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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 23 August 2010

"Milton" by Anna Beer

This is a rather ponderous biography, evoking the poetry of the famous poet.

Milton was born into a well-to-do family of scriveners and property dealers. He went to St Paul's School (yards from his home) and then Cambridge (a bit further). He was extremely studious: a kind of Stephen Fry of his generation. He had a number of close male friends and rumours of his being a sodomite pursued him through his life. He wrote a little and studied a lot. The government suspended the rule that all publications must be licensed (cleared through the censors) and an explosion of pamphleteering began similar to the blogospheric explosion of our times. Milton was just another pamphleteer until he achieved notoriety with his views on  Divorce (he believed an unhappy marriage was grounds for divorce). This might have been linked to his own first marriage: a wife many years younger than himself who went home after a month although she later returned and bore him at least four children.

He weighed in on the republican side during the English Civil War, later becoming a civil servant with the new Commonwealth government. This made him persona non grata during the Restoration: he had to go into hiding for a while. Meantime he was losing his eyesight.

Blind and unemployed; becoming poor under the Stuarts; he wrote Paradise Lost. This was immediately recognised as a classic; an MP burst into the Commons wielding it and talking about the most marvellous poem ever. Later he wrote Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes ("Eyeless in Gaza") before becoming gout ridden and dying.

Interesting points:

  • Samson Agonistes is effectively a poem in praise of terrorism; by pulling down the temple on himself Samson is the classical equivalent of a suicide bomber.
  • A Civil War rumour: that "Royalist soldiers arrived in a [Somerset] village and demanded the services of a woman. In fear, the villagers handed over a particular woman who was 'given to them all'. In the morning, the woman was ostracised by the village." (p156) Shades of the disgraceful hosts in both Sodom (Genesis) and Gilead (Judges 19).
A slow moving biography. Sadly, the most interesting bits where when she described what happened to other people during the Civil War.

August 2010; 401 pages

On His Blindness
  
WHEN I consider how my light is spent 
  E're half my days, in this dark world and wide, 
  And that one Talent which is death to hide, 
  Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent 
To serve therewith my Maker, and present         5
  My true account, least he returning chide, 
  Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd, 
  I fondly ask; But patience to prevent 
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need 
  Either man's work or his own gifts, who best  10
  Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State 
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed 
  And post o're Land and Ocean without rest: 
  They also serve who only stand and waite.







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