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Milton and the Revolutionary Reader

Milton and the Revolutionary Reader

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 288
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    Milton and the Revolutionary Reader
    Book Description:

    The English Revolution was a revolution in reading, with over 22,000 pamphlets exploding from the presses between 1640 and 1661. What this phenomenon meant to the political life of the nation is the subject of Sharon Achinsteins book. Considering a wide range of writers, from John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, John Lilburne, John Cleveland, and William Prynne to a host of anonymous scribblers of every political stripe, Achinstein shows how the unprecedented outpouring of opinion in mid-seventeenth-century England created a new class of activist readers and thus helped to bring about a revolution in the form and content of political debate. By giving particular attention to Miltons participation in this burst of publishing, she challenges critics to look at his literary practices as constitutive of the political culture of his age.

    Traditional accounts of the rise of the political subject have emphasized high political theory. Achinstein seeks instead to picture the political subject from the perspective of the street, where the noisy, scrappy, and always entertaining output of pamphleteers may have had a greater impact on political practice than any work of political theory. As she underscores the rhetorical, literary, and even utopian dimension of these writers efforts to politicize their readers, Achinstein offers us evidence of the kind of ideological conflict that historians of the period often overlook. A portrait of early modern propaganda, her work recreates the awakening of politicians to the use of the press to influence public opinion.

    Originally published in 1994.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6390-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
    (pp. 3-26)

    The english revolution was a revolution in reading. Over twenty-two thousand pamphlets were published between 1640 and 1661, surpassing the output of the French revolutionary press over a hundred years later.¹ Readers viewed a drama of political exchange in public, where for the first time in English history, the press was used for open political conflict. Newly freed from the constraints of censorship, the press became the medium for the expression of views not only of the elites in power, but also of serious opposition. During one of the most astonishing moments in British history—where a king was put...

    (pp. 27-70)

    In 1649, the House of Commons instituted a High Court of justice to try King Charles I, and named commissioners who were to be both judges and jurors in this unique case. The men who were left to call themselves Parliament after the purge in 1648 charged the king with the intent “out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people, yea, to take away and make void the foundations thereof. . .which by the fundamental constitution...

    (pp. 71-101)

    If John Lilburne appealed over the heads of his formal judges to a public, one he endowed with the authority to judge on grounds of conscience, his vision of a capable public was not always well received. Even those who supported the regicide and defended parliamentary liberty foresaw dangerous consequences to this assumption. Lilburne replaced the authority of judges with the judgments of ordinary citizens, believing that the judges were “no more but cyphers to pronounce their verdict.”¹ This was considered “damnable blasphemous heresy” by Judge Jermyn, who understood that by questioning the judges’ authority for judgment, Lilburne hit at...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Debate and the Drama of Politics in the Public Sphere
    (pp. 102-135)

    Milton wrote in 1644, “where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing” (CPW2.554). As defenders of the revolutionary public sphere, many partisans agreed with Milton that debate was necessary for resolving disagreements. Oliver Cromwell urged the General Council of the Army in 1647 “that [those who disagreed] should not meet as two contrary parties, but as some desirous to satisfy or convince each other.”¹ Argument was the order of the day, in Parliament, on the streets, and of course, in the press. As John Milton wrote in hisSecond Defense,“truth defended by...

    (pp. 136-176)

    By 1647, Oliver Cromwell’s revolutionary army had defeated Charles’s forces on the battlefield and had forced the king to surrender at Oxford. Rather than celebrating their successes, however, Cromwell’s army was dividing into factions. The mutiny in the army began with the soldiers’ call for back pay, but soon London radicals added their own demands for “fundamental liberties of free-born Englishmen,” in their “Agreements of the People.” Cromwell believed that the parliamentary cause could not survive such divisions. By May, strong measures had to be taken to quell the rebellion of the army, since any negotiations for peace with the...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Milton and the Fit Reader: Paradise Lost and the Parliament of Hell
    (pp. 177-223)

    The anonymous royalist author ofWe have fish’d and caught a Frog; or, The History of Several new Fishermen(1649) indirectly condemned Cromwell’s printing orders and urged a restoration of the rightful king after the execution of Charles: “although every lie be an untruth, yet every seeming untruth is not a lie,” this author admitted, revealing a surprising candor about his use of the mode of fiction. The explanation continues: “There are in History and Poetry many allegories, tropes, types, figures, comparisons, similitudes and fables; which though they seem to be false, yet (if they be rightly interpreted) they carry...

    (pp. 224-228)

    In this study of Milton’s ideas about his public in his revolutionary prose and major poems, I have chosen to compare Milton’s sense of his audience with that of his fellow writers: the pamphleteers, poets, and polemicists of the English Revolution. This comparison brings to light a common impulse in the writing of the period: the desire to shape a new kind of public. That public was imagined as active, rational, and deserving of a place in political decision making. Writers, including Milton, addressed their works to such a public, demanding that their audiences read and respond to contemporary issues;...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 229-266)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 267-272)