John Milton and The Origin Of Space

Astrological Clock

“With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and thir change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest Birds; pleasant the Sun
When first on this delightful Land he spreads
His orient Beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flour,
Glistring with dew; fragrant the fertil earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
Of grateful Eevning milde, then silent Night
With this her solemn Bird and this fair Moon,
And these the Gemms of Heav’n, her starrie train:
But neither breath of Morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest Birds, nor rising Sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, floure,
Glistring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful Evening mild, nor silent Night
With this her solemn Bird, nor walk by Moon,
Or glittering Starr-light without thee is sweet.
But wherfore all night long shine these, for whom
This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut all eyes?”

—John Milton, Paradise Lost Book IV

This is my favourite passage from the man who is considered the second greatest English poet. If John Milton was ever irked at having to play second fiddle to Shakespeare in the poetic hall of fame, it may have comforted him to remember that his poetic works were not his greatest feat. Indeed, he invented Space.

Outer Space

Without him, NASA would be NA?A, there would be no “final frontier” into which Captain Kirk could boldly go, and no number 1 hit across 23 countries for Babylon Zoo (arguably a mixed blessing).

Four hundred years ago, “Space,” in the Outer Space sense of the word, was the relatively empty regions of the universe outside the atmospheres of celestial bodies. Thanks to Milton it is now in a handy 5-letter package, to which we can more readily append words such as man, ship, shuttle, hopper, and cadet.

Milton was not always so beneficent, as he also created “pandemonium” and “gloom”. But we are indebted to him for the words terrific, jubilant and sensuous. Without him we would never “trip the light fantastic,” or be moon-struck.

This week visitors to Cambridge University Library will have a chance to inspect the workings of Milton’s great mind, as some of his rare manuscripts are put on display.

John Milton

Milton’s influence on the modern world cannot be underestimated, says Dr Gavin Alexander, fellow of Christ’s College: “His writing took epic realms like fantasy, romance and science fiction and combined them with ideas about politics, morality and human nature on a huge cosmic scale nobody had really seen before… Without him, it is possible we would never have heard of The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, or The Matrix.”

“He is among the world’s great poets,” says Professor Christopher Ricks in the preface to the exhibition. “Living at this Hour: John Milton 1608-2008” opens at the Cambridge University Library on Tuesday.

—Read more from John Milton: the poet who gave us ‘Star Trek’ and ‘The Matrix’ in the Independent On Sunday

Rarely do we know the exact circumstances surrounding the coining of a brand new word. But in the case of googol, a mathematical term for the number represented by a one followed by 100 zeroes or 10100, we know exactly who coined it and when, Milton Sirotta, the nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner, and the year was 1938. From Kasner and Newman’s Mathematics and the Imagination (1940):

The name “googol” was invented by a child (Dr. Kasner’s nine-year-old nephew) who was asked to think up a name for a very big number, namely, 1 with a hundred zeros after it…At the same time that he suggested “googol” he gave a name for a still larger number: “Googolplex.”

Later in the book:

A googol is 10100; a googolplex is 10 to the googol power.

The name of the search engine and software company, Google, is a deliberate variant of the mathematical term. The company’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, came up with the name in 1998. They altered the spelling for trademark purposes.

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13 Responses to John Milton and The Origin Of Space

  1. Scentsy March 20, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    I have always heard it was such a lovely place and have wanted to visit! The clock is amazing so glad a ran into this site!

  2. Scentsy Wickless Candles November 21, 2009 at 12:20 pm #

    I have heard that Prague is one of the most beautiful places to visit. Seeing your picture reassures the rumors. When i visit, one day, I will keep my eyes open for this beautiful clock.

  3. Scentsy April 7, 2009 at 2:53 am #

    Thanks Sumangali for this great inspection of a great mind, offered to the world by another great mind (and scribe)—your self.

  4. Sumangali Morhall September 19, 2008 at 1:01 pm #

    Hi Stephanie, glad you enjoyed the post, and the picture. It’s an astronomical clock in Prague. I’ve never been to Prague, but the clock just looks fantastic! You can find out more here at Wikipedia if you like.

    All the best 🙂

  5. Stephanie September 18, 2008 at 7:16 pm #

    Oh wow I just love that first picture. I am a huge lover of outer space although I am not a star trek fan at all or any other thing like that actually. Anywho I have only recently gotten into looking at material from john milton but it is quite interesting.

  6. Sumangali Morhall February 17, 2008 at 9:33 pm #

    Thanks very much to John Crace of the Guardian for the link, in his very nice article!

    John Milton – our greatest word-maker

    Now that’s how to write a blog post 🙂

  7. Alf January 23, 2008 at 9:10 pm #

    Rathin told me about this episode in 2006 in a moment of lexical musing, such as we were want to have in those days after a spot of grouse shooting. I had never seen this Blackadder, yet I posthaste traded my finest turnips for three whole seasons of the show on DVD.

    True, I acted on pure impulse, for there was a dearth of turnips that bitter Autumn, but I have no regrets.

    Better late than never.

  8. Sumangali Morhall January 23, 2008 at 4:25 pm #

    I thought this was a wind-up, Alf, but no, I see The Surgeon of Crowthorne is indeed a real book. Wikipedia says:

    “It tells the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and one of its most useful early contributors, Dr. W.C. Minor, a retired United States Army surgeon. Minor was, at the time, imprisoned in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, near the small town of Crowthorne in Berkshire, England.”

    Yes, you’d have to be barking mad (or Berking mad) to take on such a remarkable feat, especially with such devotion. This reminded me of a literary episode of Blackadder III (not exactly recommended), entitled “Ink and Incapability.”

    Dr Johnson appears before the king, hounded by fawning poets (Byron,
    Shelley and Coleridge), He has just written the first English
    dictionary: “a premeditated orchestration of demotic Anglo-Saxon…
    [an] uninterrupted categorisation of the vocabulary of our post-
    Norman tongue.”

    Blackadder has a grudge against Johnson, calling him a “globulous
    fraud”, and inventing ridiculously long words while in conversation
    with him. When Johnson is suitably unnerved, Blackadder says, “Oh,
    I’m sorry sir, I’m anaspeptic; phrasmotic; compunctuous to have
    caused you such pericombobulation.”

  9. Elf-Counsel aka Alfred January 23, 2008 at 4:01 pm #

    It is lucky that Milton gave us space, or Shakespeare would have had nowhere to put his moonbeam.

    MS Word should review their Spell Checker and get rid of that damnable American English and just have English and Ye Olde English.

    I once knew someone wiho owned a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The really big one – you need a magnifying glass to read it. It is so fascinating because each word definition is followed by the first known written use of the word in question. e.g. Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

    “…And pluck the wings from painted butterflies,
    To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes…”

    It is also full of words that are sadly redundant. There is a good book out about the birth of this dictionary called The Surgeon of Crowthorne.

  10. Sumangali Morhall January 20, 2008 at 12:59 pm #

    Thanks Shardul, glad you persevered through the Olde English spelling in the extract 🙂

    Thanks John, takes one to know one 🙂

  11. John January 20, 2008 at 12:07 am #

    Thanks Sumangali for this great inspection of a great mind, offered to the world by another great mind (and scribe)—your self.

  12. Shardul January 16, 2008 at 8:23 pm #

    Most enjoyable post Sumangali – terrific! I didn’t know Milton created so many concepts and words that are now so commonplace. Thanks, Shardul.


  1. » Blog Archive » English as a Fecund Language - June 8, 2008

    […] already briefly touched on the subject of poets adding to our lexicon in John Milton and the Origin of Space, but, says Stuart Waters, Shakespeare et al are doomed: “There is no motive in this crime of the […]

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