Oh, Milton and Williams: Old Chums
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
I live in Providence, just two blocks up the hill from the place Roger Williams, the founder of RI, first lived. His house is no longer there, but the spot is the country's smallest national park. I've always been fascinating with Williams, who settled in Rhode Island in order to create a place with absolute separation of church and state; in some ways, he conceived of modern governance. The early glory of RI, bastion of dissidents as varied as Jews, Quakers and Baptists, has mostly faded. But so much of the American dream (the parts that are actually good) was dreamt just down the hill.
I learned that Williams was close to another dreamer I admire a great deal -- John Milton.
How cool is that? The man down the hill was friends with the author of Paradise Lost. Contact high. On a short trip back to England, Williams schooled Milton in Hebrew in exchange for lessons in Dutch.
Yeah, me too. I did that. I wish I was a genius, or even just brilliant. I'll just have to content myself gazing down at Williams' little park ...