Milton's Imperial Epic: Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism

By J. Martin Evans | Go to book overview

1 The Colonial Idea

The complex origins of the colonial idea in England, the immense and contradictory elements that contributed to its growth and that led to the planting of mainland colonies of Englishmen in the New World show . . . that the pristine image of a new Eden had already been criss-crossed with darker shades of doubt and selfishness.

-- Howard Mumford Jones, O Strange New World

There were many reasons for pondering the relationship between the Old World and the New as Milton turned his attention back to his long delayed plans for an epic poem in the late 1650s. 1 To begin with, the Commonwealth's war with Spain had rekindled anti- Spanish sentiment, and writers in tune with the mood of the times were busy turning out works based on the so-called "black legend" of Spanish brutality in South America. In 1655, Cromwell himself issued, possibly with the aid of Milton, A Declaration Against Spain reminding his fellow-countrymen of "the Innocent Blood of so many Millions of Indians, so barbarously Butchered by the Spaniards, and of the Wrong and Injustice that hath been done unto them." 2 In the following year Milton's nephew, John Phillips, produced an English translation of the original source of the black legend, Bartolomé de las Casas's Brevíssima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, complete with a series of vivid illustrations by R. Gaywood (modeled on Theodore de Bry) detailing the atrocities committed by the early Spanish colonists. 3 Dedicated to his uncle's employer, Oliver Cromwell, it was, in the words of one historian, "an open cry to the English people to challenge the supremacy of Spain in the New World." 4 And in 1658, Sir William Davenant, the erstwhile governor- designate of Maryland, catered to prevailing English taste with his

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Milton's Imperial Epic: Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Colonial Idea 10
  • 2 - The Colony 30
  • 3 - The Colonists 60
  • 4 - The Colonized 86
  • 5 - The Narrator 112
  • Conclusion 141
  • Notes 149
  • Bibliography 175
  • Index 189
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