Democratic Sublime

Derek Hirst

  • Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics 1627-60 by David Norbrook
    Cambridge, 509 pp, £40.00, January 1999, ISBN 0 521 63275 7

The appearance of this book on 30 January, the 350th anniversary of the cold morning when the axe fell on Charles Stuart’s neck, was no mere romantic gesture. Rather, it declared David Norbrook’s belief that to vindicate the cultural vitality and integrity of English republicanism at its moment of flowering – a moment of high energy not only in politics but also in political thought, journalism and in literature, too – is to make a contribution to present politics as well as present understanding. When the book’s publicity material invites us to compare the Levellers’ demands of the 1640s with Charter 88 we might suspect the hand of Norbrook himself. The title he has chosen is strategic in its imprecision. With its unclear use of the word ‘writing’, he enlists himself, and the present-day republican poets and artists who appear intermittently, alongside Milton in a common enterprise.

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