[Milton-L] concerning Christopher Hill

HANNIBAL HAMLIN hamlin.22 at osu.edu
Sat Nov 17 15:42:13 EST 2007

I'm sure most of us agree that the ad hominem charges against Christopher Hill with which William Simpson takes issue offend the norms of civility we expect on a scholarly list (even apart from the matter of their veracity).  

Like Richard Strier, I too find the Hill-bashing odd.  I haven't read anything like his complete works (how many on this list can claim this?), but his The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution was extremely valuable to me, and The World Turned Upside Down was one of my most exciting graduate school reading experiences.  Furthermore, though he may not have been the best literary critic, I still find some of his thoughts on Milton suggestive (I for one, am unconvinced we should dismiss parallels between Milton and his [PL] Satan).


Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Book Review Editor and Associate Editor, Reformation

Mailing Address (2007-2009):

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----- Original Message -----
From: William Simpson <wilspon at earthlink.net>
Date: Saturday, November 17, 2007 2:45 pm
Subject: [Milton-L] concerning Christopher Hill

>    Last Friday, 11-16-07, Alan Rudrum wrote in these pages,
>    "Christopher Hill as an historian was rather like Bush and 
> Blair as
> politicians. . . .
>    That is, he was wont to massage the evidence to fit his political
> biases; and his book
>    on Milton and the Bible is a mess.  I understand that he was 
> almostcertainly a Soviet
>    agent; the English at that period produced quite a colorful 
> group of
> traitors."
>    Those sentences contain rancid trash and innuendo thrown at a 
> quitegifted teacher and colleague of many of us.  I would expect 
> to hear them on
> the Rush Limbaugh radio show, but they are insulting to anyone who 
> reads,discusses and tries to measure the the writings of Milton 
> and their public
> effect.
>    Christopher Hill was a sharply critical Marxist, a member of the
> Communist Party Historians Group, and resigned from the Party 
> after the
> Soviet invasion of Hungary, 1956.  He served in the British army and
> intelligence service for five years during World War II, and lived 
> in the
> Soviet Union for one year.  Like E. J. Hobsbawm he was perhaps the 
> strongestof the British radical historians who pioneered in 
> working class history,
> but unlike most other radical academics he was elected Master of 
> BalliolCollege from 1965-1978.  I have never read any allegation 
> or heard even an
> inferential hint that he was a Soviet spy or a traitor to his 
> country; the
> people at Oxford University seem not have to regarded him with any 
> suchsuspicion.
>    Those of us who read material about the 17th Century can 
> compare and
> evaluate his 25 or so books, and the material in Past and Present, in
> relation to Professor Rudrum's writings.  I concur that Hill's 
> book on the
> Milton and the Bible is not his best work.  But concerning his 
> morals and
> politics, Mr. Rudrum should now put up some persuasive evidence, 
> or shut up:
> whence comes your understanding that he was almost certainly a 
> Soviet agent?
> How is Hill the historian like Bush the politician?
>    Bill Simpson
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