Citizen Milton
Paradise Lost, illustrated by John Martin (1825-26).

Bodleian Library Bodleian Library, Oxford
Dec 2007 - Apr 2008

Text by Sharon Achinstein

Site designed by Richard Rowley

9. Political Afterlives and Vindications: "Sayings laid up, portending strange events"

Revived anew at moments of political revolution, Milton's works sparked the political imagination at other moments and times to suit new ideas and new tastes. As inspiration to poets and writers who sometimes struggled to find their own voices, Milton also was a figure to challenge and even to destroy.

Areopagitica (1738)

Protesting against press restrictions, the poet James Thomson hailed the work as an "admirable defense of human rights" in his introduction to this reprint published by the radical publisher A. Millar.
Vet. A4 e.422(3)

Areopagitica Secunda: Or a Speech of the Shade of John Milton on Mr. Serjent Talfouurd's Copyright Extension Bill (1838)

Milton's name was evoked during the debates in Parliament over the question of extension of copyright, as authors and publishers fought over financial rewards. Talfourd, friend of Wordsworth, had sought to protect author's interests in the great battle over copyright.
Johnson d.239

Paradise Lost (1835)

William Pickering's brainchild was the "Diamond Classics," miniature books—often reprints of English classics—with type so small that pages could only be read with difficulty or with a magnifying glass. Pickering, a founder of Oxford English Classics, supported the Church of England during the Victorian church crisis. With a frontispiece portrait of Milton and his daughters by A. Fox after Thomas Stothard, this book was printed in diamond type to be sold for 4 s.
Dunston F643

William Wordsworth, 'London, 1802,' Poems in Two Volumes (1807)

The great poet Wordsworth urgently calls upon the moral touchstone of Milton to restore a corrupt world in his Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty. Later, searching for heroic matter for poetry, Wordsworth sought "some British theme, some old / Romantic tale by Milton left unsung," and the result was his great epic of the growth of the poet's mind, The Prelude.
Dunston B1914

Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Dublin, 1793)

Paradise Lost becomes a primary reference text and target for the origins of feminism, as here where Mary Wollstonecraft writes a brilliant defense of equality for women, in combat with Milton's damaging portrayal of Eve's submission in Paradise Lost.
Vet. A5 e.1869

Ebenezer Elliott, "John," from Corn Law Rhymes (1876)

Originally published in 1831, Elliott's collection of poetry vaunted Milton as the preeminent "Bard of the Republic," invoked in his lifelong struggle against the Victorian Bread Laws. The low-born Ironmonger Elliott (1781-1849), the "Corn Law Rhymer," composed a Miltonic epic poem, Spirits and Men, a "drama of annihilation," resetting Adam and Eve's story in the Victorian countryside. In the poem included here, Elliott summons Milton's very name as one to conjure in the struggle against injustice.
280 j. 505 (vol. 2)

Granville Williams, Milton and the Modern Media (2005)

Granville Williams, editor of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom's Free Press magzine, sees Milton's advocacy against censorship as part of a contemporary campaign for printing and broadcasting freedoms.
Bod. MO5 G 3722

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Top image: Detail of illustration by John Martin of Paradise Lost