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Milton in Government.

Robert Thomas Fallon. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993. 2 pls. + xvi + 288 pp. $42.50.

Robert Fallon's labor-intensive study of Milton's state papers, long ignored by scholars, has resulted in an exciting book that will be extremely useful to Miltonists and historians alike. Milton in Government provides a new picture of the nature and the extent of Milton's work as foreign secretary during the interregnum. Professor Fallon categorization of its East Asian holdings. provides evidence that even after his blindness Milton was much more involved in government than had previously been thought. He also enlarges the Milton canon by showing that Milton was not simply a scribe, that the wording of the state letters is his and "hence they may be confidently included in his "works" (viii). Finally, he argues that Milton intimately knew the complex diplomatic events that the letters contained and this involvement in state affairs had a profound impact on his creative imagination.

Professor Fallon begins by giving a detailed narrative description of the foreign affairs to which the letters correspond. Before his blindness Milton was involved in correspondence with Hamburg, Portugal, and Oldenburg. The new government was concerned with protecting its envoys and merchants from Royalist attacks. After his blindness Milton continued to be involved in correspondence with the United Netherlands, Spain, Denmark and Tuscany. At issue was England's controversial war with the United Netherlands, which bolstered nationalism, but damaged the cause of Protestant solidarity. Under the Protectorate Milton corresponded with Savoy, France and Sweden. The Piedmont Massacre gave Cromwell an opportunity to try to incite collective Protestant ire against the Catholics, and Cromwell's friendship with Sweden offended the Dutch who were concerned by Sweden's ambitions in the Baltic.

Professor Fallon questions the long-accepted argument that Milton's involvement in government declined under the Protectorate and that this decline was due to Milton's disapproval of Cromwell's increasing militarism and authoritarianism. He argues convincingly that the disappearance of Milton's name from the order Books of the Council of State is the result of bureaucratic reorganization rather than Milton's lack of activity. "Certainly, every age must come to terms with great works of literature in its own lights," he notes, "but it does not aid our understanding of a great artist three hundred years dead to impose upon him, intentionally or unintentionally, the values of later times" (182-3). The discussion of The Readie and Easie Way in the final chapter is consistent with his view of Milton's allegiance to Cromwell through to the bitter end. Milton's warnings against the dangers of "rule by a single person" look forward to the imminent restoration of the monarchy, he argues, and not backward to Cromwell.

The State Papers have been largely untouched by Milton scholars because they were poorly listed, uncalendared, and a real challenge to work with. One of Professor Fallon's greatest services in this book has been his careful sorting and dating and listing of the papers in the appendices. His scholarship will be a boon to students of Milton and the interregnum.
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Author:McAlister, Caroline
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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