John Milton was born 9 December 1608 to John and Sara Jeffrey Milton. John was the second of five children, only three of whom survived into adulthood. Milton later wrote that he was born "of an honest family; my father was distinguished by the undeviating integrity of his life; my mother, by the esteem in which she was held, and the alms which she bestowed."2 The Milton household was dominated by Christian values and a belief in the importance of education. The senior John Milton was a scrivener, or law clerk, who also dabbled as a composer of church music. He was determined that his eldest son should get a first-rate education. Milton credited his writing career to his father, who "destined me from a child to the pursuits of literature."3
Milton began his formal studies at St. Paul's School in London when he was twelve years old. In 1625, at the age of sixteen, he enrolled at Christ's Church College at Cambridge University. An awkward boy, Milton was not all that well liked by his students - or, as it turned out, by his tutor. Miscreants everywhere will be delighted to learn that goody two-shoes John Milton was suspended from Cambridge in 1626 after an argument with his tutor, William Chappell. Milton returned to his family home in London and started to write poetry during his exile from college. He was eventually allowed back in to Cambridge, but was assigned a new tutor. On Christmas Day of 1629, he wrote one of his first major poems, "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity."
Milton graduated from Cambridge in 1632 having completed both his undergraduate and master's degrees. Milton chose not to start a career right away. Instead, with his father's encouragement, he settled into his family's homes in London and Buckinghamshire for five years of intense private study. He dedicated himself to reading and writing poetry. His poem "On Shakespeare" was published soon after. On 29 April 1634, Milton's Comus, a masque celebrating chastity, was performed for the first time at Ludlow Castle. Soon after Milton suffered a pair of painful losses. In April 1637, his mother Sara died. Four months later, his friend Edward King drowned. Milton wrote the poem Lycidas as an elegy for his friend.
With his years of study drawing to a close, Milton departed England in 1638 for a tour of Europe lasting just over a year. On his visits to France, Switzerland, and Italy, he met a number of notable intellectuals, including the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. He also met and shared his poetry with several members of Europe's literary community, broadening his reputation as a young writer to watch.