THE flyleaf from John Milton’s Bible, with handwritten notes on his family history, has been opened up for public examination online for the first time by the British Library.
It is one of more than 300 documents from the Restoration period and the 18th century which are available, free of charge, on the Library’s Discovering Literature website: www.bl.uk/discovering-literature.
The head of learning programmes at the British Library, Alex Whitfield, said: “The website enables the British Library to open up its collections to a broader audience, and I am delighted that we are able to make many of these manuscripts available online for the first time. The manuscripts provide remarkable and intimate insights into these well-known writers’ lives and works.”
Milton’s Bible is a 1612 edition of the Authorised Version commissioned by James I and first printed in 1611. It shows signs of regular use, with torn and worn-down pages. A Library spokesman said that the poet’s notes on births and deaths in his family “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”.
The entries begin 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 and John Phillips, who were placed in Milton’s care in about 1640, after their parents died.
The rest of the page is a record of family events, each added as they happened. He notes the births of his four children, Anne, Mary, John, and Deborah, with his first wife, Mary Powell, even recording the times of their births — one at “about half an hower past nine at night”; and another “somwhat before 3 of the clock in the morning”.
Milton was almost blind by 1651, and, in May 1652, an unknown hand records Mary’s death. Only six weeks later, it adds the death of his infant son, John.
Milton married his second wife, Katherine Woodcock, in 1656, and the Bible records the birth, in October 1657, of their daughter, also named Katherine. The final note is a sad report of her mother’s death in February 1658, and baby Katherine’s death a month later.