Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Milton and England
IN a famous passage, the great 20th century historian AJP Taylor wrote that "in August 1914, a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the State beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission." Only 90 years have passed since he wrote those words and today the opposite is true. The growth of the State intrudes everywhere upon our lives and our liberties. We must set boundaries now, or our ancient freedoms - the very things which define us as English - will be lost for ever. We in England are at the crossroads of history in our nation's future as an independent nation state. We can either take account of our long and illustrious history and remain free, with the ability to serve not only our own country but Europe and the world, or become just a province of a supposed European Union which is already showing signs of collapse after only 50 years. For us and millions of subjects in our country the last option must never be accepted. No English writer in any age has ever expressed his faith in England with more impassioned ardour and greater eloquence than Milton. Inspiring almost all that he wrote was his passionate concern for liberty, and second only to that love was his faith in the English people as having for many generations striven more valiantly to win freedom and valued it more highly than any other modern people. When he was a young man in Italy and his Italian hosts professed to envy the Englishman’s freedom, he took it as “a pledge of future happiness, that other nations were so persuaded of England’s liberty". His prose treatises have long lost much of their topical interest, until the advent of Tony Blair and his cohorts of destroyers of everything English, and Blair’s successor's refusal to keep a promise to the English people. Milton bids the two nations, England and Scotland, "never to be disunited" but to make common cause to "settle the pure worship of God in his church, and justice in the state”. He asked his readers not to forget "what numbers of faithful and freeborn Englishmen" had gone overseas to find the religious freedom which was denied them at home. In 2009 we can look back over twelve years and see the flood of the English leaving their once-free homeland for the freedom to be found elsewhere in the world, of which the English, and later the British, had laid the foundations by their sacrifices in two World Wars in the 20th century and by their ancestors’ example in the years of the preceding centuries. Milton’s treatise ends with an eloquent prayer that God who did "build up this Britannic empire to a glorious and enviable height, with all her daughter-islands about her," and had scattered the Spanish armada, may now, "stay us in this felicity" and deliver England from tyranny at home.