Sunday, 17 August 2008

John Milton

This morning we visited the cottage in which John Milton lived while the Plague raged in London (1665-6) - and where he wrote his most famous book "Paradise Lost". If you have the opportunity, do visit the cottage. It is also a museum - and the guided tour was both fascinating and stimulating. Details of the cottage, which is in the South Buckinghamshire village of Chalfont St Giles (not far, but out of sight or sound of the M25 Jnt 17), can be found at http://www.miltonscottage.org/index.htm

John Milton - apart from being one of the most important poets in English history - was a democrat and a republican. He argued in 1644 for freedom of the press in his "Areopagiticia", and his political ideas have influenced modern political practice, particularly in the United States. My visit has prompted me to download and start reading some of his political works. You can do the same by visiting http://oll.libertyfund.org/readinglists/view/138-the_political_thought_of_john_milton

Some gems from his writings -

"It may be well wonderd that any nation, styling themselves free, can suffer any man to pretend hereditarie right over them as thir lord; whenas by acknowledging that right, they conclude themselves his servants and his vassals, and so renounce thir own freedom."
"The happiness of a nation must needs be firmest and certainest in a full and free Councel of their own electing, where no single person, but reason only sway[e]s."
During the period of the Commonwealth, Milton was a senior civil servant, and pamphleteer for the principles of republican democracy. When the monarchy was restored he was imprisoned and his books burned. I found it a little odd that the visits of recent monarchy (including a visit by Charles and Camilla three weeks ago) were given such prominence in the cottage. Queen Victoria was the first on the subscription list for the establishment of the trust (perhaps she wasn't acquainted with his republican writing!).
We drove on to the nearby (a mile or so away) village of Jordans where William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was buried - and, where a barn stands which was built of timbers bought from Rotherhithe from a ship which had been broken up called the "Mayflower", perhaps the same ship which had been used by the Pilgrim Fathers to take them to America.