This Bible once belonged to the poet John Milton (1608–1674). The book reveals signs of regular use, with torn and worn-down pages, and the flyleaf contains Milton’s handwritten notes on births and deaths in his family. It gives us a poignant insight into Milton’s experiences of fatherhood, blindness and bereavement, and reminds us of the importance of the Bible in his work, especially Paradise Lost.
Milton starts with details of his own birth on 9 December 1608, and his younger brother Christopher’s birth ‘about a month before Christmas’ in 1615. He then records the birthdays of his nephews, Edward (1630–c. 1696) and John Phillips (1631–1706?). The boys were placed in Milton’s care around 1640, after their parents died.
Milton as a father
The rest of the page is a record of momentous family events that span over a decade, each added as they happened. Milton notes the births of the four children that he had with his first wife Mary Powell: Anne (1646), Mary (1648), John (1651) and Deborah (1652). He has even recorded the times of their births ‒‘about half an hower past nine at night’, ‘somwhat before 3 of the clock in the morning’ ‒ lending a startling, domestic intimacy to our impression of the celebrated poet.
Who wrote the notes on the flyleaf?
The poet had largely lost his sight by 1651, but he seems to have persisted in writing out the babies’ names himself. After 1652, however, the handwriting changes and someone else takes over, presumably under Milton’s guidance. This new scribe notes that Milton’s wife Mary died in May 1652, three days after the birth of their daughter Deborah. After Mary’s death, Milton was left to care for four children, all under the age of six. Soon afterwards, in June 1652, the infant John also died. His father had never seen him.
In 1656, Milton married again, his second wife being Katherine Woodcock; in October 1657 they had a daughter, also named Katherine. The note ends with the sad revelation that the mother died in February 1658 and her baby girl died a month later.
Which version of the Bible is this?
This is a 1612 edition of The Holy Bible translated into English. It is known as the King James Bible or The Authorized Version, commissioned by James I and first printed in 1611. The editors used the best available sources and translations, but presented the text uncluttered with biased notes or commentaries.
 In Milton’s notes, the date is marked as 1650. This is because according to the Julian calendar used at that time in England, the legal New Year did not begin until 25 March. We now describe the date as 1651, using the modern calendar.
John Milton was born the 9th of December 1608 die Veneris half an hour after 6 in the morning
Christopher Milton was born on Friday about a month before Christmass at 5 in the morning 1615
Edward Phillips was 15 years old August 1645
John Phillips is a year younger about Octob.
My daughter Anne was born July the 29th on the fast at evening about half and houre after 6, 1646
My daughter Mary was born on Wednesday Octob. 25th on the fast ˄day in the morning about 6 a clock 1648.
My son John was born on Sunday March the 16th about half an hower past nine at night 1650
My daughter Deborah was born the 2d of May being Sunday somewhat before 3 of the clock in the morning. 1652.
Hir My wife hir mother dyed about 3 days after. And my son about – 6 weeks after his mother.
Katherin my daughter, by Katherin my second wife, was borne ye. 19th of October, between 5 and 6 in ye morning and dyed ye 27th of March following, 6 weeks after hir mother, who dyed ye 4rd of Feb. 1657
- Full title:
- THE HOLY BIBLE: printed by Robert Barker, London, 1612. The copy formerly belonged to John Milton, who has entered, in his own hand … memoranda of the births, etc., of himself and members of his family.
- 1612, London
- 17th century, London
- Book / Quarto / Manuscript
- John Milton
- Usage terms
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 32310
- Article by:
- Philip Pullman
- Politics and religion, Gender and sexuality
Philip Pullman first read Paradise Lost as a schoolboy and was dazzled by the sound of its poetry as he and his classmates read it aloud. Since then, he has become fascinated by Milton's tremendous powers of storytelling, and the ways in which he creates narrative tension, complex moods and vivid characters.
- Article by:
- Sandra M. Gilbert
- Gender and sexuality, Politics and religion
Eve in Paradise Lost is vain vulnerable and evidently intellectually inferior to Adam. However, Sandra M Gilbert argues that, though Milton portrays her as a weak character, he also puts her on a par with Satan in her refusal to accept hierarchy and because of her ability to move the plot of Paradise Lost forward.
- Article by:
- Roberta Klimt
- Politics and religion
From his politics and religious writings to Paradise Lost, Roberta Klimt traces how the life and work of John Milton was guided by the principle of freedom of thought and how in doing so he challenged fundamental aspects of 17th-century society.