Miltonic Air: The Poet in the Culture

Milton died in November 1674, and was buried in London attended by ‘a friendly concourse of the vulgar’. The degree to which Milton’s influence extended into the common life of his compatriots in the two centuries after his death is now difficult to conceive. His politics were always too heady to stir more than a small minority of the English, even though some of his principles were eventually embedded in the general consensus; but Paradise lost, together with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress, formed a didactic adjunct to the Bible for vast numbers of English-speaking Christians. Only as religious belief itself contracted did the genuinely popular appreciation of the poem decline. For enthusiasts of imaginative literature, and for writers, musicians and artists, the pleasures and inspiration to be drawn from Milton’s fecund imagery and rhetorical power have proved deep and long-lasting; his stature has been compared to a lighthouse, secure ‘amidst storms and shifting tides of taste’.

Summer: engraving by Nicolas Tardieu after William Kent, in James Thomson’s The seasons (London, 1730). 7720.b.33

The illustrated Milton birthday book (London, c. 1887). 1887.4.165