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The Life of John Milton by A. N. Wilson

The Life of John Milton (1983)

by A. N. Wilson

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Milton is always going to be good value for money as the subject of a literary biography: he was convinced from an early age that he was going to be seen by posterity as a genius, and arranged his life accordingly, and he also lived through some of the most notoriously interesting times in English history, taking an active part in many of the most virulent controversies of an age when flame wars could still involve actual flames. Even if he'd never written a poem, we'd be interested in someone who grew up just down the street from Shakespeare's haunt, the Merrmaid Tavern (he would have been 8 when Shakespeare died, but since he never boasts about meeting him, he probably didn't); who whilst backpacking around Europe in the early 1640s ran into people like Hugo Grotius and Gallileo; who worked as a senior aide to Cromwell; whose young friends and colleagues included people like Andrew Marvell, etc. etc.

Wilson's problem, of course, is how to add something useful to the mountains of other biographical woks on Milton, which have been accumulating since his own day. He opts to keep things reasonably light, taking us through the essential facts we need to know in not much more than 200 pages. He manages to communicate very well the pleasure he takes in Milton's poetry and prose, although he can't resist an occasional dig at Milton's sometimes rather comical sense of his own importance. In many ways, it's exactly the book you would expect from Wilson: he is clearly bored to tears by the battles of the Civil War ("possibly the most half-hearted conflict in human history") and has no patience at all for Cromwell, but he has all the time in the world for explaining complex theological and ecclesiastical controversies to us. And, of course, he quotes Macaulay and other 19th century authorities far more often than we would have thought relevant or necessary (there's even the odd epigraph from Scott).

All in all, a useful and quite entertaining short biography. ( )
1 vote thorold | Mar 9, 2017 |
Wilson vividly places Milton's works within the historical and social context of seventeenth century England most particularly the sectarianism which ultimately led to the English revolutions and the Interregnum and divided families, including Milton's own. In this excellent introduction Wilson provides an alternative perspective on Milton to those offered by other biographers and historians, most particularly the Marxist historian Christopher Hill. ( )
  riverwillow | Aug 1, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192814737, Paperback)

A paperback edition of a biography of seventeenth century poet John Milton, first published by OUP in 1994, which examines both his life and his literary works.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:19 -0400)

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