Christopher Hill

Missed Opportunity

Revolutionary Prose of the English Civil War


Cambridge University Press 264pp £22.50 order from our bookshop

The object of the Cambridge English Prose Texts is to

provide students, primarily though not exclusively those of English Literature, with the opportunity of reading significant prose writers who … are rarely studied.

What a wonderful idea to have an anthology of prose from the English Revolution of the 1640’s and 50’s! These were years of unprecedented turmoil and unprecedented liberty. The censorship and ecclesiastical controls broke down: freedom of the press, assembly and organization established themselves. Publication expanded enormously. The London bookseller George Thomason, who tried to buy every published book and pamphlet, collected twenty-two in 1640 and 1,966 in 1641. This literature catered for a vastly extended readership, as both sides in the civil war appealed for support outside the charmed circle of those who had previously dominated political life. Journalism became a profession overnight. In 1641 there were four newspapers; in 1645, 722. Pamphlets and books could be published on subjects hitherto taboo, including democracy, communism, free love and every known religious heresy.

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