[Milton-L] In Appreciation of IMS8

Hugh Wilson hwilson at together.net
Sat Jul 9 09:13:31 EDT 2005


Dated Miltoniana

As the past fades in the rear-view mirror,
current events and current controversies
can make recollections seem a out-dated
and a bit sentimental, but I think I ought
to sketch the ethos of the recent Milton
conference before engaging in more topical
discussions and debates.  Memories matter
too.

For those on the Milton-List who missed
it, Professor Christophe Tournu organized
a wonderful conference, and few of us will
ever forget it.  The setting, on the edge of
the Alps, was beautiful, and the intellectual
exchanges that took place were often animated
and sometimes exhilarating.  As usual, there
were at least seven and a half opinions for
every three Miltonists.

(Part of me turned tourist, and I must say that
I thought the French seemed healthier and more
self-possessed than many of my compatriots.
(At the same time, meeting a fellow national in
a country full of "foreigners" who don't always
speak your language can be momentarily exhilarating,
even if it's someone you can't stand at home!)
Grenoble is a city for pedestrians with excellent
mass transit system.  People walk throughout
the city and their diet seems healthier, lighter,
more flavorful, with more fruits and vegetables,
than standard American or English fare.  They
seem more at home in their bodies.)

At the conference itself, everywhere one
looked there were eminent, distinguished
scholars. . .  I had assembled a long list,
a veritable epic catalogue, but on reflection,
I thought that the umbrage of invidious omission
would far outweigh the gratification of naming
anyone in an exceedingly long list.

Accordingly, I apologize for omitting the truly great scholars
I would have named, and those I might have overlooked--
because there are quite a few important Milton scholars I can't
recognize by sight.  The conference was attended by the great,
the near great, and those soon to be great.  As Malvolio
reads in Twelfth Night,

         "Some are born great, some achieve greatness,
         and some have greatness thrust upon them."

In accord with the theme of the conference,
"Milton and Liberties," or "Milton and Rights,"
it was appropriate that the main conference
organizer, Christophe Tournu, was a member
of the faculty of law who contributed to the
recently successful movement to reform of
the French divorce laws by providing a carefully
annotated scholarly translation of Milton's
Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.

Milton's ideas are still consequential, and it is
probably not an accident that Milton scholars
are largely found in countries of North America,
Europe, or in Brazil, Israel, Australia, New Zealand,
South Africa, South Korea, or Japan.  All of these
countries, however flawed they might be (or are) in
various respects,--my own country not accepted--
they have genuine, at least partially or occasionally
functional, democratic institutions.

Of the large, semi-stable democracies, the under-
representation of India, with its millions of English
speakers, and of Germany, seemed most notable.

Perhaps future conferences might invite reviews of the history of
Milton's reception in Germany, Russia, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe,
India, Ghana, China, or wherever, as a method of encouraging
indigenous Milton scholarship and exchange.

Of course, in the countries of Africa, Asia and
the Americas where de facto military dictatorships
predominate, open sympathy with Milton's political
ideals might put one at risk.  In Reviving Liberty [1989],
Joan Bennett parallels Milton's views with those of
the liberation theologians.

Although our colleagues from South Korea, and
Japan seem to face even greater social isolation
than most of us in their home institutions, their
work is impressively professional, despite the
formidable difficulties they must encounter in
terms of language, ease of access to primary
documents and secondary scholarship.

This was my first Milton conference abroad,
and if they are anything like this, I won't want
to miss another one.

Hugh Wilson
hwilson at together.net
(518) 562-8027


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