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100 years ago: Milton’s sinister influence


December 11th, 1908

ON WEDNESDAY, the 300th anniversary of Milton’s birth was celebrated, and in London es­pecially, as the birth-place of a poet whose place among the Immortals is secure — “Milton, a name to re­sound for ages” — the event was marked with great rejoicings. With most that was said in praise of Milton as a maker of great verse, a master of his art, gifted with the highest creative and imaginative powers, with the certain touch that gave life to words — with all this we are in accord. But we must take the risk of being blamed for striking a discordant note when we enter a protest against the commemora­tion service that was held in Bow Church.

We distinguish between Milton the poet and Milton the man. His influence on English religion and English thought was sinister. He was extolled on Wed­nesday as a Puritan but not Puri­tanical; but, to our thinking, that was rather to his discredit. He was Puritan in his detestation of most of those things for which Bow Church was built, and for which it may be supposed still to stand, but he was not Puritanical because he was not religious. To his poetic nature the Bible with its lovely imagery and dramatic possibilities appealed, but the humane ethics of Catholic Chris­tianity were not alive to his mind. If we would observe sanity in our judgment, we must not place Milton on a pedestal to be worshipped as a flawless saint, with a pandenominational cultus of which the Bishop of Ripon [Dr W. Boyd Carpenter] and Dr Horton [a Congregational divine] are for the moment the hierarchs.

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