Milton and Republicanism.
This collection of essays is based on selected proceedings from the colloquium on "Milton and Republicanism" held at the Universite de Paris-X, Nanterre in 1992. The stated purpose of the volume is to place Milton in the context of both European republicanism and English thought, examining the complete range of his prose and poetry. The thirteen chapters, divided into four parts, include contributions by British, French, American, and Canadian scholars, new and established voices in Interregnum history and literature. Some of the essays rehearse arguments the authors have made in their most recent books, while others introduce genuinely new materials. The result, as with most collaborative volumes, is mixed, but taken as a whole the collection is an accurate representation of the current state of this important area of Milton studies.
The strongest sections of the collection are parts 3 and 4, "Milton and the Republican Experience" and "Milton and the Republican Tradition." In part three, Nigel Smith's "Popular Republicanism in the 1650s: John Streater's 'Heroick Mechanicks,'" and Blair Worden's "Milton and Marchamont Nedham" emphasize the common ground of classical republicanism, via Aristotle, Cicero, and Machiavelli, that Milton shared with other English radicals. Smith finds in the biography and writings of Streater - a printer and member of the New Model Army - concrete links between the Levellers and later republican thought. Worden illustrates parallels between Nedham's and Milton's work in the 1650s and suggests that the two writers had a closer connection than previously thought. In the most outstanding essay in the volume, Martin Dzelzainis offers a new understanding of Milton's political activity in 1658, including opposition to Cromwell. Dzelzainis's evidence derives from contextual readings of The Cabinet-Council, a volume hitherto ignored by Miltonists, and the second edition of Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio.
The two essays of part 4 - Nicholas von Maltzahn's "The Whig Milton, 1667-1700," and Tony Davies's "Borrowed Language: Milton, Jefferson, Mirabeau" - describe the process by which later readers accommodated Milton to their own politics and times: the Whigs by reading him as an advocate of classical learning and religious toleration, American and French revolutionaries by adopting him as an apostle of freedom. Davies closes the volume suggesting that Milton's politics may have saved his poetry, since "who knows whether even Milton would have survived the lethal combination of late Victorian reverence and Leavisian 'dislodgement,' without the patience and heroic fortitude of French and North American Miltonists?" (255).
Despite its stated intention, the collection does not include a discussion of the full range of Milton's poetry. The main focus, perhaps inevitably, is Paradise Lost, with passing references to Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, the Ludlow Masque, and several of the sonnets. Further, the volume continues the unfortunate tendency, evident in many recent studies of the subject, to ignore the theory and practice of formal rhetoric - the training that gave much political writing of the period its forms, structures, tropes, figures, and distinctive language which is as if scholars discussed modern political discourse without serious reference to television. The term "rhetoric" gets only token mention here, even in the section on literary strategy, which virtually ignores the entire field of historical rhetoric.
The best readers of this collection will be those who are already engaged in its subject. The writers assume readers' familiarity with the principal historical events, issues, language, and figures of the period. They also assume broad acquaintance with Milton's work. This is a genuine conversation of scholars, unsuitable for those new to the field, but highly stimulating to experienced students and researchers eager to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Milton the classical, English republican.
ELIZABETH SKERPAN-WHEELER Southwest Texas State University
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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