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Historical Milton

Historical Milton: Manuscript, Print, and Political Culture in Revolutionary England

Thomas Fulton
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Historical Milton
    Book Description:

    John Milton's Commonplace Book is the only known political notebook of a radical polemicist writing during the English civil war, and the most extensive manuscript record of reading we have from any major English poet from this period. In this rethinking of a surprisingly neglected body of evidence, Thomas Fulton explores Milton's reading practices and the ways he used this reading in his writing. Fulton's close study of the Commonplace Book suggests that this reading record is far from the haphazard collection of notes that it first appears but is instead a program of research which had its own ideology that responded to the reading habits and practices of Milton's contemporaries. Created mostly in the late 1630s and during the overthrow of the Stuart government in the 1640s, Milton's reading notes yield a number of surprises, the most fundamental being a highly structured commitment to political history. Fulton explores the relationship between the manuscript author and his polemical persona, placing the Commonplace Book, the manuscript "Digression" to the History of Britain, and some wartime poems in revealing contrast to the printed political texts of this period.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-023-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations and Texts
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In the past twenty years, research on the history of the book has produced an increasingly detailed sense of how the technologies of reading—such as notebooks, libraries, and practices of annotation—shaped the ways readers confronted texts, collected information from them, and recirculated this information in their own writing. Historians of early modern reading, in particular, have explored the traces of reading left in early modern books, manuscripts, and notebooks, both by attending to individual readers and also by surveying the ways in which certain books or authors were read.¹ Case studies of readers who left extensive records—Ben...

  7. Chapter 1 A Material History of Texts in Milton’s England
    (pp. 15-37)

    The writing of literary history is complicated by the fact that what remains of the past bears only a partial relation to what actually existed. This problem is far more severe for the earliest stages of literary history, where—to take the most famous example—the chance survival of a single flame-scorched manuscript now known asBeowulfmust represent an otherwise lost cultural record. Outside of British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A.xv, there are no traces left of this longest poem in Old English—not a single reference to the story exists in any other remaining artifact.¹ It is therefore...

  8. Chapter 2 Combing the Annals of Barbarians: The Commonplace Book and Milton’s Political Scholarship
    (pp. 38-81)

    There are limits to what source study can reveal about the derivation of a writer’s ideas, even when we are fortunate enough to have a substantial collection of notes from that writer. Yet even in the most straightforward ways, Milton’s collection of notes, titled the Commonplace Book shortly after its discovery in 1874, remains an unusually rich resource, in part because the evidence of his private research suggests a different intellectual enterprise from that which he conducted publicly. Many entries reveal a Milton absent from his public self-presentation, such as the strongly voiced opinion that it would be “absurd beyond...

  9. Chapter 3 Areopagitica: Books, Reading, and Context
    (pp. 82-114)

    Criticism ofAreopagiticahas often sought either to extol the work as a cornerstone in the foundation of the liberal tradition, or to diminish and even renounce such claims as misreadings of Milton’s more conservative intentions. Following the Whig and Romantic lionization of Milton during the nineteenth century, traditional readings have seen the tract as “one of the founding and canonical texts of modern liberalism,”¹ and have even gone so far as to call it “unique in its period, and perhaps unequalled in the range of freedom it demands until theLibertyof John Stuart Mill.”² This liberal humanist account...

  10. Chapter 4 “The Digression” and Milton’s Return to Polemics
    (pp. 115-142)

    In early 1649 Milton revisited the polemical battlefield after a long and mysterious absence from public debate. Rushed into print within two weeks after the king’s execution,The Tenure of Kings and Magistratesmarks a return after a hiatus of almost four years—the last two divorce tracts having appeared in March 1645. Milton’s only other print publication during this period was an elegant volume of poetry published early in 1646 by Humphrey Moseley, a publisher determined not to get involved in ideological warfare, and bent on emphasizing the courtly connections of Milton’s art.¹ Moseley writes in his preface to...

  11. Chapter 5 History and Natural Law in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates
    (pp. 143-173)

    At the end of Marvell’s “Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland,” written in the late spring of 1650, Marvell bids Cromwell to keep his “sword erect,” not only because the gesture has, according to myth, the power to ward off evil spirits, but also because the sword has become necessary to maintain the state: “The same arts that did gain / A pow’r must it maintain.”¹ Evocative of the stark realism of Machiavelli, the lines are often seen to suggest that seventeenth-century England has entered into a new way of legitimating power, marked by the execution of the king.²...

  12. Chapter 6 “His Book Alive”: Defending Popular Sovereignty after the Execution
    (pp. 174-197)

    Milton’s Latin defense addressing Europe, satirically titled A Defense of the People of England, against Claude the Anonymous, Otherwise Known as Salmasius, begins with the promise that he will show “under what law, particularly that of the English, this judgement was made and executed” (PW52). As is generally true of Milton’s work written after the execution, this insistence of England’s legal unassailability constitutes a new rhetorical strategy designed for a new audience.The Tenure of Kings and Magistrateshad been fully cognizant of the dubious legality of the Rump Parliament and its proceedings against the king; Milton had boldly...

  13. Conclusion: Historical Politics and the Instability of Print Culture
    (pp. 198-206)

    In the course of the period covered in this book, Milton moves from being a polemicist whose chief purported audience is the Parliament, to a polemicist justifying the overthrow of this Parliament, to a counterpropagandist—perhaps even a propagandist—for the newly constructed Rump Parliament. Soon after composing his greatest effort at addressing the Long Parliament in the early 1640s,Areopagitica,Milton retreated from his first parliamentary audience and from the public altogether. From “within private walls,” he devoted himself in the late 1640s to several projects, includingThe History of Britain,a manuscript containing the trenchant “Digression” among other...

  14. Appendix A: The Index Politicus of Milton’s Commonplace Book Authors, Texts, and Citations
    (pp. 207-220)
  15. Appendix B: The Scribal Entries in Milton’s Commonplace Book: Amanuenses, Students, Researchers, or Visitors?
    (pp. 221-228)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 229-264)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-288)
  18. Index
    (pp. 289-304)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-306)