A cast of 350 readers will stage an 11-hour promenade performance to celebrate three-and-a-half centuries of Paradise Lost at John Milton’s cottage.
The event will take place on Sunday (20th August) at the Grade I-listed museum in Buckingham, the only surviving home of the poet and parliamentarian, to mark 350 years to the day since Milton’s publisher Samuel Simmons registered copyright for the poem with Stationers’ Hall.
In addition to the reading, Milton Cottage Trust CIO, an independent charity, will launch a fundraising campaign to secure £3.5m to preserve the museum’s collections which include a lock of the poet’s hair and a first edition of Paradise Lost.
The poem runs at 10,000 verse and the reading will take around 11 hours running from 9.30am-8.30pm. Performers, who include shopkeepers, children, community groups and Milton fans from across the country, will read for up to two minutes each.
The 16th century cottage in Chalfont St Giles has been a museum since 1887 and is where Milton completed Paradise Lost aged 58, having fled the Great Plague in London and where he wrote its sequel, Paradise Regain’d.
After Shakespeare’s birthplace, it is the second oldest writer’s home museum in the world and boasts a range priceless artefacts including a first edition of Paradise Lost, the Milton chair, a lock of his hair and an original proclamation, issued by Charles II, banning Milton’s books.
To accompany the celebration, the Milton Cottage Trust CIO will begin a fundraising campaign for the £3.5m Paradise Maintain’d Endowment Fund.
The trust has recently been awarded a Heritage Endowments grant of £250,000, which means the Heritage Lottery Fund will match-fund every donation up to that figure.
The last time a public appeal took place was around the museum’s launch 130 years ago with the first donation, of £20, from Queen Victoria. The Trust is asking donors to match the royal sum to help them towards their goal.
Simon Avery, the trust’s chair, said: “Hearing 350 voices fill Milton’s home will be a poignant moment, and testament to the impact his work continues to have, both on readers and the English language, 350 years after it was written. This is a poem that changed the course of literary history and Milton’s views on freedom of the press, divorce, education, religion and parliamentary democracy still resonate today.”
He added: “We can think of no better way to celebrate the 350th anniversary of its publication than to launch an appeal to preserve, in perpetuity, the place where Paradise Lost was completed.”
Paradise Lost, a retelling of the Book of Genesis, is considered to be one of the most influential poems ever written.
Audience members can simply turn up on the day or book via Eventbrite (entry by donation). There is also the opportunity to register to take part in the reading by email or 01494 872313.
Donate to to The Paradise Maintain’d Endowment Fund here miltonscottage.org/support.