Milton Regained: A Helluva Party on 400th birthday

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John Milton won’t turn 400 until Dec. 9, but a number of institutions have already jumped the gun on celebrating his quadricentenary. The New York Public Library, for example, gave him a show that opened in March, the Morgan Library & Museum opens its exhibition in October, and there has been a yearlong program of lectures, exhibitions and performances at Christ’s College, Cambridge — Milton’s alma mater and an institution for which he had no great fondness.

It’s hard to know what he would have made of the Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball that the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center in Brooklyn is holding on Saturday evening. His father was a composer, and Milton wrote and played music himself, but as a Puritan he probably took a dim view of dancing. His idea of an evening was a supper of “olives or some light thing,” a pipe and a glass of water.

Nor, despite his fond depiction of marital love in “Paradise Lost,” was Milton much of a ladies’ man. His first wife found him so sullen and gloomy that she left him for three years. His second and third wives he turned into drudges and amanuenses. Samuel Johnson said of Milton that “there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females.”

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