Monday, January 05, 2009

Eshuneutics on Hobson's Milton

Theo Hobson
Miltonian and Theologian
(Image from

My online friend and scholarly Milton enthusiast who writes under the pen name "Eshuneutics" has sent me a link to an article on Milton written by Theo Hobson.

Hobson, some readers will recall, was the subject of a brief Gypsy Scholar entry that mentions Hobson's low-church views and his argument for disestablishment of the Anglican Church. He argues in this current article, "John Milton’s vision," that Milton himself stood for these things and that Milton thus represents not the current British concept of liberty but more the American one.

Among other statements, Hobson also writes of Milton:
In his youth, his interest in ideas was secondary to his aestheticism. He was a sort of overgrown choirboy, who had made some stunningly pure poetic noises.
Eshuneutics took issue with this view of Milton's youth, as well as with other remarks by Hobson:
In many ways, your article is interesting. It is inaccurate, however, in a number of ways. You express the viewpoint that Milton studies (as a field of enquiry) is -- strangely -- dominated by literary critics. This is of course true and expected. Milton was first and foremost a poet, as sensible critics, like John Carey, have argued. The problem with Milton criticism is that its agenda is exactly the opposite to what you describe. Literary criticism is dominated by theological approaches, by people who would rather split hairs about Milton's theology, which is somewhat ambiguous in "Paradise Lost" (though not so in "Paradise Regained") rather than read his poetry and address the medium in which Milton presents his ideas. If you had given more time to Milton, the poet, and not adopted a prejudicial point of view that places your own religious bent above historical fact, you would have been aware that Milton never placed his response to poetry above ideas. His early work is deeply political, in no way the work of a "choirboy". "Lycidas" is deeply concerned with the evils of the established Church and "Il Penseroso" is a coded analysis of the poet and hermetical monarchy. Milton allied himself with transformational Protestantism long before his visit abroad. On this point you are simply incorrect. As ever, like many theologians, you read without reading, as if literary analysis has no place in theology and politics. This approach would have been anathema to Milton. It isn't accidental that his defence of liberty is based upon reading, in "Areopagitica", nor is it accidental that he makes reading and theology inseparable from liberty in "Paradise Lost". The word and the Word, for Milton, are linked inextricably.
Eshuneutics knows far more about Milton than I ever will, and I know too little about Hobson's views, but readers can investigate further if they so desire.

Incidentally, one of the respondents to Hobson's Milton article -- who amusingly calls himself "Not Stanley Fish" (an inside joke for Milton scholars) -- couldn't spell as well as he ought, for he tells us:
I've read Paradice Lost twice, which is more than some, and it's nonsense to pretend that it's not a badly flawed poem, that sometimes rises to magnificence but also sinks to long stretches of thumping didactic tedium.
One would expect better orthography from a fellow who has read Milton's great poem not just once but even twice! As Eshuneutics points out to me in an email:
I love the reply by the person who can't spell the title of Milton's epic poem, wait for it, "Paradice Lost". This must be the long-lost gambling version.
Or the non-piscine fellow might be alluding to a couple of lines in my poem "Paradise Hoped":
Adam and Eve were but a pair of dice
That came up snake eyes, even to appall.
The Not-Stanley-Fish respondent could have been alluding to my work, for my posting on the 19th of December corresponds to his posting on the 18th.

But don't take me too seriously on that.

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