16th June 1660. Paradise Lost and Regained.
It is timely to be reminded that the burning of books associated with totalitarian regimes was a feature of British society, and it was Today in 1660, a time of the restored monarchy under Charles II, which saw a Resolution passed by the House of Commons.
It read: ‘That his Majesty be humbly moved to call in [John] Milton’s two books (the Conoelastes and the Defensio) and that of John Goodwin ( the Obstructors of Justice), written in justification of the murder of the late King, and order them to be burned by the Common Hangman; and that the Attorney-General do proceed against them by indictment or otherwise’.
On the 27th August following as many copies of the offending books as could be met with, were publicly burned and it was reported that, ’The said John Milton and John Goodwin are so fled’.
However the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, within three days after the burning ‘relieved the poet from his enforced concealment’.
Restriction on free speech has always been alive and well in Britain’s past, and the Licensing Order of Charles I of June 1643 saw pre-publication censorship in England.
It was against this that the Puritan and liberal John Milton in his 1644 Areopagitica railed against, arguing as he did for a free press and opposed to any unwarrantable power, whether political or ecclesiastical.
Milton as a Republican and writer was always going to be in trouble at the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, especially as a one-time backer of the execution of Charles I, and as one who had spent ten years as Cromwell’s Latin Secretary composing his dispatches to foreign governments.
Then it was Milton who had been commissioned by Parliamentarians to write a riposte to the Eikon Basilike (Royal Portrait) supposedly written by Charles I as a treatise on Monarchy.
When Charles was executed he quickly became much more than a failed political leader for popular books such as the Eikon Basilike created the idea that he was martyred in defence of the Church. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, this was not an idea that anyone wished to discourage.
Published by Milton as Eikonoklastes (image breaker), it portrayed Charles and his notion of absolute monarchy as idols, no doubt ready to be toppled.
Milton’s Iconoclastes and Defensio pro Populo Anglican, contained sentiments which the restored King Charles and his Court couldn’t tolerate. So the Restoration saw greater need for censorship, with printing requiring a permit from the Stationers’ Company, though the Act expired in 1679, censorship in its many form was set to continue for two centuries.
In 1658 Milton, a year before Oliver Cromwell died, started to write Paradise Lost, which attempted to show that God had led them through the conflicts of 1650.s and then had abandoned them in 1660.
In 1671 Milton wrote ‘Paradise Regained’ where the Biblical Jesus finally triumphs over Satan.