17 december 2007

Philip Pullman opens Bodleian Milton exhibition

Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman called Milton our greatest public poet

Philip Pullman speaks about Milton

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Philip Pullman speaks about Milton

 On 7 December author Philip Pullman opened the Bodleian’s new winter exhibition commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of the 17th century poet John Milton. The exhibition, entitled Citizen Milton focuses on Milton as a public poet and one of the earliest advocates of civil liberties.

The display presents beautiful editions of Milton’s work held in the Bodleian, including the rare first edition of Areopagitica - Milton’s speech calling for unlicensed printing, and the first twelve-book edition of Paradise Lost, one of the greatest epic poems in the English language, with a portrait engraving by William Dolle.

Speaking at the opening event Philip Pullman said: ‘Four hundred years after the birth of John Milton he still lives, his example still inspires, his words still echo. Paradise Lost is the great central work but Milton’s life was far more than Paradise Lost and this exhibition celebrates the rest of it as well – his political work, his writing of majestic pamphlets that still endure; the championing of liberty and the freedom of the press. Milton is our greatest public poet.’

The exhibition also explores Milton’s relationship with the Bodleian during his lifetime, particularly with Bodley’s Librarian John Rouse, who hid many of Milton’s works to save them from being burnt.

Four hundred years after the birth of John Milton he still lives, his example still inspires, his words still echo.

Author Philip Pullman

The second section of the exhibition examines the lasting impact of Milton’s work both in his lifetime and beyond. This section includes Blake’s original illuminated engraving of Heaven and Hell, the poet Shelley’s unpublished notebook and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which Milton is criticised for his view of women. Also on display is what is probably the earliest written response to Paradise Lost - a letter by sir John Hobart, who criticises Milton’s politics but praises his poetry as sublime.

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said: ‘The Bodleian has a number of claims that establish it as a highly appropriate venue. Milton’s Ode to John Rouse thanked him and the Bodleian for preserving his books for posterity when Charles II called for them to be burned. If it were not for the defiant librarians of the time these destructives imperatives would have been fulfilled. Instead the books can be seen on display in the exhibition.’

Citizen Milton opened on 8 December 2007 and will continue until 26 April 2008. It is open Mo day to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to 4:30pm. The exhibition is closed for Christmas from Friday 21 December to Wednesday 2 January and from Friday 21 March to Monday 24 March. Admission is free.

A recording of Philip Pullman's speech is available below courtesy of the Bodleian Library. The full BODcast is available on the link to the right.