Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Milton's Tweets.

For over 400 years the Gresham Lectures have been part of the cultural life of the city of London, paid for by an endowment set up in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham. Every year over a 100 fascinating free talks on every subject imaginable are delivered by an impressive range of academics. It's a very civilised institution.

Tonight at the Museum of London Alice Beer gave a fascinating insight into the dissidence of two titans of the seventeenth century: Walter Raleigh and John Milton, attended by a cheerful and motley crew of Londoners, mostly on their way home from work.

Beer suggested that whilst Raleigh used his incarceration in the tower (he was there for most of the last fifteen years of his life) to carefully put together his history of the world, subtly using ancient stories from Babylon and Mesopotamia to draw critical parallels with the Jacobean regime; Milton found that the rapidly developing print culture of the mid seventeenth century provided him with the wonderful opportunity to fire off pamphlets with all the regularity of the tweet. A passionate advocate for the Commonwealth. Beer, a round head herself, compared Milton's role, after the overthrow of the monarchy, to that of the social net workers who helped galvanise the clean up operation after this summer's riots.

By the end of his life Milton was a somewhat discredited figure - although pardoned for his earlier tracts he was never reconciled to the restored Stuart family. He died blind, but still writing, dreaming and shaping of a new kind of religious toleration that would sow the seeds for both the glorious revolution of 1688 and in the longer term set in principal some of the philosophical tenants adopted by the nascent Whig party. A fore run of our own form of liberalism.

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