14. Exhumations and Destinies: 'For Books are not absolutely Dead Things'
While many have found Milton's words to be spur to an ongoing project of civic emancipation, others have sought a touch of the divine power. Relics, exhumation, and revivals are all part of the complex legacy of this provocative and powerful writer.
Exhumations and Relics
Milton's Writing Case.
Milton's Tortoise shell writing case, with a pair of dividers; and a fish skin case with geometry implements, purportedly came from his widow Elizabeth Minshull (1638-1727). The Bodleian Library was also given a circular box, partly of tortoise-shell, alleged to have been given the poet by the Duke of Richmond, perhaps a snuff-box, though there is no evidence Milton took snuff. The relics were given to the Bodleian Library by the Bridger family, who have claimed a connection by marriage with Milton family. (84)
[MSS.] Cons. Res. Objects 66-79
Milton's Horoscope. Cast by John Gadbury the famous almanac-maker (1627-1704), presumably for Milton himself.
MS Ashmole 436, pt. 1, at f. 119
Philip Neve, A Narrative of the Disinterment of Milton's Coffin… Wednesday, 4th of August, 1790 (1790)
The leaden coffin opened, and beneath the shroud were taken teeth, bones and hair from the corpse, the coffin and body exhibited by the grave digger, Elizabeth Grant. Neve recounts this "sacriligious scene" with horror--although Neve himself took some hair, bone and a tooth. Some thought the corpse was instead that of a woman. Leigh Hunt and John Keats obtained a lock, now at the Keats Memorial, Rome. On seeing a lock of hair taken from Milton, Keats became "mad with glipmses of futurity."
Gough Lond. 42(13)
Destinies and Revivals
Geoffrey Hill, A Treatise of Civil Power (2005). In a direct quotation from one of Milton's pamphlets on toleration, Geoffey Hill engages with Milton's legacy.
Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials trilogy (1995-2000).
The title of this series taken from Milton's Paradise Lost, where "His dark materials" of Chaos are there "to create more Worlds." A modern master rewrites Paradise Lost and so does battle with his mighty themes.
Offsite X05.E02500 [Box]
Tony Harrison, 'On not Being Milton,' Continuous: 50 Sonnets from the School of Eloquence (1981).
What does it mean to write poetry in English? What does it mean to create a common language for all to imhabit citizenship? The political reforming poet Harrison both gives homage and chastises this powerful forbear.
Bod. Z8001 d.2188
Terrance Lindall (1944-), illustrations for Paradise Lost from Heavy Metal Magazine (1980).
From a private collection.