Majestick Milton: British Imperial Expansion and Transformations of Paradise Lost, 1667-1837
Lit, 2001 - 492 pages
This study investigates how Milton's texts, above all Paradise Lost, were read in the context of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century British empire building. Milton's epic was implicated in the articulation and criticism of early modem colonialist discourse; it also lent itself easily to later imperial and anti-imperial appropriations. Milton the 'national poet' emerged from the strife between Whigs and Tories for his legacy; this book analyses Milton's presence in a number of discourses that are characteristic of the Whig model of secular history: the discourses about empire, language and literary criticism, travelling and astronomy, agriculture, commerce and Pax Britannica, as well as the slave-trade. The temporal frame extends from the Restoration through the loss of the American colonies to the Second British Empire and 'Milton in India'. Eighteenth-century British national epics, commented Milton editions and poetic Milton recreations invented a tradition for the British Empire and reintroduced the Virgilian concept of translatio imperii, transforming Milton's allegories of divine power into descriptions of secular authority. This study contextualizes traditional stories about 'Milton and Romanticism' by examining mostly 'minor' writers; still, Dryden, Johnson, Pope and Blake feature in some detail. The epilogue shows that even postcolonial rewritings of Milton make more sense in the light of the eighteenth-century Milton and his presence in the nineteenth-century British colonial education syllabus.
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