Tuesday Book: Milton - a Great Poet and Not a Bad Spin Doctor ; the Life of Milton by Barbara K Lewalski (Blackwell, Pounds 25)

By Tonkin, Boyd | The Independent (London, England), January 3, 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Tuesday Book: Milton - a Great Poet and Not a Bad Spin Doctor ; the Life of Milton by Barbara K Lewalski (Blackwell, Pounds 25)


Tonkin, Boyd, The Independent (London, England)


IT USED to be one of those dates that every schoolchild supposedly knew. On the icy morning of 30 January in 1649, a shivering Charles I mounted the scaffold at Whitehall, lost his head with dignity, and ushered in the audacious 11-year experiment of the English Commonwealth and Protectorate.

According to Andrew Marvell - John Milton's fellow-poet, lifelong supporter but lukewarm comrade in the Republican ranks - the condemned king "nothing common did or mean / Upon the memorable scene". Perhaps not; but the truly uncommon deed had already been done by Parliament. The English had executed their anointed monarch, not as an act of court intrigue but after due process, as punishment for the traitorous "man of blood" who made war on his people. The aftershock convulsed the palaces, churches and universities of Europe.

How dare they not merely commit regicide, but justify it with advanced political theory? For the man who staged that defence, chief international spin-doctor of revolutionary England, was John Milton. The Puritan firebrand, already both a gorgeously sensuous poet and dangerous, radical polemicist, proudly became the Secretary for Foreign Languages to the new Council of State.

It all ended in blood and tears. Milton came to despair of Cromwell's corrupted regime, though he served it well. After the Restoration, he struggled to keep his own head off a traitor's spike. Blind and beset by foes, "fallen on evil days", he alchemised his grief and disppointment into a matchless epic of freedom and faith, revolt and reconciliation, under the eye of an unfathomable God. In Paradise Lost (1667), it is Satan who rails against the "tyranny of Heaven" and scorns those who "choose to bend / The supple knee" - but Milton, as his literary heir William Blake said, may have been "of the Devil's party without knowing it".

"Not to know me," growls Satan at one point to some disrespectful cherubs, "argues yourselves unknown." Your ignorance makes you obscure. I recalled that line when, last year, a newspaper poll found that 93 per cent of young people failed to name Paradise Lost as Milton's major work; in contrast, the same percentage could identify Fatboy Slim.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Tuesday Book: Milton - a Great Poet and Not a Bad Spin Doctor ; the Life of Milton by Barbara K Lewalski (Blackwell, Pounds 25)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?