- Introduction:Milton's Pan-American Life and Afterlife
In an investigation of the nineteenth century appropriation of Shakespeare for the causes and values of U.S. nationhood, including its staunch anti-Englishness, Kim Sturgess points out that the English playwright's works "were embraced by citizens throughout the United States and the stories contained within the plays are today accepted as part of American cultural heritage."1 A few years later, Nigel Smith made a shrewd and controversial case for Milton speaking through his polemical and visionary writings, more powerfully than even Shakespeare to "Anglo-Americans" across the political and cultural spectrum about the terms of liberty.2 The present collection of original essays takes up this argument and explores it further in the new terrains mapped by critics from across the Americas. But Milton in the Americas also includes a number of the essays that could be designated as revisionist insofar as they register what some of Milton's readers see as the English poet-polemicist's un-Americanness. [End Page vii]
The primary aims of these new essays are to analyze and showcase the various ways that Milton's American and pan-American literary life and afterlife develop in writings from early modern to modern times. The mosaic that results is a recognizable Miltonic legacy that builds on but also alters earlier accounts of Miltonic reception history. While the present essays largely limit themselves to considerations of the textual presences of Milton in the Americas, they traverse temporal frameworks and geographical borders—including those in the Southern Hemisphere—as well as the bounds of authorial intention and control. This survey of the ways in which Milton is received, translated, rewritten, and appropriated to speak anew chronicles a rich array of literary and critical afterlives throughout the American continents. On display are both predictable and unexpected connections between the Old and New Worlds that are forged through Milton's oeuvre, as well as through its literary critical, philosophical, material, technological, popular, and scholarly reception across the Americas.
The Anglo-American Critical Heritage
Traditionally hailed as a champion of various forms of liberty and toleration, and creator of a "new-modeled" Eden in which historical potentials might be glimpsed, Milton would be accorded a privileged place in genealogies of liberalism, modernity, and the history of revolution against repression. Paradise Lost itself, John Shawcross observes, became a "source of thought countering oppression in the American colonies just before and just after the founding government came into existence."3 In the decades following the American Revolution against the British (1765–83), Milton's collected poems were produced in nearly 30 American editions, amounting to well over 60 percent of the total generated in England during the same period.4 The English and North American learned classes equally embraced Milton. Yet this is but a part of the story that makes up Milton's American pilgrimage. [End Page viii]
Only in roughly the last half century of the nearly four centuries of Milton's legacy was the study of a New World Milton given appropriate scholarly attention with the publication of George Sensabaugh's Milton in Early America (1964). Milton's formidable legacy in the English colonies and the United States is tackled anew in such works as Lydia Dittler Schulman's "Paradise Lost" and the Rise of the American Republic (1992) and K. P. Van Anglen's The New England Milton: Literary Reception and Cultural Authority in the Early Republic (1993). Milton's place in the popular imagination and his surprisingly extensive influence upon globe-trotting media, including fantasy literature, cinema, journalism, and digital technologies, are the subject of Laura L. Knoppers and Gregory M. Colón Semenza's edited collection Milton in Popular Culture (2006) and Eric C. Brown's Milton on Film (2015). In 2014 Reginald A. Wilburn produced a groundbreaking investigation of the appropriation of Milton in the underexplored literary arena of early African American writings, Preaching the Gospel of Black Revolt: Appropriating Milton in Early African American Literature.5
These transatlantic and global dynamics necessarily engage with important scholarship on Milton and imperialism and conversely on liberty, notably David Quint's Epic and...