Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Milton, John (1563?-1647)

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MILTON, JOHN, the elder (1563?–1647), musician, father of the poet, born about 1563, was son of Richard Milton of Stanton St. John, near Oxford (Masson). The Miltons were catholics of the yeoman class, and according to one account Richard was an ‘under-ranger’ of Shotover Forest (Wood); he was a staunch catholic, and was fined as a recusant in 1601. John was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was perhaps a chorister (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. i. 115, 259), and while there embraced protestantism, to the annoyance of his father, who promptly disinherited him. Milton, on leaving Oxford, went to London ‘to seek in a manner his fortune’ (Wood). After trying various means of gaining a livelihood, he adopted, in 1595, the profession of a scrivener, and on 27 Feb. 1599-1600 was admitted to the Company of Scriveners. About 1600 he started business for himself in Bread Street, Cheapside, at the sign of the Spread Eagle, the family arms; and about the same time married Sarah, daughter of Paul Jeffrey, merchant taylor of St. Swithin s, London; she was about nine years his junior (Masson). Aubrey's statement that her maiden name was Bradshaw, and her grandson Edward Phillips's remark that she was ‘of the family of the Castons,’ were disproved by Colonel Chester the genealogist (cf. Stern, Milton und seine Zeit, i. 345-8). Milton's business prospered rapidly, and in the end he had a ‘plentiful estate’ (Aubrey). He died in March 1647, and was buried 15 March at St. Giles's, Cripplegate. Of six children, three survived infancy, viz. Anne—by whose first husband, Edward Phillips, she was mother of Edward Phillips (1630-1698) [q. v.] and of John Phillips (fl. 1700) [q. v.] John the poet [q. v.], and Christopher [q. v.] the judge. The poet says that his mother was well known in her neighbourhood for her charities (Defensio secunda); she died on 3 April 1637.

Milton, who was a man of high character and a fair scholar, had a special faculty for music, to the practice of which he devoted his leisure. He had an organ and other instruments in his house. His musical abilities are celebrated by his son in a Latin poem, ‘Ad Patrem.’ To Morley's ‘Triumphes of Oriana,’ London, 1601 (reprinted by William Hawes 1815), he contributed a six-part madrigal (No. 18), ‘Fayre Oriana in the Morne;’ and to Leighton's ‘Teares or Lamentacions of a Sorrowfull Soule,’ London, 1614, four motets, specimens of which are printed by Hawkins and Burney. Ravenscroft's ‘Whole Booke of Psalmes,’ London, 1621, contains, among other melodies ascribed to him, the common-metre tune ‘York,’ once immensely popular (see Hawkins) and still widely used. The melody is, however, probably not his own invention. The tunes in Ravenscroft are described as being ‘composed into four parts’—i.e. harmonised—and as 'York' was so treated by one Simon Stubbs, as well as by Milton, the former might share the authorship (cf. Love). He is said (Phillips) to have composed an ‘In nomine’ in forty parts, for which he received a gold chain and medal from a Polish prince, to whom he presented it. A sonnet in his honour, written by John Lane [q. v.] (Harl. MS. 5243), is printed by Masson and others.

[Masson's Life of Milton and generally the other biographical works cited under Milton, John, poet; Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses; Godwin's Lives of Edward and John Phillips, with Aubrey's Sketch; Milton Papers, edited by John Fitchett Marsh (Chetham Soc.); Athenæum and Notes and Queries, 19 March 1859; Grove's Dict. of Music; Hawkins's and Burney's Histories of Music; Parr's Church of England Psalmody; Love's Scottish Church Music, p. 250.]

J. C. H.