My Grandfather and Milton

My grandfather, Stan Claughton, was a Methodist minister in NSW. He retired about 50 years ago and I have only vague memories of going to his church as a young boy. He did baptise me when I was about six months old – no memory of that though! I do remember, about a decade later, that when he was clearing out his bookshelves from the manse at Leichhardt, he passed on to me Graham Greene’s book ‘The Lawless Roads’ and said: ‘here, take that, it’s worth reading’. My Grandpa Stan died before I was in high school and that book remained unread for many years.

I have also inherited his copy of Milton’s poetical works. Stan served as a Chaplain in WW2 and he studied for a BA around 1950 and I presume that Milton was part of his course. The book has some pencilled notes including this one:

“Compared to Shakespeare, Milton’s mind moved along different lines and worked with different material. The material Shakespeare used was the first hand experience of life. Milton’s knowledge was gained from books. ‘His Soul’ – Wordsworth said ‘was like a star and dwelt apart’. Shakespeare was not in favour of democracy. Milton was the fiery democrat. He left his study ‘to embark on a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes’. He defended the Commonwealth. Milton was the stern democrat, the fiery champion of liberty – Shakespeare was the mocker of the foibles of the common man. Browning said: Shakespeare was of us. Milton was for us.”

I have never compared Shakespeare and Milton…but it is certainly delightful to have this small record of my grandfather’s own studies.

I draw this ‘Grandpa Claughton’ post to a close with the opening 16 lines of Milton’s Paradise Lost:

“Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste

Brought death into the World, and all our woe, 

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,

Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed

In the beginning how the heavens and earth

Rose out of Chaos: of, if Sion hill

Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed

Fast by the oracle of God, I thence

Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,

That with no middle flight intends to soar

Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues

Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.”

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