Monday, March 05, 2012


The Quaker movement began during the English Civil Wars. Milton was a young man when George Fox began preaching his message of radical dissent from established religion. Milton became an official of the Commonwealth and the Cromwell government which offered hope for religious freedom but were not able to deliver it. When the monarchy was restored and Milton returned to his quiet life of scholarship he developed an association with Quakers. Although this was a period of Quaker persecution under acts of Parliament which prohibited their meeting and preaching, Milton had friends among the Quakers.

Milton's doctor was a friend of the Quaker Isaac Pennington, who was acquainted with a young Quaker who wanted to study Latin. Pennington arranged with Dr Paget for Thomas Ellwood to read in Latin to the blind Milton. Although Ellwood had some knowledge of Latin, he first received instruction on pronunciation since he was unaware of proper Latin pronunciation. Milton discerned when Ellwood needed help with understanding what he was reading and gave him assistance. A trusting relationship developed as evidenced by Ellwood arranging for a place in a Quaker community for Milton and his family to live when the plague made it unsafe for them to stay in London.

British Museum
John Milton & Thomas Ellwood
Sketch by James Barry, a friend of William Blake

Ellwood continued to be a welcome visitor to Milton's home after the Latin lessons had ceased. On a visit to Milton's home in 1665 Ellwood was shown a manuscript of Paradise Lost which he was allowed to take home and read. When he returned the manuscript to Milton, after some discussion, he inquired of Milton what he may have to say about 'Paradise Found'. From this conversation, Milton later told Ellwood, came the sequel to Paradise Lost: Paradise Regained.

Ellwood was entrusted with a portion of the papers of Milton at his death. Miltons republican-letters : or a collection of such as were written by command of the late Commonwealth of England from the year 1648 to the year 1659 was published in 1682. The book includes this statement: 'originally writ by the learned John Milton, secretary to those times ; and now translated into English by a wel-wisher of England's honour'.

As a tribute to his teacher and friend, Ellwood wrote an epitaph which can be read at this site. Ellwood however turned his interest away from Milton to the publication, in 1694, of George Fox's Journal. The task of editing Fox's Journal rested partly on Milton's encouragement and careful training of Ellwood when he was embarking on a serious path of learning.

From The History of Thomas Ellwood Written by Himself:
'He, on the other hand, perceiving with what earnest desire
I pursued learning, gave me not only all the encouragement but all
the help he could; for, having a curious ear, he understood by my
tone when I understood what I read and when I did not; and
accordingly would stop me, examine me, and open the most difficult
passages to me.'

Blake was of the opinion that we are all capable of performing miracles because astonishing and comforting things are performed, not by us, but through us. Perhaps Milton, Ellwood and Fox could each see his work as miracle.

Annotations to Watson, (E 616)
"Jesus could not do miracles where unbelief hinderd hence we
must conclude that the man who holds miracles to be ceased puts
it out of his own power to ever witness one The manner of a
miracle being performd is in modern times considerd as an
arbitrary command of the
agent upon the patient but this is an impossibility not a miracle
neither did Jesus ever do such a miracle. Is it a greater
miracle to feed five thousand men with five loaves than to
overthrow all the armies of Europe with a small pamphlet.
look over the events of your own life & if you do not find that
you have both done such miracles & lived by such you do not see
as I do True I cannot do a miracle thro experiment & to
domineer over & prove to others my superior power as neither
could Christ But I can & do work such as both astonish &
comfort me & mine"

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