“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.
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.
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
- Budding etymologists can find more surprising word origins at www.etymonline.com or www.wordorigins.org, such as the following (tangentially related as it was coined by another Milton):
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.