The 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton was celebrated on December 9 with events throughout the world. Readings of his works, exhibits of his manuscripts and, of course, presentations of his masterpiece Paradise Lost were featured. At Cambridge University (where Milton studied at Christ’s College), the faculty read the entire text (all 10,000 lines!) in a 12-hour, continuous live Webcast.

At a Milton exhibit at the Morgan Library, here in New York City, preservationists unbound a portion of the only handwritten manuscript of Paradise Lost that still survives from the 1660s. Declan Kiely, the exhibit’s curator, says that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime display. “You’ll never have another opportunity to see as many openings as there are here,” he says. “It’s a 33-page manuscript, and you can see eight pages in the exhibition.

Paradise Lost, a poem in blank verse, describes the biblical Fall of Man, the Creation, the Battle of the Angels, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and Original Sin with a richness and vividness that remains unsurpassed. Many (including myself) consider it one of the greatest works in the English language; and Milton, second only to Shakespeare, one of its greatest poets.

Milton devotees were in a state of spiritual enthrallment as they viewed the sacred text of the poet who attempted to justify the ways of God to men. Kiely says that people “almost genuflected” in front of the manuscript.: “There’s a great sense of reverence in the room whenever I visit it.”

Included in the exhibition is a rare, first American edition of Paradise Lost that was published in 1777. Milton was a fierce opponent of the British monarchy and it’s little wonder that his poem (alongside Paine’s COMMON SENSE) made for inspirational reading during the American Revolution…it was a favorite amongst most of the Founding Fathers.

source: NPR “400 Years of ‘Justifying God to Man‘”