Milton’s Cottage

Nominated by: The Rt. Hon. Earl Howe

Paradise Lost is one of the world’s greatest poems – and it was completed here in Buckinghamshire.  Milton’s Cottage is an incredible monument to the act of creativity – a 16th century farmworkers’ dwelling that for a brief, extraordinary period was home to the visionary writer, John Milton.  As his only surviving residence, and the place where he completed Paradise Lost, Milton’s Cottage is an irreplaceable part of our shared heritage – offering everyone the opportunity to experience where literary history was made.

He took refuge here during another pandemic, the Great Plague of 1665, to complete his epic masterpiece in a safe environment – changing the course of Western literature forever. Since its publication in 1667, Paradise Lost has never been out of print and has been translated into over 55 languages, from Arabic to Hebrew, Tongan to Tagalog.  It has influenced many of our greatest writers, artists and thinkers – from Blake to the Bronte sisters, Thomas Jefferson to James Joyce, Mary Shelley to Salman Rushdie – and continues to inspire writers and readers around the world today.

Buckinghamshire, for me, is an English paradise – perhaps not surprising given that for many of us in the western world our image of paradise has been shaped by Milton’s Paradise Lost.  His descriptions of the Garden of Eden – with its “happy walks and shades” and “Flocks / Grazing the tender herb” – could be a description of his cottage and surrounding countryside in Chalfont St Giles.  Buckinghamshire is Milton’s “happy rural seat” and I take pleasure in the extraordinary landscape of our county – much of it a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Without Milton, there might be no Frankenstein, no Sauron and no Voldemort.  He is the poet who brought Satan into English literature and with him, our first anti-hero.  Though other writers had conjured up minor demons, none had dared put the arch-fiend himself into print.  To this day, the template for devilish bad-boy who shakes up the world remains Milton’s Satan – the charismatic rebel who will not bow his head to any authority.

Paradise Lost is an extraordinary creation – the work of an ageing, blind poet whose books had been burnt by order of King Charles II and who had narrowly escaped execution for the role he played in Britain’s only republican government.  As Cromwell’s Secretary for Foreign Tongues, and unofficial spin doctor, he is one of the architects of our modern parliamentary democracy.

Nearly 350 years after his death, the impact of his writing can still be seen in our literature, politics, society and even the language we speak: Milton is credited with bringing over 600 words into the English language – more than any other writer, including Shakespeare.  Without him there would be no pandemonium, no self-esteem and no outer space.  There would be no silver linings, no pastures new – and our language, and life, would be so much poorer without him.

Milton’s Cottage was nominated by the Rt. Hon. Earl Howe.