Sunday, 26 September 2010
No sex, please; I’m Milton
There is a lovely little storm in a literary teacup here at the moment, the sort of thing that could only happen in England. It concerns the ‘discovery’ of a poem by John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, in the University of Oxford’s Harding Collection, though how it ranks as a ‘discovery’ when it has already been published on a number of occasions since it first appeared in a miscellany of 1708 is just a little odd. What we have here, I think, is yet another bogus academic scoop!
Anyway, the poem called An Extempore Upon a Faggot (no, it did not mean that then!) proceeds in distinctly un-Miltonesque fashion;
Have you not in a Chimney seen
A Faggot which is moist and green
How coyly it receives the Heat
And at both ends do’s weep and sweat?
So fares it with a tender Maid
When first upon her Back she’s laid
But like dry Wood th’ experienced Dame
Cracks and rejoices in the Flame.
The original handwritten version of this bawdy ditty is signed Milton but, by Lucifer, this is not Milton! It’s not his style, rather a pity in a way, because it would do much to make the tiresome and ponderous old bore sound interesting! Dr Jennifer Batt, who stumbled upon this ‘discovery’, would appear to be just a touch – what’s the word? – oh, yes, batty;
To see the name of John Milton, the great religious and political polemicist, attached to such a bawdy epigram is extremely surprising to say the least. The poem is so out of tune with the rest of his work that if the attribution is correct it would prompt a major revision of our ideas about Milton.
I’m not being completely fair. Batty or not, she also says that it’s possible that it was penned by a jealous rival, anxious to bring scandal on the great seer of Cromwellian England. A possible candidate, she suggests, is Sir John Suckling, a Cavalier poet from the same era who was known to detest Milton for his puritanism and for his politics.
It has also been suggested that it night be the work of John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, my favourite Restoration poet. The subject matter is certainly more the sort of thing that appealed to Wilmot, it’s just that this is a very inferior example of the kind of thing he did so much better. Besides, he was not nearly so coy;
Her father gave her dildos six;
Her mother made 'em up a score,
But she loves nought but living pricks
And swears by God she'll frig no more.
Rochester! thou should'st be living at this hour: England hath need of thee. :-)