MILTON AND THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION by Christopher Hill
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MILTON AND THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

What Milton's conscious beliefs were and what he was up to"" are the subject of this impressive study--which is neither a blow-by-blow biography nor a literary exegesis, but an effort to reclaim Milton from structuralists and classicists, and put him back into his age. An authority on the 17th century, Hill finds Milton ""an eclectic,"" but uses the verdict to underscore the open-minded passion for ""freedom of individual development"" which Milton pursued through a dialogue with the radicals of the English revolution. Here are the grand merits and odd limitations of the book, which first surveys Milton's life and then systematically appraises his thought and works. Drawing skillfully and frankly on the profusion of Milton scholarship, Hill constructs a complex, convincing, moving overview. Milton shared with Ranters, Antimonians, Quakers, Muggletonians and other sectarians a ""revolutionary Protestant internationalism"" committed to achieving ""perfection on earth."" Milton also drew on the earlier Renaissance tradition including the mystic Jacob Boehme, the scientist Giordano Bruno, and the poet Spenser. Living ""the paradox of his passionate and simultaneous belief in both liberty and discipline,"" Milton was a republican rather than an egalitarian democrat. The failure of the Revolution pressed the question of elite responsibility, a question pursued in Paradise Lost under Royalist censorship. Milton's own role in the Revolution is the book's lacuna: though Hill repeatedly terms him ""a man of total political commitment"" who ""above all fought,"" his practical give-and-take with the Protestant ""underground"" is not demonstrated. Nevertheless, with no little love and discrimination, he has made what could have been a facile reading of Milton-as-semiradical into a truly large work.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 1977
Publisher: Viking