Annual Milton Lecture 2018: The Starry Messenger: Milton v. the New Science

The Milton Lecture is organised by the Friends of Milton's Cottage

Venue: Mercers Hall, Ironmonger Lane, London EC2
Date: 15 March 2018, at 1800
Speaker: Dr William Poole, fellow of New College, Oxford

In Paradise Lost (1667) the blind poet John Milton (1608-1674) reimagined the human drama of the Fall of Man, but located within a cosmic setting, where the tragedy in the garden is juxtaposed with voyages through chaos, battles in heaven, and the creation of the material universe itself. 

Milton exerts himself to make the universe of his poem a consistent and coherent one, replete with discussions about not just morality and theology, but astronomy and physics. How ‘scientific’ is Milton, then? He was obviously fascinated by the theories of Galileo, whom he had met in Italy in the 1630s. He was also intelligently interested in the controversies within matter theory in his own day. Was the universe reducible to atoms and space? Are ‘matter’ and ‘spirit’ different things or just different types of the same thing? Does the Earth go around the Sun or vice versa? These were controversial questions in Milton’s time, and Milton’s views, not often easily extractable from his epic verse, remain a matter of controversy too. 

In this talk I will examine Milton’s interests in, and sympathies for, the ‘New Science’ — but also his worries and his disagreements. We often like to enlist our favourite writers for what we think are the progressive movements of the day; but we should be careful of forcing a modernism upon Milton that he does not want. The real picture is more complex, and more interesting.

Admission donation £5.

Further details available from Dr K C Sugden