December 9 in Literary History: John Milton Born

The most significant events in the history of books on the 9th of December

1608: John Milton is born. The author of Paradise Lost (1667), one of the greatest epic poems in the English language, about the Fall of Man (brought about by fallen angel Satan). Milton is credited with being the first (or one of the first) to use a number of popular words, among them enjoyable, terrific, dismissive, satanic, unaided, and debauchery. Milton also coined the word ‘pandemonium’, as the name for the capital of Hell.

1793: New York City’s first daily newspaper, the American Minerva, is established by Noah Webster. Edith Sitwell 3Webster is better known as a lexicographer, and his Com­pen­dious Dic­tio­nary of the Eng­lish Lan­guage remains a landmark in dictionary-making. The American Minerva later changed its name to the Commercial Advertiser. For the next four years Webster would edit the paper, writing a vast amount of its content himself – the equivalent of some 20 volumes of articles and editorials.

1854: Tennyson’s poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is published in The Examiner. It’s one of the rare instances of a Poet Laureate producing a good poem while in office – the poem praises the heroism of the men who charged to their deaths, while lamenting the stupidity of the men who ordered the charge.

1943: Joanna Trollope is born. This romantic novelist is of the same family as Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, though she is not directly descended from him.

1964: Edith Sitwell dies. An English poet associated with the modernists and a fine purveyor of bons mots, Sitwell once wisely observed, ‘It is a part of the poet’s work to show each man what he sees but does not know he sees.’ Her own poetry is unconventional, daring, and tirelessly experimental. Sitwell was also a champion of other poets whom she admired: she helped to get the poetry of Wilfred Owen into print. An in-depth television interview with Sitwell, recorded in 1959, five years before she died, can be viewed here.

Image: Portrait of Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry, 1918; Wikimedia Commons.