It begins in 1918 with a little volume under the harmless title Studies in Milton by S. B. Liljegren. The Swedish scholar brings in two heavy charges against Milton. First that he has consciously lied in his Areopagitica by saying that he visited Galileo Galilei in Florence, - and secondly that he committed a disgusting piece of forgery by having an unworthy, prayer inserted in the Eikon Basilike, the spiritual legacy of Charles the First, and holding up this very prayer to cynical derision in his Eikonoklastes. In order to make these disreputable facts credible, the book began with a long introduction tending to show that Milton's character was a great deal more dishonest and insincere than Masson had maintained.
To Prof. Liljegren Milton is an extreme type of Renaissance-individualism, a Machiavelli in Puritan disguise, whose pride was fostered by his Calvinistic feeling of predestination. Yet not a Christian but a Stoic of the Roman type, contemptuous of all authority, divine as well as human; a self-willed tyrant, hating the rabble and holding that great men may be right in misleading the people (p. XVIII); a poet whose force of inspiration was supplied by the passions of himself and his surroundings (p. XXXIX).
Such a characterization was evidently something more than emphasizing Milton's disagreeable qualities already known. Yet the facts upon which this description was based were not newly discovered. Only, earlier critics had put a more lenient interpretation upon these facts. Indeed, the strong expressions of ambition, arrayed by Liljegren on p. XX ss. can be explained by a to some extent justified feeling of superiority. And his unjust onslaughts on his adversaries can be forgiven by whoever knows the manners of the 17th century and has experienced in the 20th century what red-hot passion the excitement of war can enkindle. Did not Milton since his return from Italy continually live in an atmosphere of the worst of wars, war civil and religious? - What was really new in Liljegren and what would hopelessly compromise Milton's character of high respectability, was the detailed accusation of conscious untruthfulness and forgery. Has Mr. Liljegren. succeeded in substantiating his charges?
-Neophilologus, Vol. 7 show more