion, self-esteem, outer space and pandaemonium.

Paradise Lost has now been translated over 300 times into 57 languages. A recent book of research, Milton in Translation, found that the majority of those translations have been published in the last 30 years, often mirroring periods of ‘rebellious ideology or nationalism’. The Milton’s Cottage collection includes the Serbo-Croat edition, translated by Yugoslav communist party official turned dissident, Milovan Djilas, onto toilet paper in prison, and an illegal copy printed in Catalan during Franco’s regime.

a photo of the cover of Paradise Lost in Serbo Croat

A Serbo-Croat Paradise Lost. One of the hundreds of foreign translations of the poem in the collection of John Milton’s Cottage. Courtesy Milton Cottage Trust

a photo of a bust of man with long hair

Milton’s bust, reflecting his blindness in later years,  in the garden of the cottage. Photo Museum Crush

an engraving of John Milton with long hair and ruffled collar

John Milton. Courtesy Milton Cottage Trust

By the time he died, in 1674, Britain had experienced the governments of three different Stuart monarchs, civil war, the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and its only Republican government.

On Sunday August 20, a cast of 350 performers will embark on a unique promenade performance of John Milton’s Paradise Lost at Milton’s Cottage. At over 10,000 lines of verse, the reading will take approximately 11 hours to complete, running from 9.30am-8.30pm. Performers, who will each read for up to two minutes, will include local residents – shopkeepers, children, community groups – and Milton enthusiasts from across the country.

Audience members can simply turn up on the day or book via Eventbrite (entry by donation). There is also the opportunity to register to take part in the reading by email or 01494 872313.

The Paradise Maintain’d Endowment Fund is now live at www.miltonscottage.org/support

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John Milton's Cottage

Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

Milton's Cottage is the only extant home of John Milton, the great English poet and parliamentarian, in Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire. It was in this grade 1 listed 16th century cottage, described by Thomas Ellwood as "that pretty box in Giles, Chalfont", that Milton completed Paradise Lost, and the idea…

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