THE LIFE OF JOHN MILTON by A. N. Wilson

THE LIFE OF JOHN MILTON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A short, spirited biography positively crawling with prejudice. Wilson, a novelist and literary editor of the Spectator, writes engagingly; but his portrait of Milton as a gracious, gentle soul, stalwart champion of the Good Old Cause, and ""the greatest poet since Virgil"" is skewed in all sorts of ways. We are asked to believe that Milton was ""technically a Christian of sorts,"" but had a ""fundamental lack of sympathy with Christianity."" In Paradise Lost Milton, like the Old Testament prophets, ""was a mouthpiece. . . greatly at odds with the words he had to speak."" Though he thinks that all the political and ecclesiastical issues Milton cared about are dead, Wilson vehemently attacks the poet's Catholic opponents as proto-Stalinists and ""hard-line papist infiltrators, Jesuit spies, the inquisitorial Gestapo."" Wilson admits that his hero had flaws (he could be a crude and brutal controversialist, for example); woe betide other critics, however, who dare to point them out. Dr. Johnson's treatment of the poet is dismissed as largely nonsensical, though Wilson neither mentions nor effectively refutes Johnson's charge that Milton showed a ""Turkish contempt of females."" Wilson sneers at Christopher Hill for linking Milton's regicide pamphlets with the problem of dictatorship by a revolutionary minority--but he can't disprove the connection. Finally, Wilson flings around many careless generalizations: Milton was the ""true father of modern educational ideas,"" Paradise Lost has rivaled the Bible in popularity, ""most great English writers have more or less known it by heart,"" etc. A quixotic, untrustworthy apologia.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1983
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press