Nicholas McDowell, "Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton" (Princeton UP, 2020)

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Decades before he wrote his epic work Paradise Lost, John Milton was an active republican and polemicist. How Milton came to espouse such radical views is just one of the key themes of Nicholas McDowell’s Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton (Princeton UP, 2020), the first book of a projected two-volume biography of the famous author. The son of a prosperous scrivener, Milton enjoyed the benefits of a quality education heavily influenced by Italian humanism. This extensive instruction in foreign languages and classical authors was viewed by Milton as a necessary requirement for a career as a poet, one to which he dedicated himself during his time at university. Yet as McDowell demonstrates Milton’s Puritan faith also played an important role in his intellectual development, especially as he found his beliefs increasingly at odds with the emerging Laudian influence on the Anglican church. This motivated the young intellectual to write a series of pamphlets after his return from a lengthy trip to France and Italy in 1638-9, works which signaled his growing engagement with politics on the eve of England’s plunge into a devastating civil war in the 1640s.

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