Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

John Rees on John Milton

A fine introduction indeed by John Rees to 'Citizen Milton' in the new issue of Socialist Review:

'The occasion is the 400th anniversary of Milton's birth. I guess you have to have lived to some purpose to be still celebrated 400 years later. And John Milton did live to some purpose. Paradise Lost is the greatest epic poem in the English language...

Milton's political achievements are scarcely less noteworthy. When it was almost unthinkable to do so, he argued for freedom of divorce if the partners so wished in The Doctrine of Discipline and Divorce, and was condemned as "licentious, new and dangerous". His clarion call for freedom of speech, Areopagitica, argued against the censorship of the state: "So truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in free and open encounter." In 1644 to put your name on the front page of such a work was to risk your life, but Milton did so anyway.

Milton became probably the central ideological defender of Cromwell's revolutionary government. He was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues (essentially Foreign Secretary). In his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, the Defence of the People of England, the Second Defence of the People of England and The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth he argued to a European-wide audience the right of the English people to execute their king and establish a republic.

When the Royalists produced a hagiographic Eikon Basilike in praise of the "martyred" Charles I, Milton replied with Eikonoklastes. He wrote, he said, not to insult the king but to serve "Queen Truth". As blindness descended upon the greatest poet of his generation, and of many generations to come, he wrote, "I resolved therefore that I must employ this brief use of my eyes while yet I could for the greatest possible benefit to the state..."

Better leave the last words to the poet Wordsworth:

"Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power."

[Socialist Review also has a very readable review of the new Rambo film by Richard Seymour, among other things.]

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At 3:36 pm, Blogger Rosa Cassells said...

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Thanks again - you have a great blog here (which I have now linked to)


In Solidarity,


At 9:40 am, Anonymous tuxedo best said...

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