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The Milton Reading Room
by Susanne Woods

Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room,, accessed September, 2016.


Thomas H. Luxon founded this site with his undergraduate Milton students at Dartmouth College in 1997, and it has been expanded and refined considerably since its early years. It stands today as the single most wide ranging website on Milton’s work and its critical tradition even though, given its history and its use as a pedagogical tool, its apparatus is sometimes idiosyncratic and unsophisticated. Still, it is a remarkable achievement and Luxon has worked to make the site increasingly reliable. As a contribution to Milton studies generally, it is both useful and admirable.

The site was redesigned in 2014, also apparently as a Dartmouth (computer studies) student project, producing an attractive interface that is mostly easy to manage. Perhaps its most useful content is the XHTML-tagged collection of Milton’s works—all of the poetry and a substantial sampling of the prose.  This makes the texts searchable as well as hyperlinked to notes and relevant external materials. The notes are most often brief definitions of terms or citations, usually biblical or classical references.  Less usefully, especially for Paradise Lost, they are sometimes interpretive, and show the hand of undergraduates, albeit often very smart undergraduates. (E.g., for “Argument” in Paradise Lost 1.24: “An old-fashioned term for subject or theme, especially when speaking about heroic poetry like tragedy or epic. Milton’s poem has two great arguments, or subjects: Man’s first disobedience and the restoration of Paradise by ‘one greater Man,’ also the argument of Paradise Regain’d”; for “eternal Warr” PL 121: “to speak of ‘eternal war’ is to be implicitly doubtful about the prospects for victory”; for “Image of my self” PL 5.95: “Adam refers to Eve as his best image (4.471-72), much as the Son is spoken of as the Father’s image in 3.139-142. But the symmetry does not hold when we consider that the Son is not only the best image of the Father, but also the executor of all his power (see below, lines 603-612). Eve may be Adam’s ‘best image’ but she is never appointed Adam’s exclusive executive”).  A quick glance through the notes for the Poems shows a similar tendency toward the interpretive, while for Paradise Regained this discursive impulse is less prominent. Since this is an ongoing project, more student-developed interpretive notes may appear. Overall, the notes are good for definitions and identifying obscure references, and occasionally annoying in directing interpretation.

Based originally on work done by Roy Flanagan for his edition,[1] the texts have been checked against Harris Fletcher’s facsimile edition[2] and some early Milton volumes in Dartmouth’s collection. Luxon also cites John Shawcross’s commentary on Milton’s texts in The Riverside Milton. As there are better textual resources for the poetry now available and in process (the Blackwell texts edited by Barbara Lewalski and Stella Revard; the ongoing Oxford Milton project), the choice of Riverside as the base text is not ideal, but sufficient for most teaching purposes. The eleven prose selections on the site include the most commonly taught (e.g., Areopagitica, Of Education, Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Eikonoklastes, Tenure of Kings and Magistrates). I found most of the introductions and notes to the prose to be a step above the same materials for the poetry (though the text of Tetrachordon does not yet have an introduction as of this writing), and this is no doubt due to Luxon’s own efforts. The prose texts (with the curious exceptions of Areopagitica and Reason of Church Government) are given more reliable textual citations than the poetry. In any case, the site’s searchable texts, poetry and prose, can work as a guide for finding material in more authoritative editions if that should be necessary.

The links to other Milton sites could use some updating.  The Christ’s College Cambridge 400th anniversary exhibit (2008) and George Klawitter’s collection of Paradise Lost illustrations, for example, are no longer active or accessible, but other, active, sites are included, such as the longstanding and still attractive Luminarium. The Milton Reading Room also provides links to classical and biblical materials and to digital editions of other relevant textbases, such as Early English Books Online (EEBO), the Women Writers Project, and notable early modern authors online, including the Spenser texts in the Renascence Editions corpus.

The list of “Reference works” is an example of idiosyncratic apparatus; it begins with Google as “the best all-around search engine on the web,” which may be true in a broad sense, but for a Milton site I don’t think I would place it ahead of EEBO as a resource. Similarly, “Selected Criticism” is a long list, alphabetical by author, of articles, monographs, and collections, offering no categories to make it a useful tool for someone looking for discussions of particular works or topics. And the choices are sometimes odd.  There is Harris Fletcher again, on Milton’s semitic studies and rabbinical readings (from 1926 and 1930) but not Jason Rosenblatt’s Renaissance England’s Chief Rabbi: John Selden from 2006[3] (though Rosenblatt’s earlier article on Selden and Milton is on the list). There is an obscure essay by Sanford Budick, but not his monograph, The Dividing Muse, which won the Milton Society of America’s highest award, the James Holly Hanford Award, in 1985, or his Kant and Milton, which won the same prize in 2010.[4] Similarly, there are four articles by Joan S. Bennet listed, but not her 1989 Hanford Award-winning book, Reviving Liberty.[5] A quick check shows almost a pattern of omitting Hanford Award-winning titles: we find articles by Marshall Grossman, but not his “Authours Unto Themselves” (1987); plenty of Michael Lieb, but not his Poetics of the Holy (1981); three articles by Feisel Mohammed, but not his Milton and the Post-Secular Present (2011).[6]

As a reference tool, then, the site has value, but limitations.  As a resource for exploring texts, it is quite useful. As an example of solid work that can be done with undergraduate students, allowing them to contribute to the ongoing conversation about one of western civilization’s greatest authors, it is a splendid achievement.

Susanne Woods
University of Miami

[1] The Riverside Milton, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

[2] Fletcher, Harris Francis, ed., Complete Poetical Works [of John Milton] Reproduced in Photographic Facsimile. 4 Volumes. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944-48. 

[3] Renaissance England’s Chief Rabbi: John Selden, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006

[4] The Dividing Muse: Images of Sacred Disjunction in Milton’s Poetry, New Haven: Yale UP, 1985; Kant and Milton, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010.

[5] Reviving Liberty: Radical Christian Humanism in Milton’s Great Poems, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.

[6] “Authors to Themselves”: Milton and the Revelation of History, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987; Poetics of the Holy: A Reading of Paradise Lost, Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1981; Milton and the Post-Secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism, Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2011.



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Cite as:

Susanne Woods, "The Milton Reading Room," Spenser Review 46.2.21 (Fall 2016). Accessed March 20th, 2018.
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