Kerry MacLennan ~ Independent scholar
John Milton's Contract for Paradise Lost: A New Reading

Conventional biographical treatments of John Milton refer, often obliquely, to a few financial transactions to which he was a party, and interpret Milton's lifetime financial standing from them. Since Milton's death in 1674, an unchallenged sequence of inferences has yielded two theories: first, undistracted by the quotidien, Milton flourished in the comfortable subsidy of inherited wealth. Alternatively, Milton languished in poverty as an unrewarded genius. A fresh investigation of the remarkable body of preserved legal documentation suggests that both heuristics are invalid. Instead, Milton was inducted into the nascent capitalistic landscape by his father, a prosperous London scrivener. And not only did Milton actively, and expertly, navigate sophisticated, profit-motivated investments throughout his adult life, his commercial fluency informs his poetry. The business aspects of Milton's arguably finest aesthetic achievement are memorialized in its governing legal agreement, the publishing contract for Paradise Lost. A close reading of the document reveals a virtuoso mercantile intelligence that claims the unprecedented right by authors to control the retail exploitation of their intellectual property.