John Milton

Start Free Trial

Z. S. Fink (essay date 1941)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "The Political Implications of Paradise Regained," in The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. XL, No. 4, October, 1941, pp. 482-88.

[In the essay below, Fink explores seventeenth-century political understandings of the notion of dictatorship. He maintains that the depiction of Satan as a dictator in Paradise Regained underscores Milton's rejection of the need for a dictator in a healthy commonwealth.]

When Satan lays before his followers in Paradise Regained the situation which has arisen from the appearance of Christ, they are appalled at the danger which confronts them and turn over to him all authority in the matter:

Unanimous they all commit the care And management of this main enterprize To him their great Dictator …"1

This passage has received singularly little attention from Milton scholars, the chief comment on it being the correct enough but not very illuminating one by Thyer which appears in the editions of Newton and Todd. I propose to show that it is profitable to pursue further the reference to Satan as a dictator, that the allusion is not accidental, and that the poem possesses definite political implications.

It is important at the outset to understand clearly the sense in which the word dictator was commonly used in the seventeenth century, and to avoid habitually associating with it certain connotations which are prominently attached to it in our own day, but which, although they were by no means unknown in the seventeenth century, have nothing or very little to do with the meaning with which we are here concerned. By dictator was not usually meant a person who attains supreme power by irregular or supra-constitutional means and then keeps it as long as he is able to maintain himself. Rather was meant a constitutionally provided body or institution in the state, consisting of a single person or a council of several, which functioned with great or unlimited power for limited periods of time in cases of national emergency, and which might, or might not, be accountable at some regularly provided subsequent period to the bodies which controlled the government in times of peace.2 The dictator which was a feature of the Roman constitution from 501 to 213 B.C. was one thing which gave this meaning currency,3 Roman practices having been carefully studied by seventeenth century political theorists as all students of the period know.4 Also influential was the great admiration in England for the Venetian constitution5 and the high reputation of the dictatorial feature of it, the Council of Ten,6 which was a capital illustration in the modern world of a dictator in the sense in which I have defined the term. Moreover, this is the sense in which the word is commonly used by seventeenth century political writers and by earlier political theorists who were widely read in the seventeenth century.7 Most important for our purposes, however, is the fact that three specific references, one in the Commonplace Book and two in the First Defense, give indisputable evidence not only that Milton was familiar with this meaning of the term, but that it was in terms of it that he commonly thought of the word dictator.8

Now it would no doubt be stretching matters to say that the infernal powers had drawn up a constitution with regular provisions for a dictator in times of crisis and were represented by Milton as acting in accordance with it in making Satan dictator, but it is not stretching the evidence at all to say that political conceptions did influence Milton's delineation of...

(This entire section contains 2639 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the fallen angels in various ways, notably in the case of the council in the second book ofParadise Lost, and that a careful reading of Paradise Regained reveals that in many ways Satan is represented as being a dictator in the common seventeenth century meaning of the term which I have outlined. The situation which is created by the appearance of Christ is presented by Milton as what is, from the point-of-view of the devils viewed as a state, a national emergency. It is so described by Satan in his speech to the first council at the beginning of the action, when he asserts that it "admits no long debate" and must "with something sudden be oppos'd."9 Furthermore, in this view of the matter the devils acquiesce. They thereupon by Milton's own specific statement, make Satan dictator,10 granting him power which is both extraordinary and temporary. That it is extraordinary, I deduce from the care with which Satan points out in the second council that he has acted in accordance with the powers given him at the first one;11 that it is temporary may be concluded from his care to have his dictatorial authrity renewed or reaffirmed at the second council.12 Moreover, the way in which the conception of Satan as a dictator is emphasized in the lines immediately preceding the specific reference to him as such in I, 113, and the fact that the conception is carried over from the first council and reappears in two different places in the account of the second one make clear that the representation of Satan as a dictator is an essential part of Milton's conception of the activities of the character in the entire poem.

What are the political implications? This question cannot be answered until we have taken into account an active discussion of dictators which lay in the background of the poem and Milton's proposals in The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth. In the 1650's there was much to suggest to Englishmen the desirability of having in a republic some body capable of acting quickly and secretly in cases of national emergency. The experiences of the Commonwealth itself must have pointed this way, even in the case of those who were bitterly opposed to Cromwell's assumption of permanent dictatorial power. Moreover, the constant royalist argument that the kingship supplied the state with an effective head in times of crisis was a challenge to republicans to show that the same advantage could be secured in a republic; and when they looked around to see how this could be accomplished, the institution of the dictator was ready at hand in the very places to which they were accustomed to look for guidance. Rome and Venice gave it their potent authority, and political theorists recommended it. Machiavelli, for example, was of the opinion that a commonwealth unprovided with provisions for a dictator in times of crisis would inevitably come to disaster.13 In view of these facts it is not surprising to find that the Nineteenth Order of Harrington's Oceana reads in part as follows:

But whereas it is incident unto Common-wealths upon Emergences, requiring extraordinary speed, or secresie, either through their natural delayes, or unnatural haste to incur equal danger, while holding unto the slow pace of their Orders they come not in time to defend themselves from some suddain blow; or breaking them for the greater speed, they but haste unto their own Destruction: If the Senate shall at any time make Election of nine Knights extraordinary to be added unto the Council of War, as a Juncta for the term of three moneths. The Council of War, with the Juncta so added, is for the term of the same; Dictator of Oceana…. And the whole Administration of the Common-wealth for the term of the said three Moneths shall be in the Dictator.14

There was no doubt in Harrington's mind about the necessity of a dictator as part of the constitutionally provided machinery of a commonwealth. He considered it a dangerous but none-the-less indispensable institution, agreeing with Machiavelli, that without it "a Common-wealth cannot be safe from falling … into dissolution."15 The Oceana received a vast amount of attention, which increased rather than diminished in the years between its publication in 1656 and the Restoration.16 If there had been anything needed to call the attention of those who were thinking about problems of government to the institution of the dictator, it was supplied by the Oceana and the prominence given to proposals for a dictator in it.

In his Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, Milton, as is well known, shows clear evidence of being fully acquainted with Harrington's theories and indeed borrowed, though with evident reluctance and modification, one or two features of his own ideal state from them.17 Milton was also fully aware of, and by no means completely uninfluenced by, the contemporary vogue for Venice, which was at its height at the very time when his tract was written.18 As for Rome, we have the statement in Aubrey's Brief Lives, if any statement were needed, to make it clear that Rome was an important source of Milton's political ideas.19 The entries in the Commonplace Book show that he studied Machiavelli carefully.20 But when Milton came to write The Ready and Easy Way, one thing that he did not borrow from any of these sources, was the conception of a dictator to act with extraordinary powers in times of crisis. On the subject of providing a dictator for his ideal state he is completely silent. It is true that he proposes the setting up of an executive council "for the carrying on som particular affairs with more secrecie and expedition,"21 but this is a regularly functioning part of the state machinery and in no sense comparable to a dictator.

At this point another consideration becomes relevant. As I have shown elsewhere,22 the erroneous notion that the government of the Venetian republic had continued without change for twelve centuries had encouraged on the part of various seventeenth century Englishmen the idea that it is possible to construct a perpetually healthy government which would function without impairment or decay in times of peace and of crisis until the end of the world. This conception constitutes what might be called the grand aim of Harrington's Oceana,23 and it was indeed to attain this end that Harrington thought the institution of the dictator necessary. But the conception of the perpetually healthy state is no less fundamental in the dictatorless system described in The Ready and Easy Way. Milton, too, would set up a state which would last forever. It is his avowed aim, stated not once but four times in the course of the tract.24 From these facts only one conclusion can be drawn: that whatever Milton may earlier have thought about the necessity of dictatorial power in setting up a commonwealth,25 he had become convinced when he wrote The Ready and Easy Way that it was possible to construct a state with institutions so perfectly adjusted that they would weather all storms unimpaired and last forever. Milton's thought is thus seen to be bolder even than Harrington's. He conceived the grand problem in government to be, not providing a dictator to take over authority when institutions perfectly adequate to performing the tasks of peace broke down in times of crisis, but the creation of absolutely perfect institutions as sufficient unto themselves in times of emergency as in ordinary periods. In such a state as he proposed, a constitutionally provided dictator would be wholly supererogatory.

It is this background which makes significant the representation of Satan as a dictator in Paradise Regained. Now it will be noted that Satan as dictator is presented as most ineffective. Granted extraordinary powers by the first council at the beginning of the action, he is driven back on the council for assistance after the first temptation, as his speech to the council in Book II makes perfectly clear.26 Given this aid and securing a renewal of his dictatorial authority, he goes forth a second time and after trying the utmost of which he is capable, succeeds no better. The career of Satan as a dictator is a career of unrelieved failure. The theme required that Satan should fail; it did not require that he should be represented in failure as a dictator. The fact that the conception is carried over from the first book into the second and emphasized there makes it impossible to regard the representation as anything but deliberate. The implications, I believe, are clear and unmistakable. Considered from the point-of-view of its political meaning, Paradise Regained is an expression of Milton's lack of faith in dictatorship as it was conceived in seventeenth century political thought. A dictator, Milton tells us, is a vain and futile refuge when ordinary institutions break down in times of crisis. Thus there emerges out of the poem a point-of-view not only wholly consistent with that in The Ready and Easy Way, but complementary to it. We are to conclude, I think, that by 1660 Milton had fixed his faith as a political thinker on the full capacity of the normally functioning bodies of a rightly constituted commonwealth to meet all emergencies. Paradise Regained affords good reason for supposing that from this faith he probably did not afterward depart.


1 Bk. I, 11. 111-13.

2 That a dictatorship constitutionally instituted might be transformed by the dictator into a permanent thing was, of course, recognized (see Harrington, Oceana, ed. S. B. Liljegren [Heidelberg, 1924], p. 114).

3 On the Roman dictator see Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht (Leipzig, 1887, 3rd ed.), II, 141 ff; Cicero, De Legibus, III, 3, 9.

4 In Aubrey's Brief Lives is a statement that it was Milton's "being so conversant in Livy and the Roman authors, and the greatness he saw done by the Roman Commonwealth" that made him into a republican (ed. Andrew Clark [Oxford, 1898, 2 vols.], II, 69). Harrington constantly cites Roman practices (see the Oceana, passim). See also the discussion of Rome in the anonymous Censure of the Rota upon Mr. Milton's Book, Entitled, The Readie and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (London, 1660), p. 15.

5 In my article on "Venice and English Political Thought in the Seventeenth Century" (Modern Philology, XXX-VIII [1940], 155-72), I present a great amount of evidence to show that, contrary to the statements of recent writers on the history of political theory, there existed in England in the seventeenth century great admiration for the Venetian system of government, and that this had no inconsiderable influence on both English political theory and literature.

6 See James Howell, A Survay of the Signorie of Venice, of Her Admired Policy and Method of Government (London, 1651), pp. 13-14. Harrington was another admirer of the Council of Ten, the dictator which he proposes in the Oceana being admittedly founded upon it (see pp. 114-15). The best contemporary account of the Council of Ten is that in Contarini's The Government and Commonwealth of Venice, tr. Lewes Lewkenor (London, 1599), pp. 76 ff.

7 Harrington, Oceana, pp. 111-12. See also the references to Machiavelli's use of the term on p. 114 and Liljegren's note on p. 311.

8Commonplace Book, ed. A. J. Horwood (London, 1876), p. 43; Prose Works, ed. Bohn, I, 160, 128.

9 Bk. I, ll. 95-96.

10 L1. 106-13.

11 Bk. II, ll. 129-30.

12 Bk. II, ll. 233-35.

13Discorsi, I, 34.

14 Pp. 111-12.

15 P. 114.

16 T. W. Dwight, "Harrington and His Influence upon American Political Institutions," in Political Science Quarterly, II (1887), 18. On the activities of the Rota Club, which was formed with the avowed purpose of advancing Harrington's proposals, see Masson's excellent account in his Life of Milton, v, 484 ff.; Aubrey, Brief Lives, I, 289; and Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, ed. Bliss (London, 1813-20, 4 vols.), II, 1119.

17 See the comments of E. M. Clark in his edition of the tract (New Haven, 1915), pp. lii-lv. See also Milton's references to Harrington's rotative proposals on p. 23 and to Harrington's agrarian principles on p. 28. All subsequent references to The Ready and Easy Way are to Clark's edition.

18 See my article referred to in note 5.

19 See note 4 and The Ready and Easy Way, pp. lvii-lviii, 12, 14, 24. Cf. Milton's comparison of Vane to a Roman senator in his sonnet to Sir Henry Vane.

20 Pp. 21, 28, 32, 39-41, 52-55.

21 P. 22.

22 See the article referred to in note 5.

23 Pp. 185-86.

24 Pp. 13, 21, 24, 28.

25 See the passage in Of Prelatial Episcopacy in Prose Works, ed. Bohn, II, 429.

26 Ll. 121-46.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

John Milton 1608–1674

English poet, essayist, dramatist, and historian

See also, Paradise Lost Criticism.

Milton is regarded as one of the preeminent writers in the English language and as a thinker of world importance. Noted principally for his great epic poems Paradise Lost (1667), Paradise Regain'd (1671), and Samson Agonistes (1671) which scholars increasingly study for their political content, Milton also wrote seminal political and religious essays and pamphlets that were not only highly influential in their time, but remain significant contributions to the canon of libertarian thought. Contentious in his day, during which he was principal propagandist of the ruling Protectorate exablished by Oliver Cromwell, Milton also became known as the supreme champion in England of the then-embryonic concept of political self-determination. An early proponent of individual rights, Milton promoted such causes as freedom of the press against government censorship, the right of the people to overthrow tyrannical rulers, and the right to seek marital divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. A staunch Puritan who feared the tyranny of episcopacy, Milton sought to insure definite boundaries between church and state. Milton's views were often so extreme as to alienate even his fellow Puritans. Ranked in the same echelons as Shakespeare and Chaucer, Milton today is considered a master of his art and a literary craftsman of the highest order.

Biographical Information

Milton was born in Cheapside, London in 1608, the second of three children of John Milton, Sr., a prosperous scrivener and notary who had been disowned by his own father, a staunch Roman Catholic, when he left the Church and became a Protestant. Sarah Jeffrey, Milton's mother, was a gentlewoman known for her charitable works. Milton had a superior education that stressed the classics, music, and foreign languages. A highly gifted student, Milton quickly demonstrated a facility for language, learning Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French and Italian at an early age. Milton's father also hired a private tutor, Thomas Young, a Puritan minister to further nurture his son's intellectual abilities. Milton completed his studies at St. Paul's school and at Christ Church College, Cambridge where he took his master's degree in 1632. Although he was a good student, Milton was impatient with medieval scholastic tradition. After completing his education,

Milton lived in his father's house in Hammersmith and then his family's country estate at Horton, Brookinghamshire, studying, writing, and pondering his vocation. In 1638 Milton began fifteen months of travel, going first to Paris where he was introduced to Hugo Grotius, the famed Dutch jurist, and then to Florence where he met Galileo, under house arrest for his scientific writings which were at odds with Roman Catholic Church doctrine. He then traveled briefly to Naples and Rome, but cancelled further travel plans to Greece and Crete, and returned home to England when he learned of escalating political strife. The Crown was attempting to reign in Puritan dissidents. While beginning his career as a poet, Milton set up a private school for tutoring his nephews and several other pupils. In 1643 at the age of 33 Milton married Mary Powell, the 17-year-old daughter of family friend indebted to his father. The marriage was unhappy, and she left her husband shortly after their wedding, retreating to her father's estate. She did not return to live with her husband for two years. When Charles I was executed in 1649 and Cromwell assumed power, Milton actively entered the political fray, enlisting in the service of the new government as the Latin secretary for foreign affairs. He carried out Parliament's official correspondence and became a key pamphleteer defending Cromwell's policies to foreign governments. For the next twenty years Milton remained a political activist, but often shifted his political alliances to remain true to his first principle—an unwavering defense of personal liberty. The Restoration of the crown and the ascendance of Charles II in 1660 left Milton disillusioned and hastened his departure from public life. As a noted defender of the regicides, he was under arrest for a brief period, but the intercession of friends in better standing with the Crown, notably the poet Andrew Marvell, spared him serious peril. His first wife died in 1652. He remarried twice. His second wife, Katherine Woodcock, whom he wed in 1656, died sixteen months after their marriage. Milton married Elizabeth Minshull in 1663. He began to lose his eyesight in the 1640s, which he attributed to his reading at night since he was young. He was totally blind by 1652 and composed all his later works, including some of his poetic masterpieces, by dictation. Milton died a month before his sixty-sixth birthday.

Major Works

A number of Milton's writings were not published until years after they were written, and in some cases did not appear until after his death. Milton began writing as a poet, but with the coming of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, he shifted from private to public concerns. Abruptly he left off writing poetry for prose, producing pamphlets during the early 1640s in which he opposed what he considered rampant Episcopal tyranny. Having, as he related, embarked from a sense of duty upon "a trouble sea of noises and hoarse disputes," he declared his Puritan allegiance in such antiprelactical tracts as Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England (1641) in which he criticized the Anglican Church, and The Reason of Church-Government (1642). The theme of these works was always the same: the need to purge the Church of England of all vestiges of Roman Catholicism, especially its practices of idolatry, and to restore the simplicity of the apostolic church. Milton believed that Scripture, not the Church hierarchy, was the true source of authority. Around this time Milton also published

The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643) in which he argued that incompatibility was a valid reason for divorce. His views were not popular and were opposed in print, leading him publish a much-enlarged version of his essay in 1644 and to write three further pamphlets on the subject: The Judgment of Martin Bucer Concerning Divorce (1644), Colasterion (1645), and Tetrachordon (1645, primarily sharp rebuttals to the denunciations his original essay received. In addition to antiprelactical tracts and other topical treatises on religion, Milton wrote on more general theological issues. His most important work in this field is A Treatise of Christian Doctrine (1825), mostly completed by 1660, in which he surveys the emergence of institutionalized Christianity and comments on major tenets of Christian belief. This work outlines his Puritan faith that Scripture, guided by human reason, was the key to salvation. Milton became increasingly preoccupied with civic thought, writing numerous political essays and pamphlets. In 1644 Milton published Areopagitica (1644), a plea for unlicensed printing in England. During the next few years Milton worked on his History of Britain (1670) and A Defence of the People of England (1692). With the execution of Charles I in 1649, Milton published The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), an assertion of the right of the people to depose or execute a ruling tyrant. This view constituted a complete about-face for Milton, who had written as a good monarchist in his early antiprelactical tracts. Milton also published in the same year his controversial Eikonklastes (1649), a harsh indictment of Charles I in response to the publication of the Eikon Basilike, the emotionally charged posthumously published ghost-written prison memoirs of Charles I which portrayed the executed king as a saint and martyr. As Cromwell's Latin secretary for foreign affairs, he issued a number of tracts on church and state issues, including Pro Populo anglicano defensio (A Defence of the people of England) (1651) and Defensio secunda (Second Defense of the People of England) (1654), two highly laudatory reviews of the achievements of the Commonwealth. But Cromwell's tenure and the Commonwealth were short-lived and in one of his final political essays, The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660), Milton lamented the looming restoration of Charles II to the throne. Milton also wrote studies not prompted by strictly political or religious concerns. The short works A Brief History of Moscovia (1682) and Accedence Commenc't Grammar (1669) treat Russian history and Latin grammar respectively. Of Education (1645), written in the form of a letter, is the most frequently quoted example of Milton minor prose. Here, drawing no doubt on his own experience as a student and teacher, Milton petitioned for the creation of an elite class through the careful instruction of boys in small regional academies. Milton's objective for the students, "to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright," had a practical end: "I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war." Milton was especially proud of this work, and its reputation as a major contribution to educational theory endures to this day. The lyric masterpieces of his last years—Paradise Lost, Paradise Regain 'd, and the metrical tragedy Samson Agonistes—have profound political messages. Critics regard Satan as a representing Charles I in Milton's poetry. Samson Agonistes examines the dilemma posed by the choices individuals have to make when political and ethical demands are at odds.

Critical Reception

Milton is the subject of more scholarship and criticism than any other English author save Shakespeare and possibly Chaucer. In life Milton was both praised and scorned; praised for his achievements in poetry and scorned for his writings on church and state. Political opponents lashed out at him mercilessly in print, damning him as a rebel and traitor, but he was not without advocates. Andrew Marvell, for example, allied himself closely with Milton, defending him against detractors at the Restoration. The first few decades after Milton's death saw the writing the publication of a number of biographies—strong testimony to Milton's growing eminence. Milton's reputation remained high until the 1920s, when his poetical works suffered their fiercest denunciation ever. T. S. Eliot, for one, attacked the Milton canon, ranking Milton far below John Donne. By the 1940s, however, following a systematic revaluation, scholars have been examining Milton's work from a wide variety of critical approaches. His previously disregarded topical prose works have been the subject of much fresh critical examination. Commentators now consider Milton a shaping influence during the Commonwealth period in matters concerning religious appointment, education, and the limits of government. Milton is also recognized as a major figure in the history of ideas, one whose thoughts on self-determination and unlicensed printing touched later generations and helped form opinion in Britain and abroad. Much recent Milton scholarship continues to focus on the political content of his poetry as well as his prose.

Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (essay date 1959)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Milton: Political Beliefs and Polemical Methods, 1659-60," in PMLA, Vol. LXXIV, No. 3, June, 1959, pp. 191-207.

[In the following essay Lewalski examines Milton's political pamphlets in the tumultuous years of 1659-60. She argues that his seeming inconsistencies and reversals are not evidence of fickleness or hypocrisy, but rather reveal a practical flexibility that allowed him to remain constant to his principles.]

Milton's polemical tracts of the Puritan Revolution have long offered difficulty to scholars, and these difficulties are intensified in the eight pamphlets which he wrote during the chaotic closing years of the interregnum.1 One problem concerns Milton's bewildering shifts of political allegiance among the various parties and models of government:2 he first acquiesced in the protectorate of Richard Cromwell, then denounced protectorian government and eulogized the restored Rump Parliament and the commonwealth, then defended an army government which deposed the Rump, then demanded the Rump's return, then offered plans for perpetuating three different legislatures in power or about to come to power, and at one point proposed the establishment of a temporary monarchy or protectorate. Furthermore, during this brief period he restated two contradictory theories of government developed in earlier tracts—the popular-sovereignty theory, asserting the right of every free people to choose, alter, and depose their government, and an "aristocratic" theory justifying the "worthy minority" in imposing and perpetuating its rule over an "unworthy" majority. Also intensified is the ambiguity, long present in Milton's tracts, concerning the relation of regenerate to the civil government: Milton's ecclesiastical pamphlets of 1659 define a sharp separation of church and state in terms of their laws, concerns, and jurisdictions, but in other works of this period he appears to assert the contradictory doctrine that the "Saints" should enjoy special political privileges.

These confusions obscure Milton's beliefs during a period crucial to his development and have, beyond this, important ramifications for our total view of his thought and character. They have inspired, on the one hand, S. B. Lilijegren's view of Milton the Machiavellian, a crass hypocrite or at best a timeserver, and on the other, A. E. Barker's portrait of a politically inept Milton guilty of "illogicality rather than insincerity," as well as Ernest Sirluck's analysis of Milton as an able rhetorician, adapting his arguments, within limits, to the needs and rhetorical pressures of the moment, in close alignment with the position of the Puritan Center parties.3 Such confusions have also led to very diverse interpretations of Milton's last tract about political issues, The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660). In his edition of this tract E. M. Clark charges the model of government proposed with "utter impracticality."4 Howard Schultz calls it a naturalistic Utopia placing "civil power in the hands of substantial citizens without regard to their estate as Christians," Barker regards it as a theocracy modeled upon Christ's millennial government with his saints after the Last Judgment, and Don M. Wolfe identifies it with the program of the Fifth Monarchists, those millenarian extremists who sought to impose the millennial government immediately, by force.5

Assuming that an understanding of their polemical intention is of first importance in interpreting Milton's pamphlets, the present study analyzes them in relation to the political events and the extensive Puritan tract literature of the period.6 It concentrates upon Milton's pamphlets of 1659-60, since these present at once an epitome and an intensification of the major difficulties found throughout his prose; thus, a satisfactory explanation of their political theory and polemical method should help illuminate the entire structure and development of his thought.

I. Practical Polemics and Government Models

Who would cope with the political crises in 1659-60 had need to know how to tame a whirlwind. The Puritan coalition which united in the years following 1642 against king and Anglican Establishment—Presbyterians, Non-Separating Congregationalists, Separatists and other Sectaries, Parliamentarians, Leveller Democrats, and New Model Army soldiers—had long since disintegrated through internal conflict over the proper settlement in church and state. Upon this chaos Oliver Cromwell's protectorate had imposed an uneasy settlement through armed force and a policy of wide religious toleration, but with his death the storms of controversy again raged with ever-increasing violence. In the twenty months from Cromwell's death on 3 September 1658 to the restoration of Charles II in May 1660 government power changed hands six times, economic conditions steadily worsened, the populace manifested overwhelming dissatisfaction with Puritan rule, and the Royalists daily gained strength.7 My first contention here is that Milton's various government models and political arguments were drawn from and constantly adapted to the maelstrom of contemporary politics, that the contradictions in them were caused primarily by this conscious adaptation, and that the purpose of this adaptation was to preserve certain religious and civil liberties from every danger but especially from the permanent destruction awaiting them in a Stuart restoration.

The first two pamphlets, A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes (February 1659), and Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church (August 1659), although primarily concerned with ecclesiastical questions, reveal also a striking reversal of attitude toward the protectorate.8 The first silently acquiesced in the protectorian government (which Milton had warmly supported at its initial establishment under Oliver Cromwell in 1654),9 but the second vigorously denounced it as a "short but scandalous night of interruption " in the nation's "peace and safety" (VI, 43). This reversal is plausibly explained by political and rhetorical considerations. Milton was probably already quite critical of the protectorate at the time of writing Of Civil Power, because of its failure to achieve full religious toleration and also because of its increasingly monarchical trappings;10 indeed, the fact that he addressed his tract to the recently convened parliament alone, at the very time most pamphleteers were fulsomely eulogizing the new protector, Cromwell's son Richard, offers negative evidence of this." But since Milton's primary concern in this tract was to defend religious liberty against the recently revived Presbyterian agitation for suppression of the "unruly" and "blasphemous" sects,12 he would hardly wish to prejudice this cause by gratuitous reflection upon a government which as yet appeared to be firmly entrenched in the popular affection of the Puritans.

In addition, The Likeliest Means manifests a reversal of attitude toward the Rump Parliament. In 1654 Milton had applauded the overthrow of the Rump by Oliver Cromwell, describing that body as full of personal sins, self-seeking, and arbitrariness,13 but in this tract (written three months after the deposition of Richard and the restoration of the Rump Parliament by a coalition of Commonwealthsmen, Sectaries, and army officers), he declared anew for a commonwealth and hailed the Rump as the "authors, assertors and now recoverers of our libertie " (VI, 45). A sampling of the very widespread commonwealth enthusiasm in the spring and summer of 1659 illuminates this shift. The coalition restoring the Rump, though by no means agreed as to what they expected from it, hailed its return as a reaffirmation of the "good old cause" after an ignominious backsliding into the ways of a single person.14 The pamphleteers set forth numerous and diverse republican creeds and commonwealth models.15 And the Rump's supporters, republican in theory but afraid to risk new elections in the face of widespread Royalist sentiment, flooded the press with tenuous but enthusiastic arguments for the continuation in power of the flagrantly unrepresentative Rump (comprised of scarcely fifty members elected nearly two decades before).16 Milton's tract suggests his concurrence in this widespread hope for settlement through the Rump, though he probably retained some of his earlier reservations about that group and he certainly qualified his praise of them by a sober warning that their government could not endure unless they established religious liberty (VI, 45).

Milton's Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth (20 Oct. 1659)17 was addressed directly to the new political crisis, the army's deposition of the Rump on 12 October. Generals Lambert and Desborough, whose political ambition had sparked the coup, marshaled the support of a variety of factions united by little more than a preference for rule by "good and godly men." Their proposed models of government differed widely: the Wallingford-House party (comprised of army officers and supported by numerous Independents and Sectaries) desired some form of army-dominated Select Senate to institutionalize the army's conception of itself as protector of the people's civil and religious liberty against all governments and to exercise a veto over the popularly elected legislature;18 the millenarian Sectaries headed by Sir Henry Vane wished to share governing power between a more or less popularly elected representative of the people and a select group of the godly, giving the preponderance of power to the latter in consideration of the regeneration of their natural faculties through grace;19 and the Fifth Monarchy men desired to set up by force a type of the millennial government of Christ with his saints.20 In this crisis, Milton endeavored to present the most satisfactory compromise possible under the circumstances. He argued, realistically, as did certain other peacemakers of the Center, that acceptance of the fait accompli was necessary to the very survival of the Puritan cause,21 since the army "only now have the Power" (VI, 104). Also, though he allowed the army claim that the Rump had failed to provide full religious liberty, he vigorously denounced the army coup as motivated by the "close Ambition" of certain officers (VI, 103-104), and declared that the best settlement would be the Rump's restoration with a mutual protective oath taken by both factions. However, as such a realignment was all but impossible, he set forth a compromise plan involving a single-chamber legislature composed of army officers and members of the Rump. This was exactly the composition of the army interim government, the Committee of Safety, installed two days after publication of the tract, and the resemblance certainly argues Milton's intimate knowledge of the army's intentions. But though this pamphlet clearly shows Milton's practical evaluation of possibilities, it indicates also his disposition to hold out as far as possible for his own ideals. Thus he ignored completely the army's Select Senate plans (and all other contrivances for a "godly" council to checkmate the legislature); he endeavored to contrive a legislature as similar as possible to the deposed Rump by arguing that it should contain as many members of the Rump as the army would admit, and that it should be perpetuated; and he added a provision for local community committees as a safeguard against oligarchy (VI, 105-106).

The next (perhaps unpublished) tract, "Proposalls of Certaine Expedients for the Preventing of a Civil War Now Feard,"22 can be dated from internal evidence between 22 October, when the Committee of Safety was instituted, and 26 December when the Rump was restored, and probably toward the end of that period. In this tract Milton completely withdrew his support from the army government and called unequivocally for the return and perpetuation of the Rump (XVIII, 3-4). Again contemporary conditions explain the shift: during November and December all of the army's frantic attempts to bring about a settlement ended in failure, and the ousted Rump (as the only vestige of a legally elected parliament that could be opposed to government by the sword) received support from the City of London, from public opinion exhibited in hundreds of petitions, from republican leaders who took up arms in its defense, and especially from General George Monk, Commander-in-Chief of the Army in Scotland, who marched into England to support its claims.23 Under these steady pressures the officers were forced to give way, and on 26 December the Rump triumphantly re-entered the House of Commons for the third time. In this tract Milton again presented a plan apparently demanded by circumstances and in line with the movement of events, but again he introduced a modification—a proposal for perpetuating the Rump in order to eliminate the unsettlement caused by successive parliaments.

Next to appear was the first version of Milton's Readie & Easie Way,24 a tract often labeled "utopian," but in fact endeavoring to deal directly with existing conditions by presenting two distinct plans. The first, set forth in the body of the tract, was evidently formulated between 4 and 21 February, at a time when speculation was rife as to what the enigmatic but very powerful Monk would do about settling the government. The Rump was trying desperately to enlist his continued support25 and on 4 February sent out writs for filling up its numbers; some factions were agitating for restoration of Richard Cromwell,26 while others were proposing Monk as protector or king.27 And the royalist Presbyterians were deluging Monk with petitions which, disguised as appeals for the traditional rights of Englishmen to representative parliaments, demanded restoration of the secluded members of the Long Parliament or election of a new "full and free" parliament—either of which groups was expected to restore the king.28 Milton's first plan was an effort to settle the government and avert the imminent danger of a Stuart restoration by the simple expedient of preserving the status quo, and was perhaps intended to answer Monk's order of 11 February that the Rump disband quickly to make way for a new parliament. Pointing out that chaos would attend parliamentary change, Milton urged instead perpetuation of the Rump after it was filled up through elections limited to persons "well-affected" to the commonwealth. He also sharply denounced the sentiment for rule by a king or protector (p. 29), and provided in his model that certain judiciary and educational powers be reserved to local committees of "nobilitie and chief gentry," endeavoring by this proposal of limited self-government to placate the groups so loudly demanding representation in a free parliament (p. 37).

The second plan, incorporated in the introduction to the work, was obviously added after Monk restored the secluded members on 21 February. It is implicit in Milton's declaration that the proposal outlined in the tract might be adapted to the new conditions with even better success, since parliament was now sitting "more full and frequent" (p. 9); these words, together with Milton's studied omission of any reference to the already voted resolution for calling a new parliament, constitute a clear suggestion to the newly restored Long Parliament to perpetuate itself—a suggestion made also at this time by other republican pamphleteers.29 Milton had elsewhere denounced this dominantly Presbyterian Long Parliament as dangerous, dishonest, and intolerant,30 but he evidently preferred its perpetuation to the dangers of electing a new, probably Cavalier, parliament even more certain to restore the king. Thus the pamphlet's political theory, calling as it does for rule of the "worthy" minority and perpetuation of a "Councel of ablest men" (p. 21), must be interpreted with the understanding that these terms refer, in practice, first to the Rump Parliament, none too virtuous in Milton's eyes, and then to the decidedly unworthy Long Parliament. It should be obvious from this that there is nothing of utopia in this tract, but that it is an eminently practical attempt to rescue the Puritan cause, if possible, from the ever-increasing perils besetting it.

Milton's letter to Monk, entitled The Present Means, and Brief Delineation of a Free Commonwealth, was probably written at the end of March.31 On 16 March the Presbyterian Long Parliament, which had hoped to bring about a Stuart restoration upon conditions safeguarding Puritan religion and rights but which had proved completely unable to agree upon such conditions,32 failed in its last-minute bid to prolong its ses sion and was forced by Monk to retire. Elections for a new parliament were promptly announced, and it was the general consensus that the laws excluding Royalists from voting for or sitting in it would not be enforced. The republicans and radicals, now desperate, implored Monk in a number of tracts to stand by his promise to support the Commonwealth,33 and Milton's letter closely parallels the terms of this concerted appeal. It accepts the inevitable, substituting the coming new parliament for the Rump or the Long Parliament as a perpetual supreme council, and it urges Monk to save the commonwealth in the only way now possible—by limiting suffrage to the well-affected in accordance with the laws provided. Milton also makes increased use of Harringtonian ideas and language in this tract. He accepts rotation in the legislature though he had demurred to this in the preceding pamphlet, and, in terms similar to those of Harrington's proposal that one house debate and another vote upon legislation, he provides for ratification by local committees of laws passed by the supreme council (VI, 108-109)—feeling perhaps that at such a time supporters of a commonwealth should compromise on details of organization in the interest of a united front.34

Brief Notes upon a Late Sermon, written between 2 and 20 April35 was Milton's answer to Dr. Matthew Griffith's vehemently Royalist sermon preached on 25 March, The Fear of God and the King. In this tract Milton made a startling departure from his previous denunciation of single-person rule by conceding, reluctantly, that the people's debased state might require a temporary king or protector (chosen from among their own deserving statesmen) for "the space of a raign or two" (VI, 160). This statement is clarified by contemporary reports that Thomas Scot, Sir Arthur Haslerigg, and other republican leaders met with Monk during March to offer him such a role, declaring the temper of the people unsuited to a commonwealth at present, and asserting his worthiness to assume the protectorate.36 It seems clear that Milton's tract, addressed to Monk and praising him as "the General who hath so eminently born his part in the whole action" (VI, 152), was intended to support these attempts to find in Monk an alternative to a Stuart restoration. Also surprising in this pamphlet is Milton's reassertion of the popularsovereignty argument declaring the natural right of every free people always to alter and change their government, for Milton's political tracts since 1651 had constantly defended the right of the worthy minority to impose their government upon the rest, and the four tracts just preceding this one had argued for perpetuation of such a government. Milton's basic attitude on this issue will be considered below, but it seems evident that the use of the popular-sovereignty argument was in part motivated by the rhetorical need to answer Griffith's assertion that monarchy is a "Fundamental Law" of the nation and therefore unalterable.37 As Sirluck has shown, Milton often during the revolution met Royalist attacks upon the commonwealth and the regicide by use of this argument, despite its incompatibility with his support of "minority" governments.38

Appearing during the troubled last days of April, the revised and much expanded edition of Milton's Readie and Easie Way is virtually the last piece of commonwealth polemic of which there is record. At this time there was widespread suspicion though as yet no certain knowledge that Monk was in negotiation with Charles; the new elections were tending, as expected, to a Cavalier interest; the pamphlet literature heaped ridicule upon all the Puritan leaders (placing Milton prominently among them);39 and the Royalists were effectively winning Presbyterian cooperation in their restoration plans by extending to them rather hollow promises of forgiveness and of a liberal settlement of religious differences.40 The now desperate republican-radical coalition endeavored to provoke an army uprising by publishing inflammatory tracts predicting loss of pay, corporal punishment, and loss of religious liberty for the soldiers if Charles returned,41 but soon the republican leaders abandoned this effort and began campaigning for seats in the new parliament which was to convene on 25 April.42 The last effort to save the Puritan cause was Lambert's ill-fated and short-lived revolt (10-22 April), supported in large part by the self-styled "Saints" of the Fifth Monarchy.43

The changes in Milton's second version grew out of these conditions. In an expanded introduction, he voiced his expectation that the tract would appear in the midst of the elections or during the sitting of the new parliament and his hope that it would prove useful at this time; accordingly, he cast the new parliament as his perpetual legislature. He also dealt with certain criticisms leveled against his first version: to meet the charge of arbitrariness he made the local councils and the army guardians of liberty against any encroachments by the perpetual council. And, apparently in answer to a clever Royalist attack disguised as a Harringtonian criticism, The Censure of the Rota upon Mr. Miltons Book, Entituled, The Ready and Easie Way (26 March 1660), he again pointed out similarities between the two republican models, but insisted that his was more practical and more conducive to personal liberty (pp. 25-29, 39). Other changes came from his desire to influence those Puritan groups which yet might be able to turn the tide against the Restoration. Recognizing in the Presbyterians a possible force in the coming parliament, he omitted a lengthy passage on separation of church and state antagonistic to their theory (pp. 35-36) and added passages calculated to disgust them with the immoral, papistical court life to come (p. 16), to incite them to fear Royalist revenge for beginning the revolution (pp. 32-33), and to portray their sad future condition yoked in a church establishment with the Cavaliers—"these new fanatics of not the preaching but the sweating-tub, inspir'd with nothing holier then the Venereal pox" (p. 33). Also, like the other republican pamphleteers, he endeavored to incite the common soldiers to open revolt. And, as a revolt was even then being carried forth by Lambert and the Fifth Monarchists, he omitted a passage disparaging them and added several which appear to give direct support to the uprising, for example, the argument that "God's Remnant" is justified in using force to preserve religious liberty, and the declaration that he writes not to convince those who would yield to the wishes of the majority for restoration of the monarchy, but "to confirm them who yield not" (pp. 33-34).

In this last tract, then, Milton again threw his support behind the only remaining chance, but he was not deluded about the prospects. His clear-sighted despair is manifest in the opening passage, when he pleads for a little "Shroving-time" before the long "Lent of Servitude" in which to take leave of liberty (p. 9), and especially in the emotion-filled words of the much-expanded peroration: "Thus much I should perhaps have said, though I were sure I should have spoken only to trees and stones, and had none to cry to, but with the Prophet, O earth, earth, earth: to tell the verie soil it self what her perverse inhabitants are deaf to. Nay though what I have spoke, should happ 'n (which Thou suffer not, who didst create mankinde free; nor Thou next, who didst redeem us from being servants of men!) to be the last words of our expiring libertie"44

Here must rest the case for Milton the practical politician, close to affairs and quite non-utopian in approach to political problems. It is evident from this discussion that his plans were consciously constructed and changed in accordance with immediate possibilities in a technically inconsistent but fundamentally coherent fashion, and that they were related, especially in 1660, to the plans and activities of certain factions within the Puritan Center and Left.

II. Aristocracy and Popular Sovereignty

However, despite this evidence that Milton's political thought was constantly affected by practical circumstances, it was based ultimately upon principle, not mere expediency. Like the army parties, Milton believed that preservation first of religious and then of civil liberty is the chief end of government,45 taking precedence over any considerations of constitutional form or majority will. A second principle, also resembling army theory, was that government should be conducted by a virtuous aristocracy: the theory that the wise, good, and liberty-loving have the right to force their rule upon the "mad or strangely infatuated"46 masses figures prominently in Milton's Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio, 1651 (VII, 62, 74), forms the basis for the entire argument of the Defensio Secunda, 1654 (VIII, 176), and provides the rationale for most of his government models of 1659-60. The aristocratic republicanism of ancient Greece and Rome also influenced this aspect of Milton's thought: appealing to classical theory he conceded that forms of government must change in accordance with the virtue of the people, but constantly declared the superiority, for a virtuous and liberty-loving people, of an aristocratic commonwealth with a supreme senate in some sense representative of and responsible to the citizens.47

However, a problem arises in Brief Notes, for Milton here appears to contradict his aristocratic theory, asserting instead, as he did in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1649 (V, 14, 18), and occasionally in the Defensio (VII, 267-287) but not thereafter, the popular-sovereignty doctrine of the natural right of all free men to choose and change their government as they see fit. Given the evidence cited above that Milton carefully selected his arguments on the basis of rhetorical need, Barker's explanation of this discrepancy as mere confusion seems inadequate (p. xx). Accordingly, the question is raised whether Milton here was deliberately using an argument in which he no longer believed, thus manifesting what Liljegren has called the "Machiavellianism" so easily justified by the Calvinist in the service of God (pp. xvi-xix).

To investigate this problem it is necessary to examine closely the statement of the popular sovereignty argument in Brief Notes:

no law can be fundamental, but that which is grounded on the light of nature or right reason, commonly call'd moral law: which no form of Government was ever counted; but arbitrarie, and at all times in the choice of every free people, or thir representers. This choice of Government is so essential to thir freedom, that longer then they have it, they are not free…. for how could our forefathers binde us to any certain form of Government, more then we can binde our posteritie? (VI, 158-159)

The key to this passage is the phrase, "every free people"; it is decidedly ambiguous and perhaps intentionally so. When used by the Levellers and some other republican theorists, this phrase means the citizens of all the nations of the world without restriction, since, in Richard Overton's terms, "by natural birth all men are equally … born to like propriety, liberty, and freedom."48 But Milton characteristically related this phrase to a conception of inner freedom, which was supported by his fundamental doctrine of Christian liberty—the liberty which flows from virtue and faith, and is dependent upon regeneration through grace.49 And he had already applied the standard of inner freedom directly to the political scene in the Defensio Secunda, when he warned the English people.

know, that as to be free is precisely the same thing as to be pious, wise, just and temperate, careful of one's own, abstinent from what is another's, and thence, in fine, magnanimous and brave—so, to be the opposite of these, is the same thing as to be a slave; and … it comes to pass, that the nation, which has been incapable of governing and ordering itself, and has delivered itself up to the slavery of its own lusts, is itself delivered over, against its will, to other masters—and whether it will or no, is compelled to serve…. If it be hard, if it be against the grain, to be slaves, learn to obey right reason, to be masters of yourselves. (VIII, 249-251)

This passage strongly suggests that only those who have attained inner freedom can properly value or long maintain political liberty—and that they alone deserve it. Given such a principle one may read the passage from Brief Notes concerning the political liberty of "every free people" as applying in an absolute sense to those only who are "free" by this definition. Milton could use such a statement as an argument against monarchy because monarchy would keep those who could so qualify from choosing and changing their government. At the same time, the argument, so understood, is not inconsistent with the theory of rule by the worthy minority, since in 1659-60 the number of persons free in this sense seemed to Milton pitifully small.

There is a further problem in the fact that the right of the "free people" (even as so defined) to choose and change their government is drastically curtailed, and in a strict sense contradicted, by Milton's provision for a perpetual legislature. He was, however, aware of this difficulty and, especially in the Readie and Easie Way, made several efforts to meet it. First, his local governing committees gave some further opportunity to participate in government, not only to those who qualified as "free" by his definition, but also in general to the "nobilitie and chief gentry" (p. 37); this provision shows that Milton recognized in the citizens at large some right to political liberty, although only the "truly free" could claim it as an absolute right. Also, Milton often appealed to the local committees as safeguards against the supreme council, and indeed frequently hinted that the army might overthrow this "perpetual" legislature if it should act against freedom of religion or commonwealth government.50 Since such provisions quite undermine the council's supreme authority and "perpetual" existence, it seems likely that Milton thought of this body merely as another temporary expedient, and that he himself might well have been the first to demand its liberalization once the threat of a Stuart restoration was removed. In any event, since Milton offered some means, however inadequate, for participation in and even overthrow of his perpetual government, the statement in Brief Notes that free men should always have the right to alter their government does not, as might appear, directly contradict his proposed model.

Thus one need not ascribe insincerity to Milton's rhetorical use of the popular-sovereignty argument in 1660, since according to his own understanding of the terms it did not essentially conflict with his aristocratic theory. At worst he was deliberately using an argument which, in the common usage, had more sweeping and more "democratic" connotations than he would give to it, without fully explaining the limits upon his understanding of the term "free men." There is a comparable disingenuousness in his appeal to the theory of rule by the wise and good in support of governments (the Long Parliament for example) which he did not regard as the epitome of virtue, but merely as the best that could be had under the circumstances. But this kind of disingenuousness few polemicists or practical statesmen have ever been able to avoid, and it is hardly enough to characterize them, or Milton, as unprincipled or Machiavellian.

III. Politics, Nature and Grace

Milton's provision in these tracts for rule by the virtuous, the truly free, the most worthy, points to the third major problem: Is Milton's aristocracy really an aristocracy of grace, and are his various government proposals really models for a theocracy ruled by regenerate "Saints" as Barker and Wolfe have suggested? This question of the relation of the orders of nature and grace, and of their social institutions, the church and the state, is the fundamental issue for Milton's political philosophy, as it is for much Puritan thought during the revolution.51 His ecclesiastical tracts of 1659 define a radical position on this issue: although, as Barker points out (pp. 217-259), these tracts do not take up the segregationist position held by the Levellers and Roger Williams, their argument advances far beyond that of the Center parties and defines quite distinct laws, purposes, memberships, and bases of jurisdiction for the two institutions, with very few areas of overlapping authority.52 However, if Milton's political theory in 1659-60 is to be identified with the millenarian theocratic position, this distinction is completely obliterated and a startling inconsistency (and most uncharacteristic tendency to fanaticism) is revealed at the very core of Milton's thought.

The few passages in Milton's writing which merely indicate expectation of the millennium in the near or distant future53 do not bear upon this problem, since such expectation is common to Puritans of very diverse theological positions.54 Rather, a first consideration might be whether, in terms of practical politics, Milton actually supported governments on the ground that they were composed of "Saints." In this connection it will be remembered that Milton often defended and even planned to perpetuate governments which in his view were far from saintly, e.g., the "self-seeking" Rump, the "intolerant" Long Parliament, and the "ambitious" army leadership (denounced as less honorable and faithful than the very heathen in the same tract that supported their government).55 Nor, given this pattern of compromise with necessity, does the fact that Milton deleted a passage disparaging Lambert and the Fifth Monarchists from the second version of his Readie and Easie Way warrant the conclusion of Barker (pp. 278-280) that Milton came to accept millenarianism in the last days of the revolution. More probably, this deletion and the other evidences of support to Lambert in this tract are motivated simply by Milton's realization that Lambert's uprising constituted the only remaining chance of preserving Puritan power.

Nor is Milton at one with the millenarians in terms of political theory. In the first place, unlike the Fifth Monarchist extremists, he did not draw his model of government directly from a scripture pattern, though his many references to Israel's experience and to Christ's precepts as favoring commonwealth government give some appearance of this. But his distance from Fifth Monarchist theory can readily be seen from his proposal of a temporary monarchy in Brief Notes, whereas the Fifth Monarchists held that any form of single-person government was absolutely forbidden by God, being a usurpation of the place of Christ, the soon-to-be-expected King. Also, for Milton, the scripture references did not constitute the only basis for argument. His constant warnings to England to benefit from the experience of the Israelites who "much against the will of God had sought a King, and rejected a Commonwealth, wherin they might have livd happily under the Raign of God only, thir King,"56 must be seen in conjunction with his rationalist belief that "the law of God does exactly agree with the law of nature,"57 and his conclusion that both laws left the choice of a particular form of government free to the nations of mankind, though both clearly pointed out the superiority of a commonwealth form.58 Also, to support his argument for a perpetual senate in the Readie and Easie Way, he referred not only to the precedent of the Jewish Sanhedrin but also to that of the Areopagus of Athens, the Ancients of Sparta, and the Senate of Rome (p. 24). And, to the observation that a commonwealth is "planely commended or rather enjoind by our Saviour himself, to all Christians," he linked the further argument that such a government has been "held by wisest men in all ages the noblest, the manliest, the equallest, the justest government."59 Thus, unlike the Fifth Monarchists who would impose a model drawn from the order of grace upon the political state, Milton used his scripture references to reiterate, support, and apply unmistakably to Christians a model which he also defended as superior in terms of the natural order itself, maintaining by this approach his distinction between the laws and jurisdictions of the two orders.

Another consideration must be whether Milton, if not endeavoring the imposition of a Fifth Monarchist scripture model, was yet proposing with Sir Henry Vane, John Rogers, and other less fanatical millenarians that the "Saints" enjoy a proponderance of political power because the regeneration of their natural faculties by grace rendered them more worthy than others to rule. Milton appears close to this position in the Readie and Easie Way, when he characterizes the Royalist majority as "worthie indeed themselves … to be for ever slaves," and maintains the right of "God's Remnant" to defend their liberty by force if necessary, being "far worthier then by their means to be brought into the same bondage, and reservd, I trust, by Divine providence to a better end" (p. 19). Furthermore, as Barker points out (pp. 311-326), certain passages in Milton's De Doctrina closely resemble the millenarian justification for the rule of the Saints. These passages emphasize the corruption in man's natural faculties of understanding and will through original sin, and assert that the regenerate alone (because of their restored faculties and their consequent enjoyment of Christian liberty) can truly understand and properly value political liberty60—in Milton's view the first qualification for political privilege. However, as a consequence of his Arminian theology, Milton believed that God offers to all mankind at some time a general call to salvation, which might cause a temporary enlightenment and restoration for a considerable period of time even in many who would finally prove unregenerate (XV, 345-364), and that even the regenerate, if they do not "continue to the utmost in the maintenance of faith and love," might finally fall from grace (XVI, 75-87). Thus, unlike the primarily predestinarian millenarians, Milton could not divide sharply between regenerate and unregenerate on the basis of restored faculties, or restrict the exercise of political privilege to a fixed group of "Visible Saints." Also, Milton makes clear in De Doctrina that moral goodness and virtue (and thus worthiness to exercise political rule) though most fully enjoyed by the regenerate are not impossible to natural man, since, despite original sin, "some remnants of the divine image still exist in us," as is evidenced by "the wisdom and holiness of many of the heathen" (XV, 209). Moreover, he constantly cited examples of the political wisdom of the ancients as directives to his Christian nation, and in the Readie and Easie Way he suggested purely natural means—practice in self-government at the local level and the carefully planned and widely diffused education of children—to increase virtue and thus the extent of political privilege in the citizenry (p. 38). Thus, in contrast to the theocratic millenarian position which completely subordinated the order of nature to the order of grace, Milton's theory viewed political privilege as the right of those who manifest certain virtues and dispositions, more prevalent indeed in the regenerate but possible also to natural man.

But neither is Milton's political theory wholly naturalistic, as Howard Schultz finds it to be.61 This is evident, as Woodhouse points out, when one compares him with the Levellers who completely segregated the laws and goods of the two orders, refusing to assert the superior claim of the order of grace when they decided issues relating to the natural order.62 Thus they were able to follow the implications of the popular-sovereignty theory to a fully democratic conclusion without compromising, as did most republicans, on the ground that a majority election would restore the king, thus threatening true religion. Milton, however, had the Christian humanist's disposition to relate harmoniously, not segregate, the orders: in his ecclesiastical tracts he assumed that their social institutions, the church and the state, might seek their separate goods with neither infringing upon the jurisdiction of the other. But Milton also designated religious liberty as the most important good for the state to achieve, thereby manifesting his further assumption that the civil government must serve the interests of true religion and the regenerate—at least that it must not actively harm them. Thus whenever, as in 1660, it became clear that the independence of the political order would directly threaten religion, Milton was forced to compromise the principle of distinct jurisdictions and bring religious considerations to bear upon political questions. Accordingly, he argued that "God's Remnant" who value religious liberty may preserve it by thwarting the will of the majority as regards political settlement, and he justified Puritan continuation in power on the ground that victory in the "trial of just battel," resulting from "divine condescensions" and "gratious answers," constitutes a divine mandate given, not indeed to the "Saints" as such, but rather to various groups who are God's instruments for the preservation of the regenerate and their liberties.63 In making this compromise, Milton showed himself always a Christian first, but also a dedicated humanist endeavoring in each set of circumstances to preserve the goods of the natural order as far as possible without destroying the principal good, religious liberty.

The preceding investigation of Milton's polemical methods and political theory in 1659-60 has revealed neither an illogical and confused Milton nor yet a Milton completely consistent in his statements, neither a Machiavellian Milton nor yet a Utopian or millenarian Milton. Rather, these critical months show him to be an extremely practical, able, and realistic polemicist, whose method was to accept necessary compromise in the practical sphere of government models, to present whatever plan seemed best in a given set of circumstances, and to engage in occasional disingenuousness in the manipulation of arguments, but not to the extent of employing arguments irreconcilable with his basic principles. Also, despite his polemical compromises these last tracts reveal Milton's constant adherence to certain fundamental political principles: the belief that the ends of government (religious and civil liberty) should be placed above every other consideration, the judgment that an aristocratic commonwealth is the best form of government for a virtuous people, and the insistence that "inner liberty" (most fully realized by the "Saints" but attainable as far as political purposes require by others also) is requisite for the enjoyment of political liberty and self-government. Nor is Milton's political theory without its enduring wisdom, even though its terminology and theological underpinnings may have been supplanted. In its most basic human terms, Milton's fundamental insight regarding the political realm is that only those persons who have attained to a personal experience of freedom and who continually exercise a mature and morally responsible independence of thought and action can properly value or long maintain political or other external freedoms. This is an insight which retains remarkable validity as an interpretation of the constant experience of mankind with threats to human liberty, whether from dictators, from demagogues, or from the pressures of mass conformity. We can still recognize, as did Milton, a direct relationship between the experience of liberty as an inner, personal reality, and the will to preserve it in all the various external realms of political and social life.


1 Research for the present study of these works was made possible by a grant from the American Association of University Women in 1953-54.

2 Ernest Sirluck has called attention to several such shifts in his unpub. Ph.D. dissertation, "Milton and the Law of Nature" (Univ. of Toronto, 1948), pp. 9-56: In 1641 Milton found no fault with regal supremacy so long as the king supported the "one right discipline" in the church. In 1643-44 he recognized a government based upon parliamentary supremacy over the king. In 1649 he upheld the regicide, the newly established commonwealth without king or House of Lords, and the popular-sovereignty theory of government. In 1651 he reasserted this theory but also defended Pride's Purge (which excluded the majority of the representatives from the Commons and left the government in the hands of the remaining "Rump" Parliament) on the theory that the "better part" were worthy to rule the entire nation. In 1654 he denounced that Rump Parliament as having been justly deposed by Oliver Cromwell, indicated approval of the subsequent selection of the Little or Barebone's Parliament from among the Congregational and Sectarian churches (thus giving support to the theory of government by the "Saints") but approved as well of its dispersal for political ineptitude, and also waxed enthusiastic about Cromwell's protectorate.

3Studies in Milton (Lund, 1918), pp. xvi-xix; Milton and the Puritan Dilemma (Toronto, 1942), p. xx (a most illuminating study of Milton's relation to Puritan ideas and experience); "Milton and the Law of Nature," pp. 202-243.

4 New Haven, 1915, pp. xxxix. Subsequent references to this tract will be to Clark's very useful edition which presents both versions for easy comparison; references to Milton's other tracts will be to volume and page of the Works of John Milton, ed. Frank A. Patterson, Columbia ed., 18 vols. (New York, 1931-38).

5Milton and Forbidden Knowledge (New York, 1955), p. 147; Milton and the Puritan Dilemma, p. 288; Milton in the Puritan Revolution (New York, 1941), p. 287.

6 The validity of this assumption and method has been demonstrated by David Masson, Life of John Milton, 7 vols. (London, 1871-94); William Haller, Rise of Puritanism (New York, 1938), and Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution (New York, 1955); A. S. P. Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, Being the Army Debates, 1647-49 (Chicago, 1951; first pub. 1938); and also the studies of Wolfe, Barker, and Sirluck. However, comparatively little scholarship has been devoted to the history and polemic of the final years of the revolution. The brief essays by C. H. Firth, "Anarchy and the Restoration, 1659-1660," Cambridge Modern History (New York, 1906), IV, 539-559, and Godfrey Davies, "The Army and the Downfall of Richard Cromwell," Huntington Lib. Bull., VII (San Marino, Calif., 1935), 131-167, and the more extensive analyses by F. P. G. Guizot, History of Richard Cromwell and the Restoration of Charles II, trans. Andrew Scoble, 2 vols. (London, 1856), and Godfrey Davies, Restoration of Charles II (San Marino, Calif., 1955) are extremely useful, but they do not deal with the tract literature in much detail. Also, Milton's tracts of this period have not received extended scholarly attention, though Masson, Clark, Barker, Wolfe, and Sirluck have discussed certain aspects of them.

7 Davies, Restoration of Charles II, pp. 355-363.

8Of Civil Power was registered on 16 Feb. and first advertised in the contemporary newsbook, the Publick Intelligencer, No. 163, 7-14 Feb. 1659, p. 221. More precise dating is not possible, as the tract is not contained in George Thomason's extensive dated collection of Civil War pamphlets (from which source I have, whenever possible, supplied month and date of appearance for tracts mentioned in this study). The Thomason Catalogue does list The Likeliest Means among works acquired in Aug. 1659, but does not assign a specific date; the first advertisement in the newsbooks is in Mercurius Politicus, No. 585, 1-8 Sept. 1659, p. 713. See J. Milton French, Life Records of John Milton (New Brunswick, N. J., 1956), IV, 253-254, 273-275.

9Defensio Secunda (VIII, 221-223).

10 He had criticized Oliver's government in regard to just these tendencies in Defensio Secunda (VIII, 229-239).

11 "The government-regulated newsbooks from Sept. 1658 to Feb. 1659 reprinted lengthy excerpts of such eulogies and pledges of support from cities and counties all over the nation, from the army and navy, and from many Presbyterian and Congregational churches. Typical is the address from Bridgewater, Publick Intelligencer, No. 149, 23 Oct.-1 Nov. 1658, p. 922, which declared Richard's calm succession to be a great blessing, "as if the God of Israel again had set up a Joshua to compleat that work which his servant Moses had brought to so good an issue."

12 An example is "The Humble Address of the Alderman, Recorder, Burgesses, Gentlemen, Ministers … Within the Town and Borough of Stamford in the County of Lincoln," which asks that "a Godly painfull preaching Ministry may have all due encouragement," that an effectual course may be taken "for the setling of Church government according to the word of God," and that "the suppressing of Popery, Heresy, Blasphemy, Prophaneness, and all designs for the subversion of Magistracy and Ministry … may be effectually endeavored" (Publick Intelligencer, No. 160, 17-24 Jan. 1659, p. 162).

13Defensio Secunda (VIII, 221-223).

14 See Edmund Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. C. H. Firth (Oxford, 1894), II, 73-76; Davies, Restoration of Charles II, Chs. v and vi.

15 The Harringtonian tracts of this period set forth the characteristic government machinery of James Harrington's Oceana (1656)—an agrarian law, a bicameral legislature with one house proposing measures and another voting, an annual rotation of parliament members and an elaborate secret balloting procedure—and manifested such faith in it that they saw no need to restrict the electorate to the "well-affected," as did most other republicans. See Harrington's Art of Lawgiving (1659), and Politicaster (Aug. 1659), and his followers' Proposition in Order to the Proposing of a Commonwealth or Democracie (14 June 1659), and Petition of Divers Well-Affected Persons (6 July 1659). The Levellers (relatively unimportant in 1659 and in part absorbed by the Harringtonians) manifested in a few tracts such as England's Safety in the Law's Supremacy (23 June 1659, pp. 12-14) their characteristic distrust of all government, their plan to protect the people from it by a fundamental constitution or "Agreement," and their model for an annually elected House of Commons.

16 For this position see A Declaration of the Well Affected to the Good Old Cause in the Cities of London, Westminster, and Southwark (2 May 1659); J[ohn] S[treeter], A Shield Against the Parthian Dart (22 June 1659); and A Model of a Democraticall Government (31 Aug. 1659).

17 The pamphlet is so dated in the Columbia MS.; there is no record of contemporary publication, the first edition being that of John Toland, in A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton (London, 1698), I, 779 ff. See French, Life Records, IV, 276.

18 The Derby Petition (Sept. 1659), in Sir Richard Baker, Chronicle of the Kings of England, continued by Edward Phillips (London, 1684), p. 655, contains an explicit statement of the army's view of its protective functions. And the army constantly set forth some variety of Select Senate plan—in their meetings with republicans before the recall of the Rump (Ludlow, Memoirs, II, 73-76), in their petitions to the Rump (Humble Petition of the Officers, May 12, 1659, pp. 10-11), and in their abortive plans for settlement after the Rump's deposition (Guizot, Richard Cromwell, II, 290-291). Cf. Davies, Restoration of Charles II, Ch. ix.

19 See A Needful Corrective or Ballarne in Popular Government (1659), attributed to Vane in a contemporary note on the title page of the Bodleian copy, and Vane's similar plans reported by the French Ambassador Bordeaux (Guizot, I, 185, 474-475). Aligned with this position were some Quakers, e.g., George Bishop, A Tender Visitation in Love (1659), and certain Baptists and Fifth Monarchy men, e.g., John Rogers, Diapoliteia (1659), pp. 76-77.

20 Declaring that they would recognize "No King but Jesus," and calling for the substitution of Israel's laws for those of England, they often proposed a government similar to that of the Barebone's Parliament of 1653, or else a ruling Sanhedrin of 70 holy persons. See John Canne, A Seasonable Word to the Parliament-Men (10 May 1659), p. 5; [Peter Chamberlin], Declaration and Proclamation of the Army of God (9 June 1659), pp. 1-7; and John Eliot, Christian Commonwealth (26 Oct. 1659), preface.

21 This argument for reconciliation was used by several Non-Separating Congregationalist leaders including John Owen, Phillip Nye, Joseph Caryl, William Bridges, and Matthew Barker, and also by Ludlow and Vane. See William Clarke, Papers, ed. C. H. Firth, Camden Soc. (London, 1901), IV, 123, 185; Baker, Chronicle, p. 670; Ludlow, Memoirs, II, 139-170; and Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston, Diary, ed. James D. Ogilvie (Edinburgh, 1940), III, 145-146.

22 This tract was printed from MS in the Columbia ed. of the Works, XVIII, 3-7; there is no record of contemporary publication but it is of course quite possible that published copies did not survive.

23 This move began Monk's ambiguous and probably largely unpremeditated role in the Restoration. See Davies, Restoration of Charles II, Ch. x.

24 Thomason dates this tract 3 March, though as French points out (Life Records, IV, 300) there is some evidence for publication in Feb. See Clark's edition (pp. vii-xvii) for a résumé of the internal evidence establishing the time of composition.

25A Declaration of Many Thousand Well-Affected Persons, Inhabitants in and about the Cities of London and Westminster, 20 Jan. 1660, presents an example of the argument that the Rump's power should be continued because it alone could cope successfully with the crisis.

26 See Calendar of the Clarendon State Papers (Oxford, 1932), IV, 425, 543—hereafter CCSP. Richard Baxter indicates in Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London, 1696), p. 216, that some moderate Presbyterians supported this agitation.

27 Bordeaux reported that Monk was "believed to have come to London with the ambition of raising himself to a post similar to that held by the Prince of Orange" (Guizot, II, 351). A pamphlet entitled Pedigree and Descent of His Excellencie, General George Monk (3 Feb. 1660) gives evidence of a movement to prove his royal blood and hence his claim to the throne.

28 For a collection of these petitions from cities and counties all over England see A Happy Handfull, ed. John Williams, 2 May 1660.

29 An example is No New Parliament (12 March 1660), pp. 1-5.

30 "The Digression," History of Britain (x, 319-321). Although this work was not published until 1670, and the digression not until 1681, it was begun about 1645 and finished before 1660; thus Milton's castigation of the Long Parliament was already on record at this writing. See J. H. Hanford, A Milton Handbook (New York, 1926), pp. 88-91.

31 Since this tract's proposal of a new parliament constitutes a complete shift in Milton's argument of the past few months for perpetuation of the parliament in power, it was doubtless written when the calling of a new parliament had become an absolute certainty, that is, sometime after the Long Parliament's adjournment on 16 March.

32 For reports of the various proposals see John Thurloe, A Collection of State Papers, ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1742), VII, 887; Robert Wodrow, History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1721), I, 8-12; and CCSP, IV, 653-658. Most popular were the Isle of Wight conditions subscribed by Charles I in 1648, which would give parliament command of the army and navy and the right to appoint principal officials, and would suspend Episcopal church government for three years while a synod settled controversial issues. More rigid plans called for forcible imposition of Presbyterianism upon the nation, and permanent banishment of the queen, Edward Hyde, and other members of the court. Still other Presbyterians wanted to recall the king without formal conditions, trusting in his generosity.

33 Dated 23 March 1660 were N. D., A Letter Intercepted and Plain English to His Excellencie the Lord Monk and the Officers of the Army, both imploring Monk to define an unambiguous policy of support to the commonwealth, and also News From Brussels, a satire on the Royalist pamphleteers' portrait of Charles as a saintly, all-merciful Protestant king. An apparently contemporary note on the Bodleian copy of this last tract attributes it and An Alarm to the Officers and Soldiers of the Army (April [?] 1660) to the combined efforts of a group of republicans and radicals, including Sir Henry Vane, Thomas Scot, Major Salloway, Livewell Champman, and Marchamont Nedham, and some or all of these may well have constituted a coalition responsible for this flurry of radical pamphlets in late March and early April. Roger L'Estrange, who answered these pamphlets as soon as they appeared, believed Milton to be part author of Plain English and An Alarum—see his Treason Arraigned (3 April), pp. 2-3, Double Your Guards (5 April), and Physician Cure Thyself'(23 April). Milton's authorship is doubtful, but the resemblance of his polemic tactics in these weeks to the tactics employed in these radical tracts suggests his close sympathy with the group producing them.

34 Interestingly enough, Sir Henry Vane also took over Harringtonian language and certain aspects of the Harringtonian model in his 1659 tract, A Needful Corrective or Ballance, perhaps also in an effort toward unity among commonwealth supporters.

35 The terminus post quern is evident from Milton's reference to the sentencing of Griffith to the Tower on 2 April, and the terminus ante quern, 20 April, from Thomason's date for L'Estrange's reply to Milton, No Blinde Guides (Barker, p. 393).

36 This meeting was alluded to in numerous tracts and letters, and described in detail in Baker's Chronicle, p. 693.

37 Matthew Griffith, The Fear of God and the King (London, 1660), pp. 50-54.

38 Sirluck's argument is summarized as follows: "The social contract was a suitable reply to the Royalists' cry of monarchy by divine right, but it led to the supremacy of the majority. Of what avail was it against the contention, levelled simultaneously from left and right and … indisputably true, that the Commonwealth was imposed, against the will of the majority in parliament and nation, by a minority possessing command of the army? To meet this attack Eikonoklastes hinted, and the first Defence developed, a new doctrine of 'divine right': the right of the regenerate to execute the will of God. In the first Defence this coexists, incongruously, with the social contract; in the Second Defence, although there are some verbal reminiscences of the earlier theory, the doctrine of the 'better part' in effect stands alone." See his review, "That Grand Whig Milton," MP, LII (Aug. 1954), 65).

39 Scurrilous allusions to Milton's personal and political life appeared in such tracts as The Character ofthe Rump (17 March 1660), pp. 2-3; A Free Parliament-Letany (17 March 1660); William Collinne, The Spirit of the Phanatiques Dissected (24 March 1660), and others. For a collection of these references see W. R. Parker, Milton's Contemporary Reputation (Columbus, Ohio, 1940), pp. 98-103. Milton added several passages to his new version specifically answering such attacks (pp. 12-13, 33).

40 In late April, a flood of Royalist "Declarations" appeared with this burden, from the "nobility, knights and gentry" of Essex, Oxford, Hertford, Kent, London, and elsewhere. For an investigation of the considerable amount of conscious deception in such Royalist propaganda see R. S. Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians (London, 1951), pp. 130-138.

41 See An Alarum, and Eye-Salve for the English Armie (1660).

42 Ludlow, Memoirs, II, 242, 251-252.

43 See Davies, Restoration of Charles II, pp. 334-337.

44Readie and Easie Way, p. 41. The italicized portion, except for the phrase "O earth, earth, earth, " is an addition to the second version.

45 This definition of goals (the common formula of the Puritan cause) was utilized by Milton throughout his polemic. In 1659 his conception of religious liberty involved virtually complete Protestant religious toleration and also church disestablishment; he referred to it in the Readie and Easie Way as "This libertie of conscience, which above all other things ought to be to all men dearest and most precious" (p. 36). In the same tract he defined civil liberty as the enjoyment of civil rights, the due administration of justice, and the "advanc'ments of every person according to his merit" (pp. 37-39).

46Readie and Easie Way, p. 17.

47 Milton acknowledges Aristotelian influence in the Readie and Easie Way (p. 31), and refers frequently to the republican models of Greece and Rome as well as to those of modern Venice and the United Netherlands (pp. 24, 26, 29). See Z. S. Fink, The Classical Republicans (Evanston, 111., 1945), for a discussion of this indebtedness. The superiority of a commonwealth form is unequivocally asserted in the Readie and Easie Way (pp. 15, 20), and Brief Notes (VI, 160). Milton held this view since 1649, and his departures from it were more apparent than real. His support of Cromwell in 1654 was coupled with a plea to the people to make themselves worthy to elect parliaments, and with an instruction to Cromwell to share power with a council of able men (Defensio Secunda [VII, 229-235])—provisions which seem to envisage the protectorate as a kind of aristocratic commonwealth with unicameral legislature and council of state. His failure to recognize Richard's protectorate, his support of the army government as a second-best expedient only, and his extreme reluctance to propose a temporary monarchy have already been noted.

48An Arrow Against All Tyrants (London, 1646), p. 3.

49 This doctrine, a constant point of reference in Milton's prose, was fully developed in the theological work, De Doctrina Christiana, ca. 1658-60. (For dating see Maurice Kelley, This Great Argument, Princeton, 1941, pp. 8-71.) In De Doctrina (XVI, 153-155) Milton offers the following definition: "Christian liberty is that whereby WE ARE LOOSED AS IT WERE BY ENFRANCHISEMENT, THROUGH CHRIST OUR DELIVERER, FROM THE BONDAGE OF SIN, AND CONSEQUENTLY FROM THE RULE OF THE LAW AND OF MAN; TO THE INTENT THAT BEING MADE SONS INSTEAD OF SERVANTS, AND PERFECT MEN INSTEAD OF CHILDREN, WE MAY SERVE GOD IN LOVE THROUGH THE GUIDANCE OF THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH." Thus Milton favored few institutional restrictions so that the regenerate might use their liberty and thus develop in virtue.

50Readie and Easie Way, p. 39; "Proposalls" (XVIII, 4).

51 A. S. P. Woodhouse has admirably schematized the various Puritan positions on this issue. The theocratic view merged or united the concerns, laws, and institutions of the two orders, giving complete dominance to the spiritual; in rigid Presbyterian theory this led to control of the state by the national church, and, in millenarian theory, to government by the "Visible Saints." The segregationist position, maintained by the Levellers and some Baptists, asserted the quite distinct concerns and laws of the two orders and their institutions, thus completely separating them so that church and state could not coerce or directly assist each other. The broad center position, occupied by Non-Separating Congregationalists, Independents, and most Sectaries, distinguished to some degree between the laws and concerns of the two orders and the functions of their institutions, but did not wholly segregate them. See "Introduction," Puritanism and Liberty, pp. 14-100.

52Of Civil Power allows the civil authority to exercise some restraint over blasphemy, idolatry, and Roman Catholicism (pp. 10-11, 19-20), but evidently on the ground, in the first two cases, that these can be discerned as evil by the natural law itself, the law directing civil governments (p. 40). The Likeliest Means permits the magistrate to offer a certain, carefully defined financial aid to the church, but only out of what might be argued to be the church's own property, e.g., that expropriated by the state from the Roman Catholic Church at the Reformation (pp. 79-80).

53Readie and Easie Way, p. 28; Tenure (V, 57); Defensio (VII, 127-128).

54 See the sermons of the Non-Separating Congregationalists John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, cited in Geoffrey Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Oxford, 1947), p. 110; and the writings of the Independent, John Goodwin, e.g., AntiCavalierisme (London, 1642), pp. 31-34, and of the Leveller, John Lilburne, e.g., A Copie of a Letter (London, 1645), pp. 1-7. Even Richard Baxter, a moderate Presbyterian, expressed some sympathy with this expectation in A Holy Commonwealth (London, 1659), pp. 221-223.

55Letter to a Friend (VI, 102-104).

56Brief Notes (VI, 156). Cf. Readie and Easie Way, p. 15; Defensio (VII, 157).

57Defensio (VII, 267).

58Brief Notes declares (VI, 158, 160) that the law of nature does not prescribe forms of government, but that free commonwealths have always been considered best "for civil, vertuous and industrious Nations." Cf. Defensio (VII, 275-279). Readie and Easie Way (p. 32), referring to I Samuel viii, suggests that God's law offers the same freedom and reiterates the same preference, and Defensio (VII, 77) gives a fuller exegesis of this reference: "It appears by God's own witness that all nations and peoples have always possessed free choice to erect what form of government they will, and also to change it into what they will…. A commonwealth, moreover, in the opinion of God, was, under human conditions, a more perfect form of government than a monarchy, and more useful for His own people; for He himself set up this government."

59Readie and Easie Way, pp. 15-16. The very tenuous argument making Christ a good Commonwealthsman is as follows: "God in much displeasure gave a king to the Israelites, and imputed it a sin to them that they sought one: but Christ apparently forbids his disciples to admitt of any such heathenish government: the kings of the gentiles, saith he, exercise lordship over them; and … are call'd benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief as he that serveth…. That he speaks of civil government, is manifest…. And what government comes neerer to this precept of Christ, then a free Commonwealth." See Mark X. 42-45; Luke XXII. 25-27. Cf. Defensio, VII, 145-159.

60De Doctrina (XV, 203-215; XVI, 153-163).

61Milton and Forbidden Knowledge, p. 147 (see n. 5, above).

62 For this comparison see Woodhouse, "Milton, Puritanism and Liberty," UTQ, IV (July 1935), 483-513.

63Readie and Easie Way, pp. 14, 32-34.

Principal Works

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, on Michaelmas Night, before the Right Honorable John Earle of Bridgewater, Viscount Brackly (drama) 1637

"Lycidas" (poetry) 1638; published in Obsequies to the Memorie of Mr. Edward King, Anno. Dom. 1638

Epitaphium Damonis (poetry) 1640

"On Hobson the Carrier" (poetry) 1640; published in Witts Recreations, Selected from the Finest Fancies of Moderne Muses

Animadversions upon the Remonstrants Defence, against Smectymnuus (essay) 1641

An Answer to a Book Entitled "An Humble Remonstrance, " in Which the Originall of Liturgy Episcopacy Is Discussed (essay) 1641

Of Prelatical Episcopacy, and Whether It May Be Deduc'd from the Apostolical Times by Vertue of Those Testimonies Which Are Alledg'd to That Purpose in Some Late Treatises (essay) 1641

Of Reformation Touching Church-Discipline in England and the Causes That Hitherto Have Hindered It (essay) 1641

An Apology against a Pamphlet Call'd "A Modest Confutation of the Animadversions upon the Remonstrant against Smectymnuus" (essay) 1642

The Reason of Church-Governement Urg'd against Prelaty (essay) 1642

The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Restor'd to the Good of Both Sexes from the Bondage of Canon Law (essay) 1643

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc'd Printing, to the Parlament of England (essay) 1644

The Judgement of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce, Written to Edward the Sixt, in His Second Book of the Kingdom of Christ, and Now Englisht, Wherin a Late Book Restoring the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce Is Heer Confirm'd and Justify'd By the Authoritie of Martin Bucer (essay) 1644

Of Education: To Master Samuel Hartlib (essay) 1644

Colasterion: A Reply to a Nameless Answer against "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce" (essay) 1645

Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin, Compos'd at Several Times (poetry) 1645

Tetrachordon: Expositions upon the Foure Chief Places in Scripture Which Treat of Marriage, or Nullities in Marriage (essay) 1645

"Observations upon the Articles of Peace with the Irish Rebels" (essay) 1649; published in Articles of Peace Made and Concluded with the Irish Rebels, and Papists, by James Earle of Ormond

The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Proving That It is Lawfull, and Hath Been Held so Through All Ages, for Any Who Have the Power, to Call to Account a Tyrant, or Wicked King (essay) 1649

Pro populo anglicano defensio, contra Claudii Anonymi (essay) 1651

Articles of Peace, Union, and Confederation, Concluded and Agreed between His Highness Oliver, Lord Protector Of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, & Ireland, and the Dominions Thereto Belonging, and the Lords the States General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands (treaty) 1654

Defensio secunda pro populo anglicano (essay) 1654

Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings Out of the Church (essay) 1659

A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiatical Causes, Shewing That It Is Not Lawfull for Any Power on Earth to Compell in Matters of Religion (essay) 1659

Brief Notes upon a Late Sermon, Titl'd, "The Fear of God and the King"; Preached, and Since Publishd, By Matthew Griffith, D. D. (essay) 1660

The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (essay) 1660

Paradise Lost: A Poem Written in Ten Books (poetry) 1667; also published as Paradise Lost: A Poem in Twelve Books [enlarged edition], 1674

Accedence Commenc't Grammar, Supply 'd with Sufficient Rules, For the Use of Such as, Younger or Elder, Are Desirous, without More Trouble Then Needs, to Attain the Latin Tongue (handbook) 1669

The History of Britain, That Part Especially Now Call 'd England, from the First Traditional Beginning, Continu'd to the Norman Conquest (history) 1670

Paradise Regain'd: A Poem in IV Books. To Which Is Added Samson Agonistes (poetry) 1671

Of True Religion, Hæresie, Schism, Toleration, and What Best Means May Be Us'd against the Growth of Popery (essay) 1673

Epistolarum familiarium liber unus: Quibus accesserunt, ejusdem, jam olim in collegio adolescentis, prolusiones quædam oratoriae (letters and essays) 1674

Mr. John Milton's Character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines in MDCXLI, Omitted in His Other Works, and Never Before Printed (essay) 1681

A Brief History of Moscovia and of Others Less-Known Countries Lying Eastward of Russia as Far as Cathay (history) 1682

Milton's Republican-Letters; or, A Collection of Such as Were Written by Command of the Late Commonwealth of England, from the year 1648 to the Year 1659 (essays) 1682; revised edition, 1694

The Poetical Works of John Milton (poetry) 1695

The Works of Mr. John Milton (essays) 1697

A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton, Both English and Latin, with Some Papers Never Before Publish'd (essays and poetry) 1698

De doctrina christiana libri duo posthumi (essay) 1825

A Common-place Book of John Milton (prose and poetry) 1876

The Sonnets of John Milton (poetry) 1883

The Works of John Milton. 18 vols. (essays, history, and poetry) 1931-38.

Complete Prose Works of John Milton. 8 vols. (essays, history, and letters) 1953

Keith W. Stavely (essay date 1975)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Sytax and Persuasion," in The Politics of Milton's Prose Style, Yale University Press, 1975, pp. 3-26.

[Below, Stavely compares Milton's syntax and style with those of several contemporaneous political polemicists and demonstrates that his selective use of the Ciceronian model of rhetoricunfashionable at the time—aptly facilitated his millennial message.]

In the studies of seventeenth-century prose style that have appeared since Morris W. Croll's pioneering work on the subject, Milton has usually either been ignored or classified as a Ciceronian.1 Milton indeed expressed his distaste for both the "loose" and "curt" varieties of the prevailing anti-Ciceronian fashion:

He that cannot understand the sober, plain, and unaffected stile of the Scriptures, will be ten times more puzzl'd with the knotty Africanisms, the pamper'd metafors; the intricat, and involv'd sentences of the Fathers; besides the fantastick, and declamatory flashes; the crosse-jingling periods which cannot but disturb, and come thwart a

set'd devotion worse then the din of bells, and rattles….

I must confesse I took it as my part the lesse to endure that my respected friends through their own unnecessary patience should thus lye at the mercy of a coy flurting stile; to be girded with frumps and curtail gibes, by one who makes sentences by the Statute, as if all above three inches long were confiscat. [I:568, 872-73]2

In another passage, in which he makes these same associations between anti-Ciceronian prose style and a perverse deviation from right reason and virtue, Milton contrasts such literary preferences and practices with his own warm approval of Cicero:

How few among them that know to write, or speak in a pure stile, much lesse to distinguish the idea's, and various kinds of stile: in Latine barbarous, and oft not without solecisms, declaiming in rugged and miscellaneous geare blown together by the foure winds, and in their choice preferring the gay ranknesse of Apuleius, Arnobius, or any moderne fustianist, before the native Latinisms of Cicero. [I:934]

But we should be careful how we attach to a strongly individual literary temper such as Milton's a label that usually brings to mind the pedantic imitators of Cicero satirized by Erasmus. According to Croll, all the characteristic prose of the seventeenth century was anti-Ciceronian, "except the writings of one or two great individualists who escape the influence of their time" (p. 201). If this refers to Milton, it should include a recognition of the obvious fact that Milton the poet achieved individuality by his distinctive use of tradition. Similarly, the individual voice of Milton the prose stylist is generated by an interplay of Ciceronian and loose constructions.

George Williamson says that "Milton went to extremes in the Latin mould, setting his Latin constructions against the idiom of the loose period in English." In a footnote, after quoting C. E. Vaughan, he places Milton's characteristic sentence forms between Hooker's elaborate suspensions and Browne's seemingly casual looseness:

'In Hooker the periodic structure—the "architectural pile," in which the subordinate clauses are grouped symmetrically and with strict logical sequence around the principal sentence—is taken over bodily, or only with such modifications as the nature of an uninflected language, like the English, imperatively requires. The result is magnificent, but it is undeniably an exotic. In Milton the long sentence remains; on occasion it becomes even longer. But the subordination of clause to clause is largely broken through. Its place is taken by a far looser structure, of which the guiding principle is coordination. The style of Milton, if technical terms may be forgiven, is in the main not syntactic but paratactic; not a synthesis of clauses, but an agglomeration.' If this contrast appears in Milton, it is much more apparent and pervasive in Browne.3

More recently, K. G. Hamilton has described a typical Miltonic sentence as being "complex, mainly periodic, though with some balanced or loose components, and with some coordinate elements within the basically subordinate structure."4 Hamilton also places Milton in a continuum somewhere between Hooker and Browne. For Hooker, the dispassionate expositor of truth, the perfectly ordered suspensions of the Ciceronian period comprised a medium appropriate for communicating perfect, true ideas. Browne, on the other hand, was a more playful Christian humanist, always alert for the odd circumstances he could loosely associate with the true ideas he took for granted, for the most part the ideas Hooker had expounded. Milton had his own definite ideas and purposes, Hamilton further argues, and these were the ideas and purposes of a political crusader who ranged widely in search of support for his points. The definite ideas require complex suspensions; the wide-ranging search for support results in some "loose components … and coordinate elements" (pp. 310-12).

In my opinion, Hamilton is correct to locate the source of Milton's unique prose style in the fact that he was engaging in political rhetoric. I also find it useful to pursue further the relationship both he and Williamson suggest between the styles of Milton, Browne, and Hooker. I shall analyze two passages by Milton along with two others, one by Browne and one by Hooker. Each is similar in subject to the corresponding passage by Milton, and each stylistically resembles but contrasts with it in ways characteristic enough to repay careful and extended comparison. Browne begins the Religio Medici with a long sentence defending his Christian orthodoxy and describing its origin and development:

For my Religion, though there be severall circumstances that might perswade the world I have none at all, as the generali scandali of my profession, the naturali course of my studies, the indifferency of my behaviour, and discourse in matters of Religion, neither violently defending one, nor with that common ardour and contention opposing another; yet in despight hereof I dare, without usurpation, assume the honorable stile of a Christian: not that I meerely owe this title to the Font, my education, or Clime wherein I was borne, as being bred up either to confirme those principles my Parents instilled into my unwary understanding; or by a generali consent proceed in the Religion of my Countrey: But having, in my riper yeares, and confirmed judgement, seene and examined all, I finde my selfe obliged by the principles of Grace, and the law of mine owne reason, to embrace no other name but this; neither doth herein my zeale so farre make me forget the generali charitie I owe unto humanity, as rather to hate then pity Turkes, Infidels, and (what is worse) Jewes, rather contenting my selfe to enjoy that happy stile, then maligning those who refuse so glorious a title.5

The primary structure of this sentence is a complex Ciceronian suspension: "though there be … yet in despight hereof I dare…." This bare outline is asser tive and oratorical, uncommonly so for Browne. He bravely confronts the aspersions often cast upon physicians and quietists, then surmounts them with a rhetorical flourish: "Yet in despight hereof I dare, without usurpation, assume the honorable stile of a Christian." However, in listing "the circumstances that might perswade the world" he has no religion at all, Browne attacks anti-intellectualism and religious intolerance in a subtler way. The third circumstance, "the indifferency of my behaviour, and discourse in matters of Religion," begets a pair of participial clauses, "neither violently defending one, nor with that common ardour and contention opposing another." These clauses are essential to neither the logical nor the rhetorical progress of the sentence; they are examples of one of the devices of the loose style enumerated by Croll, participial constructions which, noncommittal in relation to the rest of the sentence, contribute to a sense of spontaneous, unpremeditated thought (p. 221). Having arrived at the subject of religious behavior and discourse in developing his premeditated thought, Browne pauses and remembers the violent religious controversies of the 1630s. What appears to be gratuitous elaboration in fact expresses the humane and tolerant attitude that lay behind the traditional concept of "indifferency," the granting of liberty to Christians in matters of religion not essential to salvation. Browne thus comments with telling irony on the zealous and interminable controversies over just such indifferent matters. And he also comments on his own overzealous defense of himself, which he has been conducting in a suspended oratorical syntax he has momentarily forgotten. He begins the Religio by deploying the looseness of his style to display a charitable disposition, and this indicates the main idea of the entire sentence, the indispensability of charity to faith. One of the functions of the loose style throughout the Religio is to demonstrate the necessity of this relationship.

The unqualified, emphatic assertion of the main clause, "yet in despight hereof I dare … ," is weakened again by still further elaboration: "not that I meerely owe …." On the other hand, this clause begins another emphatic suspended construction containing a more substantial self-defense: "not that I meerely owe … But having … I finde my selfe obliged by the principles of Grace, and the law of mine owne reason, to embrace no other name but this." Again between the introduction and resolution of the ostensible main idea falls a loose participial construction: "as being bred up … or by a generall consent proceed…." And again this loosens up the apparently suspended structure of the sentence. The words, "the Font, my education, or Clime wherein I was borne," entice Browne into pausing and appreciating the entire process of nurture: "as being bred up either to confirme those principles my Parents instilled into my unwary understanding; or by a generall consent proceed in the Religion of my Countrey." The clause dissipates the simple rhetorical force of the strenuous antithesis, "not that … But," so that the mature Browne's religious convictions fulfill his upbringing rather than transcend it. This sense of interest in something for its own sake, to which the loose, rambling style is admirably suited, is a principal foundation of Browne's gentle, charitable disposition. Thus, after reiterating his declaration of faith in the second main clause ("I finde my selfe obliged … to embrace no other name but this"), Browne again elaborates, explicitly defining the terms of the counterpoint of styles I have been analyzing. The suspended oratorical style in which he has been battling the accusations of the "world" he calls "zeale." The looser, quieter style in which he has been commenting on all the participants in this struggle he associates with "the general charitie I owe unto humanity" by appending another pair of participial clauses which amount to a summary description of charitable religion: "rather contenting my selfe to enjoy that happy stile, then maligning those who refuse so glorious a title." One has the feeling that in this introductory statement, Browne is defining his unique area and mode of discourse, backing away from the Puritan-Anglican controversy and divesting himself of the rhetorical zeal by which it was waged. In the serene tone of these concluding participial clauses, he settles comfortably into his private version of Christian humanism.6

In a sentence at the end of the personal digression in The Reason of Church Government, Milton describes his upbringing and religious attitudes in the course of justifying his participation in the ecclesiastical controversy Browne shunned:

But were it the meanest under-service, if God by his Secretary conscience injoyn it, it were sad for me if I should draw back, for me especially, now when all men offer their aid to help ease and lighten the difficult labours of the Church, to whose service by the intentions of my parents and friends I was destin'd of a child, and in mine own resolutions, till comming to some maturity of yeers and perceaving what tyranny had invaded the Church, that he who would take Orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withall, which unlesse he took with a conscience that would retch, he must either strait perjure, or split his faith, I thought it better to preferre a blamelesse silence before the sacred office of speaking bought, and begun with servitude and forswearing. [I:822-23]

As in the corresponding passage in Browne, the primary structure of this sentence is Ciceronian and oratorical: "But were it … if God … it were sad…." In the two subordinate clauses, the idea passes through steadily intensifying degrees of emphasis, "the meanest under-service, … God by his Secretary conscience injoyn it," and is resolved in the main clause by understatement. In this way Milton avoids the note of bombast we found in Browne's affirmation of faith: "it were sad for me if I should draw back…." This understatement is itself a device of emphasis; it repeats the form of the subordinate clauses ("were it … if God … it were … if I …"), showing energies not concentrated but dissipated, and thus emphasizing the heroic quality of Christian vocation by contrast with its fugitive and cloistered opposite. Milton then passes on to more obvious forms of emphasis: "for me especially…." The clause introduced by these words is an apposition, another of the features of the loose style enumerated by Croll. That is to say, Milton's and Browne's uses of the loose style are diametrically opposed. Instead of questioning the zeal of the suspended style, Milton's looseness reasserts it, enlarging the scope of its concerns, here carrying it forward into the public domain: "for me especially, now when all men offer their aid to help ease and lighten the difficult labours of the Church." The word "Church" gives Milton another opportunity to prolong, expand, and intensify the sentence: "to whose service by the intentions…." This is the "trailing effect" analyzed by Croll, in which a member is linked not to the general idea of the preceding member, but to its last word.7 In Milton this device is not designed as it is in Browne to lead the mind toward delightful qualifying perceptions. Rather, it leads to a more public, emphatic perception of the zealous imperatives that force Milton to become a pamphleteer. With each "independent motion" of his mind, Browne discovers something finer than zeal. Possessed of a mind equally agile and vigorous, Milton discovers with each intellectual gesture that zeal is all the more urgently demanded. And so this trailing clause soon moves on to a more grandiose and comprehensive suspension than the initial one: "till comming … and perceaving … that he who … I thought …." A secondary trailing effect occurs within one of the subordinate members of this suspension; this in turn produces a secondary suspension: "an oath withall, which unlesse he … he must…. " Repeatedly, emotional energy is built up in the suspended members and released into the emphatic main clauses. Thus, in this second network of suspensions, Milton's repugnance for the immoral impositions of the prelates is gradually intensified through the successive subordinate members ("what tyranny … must subscribe slave … a conscience that would retch … must either strait perjure, or split his faith …"), then explosively resolved and rounded off by a periodic return in the main clause: "I thought it better to preferre a blamelesse silence before the sacred office of speaking bought, and begun with servitude and forswearing." By these involved combinations of the two learned styles available to him, Milton tries to prove in as emphatic and compelling a way as possible that his upbringing was not fulfilled, as was Browne's, but rudely disrupted by the intolerable state of public affairs.

According to Croll, the Ciceronian period subsides at the end, after having reached its most emphatic point somewhere near its center. The loose period, on the other hand, becomes more vigorous and expansive as it proceeds, rising at the end to an oh altitudo (p. 228). We have seen a quiet version of this in the period from the Religio analyzed above. Browne's mind continually veers toward the more congenial subject of charity. His oh altitudo consists in shifting the perspective of discourse so that tensions are dissolved on a higher plane. Milton uses an oh altitudo movement that combines loose intellectual momentum with Ciceronian structure. His mind presses forward to synthesize all the moral and political implications of an issue and all the emotions they generate. The result is that the reader is presented with a vivid narrative of Milton's religious decisions and of the public crisis that necessitated them. In more directly stylistic terms, Milton's mind moves from one suspended sentence to a longer, more emphatic one. The links between these rounded suspensions are usually the devices of the loose style. By these means, Milton imparts a sense of urgency to his ceremonious, Latinate public utterances. As distinguished from Browne, who suggests an absolute conflict between the quiet humanity of the loose stylist and the noisy rhetoric which exacerbates public disputes, Milton insists on the connections between private and public crises, insists that the private energies implied by the loose style must regenerate the dignified public institutions implied by Ciceronian oratory.8

Thus, Milton's special use of the loose style is explained by the fact that he was a radical propagandist with allegiances to the tradition of Christian humanism. Conversely, his distinctive use of the more structured, suspended style may be traced to the fact that he meant to adapt Christian humanism to radical purposes. This accounts for the differences between the characteristic rhythms of his suspensions and those of Hooker. Both Hooker and Milton subscribe to the doctrine that civil society was formed to protect man against the consequences of the Fall. Hooker's version of this myth is in Book 1 of the Polity:

To take away all such mutual grievances, injuries, and wrongs, there was no way but only by growing unto composition and agreement amongst themselves, by ordaining some kind of government public, and by yielding themselves subject thereunto; that unto whom they granted authority to rule and govern, by them the peace, tranquillity, and happy estate of the rest might be procured. Men always knew that when force and injury was offered they might be defenders of themselves; they knew that howsoever men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury unto others it was not to be suffered, but by all men and by all good means to be withstood; finally they knew that no man might in reason take upon him to determine his own right, and according to his own determination proceed in maintenance thereof, inasmuch as every man is towards himself and them whom he greatly affecteth partial; and therefore that strifes and troubles would be endless, except they gave their common consent all to be ordered by some whom they should agree upon: without which consent there were no reason that one man should take upon him to be lord or judge over another; because, although there be according to the opinion of some very great and judicious men a kind of natural right in the noble, wise, and virtuous, to govern them which are of servile disposition; nevertheless for manifestation of this their right, and men's more peaceable contentment on both sides, the assent of them who are to be governed seemeth necessary.9

The suspensions of the first sentence show the unimpeded progress of harmony and order in civil society. The first member introduces this idea and begins to embody it in a triplet: "mutual grievances, injuries, and wrongs." The key to the serene tone of the passage is found at the start of the second member: "there was no way but only…." The passage is about making a virtue of necessity by knowing how to submit to it. A dignified submission produces order, and so the triple parallelism of the second member answers to the triplet of the first, increasing the sense of harmonious resonance as it develops the main idea of eliminating violent disorder by instituting government: "by growing unto composition … by ordaining … by yielding themselves…." The peaceful and prosperous life that civil society makes possible is then both described and evoked in the balanced suspension and smooth rising and falling rhythm of the third member: "that unto whom they granted authority to rule and govern, by them the peace, tranquillity, and happy estate of the rest might be procured."10 The form of this sentence, imaging the effortless emergence of social order, is appropriate for a work expounding the innately harmonious tendencies of the entire universe. Once men have submitted to necessity, a beneficent social order necessarily follows. In the progressively richer constructions of the members of this period, Hooker suggests that social conflict will be minimized as soon as men attend to first principles. Of course, Hooker wrote all of Book 1 to make just this point.

The second, longer sentence expounds these first principles more systematically, serenely reinforcing the pervasive implication that men must necessarily consent to be ruled by political authority. Each member of the long parallel series ("Men always knew that … they knew that … finally they knew that …") states a general principle of social behavior which must be seen in conjunction with the other members of the series. The sentence is a syllogism making explicit what is implicit in the more artful construction of the first sentence. Its formal completion by the final member of the parallel series thus coincides with its logical conclusion, which turns consent of the governed into unavoidable constraint: "and therefore that strifes and troubles would be endless, except they gave their common consent all to be ordered by some whom they should agree upon…." Finally, in another series of suspensions, Hooker further dilutes the element of free choice implicit in the idea of consent of the governed by using it to uphold the general principle of human inequality and its consequence, social hierarchy. After apparently not committing himself to this principle ("although there be according to the opinion of some very great and judicious men …"), he makes it simply reappear in his reaffirmation of the necessity for consent of the governed, as if it were an inevitable feature of civil society, just as in the first sentence, peace and prosperity simply appeared as the inevitable results of the social contract: "nevertheless for manifestation of this their right, and men's more peaceable contentment on both sides, the assent of them who are to be governed seemeth necessary." Hooker's Ciceronian style, then, the style of "an English Aristotle set to music,"11 does not describe the actions of free men. Rather, in both its subtly rhetorical uses, as in the first sentence and the final part of the second, and its more strictly logical uses, as in the first part of the second sentence, it squares and measures human actions to the rules of philosophical necessity. Proceeding through suspensions to logical or quasi-logical resolutions, philosophical necessity moves on its serene way to the conclusion that the social contract and a hierarchical society are inseparable. Hooker's style imposes a necessary form on history.

Milton's version of this myth appears in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates:

No man who knows ought, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were borne free, being the image and resemblance of God himself, and were by privilege above all the creatures, born to command and not to obey: and that they liv'd so. Till from the root of Adams transgression, falling among themselves to doe wrong and violence, and foreseeing that such courses must needs tend to the destruction of them all, they agreed by common league to bind each other from mutual injury, and joyntly to defend themselves against any that gave disturbance or opposition to such agreement…. And because no faith in all was found sufficiently binding, they saw it needfull to ordaine som authoritie, that might restrain by force and punishment what was violated against peace and common right. This autoritie and power of selfdefence and preservation being originally and naturally in every one of them, and unitedly in them all, for ease, for order, and least each man should be his own partial Judge, they communicated and deriv'd either to one, whom for the eminence of his wisdom and integritie they chose above the rest, or to more then one whom they thought of equal deserving: the first was call'd a King; the other Magistrates. Not to be thir Lords and Maisters (though afterward those names in som places were giv'n voluntarily to such as had been Authors of inestimable good to the people) but, to be thir Deputies and Commissioners, to execute, by vertue of thir intrusted power, that justice which else every man by the bond of nature and of Cov'nant must have executed for himself, and for one another. [III:198-99]

As we saw, Hooker's Christian humanism focuses on the necessity for a harmonious social order in a fallen world. The basis of Milton's approach to the origins of society, and of his Christian humanism, is contained in the phrase, "all men naturally were borne free." The decision to constitute a social order he sees as a prudent measure by which men retain as much freedom as possible in a fallen world. The difference, and it makes all the difference, is one of emphasis. In Hooker the accent is on orderly submission to necessity, in Milton, on constructive actions that are necessary. The texture of Milton's passage is thus sharp and vigorous rather than calm and serene. Milton's constructions are governed by active verbs and verbals, Hooker's by passive and intransitive forms: "foreseeing … they agreed … to bind … and joyntly to defend … they saw it needfull … they communicated and deriv'd … to execute …" as opposed to "there was no way … might be procured … was offered … might be defenders … if this were done … not to be suffered … but … to be withstood … would be endless … seemeth necessary." Hooker analyzes the conditions that limit the political will; Milton narrates its dignified exercise. And it is significant that the two major clauses in Milton's passage governed by the intransitive "to be" are these: "This authoritie and power of self-defence and preservation being originally and naturally in every one of them, and unitedly in them all … Not to be thir Lords and Maisters … but, to be thir Deputies and Commissioners." That is to say, at the beginning and end of the passage, Milton emphasizes the only condition that interests him, that "all men naturally were borne free" and that civil society preserves this freedom.

To a similar effect, Hooker's suspended periods move at a much more leisurely pace than do Milton's. Each of Hooker's clauses is an independent appreciation of the innate order of things: "they knew that howsoever men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury unto others it was not to be suffered, but by all men and by all good means to be withstood." In these unobtrusive rising and falling rhythms, conflict itself becomes a harmonious readjustment of energies. When this sentence is completed, therefore, its conclusion simply falls into place as the explicit fulfillment of these many preliminary glimpses of universal harmony. Hooker is not discussing the social contract so much as he is relating it to a larger pattern, and this of course is the general method of the Polity. Issues, in particular the issue of church government, lose their specific impact as they are absorbed into this larger harmonious pattern. It is precisely such specific impact, on the other hand, which Milton wishes to preserve and intensify, here the specific nature of the social contract as an exercise in civil prudence by which men surrender lawless license in order to retain lawful liberty. Thus the sentences move briskly toward the active verbs listed above. In the second and fourth sentences quoted, the suspended Ciceronian syntax enacts a pattern in which right reason perceives and analyzes a political problem and active virtue vigorously resolves it: "falling among themselves … foreseeing that such courses must needs … they agreed … to bind each other … and joyntly to defend … for ease, for order, and least each man should be his own partial Judge, they communicated and deriv'd … whom for the eminence of his wisdom and integritie they chose."12 The two intransitive clauses discussed above amount to more explicit affirmations of freedom and dignity and substantiate the virtù of these original political acts. They also keep to the forefront of the discussion the major polemical thesis of the Tenure, implicit in the active texture of the entire passage, that government depends on the active support of the governed, which may be revoked when the conditions of support are not fulfilled. In Hooker's leisurely syntactical movement is a suggestion that vigorous action is more than likely to be indecorous and disorderly. Milton's more rapid, energetic, and emphatic pace asserts that disorder cannot be controlled except by vigorous action.

Milton and Popular Prose Styles

The fact is, however, that Milton's contemporaries paid little attention to his political activities. The tracts in English remained unread or misunderstood, and Milton got a name for himself during his lifetime only when the learned community of Europe started talking from side to side about his Latin Defences.13 In part because of the literary origins of his political commitments, Milton was outside the political mainstream throughout his political life, sometimes in his subject matter, sometimes in his sense of rhetorical occasion, always in his manner of writing. He could appeal to connoisseurs of Latin polemics and he appeals now to literary critics who would like to share his faith in the political significance of imagination, but he was not heard, apparently, by most of the men of seventeenth-century England who had committed themselves, as he had, to fundamental alterations in church and state. It is worth considering whether or not the way Milton writes has anything to do with his remarkable lack of political success. The preceding section attempts to define some of the imaginative virtues of Milton's political prose. In this section I want to explore some of the limitations of that prose as a medium of political action. According to William Haller, the most successful political agitators of the Puritan Revolution were the Leveller leaders. Powerless otherwise, they created a mass following and an organized political party almost solely by means of skillful propaganda.14 Thus, if Milton's prose can be put to a literary test by comparing it with that of Hooker and Browne, comparing it with that of John Lilburne and William Walwyn will constitute a test of its immediate political effectiveness.

During one of his many indefinite sojourns in prison, this one imposed in 1649 by the Council of State on which Milton served as Latin secretary,15 Lilburne composed The Legali Fundamental Liberties of the People of England. A good deal of this tract is occupied with an autobiographical self-defense against the charge that Lilburne is a madly contentious figure, endlessly and gratuitously picking fights with those in authority. Lilburne's reply must be quoted at length to be appreciated:

Well, in the next place the Wars begun betwixt them and the King; and truly having seriously read all their primitive most excellent Declarations, and sufficiently my self smarted under the Kings irregular government, in the violating of the Laws of England, the compact betwixt him and his people; … and reading in the Scripture, Rom. 13. that the end of the institution of all Magistracy in the world, is for a terror to evill doers, and for a praise to those that doe well; the serious consideration of which, wrought out something in reason in my own thoughts, to ballance the letter of those Laws, (which I then knew were absolutely for the King) something like those generali rules or maximes in Law, recorded by that most excellent of English Lawyers, Sir Edw. Cook, in his 4 part. Institut, fol. 330. which are, That although the Law (of England) speak in generall terms, yet it is to be bound up, or accepted, but where reason ceaseth, there the law ceaseth; for seeing reason is the very life and spirit of the Law it self, the Lawgiver is not to be esteemed to respect that which hath no reason, although the generality of the words at the first sight, or after the Letter seem otherwise: And it, in my reason, could not be rationall for any men to appoint a compact to be betwixt two parties, but to bind both equally alike, King as well as people; and not to keep the people bound to the expresse letter of the Kings part, or any others, when the King or that other, shall break his or theirs in twenty particulars, as by Shipmoney, Projects, &c. And further, saith Cook, fol. 328. ibid. … So upon these or the like grounds, I took up arms in judgment and conscience against the King, … till Manchester visibly degenerated, and would have hanged me, for being over-honest, and over active in taking in Tikel Castle too soon: which with his visible turning knave, and apparently betraying his trust at Dennington, in designing his Army, or the best part of it, a sacrifice to the Kings fury, made me engage against him and others of his Associates, with Cromwel, who thereunto sollicited me, and also threw up my Commission; and so his basenesse spoyled a Souldier of me, that I could never fight as a Souldier since; … But no sooner was I by the ears with Manchester, who first began with me, but Mr Prynn wrote his desperate invective Books against us all that would not be conformable to the Covenant (that Cheat,) and the Scots Presbytery (that every thing and nothing;) and would have had us all destroyed, or banished the Land of our Nativity: so in conscience to God, and safety to my self and brethren (Mr Edmund Roser, my present unworthy Antagonist, being then my pastor or teacher) I was inwardly compelled to deal with him, that thus sought to destroy the generation of the righteous; and accordingly I wrote him a sharp Epistle, now in print, dated 7 Jan. 1644. which brought upon my back a whole sea of troubles; and a Vote or Votes in the House of Commons past against me: whereupon, without any more adoe, black Corbet and the Committee of Examinations makes me a Prisoner, and tosseth and tumbleth me to the purpose: So before him, upon the 13 of June 1645, was I forced to give in my reasons (now in print) wherefore I wrote that excellent and seasonable Epistle (which was the first avowed publick Cannon I know of in England, discharged against the then insulting Presbyter, for the liberty of the consciences of my present bloudy and malicious persecutors, that now stile themselves the Pastours and Leaders of the Churches of God; but do indeed and in truth, by their unnaturall, unchristian, and unjust actions deserve no other stile, but men fit for nothing but to be the Pastors and Leaders of the Synagogue of Satan.) The whole story of which contest with Mr Prynn, you may read at large in the beginning of my Book, called Innocency and Truth justified….

And then before I well got rid of this broyl, you your self [William Lenthall, Speaker of the Commons, to whom the tract is addressed] got the House of Commons the 19 day of July 1645. to fall upon my bones, and Vote me to prison I know not wherefore, unlesse it were for riding post from Summerset-shire through twenty dangers to bring you the first news of the Lord Gorings Army being routed at Lampert.16

Superficially, this passage resembles a type we will encounter repeatedly in Milton's writings. An extended series of participial clauses, each of which can sprout any number of interpolated members, builds to a climax in a major predication: "So upon these or the like grounds, I took up arms in judgment and conscience against the King." The rhetorical energy thereby accumulated and released then spills over and produces an open-ended series of coordinate members. If one attends only to this apparent syntax, the effect is the same as in Milton: Lilburne deals his opponents a crushing blow by encompassing or containing them within an elaborate structure of principled utterance. The shape of the sentence implies the shape of a reformed society, and the density and repetitious emphasis of the sentence imply the massive inertial resistance of the status quo. Struggling for liberty with the pen is made to seem no less heroic than waging war for it with the sword.

Despite this overall structure, however, and despite the other ways in which Lilburne suggests the seriousness of the threat posed by the unjust party, such as his near-pedantic citation of authorities and of his own previous books, I find that the passage substantiates Joan Webber's claim that Lilburne's prose does not build towards climaxes but is primarily characterized by a sense of free flow.17 Lilburne writes far more loosely than Browne or even Montaigne. Throughout he employs only the most perfunctory and neutral kinds of coordinate transitions. Even within the subordinate clauses at the beginning of the passage, in which Lilburne is presumably orchestrating all the things which justify his asserting that he "took up arms in judgment and conscience against the King," the rhythm of construction is so often interrupted by the asides which contain the main matter that it completely disappears: "and reading in the Scripture … the serious consideration of which … those generall rules or maximes in Law … which are, That although … for seeing reason is … And it, in my reason, could not be rationall … in twenty particulars, as by Shipmoney, Projects, &c. And further, saith Cook, fol. 328. ibid."

One effect of this absolutely loose and chatty manner is that the first person character comes across as a tireless fighter for justice, tireless because the absence of full stops creates an impression that there is no relief from the swift flow of injustice: "But no sooner was I by the ears with Manchester, who first began with me, but Mr Prynn wrote his desperate invective Books … And then before I well got rid of this broyl, you your self got the House of Commons the 19 day of July 1645. to fall upon my bones." The organization of the passage makes the point, and the shapeless syntax reinforces it, that Lilburne and the liberties he represents are not to be silenced or suppressed, no matter how often he may be arbitrarily and cruelly treated. Above all else, though, this style is antiheroic. Its lack of structure is a commentary on any reformer or reforming party, Presbyterian, Independent, or Milton's heroic poet, who would coerce society to fit a preconceived pattern. Lilburne's world is the real world of seventeenth-century political turmoil, richly circumstantial, with times, places, and dramatis personae always carefully specified, and Lilburne's political life flows entirely on this genuine level. He denies himself the heroic voice and levels unnecessary and overrefined subordinations in discourse as he would level them in society, to the point of abolishing the subordinate relationship between followers and leader. The shape of the reformed society is to be generated by the entire community from the disorderly welter of particulars which comprise real experience, not by self-appointed heroes from their own minds. Lilburne's prose is egalitarian almost to the point of anarchy.18

No man, in other words, can presume to fabricate the one true order under which his fellows must live and according to which they must think, speak, and write. The best that can be done in such a fluid and uncertain situation is to keep reasserting the fundamental principles from which all genuine political order must derive, and the importance of this task can be further emphasized by enunciating such principles at points which are the most unlikely and disruptive syntactically but perhaps the most appropriate and effective rhetorically: "wherefore I wrote that excellent and seasonable Epistle (which was the first avowed publick Can non I know of in England, discharged against the then insulting Presbyter, for the liberty of the consciences of my present bloudy and malicious persecutors, that now stile themselves the Pastours and Leaders of the Churches of God; but do indeed and in truth, by their unnatural, unchristian, and unjust actions deserve no other stile, but men fit for nothing but to be the Pastors and Leaders of the Synagogue of Satan)." With this typical parenthesis, Lilburne accomplishes the major purpose of his tract, to show that while his narrative is the story of unjust suffering at the hands of arbitrary power, it is also the story of the enduring strength of liberty and of men who know themselves to be free. Like this aside emerging from the flux of narration, freedom and free men remain alive and well, capable of maintaining a loose, provisional, and generalized control of political events. If Lilburne must do endless battle with a succession of turncoats from the cause of true liberty, from Bastwick and Prynne to Cromwell and the Independent ministers, these backsliding oppressors simply give him renewed opportunities to demonstrate that he remains free and vigorous. Lilburne's prose style would have us believe that any man of sound sense and firm conviction can do anything a presumed reformer can do without the stylistic posturing which contradicts the reformer's alleged goals.

In his Apology, Milton defends himself at length against the Modest Confuter's flimsy accusations of licentiousness with his well-known account of his literary, philosophical, and religious education. The following passage brings to conclusion and climax the story of his nurturing in the classics:

Thus from the Lauréat fraternity of Poets, riper yeares, and the ceaselesse round of study and reading led me to the shady spaces of philosophy, but chiefly to the divine volumes of Plato, and his equall Xenophon. Where if I should tell ye what I learnt, of chastity and love, I meane that which is truly so, whose charming cup is only vertue which she bears in her hand to those who are worthy. The rest are cheated with a thick intoxicating potion which a certaine Sorceresse the abuser of loves name carries about; and how the first and chiefest office of love, begins and ends in the soule, producing those happy twins of her divine generation knowledge and vertue, with such abstracted sublimities as these, it might be worth your listning, Readers, as I may one day hope to have ye in a still time, when there shall be no chiding; not in these noises, the adversary as ye know, barking at the doore; or searching for me at the Burdello's where it may be he has lost himselfe, and raps up without pitty the sage and rheumatick old Prelatesse with all her young Corinthian Laity to inquire for such a one. [I:891-92]

Here Milton is truly using the sentence structure Lilburne appeared to be using in the passage discussed above. The major sentence builds through the series of coyly conditional clauses and reaches a climax in the resolving clause, "with such abstracted sublimities as these, it might be worth your listning, Readers, as I may one day hope to have ye in a still time, when there shall be no chiding." Except for the portion reminiscent of Comus ("The rest … carries about …"), the sentence does not confront and absorb hostile forces or ideas as part of its ascending movement. It is unusually calm and serene for Milton's prose, as is the entire autobiographical digression. As Webber remarks, the periodic sentences of these autobiographical passages are prose poetry, tantalizing intimations both in subject and style of the kind of thing Milton expects to achieve once the revolution is consummated (p. 202). For our purposes, however, the most interesting aspect of the passage is its tail or afterthought. After rising to his earnest and sincere expression of his hope for the withering away of politics, for that "still time, when there shall be no chiding," Milton remembers the Confuter and all he represents: "not in these noises, the adversary as ye know, barking at the doore; or searching for me at the Burdello's where it may be he has lost himselfe, and raps up without pitty the sage and rheumatick old Prelatesse with all her young Corinthian Laity to inquire for such a one." Artfully and I believe deliberately, Milton portrays the political struggle in which he is engaged as a distraction, an anticlimactic nuisance. He has led the reader into the chaste and pure air of literary and philosophical idealism, and of the reformed society Milton believes to be identical with this intellectual's paradise. From this perspective political issues appear trivial and can be easily disposed of with an urbane flourish.

It is not too extravagent to claim that the construction of this sentence reveals Milton's fundamental limitations as a political activist. We remember that Lilburne, by his avoidance of stylistic climaxes, enforces the sense that political struggles do not readily yield ideal resolutions. By his habit of specifying everything, he creates an impression of social and political reality and of his own readiness to dwell and thrive in the midst of turmoil. By his repeated and apparently haphazard digressions into discussions of principle, he makes us believe that principles can not only survive but flourish when applied to and tested against actual life. But Milton yearns for the climax, the still time which is the consummation of the sentence and would be the consummation of these unpleasant political broils and of his literary ambitions. His curiously hesitant format ("Where if I should tell ye what I learnt …") makes him appear almost precious or demure, fearful lest his cherished principles become sullied by contact with political contentions. And the "abstracted sublimity" of the sentence combined with the trailing glance at the Confuter suggest that for Milton the goal is not insuring that principles will survive within actual life and support it, but rather establishing an ideal realm to which actual life must conform or be dismissed as worthless. For the time being, it is true, Milton does genuinely believe that social reality will eventually prove equal to his idealistic demands, that in the not too distant future self-revelation and idealistic discourse will not be a digression, as he pretends it is within this sentence and within the tract at large, but the main substance of human living together. It seems to me, however, that by his near-literal belief that the truest index of genuine reformation would be society's ability to appreciate his poems, Milton guarantees political disappointment and bitterness for himself. As a medium of political persuasion, Lilburne's prose is both more realistic and more broadly appealing.

Since it may seem unfair to compare the utterances of an experienced political leader with those of a relative novice, I will now discuss a passage from the Tenure, which appeared early in 1649 shortly after the execution of Charles I, in conjunction with one from a tract called The Bloody Project, which was published in August 1648 and was almost certainly written by William Walwyn. After analyzing the behavior of each of the parties to the increasingly fragmented Puritan coalition and demonstrating that each has shown itself to be motivated entirely by factional self-interest, Walwyn summarizes the impasse to which these narrow maneuvers have brought the English polity:

To be short, all the quarrell we have at this day in the Kingdome, is no other then a quarrel of Interests, and Partyes, a pulling down of one Tyrant, to set up another, and instead of Liberty, heaping upon our selves a greater slavery then that we fought against: certainly this is the Liberty that is so much strove for, and for which there are such fresh endeavours to engage men; but if you have not killed and destroyed men enough for this, go on and destroy, kill and sley, till your consciences are swoln so full with the blood of the People, that they burst agen, and upon your death-beds may you see your selves the most horrid Murtherers that ever lived, since the time that Cain kild his brother without a just Cause; for where, or what is your cause? Beleeve it yee have a heavy reeckoning to make, and must undergo a sad repentance, or it will go ill with you at the great day, when all the sophistry of your great Reformers will serve you to little purpose, every man for himselfe being to give an account for the things which he hath done in the body, whether they be good or evill: Then it will serve you to little purpose to say, the King, Parliament, Army, Independents, Presbyterians, such an Officer, Magistrate, or Minister deluded me; no more then it did Adam, to say the woman whom thou gavest, &c. It being thus decreed in heaven, the soule which sinneth shall surely dye.19

In a manner precisely the opposite of Lilburne's, Walwyn asserts that all who have held power since 1641 have deserted the cause of justice and liberty. Lilburne generates a sense of realism through the abundance of particulars he provides, Walwyn through the curt lucidity of a man who knows how to interpret what is going on. To a reader of the rhetoric of the "well-affected party," including a reader of Milton, the first sentence of this passage comes as a blessed relief: "To be short, all the quarrell we have at this day in the Kingdome, is no other then a quarrel of Interests, and Partyes, a pulling down of one Tyrant, to set up another." Amidst reams of high-minded obfuscation, a writer who in sober good sense calls things by their right names ("quarrel of Interests, and Partyes") can pass for a wit, especially when he goes on to encompass the confused political situation in an apt formula, "a pulling down of one Tyrant, to set up another."

The speaker thus begins as the voice of cool and composed reason, detaching himself from political reality that he may comment on it from a superior perspective, repeating his basic assertion and varying it just enough to avoid single- or simple-mindedness but not so much that he appears to be striving for literary elegance at the expense of what he wants to communicate. He remains composed, but not quite so cool in the rest of the passage. Securely ensconced in his principled perspective, he addresses the soldiers and other common people who have enlisted in the service of one or another of these selfish parties with the commonplaces of popular preaching: deathbed, Judgment Day, the clearest and most elemental of scriptural myths. Here the sentences become longer, more elaborate, and more impassioned, without losing their clarity and homely vivacity. He speaks more warmly because he is speaking not to the would-be tyrants, but to all those who ought to know better. Those engaged in power plays are not to be taken as seriously as the masses of the people who allow such injustices to be perpetrated. In the second half of the passage, therefore, Walwyn begins to encompass the puny world of Interests and Parties in the superior perspective of justice and Judgment. Phrases such as "all the sophistry of your great Reformers," and "the King, Parliament, Army, Independents, Presbyterians, such an Officer, Magistrate, or Minister" are enclosed between predictions of inevitability ("yee have … must undergo …") and participial clauses which convey the certainty of settled truths: "every man for himselfe being to give an account … It being thus decreed in heaven …." The people are informed that their leaders and deluders are trivial and weak creatures if they the people would only assert their own awesome power as Walwyn entreats them to do and as he himself succeeds in doing in the style of this passage. He thus challenges his audience to live up to those ideals in which they all profess to believe and for which they falsely imagine they have been fighting. But the audience is also invited to adopt this high-minded perspective and live by it, because the principles being invoked are universally accredited, because the repetition of such phrases as "will serve you to little purpose" helps make the passage clear and easy to follow, and because Walwyn speaks directly to that audience, with firmness, but also with familiarity and insight. The development of the passage, from sober and trenchant dispersal of mystification to warm but still lucid exhortation, amounts virtually to a "whisper in the ear" of Mr. John Milton, quietly advising him to ground his idealism and zeal in careful and sensible assessments of political reality.

Writing a few months later in defense of tyrannicide, Milton professes to find in the New Model Army and their Independent allies the party that stood resolute on principle when all others proved weak or selfish:

If God and a good cause give them Victory, the prosecution wherof for the most part, inevitably draws after it the alteration of Lawes, change of Goverment, downfal of Princes with thir families; then comes the task to those Worthies which are the soule of that enterprize, to be swett and labour'd out amidst the throng and noises of Vulgar and irrational men. Some contesting for privileges, customs, forms, and that old entanglement of Iniquity, thir gibrish Lawes, though the badge of thir ancient slavery. Others who have beene fiercest against thir Prince, under the notion of a Tyrant, and no mean incendiaries of the Warr against him, when God out of his providence and high disposal hath deliver'd him into the hand of thir brethren, on a suddain and in a new garbe of Allegiance, which thir doings have long since cancell'd; they plead for him, pity him, extoll him, protest against those that talk of bringing him to the tryal of Justice, which is the Sword of God, superior to all mortal things, in whose hand soever by apparent signes his testified will is to put it. [III:192-93]

In contrast to the passage from the Apology previously discussed, Milton here creates an image of commitment to political struggle, but it is an image entirely consistent with the loftiness of that earlier passage. Ideals are to be imposed on the English nation from the top down, as "those Worthies which are the soule of that enterprize" labor to clear away the debris of custom, tradition, and Presbyterian malignity and as God towers over the passage at the beginning, middle, and end. The syntactical rhythm of the passage underscores the feeling of heroic struggle proclaimed in the words "the throng and noises of Vulgar and irrational men." The arrival of the "still time, when there shall be no chiding" appears more doubtful than it had in 1642. Thus, in the initial subordinate construction, "those Worthies" transcend the first set of obstacles to revolutionary fulfillment, those listed in the "wherof clause, only to be confronted with the vulgar and irrational throng. Part of this throng is curtly and contemptuously dismissed in the first participial clause, "Some contesting … ," but the revolutionary heroes must again immediately contend with "Others" who are more powerful and dangerous and therefore must be dealt with by the more strenuous means of a subsidiary subordinate construction: "Others who have beene … when God out of his providence … on a suddain … which thir doings … they plead for him …. " The interpolated relative pronoun clauses within this construction seek to disable this perversity of the unnamed Presbyterians ("which thir doings have long since cancell'd"), but it is as if the Presbyterian forces had achieved a kind of demonically heroic momentum which enables them to emerge triumphant in the second major predication: "they plead for him, pity him, extoll him, protest against those that talk of bringing him to the tryal of Justice." This momentum is to be arrested by the concluding relative pronoun clause, "which is the Sword of God … ," as though the revolutionary forces can only be sustained by hurriedly throwing the divine sanction into the fray at every juncture.

In Walwyn's passage, in other words, Christian truths function to remind all men of their ordinary duties and to help insure a victory for simple and commonplace justice. Milton pretends that Armageddon has come, that even though the issue is in doubt, God is supporting his worthies at every turn. Like Lilburne, Walwyn is both more realistic and down to earth and more broadly appealing than Milton. Walwyn names the enemies and thus gives them human credibility. Milton loads them with epithets, turning them into demons. Walwyn speaks directly to an audience, endowing his readers with potential human strengths while exposing their weaknesses. He even humanizes divinity, bringing it to bear on the individual fate of every reader. Milton's God consists of remote and abstract categories, providence and justice, and Milton appears not to be speaking to any audience. His is the impersonal voice of wrath, not needing to substantiate his assertions about divine providence and justice with scriptural citations, as does Walwyn, but simply thundering from his idealistic mountaintop, crying woe and destruction on the reprobates in the plain beneath. Indeed, Milton appears to be able to speak directly to other human beings only when he is espousing lofty ideals in a positive way, as in autobiographical passages such as the one discussed above or in Areopagitica. We have here, then, not political discourse or persuasion, not even political polemic, but a kind of millennial melodrama. Instead of making a public statement, Milton transforms the real configuration of political forces in 1649 into an image of his private longing for the ultimately redeeming gestures of superhuman heroes.

Milton in the Idealistic Revolution

Although both Hooker and Browne use their respective styles to minimize the desirability of participating in politics and although Milton uses the same two styles to stress both its necessity and urgency, comparing Milton with writers more deeply political and comprehensively radical shows that Milton was fundamentally impatient with political activity. On one level, by joining Ciceronian and anti-Ciceronian syntax, Milton's rhetoric reflects his notion of a society both rooted in the tradition of Christian humanism and renewed by energetic radical reform. But on another level, this rhetoric is no more and no less than a personal and private testament….

Christopher Hill has argued persuasively that the Revolution was primarily a dispute within the ruling class.20 During 1641-47, that is, during the two civil wars, the section of the ruling class that forced through such innovations as the New Model Army and eventually found its leader in Cromwell waged a militant struggle against the king and those elements in the ruling class that remained loyal to him. Cromwell and the other Independent leaders solicited the active support of many lower middle-class tradesmen and artisans who tended also to belong to radical religious sects. This willingness on the part of the Independents to mobilize a broader and less respectable following was what primarily distinguished them from their Presbyterian comrades in terms of revolutionary strategy. From the Presbyterian point of view, the Independent reliance on lower-class radicals was extremely dangerous. It threatened to make of the revolution not a responsible transfer of power to the "saints" among the ruling class, but a liberation of those who had heretofore "existed only to be ruled." Both the content and style of Milton's early pamphlets develop in a similar manner: Milton argues initially in the antiprelatical tracts only for the assumption of power by the saintly Presbyterian section of the ruling class. But his principled position is thrust towards increasingly radical applications by the energy of his style and thought, and in Areopagitica this tendency is combined with the assumption that the pamphlet articulates a broad national consensus for intellectual liberation. Milton presumes in his prose, as the ruling-class leaders of the Revolution did in reality, to orchestrate and control the behavior of newly awakened social groups.

During 1647-49, the tensions between the idealistic and propertied Independent revolutionary vanguard and their radical followers turned into open disagreements and conflicts. These were most dramatically expressed in the famous exchange between the Leveller agitator, Major Rainborough, and Cromwell's son-in-law, Henry Ireton, during the Army debates at Putney:

Rainborough: For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under….

Ireton: But that by a man's being born here he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here, and of all things here, I do not think it a sufficient ground. I am sure if we look upon that which is the utmost … of what was originally the constitution of this kingdom, upon that which is most radical and fundamental, and which if you take away, there is no man hath any land, any goods, or any civil interest, that is this: that those that choose the representers for the making of laws by which this state and kingdom are to be governed, are the persons who, taken together, do comprehend the local interest of this kingdom; that is, the persons in whom all land lies, and those in corporations in whom all trading lies.21

In the sense in which I have been using the term, the Levellers and, more resolutely, the "true Levellers" or Diggers led by Gerrard Winstanley were not as idealistic as were the Independent Grandees for whom Ireton spoke. Hill describes Cromwell, for exmaple, as combining "some genuinely radical religious beliefs with the normal social assumptions of a country gentleman."22 And Cromwell stood firm throughout the Interregnum in enforcing a policy of religious toleration against the wishes of Parliament. But being a country gentleman, a man of property and substance, Cromwell also took steps to prevent many of the material implications of this toleration from becoming material realities. Men were left free to discuss theology and to devise their own versions of doctrine and discipline, but they were not allowed to discuss changes in, say, the hierarchical structure of property relations, much less to organize and act upon the conclusions of such discussions. The toleration instituted during the Interregnum was idealistic in that it made the ideal of liberty of conscience into a social reality; yet it isolated that partially realized ideal from its full range of potential interactions with the broad social and political context. The Leveller position enunciated by Rainborough was less idealistic because it meant allowing an idea like liberty of conscience to become more completely embodied, more truly present within "the world's body." In Winstanley's words, "True freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth."

What the Grandees' idealism meant in practice during the 1650s, moreover, was the political isolation of the revolutionary governments. By executing the king, the Grandees alienated the rest of the traditional ruling class, including their Presbyterian allies. By refusing to implement the Leveller program and by arresting the Leveller leaders, they alienated those lower-class and radical groups that had provided the main fighting strength of their victorious New Model Army. The Commonwealth and Protectorate regimes were thus left without any base of support in the wider community, and they had no alternative but to attempt to impose their ideals of toleration, education, and virtuous conduct on a hostile or, at best, indifferent nation. In sum, when the Revolution disavowed its own left wing in 1649 just after it had provided the counterrevolutionary right wing with a royal martyr, it set in motion a political dynamic that led logically to the Restoration.

Milton became the official apologist for the Revolution just when it cut itself off from its sources of support and turned conservative, so it is perhaps not surprising that his later prose, from the Tenure to The Readie and Easie Way, moves towards a relationship between speaker and audience which differs little from that between rulers and ruled during the Commonwealth and Protectorate. Although Milton would not have agreed with my analysis of the politics of the 1650s, he was certainly aware of the isolation of the revolutionary governments he served. He had only to compare the vast popularity of Eikon Basilike with the indifferent reception accorded Eikonoklastes.23 Just as the governments of the 1650s forced innovations on a nation which had little use for them in the spiritualized forms those governments made them take, so Milton in his later pamphlets uses either a highly formal style to propose an increasingly abstracted ideal of pure social reason, or he uses a style marked by extremely loosened syntax to indicate more explicitly how imaginary this ideal has become in a nation heading rapidly towards the misrule of unreason. Both styles assume, in effect, that an audience for Milton's revolutionary ideals no longer exists and that it would be futile, if not demeaning, to try to recreate such an audience. These antirhetorical and therefore antipolitical ways of writing come to fruition as the medium of the gallant last stand Milton staged for himself by publishing the second edition of The Readie and Easie Way only weeks before the Restoration; such contempt for political reality is the logical culmination of Milton's political life.


1 For Croll, see the collection by J. Max Patrick et al., Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm: Essays by Morris W. Croll (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966). Most of the subsequent studies have been concerned with conscious literary movements in which Milton did not participate. See among others those of R. F. Jones et al., The Seventeenth Century: Studies in the History of English Thought and Literature from Bacon to Pope (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1951); Robert Adolph, The Rise of Modern Prose Style (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1968); and Earl Miner, "Patterns of Stoicism in Thought and Prose Styles, 1530-1700," PMLA 85 (1970): 1023-34. The present study relies throughout upon Croll's discussion of the loose style, in "The Baroque Style in Prose," Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm, pp. 207-33. Although the evidence Miner has collected seriously questions some aspects of Croll's general view of seventeenth-century literary history, I do not think his article warrants "laying aside" (Miner, p. 1033) Croll's highly imaginative analyses of prose syntax.

2 It seems likely that in the first passage quoted here, Milton was thinking not only of the Fathers, but also of a variety of excesses in Elizabethan and seventeenth-century prose, including "the intricat, and involv'd sentences" often characteristic of the loose style.

3 George Williamson, The Senecan Amble: A Study in Prose Form from Bacon to Collier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 213 and n. 3.

4 K. G. Hamilton, "The Structure of Milton's Prose," in Language and Style in Milton: A Symposium in Honor of the Tercentenary of "Paradise Lost," ed. Ronald D. Emma and John T. Shawcross (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1967), p. 313. Richard Weaver, however, agrees with C. E. Vaughan's emphasis on the linear form of Milton's sentences. They are "shaped as the driving force of the thought requires," The Ethics of Rhetoric (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1953), p. 144.

5 L. C. Martin, ed., Sir Thomas Browne: Religio Medici and Other Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 3.

6 This passage is used for different purposes in Leonard Nathanson, The Strategy of Truth: A Study of Sir Thomas Browne (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 82-86.

7 On both appositions and trailing clauses, see Croll, Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm, p. 224.

8 Croli, Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm, p. 208: "[The anti-Ciceronian movement] preferred the forms that express the energy and labor of minds seeking the truth, not without dust and heat, to the forms that express a contented sense of the enjoyment and possession of it."

9 Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 2 vols. (New York: Everyman, 1965), 1:190-91.

10 In "Notes on Hooker's Prose," RES 15 (1939): 195-96, D. C. Boughner comments on Hooker's sense of rhythm and his "careful use of connective tissue" (here the "unto whom … by them" construction).

11 Ibid., p. 195.

12 It should be noted in passing that Milton agrees with Hooker about human inequality but differs significantly from him in his estimate of the people's capacity freely to choose as their governors men of "wisdome and integritie." Within a year (see below, pp. 26 and 123, n. 23) Milton was to lose a political faith which may seem naive but which at least confronts a problem left nicely obscure in Hooker's discussion by his orchestration of lovely prose harmonies: If "them who are to be governed" are in "the opinion of very great and judicious men … of a servile disposition," how can they "assent" to be governed by "the noble, wise, and virtuous"? How indeed can they make choices at all?

13 See William Haller, ed., Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution, 3 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1934), I:128-39; and William R. Parker, Milton's Contemporary Reputation (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1940), pp. 12-44.

14 See Godfrey Davies and William Haller, eds., The Leveller Tracts: 1647-1653 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), pp. 8, 35-37, 40-41, 48-49.

15 Davies and Haller, Leveller Tracts, pp. 20, 27, report that Milton was ordered by the Council of State to reply to one of the Leveller manifestos, The Second Part of Englands New Chains Discovered, but that he never did. They also quote, p. 32, Lilburne's favorable reference to a passage in the First Defence in which Milton admonishes Cromwell to uphold liberty. See also Don M. Wolfe, "Liburne's Note on Milton," MLN 56 (1941): 360-63.

16 Davies and Haller, Leveller Tracts, pp. 406-09.

17 Webber, Eloquent "I", p. 60.

18 See Webber, Eloquent "I", p. 61. The emergence of Lilburne's political principles from his concrete encounters with injustice is described in Don M. Wolfe, Milton in the Puritan Revolution (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1941), pp. 142-47.

19 Davies and Haller, Leveller Tracts, p. 140.

20 Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution: 1603-1714 (New York: Norton, 1966), pp. 126-27. The remainder of the present chapter relies heavily on Hill's interpretation of the revolutionary decades, pp. 119-44.

21 A. S. P. Woodhouse, ed., Puritanism and Liberty, Being the Army Debates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 53-54.

22 Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1972), p. 324. In the passage from which this description of Cromwell is extracted, Hill draws a parallel between Milton and Cromwell similar to the one I am developing: "Milton … combined radical intellectual convictions with patrician social prejudices, rather as Oliver Cromwell combined some genuinely radical religious beliefs with the normal social assumptions of a country gentleman."

23Eikon Basilike was published sixty times in 1649, Eikonoklastes only twice. See Francis F. Madan, A New Bibliography of the "Eikon Basilike " of King Charles the First (London: Quaritch, 1950), pp. 2-4. Summarized in PW, 111:150.

Richard Helgerson (essay date 1983)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Milton and the Sons of Orpheus," in Self-Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Johnson, Milton and the Literary System, University of California Press, 1983, pp. 185-88.

[In the essay below, Helgerson discusses Milton's role as laureate, a position which traditionally inhibited poetic creativity. Helgerson posits that Milton escaped this pitfall once he became less heedful of any obligations to the state, found his own voice, and fashioned a new self-presentation, as evidenced in Samson Agonites, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained.]

Literary autonomy is precisely what the works Milton produced in the 1640s and 1650s most obviously lack. By the time the 1645 volume was published, he had given up verse—even occasional verse. Only three of its poems, three sonnets, belong to the preceding five years. The other most recent English poem, Lycidas, dates all the way back to 1637, and the most recent work in Latin is the Epitaphium Damonis of 1640. In the meantime, Milton had turned to prose, finding there a use for the studies that had so far borne little poetic fruit. At first he was inclined to regard these controversial writings as labors of the left hand, works required of him by duty, but ill-suited to achieve the undying fame that was properly the laureate's meed. But early in the 1650s, following the execution of King Charles, the institution of the Commonwealth, and his own appointment as Latin Secretary to the Council of State, he began to think differently. If he was not a King's Poet, he was nevertheless the divinely inspired spokesman of the nation, and, as such, he was acting the laureate part for which he had so long prepared himself. In his Defense of the English People he had, he said, "performed … the service which [he] thought would be of most use to the commonwealth" and in doing so had erected a "monument which will not speedily perish."136 "It is not possible for me, nor can it ever be my desire, to ascribe to myself anything greater or more glorious."137 Responding to an opponent who had mocked him for his lack of renown, he wrote:

The truth is, I had learned to be long silent, to be able to forbear writing … and carried silently in my own breast what, if I had chosen then, as well as now, to bring forth, I could long since have gained a name. But I was not eager for fame, who is slow of pace…. It was not the fame of everything that I was waiting for, but the opportunity.138

Milton's development depended, to a degree unequaled by that of any previous laureate, on opportunity, on the chance of a favorable occasion. In the English revolution he found that opportunity—or so he thought.

He was mistaken. His Defense did not outlive the government for which it was written. Nor could it fairly have been expected to do so. Where Milton saw an epic account of the English struggle for liberty, later readers have been hard put to find more than a violently partisan diatribe heavily charged with ad hominem abuse, a book so dependent for its emphases and structure on the work of its opponent that it can scarcely claim an independent existence. Even a critic intent on tracing common aesthetic principles in the prose and the verse finds himself obliged to complain of "the disparity between Milton's ambitious claims for [the First Defense] and our feeling of disappointment at the delay, if not the squanderings, of his genius."139 That Milton should have erred in just this way is, however, not surprising. His mistake was the product of tendencies strong both in his generation and in the laureate tradition. I have said enough already of the preemption of the cavalier poets and their work by interests inimical to the maintenance of literary autonomy. Davenant's devotion to the royal court and its occasions and Cowley's to the Royal Society and its are but two signs of an erosion of autonomy that affected amateur, professional, and laureate alike. But even without the erasure of boundaries characteristic of his belated generation, Milton, as laureate, might have been susceptible to the blandishments of power—so long, that is, as he could convince himself of its legitimacy. The very process of differentiation by which the laureate defined and presented himself—a process whose result was enforced by the authoritative example of Virgil and by the Renaissance tradition of civic humanism—led him to make the reason of state the reason of his work. Already in earlier generations this inclination had decisively and, often, destructively manifested itself. Spenser's defense of English policy in Ireland went a long way toward ruining Book V of The Faerie Queene. Only the pastoral retreat of Book VI and the reintroduction of Colin Clout restored his poetic integrity, but that restoration was accomplished at considerable cost to his laureate identity. A similar inclination drew Drayton toward topography and Daniel toward history and prose. And from the same laureate sources came Jonson's abandonment of drama in favor of masque. To serve a monarch, or a policy, or simply a body of established fact, Spenser, Drayton, Daniel, and Jonson each gave up something of his artistic autonomy and with it the role of poet current among the amateurs and professionals of his own generation. But perhaps the most extreme example, and the one closest to Milton both in time and in partisan sympathy, is George Wither. Born in 1588, Wither renounced the pastoral and satiric guises of his youth to emerge in the early 1640s as the indefatigable poet, prophet, and pamphleteer of the English revolution. "Wither had," as one critic has remarked, "the ability to delight, but it deserted him when he decided that his duty was to teach. He is, in a sense, a casualty of Renaissance poetic—… of the Horatian, Sidneyan, Bartasian notion of the poet's function."140 Though a far more sophisticated interpreter of that notion, Milton too fell victim to it. Unlike Wither, he had the good sense to write his pamphlets in prose. But his good sense did not keep him from thinking those pamphlets the great work he was destined to produce—the great work that aftertimes would not willingly let die.

Had Milton stopped here, aftertimes would surely not have allowed him the laureate standing he claimed. As a poetry of promise, a poetry that constantly looks forward to something that it is not itself, the work collected in the Poems of 1645 depends for its richest resonance on a fulfillment that comes only with Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. Lacking that fulfillment, Milton's early verse would have remained unnoticed in his lifetime and might not have enjoyed even the posthumous attention accorded the work of such amateurs as Marvell, Crashaw, or Vaughan. But of course Milton did not stop. With the decline of the Commonwealth and the approaching defeat of the political and religious positions he had defended, his attitude again changed. Moved in part by the example of Cowley, Davenant, Fanshawe, and Benlowes, he returned to poetry and began work on the epic that was to be Paradise Lost, a poem that would acknowledge no patron but God. Gone was the expectation that the laureate's position depended on official recognition. "Not sedulous by nature to indite / Wars, hitherto the only argument / Heroic deemed," Milton shifted the action of the epic from the outer world of history to the inner world of the individual mind, to "the better fortitude / Of patience and heroic martyrdom," and made the poet responsible only to his own inspired vision (379). No longer was he prompted—as Spenser had been in The Faerie Queene, or Jonson in his masques, or he himself in his pamphlets—by reason of state. In the epilogue to the second edition of the Defension Prima, Milton used the term public reason to explain why he had written the book with such haste, pro eo ac ratio turn reipub. postulabat.141 In Paradise Lost, the term reappears in the mouth of Satan, who uses it to justify his temptation of Adam and Eve (287). The difference suggests the distance Milton traveled as laureate.

History, as Milton portrays it in the opening and concluding books of Paradise Lost, constitutes a series of betrayals, acts of individual and collective disobedience to God, countered in each age by one man chosen of God and obedient to his commands—"the one just man alive,"

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Josiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were such men, and so too were Samson and Jesus, the protagonists of Milton's last poems. It is in this line that Milton inscribes himself. Once again the chosen people have betrayed their sacred trust, and once again the just man of God has risen up "in darkness and with dangers compassed round" to illustrate and justify God's ways. Though an epic poet, he is an epic poet with a difference. He imitates the genealogical-historical catalogues of Virgil, Ariosto, Spenser, and Camoens, but, where they celebrated a family, a race, or a nation and led to the glory of a particular patron, he records the sins of humanity and leads to the coming of Christ. He has no other patron.

The laureate's new isolation from the institutions of power shapes the presentation and substance of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, as it did those of their predecessor. Like Paradise Lost and unlike virtually all other previous laureate verse, these works appear with no sign of a connection between poet and state. Rather, they ignore the political dispensation under which their author lived and express contempt for any change that is not also a change in heart. Jesus disdains an earthly kingdom and Samson, though a hero of action rather than of suffering, knows that his deeds can deliver Israel only if Israel is inwardly prepared to accept deliverance. "The deeds themselves, though mute, [speak] loud the doer" (557). Inspired deeds have a self-presentational value. But "in nations grown corrupt"—and from Milton's point of view such corruption has characterized most of human history, including finally the history of his own time—they are likely to have no other effect.

Milton's laureate self-fashioning deeply informs each of these last poems. Paradise Regained, as I have already suggested, draws on the experience of his early years, on the experience of the great young man, sure of his calling but unsure how to fulfill it. In a similar manner, Samson Agonistes reflects the experience of the older man whose work in the cause of liberty had failed to achieve its expected end and who seemed denied a second chance.142 The crisis of his defeat, his blindness, and his captivity forces Samson, as the crisis of 1660 must have forced Milton, to review the signs of his vocation. Can this be what was meant? "Why," Samson asks,

Like Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes discovers a gap between the apparent meaning of the signs of special election and the situation in which the protagonist finds himself, a gap between God's plan and man's understanding.

Milton had known such a gap in the development of his own career. At various times in the years that stretched between the first announcement of his laureate ambition and the writing of Paradise Lost, he must have felt that the "one talent which is death to hide," was, as he said in reflecting on his blindness, "lodged with me useless" (168). Though he was always eager to serve therewith his maker and present his true account, the means of service were often lacking. At first the literary tradition failed him. What use was a great poetic talent in an age when poetry had lost its autonomy, when there remained nothing for the poet to do but demonstrate stylistic virtuosity while adorning the ordinary occasions of public and private life, nothing for him to be but another son of Orpheus? And then the cavalier world was swept away by a revolution in church and state, a revolution that made demands on him no less destructive of his laureate purpose. What use a great poetic talent in an age that required prose? Neither the Caroline peace of the 1630s nor the civil war and Puritan Commonwealth of the 1640s and 1650s provided a way of achieving a laureate career, a way of being at once poet, prophet, and spokesman of the governing order.

Never was Milton able to combine all three functions. But sometime in the late 1650s he began to forge a new role for the laureate based exclusively on the functions of poet and prophet. No longer need the laureate model himself on "wise Demodocus" singing "at King Alcinous' feast" (31) or on Virgil reading to Augustus. Henceforth exile and alienation would be the signs of his calling. Elements of this new role begin appearing in Milton's work as early as the Nativity Ode, but only much later do they come together to constitute an altered idea of the laureate poet. What we have commonly ignored has been the difficulty of that coming together and, more particularly, the way in which Milton's generational position contributed both to the problem and to its solution. As the coeval of Davenant and Cowley, Milton suffered from the diminished autonomy of poetry, and, as their coeval, he wrote Paradise Lost.

Like Spenser and Jonson, though with still greater effect, Milton inscribed in the text of our culture a new self-presentational message. And, like them, he did so by placing himself in a strongly marked historical sequence—or rather, in his case, at the converging point of two such sequences, one of vatic poets, the other of Biblical prophets. The very weakness of his own literary generation, its insufficiency as foundation for a great poetic career, required that such diachronic pointers be all the more emphatic. But for all his explicit emphasis on his likeness to and his rivalry with the prophets and poets of Hebrew and pagan antiquity, Milton, like his Elizabethan and Jacobean forebears, also related himself, however unobtrusively, to his literary contemporaries. As we have already noticed, Paradise Lost resembles the heroic poems of the cavaliers at so many points that it comes finally to seem the fulfillment of a generational ambition. Such resemblance was not, however, what his contemporaries were quickest to notice. They were struck rather by the differences that lifted Milton above his age. The most obvious of these was that unsociable avoidance of rime to whose significance I earlier alluded. It alone would have sufficed to put Milton in a class apart not only from the cavaliers but also from their younger, Restoration followers—including, as Marvell pointed out, both the newly appointed "Town-Bayes," John Dryden, and Marvell himself.

I too transported by the mode offend, And while I meant to praise thee must commend. Thy verse created like thy theme sublime, In number, weight, and measure, needs not rime.(210)

As Marvell here suggests, the neglect of rime was caught up in a still more powerful—more powerful because more pervasive and less obviously intended—sign of Milton's unique eminence: his sublimity. Other poets of his generation—Davenant and Cowley among them—had striven for such elevation. Milton alone achieved it. So convincing is that achievement that even now we are more likely to read it as symptom than as sign, as a reflection of Milton's nature rather than as a conventional construct whose meaning derives from a socially determined and largely arbitrary play of signifiers and signifieds. But nature does not make one arrangement of words lofty and another low, nor does it decide which will say "laureate." In 1579 Spenser's homely shepherd talk conveyed this meaning. In 1616 Jonson's epigrammatic middle style did it. And in 1667 it took Milton's Latinate sublimity. What unites these radically differing modes is the dialectical relation each had to the poetic idiom of its author's generation.

Self-presentation is inevitably the reflex of a particular moment—even when the moment seems as unpropitious as Milton's. The differences by which the self declares its identity must necessarily be located in a synchronie system, in a communally established sense of social reality, a sense renewed and revised with each successive generation. The aspiring laureate comes on stage, his mind filled with lines that in earlier ages have served Homer or Virgil or Horace, only to find that the script has changed, that the laureate part has been eliminated or must be played in a costume and with gestures that utterly transform it. Yet such transformation is precisely what the laureate in his devotion to a fixed standard of moral worth can least afford to admit. No wonder that Jonson's work is riven by irreconcilable paradox, that Spenser's ends in a sustained meditation on mutability, or that Milton's turns repeatedly to the uncertainties of greatness in history. Whatever the answer, the question could not be avoided. How in this generation can I respond to the laureate summons my talent imposes on me, and how can I make my high office known?


136 Milton, Works, VIII, 253.

137 Milton, Works, VIII, 19.

138 Quoted by Parker, Reputation, p. 32.

139 Thomas Kranidas, The Fierce Equation: A Study of Milton's Decorum (The Hague: Mouton, 1965), p. 82. For other similar complaints about the First Defense, see Samuel L. Wolff, "Milton's 'Advocatum Nescio Quern,'" MLQ, 2 (1941), 559; James Holly Hanford, A Milton Handbook, 4th ed. (New York: Crofts, 1946), p. 110; and E. M. W. Tillyard, Milton (1930; rev. ed. London: Chatto, 1966), p. 159.

140 Joan Grundy, The Spenserian Poets (London: Edward Arnold, 1969), p. 161. Grundy draws on an important article by Allan Pritchard, "George Wither: The Poet as Prophet," SP, 59 (1962), 211-230. Both Grundy's chapter and Pritchard's article discuss Wither in terms very suggestive for the student of laureate self-presentation. Christopher Hill has recently examined the similarities in career and ideas between Milton and Wither. See "George Wither and John Milton," in English Renaissance Studies, Presented to Dame Helen Gardner, ed. John Carey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), pp. 212-227.

141 Milton, Works, VII, 554.

142 See Frank Kermode, "Milton in Old Age," The Southern Review, n.s. 11 (1975), 513-529.

Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Barker, Arthur. "The End of the Good Monarchy" in his Milton and the Puritan Dilemma, 1641-1660." Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1942, pp. 123-33.

Discusses Milton's "moderate Puritanism" as the basis for his political writings, focusing on the years 1649-54, and Milton's views on the relationship between church and state.

Davies, Stevie. Images of Kingship in Paradise Lost: Milton's Politics and Christian Liberty. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983, 248p.

Focuses on Milton's use of images of kingship as an important allegorical symbol in his epic and Milton draws on different models of kingship from different cultures.

Fogle, French R. "Milton as Historian" in Milton and Clarendon: Two Papers on 17th Century English Historiography presented at a seminar held at the Clark Library on December 12, 1964, by French R.. Fogle and H. R. Trevor-Roper. Los Angeles: University of California, 1965, pp. 1-18.

Discusses Milton's understanding of the importance of history and his methodology: provides an overview of His training and reading in history, the influence of classical history and medieval church history, his changing views on the role of providence and the role of divine will, at end article criticizes Milton for being backwards in his methodology.

Geisst, Charles R. "History and Society" from his The political Thought of John Milton. London: MacMillan, 1984, pp. 39-51.

Discusses Milton's view of history and knowledge and how virtuous political action and not just having knowledge is what counts.

Milner, Andrew. John Milton and the English Revolution: A Study in the Sociology of Literature. London: MacMillan, 1981, pp. 235-42.

Contains many bibliographic references to studies of Milton by Marxist critics.

Hill, Christopher. "Eikonoklastes and Idolatry" in his Milton and the English Revolution. New York: Viking , 1977, pp. 171-81.

Discussion of the Eikonoklastes as Milton's response to the puplication of the Eikon Basilike after Charles I, focusing on Milton's antipathy to idolatry and its papist origins, and Milton's defense of Protestantism for it's prohibition on worshipping graven images.

Lowenstein, David. "'An Ambiguous Monster'": Representing Rebellion in Milton's Polemics and Paradise Lost. The Huntington Library Quarterly. Vol. 55, No.2 (Spring 1992): 295-315.

Examines Milton's complex treatment of the theme of rebellion with a focus on the political tracts of 1649 and Paradise Lost.

Patrides, C. A. An Annotated Critical Bibliography of John Milton. Brighton, Sussex: 1987, 200 p.

Guide to Milton criticism.

Richmond, Hugh M. The Christian Revolutionary. Berkely: University of California Press, 1974, 204 p.

Examines Milton's writings from the view of their responsiveness to the political and theological issues of his time.

Rogers, John. "Milton and the Mysterious Terms of History" from his The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996, pp. 144-176.

Discusses roles of providence and free will in Paradise Lost focusing on historical agency and Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.

Schifforst, Gerald J. John Milton. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Bibliographic guide to critical and biographical books on Milton and his works.

Sharratt, Bernard. The Appropriation of Milton" in Essays & Studies 1982: The Poet's Power, edited by Suheil Bushrui, pp. 30-44. London: John Murray, 1982.

Brief study of Milton's impact on later generations of readers and his influence on the development of literary criticism; also discusses Milton's own notion of "the poet".

Snider, Alvin S. Origin and Authority in Seventeenth-Century England: Bacon, Milton, Butler. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994, 286 p.

Discusses Milton's attitude toward both secular and divine authority.

Wilding, Michael. "Milton's Early Radicalism" in his Dragons Teeth: Literature in the English Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987, pp. 7-27.

Discussion of Milton's early poetry, particularly his Poems of 1645—examination of the tension between Milton's desire to present a conservative front yet radical political impulses are present in his early poetry.

Joan S. Bennett (essay date 1989)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Satan and King Charles: Milton's Royal Portraits," in Reviving Liberty: Radical Christian Humanism in Milton's Great Poems, Harvard University Press, 1989, pp. 33-58.

[Below, Bennett discusses Milton's response to the Eikon Basi like, the fraudulent prison reflections of Charles I, and Milton's use of Satan to represent Charles I in his writings.]

Milton's conception in Paradise Lost of the fall of Lucifer has always been recognized as political in nature. Because of the poet's twenty years' service to the English revolutionary cause, his readers have sought to understand what relation Milton saw between human and demonic revolution and rule. Romantic attempts to link his God with Charles I as monarchs and Satan with Cromwell and Milton as revolutionaries1 are widely considered to have been mistaken, although Christopher Kendrick's recent effort to "read the epic Satan as the symbolic expression or fulfillment of Milton's revolutionary desire," his "political libido," assumes an "undoubtedly" established "analogy between God's monarchy and the [Stuart] absolutist monarchy."2 Merritt Hughes and Stevie Davies have pointed out the many allusions in the poem that associate Satan, not with revolutionaries, but with the notorious tyrannical rulers of human history.3 Hughes was wary of comparing King Charles with Satan because of the danger of turning Paradise Lost into a roman à clef. Although Paradise Lost is not a political allegory, Charles was the tyrant with whose ways Milton was most familiar, whose actions and motivations he had devoted crucial years to depicting and analyzing.

It is important to realize the extent to which the King Charles of the prose pamphlets was Milton's own literary creation. The tract in which Milton began Charles's character development in a sustained way is Eikonoklastes.4 It was his answer to the royalist Eikon Basilike, a publication appearing shortly after Charles's execution that attempted to picture him as a Christlike martyr-king. Concerned with counteracting the great popular impact of the Eikon, Milton recognized that what moved the people in the royalist work was not any power of logical argument or historical accuracy but a fictional character with an emotional rhetorical appeal. He suggests this when he pauses at one point in Eikonoklastes to respond to the Eikon's style: "The Simily wherwith he begins I was about to have found fault with, as in a garb somwhat more Poetical than for a Statist: but meeting with many straines of like dress in other of his Essaies, and hearing him reported a more diligent reader of Poets, than of Politicians, I begun to think that the whole Book might perhaps be intended a peece of Poetrie. The words are good, the fiction smooth and cleanly" (CPW 3:406). To answer the Eikon's interpretation of the king's role in the civil war, Milton drew his own character study of the king, based on this historical plot—not as a Christian martyr, but as a tyrant and usurper of divine authority. This task required that, unlike Eikon Alethine, the other well-known parliamentary answer to the King's Book,5 Milton's reply regard Charles as the Eikon's real author and that, unlike the parliamentary historians from whom he drew his factual information, he assign full responsibility for all the royalist actions to the king himself.

George W. Whiting notices the different stress in the treatments by Milton and the parliamentary historian Thomas May of responsibility for the events of the war. Typical are the contrasting discussions of the royalist plot to free the Earl of Strafford, condemned by Parliament for treason, from the Tower of London and then to invade England with a French and Irish army. Whereas May's History goes at length into the roles of all the conspirators, Milton's treats the plot as the king's. The king, he says, was "soon after found to have the chief hand in a most detested conspiracy against the Parlament and Kingdom … that his intention was to rescue the Earle of Strafford, by seizing on the Towre of London." Compare May's description, which begins in the passive voice—"For to prevent the Earle of Straffords death, an escape for him out of the Tower was contrived. To further which … a great conspiracy was entred into by many Gentlemen of ranke and quality"—and which goes at length into all the conspirators' roles, saying of the king only that he was "privy to this conspiracy," not that he directed it. May was writing a general history; Milton was exposing a central character.6 Thus, Milton explains in his Preface, "what is properly his own guilt, not imputed any more to his evil Counsellors, (a Ceremony us'd longer by the Parlament then he himself desir'd) shall be laid heer without circumlocutions at his own dore" (CPW 3:341).

Eikonoklastes, Milton's "Idol-breaker," is a study of the true nature of a character already, in Milton's view, fictionalized, either by the king himself or by a royalist author, for the purpose of carrying on a real tyranny in life. But to tackle the problem in this way was to write another fiction; not, to be sure, to tell a lie—the "plot" in each account was literally true—but to reveal the leading character's nature in a depth that could be known only by his creator. Because Milton's treatment of Charles as a fictional character originates in the confines of pamphlet debates that require answering one's opponent point by point, it occurs in pieces as a sketch containing some direct dramatization and considerable abstract analysis. Though the character study is not sustainedly worked out, it achieves moments of depth, very valuable as answers to what was for Milton, if not for all of his political colleagues, a question at the core of the controversies: Who is a tyrant? What motivates him? confuses him? perverts him? strengthens him? gives him his power over others? Developed in Eikonoklastes, the sketch that answers these questions is extended in Milton's Defences of the English People, and these prose works provide an illuminating gloss on the role of Satan and of tyranny in Milton's poem.

The fundamental similarity between Charles and Satan can be understood by analyzing their claims to divine right to power. Whereas seventeenth-century royalists argued that the English king was a representative of God's power, Milton argued that the man Charles was, like Satan, a usurper of that power. The comparison occurs, for example, when Milton criticizes Charles's violations of religious liberty: "He [King Charles] calls the conscience Gods sovrantie, why then doth he contest with God about that supreme title? … usurping over spiritual things, as Lucifer beyond his sphere" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:501-02). Though Charles had not possessed the full strength of Satan, he had been, in Milton's view, a servant of the archrebel. When a state is governed tyrannically, "those in authority are both human and fiendish…. Thus, the fiend is termed prince of this world; and in Revelation 13 the Dragon gave the beast his own dominion and throne and mighty power" (A Defence, CPW 4, pt. 1:384). Although the beast was not equal to the Dragon in magnitude or complexity, the imitator shared traits with his model; and a tyrant like Charles was an imitator and servant of the devil. Accordingly, we should not be surprised to find paralles between Milton's prose treatment of Charles and his poetic portrait of Satan. Just as Milton turned the literal devil into a literary character, so also did he subject the historical king to the power of his artist's imagination. An understanding of the parallels between the tyrants of prose and poetry can sharpen our perception of the appropriateness of certain details in the poem—in imagery and in characterization—and it can further illuminate Milton's thematic conception of true political liberty in the archetypal revolutions that the poem dramatizes.

In his portraits of Satan and Charles, Milton uses imagery to reveal and comment on aspects of their characters. One such image, possessing complex and powerful associations for the character of a ruler, is the sun. The sun has a specific and controversial symbolism in seventeenth-century political writing. Believers in the divine right of kings argued by analogy from the chain of being that, as one God rules absolutely over heaven, one father over a family, and one sun over the planets, so one king should rule absolutely over England. Milton, however, explaining that the royalists were employing a false analogy, argued from the same chain of being, but by a more complex logic: The right to exercise power belongs to those whom nature has given power to exercise. God, since he created and sustains the universe, naturally has power over it; the sun by its nature imparts life-giving influence on the earth and so naturally controls her fertility; nature has given a father power to beget sons. But no one man can create or has been created as essential to the life of all other men; and a king does not have the power to create his subjects. In fact, just the opposite occurs. The people, by virtue of the power of self-government in creatures made rational in God's image, together create a governor whose power is lent him as custodian of the law, not inherent in his person or absolute, a governor who is the people's servant and natural inferior—natural according to the true operation of the chain of being.

When the king claimed divine right, he was, in Milton's view, claiming absurdly to break the chain of being itself, to act as only one with divine perfection could, to think himself God. Thus, when the Eikon Basilike had Charles compare his royal prerogative to the sun's light, Milton drew the analogy out ad absurdum to point out the overwhelming egotism of the man whose reasoning about his prerogative could be led so far astray by his desire for power. If Charles were, as the Eikon claimed, the sun and father and if Parliament his co-ruler, were the earth receiving his influence, then this mixture of metaphors would have to be reconciled with Parliament's genuine role as the king's mother, since the people, whom she represents, out of their own inherent power of self-government create the king: "And if it hath bin anciently interpreted the presaging signe of a future Tyrant, but to dream of copulation with his Mother, what can it be less than actual Tyranny to affirme waking, that the Parlament, which is his Mother, can neither conceive or bring forth any autoritative Act without his Masculine coition: Nay that his reason is as Celestial and life-giving to the Parlament, as the Suns influence is to the Earth: What other notions but these, or such like, could swell up Caligula to think himself a God" (CPW 3:467).

In response to the king's attempted use of the royalist sun symbol to claim that there will follow for the people "much horror and bad influence after his [own] eclipse," Milton assigns the sun a different meaning, one that removes from Charles's character a false symbolic prop and that judges him: "He speakes his wishes: But they who by weighing prudently things past, foresee things to come, the best Divination, may hope rather all good success and happiness by removing that darkness which the mistie cloud of his prerogative made between us and a peacefull Reformation, which is our true Sun light, and not he, though he would be tak'n for our sun it self" (CPW 3:455). And when the Eikon's Charles envisions his future glory, foreseeing "much honour and reputation that like the Sun shall rise and recover it self to such a Splendour," Milton insists that "those black vailes of his own misdeeds" will "keep his face from shining" (CPW 3:502).

Holding in mind Milton's prose use of the sun's political significance to reveal the tyrannical character of Charles, his mania for power, and his warped analogical reasoning, we may turn to book 1 of Paradise Lost, where the fallen Satan is described as an eclipsed sun in a simile that refers us to the fate of earthly rulers. Satan stands before his troops, "As when the Sun … from behind the Moon / In dim Eclipse disastrous twilight sheds / On half the Nations, and with fear of change / Perplexes Monarchs" (594-99). Charles II's censor, presumably reading the poem with the royalist king/sun symbolism in mind, is said to have taken these lines as a threat to the new king, veiled in the traditional interpretation of an eclipse by monarchs who think of themselves as ruling on earth as the sun rules the heavens. However, the political references to the sun that Milton provides in the poem actually develop a concept of government's relation to the chain of being that is more literal and logical than the simple correspondence assumed by seventeenth-century royalists and by Milton's Charles and his Satan. In book 2, lines 488-95, Satan is again compared to the sun, this time the setting sun, which gives temporary, but "false presumptuous hope" (521). In book 3, after Satan has confirmed his intention never to submit to the rule of God, Milton abandons the traditional analogy and describes him as a spot or blemish on the surface of the literal sun (588-90). Thus, in the first three books, Milton leads us away from a false analogy between the physical power of the sun and the governing power of a rational creature. A false ruler, he implies, can be compared (like the Charles of Eikonoklastes) to a sun that fails to shine with the light given it. But a true ruler is genuinely comparable to the shining sun only if he does not claim absolute power (the claim of "prerogative" is what darkens the sun)—just as the literal sun has no absolute power over earth apart from its physical light. The ruler's "light," like the sun's, comes from God, whose vehicle he is; and the light originates not in the personal character of the ruler but in God's law and spirit (in "a peacefull Reformation"). Once we are aware of the use Milton made of the controversial sun symbolism in his prose sketch of Charles, we can recognize an invitation from the poet for us to compare the fallen Satan's and the unfallen Adam's addresses to the sun in books 4 and 5.

As Lucifer in heaven, while he kept God's law, Satan had shone as the brightest star, crowned with "surpassing Glory." When he defied divine law, which his personal abilities were created to execute, and claimed a right to "sole Dominion," Satan removed the ground for a genuine sun/ruler analogy and substituted instead Charles's royalist basis for comparison, in which the ruler is like a god. In his confession of despair at the beginning of book 4, Satan cannot remove the royalist analogy from his tortured mind, even when he is forced by his defeat to recognize that he himself can no longer stand as the object of even this comparison:

By contrast, instead of attributing absolute power to the sun in its realm, "like the God" in his, and then claiming an analogous power for his human rule over earth, Adam's right reasoning about his own role as God's creature leads him to recognize the sun for what it literally is: the creation of a divine ruler, the vehicle for light created and given by God, who, as source of all, is the only holder of "sole Dominion":

In this passage Adam's words "Acknowledge him thy Greater … when thou climb'st" as well as "when thou fall'st" may be read as the poem's actual political admonition, based on a true analogy between the sun and a human ruler. It is a comparison that fundamentally undermines, as the censor feared, the Stuart claim to rule by denying the validity of the doctrine of the divine right of kings.

Turning from metaphor to characterization, we may inquire what Milton saw in the makeup of a ruler that leads the ruler to claim the right to absolute power. In the portraits of both Charles and Satan, we may discover behind the false idea of a governor a corrupted idea of heroism. The power gotten by such a hero, who seeks personal glory rather than service to God, is employed, once it has been gained, in a wrong sort of rule over others. Four prose passages in which Milton exposes the false heroism of King Charles serve as commentary on this issue in Paradise Lost, where Satan's false heroism, rightly understood, is, like Charles's, criminality. What gives the appearance of courage is really a "hardened heart"; it is the despair resulting from a total commitment to ambition, from a perversion of God-given strength to self-service. Although deeds of great daring are undertaken, ambition and then despair, never courage, overcome the fear attending risk. The resulting appearance of heroism, however, can easily deceive an unwary judge of character, as in book 1 of Paradise Lost.

There, recognizing that Satan after his fall from heaven is in a state of spiritual death (see Milton's definition in the Christian Doctrine, CPW 4:393-98, of the first two degrees of death), we can sharpen our awareness of Satan's spiritual state by comparing his rousing of his troops, often admired by readers of Paradise Lost, with the following discussion of Charles's behavior, also admired, at his trial and execution. For both Satan and Charles, when they faced judgment and death at the hands of their enemies, a true courage should result in confession and repentance. What Milton portrays in each, however, is a false courage which results in the donning of a self-righteous dramatic mask. Milton interprets the psychology of the king's fake courage in this passage from A Defence: "Do not pay too much heed to that presence of mind so often manifested by the commonest criminals at their death; frequently desperation or a hardened heart gives, like a mask, an appearance of courage, as dullness does of peace. In death as in life, even the worst of men wish to seem good, fearless, innocent, or even holy, and, in the very hour of execution for their crimes, they will, for the last time, display as showily as possible their fraudulent pretence, and, like the most tasteless of writers or actors, strive madly for applause as the curtain falls" (CPW 4, pt. l:508).7

Like this disguised desperation at judgment, such criminals' heroic mask in battle has been projected not by a true courage ready for self-sacrifice but by ambition's deluded hopes for personal glory. With this distinction between the appearance and the reality in mind, recall the "acts of oblivion" of God in the war in heaven by which feats of war performed by the rebel angels were not recorded; then consider the explanation that such acts were done "to give the World an example, that glorious deeds don to ambitious ends, find reward answerable, not to their outward seeming, but to thir inward ambition." The latter judgment refers actually to the case of the Hothams (father and son), who, under great risk, betrayed the parliamentary cause to the king and were caught and executed by Parliament for treason (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:429-30). But it applies readily to the ambitious angels; and in fact the issue comes full circle as the poem, speaking of Satan's bravery, refers us back to the world of men:

The sin-based courage that supplies the strength for the aspiring tyrant's "specious deeds" in battle has a counterpart in his behavior in defeat. The coin of false heroism that has on the one side the indomitable warrior has on its other side the equally dangerous power-seeking image of the great sufferer. "The mind and spirit remains / Invincible" (1.139-40) was Beelzebub's response to Satan's vaunt "What though the field be lost? / All is not lost: the unconquerable Will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate,/ And courage never to submit or yield" (1.105-08). The same had been boasted by the English royalists of their leader: "he had a soule invincible." Milton retorted: "But he had a soule invincible. What praise is that? The stomach of a Child is ofttimes invincible to all correction. The unteachable man hath a soule to all reason and good advice invincible; and he who is intractable, he whom nothing can perswade, may boast himself invincible; whenas in some things to be overcome is more honest and laudable then to conquer" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:434). Charles was, according to Milton's portrait, the "unteachable man" and Satan the unteachable angel (see Paradise Lost 2.9). And when the king's defenders resorted to the other side of their hero's image to claim tragic stature for him, saying, "A glorious King he would be, though by his sufferings" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:435), Milton offered a counterinterpretation of Charles's sufferings, which applies equally to Satan, who claims his right to rule by his willingness to endure the "Greatest share / Of endless pain" (2.29-30) and who must win "the high repute" "through hazard huge" (2.472-73). The genuine glory of a tragic sacrifice, Milton argued against such claims, "can never be put to him whose sufferings are his own doings" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:435).

The point becomes even clearer when we see how each tyrant tries to use his own suffering, the very punishment for his crimes, as proof not only of greatness but of innocence. When Charles disclaimed guilt for the devastation wrought by the Irish rebellion "because he hath the greatest share of loss and dishonour by what is committed," Milton treated that fact as an irony of the plot. Far from proving Charles's innocence, it proved only this about the nature of evil—that it cannot stop, though it knows it will suffer: "Who is there that offends God or his Neighbour, on whom the greatest share of loss and dishonour lights not in the end? But in the act of doing evil, men use not to consider the event of thir evil doing: or if they doe, have then no power to curb the sway of thir own wickedness. So that the greatest share of loss and dishonour to happ'n upon themselves, is no argument that they were not guilty" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:478). The same evaluation of the criminal's suffering underlies Gabriel's answer to Satan at the end of book 4, when the fallen angel, flaunting his suffering in an effort to belittle the "inexperience" of the loyal host, claims by having hazarded all, through ways of danger, to have been "a faithful leader":

O sacred name of faithfulness profan'd! Faithful to whom? to thy rebellious crew? Army of Fiends, fit body to fit head; Was this your discipline and faith ingag'd, Your military obedience, to dissolve Allegiance to th' acknowledg'd Power supreme?(4.951-56)

For a historical case parallel to Charles's, Milton chose that, which he and other revolutionaries often repeated, of Pharoah, who for the purported welfare of his people persecuted the Israelites, but in the end incurred for his people and himself the greatest suffering (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:516). In the language of Scripture, Milton explained the psychology of sin: "But whom God hard'ns, them also he blinds." That Satan, like Charles, calls down on himself his own suffering is implied by the simile in book 1 describing the fallen legions scattered on the burning lake, like sedge

Afloat, when with fierce Winds Orion arm'd Hath vext the Red-Sea Coast, whose waves o'erthrewBusiris and his Memphian Chivalry, While with perfidious hatred they pursu'd The Sojourners of Goshen, who beheld From the safe shore thir floating Carcasses And broken Chariot Wheels; so thick bestrown Abject and lost lay these.(1.305-12)

Seen with the eyes of truth, Satan and the fallen angels are abject and lost; but, guided by perfidious hatred of that truth, they seek in hell and the newly created world the mastery they could not gain in heaven.

The false core of both Milton's tyrants' seeming bravery in battle and defeat reveals itself also in the covert means each will use in his quest for power. This is the method of treachery and appears, like false valor in battle, disguised in a heroic mask as a kind of nobility designed to retain the loyalty and submission of the tyrant's followers. Satan and Charles move in their plan of attack "from violence to craft." Satan, after his martial defeat in heaven, has Beelzebub propose the "easier enterprise" of corrupting the "puny habitants" of earth. Charles praised his own action in seeking negotiations after battle as "retiring from bestial force to human reason." But Milton insisted, in interpreting the king's act and self-defense, that "men may Treat like Beasts as well as fight" and that false negotiating "hath no more commendation in it then from fighting to come to undermining, from violence to craft, and when they can no longer doe as Lions, to doe as Foxes" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:520-21). Milton created a symbol from the imagery of the historical setting as he went on to point out, after Charles had promised for treaty's sake not to advance farther, "taking the advantage of a thick Mist, which fell that evening, weather that soon invited him to a designe no less treacherous and obscure; he follows at the heels of those Messengers of Peace with a traine of covert Warr" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:522). "That perfidious mist" (528), which in Milton's prose invited Charles to a scheme no less treacherous and obscure than its own physical nature, has the same appropriateness in its use for Satan's entry into the Garden of Eden. In book 9 we see him appear from the underground river "involv'd in rising Mist" (75) and watch him search for the serpent "through each Thicket Dank or Dry, / Like a black mist low creeping" (179-80). Mist in the poem is a symbolic and literal cover for hypocrisy, as Satan tries to hide from the guardian angels:

Perhaps he, like Charles, "thought that mist could hide him from the eye of Heav'n as well as of Man" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 4:528).

Milton has the two tyrants further reveal the baseness and intensity of their real motive for seeking power as they willingly degrade themselves in order to defend their purported glory. Of Charles's abortive and humiliating attempt to surprise and arrest five members of the House of Commons, Milton explains, "it discover'd in him an excessive eagerness to be aveng'd on them that cross'd him; and that to have his will, he stood not to doe things never so much below him" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:379). Satan understands this aspect of his own psychology when he acknowledges the baseness of his attack on Adam and Eve: "But what will not Ambition and Revenge / Descend to?" (9.168-69).

Of very great importance to both of Milton's character portraits is the conclusion, in which the false core of all the bravery and eloquence of each of his subjects is revealed unequivocally to his audience as being not only terrible but laughable. In a concerted effort to counteract the martyr image of Charles projected by the Eikon, Milton urged that it could hardly "be thought upon (though how sad a thing) without som kind of laughter … that he who had trampl'd over us so stately and so tragically should leave the world at last so ridiculously in his exit, as to bequeath among his Deifying friends that stood about him such a pretious peece of mockery to be publisht by them, as must needs cover both his and their heads with shame and confusion" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:364). This is a reference to the plagiarized "Pamela prayer" of Eikon Basilike and reveals why Milton wanted to make such an issue of it.8 Evil in a character must eventually expose itself to ridicule, so that we finally see it for what it is and distance ourselves from its influence. But does not this passage sound like a paraphrase of the passage in book 10 of Paradise Lost where Satan returns victorious from a fallen Eden to his "Deifying friends" in hell? There the fallen angels gather with a great hunger for words of glory and fulfillment and are offered instead "Fruitage fair to sight, like that which grew / Near that bituminous Lake where Sodom flam'd" (561-62). The fruit replaces Satan's words, now hisses ("shame / Cast on themselves from thir own months" [546-47]), with their material equivalent: fruit beautiful in form, but rotten in substance. So too Milton describes Charles's fair-sounding words as resembling the apples of Sodom: "These pious flourishes and colours examin'd thoroughly, are like the Apples of Asphaltis, appearing goodly to the sudden eye, but look well upon them, or at least but touch them, and they turne into Cinders" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:552).9

Such resemblances in metaphor and characterization between Milton's portrayal of Charles and his portrayal of Satan suggest that the two characters' beliefs about the governing power they seek should be compared. What does Milton reveal to be the philosophical fault underlying this image of the invincible, suffering hero? "To be weak is miserable / Doing or Suffering," Satan asserts; and the strength of the hero, "doing or suffering," is what both sides of the false heroic image offer for admiration, even though, as Milton argues in his own voice, "in some things to be overcome is more honest and laudable then to conquer." The rebel angels' strength-worship is pointed out by Christ when, entering the battle in heaven, he tells the loyal angels that though they have proved their moral virtue in battle, the Father has assigned the rebels' doom to him:

That they may have thir wish, to try with mee In Battle which the stronger proves, they all, Or I alone against them, since by strength They measure all, of other excellence Not emulous, nor care who them excels.(6.818-22)

With this reference to an unnatural separation of "strength" from "other excellence" we are at what Milton reveals to be the heart of both rebellions against the power of God.

Milton held the divine right argument to be false not only when it compared rulers' natural rights to govern but also when it compared the way an absolute monarch may govern with the way God governs—which is not absolutely, by arbitrary will, but justly, by subjecting both himself and the governed to law. The royalists urged philosophical acceptance of a paradox whereby all men are created in God's image and yet one man with absolute power is set by God over the others as a king whose service, like God's, is "perfect freedom."10 Milton believed, however, that such a "paradox" was simple injustice, impossible to believe of the Christian God, and was in fact to be resolved as follows: The mistake in the royalists' belief in the king's absolute power lay in assuming God's omnipotence to be his primary attribute, to which his justice must be mysteriously reconciled. Milton claimed, on the contrary, that God's primary attribute is goodness, which demands that all other attributes, including strength, be reconciled to it. Arguments from "divine" right in support of human tyranny, he said, revealed no Christian faith at their base, but a "barbarism" which worships "as gods malevolent demons whom they cannot exorcise" (Second Defence, CPW, 4, pt. 1:551). Such demonic powers would be fearful, but they would not be worthy of either obedience or emulation; and the superstitious acceptance by Charles's followers of God as such a deity is what enables them to make an idol in this world—as a third of heaven did once—of a being that seems to share the prized attribute of power. If people worship a God because of his omnipotence, they have no defense against human tyranny. If they worship God because of his justice, however, they have no excuse for accepting human tyranny.

In Paradise Lost we witness the original of this mistaken faith in sheer, undefined strength, first tested in Satan's fatal effort "to set himself in Glory above his Peers." The false premises of Satan's strength-worship have misled critics of the poem in two ways. On the one hand, it has been said in attempted defense of Satan's morality that Milton showed him to have been right in attempting revolution because, until the war in heaven, God had unfairly kept his power hid: "till then as one secure / Sat on his Throne … but still his strength conceal'd, / Which tempted our attempt" (1.638-42). Others, reasoning that Satan must have known of God's omnipotence even without having seen it, have found Satan's original motivation to revolt implausible.

Although it is true that God had never, before Satan's revolt, revealed to the angels his power to destroy, it is not true that the angels had no evidence of God's greatest power, that which distinguishes him from any human or angelic ruler, the power to create. Satan himself, the angels, and heaven are all evidence of creation; and the rebels are trying to defend their moral as well as their military position when, during the course of their rebellion, they claim that they are "self-begot" (5.860) and that they will reascend "self-rais'd" (1.634) to heaven. Because they do not, however, feel the creative force within them, they find themselves positing an external, more powerful force at work, some "fatal course" (5.861), "Chance," "Fate," or even "Space" or the "Pit."11 But while the true creator is "stronger" than Satan, the point is not the sheer greatness, which he does not employ against the rebels, but the different quality of his strength. When Christ enters the war in heaven, there is no battle to provide a test of physical strength. The Creator, the source of their own strength and being, simply appears before the rebel angels, who "astonisht all resistance lost, / All courage; down thir idle weapons dropp'd" (6.838-39). A vision of divinity "wither'd all thir strength, / And of thir wonted vigor left them drain'd, / Exhausted, spiritless, afflicted, fall'n" (6.850-52). Though later in the poem, older in their spiritual decline, the angels slip back into admitting God as their creator, the hardness of their hearts blinds them more than before to the significance of that reality.12 It would be impossible for them to admit that they were at war with the one above them in the chain of being and still remain in revolt; they must cling to the belief that their difference from their adversary is merely one of strength, that to be "weak," not wrong, is miserable.

Since rightness, justice, is the essence of God's ordering power manifested in creation, only a betrayal of the laws of creation, a denial of the natural order, can justify revolution in heaven or on earth. It would follow that, if the governor of heaven were not the creator, were an impostor tyrant, or if the creator himself had abrogated his natural right to rule by abusing the law of creation, then, indeed, Satan should, like Milton, have fought whether he had the strength to win or not. A rational being should not worship a demon, however powerful. But if, on the contrary, Satan rebels against the creator out of jealousy and ambition, then the psychological truth for Milton is that he would rebel regardless of God's power; for "in the act of doing evil, men [or angels] use not to consider the event of thir evil doing: or if they doe, have then no power to curb the sway of thir own wickedness." He would find a way to justify his rebellion.

Though it is not until book 5 that we are given Satan's arguments for rebellion as they were first presented, we may discern his original and continuing motivation in his self-justification after the Fall in book 1. "To bow and sue for grace / With suppliant knee, and deify his power / … that were low indeed." These words might have come on the eve of the Stuart restoration from Milton himself, who would not deify anyone's sheer power. However, when we include the omitted phrase that modifies "his power"—"Who from the terror of this Arm so late / Doubted his Empire" (1.111-14)—Satan's intent is seen to be exactly opposite to Milton's. Satan's question is, "Whose power shall we deify, that of his arm or mine?" Its presupposition is, "The greatest strength merits worship." On Satan's advice, the fallen angels accept their residence in hell by reasoning from the premise that strength can determine the use to which morality is put, that might makes right: "since he / Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid / What shall be right" (1.245-47).

This is the argument for the divine right of kings: that a king or tyrant, whoever currently holds power over a people, whether just or unjust according to any here-tofore accepted national or natural law, can rightly by virtue of his strength control his subjects' behavior. This royalist belief presupposes such a God as Satan here describes. While the ambition of both Satan and Charles, in Milton's view, leads them to presuppose the same idea of God's nature, Satan, unlike Charles, openly rebels against that God. But that is a small difference. Charles, in Milton's depiction, holds that if God rules thus in his absolute power over all creation, he, being great in power, can rule thus over England. Satan holds first that if God can rule heaven thus, he, if he gathers enough strength, can rule heaven thus. This belief changes only in scope after the war in heaven. Satan holds that if God can rule heaven thus, he, being only slightly weaker than God and yet stronger than his followers and humans, can rule hell and the new world thus—can break the chain of being and hold divided empire.

What matter where, if I be still the same, And what I should be, all but less than hee Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least We shall be free.(1.256-59)

That Satan's rebellion against fundamental law entails the corruption and extinction of true liberty in himself and his followers has been recognized by many critics of Paradise Lost. There remains, however, a lively movement among contemporary critics for contrary readings; and the basis for such readings can be traced to a mistaken impression of Milton's own historical role as a revolutionary. A study of the relation between law and liberty, which Milton argued in his prose works and to which he gave dramatic focus in his accounts of Charles and Satan and their followers, not only corrects misleading historical assumptions but also sharpens our awareness of the political dynamics of the poem, among the fallen angels and within the mind of Satan. The meaning of freedom embodied in Milton's account of Charles and his followers, particularly in the Defences, directly informs the poet's picture of Satan's career and is there given the dramatic scope that could not be fully worked out within the constraints of the political debate.

When Satan reasons that the fallen angels will finally be "free" in hell simply because "th' Almighty … will not drive us thence" (1.259-60), he is shown to be deceiving himself both about the angels' civil liberties and about the philosophical basis of political liberty in general. For while the rebels' claim to have "endanger'd Heav'n's perpetual King" is literally untrue and they reside in hell at God's sufferance, their more important claim to have sought liberty by putting "to proof his high Supremacy, / Whether upheld by strength, or Chance, or Fate" (1.131-33) is a more fundamental falsehood because it reveals that their revolution was not a valid test of God's supremacy and hence had no justification. A true revolution, like that against Charles I in England, challenges, not the force that upholds the ruling power, but the right. Valid revolution tests whether supremacy is accountable to law, which alone has the power to liberate and which Satan's rebellion defies. Like King Charles, Satan has become fatally confused about the nature of liberty. "As for the Philosophical Libertie which in vaine he talks of," as Milton said of Charles in Eikonoklastes (CPW 3:501), "we may conclude him very ill train'd up in those free notions, who to civil Libertie was so injurious."

Milton's analysis of Charles's claim in the Eikon that he had been a defender of the people's liberties is paralleled in his portrayal of Satan's claim that he revolted against God in order to gain freedom for his angel followers, and it shows the relation between civil and philosophical liberty. Evidence in Charles's case had been his calling the Long Parliament. But far from seeking the welfare of the people whom Parliament represented, Milton pointed out, Charles had wanted only to use the people's resources for his own cause; he needed tax money to carry out his war to subjugate Scotland. When civil war began in the wake of Parliament's refusal, it was the English king, Milton claimed, who was in rebellion against Parliament, and not the other way around. The king had found the laws enforced by Parliament in behalf of the people hindrances to his own ambitions (see Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:350-60). So Parliament justly opposed the king as "a rebell to Law, and enemie to the State" (Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, CPW, 3:230; cf. Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:529).

The same is Christ's judgment upon Satan, "Rebel to all Law" (10.83). Satan too at the beginning of his bid for power calls an assembly of the angels who are his subjects under God as England was Charles's subject. At each assembly, historical and poetical, two wrongs are committed by each ruler. The first in each case involves merely a factual lie: Charles argued falsely to Parliament that his Scottish war was the most pressing threat to the nation, and Satan falsely informs the angels that Christ has commanded them to prepare an unjustified tribute. But the second wrong is the attempt by each to use the factual lies to do away entirely with the existing order of things, which is the only legitimate source of all particular laws and which stands in the way of his ambition. The great importance of Charles's coronation oath lay, for Milton, in its protection against this ultimate abuse of liberty. Charles had sworn, as had every English monarch, to "grant those just laws which the people shall choose" (A Defence, CPW, 4, pt. 1:482; cf. Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:530, 592-93). When Parliament's laws on such matters as just taxation did not fulfill his wishes, he tried to reinterpret his oath so that it would fit into his idea of his divine right to rule "above" those laws he did not like. "Which is the greater criminal," Milton demanded in the face of this abuse, "he who sins against the law or he who attempts to make the law itself his accomplice in crime, and even does away with the law to avoid the appearance of crime?" (A Defence, CPW 4, pt. 1:529). The tyrant, who denies the law, is far worse than the criminal who simply breaks the law.

Satan, like Charles, seeks to do "away with the law to avoid the appearance of crime." The obvious false-hood in his speech before the assembled host is that God intends to "introduce / Law and Edict on us"; but the falsehood that Abdiel identifies as "blasphemous" is contained in the words "on us, who without law / Err not" (5.797-99), which deny that there ever was a law. Before the fall of Lucifer, there had been of course no need for a "positive" law such as church and state had afterward on earth; but the reason that there was none was that all prelapsarian life was a natural enactment of the law of unfallen reason. This is why Milton could define fallen human law as "reason abstracted as much as might be from personal errors" (Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, CPW, 3:200) and why, when Charles tried to claim legal precedents for his "breaking" parliaments, Milton insisted that such trumped up laws could not uphold an indefensible practice: "I hold reason to be the best Arbitrator, and the Law of Law it self (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:403). That, he repeated in his Defence, is the "basic precept of our law … by which nothing contrary to the laws of God or to reason can be considered law, any more than a tyrant can be considered a king, or a servant of the Devil a servant of God" (CPW, 4, pt. 1:492).

The tyrant's goal is to replace government by rational law with government by arbitrary power, and, unlike the ordinary criminal, the tyrant seeks not obscurity, which could hide his crime, but fame. A successful tyrant must therefore, Milton knew, be a master of rhetoric; for rhetoric is the tool he can employ against the reason of the law to disguise his crime. When Charles wrote in the Eikon Basilike of "the rationall soverantie of his soule, and liberty of his will," Milton warned the people against such rhetoric, "Which words, of themselves, as farr as they are sense, good and Philosophical, yet in the mouth of him who to engross this common libertie to himself, would tred down all other men into the condition of Slaves and beasts, they quite loose their commendation" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:412). Furthermore, there is often in such language the appearance rather than the substance of right reason, as when the king "insists upon the old Plea of his Conscience, honour and Reason; using the plausibility of large and indefinite words, to defend himself at such a distance as may hinder the eye of common judgment from all distinct view & examination of his reasoning" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:456-57).

Like the angels Abdiel and Gabriel, a reader of Paradise Lost should approach the rhetoric of Satan with "all distinct view and examination of his reasoning." We should examine Satan's reasoning about what he offers the angels in place of law as the basis for their freedom: "those Imperial Titles which assert / Our being ordain'd to govern, not to serve" (5.801-02). We must demand, like Gabriel: "ordain'd by whom? to govern whom? serve whom?" But the answers are implicit in the questions once they are raised: ordain'd by the law of their creator, God, to govern by the law themselves and their fellow angels, to serve God and fellow angels by the same law. Obedience to the law of right reason is the condition for holding the titles that God decreed.

When we see the angels accept Satan's irrational argument that "Titles," rather than laws, assert their right to govern, we are witnessing the first and archetypal instance of the necessary separation, by law, of power from the persons who hold it. That "Majesty is inseparable from the person,"13 that a "title" asserts not an office but a being, was at the heart of the royalist argument for divine right. It was the position held by Charles in the Eikon where, in refusing to obey the laws of Parliament, he argues that he will not "part with … his honour as a King. " Milton exposes the conflict between Charles's rhetorical use of a royal title and his actual abuse of a royal oath to uphold the law, explaining that "when a King setts himself … against the … residence of all his Regal power, he then, in the single person of a Man, fights against his own Majesty and Kingship, and then indeed sets the first hand to his own deposing" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:524-25). Likewise, the "residence" of all the rebel angels' "Regal power" is in the law of God, which they have denied.

Satan's argument for the angels' right from title and against law resulted, as did the historical argument for the divine right of kings, in a vast false analogy between the government of heaven and that of a fallen world. Satan's rival kingdom in hell, which parodies God's kingdom, is the archetypal acting out of the royalists' false analogy. We meet the parody again in book 12 as the tyranny of Nimrod "from Heav'n claiming second Sovranty" (35), or divine right.

Though a tyrant will try to look like a true king, Milton said in answer to Salmasius, we must distinguish the person from his title; for "a tyrant, like a king upon the stage, is but a ghost or mask of a king, and not a true king" (A Defence, CPW 4, pt. 1:310). The glory of the true King, Christ, as he appears before the angels, is an external manifestation of the spiritual essence of the Father, who is too radiant for angels' eyes to behold; the purpose of the Son's "great Vice-gerent Reign" (5.609) is to make the unapproachable radiance of divinity more accessible to finite creatures: "in him all his Father shone / Substantially express'd" (3.139-40). But Satan, not content with the glory that is rightfully his under the vice-gerency of Christ, turns true glory into mockery. His royal seat in heaven, whose splendor had of itself been sufficient to stand for the greatness of his rule, Satan tries to make hold greater significance than his reality can sustain. The result is to turn a great seat of power into a hollow stage property, "in imitation of that Mount whereon/Messiah was declar'd in sight of Heav'n" (5.764-65). Though the fallen Satan continues to maintain himself as king of hell in "God-like imitated State" (2.5 11), the essence of his ability to rule is gone, and the title of "king" is empty. When he abandoned the law to seek power, he gave up forever his ability to preserve his own liberty or that of his subjects. Like Charles, he set himself "against the … residence of all his Regal power" and fought "against his own Majesty and Kingship."

Having led his followers to defeat in the war in heaven, Satan retains his tyranny over them by means of his rhetorically effective, but false, reasoning about liberty. Even though he has assumed absolute dictatorship over them in hell, he convinces his subject angels that they will find their liberty in turn as possessors of human subjects on earth:

Humankind, as Satan has his followers view them, are the spoils of a dynastic war; they are the objects won and ruled. Of course when rational beings are changed from subjects to objects of government, to "possessions," then they have become slaves. As the idea of a people's slavery is not an unacceptable means to Satan for achieving his own "right," so it was also taught in Milton's day as part of the doctrine of divine right to be acceptable, if the enslavement was to one high enough. Thus it was Salmasius' argument against a people's right to revolt that a people had sold themselves to their king as men used to sell themselves as slaves (A Defence, CPW 4, pt. 1:461). Their "freedom" consisted in the king's freedom to exercise his will for them, just as all men's freedom ultimately consisted in their submission to God's will. Milton's answer to Salmasius was that even God does not remove his subjects' ability to will their own actions and obedience, that their freedom consists in their ability to obey or disobey his law.

Milton's answer went further than the assertion that liberty is impossible to one enslaved: the devils' belief, like Salmasius', in the liberty of the enslaver is also a delusion. As Milton admonished even Cromwell, "it has so been arranged by nature that he who attacks the liberty of others is himself the first of all to lose his own liberty and learns that he is the first of all to become a slave" (Second Defence, CPW 4, pt. 1:673).

That the fallen angels will retain no liberty—neither true liberty based in law nor false liberty based in power—in the exercise of their titular "rights" can be predicted from the illogic of the political argument Satan offers urging rebellion and from the argument he uses to retain his power over them once fallen. The first, as is his later temptation of Eve, is based on a self-contradictory argument for proportion. The angels are, he says,

For orders and degrees to consist well with liberty, however, they must receive their definition in relation to a freedom-giving, absolute source of power; and what the angels' titles measure is the degree of their likeness to God. But, because Satan wants to retain his position of command, he urges the angels to believe that there can be a chain of being that will not fall though it hang from nothing. The basis for his argument is the same lie that denies the Creator.

True proportion forms the basis of the judgment of Satan by Abdiel, the only angel originally under Satan's command to revolt against the incipient tyranny of the archangel, the true Miltonic revolutionary, prototype for "the people [who] with God's approval judge their guilty rulers" (A Defence, CPW 4, pt. 1:359). His argument is from the chain of being, the foremost law of both God and Nature:

The angels who capitulate to Satan's argument, on the other hand, are Milton's poetical archetypes of that effeminacy of a people that he feared and finally came to witness in England: "Unless you expel avarice, ambition, and luxury from your minds … you will find at home and within that tyrant who, you believed, was to be sought abroad and in the field—now even more stubborn. In fact, many tyrants, impossible to endure, will from day to day hatch out from your very vitals" (Second Defence, CPW, 4, pt. 1:680-81). Nisroch is his example in the war in heaven. He finds newly experienced pain "hard / For Gods" who follow Satan's ambition for freedom to enjoy their divine rights. Pain, once Nisroch discovers it, becomes "the worst / Of evils"—worse even than the tyranny that Satan had convinced him was held by God (6:451-68).

Book 6 reveals a less attractive view of the fallen angels, which is withheld from readers of the poem until well after the powerful opening books have had their effect. However, the description even in books 1 and 2, if we read them as critically as a militant Gabriel would, "argues no Leader, but a Liar trac't / Satan." Gabriel's argument had been that once Satan had broken his loyalty to God, he had simultaneously broken faith with his subjects; and that they, by allowing themselves to be used in the rebellion, became nothing more than an "Army of Fiends." And, indeed, the emotions the rebel angels show toward one another involve not respect but, on the one side, pride and, on the other, fear.

The first reaction of the angels to their commander after their fall is a fear that elicits unquestioning obedience. When Satan summoned them from the burning lake,

They heard, and were abasht, and up they sprung Upon the wing; as when men wont to watch On duty, sleeping found by whom they dread, Rouse and bestir themselves ere well awake.(1.331-34)

They are a defeated army. That they have been led not to victory but to great suffering should raise doubt in their minds about the tenability of their original cause for following Satan in rebellion. Satan had argued that God's apparent power would not prove superior to their own and that it merited challenging. This promise has proved false. At this point the remainder of Satan's earlier arguments for revolution, lodged in the memories of the angels he led to war, should reasonably be turned against him. "Who," he had challenged, "can in reason then or right assume / Monarchy over such as live by right / His equals, if in power and splendor less, / In freedom equal?" (5.794-97). Though Satan's challenge to Christ's monarchical power could not apply to the rule of unfallen heaven, its message is very true in a fallen context where the only difference between the fallen angels is in "power and splendor." In book 11 in fact, after the fall of man, the archangel Michael repeats the essence of Satan's egalitarian statement to Adam. Echoing Raphael's hint in book 5 that God might gradually have raised humans, "found obedient," to a higher state, he explains the postlapsarian impossibility of a "patriarchal" government by divine right:

That preeminence was lost by Satan in his fall as well. Yet now, as the fallen angels are led into another audience before Satan, they have not the freedom of mind to conquer their mental and emotional torment—"anguish and doubt and fear"—by facing its cause. Instead they succumb to the effects of the Dorian war music offered them, which

We may read the following description of the assembled hosts from two points of view—that of the tyrant Satan and that of the revolutionary Milton. We look at Satan's face:

The tone in these lines is, from Satan's point of view, a kind of gratification; from Milton's point of view, it is that scorn in which servility deserves to be held. The angels' governor has led them, "followers," into "crime," for which they now suffer terrible punishment as his fellows. They are now truly "his Peers" (1.618), his equals. If they had been deceived by his arguments for liberty before the Fall, they can be so no longer. Now, in order to prove themselves worthy of any chance for liberty that might remain to them, they must rise in revolution against the leader who has betrayed them: "The people … do with God's approval judge their guilty rulers"—"yet faithful how they stood."

The very nature of the appeal to the angels of Satan's speech in which he lays claim to the throne of hell reveals their servility. He gives a factual account of their condition; those facts clearly betrary the wrong of their position and his falseness to them; and yet they passively accept Satan and his claim. When he persuaded the angels to rebel, Satan had convinced them that they had been living "without Law"; now he says truthfully that "Mee … just right and the fixt Laws of Heav'n / Did first create your Leader" (2.18-19). A subject whose will and reason retained any spark of freedom would have to realize that laws that are right and fixed would now have to banish the individual from the office he betrayed. But they do not question his argument. "Next," Satan reminds them, they followed him out of their own "free choice." This again is true; and this again, after what they have witnessed of his false "merit" "in council or in flight," is the point at which their mistaken consent should be withdrawn. Yet now Satan is right when he announces that they have again "yielded with full consent" to his leadership. We have been watching the process of their final yielding: how "troubled thoughts" were mitigated and swaged into "fixed thought," how "for his fault" "yet faithful … they stood." Their consent was fully, but not freely, given; they were already slaves of their own fear and cowardice. Satan assures their continued loyalty by reminding them of what has made them cowards:

Now, at the last moment in which a moral decision might be possible, Satan takes care to remove forever the chance of a moral "Faction" by removing the concept of morality. Nisroch's discovery in war that pain was for him the "greatest evil" is solidified into demonic policy. "Good" means not righteousness but pleasure; "evil" is not lawlessness but pain:

In this speech Satan removes at one stroke the possibility for moral or immoral revolution among the angels in hell.

The officers whose advice is allegedly sought are no less slaves than the masses. They are finally manipulated by Satan and his spokesman Beelzebub to agree to Satan's plan, but first, by their own counsel, they reveal their self-enslavement. Moloch and Belial are complex developments of the two royalist types that Salmasius had held up for admiration because of their reaction to Charles's fall. Salmasius' "bravely spirited," who, like Moloch, "burned with such a flame of indignation that they could scarce control themselves," Milton had labeled "madmen" whose threats are easily "put to flight with that true courage which is master of itself." Among Salmasius' second type Milton had included Salmasius himself: "little women of the court … or some others yet more effeminate" attempting, like Belial, "to draw the strength from manly hearts" (A Defence, CPW, 4, pt. 1:312-13).

Satan in his role in the council displays the tyrant's full awareness of his subjects' servile character. His suspicion that some one of his followers might fake an offer to explore the way to the new world, thus "winning cheap the high repute / Which he through hazard huge must earn" (2.472-73), has a parallel in Milton's explanation of the behavior of the lesser tyrant Charles, who, when accused of fomenting the Irish rebellion, had tried to defend his integrity by stressing that "he offer'd to goe himself in person upon that expedition [against the rebels]." The fact was, Milton pointed out, that Charles knew his offer would not be accepted: "But [he] mentions not that by his underdealing … he had brought the Parlament into so just a diffidence of him, as that they dust not leave the Public Armes to his disposal, much less an army to his conduct" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:480-81).

Although Charles was a lesser tyrant than Satan, he shared, in Milton's portrait, that fundamental element of tyranny which is self-enslavement. "Every bad man is a tyrant," Milton said, explaining Charles's position, "each in his own degree." And "to the degree that he is the greatest of all tyrants, to that same degree is he the meanest of all and most a slave." This is because the evil man in public power is a slave not only to his own ambition and despair but to his followers' as well: "Other men willingly serve only their own vices; he is forced, even against his will, to be a slave, not only to his own crimes, but also to the most grievous crimes of his servants and attendants, and he must yield a certain share of his despotism to all his most abandoned followers. Tyrants then are the meanest of slaves; they are slaves even to their own slaves" (Second Defence, CPW, 4, pt. 1:562-63). This message is embodied in the confrontation in book 2 between Satan and his allegorical offspring Death, who belies the tyrant's claim to control hell, "where," as Death rightly claims, "I reign King, and to enrage thee more, / Thy King and Lord" (2.698-99). The "execrable shape" must be called "my fair son" and promised food so that its power will bend to Satan's goal.

The poet then dramatizes the same message in Satan's journey to the new world. As Milton had shown Charles giving his followers bishoprics and lands so that to keep their rewards they "knew it thir best cours to have dependence onely upon him" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:511), so he shows Satan forced to seek in Eden "a spacious World" for his followers to "possess / As Lords" (10.460-67) so that their titles can believably stand for something. But in order for Satan to get possession and for Charles to keep bishoprics, innocent people had to suffer. With Charles this suffering had come in the form of religious persecution: "Thus when both Interests of Tyrannie and Episcopacie were incorprat into each other, the King [was] … fatally driv'n on" to "extirpating" innocent protestants (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:511).

Though he did not live to see the effects of his intended extirpation of his religious enemies, Charles took the occasion in Eikon Basilike to imagine their suffering and claim that he "cannot but observe this … yet with sorrow and pitty" (Eikonoklastes, CPW 3:567). Satan too at first feels himself to be "loath to this revenge / On you who wrong me not" and to "melt" "at your harmless innocence" (4.386-89). He finds, however, that beyond his own wish for vengeance, his "dread of shame / Among the Spirits beneath" (4.82-83) drives him fatally on. And he lulls to impotence his last spark of genuine freedom of conscience, revealed by his revulsion from his own intended action, with the Dorian war music of his own rhetoric:

Satan and Charles, in Milton's two portraits of the tyrant, enslave their followers and themselves in a "mistie cloud" of rhetoric that substitutes "prerogative" for the sunlight of God's law, the only basis for a portrait of genuine royalty. In his version of the story of King Charles, a drama not of Christian martyrdom but of tyrannous rebellion, Milton's left hand worked out, though in fragmentary form, fundamental elements of the character, action, underlying philosophy and influence of this minor tyrant, elements that find full dramatization in his right hand's portrait of Satan's epic struggle for power.


1 For full statements of such an attempt, see S. B. Liljegren, Studies in Milton (1918; rpt. New York: Haskell House, 1969) and Morand, De Cornus à Satan and Effects.

2 Kendrick, Milton, pp. 151, 93.

3 Merritt Y. Hughes, "Satan and the 'Myth' of the Tyrant," in Essays in English Literature from the Renaissance to the Victorian Age Presented to A. S. P. Woodhouse, ed. Millar MacLure and F. W. Watt (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), pp. 125-48. Stevie Davies, Images of Kingship in Paradise Lost: Milton's Politics and Christian Liberty (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983), pp. 3-88. See also Wilding, Dragons Teeth, pp. 226-31.

4 Hughes considered Eikonoklastes as a source for Milton's Satan, but concluded: "The experience of writing Eikonoklastes could contribute but little to the creation of Milton's Satanic eikon basilike" ("Milton's Eikon Basilike," in Calm of Mind: Tercentenary Essays on Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in Honor of John S. Diekhoff, ed. Joseph A. Wittreich, Jr. [Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University Press, 1971], p. 1). Although it is not necessary to argue that Milton turned back to Eikonoklastes or the Defences as a literal source for his Satan, it is important to realize that the political experience and vision informing the prose and the poetry are the same.

5 The anonymous author of Eikon Alethine (London, 1649) sought to discredit Eikon Basilike by calling it a forgery. He claimed that his purpose, besides vindicating the parliamentary cause, was to protect the memory of the king from the charge of damnable hypocrisy that he would deserve if the book were really his: "it is not infamy to say a man hath erred, obstinacy therein onely brands him: It is not I then that reproach the late king by enumerating some of his late errors; but he [the forger of Eikon Basilike] that makes the late king justifie himselfe in them, adding impenitency and obstinacy to make them Heresies and Crimes" (Folger Library copy, pp. 1-2).

6 George W. Whiting, Milton's Literary Milieu (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939), pp. 336-37. Also revealing of Milton's purpose is a comparison of Eikon Alethine's view of this issue with Eikonoklastes'. The Eikon Basilike portrays Charles as repenting that he had, under pressure from Parliament, agreed to Strafford's execution. The Eikon Alethine solves (albeit unconvincingly) the contradiction between the king's attitude at Strafford's trial and that in the book by claiming that although Charles had been sincere in condemning the guilty Strafford, thus performing a righteous act, the "forger" of the Eikon was villainously laying "innocent blood" on the king's head by saying that the king had thought Strafford innocent (p. 11). Milton, on the contrary, accepts both attitudes as the king's and views the contradiction as revealing of his character and dilemma as a tyrant: "No marvel then, if being as deeply criminous as the Earle himself, it stung his conscience to adjudge to death those misdeeds whereof himself had bin the chiefe Author…. That mind must needs be irrecoverably deprav'd, which either by chance or importunity tasting but once of one just deed, spatters at it, and abhorrs the relish ever after" (CPW 3:372-74).

7 Herman Rapaport thinks that this passage in the Defence reveals a "death squad" mentality in Milton, in which "mercy plays no role." In this passage, he says, "someone is about to be killed and this someone cries out for mercy" (Milton and the Postmodern, p. 177). Rapaport thus aligns himself with Salmasius' view of the king's trial and execution (a view that, according to Milton, carried "the cunning drift of a factious and defeated Party" intending "not so much the defense of [the king's] former actions, as the promoting of their own future designs" [CPW 3:338]). Actually, Charles did not either "plead for his life" (Salmasius [quoted in CPW 4, pt. 1:508]) or "cry out for mercy" (Rapaport). What Milton seeks to counter for readers of the Defence is a possible false interpretation of the fact that the king failed to ask for mercy, to repent, or to engage in any way with his accusers. Such immovability, Milton says, does not require courage when its real source is despair; "the commonest criminals," having rationalized their crimes, will reiterate that rationalization to the end. Do not be surprised by the "presence of mind" displayed in the final recitation of this rationalization, but analyze what is being said for it displays the absence of mind and moral will, the presence of "a hardened heart." Milton advises Salmasius to reconsider his interpretation of Charles's self-defense: "If you care to read his whole defence accurately rendered into French, you may change your mind" (p. 508). It would be helpful if Rapaport's attempt to link Milton to "a thanatopraxie of the state" were more responsive to the accounts we have of Charles's trial and execution, as in David Masson, The Life of John Milton (1896; Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1965), III, 692-729.

8 For a discussion of the "Pamela prayer" controversy, see Merritt Hughes's chapter on the "Date, Occasion, and Method of Eikonoklastes" in CPW 3:150-61.

9 Cf. Eikon Alethine's urging the people to distrust the rhetoric of the king's book: "Bee not cheated out of your innocency by this subtill Serpent with an Apple of Sodom, which at the touch of truth will fall to ashes" ("The Epistle to the Reader: To the Seduced people of England").

10 Modeling his statement about the king after the Prayer Book invocation of a God "whose service is perfect freedom," Robert Filmer had claimed, by means of what Milton considered a false analogy: "The greatest liberty in the world (if it be duly considered) is for a people to live under a monarch" (Patriarcha, ed. T. P. R. Laslett, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949], p. 55). King Charles's version of this claim is reprinted in Masson 3:725.

11 "Space [instead of God] may produce new Worlds" (1.650); "this infernal Pit [instead of God] shall never hold / Celestial Spirits" (1.657-58).

12 Satan speculates on the creation of human beings: "Whether such virtue spent of old now fail'd / More Angels to Create, if they at least / Are his Created" (9.145-47).

13 Salmasius, Defensio Regia, quoted in CPW 4, pt. 1:310, n. 23. Cf. Milton's peroration to Of Reformation in which those dammed in hell, "in the anguish of their torture … have no other ease then to exercise a Raving and Bestial Tyranny over" those most recently cast into hell "as their slaves" (CPW 1:617).

David Loewenstein (essay date 1990)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Great Acts and Great Eloquence: The Historical Imagination in the Later Revolutionary Prose," in Milton and the Drama of History: Historical Vision, Iconoclasm, and the Literary Imagination, Cambridge University Press, 1974, pp. 74-91.

[In the following essay, Lowenstein examines tension in Milton's later revolutionary writings. The critic suggests that, in serving both historiographic and mythopoeic functions, Milton understood the need for a poet to be true to historical fact while also fulfilling artistic and creative criteria.]

Milton's self-consciousness about the drama of national historic destiny remains central to his later revolutionary prose works. Though they may seem diverse in context and purpose, the Defenses, the History of Britain, and the late pre-Restoration tracts are often mythopoetic in their presentation of and response to history. Milton's imaginative response, however, becomes problematic when he faces the dilemma of mediating between invention and truth in the History of Britain: investigating his nation's troubled past increases his sense of historical uncertainty, calling into question the power of his writing to operate as a creative, mythopoetic force in history. Like the History of Britain, his First and Second Defense of the English People at moments dramatize the conflicts and trials of history in epic terms, thereby expressing his poetic sensibility in prose and his imaginative engagement with the historical process. In the polemics of 1659-1660, Milton's sense of national historic destiny, still expressed mythopoetically, continues to conflict poignantly with his sense of historical mutability: these tracts reveal his conflicting responses, on the eve of the Restoration, between engagement with and detachment from the historical process—a complex reaction to the drama of history that would re-emerge in the major poems.

The Defenses and the Poetics Of History

The First and Second Defense show Milton once again highly self-conscious of his role as a revolutionary polemicist in the drama of history. But in these texts, in which he serves as historian of his own age, he emerges more distinctly as a poet historical writing in prose. As he would have known from Spenser, his "sage and serious" teacher,

the Methode of a Poet historical is not such, as of an Historiographer. For an Historiographer discourseth of affayres orderly as they were donne, accounting as well the times as the actions, but a Poet thrusteth into the middest, even where it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to the thinges forepaste, and divining of thinges to come, maketh a pleasing Analysis of all.1

Aristotle had of course firmly distinguished the poet from the historian; yet according to Lucian, one of the classical authorities Milton recommended to Henry de Brass, the historian must possess not only rhetorical sophistication, but should "have a touch and share of poetry."2 Quintilian, too, suggests the interconnection between poetic and historiographical discourse: he notes that history may employ the "use of figures" in order "to avoid monotony of narrative," and that it "has a certain affinity to poetry and may be regarded as a kind of prose poem … written for the purpose of narrative … to record events for the benefit of posterity and to win glory for its author."3 The First and the Second Defense are partly written in such an epic mode (though both works contain a great deal of abusive invective), and consequently their sense of history is often intensely imaginative and not concerned strictly with "affayres orderly as they were donne." Thus Marvell was struck by both the rhetorical and figurative power of the Second Defense: to him it seemed a work of "the most compendious Scale" reaching "the Height of the Roman eloquence" as "it turnes and rises with so many figures."4

Milton's First Defense, written in the same iconoclastic spirit of his regicide polemic, is a work of enormous virulency and rage aimed at demolishing Salmasius's Defensio Regia, pro Carolo I (1649), a book "full of virulency and bitternesse against this Commonwealth."5 Yet even Milton's vitriolic response, published in February 1651, rises at moments to epic heights, marking a transition between his fierce iconoclasm in 1649 and his poetics of history in the Second Defense (May 1654). In the First Defense we thus find Milton responding both iconoclastically and poetically to history. Opening with an epic invocation, the tract immediately suggests the interconnection between Milton's poetics and his prose discourse:6 in order to compose his "elevated and splendid discourse," Milton observes, he turns "to aid from on high." After presenting God as an iconoclast in history who destroys "haughty and unruly kings" "utterly with their whole house," Milton invokes His power to complete the historiography and iconoclasm of the First Defense: "I call on almighty God, giver of all gifts," Milton writes (using the verb "invocare" [CE VII, 8]), as he prepares both to create "a memorial which every nation and every age may perhaps read" (IV, 305) and to blast with iconoclastic fury the text of Salmasius's Defensio Regia. The epilogue of the First Defense again refers to Milton's prose discourse in terms that suggest he is engaged in writing a poetics of history: his work stands as a "memorial" which "will not easily perish," and which has been "undertaken and completed" with "divine inspiration" (IV, 536)—"non sine divino instinctu" (CE VII, 556). The work of history as a monument is a perfectly common notion in Milton's age,7 but in the Defenses he gives this claim an intensely poetic inflection.

The Second Defense aspires to even greater heights, as the poet historical writing in prose becomes thoroughly intoxicated with his rhetorical powers: "I can scarcely restrain myself from loftier and bolder flights," writes Milton as he prepares to take no middle flight and to "outstrip all the orators of every age in the grandeur of [his] subject and [his] theme" (IV, 554). In this polemic, Milton emerges as a kind of rhetor-historian whose text is a literary performance of epic magnitude:8 at the end, having presented the glorious events and figures of the nation's past and present history, he compares himself to the epic poet ("poeta is qui Epicus vocatur" [CE VIII, 252]) who celebrates "the exploits of Achilles at Troy … or the return of Ulysses, or the arrival of Aeneas in Italy" (IV, 685). His historical discourse, as this passage suggests, is often highly imaginative and mythopoetic. Elsewhere in the Second Defense he compares himself to Homer (IV, 608) and admires Ulysses, who "deserved as well as possible of [his] country" (IV, 595). Despite its scathing attack on the Regia Sanguinis Clamor by Peter du Moulin (Milton mistook the author of this anonymous 1652 pamphlet to be Alexander More), the Second Defense is often remarkably poetic in its dramatization of history and Milton's place in that dynamic process.9 His revolutionary text provides a particularly good example of what Hayden White has called the "conflation of mythic and historical consciousness."10

His self-dramatization is thus at times wholly imaginative, such as when he envisions himself, having won over the European nations to his cause, triumphantly leading liberty back to Europe:

Now, surrounded by such great throngs, from the Pillars of Hercules all the way to the farthest boundaries of Father Liber, I seem to be leading home again everywhere in the world, after a vast space of time, Liberty herself, so long expelled and exiled. And, like Triptolemus of old, I seem to introduce to the nations of the earth a product from my own country, but one far more excellent than that of Ceres. (IV, 555-56)

The comparisons with Triptolemus and his mother Ceres, figures from Ovidian myth (see Metamorphoses v.642ff.) whose fruitful powers Milton claims to exceed, heighten the imaginative element of his prose discourse with its power to effect cultural renewal. His Second Defense, at such moments, offers a poetics of history in which Milton draws upon his literary and dramatic skills as he self-consciously envisions his mythic role, along with that of the elect nation and its leaders, in the historical process. Indeed one contemporary critic of Milton's revolutionary polemic attempted to discredit his power as a historian by calling him "a fabulist and a mere poet."11

Milton's historical consciousness is apparent, moreover, in his portrayal of himself as hermeneutic combatant energetically engaged in the drama of history. Born "at a time in the history of [his] country" when "the most heroic and exemplary achievements" have been accomplished, Milton undertook the most "arduous" task, that of defending the English people against Salmasius's Defensio Regia: "I so routed my audacious foe that he fled, broken in spirit and reputation" (IV, 548-49). Having borne off "the spoils of honor" in this polemical battle, Milton was neither "conquered," as some feared, not did he "leave the field with serious damage" to himself and his country's cause (IV, 556, 602-3). Indeed Milton considers a history or discourse, which recounts the martial deeds of revolutionary leaders, as nothing less than "a second battlefield, so to speak" (IV, 668).12 These military tropes heighten his sense of himself as a combatant who considers his revolutionary polemics to be expressions of his full "active powers" (IV, 622)—"omne ingenium, omnes industriae vires" (CE VIII, 128). Such self-dramatization befits the imaginative nature of Milton's writing, reflecting his belief that his prose discourses participate aggressively in a dramatic historical process ("in hoc dramate," as Milton writes at one point [CE VIII, 90]). He continues to envision in the Defenses an active, dynamic interplay between his polemics and the historical process.

Thus if God alters the times, and assigns and takes away kingdoms, He nevertheless does so, Milton notes in the First Defense, "through the agency of men"—"per homines tamen" (IV, 394-95; CE VII, 198)—Milton's telling addition to his biblical authority, Daniel 2:21. Exercising all his "active powers" in the historical moment means, in Milton's case, writing prose whose rhetoric and vision are energetic, passionate, and imaginative, "a proper history," for example, capable of expressing "the great deeds" accomplished by "our foremost men" and "this wondrous course of events" accomplished by "almighty God himself" (IV, 512). Salmasius's discourse, by contrast, is written by a "pseudopropheta" and "Pseudoplutarche" (CE VII, 230, 236): his text, according to Milton, misrepresents past, present, and future history through pedantic sophism, "barbarous" rhetoric (IV, 306), and "countless lying fictions" (IV, 406). Milton attacks the Defensio Regia as having no basis whatsoever in historical truth and as often "contradicting the word of all historians" (IV, 435): by contrast, Milton implies that his own polemical discourse participates creatively in the historical process, while not violating its truth. The relation between imaginative expression and truth in historical discourse, however, while raised in the First Defense, becomes considerably more problematic, we shall see, in the History of Britain.

In the Second Defense Milton's historical consciousness manifests itself especially in his sense of history as trial: the polemicist, his elect nation, and its revolutionary leaders are all tried by the historical process. Not only had Milton, who boldly appended the epithet "Englishman" to his name on the title pages of all three Defenses, been viciously attacked by the tract Regia Sanguinis Clamor, but "the whole Commonwealth of England" had been "[torn] open and dilacerated" (Defense of Himself, IV, 707). The revolutionary English, in their fierce opposition to monarchy, have endured a "glorious trial of virtue" "against all terrors alike" (IV, 550), just as their polemicist has been "neither cast down in spirit nor unduly fearful of envy or death itself" in his own "time of trial" (IV, 553).13 The dramas of nation and self are thus never far apart in Milton's polemic. Like Milton, Cromwell appears in the Second Defense as a figure of trial in the drama of history: "These trials will buffet you and shake you; they require a man supported by divine help, advised and instructed by all-but-divine inspiration" (IV, 674). Because both Milton and Cromwell have endured the sting of slanderous accusations, they share a similar infamy—"eadem infamia" (CE VIII, 212)—and both have encountered numerous perils and personal dangers (IV, 552, 673): Milton stresses these latter topics, considered by Cicero especially fertile for panegyric,14 so as to highlight his vision of the just man in the midst of historical crisis. History conceived as a process of tribulation for the just few, already well articulated in the Second Defense, looks forward to the major poems, with their dramatization of the righteous man struggling in a world perverse where he finds himself "fully tried"—as Milton's Christ is—by the temptations of history (Paradise Regained, 1.4).

Moreover, the passages of impassioned self-justification, especially those in which Milton places himself among the eminent blind men of history (IV, 584-87), enable the poet-polemicist to dramatize his personal theme of strength made perfect in weakness (II Corinthians 12:9) in the larger perspective of history:15 "For then I shall be at once the weakest and the strongest, at the same time blind and most keen in vision. By this infirmity may I be perfected, by this completed" (IV, 590). The autobiographical passages portraying Milton's life and career as "pure and honorable" (IV, 611) explicitly link his tribulations with those of the English people, who manifest a "purity of life" and "blameless character" (IV, 552): as an aspiring poet in Elegy VI (lines 55-64), we may recall, Milton considered purity of the self among the essential criteria for writing heroic poetry and for transforming his own career into "a true Poem" (An Apology, I, 890). The trials of personal and public history intersect in the Second Defense, heightening the interconnection there between Milton's personal ideals and poetic vision, his self-dramatization and his heroic discourse.16

If purity of self and nation are equally central to the vision of the Second Defense, then Milton's aggressive polemic is intended to expunge those impure elements which defile the poetic polemicist, the Protectoral regime, and its elective leaders. In the Second Defense he attacks Alexander More for being "unclean" (IV, 599), just as he viciously attacked Salmasius in the First Defense for being "a foul Circean beast" (IV, 518). Employing "a most just vituperation" against "an execrable man … a preacher impure in sacred matters," Milton explains in his Defense of Himself, is "an office neither displeasing to God, unsalutary to the church, nor unuseful to the state" (IV, 796). His most venomous passage in the Second Defense occurs in response to the slandering of John Bradshaw: Milton at this point depicts his polemical antagonist as "unmixed filth," "a callus," "a defiler of holy things, a brute towards man, and the slanderer of all who are excellent" (IV, 637). Milton depicts Bradshaw, by contrast, as the very image of purity itself: sprung from "a noble line," he possesses "a lofty spirit, and pure morals," so that in executing his office as head of the Parliamentarian High Court, he seemed "to have been created and destined by divinity itself for this very task." This vacillation between vitriolic abuse and intense praise recalls the powerful dialectics of response in the antiprelatical polemics. By viciously diminishing the moral stature and authority of his polemical opponent, Milton elevates his own historical vision, in which he imagines Bradshaw as one of the just few performing a task "greater and more terrible [formidabilius] than almost any other in history" (IV, 638; CE VIII, 156).

By the time Milton presents Cromwell, he has shifted away from caustic satire (it precedes Cromwell's portrait as if to expunge impure elements) and is emplotting the recent events of history in the epic mode.17 Cromwell's deeds require "the grand work of a proper history"—"justae … historiae grande opus" (CE VIII, 214)—so that Milton eulogizes him as a figure of almost mythic stature, in whom individual and historic destiny fuse, outstripping "the legends [fabulas] of our heroes" (IV, 672; CE VIII, 224). Cromwell, in effect, deserves an epic: Milton's prose panegyric functions as a kind of poetics of history, in which he depicts the revolutionary leader of the Protectorate as the just man in the midst of historic trials, much like the controversial polemicist himself.

Milton's Cromwell combines features of the classical hero and the Puritan saint. Like Sallust's Cato, he appears upright, austere, self-controlled, and a man of towering merit who wages war with mighty kings;18 like a Camillus or Cyrus or Epaminondas, he has achieved the stature of a classical general (IV, 665, 668). In addition, like a latter-day Aeneas, he takes upon himself the heaviest burden—"onus … gravissimum" (CE VIII, 226)—of his nation's future and thus emerges as pater patriae.19 That Milton conceives of his own "elevated and splendid discourse" as a special "burden" (IV, 305; cf. CE VII, 6), further links his mythopoetic discourse with Cromwell's revolutionary deeds: both kinds of performance demand epic vision; both are subjects of Milton's poetics of history.

Milton simultaneously envisions Cromwell as God's Puritan saint combining "religion and piety" (IV, 668) with an intense sense of historic mission. His portrait here reflects something of the Puritan notion that public and private struggles are interconnected: if "you begin with a personal reformation," one Puritan divine observed, "then shall you be better able to carry on and advance the great work of reformation of others."20 Thus for a moment Milton allows us to glimpse the personal man who has struggled within himself—a man "devoted to the Puritan religion and the upright life" who, as he was growing up, wrestled with such internal enemies as "vain hopes, fears, desires" (IV, 666-67).2' We may recall Marvell here who, in the midst of portraying Cromwell as a historical force, gives us a glimpse of his personal and human qualities, observing that "He liv'd reserved and austere" in "his private Gardens."22 The difference is that Milton has placed greater emphasis on Cromwell's internal conflicts and their relation to his larger performance in history. As "victor over himself," Cromwell was better prepared to face his "external foe" (IV, 668): he therefore embodies the saint as military strategist negotiating battles within and without.23 Remaining "in the seclusion of his own home," until reaching "an age mature and settled" (IV, 666), Cromwell, like Milton, reserved his talents for great things to come; like Milton, he emerges as a compelling example of the intersection of the individual and his historic role.

No doubt, too, the activist in Cromwell appealed to the poet-polemicist who was particularly sensitive to his texts as expressions of "active powers" and to the imaginative shape of history. Cromwell himself, it seems, possessed some sense of the dramatic nature of millennial history: a student of Thomas Beard, author of the immensely influential Theatre of God's Judgements (1597), he described God to Parliament in January 1655 as a supreme dramatist "whose appearances and providences amongst us are not to be outmatched by any story."24 But while history might be considered God's drama, the man who "rear'd God's Trophies and his works pursu'd,"25 envisioned himself and his saints as ultimately playing an active role in that performance: "You have been passive in coming hither; being called," Cromwell told the Barebones Parliament on the day of its opening (July 4, 1653), "a day of the power of Christ," "and that's an active work."26 Marveil's Cromwell confirms this assertion: his political poems portray a man who "does both act and know" as he participates in the process of "pulling down, and … erecting New" the edifice of the state.27 As Leopold Damrosch observes, one paradox of Puritan writing is that while we get "a picture of profound spiritual isolation … if we consider the political scene we get a picture of highly efficient activists, brilliant and ruthless agents of change."28 Though Cromwell had experienced spiritual anxiety and isolation, as Milton's portrait itself suggests, he was indeed, according to both himself and his observers, such a Puritan activist in the drama of history. In the Second Defense, his "active work" should be seen as the counterpart to Milton's "active powers"—those powers which enable the controversial polemicist, through imaginative discourse, to operate dynamically in the revolutionary historical process.

History and imaginative discourse merge most completely in the peroration to the Second Defense here, where historic and mythopoetic visions fuse, we see Milton as the poet historical "divining," in the words of Spenser, "of thinges to come." Milton, to be sure, ends with a note of caution for Cromwell and his countrymen: the trials which have so far been met and overcome by Cromwell, Milton himself, and the nation at large are a prelude to further ones. History is a process of ongoing trial and conflict—both external and internal—and Milton's revolutionary compatriots, facing temptations of wealth and power under the new Protectoral regime, must continue to fight the better fight in "the warfare of peace" against those tyrants ready to hatch inwardly (IV, 680-81).29 We should note how Milton's words of counsel intersect here with his claims as epic historiographer. By comparing his work to that of the epic poet who extols the exploits of Achilles, Ulysses, and Aeneas, Milton reminds his audience precisely how important the aesthetic and mythopoetic are to his discourse of history: they enable him to respond imaginatively but no less compellingly to the historical process. Configuring history in epic terms may serve as an essential means to "counsel, encourage, and inspire" (IV, 685) his elective countrymen. Milton is thus particularly conscious of how his text is engaged in giving the historical process a shape, in giving its events a structure that is figurative and poetic. The aesthetic and the sociopolitical are deeply interconnected in his prose discourse; the history he constructs and the great events he records become inseparable.30 Responding poetically to history in his Second Defense, Milton not only considered his writing itself a powerful mode of action, but perceived, in his own terms, what we would call today the "textuality of history."31

The History of Britain

If the Defenses show Milton writing a poetics of history, his aborted History of Britain reveals a more pronounced tension between invention and truth-telling in historical narrative, as Milton explores the dark, convoluted course of his nation's past up until the Norman Conquest (he had originally intended to extend the account up to his own day). Because the writing of the History occurred over a number of years—the first stage before March 1649 and the second probably after 1655—I have chosen to examine it among the later revolutionary works:32 its concern with the mythopoetic in historical narrative, in particular, aligns it with the Defenses. In effect, this massive enterprise of charting his nation's distant past—a fullscale history in its own right—raised for Milton the problem of an imaginative and creative response to the historical process, a problem he chose to struggle with directly in his work. His commitment to take part in the nation's present and future history, "to be an interpreter & relater of the best and sagest things among mine own Citizens throughout this Iland" (I, 811-12), resulted in his commitment to uncover the truth, however troubling, about his nation's past history and to consider the best means of presenting it.33 In his historical text, Milton insists that he will "represent" that "truth naked, though as lean as a plain Journal" (V, 230). The History of Britain thus reveals Milton, I suggest, divided between presenting an objective, factual response to history and presenting a more literary and mythopoetic one.34

In this context, it is helpful to recall several of Milton's earlier statements about the writing of history. In one of his Cambridge exercises, Prolusion III, Milton describes the effect of historical narrative in terms resembling his famous definition of poetry in Of Education as "simple, sensuous, and passionate." Having just praised the power of divine poetry and rhetoric, Milton observes: "History, skilfully narrated, now calms and soothes the restless and troubled mind, now fills it with delight, and now brings tears to the eyes"; and in the same exercise he claims that "eloquent speech and noble action" most enrich a country (1, 244, 246).35 Milton is remarkably sensitive not only to the effect of rhetoric and embellishment in historical narrative, but to its poetic and emotive power—especially when it is well narrated. Of Education itself stresses a close relation between history and poetry: it even begins, we may recall, with Milton conducting Hartlib "to a hill side" (II, 376), just as Michael accompanies Adam up the hill of history. In this often poetic treatise, in which Milton imagines the education best suited to prepare his select countrymen for their revolutionary and reformist leadership, he significantly aligns the study of "the choise Histories," with the study of "heroic poems, and Attic tragedies of statliest, and most regal argument" (11, 400-1).36 By juxtaposing historical narratives with poetic and tragic texts, Milton stresses the interconnection among these kinds of writing and suggests much about his own imaginative priorities; the knowledge of poetry, after all, emerges as the climax of his educational scheme. The final books of Paradise Lost would of course integrate history, epic, and tragedy; but in its own way so does the History of Britain, which begins, like an epic story, with the myth of Brutus and then charts a tragic pattern of failed deliverances in national history, with numerous references made to the troubles of Milton's own age.

In later statements, especially his 1657 letters to Henry de Brass, Milton seems less enthusiastic about integrating the historical and the imaginative in the writing of history. Milton's remark in the first letter that "he who would write worthily of worthy deeds ought to write with no less largeness of spirit and experience of the world than he who did them" is the statement of a writer who not only believes, like Sallust, that "the style must be equal to the deeds" (VII, 501), but who believes, like Nietzsche, that "history is to be written by the man of experience and character": "He who has not lived through something greater and nobler than others will not be able to explain anything great and noble in the past."37 Yet Milton goes on in the same letter to say that this historiographer should not rely "on ornate language"; Milton asks "for a historian not an orator." The historian should not interject "frequent maxims or judgments on historical events," thereby "breaking the chain of events" and invading "the province of the political writer" (a statement that helps to explain why Milton decided not to keep the Digression within his History); and he must follow "to the best of his ability not his own invention or conjecture but the truth" (VII, 501). The subsequent letter to de Brass again stresses that the rhetorician and historian function differently because "the arts themselves are different from each other" (VII, 506). Although such statements contradict the spirit of earlier remarks, which align historical writing with rhetoric and invention, they are offered as practical advice to a foreign acquaintance about the writing of history. They may also reflect Milton's own consideration of the art of writing historical narrative in his History. But they need not be taken as his final view on the subject of historical narrative: when we consider these remarks along with Milton's other statements, his Defenses, and his History, we may conclude that his responses were more divided and contradictory than the letters by themselves would suggest. In practice, Milton writes mythopoetically, even as he appears to eschew the fabulous and imaginary.

The History is full of statements criticizing the use of fable and invention in historiography.38 Lamenting at the opening of his work history "obscur'd and blemisht with Fables" (V, I), Milton observes in another passage:

But either the inbred vanity of some, in that respect unworthily call'd Historians, or the fond zeal of praising thir Nations above truth hath so far transported them, that where they find nothing faithfully to relate, they fall confidently to invent what they think may either best set off thir Historie, or magnifie thir Countrie. (V, 134)

Such an observation seems to clash with Milton's mythopoetic vision in the Defenses. In one respect, Milton is hardly alone in mistrusting the use of invention in historical writing: among his favored classical historians, Polybius insists on adhering to the truth of the facts and not operating like the tragic poet who imagines the probable utterances of his characters; even Lucian, who seems particularly sensitive to the poetics of historiography, concludes his treatise by maintaining the importance of adhering to impartial history.39 In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries numerous commentators on historical writing stressed the importance of remaining impartial and steering away from the imaginative: Jean Bodin is troubled by historians who praise or vituperate when "they should leave to the reader the formation of an unbiased opinion"; Thomas Blundeville insists that "the hystoriographers ought not to fayne anye Orations nor any other thing, but truely to reporte every such speach, and deede, even as it was spoken, or done"; Edmund Bolton stresses that the historical writer should avoid "Oratorial or Poetical Notions," while William Camden insists on "writing with an impartiall minde" and not presenting "fained" materials.40

Among Milton's nearer contemporaries, Joshua Sprigge is suspicious of rhetoric and invention in historical narratives and therefore eschews those histories "adorned with such Artificial stuffe of feigned speeches."41 Even those writers who are obviously ideologically biased insist upon the truth and impartiality of their historical discourse, although one could argue that such assertions themselves become a rhetorical convention or ploy.42 Thus the royalist historiographer Clarendon claims that his history is "very free from any of those passions which naturally transport men with prejudice," while the author of Respublica Anglicana or the Historie of the Parliament in their Late Proceedings (1650) maintains that "of all things pas sion and affection should not be discovered in an Historian, who must appear impartial in … his writing."43 Similarly, John Rushworth, who documented Parliament's debates and transactions during the Civil War, insists on the emotional impartiality of his history of the English Revolution: he injects "neither Vinegar nor Gall into [his] Ink."44 This apparent uneasiness towards invention, rhetoric, and emotion in the historiographical discourse of Milton's age no doubt reflects a shift away from the imaginative to the factual and empirical in the practice and writing of history.45 But in the case of Milton's History, the tension between historiography as mythopoetic and rhetorical and historiography as truthful and scientific is by no means neatly resolved.

Milton, in effect, faces the dilemma of the historiographer who simultaneously perceives himself a poet. In undertaking the History of Britain he did not simply progress from a mythopoetic to an empiricist view of history. Milton's experience in reading widely in medieval historiography—where he believes invention is often abused and not distinguished from true history46—does indeed challenge the importance he would attribute to the imagination in historical narrative. Nevertheless, Milton also refuses to abandon the rhetorical and imaginative side of history writing. He remains sensitive to the power of the rhetor-historian who possesses "the aid of Eloquence" (V, 40) and cannot completely reject the mythopoetic in his own historical narrative.47 It is revealing that, at the beginning of his work, Milton refers to "our English Poets, and Rhetoricians, who by thir Art will know, how to use … judiciously" fabulous history (he has in mind writers like Spenser and Drayton) and to such historiographers as Diodorus Siculus, Livy, and Polydore Vergil, who also draw upon legendary history (V, 3-4).

By far the most telling example is Milton's inclusion of the myth of Brutus, which he notes "cannot so easily be discharg'd" since it has been "defended by many, deny'd utterly by few" (V, 8). In fact, by Milton's time most writers had skeptically concluded that "the whole narration of Brute" is "rather Poeticall, then Historicall."48 Yet despite some lingering skepticism, Milton nevertheless proceeds, as though he were beginning an epic poem, to devote considerable space and detail to this ancient hero's Trojan genealogy and story (V, 8-17): Milton describes how the grandson of Aeneas was destined to be (according to the magicians of Ascanius) "the death of both his Parents"; how he thrived "in vertue and in Arms" among the servile Trojans of King Priam's son Helenus in Greece and became their daring leader; how Odysseus-like he guided the Trojan fleet westward "past the Herculean Pillars"; how he founded the city of Tours; and how he divided Britain among his people (once he had killed off the giants) and built the city of London. Milton not only gives us epic matter here, but includes a poetic translation of Diana's oracle and then, a few pages after finishing his account of Brutus (V, 20), cites most of a stanza from the Faerie Queene's version of legendary history (11.2.24), which describes the battle between Brutus Greenshield, descendant of the ancient Trojan hero, and Brunchildis, Prince of Hainaut. While he may dismiss Arthur (whose legend, of course, had become associated with royalist ideology) as "more renown'd in Songs and Romances, then in true stories" (V, 156), Milton will not give up so easily the imaginative element of historical discourse. His is the complex response of a poet writing historiography, fully aware of but not fully committed to the conventions of historical narrative in his age.49

Despite his insistence on presenting historical discourse "as lean as a plain Journal," Milton sometimes writes of the rhetorical character of historiography in a spirit that resembles his poetics of history in the Defenses: "For worthy deeds are not often destitute of worthy relaters: as by a certain Fate great Acts and great Eloquence have most commonly gon hand in hand, equalling and honouring each other in the same Ages" (V, 39-40). An enormously ambitious, though aborted text, the History represents Milton's attempt, through imaginative historiography, to triumph over "Envy, Death, and Time," to make deeds "which else were transitory … fixt and durable against the force of Yeares and Generations" (V, 40).50 Elsewhere Milton reinforces the close relation between rhetoric and history when he observes that "Learning, Valour, Eloquence, History, Civility, and eev'n Language it self" (V, 127) declined together at the fall of the Roman Empire. Once again, Milton seems divided about the art of historical writing: it is not enough to conclude that he prefers the factual, unrhetorical discourse recommended not only by Polybius but by the writers of his own age; at moments in the History of Britain, he also finds himself deeply engaged by the rhetoric and poetics of history.

Indeed, signs of strain and weariness in Milton's historical narrative suggest his uneasiness with this tension. Most of his work, after all, consists of lengthy descriptions of the struggles between the Britons and the Romans, the brutal invasions of the Saxons, Picts, and Scots, the increasing influence and power of the Saxons, the terrible devastation and butchery caused by the Danes who glut themselves "like wild Beasts" (V, 345), and so on until Milton comes to the invasion of the Normans.51 To be sure, Milton's view of these various peoples is by no means uniform: at times he finds the Britons courageous and heroic (against the Romans), at other times weak and vulnerable (against the Scots, Picts, and Saxons); at times he finds the Saxons "a barbarous and heathen Nation" (V, 142), at other times enlightened and well governed—especially under Alfred about whom Milton once considered writing "A Heroicall Poem" (VIII, 571). Nevertheless, Milton is aware of the bleakness of much of his historical narrative, which reads too much like a failed national saga, and he thus finds himself confronted with the problem of presenting history unworthy of recording. In one of his most remarkable insertions Milton pauses during his account of eighth-century Saxon England, a period marked by endless petty wars, to commiserate with his reader:

I am sensible how wearisom it may likely be to read of so many bare and reasonless Actions, so many names of Kings one after another, acting little more then mute persons in a Scene: what would it be to have inserted the long Bead-roll of Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Abbesses, and thir doeings, neither to Religion profitable nor to morality, swelling my Authors each to a voluminous body, by me studiously omitted. (V, 239)

Although he has compressed much in his authorities, he is complaining about his failure to render history imaginatively and dramatically. His History resembles a dumb-show—in which its historical characters act "little more then mute persons in a Scene"—rather than an account presenting a dramatic historical process in which Milton himself performs dynamically. Here Milton laments that he is no more than a recorder of "bare and reasonless" history, of "truth naked" and "as lean as a plain Journal":52 there is no opportunity to write a poetics of history or to conceive of his historical discourse as a creative force in that process.

We have seen Milton in other prose works—in the antiprelatical tracts, Areopagitica, Eikonoklastes, the Defenses—engaged actively and dramatically with the historical moment, which he sees as dynamic rather than static. That is not to say, of course, that all these prose works are free of historical disillusionment: the History of Britain revealed to Milton that the "darknes and crookednesse" of history which he had traced from the time of Wyclif to his own age in Of Reformation could now be traced all the way back to the earliest periods of his nation's past. But the History of Britain seems not to offer a way out of the labyrinth of history: there is no iconoclastic gesture which breaks its cyclical pattern, that transforms history dramatically. Rather its story of failed historical promise reinforces a sense of historical repetition: "The Saxons were now full as wicked as the Britans were at their arrival, brok'n with luxurie and sloth, either secular or superstitious" (V, 259). Milton's Digression, originally intended for the beginning of Book III, but not published until 1681 as the Character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines, emphasizes the continuity of this cyclical pattern:53 "that confused Anarchy" of the Britons following the Roman departure may be compared to "the late commotions" of the 1640s (V, 129, 441), when the pursuit of monopolies was rife, when men of no merit often sat in Long Parliament, when members of the Assembly of Divines preached with "great shew" against prelatical avarice while simultaneously pursuing their own "secular power" (V, 447), and so on. Milton's warning that his "unteachable" countrymen may sink "as those unfortunate Britans before them" (V, 451), may reflect his frustration over the dissensions among the Army and Parliament following the first Civil War, as French Fogle has argued.54 But I would stress that this sense of history fraught with tragic conflict and confusion is by no means unique to this excursus or the final revolutionary tracts; it emerges even in the controversial polemics of the early 1640s, as we saw in chapter 1. We should, in other words, be wary of assuming that Milton's sense of history evolves in a completely consistent manner, that it develops in a predictable fashion from energetic optimism to profound disillusionment as we move from the early to the later revolutionary prose.

Milton's work offers no easy resolution to this dilemma of how to represent the weary pattern of history he finds. Even the hortatory tone of the Digression, noted by Fogle,55 suggests that Milton has trouble steering away from a rhetorical response to history, however much he wishes to present it "as lean as a plain Journal." This tension between presenting history-mythopoetically and presenting it unrhetorically reflects his difficulty in maintaining a disengaged, impartial role as he records his nation's turbulent history with its "remarkable turns of State" (V, 130). By breaking off suddenly at the Norman Conquest, Milton leaves us with a haunting sense of incompleteness.56 Nothing more poignantly highlights the sense of artistic strain and exhaustion of this massive enterprise.57 Its incompleteness, perhaps more than any other detail, expresses the unresolved dilemma of Milton as mythopoetic historiographer—divided between the urge to shape the process of history through imaginative and rhetorical discourse and the commitment to represent its "truth naked," with its "bare and reasonless Actions."

History and the Relapsing Nation: The Final Revolutionary Tracts

The problem of imaginative engagement in relation to the historical process continues to concern Milton in the late pre-Restoration polemics. J. G. A. Pocock has suggested that "the English saint was not radically alienated from the secular order, but on the contrary radically involved in it."58 In Milton's late pre-Restoration tracts, I would argue, we see a tension between Milton the polemicist radically alienated from and radically involved in the historic moment in which he finds his relapsing nation. As he expresses his divided responses to history, especially between engagement and withdrawal, Milton demonstrates the power of this polemical discourse to respond creatively, even mythopoetically, to the historical drama. Furthermore, the tension between withdrawing inwardly and maintaining an active polemical stance makes the late controversial tracts important transitional works between the revolutionary prose and the major poems.

Already in the Second Defense we see evidence of this tension between withdrawal and activism in history: Milton's eulogy of Fairfax, introduced in the midst of his mythopoetic vision of Cromwell as activist in history, highlights the attraction of a "glorious retirement … the end of all labors and human action, even the greatest" (IV, 669).59 In the final revolutionary tracts that alternative of withdrawal as a response to history is expressed in Milton's Pauline vision of "the inward man and his actions" (A Treatise of Civil Power, VII, 255); God's power is now compelling through "the inward perswasive motions of his spirit" (VII, 261). Yet both outward activism and inward withdrawal emerge as possible responses to history in these late controversial works: in the same tract in which he explains God's inward power, Milton cannot resist citing yet once more II Corinthians 10:4-6, that favorite passage of his describing the saint's readiness to cast down imaginations and "aveng all disobedience" (VII, 257). Milton is already looking forward to the combination of inward withdrawal and active iconoclasm that characterizes the heroic figures of his great poems—the just few in Paradise Lost who possess the "Spirit within them" and "utter odious Truth" (XII.488, XI.704), "the inner man" of Paradise Regained whose power "shall to pieces dash / All Monarchies … throughout the world" (II. 477, IV. 149-50), the militant Samson who casts down the temple and image of Dagon "With inward eyes illuminated" (Samson Agonistes, line 1689). The regenerate remnant of the Treatise of Civil Power recognize inwardly the presence of God's forceful, radical power in history, even as they combat outwardly "everie high thing that exalts it self against the knowledge of God" (VII, 257).

The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, especially, reveals Milton vacillating in his own polemical stance between detaching himself from the drama of history and engaging with it actively. Milton presents himself as one of the inwardly regenerate few who can see clearly "in these most difficult times" (VII, 462) when most men waver and seem uncertain about their direction. He thus attempts to immerse himself in the critical historical drama while preparing to detach himself from its political consequences if the Commonwealth sells itself into Babylonian captivity. But this, Milton finds, is by no means an easy position to maintain: he desperately urges reform—his sympathy lies with the Commonwealth under the leadership of the perpetual Senate—even as he assumes a tone of righteous vehemence and reproach. His vacillation between involvement in and detachment from the historical moment is the tract's most poignant tension.

Because Milton first wrote the polemic hastily in late February of 1660, when the Rump was still sitting, but published it when the Rump was dissolved, he rewrote the work in late March to accommodate the increasingly worsening political situation.60 Yet Milton, despite what must have seemed more and more like a backsliding historical process, genuinely wanted to believe that the nation could still renew itself "now" in this "very season" (VII, 430). Thus he reminds his countrymen of the idea of an "immortal" commonwealth (VII, 436-38), with its republican precedents in the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Athenian Areopagus, the thirty Ancients of Sparta, the Roman Senate, and the Senate of the Venetian Republic.61 A perpetual Senate consisting of the ablest leaders, the regenerate few, could unite the Commonwealth, making the nation more "industrious," "potent," and "flourishing" (VII, 460). The English would again become God's "peculiar people" and "a glorious rising Commonwealth" (VII, 449, 420).

But Milton's intense yearning for last-minute historical reformation is sharply set against his frustration at the relapsing nation. In a passage expanded in the second version of The Readie and Easie Way, Milton rebukes the elect nation which verges on "relapsing" after nearly fulfilling its "heroic cause" (VII, 422, 420) in the revolution. He recoils at the thought of other nations responding with "scorn and derision" (VII, 422), a fear compounded by a sense of shame and humiliation at the very idea of slavery—a complex response to the politics of history which, we shall see in chapter 6, deeply reverberates in the historical drama of Samson Agonistes. The wheel of Fortune appears as a key image at several points in the tract: Milton is not merely punning cleverly on the idea of "rotation" within the Senate (VII, 434-35), a political solution proposed by James Harrington which he rejects,62 but presenting a potent image of the mutable process of history. For that is precisely what the historical process now threatens to become—unstable, uncertain, and regressive.63

Stylistically, rhetorically, and figuratively Milton's prose expresses his complex response to the historical moment, as he vacillates between expressions of hope, frustration, and reproach. Consider the sense of historical drama in the following dense passage constructed around the condition of bondage:

if we returne to Kingship, and soon repent, as undoubtedly we shall, when we begin to finde the old encroachments coming on by little and little upon our consciences, which must necessarily proceed from king and bishop united inseparably in one interest, we may be forc'd perhaps to fight over again all that we have fought, and spend over again all that we have spent, but are never like to attain thus far as we are now advanc'd to the recoverie of our freedom, never to have it in possession as we now have it, never to be voutsaf'd heerafter the like mercies and signal assistances from heaven in our cause, if by our ingratefull backsliding we make these fruitless … (VII, 423; emphasis added)

The "if" of returning to bondage leads to the certainty of "undoubtedly we shall" repent, which raises the possibility that "we may be forc'd" to struggle all over again, causing Milton to meditate on the inevitable, haunting consequences of tyranny (the fact that we shall "never" again enjoy freedom or heaven's mercies) before concluding the passage on the original conditional note, the "if" which reminds his countrymen that the terrible choice has not yet been made. Nor does the sentence I have quoted end there: emphasizing a greater sense of loss in the second edition, it continues to build in emotional pressure for almost another page as Milton conveys his vehemence and frustration at the thought of "treading back again with lost labour all our happie steps in the progress of reformation" (VII, 424).

These radical shifts in tone and response towards the historical moment convey Milton's extreme uneasiness as he attempts to mediate in his polemical stance between the conflicting responses of historical engagement and detachment. His sense of irony over the fact that kings must be adored like demigods and at the thought of the perverse influence of the French Catholic court's "vast expence and luxurie, masks and revels" (VII, 425), recalls his trenchant critique of Eikon Basilike, with its powerful deflation of courtly theatricality and self-fashioning: thus the new player-king, carrying out "the superficial actings of State" would "pageant himself up and down in progress among the perpetual bowings and cringings of an abject people" (VII, 426). Such a response registers Milton's desire to detach himself from a potentially disastrous historical outcome.

But Milton's most imaginative and visionary response to the tense historical moment occurs in the powerful jeremiad which brings The Readie and Easie Way to a close:

What I have spoken, is the language of that which is not call'd amiss the good Old Cause: if it seem strange to any, it will not seem more strange, I hope, then convincing to backsliders. Thus much I should perhaps have said though I were sure I should have spoken only to trees and stones; and had none to cry to, but with the prophet, O earth, earth, earth! to tell the very soil it self, what her perverse inhabitants are deaf to. Nay though what I have spoke, should happ'n (which Thou suffer not, who didst create mankinde free; nor Thou next, who didst redeem us from being servants of men!) to be the last words of our expiring libertie. But I trust I shall have spoken perswasion to abundance of sensible and ingenuous men: to som perhaps whom God may raise of these stones to become children of reviving libertie; and may reclaim, though they seem now chusing them a captain back for Egypt, to bethink themselves a little and consider whether they are rushing. (VII, 462-63)

More poignantly than any other passage in the late controversial tracts, this plea expresses the unresolved, troubling tension that deeply informs Milton's mytho-poetic vision at this critical juncture in history: his prophetic cry from the wilderness rebuking a deaf, perverse people who have wilfully ignored the signs of God's workings in history is set against his urgent hope that the regenerate few might finally listen to his admonishing voice and that the power of God's spirit—perhaps inwardly as Milton's Treatise of Civil Power suggests—might as last be realized. Assuming the voice and vision of the prophet Jeremiah here, Milton concludes his tract by giving a more cosmic, imaginative, and allegorical dimension to the drama of his national community at this terrible moment in history, a dimension which aligns the historical crisis of his own age with the historical crisis of Jeremiah's age of apostasy.64 But what remains uncertain in Milton's historical vision is whether God will make an inward covenant with this elect community as He had done, say, with Israel in Jeremiah's prophecy: "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel … I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (31:33).

The Readie and Easie Way thus reveals an important characteristic of Milton's historical consciousness throughout this trying pre-Restoration period: Milton continued to struggle imaginatively with the uneven process of history as his reformist vision often conflicted poignantly with his vision of historical mutability. The fact that Milton was so active in polemical writing during this unsettling period suggests that, beyond his desire to find a genuine political solution to the historical crisis, the prose tract continued to offer him—right up until the Restoration—a vital and creative means of confronting the complexities and contradictions of history. As we shall see in subsequent chapters, the major poems would continue to confront, rather than simply transcend or turn away from, the drama of history articulated not only in these late tracts, but throughout the twenty turbulent years of Milton's controversial prose writing.


1 See the letter to Ralegh in Spenser: Poetical Works, ed. J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (1912; rpt. Oxford, 1977), p. 408. Cf. George Puttenham's defense of feigned history in The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Gladys D. Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge, 1936), pp. 39-42. For discussion of the poet historical in Renaissance England, see Arthur B. Ferguson, Clio Unbound: Perception of the Social and Cultural Past in Renaissance England (Durham, NC, 1979), pp. 32-33.

2 Aristotle, Poetics, IX. Lucian, however, also cautions that the historian should not be "swept down into poetry's wild enthusiasm": see "How to Write History" in Lucian, trans. K. Kilburn, VI (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), sec. 45 (cf. sec. 8); on the historian's rhetorical powers, see sees. 34 and 58. For Milton's letter to de Brass, dated December 16, 1657, see VII, 506-7. Although Milton there notes that the functions of the rhetorician and historian differ, in practice he himself often merges the two arts.

3Institutio Oratoria, x.i.31, trans. H. E. Butler (London and New York, 1922), IV, p. 21. For remarks on the relation between history and epic, see Lionel Gossman, "History and Literature: Reproduction or Signification," in The Writing of History: Literary Form and Historical Understanding, ed. Robert H. Canary and Henry Kozicki (Madison, 1978), esp. pp. 3, 13. In The English Epic and Its Background (1954; rpt. New York, 1966), E. M. W. Tillyard notes that "some history may rise to the status of epic" (p. 205; cf. p. 366), but does not mention Milton's Defenses or History of Britain in his chapter on "The Historians" (pp. 361-66).

4The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell, ed. H. M. Margoliouth, rev. Pierre Legouis and E. E. Duncan-Jones, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1971), II, p. 306. Cf. John Toland's view that "for stile and disposition" the First Defense was "the most eloquent and elaborat" of Milton's prose works, "equalling the old Romans in the purity of their own Language" (The Early Lives of Milton, ed. Helen Darbishire [London, 1932], p. 153.)

5 With this observation, made in a letter dated February 18, 1649, the Council of State ordered Salmasius's Defensio confiscated: see J. Milton French, ed., The Life Records of John Milton, II (New Brunswick, 1950), p. 299. Because of the First Defense's intense virulency (and despite the fact that it catapulted Milton's international reputation as Commonwealth spokesman), the tract has received relatively little praise from modern commentators: see e.g. Parker's unsympathetic assessment in Milton: A Biography (Oxford, 1968), I, p. 383; Don M. Wolfe's criticisms in his introduction to the Yale edition: IV, 112, 114-15; and Robin A. Bowers's remarks on Milton's rhetorical insecurity in "Milton and Salmasius: The Rhetorical Imperatives," Philological Quarterly, 52 (1973), 67.

6 Hayden White has criticized, in terms I find suggestive for Milton, the distinction conventionally made between poetic and prose discourse in historiography: see Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore, 1978), p. 97.

7 For examples see E. Howes's "Historicall Preface" to John Stow's Annales or Generali Chronicle of England (London, 1615), and John Speed's "Proeme" to The History of Great Britaine (London, 1611), p. 152.

8 On the rhetor-historian in the Renaissance, see Nancy S. Struever, The Language of History in the Renaissance: Rhetoric and Historical Consciousness in Florentine Humanism (Princeton, 1970), esp. pp. 87-90. See also Eric Cochrane, Historians and Historiography in the Italian Renaissance (Chicago, 1981), p. 493, and Peter Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past (New York, 1969), pp. 105-6.

9 For a fuller discussion of the intersection of poetics and polemics in the Second Defense, see my "Milton and the Poetics of Defense," in Politics, Poetics, and Hermeneutics in Milton's Prose, ed. David Loewenstein and James Grantham Turner (Cambridge, 1990), ch. 9.

10 "The Historical Text as Literary Artifact," in Tropics of Discourse, p. 82; see also The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore, 1987), pp. 44-45.

11 See George Crantz's address to the reader in the preface to the Hague edition of Milton's tract (1654): "Cave credas hunc Historicum esse. Fabulator est & merus Poeta" (French, ed., Life Records, III [1954], p. 422). See also Alexander More's response: Complete Prose Works, IV, 1109.

12 By the time Milton writes his Defense of Himself (1655), however, he is considerably less certain whether this drama of polemical warfare, aimed at demolishing the scurrilous career of Alexander More, will conclude heroically or in the foreseeable future: there Milton fears that, while his countrymen have concluded their battles, his own warfare might become "almost endless" (IV, 698); no longer a heroic task, Milton's polemical warfare has now become a terrible "burden" (IV, 700). The Second Defense succeeds brilliantly because it effectively merges personal drama with its epic vision of history; but the Defense of Himself never successfully reconciles the two modes of writing, as Milton's reformist aspirations, expressed in relating "matters great and glorious," are continuously undercut by "darksome" matters (IV, 699) related in a purely abusive, mock-heroic fashion.

13 In recent years, Milton had felt challenged his deep attachments to nation, family, and God, having endured, as he puts it in his last Defense, nothing less than "infirm health, distress over two deaths in [his] family, and the complete failure of [his] sight" (IV, 703).

14 See De Oratore, II.lxxxiv.346. Richard L. Hoffman, "The Rhetorical Structure of Milton's Second Defense," Studia Neophilologica, 43 (1971), 227-45, notes Milton's indebtedness to classical rhetoricians, but tends to flatten out any distinctiveness or originality in Milton's polemic.

15 Milton used the motto from Corinthians when signing autograph albums in the 1650s: see Parker, I, pp. 389, 479, and French, ed., Life Records, III (1954), pp. 104-5; IV (1956), pp. 118-19.

16 For suggestive comments on personal and public crises in Milton's career, see Frank Kermode, "Milton's Crises," The Listener, December 19, 1968, pp. 829-31; see also Annabel Patterson, "The Civic Hero in Milton's Prose," Milton Studies, 8 (1975), 90-92.

17 On emplotment, see Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore, 1973), pp. 7-11.

18 For Milton's admiration of Sallust, his favorite classical historian, see the letter to Henry de Brass, dated July 15, 1657 (VII, 500-1), as well as the subsequent one dated December 16. For passages in The War of Catiline which describe Cato in terms that resemble Milton's Cromwell, see LIII.2-6 and LIV.5-6.

19 Livy had called Marcus Furius Camillus "parens patriae" after his triumph over the Gauls (Book v.xlix.7). See also S. Carrington, The History of the Life and Death of His Most Serene Highness, Oliver, Late Lord Protector (London, 1659), p. 262, for a panegyrical comparison of Cromwell's virtues with those of the first Roman founders.

20 Cornelius Burges, Two Sermons (1645), cited in J. Sears McGee, The Godly Man in Stuart England: Anglicans, Puritans, and the Two Tables, 1620-1670 (New Haven, 1976), p. 29.

21 Cf. Austin Woolrych, "Milton and Cromwell: 'A Short But Scandalous Night of Interruption'?" in Achievements of the Left Hand: Essays on the Prose of John Milton, ed. Michael Lieb and John T. Shawcross (Amherst, 1974), p. 192, who finds Milton's portrait in the Second Defense more uniformly impersonal and distant; see also Ruth Nevo's remarks in The Dial of Virtue: A Study of Poems on Affairs of State in the Seventeenth Century (Princeton, 1963), pp. 88-92.

22 "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwel's Return from Ireland," in Margoliouth, I, lines 29-30.

23 See Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), pp. 277-99, on notions of warfare in Puritan radicalism.

24The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, ed. Wilbur C. Abbott (Cambridge, Mass., 1945), III, p. 579. On Cromwell's millenarianism, see Austin Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate (Oxford, 1982), pp. 12-17, 74-78, 147-50; on Beard's influence on Cromwell, see Robert S. Paul, The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell (London, 1955), pp. 24-32.

25 See Milton's sonnet, "To the Lord General Cromwell," line 6.

26 Abbott, III, p. 63. On Puritan activism, cf. Christopher Hill, God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (1970; rpt. Harmondsworth, 1972), pp. 214, 217-19.

27 "An Horatian Ode," line 77, and The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector, line 247, the latter poem written at the end of the same year in which Milton published his Second Defense.

28God's Plot and Man's Stories: Studies in the Fictional Imagination from Milton to Fielding (Chicago, 1985), p. 19.

29 For discussion of Milton's political realism in relation to the new social order represented by the Cromwellian Protectorate, see my "Milton and the Poetics of Defense."

30 Paul Ricoeur has commented well on the way the "game of telling" in historical writing is "included in the reality told": see Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation, ed. and trans. John B. Thompson (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 288, 293-94.

31 For remarks on the "textuality of history," see Louis Montrose, "Renaissance Literary Studies and the Subject of History," English Literary Renaissance, 16 (1986), 5-12.

32 Milton probably began writing the History between 1645 and 1647, and presumably worked on it after writing the Defenses; he may have continued to revise the work until its publication in 1670. See French Fogle's discussion of the dating in the introduction to his edition: v, pp. xxxvii-xliii.

33 On the importance of historical truth in Milton's age and writings, see Earl Miner, "Milton and the Histories," in Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (Berkeley, 1987), pp. 183-85, 193-95, 198-203.

34 Most treatments of the History tend not to address imaginative problems of Milton's historiography, the focus of my discussion in this section. Some valuable studies of Milton's work include: Sir Charles Firth, "Milton as an Historian," in Essays Historical and Literary (Oxford, 1938), pp. 61-102; French R. Fogle, "Milton as Historian," in Fogle and H. R. Trevor-Roper, Milton and Clarendon (Los Angeles, 1965), pp. 1-20; Joseph Allen Bryant, Jr., "The Evolution of Milton's Conception of History" (Ph.D. diss., Yale Univ., 1948); Sergio Bertelli, Ribelli, libertini e ortodossi nella storiografia barocca (Florence, 1973), pp. 264-67. In an important recent study of the relation between history and ideology, "The Ideological Context of John Milton's History of Britain" (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge Univ., 1983), Martin Dzelzainis argues for the heterodox and radical nature of Milton's work, especially in its avoidance of the doctrine of the ancient constitution.

35 Cf. An Apology where Milton describes how he loved the "matter" of "grave Orators & Historians" (I, 889).

36 Cf. Prolusion VII where Milton suggests that the poet's knowledge must include history, rhetoric, and philosophy, as well as the sciences. In a letter addressed to Charles Diodati in 1637, Milton describes his reading in Greek and Italian history just after speaking of his poetic ambitions ("my Pegasus still raises himself on very tender wings"): see I, 327-28. For the integration of history and the poetic in Milton's early writings, see also the references to Clio in Elegy IV (line 31), Ad Patrem (line 14), and Mansus (line 24), as well as Epitaphium Damonis (lines 161-78) and Mansus (lines 80-84), where he expresses his plans to sing of legendary British history.

37 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History, trans. Adrian Collins (Indianapolis, 1957), p. 41.

38 Cf. Milton's preface to A Brief History of Moscovia, where he complains about writers of geography who embellish their accounts, especially those who "tell long Stories of absurd Superstitions, Ceremonies, quaint Habits, and other petty Circumstances little to the purpose" (VIII, 474). This work was compiled before 1652, though Milton added the preface in the early 1670s.

39 Polybius, The Histories, II.56.10-12; Lucian, "How to Write History," sec. 63. See also Joseph Allen Bryant, Jr., "Milton and the Art of History: A Study of Two Influences on A Brief History of Moscovia," Philological Quarterly, 29 (1950), 15-30, who overstates the case for Milton's indebtedness to Polybius's view that the historian should relate only facts.

40 Bodin, Method for the Easy Comprehension of History, trans. Beatrice Reynolds (New York, 1945), p. 51 (cf. p. 45); Blundeville, The True Order and Methode of Wryting and Reading Hystories (1574), ed. H. G. Dick, The Huntington Library Quarterly, 3 (1940), 164; Bolton, Hypercritica, or A Rule of Judgment for the Writing or Reading our Histories (1618?), in Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, ed. J. E. Spingarn (Oxford, 1908), I, p. 107; Camden, Annales: The True and Royall History of the famous Empresse Elizabeth (London, 1625), "The Author to the Reader." See also André Du Chesne, one of the French historians Milton cites in his Commonplace Book (I, 399, 483): 'Mes narrations sont par tout sans parade, mon style sans artifice, sans embellissement ou pompe de langage" (Histoire D'Angleterre, D'Escosse, et D'Irlande [Paris, 1634], "Dessein de l'Histoire"). Another French historian Milton frequently cited in the Commonplace Book, Jacques Auguste de Thou (or Thuanus), likewise stresses the naked and unadorned quality of his own historical writing, a style he characterizes as free from rhetorical coloring and ostentation: "denique genus scribendi consectatus sum nudum ac simplex, ut vel stilo ipso me sicuti ab omni fuco & ostentatone" (Historiarum sui Temporis [Paris, 1606], sig. a2v. Cf. John Clapham, The Historie of England (London, 1602), sigs. A3r, A4r, Br; William Winstanley, Englands Worthies (London, 1660), sigs. a4v, a6r.

41Anglia Rediviva; Englands Recovery (London, 1647), sig. *B4r; cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C. B. Macpherson (1968; rpt. Harmondsworth, 1981): in a good history, "Fancy has no place, but onely in adorning the stile" (p. 136).

42 On the rhetoric of antirhetoric in historical discourse, see Hayden White, "Rhetoric and History," in Theories of History (Los Angeles, 1978), p. 16.

43 Edward Hyde, First Earl of Clarendon, Selections from Clarendon, ed. G. Huehns (Oxford, 1978), p. 5; Respublica Anglicana (the work is attributed to George Wither), p. 2. Cf. Thomas May, The History of the Parliament of England (London, 1647): concerned that he not dress "Truth in … improper Vestments" (sig. A3r), May does not begin his "Story from times of any great distance" (sig. B2V) but from the age of Elizabeth; however, we should recall that in Marvell's "Tom May's Death," the shade of Ben Jonson dismisses May as "'Malignant Poet and Historian both'" (line 42). Marvell condemns the self-serving May precisely because he has not remained impartial or above faction—unlike the poet of "An Horatian Ode."

44 See the preface to his Historical Collections (London, 1659), I, sig. b3v. On impartiality in the histories of the mid-seventeenth century, see Royce Macgillivray, Restoration Historians and the English Civil War (The Hague, 1974), pp. 7-8.

45 For discussion of this phenomenon, see F. Smith Fussner, The Historical Revolution: English Historical Writing and Thought, 1580-1640 (London, 1962), esp. pp. 32-35, 102, 189, 263, 306, 315; C. A. Patrides, The Grand Design of God: The Literary Form of the Christian View of History (London, 1972), pp. 102-8; D. R. Woolf, "Erudition and the Idea of History in Renaissance England," Renaissance Quarterly, 40 (1987), 11-48; Barbara Shapiro, Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth-Century England: A Study of the Relationships Between Natural Science, Religion, History, Law, and Literature (Princeton, 1983), pp. 119-62. Martine Watson Brownley, Clarendon and the Rhetoric of Historical Form (Philadelphia, 1985), pp. 2-17, stresses the narrowing of historical writing as historians of the age separated it from literary art.

46 See e.g. Milton's criticisms of monkish chroniclers in Church-Government (I, 812) and similarly skeptical remarks about medieval historiographers in the History: V, 67, 127, 162-63, 230, 234. On the mixture of history and invention in medieval historiography, see Joseph M. Levine, Humanism and History: Origins of Modern English Historiography (Ithaca, 1987), ch. I.

47 Indeed one of the early editors of Milton's work, John Hughes, suggested in his prefatory remarks the interconnection between the History and Milton's poetic achievements: "Mr. Milton's History, as well as his Poetical works, proves this; where, in his Thoughts and Language, he appears with the Majestick Air of old Greece or Rome" (A Complete History of England [London, 1706], I, n. pag.); Milton's work appears in I, pp. 1-82.

48 George Hakewill, An Apologie or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World, 2nd. ed. (London, 1630), p. 9; cf. John Selden, The Reverse or Back-Face of the English Janus, trans. R. Westcot (London, 1682), pp. 8-10. See also Patrides, The Grand Design of God, pp. 105-6. The fact that Milton does recount the myth of Brutus suggests that he is more divided over his commitment to truth-telling in historiography than Patrides's comments indicate: see p. 108.

49 For another telling example, see Caractacus's invented speech which Milton takes from Tacitus (Annals Xll.xxxvii) and inserts into his own account: here again Milton abandons historical accuracy, which he often claims to adhere to, for dramatic effect; see Fogle's remarks, V, pp. 71-72, n. 25.

50 On history as a refuge from devouring time, see Herschel Baker, The Race of Time: Three Lectures on Renaissance Historiography (Toronto, 1967), p. 52; see also Ricardo J. Quinones, The Renaissance Discovery of Time (Cambridge, Mass., 1972).

51 Cf. the fourth chapter of Moscovia, the historical section of Milton's geographical treatise, which traces the often turbulent and violent course of Russian dynastic history from the year 573 to 1613 (VIII, 511-23).

52 "What more worth is it," Milton reflects a few pages later, "then to Chronicle the Wars of Kites, or Crows, flocking and fighting in the Air?" (V, 249).

53 As Frank E. Manuel points out, the cyclical theory was the major expression of philosophical history in the Renaissance: "Discovery of a pattern of similarities in the chaotic experience of states and empires throughout all time became a prime concern of both political theory and philosophical history." See Shapes of Philosophical History (Stanford, 1965), p. 49; but his whole chapter, "Ixion's Wheel: The Renaissance Ponders the Vicissitudes," pp. 46-49, is relevant here. See also Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past, pp. 87-89.

54 In his preface to the Digression, Fogle suggests its date falls between December 1647 and April 1648, and probably towards the end of that period (see V, 426-35); he believes it represents "a momentary response to a depressing moment in English history" (V, 425), and that its gloomy spirit is inconsistent with Milton's "more settled views of England and her role in history" in the 1640s (V, 435). Stressing its tone of defeat, Austin Woolrych has recently argued for a date around 1660: see "The Date of the Digression in Milton's History of Britain," in For Veronica Wedgwood These: Studies in Seventeenth-Century History, ed. Richard Ollard and Pamela Tudor-Craig (London, 1986), pp. 217-46. Achsah Guibbory suggests that Milton worked on the Digression "later than 1648 and that, consequently, it also reflects the disillusion of his later years" (The Map of Time: Seventeenth-Century English Literature and Ideas of Pattern in History [Urbana, 1986], p. 210, n. 40). My point is that the question of dating cannot be firmly settled simply by noting parallel moments of disillusionment in Milton's other writings.

55 V, 425.

56 One of course thinks of Ralegh's ambitious, fragmented History of the World (1614). On the overreaching ambition of Renaissance writers who planned enormous works they never completed, see William Kerrigan, "The Articulation of the Ego in the English Renaissance," in The Literary Freud: Mechanisms of Defense and the Poetic Will, ed. Joseph H. Smith (New Haven, 1980), pp. 275-76.

57 The History could be seen, along with the Defenses, as the displacement and fragmentation (rather than the fulfillment) of Milton's ambitious aim to compose a national epic; for a contrary view, see Lawrence Sasek, "Milton's Patriotic Epic," Huntington Library Quarterly, 20 (1956), 1-14. Cf. Thomas N. Corns, The Development of Milton's Prose Style (Oxford, 1982), who notes (though without examining the History) that in his later prose Milton "appears to recognize the relative powerlessness of the creative writer to influence events through the application of his art" (p. 103).

58The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, 1975), p. 346; Pocock is qualifying Walzer's argument in The Revolution of the Saints.

59 Cf. Milton's letter to Henry Oldenburg (July 6, 1654): "Idle liesure" ("iners otium"), he writes, had never pleased him though his duties as Commonwealth polemicist have "snatched [him] unwilling from studies far different and altogether more delightful" (IV, 866; CE XII, 64). Still, Milton considers his polemical activities far from inconsequential.

60 See the discussions by Austin Woolrych (VII, 204-14) and Robert W. Ayers (VII, 396-401) for particulars; for a study of Milton's two editions, see Stanley Stewart, "Milton Revises The Readie and Easie Way, " Milton Studies, 20 (1984), 205-24. His discussion of the way Milton moves, in revising his tract, from political or topical particulars to metaphorical concerns complements my emphasis on Milton's imaginative response to history.

61 Yet as Barbara K. Lewalski has argued, Milton is no Utopian in his late tracts; rather he proves himself an able and realistic polemicist: see "Milton: Political Beliefs and Polemical Methods, 1659-60," PMLA, 74 (1959), 191-202. But see the satirical contemporary critique of Milton's visionary politics in The Censure of the Rota Upon Mr Miltons Book, Entituled, The Ready and Easie Way to Establish A Free Common-Wealth (1660), pp. 6-7, 13, in William Riley Parker, Milton's Contemporary Reputation (Columbus, 1940).

62 On Milton's differences with Harrington, see Arthur E. Barker, Milton and the Puritan Dilemma, 1641-1660 (Toronto, 1942), pp. 266-68, and Stewart, pp. 206-8.

63 On Fortune as symbolic of irrationality in history, see Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, pp. 47-48.

64 On the drama of history in Jeremiah, see James Muilenberg, "The Faith of Ancient Israel," in The Vitality of the Christian Tradition, ed. George F. Thomas (New York, 1944), p. 10, and Tom F. Driver, The Sense of History in Greek and Shakespearean Drama (New York, 1960), p. 51.

A Note on the Texts

In quoting from Milton's prose, I have generally used the Complete Prose Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Don M. Wolfe, 8 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953-82). Where I quote from Milton's Latin prose, I refer to the Columbia edition of The Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Frank Allen Patterson, 18 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931-38), abbreviated parenthetically as CE. All citations of Milton's poetry are from John Milton: Complete Poetry and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (Indianapolis, 1957). Biblical citations are from the Authorized (King James) Version.

In quotations from older texts, I have modernized i's, j's, u's, and v's, but left the spelling and punctuation unchanged.

Richard F. Hardin (essay date 1992)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Milton and Civil Idolatry," in Civil Idolatry: Desacralizing and Monarchy in Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton, University of Delaware Press, 1992, pp. 164-201.

[Below, Hardin examines Milton's rejection of patriarchalism as a justification for kingship, discounting both the notions of fatherhood as the basis and origin for authority and the idea of the king as the father of the state.]

… Milton banished monarchy to hell in a century that published an unprecedented number of writings defending it as God's preferred method of government. He particularly undercut two myths of royalty that are not widely known today. One, the justification of monarchy by ancient conquest, is especially singled out in Paradise Regained. Another, with ramifications in all three poems, is the patriarchal theory, the view that fatherhood was the origin and even the model of good government. Just as Adam and all succeeding fathers are sole rulers of their families, so the father-king rules the collection of families known as the state. Monarchists took pleasure in associating the fatherly role of the king with the first person of the Trinity as well as the ordinary human father, and in the whirl of analogy the purely metaphorical status of the argument could get lost. The patriarchal theory of kingship occurs in Aristotle, Plato, and in Christian authors of later ages, but it was most fully developed in England by Milton's contemporary Sir Robert Filmer, who believed it to be historically, not just metaphorically, valid.43

Filmer pursued his simple idea with a rare single-mindedness. The mere fact of divine approbation in Eden canceled the need for any other evidence to justify kingly rule. Milton probably never saw Filmer's best known book, Patriarcha (published in 1680, twenty-seven years after the author's death), but he could have known of this quiet country gentleman's tardy reply to Philip Hunton's Treatise of Monarchy (1643), called The Anarchy of a Limited or Mixed Monarchy (1648). Not until his three books published in 1652, however, did Filmer offer his extensive biblical evidence for patriarchalism. Observations concerning the Originall of Government specifically attacks Milton's first Defensio, along with Hobbes and Grotius. Observations upon Aristotles Politiques offered as a principal thesis "that the people are not born free by nature" (p. 115), because all children are subject to their parents. Adam was "the Father, King and Lord over his family: … a son, a subject, and a servant or slave were all one and the same at first" (p. 148). The third tract of Filmer's annus mirabilis, Directions for Obedience to Governors in Dangerous or Doubtful Times, uses some predictable shuffling to disallow the fatherhood of the current Protector. In this book Filmer's version of biblical history contrasts markedly with Milton's in Paradise Lost. Noah is distinguished not as the "one just man" but as the restorer of paternal monarchy after the flood. At the fall of Babel mankind was divided into seventy-two "distinct families, which had fathers for rulers over them" (p. 141). After Moses, Hebrew rulers held power as "reputed" heirs of earlier father-kings. Filmer has an answer to the obvious argument that children grow up and are no longer subject to their fathers: this process is not by decree of nature but by the laws of society, enacted by "the fatherly power of princes" (p. 149). The existence of tyrants poses no problem either. "There is, and always shall be continued to the end of the world, a natural right of a supreme Father over every multitude, although, by the secret will of God, many at first do most unjustly obtain the exercise of it" (p. 151).

Through the century Filmer's theory remained alive, provoking the notable opposition of John Locke. Although Milton never spoke of Filmer directly, he attacked patriarchalism in the opening chapter of the first Defensio; and it was perhaps this conspicuous discussion that led Filmer to print his reply. Milton tells Salmasius:

Indeed, you are wholly in the dark in failing to distinguish the rights of a father from those of a king; by calling kings fathers of their country, you think this metaphor has forced me to apply right off to kings whatever I might admit of fathers. Fathers and kings are very different things: Our father begot us, but our kings did not, and it is we, rather, who created the king. It is nature who gave the people fathers, and the people who gave themselves a king; the people do not exist for the king, but the king for the people. We endure a father though he be harsh and strict, and we endure such a king too; but we do not endure even a father who is tyrannical.44

The attention here given to the phrase "fathers of their country" bears noting. We have already seen Milton's interest in the implications of this phrase as early as his Commonplace Book (CPW, 1:433). As late as Tenure he was willing to admit the possibility of a just king who could be called "the public father of his Countrie" (CPW, 3:212). By the 1650s, however, he saw the title as one to be earned through virtue, not inherited. Thus in the Defensio Secunda Cicero is "father of his Country" though he never ruled it (CPW, 4:446), Cromwell is praised because in rejecting the title of king for protector, "you assumed a certain title very like that of father of your country" (CPW, 4:672). Milton firmly deprives the phrase of any numinous content it might receive because of the ruler's presumed status in nature.

The concept of fatherhood behind the political theory of Filmer and many other patriarchalists was narrowly centered on the father's power, not unlike Freud's patriarch of the primal horde. Filmer went so far as to say that in primitive times a father had life-and-death power over his son, for "where there are only Fathers and Sons, no sons can question the Father for the death of their brother."45 It may well be, as historians tell us, that "affective family relationships" had scarcely begun to exist during this period. If so, Milton is ahead of his time, first in the affection shown for his own father in "Ad Patrem" and The Reason of Church Government, secondly in his portrayal of Adam, the anguished parent watching his children and their children suffer and die—quite unlike the dour patriarch that Filmer gives us. In Paradise Lost relationships defined by mere power belong to the Satanic order. King Nimrod enslaves his subjects, King Moloch devours them.

A knowledge of the patriarchalist controversy contributes to the whole mosaic of the kingship-theme in the major poems, to begin with in the way it influences the characterization of Adam. The relations between Adam and Eve, for one thing, are anything but monarchical in Filmer's absolute sense. It has long been recognized that if Adam held dominion over Eve's will the consequences for Milton's cherished voluntarism, not to mention his poem, would have been harsh. Adam and Eve are not "unequals" (8:383), but they are conceived more as complementary than equal beings. Milton's language in their presence often challenges us to understand the politics between them. Eve's beauty

The challenge to the paraphraser here is quite deliberate. Subjection is "required"—"but." (And required by whom?) Can a subject "delay" what is required of her? Here it seems she must—she is required not to be required. The "gentle sway" may be the rule of Adam (over or by Eve?), but it is also the old lovers' dance to and fro, the frustration of desire to prolong desire. The oxymorons "coy submission" and "modest pride" characterize the lovers' relation in this poem much more faithfully than the much-quoted "He for God only, she for God in him." Also deliberately equivocal is the moment after the quarrel in the garden, when Eve "persisted, yet submiss, though last" (that is, though she had the last word). Paradise is less a monarchy than an aristocracy of two with Adam as the primus inter pares.

From our first glimpse of Paradise, Adam is consistently presented as the father of the race. Both in Book V, line 506 and Book IX, line 376, he is "the Patriarch of mankind"; but in both cases this phrase comes in the context of God's commanded obedience. In the first, Raphael has reminded Adam of the rewards in store "if ye be found obedient"; in the second, at the parting in the garden, "patriarch" takes on a shade of irony. Had he been obedient, Adam would have been an honored patriarch. But after the fall Michael shows how impotent Adam is to prevent one of his sons from murdering the other, let alone keep his later descendants from suffering. All that remains of the patriarchal virtues are the love and care that Adam shows during these revelations. Milton depicts this powerless love with great feeling in the elegiac comparison of Adam's penitent tears with Noah's flood:

How didst thou grieve then, Adam, to behold The end of all thy Offspring, end so sad, Depopulation; thee another Flood, Of tears and sorrow a Flood thee also drown'd, And sunk thee as thy Sons; till gently rear'd By th'Angel, on thy feet thou stood'st at last, Though comfortless, as when a Father mourns His Children, all in view destroy'd at once.(XI.754-61)

This image of the Job-like father, loving, patient, comfortless, returns with Manoa in Samson Agonistes. In both cases it contrasts with the patriarchalists' concept of fatherhood as defined exclusively by power and authority.

In Book XII the patriarchal myth of kingship receives another shock. Adam sees the generations after him living in "Families and Tribes / Under paternal rule," which Milton also describes as "fair equality, fraternal state" (XII.24-26). The sight of Nimrod grasping the first kingship provokes Adam, "fatherly displeas'd," to see the usurper as an "execrable Son so to aspire / Above his Bretheren" (XII.63-64). In both these passages Milton's joining of filial with brotherly relations reminds us of the larger human brotherhood or communitas, the sonship of all Adam's children ("When Adam delved and Eve spann …") that effectively limits the power of any single father. Later events of Genesis continue to subvert the patriarchalist idea. Ham, "th' irreverent Son" of Noah, dishonors his father; men forsake God "While yet the Patriarch liv'd, who scap'd the Flood" (XII.101, 117). On the other hand there are virtuous sons who reject their fathers' ways. Abraham departs "from his Fathers house, / His kindred and false Gods" (XII.121-22). Joseph, explicitly "a younger Son" rather than the eldest son of patriarchal favor, becomes "a Son whose worthy deeds / Raise him to be the second in that Realm / Of Pharaoh" (XII.160-63). Neither lineage nor race determines just authority, but virtuous action alone. Similarly David's fatherhood of Christ ("of Kings, the last") is set against that of Solomon "for Wealth and Wisdom fam'd." In effect Solomon's idolatries bring on the dispersal of the tribes and the later age of factious priests who "regard not David's Sons," handing their people over to strangers (XII.329-58). Milton's recurring description of Jewish history in terms of sonship and fatherhood accords with Jewish patriarchal custom, of course, but at every chance it undercuts the supposed correspondence between patriarchal relationship and the ways of God. After all, had Milton's own father pursued this course, the poet would have been born into idolatry.

In short, kingship has nothing to do with fatherhood, except in that kings should love and care for their people as fathers do. Nor is fatherhood itself any guarantee of the moral virtue and wisdom that human authority requires.

Having seen this history, Adam is in a better position to appreciate what Michael told him at the outset. If he had not sinned, Adam would indeed have been the object of patriarchal veneration. Michael's hypothetical account presents something very much like a world emperor cult, though empire is of course irrelevant to an unfallen world. Eden might have been "thy Capital Seat," says Michael, where people would have come "to celebrate / And reverence thir great Progenitor":

But this preeminence thou has lost, brought down To dwell on even ground now with thy Sons.(XI.347-48)

As in XII.24-26, "paternal rule" in the fallen world yields to "fraternal state."

In Paradise Regained Satan appeals to Christ's patriarchal right to power as David's son, often setting the human against the divine sonship. Christ's two fathers thus come to epitomize the demands of the two kingdoms.

In amplifying the second temptation, Book III bears most fully on the patriarchal issue. Satan repeatedly invokes Christ's earthly lineage:

But to a Kingdom thou art born, ordain'd To sit upon thy Father David's throne; By Mother's side thy Father, …(lines 151-53)

They [duty and zeal] themselves rather are occasions best: Zeal of they Father's house, Duty to free Thy country from her Heathen servitude.(lines 174-76)

[Babylon is] rebuilt by him who twice Judah and all thy Father David's house Led captive and Jerusalem laid waste.(lines 281-83)

Satan, of course, knows that "father David" is not the whole truth; already in I.93 he says that God is in some sense Christ's father. Shortly before the first quoted passage, in fact, in the speech beginning "Think not so slight of glory: therein least / Resembling thy great Father" (III.109), Satan admits this point to Christ. Only when he slips into his "temptation mode" (as opposed to his "anguish mode"—the two alternate fairly regularly in Book III) does Satan forget the other side of things and insinuate the purely worldly arguments of patriarchalism. Christ draws Satan's attention back to his heavenly father in response to Satan's speech containing the first two of the above quotations:

If of my reign Prophetic Writ hath told That it shall never end, so when begin The Father in his purpose hath decreed.(III.184-86)

To this Satan replies in anguish envisioning "thy Father's ire" (III.219)—only to resume his temptation and the invoking of father David in the speech beginning at line 267, the most elaborate of those in Book III, culminating in the promise that

Thou on the throne of David in full glory, From Egypt to Euphrates and beyond Shalt reign, and Rome or Caesar not need fear.(III.383-85)

Christ's reply firmly quashes the David argument—even though the indefatigable adversary will return to it in Book IV. For one thing, he asks, where was your zeal "For Israel, or for David, his Throne, / When thou stood'st up his Tempter … ?" (IV.409). Moreover, he says, "if I mean to reign David's true heir," you say I must regain the ten lost tribes, who chose to live in sin among idolaters. Yet if they were returned to "their ancient Patrimony," they would most likely remain "Unhumbl'd, unrepentant, unreform'd" (III.428). Patriarchalism would of course require that these tribes be "regained" (III.371), whether they are worthy subjects or not.

Each instance of Satan's naming "thy Father David" connotes not the holy David of Scripture but the mythic king presiding over a worldly Jewish nation. Satan inadvertently grants as much when he later upbraids Christ for refusing "David's throne, or Throne of all the world" (IV.379). A scholar has noted as puzzling the absence of explicit references to David in the panoply of scriptural allusions during Christ's victory in Book IV of Paradise Lost, especially in view of "the dozen messianic references to the throne of David in Paradise Regained."46 Very likely Milton did not want to associate Christ's victory with that of any earthly king, even David. References to David in Paradise Regained almost all come from the mouth of Satan, or Satan elicits them from Christ. Satan distorts the story of David from its biblical context much as royalists and propagandists for monarchy did with Charles I and Charles II. Laud's posthumously published sermon before the first Charles, A Commemoration of King Charles His Inauguration (1645), compares the newly born Prince Charles and his father to Solomon and David—the first tract, perhaps, but hardly the last, to employ this conceit. In Eikon Basilike this sort of aggrandizement provoked Milton to describe the king's execution as partly "a warning to all Kings hereafter how they use presumptuously the words and protestations of David, without the spirit and conscience of David" (CPW, 3:381-82).

Satan's stress on the human paternity of Christ contributes to his principal aim of making Christ forget his spiritual for his worldly kingdom. But in the end Satan is in every sense of the word confounded: "O Son of David, Virgin born; / For Son of God to me is yet in doubt" (IV.500). His ensuing analysis and probing of the phrase "Son of God" in this speech betrays a last, frantic attempt at rationalization closing in skepticism:

The Son of God … bears no single sense; The Son of God I also am, or was, And if I was I am; relation stands; All men are Sons of God.(IV.517-20)

Understanding the full implications of Son in this poem—spiritual or physical offspring and heir, patriarchal continuer, descendant—we can better appreciate the angelic hymn at the end of the poem, praising Christ for victory "against th' Attempter of thy Father's Throne" (IV.603). Instead of regaining "Father David's throne," all the while "Israel's true king" (III.441) has been defending the city of God and the rich resources of the inner life. Christ is finally "heir of both worlds" (IV.634) because of a victory won wholly in the kingdom of the spirit.

It is possible that the patriarchal myth was under attack in Milton's third major poem, Samson Agonistes, chiefly in his handling of the character Manoa. Why is Manoa here at all? In the biblical story, of course, he seems to have died before the events of Milton's poem. One writer has proposed that "by keeping Manoa very much alive, by having him partake as a human father in the suprahuman feats and regeneration of his son, Milton ties the drama together and relates the eternal visionary experience to the humdrum world of everyday life."47 Manoa is an all-too-human father with a heroic, mythic son. His characterization can also be seen in the light of the political theory I have been discussing, for his presence in the play directly reverses the patriarchalists' assumed qualities of the all-powerful father and the servile son. Being one of Samson's two fathers, Manoa inadvertently confuses, as Satan intentionally does in Paradise Regained, the worldly and the providential roles of the hero. This is not to say that the chief reason for his presence in the play is to debunk Filmer. Epideictic rhetoric in the Renaissance always took into account parentage and ancestry as one of the required topics of celebrating a person's life. Thus we need Manoa to know the full greatness of Samson. There is evidence, however, that Milton used Manoa to measure the presuppositions of patriarchalism.

Manoa's qualities as a father, the "pater carus" of Milton's "Ad Patrem," resemble those of Adam pitying his children; he is not the awesome archetype of patriarchal lore. Throughout the poem, however mistaken his perceptions, he is anxious not to "omit a Father's timely care" (line 602). At the end, when he describes his tireless petitions on his son's behalf to the Philistine lords, "with supplication prone and Father's tears" (line 1459), the reader is struck by the pathos in this well-meaning if benighted old man. His presence during the offstage catastrophe and his blind confidence in his vision of his son's future underscore his humanity and, by contrast, his son's spiritual heroism.

A patriarchalist image that Milton uses often in the poem to suggest the ironies of Samson's condition is that of the house. The regal sense (as in "the house of Stuart") is often opposed to the religious one (as in "in my father's house there are many mansions"). When Manoa tells Samson of the shame that has "befall'n thee and thy Father's house" (line 447), he betrays the narrowness of his, unlike his son's, horizons. He wants God to find a way, he tells Samson, "to return thee/Home to thy country and his sacred house" (line 518), but in the end Manoa simply wants Samson to adorn his own house: the old man hopes to "view him sitting in the house ennobl'd/With all those high exploits by him achiev'd" (lines 1491-92). Samson will become a living scutcheon for the house of Manoa, and idol of fame for future generations. This is the meaning, surely, behind Manoa's affirming at the last that Samson has bequeathed "to himself and Father's house eternal fame" (line 1717). The words are exactly right, though the sense is wrong: Samson has won heavenly fame chiefly for his heavenly father's house. The destruction of the worldly kingdom, like Christ's rejection of the world, is required for admission into the kingdom of God. When Christ "home to his Mother's house private return'd" in the last line of Paradise Regained, Milton gave the final answer to those who wanted the Messiah to act as a public man for the house of David. (The Mother's house never figures into patriarchalist speculation.) A similar intention lies behind the similar phrasing of Manoa's vow to take Samson's body "with silent obsequy and funeral train/Home to his Father's house" (lines 1732-33). In the Bible the burial is in fact said to have been performed by "the house of his father."

Manoa's presence effectively undercuts the assumptions of patriarchal politics: Samson's virtues are supremely irrelevant to his father. As in Paradise Regained the idea of the powerful father passing on his gifts to his son is an exploded myth. In the kingdoms of this world, whether among generations or citizens, original sin is the great equalizer….


Abbreviations of biblical titles and works by Shakespeare and Milton follow standard usage as given in the MLA Handbook, edited by Joseph Gibaldi and Walter Achert (3d edition). The bibliographic entries give full title of scholarly journals abbreviated in the notes. In the following list, see the bibliography for the full information on editions of Erasmus, Milton, and others.

Desiderius Erasmus, Adagia
John Milton, Complete Prose Works
Erasmus, Collected Works of Erasmus
Thomas More, The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More
Dictionary of National Biography
Early English Text Society
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
Erasmus, Opera Omnia. Leyden, 1703
J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina Cursus Completus
Oxford English Dictionary
Erasmus, Erasmi Opera Omnia. Amsterdam, 1969
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae
Times Literary Supplement (London)


42 See especially the paragraph in CPW, 1:230-31.

43 My knowledge of Filmer and patriarchalism is indebted to Gordon J. Schochet, Patriarchalism in Political Thought (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975). Page numbers in parentheses in the next paragraph refer to Schochet.

44CPW, 4:236-37; the editor, n. 9, p. 327, calls this "Salmasius' analogy," though it is properly seen as a long-established pretext for monarchy. Cf. Milton's accusing Salmasius later of believing that the "absolute power of Kings" is inferred from "the ancient rights of a pater familias" (p. 472).

45Observations concerning the Originall of Government (1652), p. 19.

46 Gerald J. Schiffhorst, "Patience and the Humbly Exalted Heroism of Milton's Messiah," MS 16 (1982): 97-113. Milton also suggests that even David was vulnerable to the temptations of tyranny: see David Quint, "David's Census: Milton's Politics and Paradise Regained," in Re-membering Milton, ed. Mary Nyquist (New York: Methuen, 1987), 128-47.

47 Nancy Y. Hoffman, "Samson's Other Father: The Character of Manoa in Samson Agonistes," MS 2 (1970): 194-210 (p. 205).

John T. Shawcross (essay date 1993)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "The Religious Precept," in John Milton: The Self and the World, The University Press of Kentucky, 1993, pp. 247-259.

[In the following essay, Shawcross examines Milton's Calvinist beliefs and the role his father's and grandfather's experiences with the Church may have influenced his theological ideas. He adds that although Milton was hostile to the Roman Catholic Church and a fierce advocate of the separation of church and state, hedespite the common perceptionwas not an anti-Trinitarian.]

Ask someone what Milton's religion was and the immediate answer will be "Puritan." Just what a Puritan was is confused, of course, and has frequently been the subject of historical study that has pointed out the "purifying" etymology of the name. Puritans were people who wished to remove such traces of Roman Catholicism remaining in the new state church, the Anglican church as it was soon to be called, as vestment, kneeling, certain rituals, and hierarchic positions that persisted between the Godhead and the believer. The Puritan was Calvinist, but just how extreme or liberal his attitude was concerning election, predestination, biblical interpretation, and the like is not measurable since the term included many people of varying attitudes about such matters.

Largely the name, as limited from the broader Protestant, derived from reforms of practice, externals, and the church, not from differences of opinion about theology. The liturgy and its uses also sparked differences among the various Protestant groups. Much of the reason for these early puritanic enjoinders was the nebulous change that occurred in the latter half of the sixteenth century when Elizabeth and her advisers moved England out of the Roman Catholic fold into another. While the break with Rome that Henry VIII had precipitated was made firmer under Edward VI, with a backsliding under Mary, it was through the actions of the Elizabethan government that strong change occurred. Yet that change was not so firm as to deter Roman Catholic upsurges under James I, Charles I and Henrietta Maria, Charles II, and, of course, James II. Milton and his religion are a product of those years from January 1559, when Elizabeth, two months after her ascent to the throne, asserted an intention to break with Rome, through the 1670s.

In 1559 and for a couple of decades thereafter there were varying groups of Catholics: those who harked back to the medieval church, fairly unchanged; those middle-of-the-roaders who maintained adherence to the faith and yet did not defy the state church; and the recusants, few at first but dominant among the Catholics by the time of Elizabeth's death. "By 1603 the rigours of Elizabethan government policy had eliminated Catholicism within the Elizabethan church, so that Catholicism was now a distinctive, separated religion."1 That "separated" religious body expanded during the seventeenth century. At the time Milton was beginning to emerge as an author in print with the five antiprelatical tracts, 1641-42, the tension of anticatholicism had generated into a political issue. "Alarm over the papists spread on an unprecedented scale; the five major cities in England … were declared to be centres of popish conspiracies; so too were many other towns and villages."2

It is no wonder that Milton's sense of toleration in Of True Religion, Hæresy, Schism, Toleration, and what best means may be used against the growth of Popery (1673) did not include Roman Catholics: in his formative years and in the years when he was specifically faced with the issue of church administration—not theological precept, let it be noted—the Catholic thrust beckoned a return to formerly rejected practices. Further, of course, was the political force that Catholicism still posed in the early 1670s, despite the Thirty Years' War and the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. It still exerts significance in sociological and hence political power through its influence over its members' minds. And further, and even more important, an acceptance of Roman Catholicism on a personal level denied Milton's father and his father's rebellious action against his father.3

Milton's grandfather, Richard Milton, was one of the recusants from Oxford during Elizabeth's reign. He was excommunicated in May 1582, and there are records of recusancy fines in later years. Milton's father, John, is reported to have quarreled with his father over religion, apparently leaving home at least by 1583 and becoming active as a scrivener by 1590. Early accounts report that he was disinherited because of this quarrel and that he proceeded to London for his livelihood. Is there a residue of Milton's father's rebelliousness against his grandfather in Satan's rebellion against God, and its sublimation in his loving accedence to his father in the Son's functioning as surrogate for the Father? "Ad Patrem" emboldens that suggestion. In Samson we have a nonunderstanding son who tries to conform to the wishes of God the Father but who is able to proceed only when he can deflect the desires and counsel of his father, Manoa. And one way of looking at Paradise Regain'd is to see it as resolving the dilemma of how to achieve using the energy of Father/Son through the function of anima (the mother archetype), which supplies the determining form.4 The psychological picture of the poet that keeps emerging is of a son much dedicated to his father, emulating him and growing up to discharge, psychologically at least, those concerns that were seen as the father's5: artistic achievement, middle-class "political" advantage, and the true religious belief in a protestant god.

Milton was raised an Anglican, trained to become an Anglican minister, and remained an Anglican through the signing of the subscription books of Cambridge University in both 1629 and 1632, which demanded allegiance to the state church and its Thirty-nine Articles. But Anglican carried no clear denotation of beliefs or theological precepts: Milton would have been generally Calvinistic, he may or may not have entertained attitudes that smacked of Arminianism (as in Sonnet 7), and he knew (and literary research has shown employed knowledgeably6) the liturgy. But whether prior to 1632 he fostered separatist views or had a strong position on baptism or on other sacraments, we cannot be sure. There seems to be no change discernible through the middle 1630s with his writing of "Comus," except perhaps in some implications for the religious Anglican establishment in the Lady's lines denouncing an aristocratic world and economy. But were these, perhaps, part of the 1637 alteration that has been alluded to before?7 With the events of 1637, if my reconstruction in Chapter 4 is correct, came a realization of argument against the Church of England, whose hierarchical system was little reformed from its Catholic source. Such realization could have remained submerged until the events of 1637 made the way things were crystal-clear. His recognition of his disability as sermonist is evident in the Letter to an Unknown Friend, and a nonconformity of thought has usually struck most people about Milton, although there is no certain evidence of it up to this point in time. Lines in "Lycidas" have often been excerpted as a digression on the clergy, but they are, rather, a statement of this realization that the church establishment in rule and authority was tainted with Catholicism and, second, an integral part of the growth of the poet, the uncouth swain.

Perspective on Milton always points to an anal retentive personality, one not only who is self-disciplined, acquisitive, and obstinate, but one who is not given to airing his accomplishments or being fully satisfied with them once they have been aired. Note, for example, the alteration of the text of Comus in 1645 after its first publication in 1637, of the "Nativity Ode" in 1673, and so significantly of Paradise Lost in its second edition. But the prose too is revised: the second edition of The Doctrine and Disciplines of Divorce (1644) is almost double the length of the first (1643); Eikonoklastes and The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates have additions, for the most part unimportant, however, in 1650 printings; and The Ready and EasyWay, within a month's time in March/April 1660, almost becomes two different books. With Parker we may remark that "Milton not only strengthened his main proposal and brought it up to date, but also amplified his attack on monarchy, reminding his readers of things they had perhaps forgotten, such as the wastefulness and corruption of court life";8 and we can construe the first edition as being hurried into print because the Restoration was upon him. Yet there is that dissatisfaction with self that is so typical of the anal personality. And with the publication of Paradise Lost in 1667, Milton finally was able to release a number of items for publication well after they had been written: Accedence Commenc't Grammar (1669), The History of Britain (1670), Artis Logicce Plenior Institutio (1672). Other works that saw print long after composition were Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings (probably from 1653 in rebuttal of William Prynne's A Gospel Plea, but not published until 1659 in promised complement to A Treatise of Civil Power), and the posthumous Character of the Long Parliament (1681), A Brief History of Moscovia (1682), A Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth and The Present Means, and Brief Delineation of a Free Commonwealth (1698), and De doctrina Christiana (1825). The last, of course, may not be quite as he might have wanted it, since the manuscript indicates numerous alterations of the text over some years. This record is easily assignable to the kind of personality I suggest, and helps make cogent the career and religious convictions that finally emerged in 1637. Milton seems consistently to lag behind the "more timely-happy spirits" of his world, coming to realizations and decisions well after we might have expected another in similar circumstances to have acted. And, indeed, the continuance of the shell of his world in the 1630s demarks that personality, though inwardly there had been change.

Over the years of the 1630s, then, we see a change in Milton's attitude toward the church, from a seemingly straightforward Anglicanism to an antiprelatical position. He had been "church-outed," but there is no evidence of change in belief. Once questioning in one sector sets in, however, questioning and then revision may occur in another, and such is the case, I think, with Milton. Religion, Jung tells us, is "a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors, understood to be 'powers,' spirits, demons, god, laws, ideas, ideals or whatever name man has given to such factors as he has found in his world powerful, dangerous or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration, or grand, beautiful and meaningful enough to be devoutly adored and loved."9 He is not talking of creed and certainly not of church. Protestantism offers the frame of the conviction that God has revealed himself in Christ, who suffered for mankind, but the liberation from the dogma and ritual of Catholicism led to the authority of the Bible (and each man's interpretation of it now becomes possible) and to the ascendancy of inner experience. Elsewhere Jung also commented that when confronted with humankind's need for dependence and security, "What can one say of the Protestant? He has neither church nor priest, but only God—and even God becomes doubtful."10

The Milton of the 1640s, concerned with church government, espouses Presbyterianism and then rejects it; moves into Independency with its Arminian proportions, but falls out with certain practices; and finally abjures church attendance for himself. Milton's approval of Presbyterianism was probably a short-lived stratagem to effect church reform rather than a wholehearted acceptance of principles—that is, if he even had a clear knowledge of those principles that were to emerge with the Westminster Assembly of Divines' Confession of Faith in 1646 (called first An Humble Advice). The close alliance of Presbyterians and the monarchy during the troubled period from 1644 to 1649 also could not have continued Milton in their support. Independents, basically working through congregational organization, believed in leaving doctrinal matters to individual consciences. And this was and was to be a main lemma of Milton's religion. Independence from state control was meaningful when a Them/Us relation existed, but as the state became controlled by the Independents, during the Interregnum, and there was largely only Us, the question of liberty of conscience became a question of tithing and state support of the clergy. Milton's overt antagonism toward the non-separation of church and state, like that of others in England and America, grew belatedly; the state/church collocation should have been foreseen from the first Erastian actions of the mid-sixteenth century, but was not, causing, later, schism among former partners.

William B. Hunter suggests that the main catalyst for Milton in reexamining his beliefs (creed, religion, theological positions) was the reception given his divorce tracts in 1643-45.11 And this may be so, particularly with the rejection of his argument for divorce in the Confession of Faith, which, though he is unnamed, is a direct attack upon his position: "Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments, unduely to put asunder those whom God hath joyned together in marriage, yet nothing but Adultery, or such wilfull desertion as can no way be remedied, by the Church, or Civill Magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of Marriage…. And, the Persons concerned in it, not left to their own wills and discretion, in their own case."12

It seems clear why Milton is tolerant of varying sects—it is the personal religion that is important, and as long as a sect does not interfere with a person's personal religion it need not be stamped out: "No protestant therfore of what sect soever following scripture only, which is the common sect wherin they all agree, and the granted rule of everie mans conscience to himself, ought, by the common doctrine of protestants, to be forc'd or molested for religion."13 Disagreement on doctrine was not important, but doctrine not derivative from God's word and the organization that fostered a concept of infallibility for any such doctrine were reprehensible. Thus we see Milton accepting adult baptism and the salvation this sacrament held forth as available to everyone. He could be called, that is, a General Baptist on this issue, not a Particular Baptist, for whom salvation was possible only for the elect. Thus we see him reflecting certain antinomian concepts as well, such as the abrogation of Mosaic law through the New Covenant (see Chapter 8), or antinomian resistance to persecution of religious dissenters. But at no point does Milton condone the libertinism often associated with the movement. His emphasis on the internal illumination that each person experiences as the Spirit of God fills one links him with the Friends (or Quakers), one of whose central figures in the mid- and later part of the century was Milton's former student and friend Thomas Ellwood. But Milton was not a Friend; his position on militarism and soldiery is a manifest disagreement with the Friends' precepts. And what strikes some people as "libertine" and morally offensive is Milton's acceptance of polygamy, although it hardly constitutes a religious congruence with, say, the Familists and their religion of love. In De doctrina Christiana (I, x) he is concerned to deny that scripture condemns or denies polygamy, that is all; he is not advocating it. The litany of sectarians that Christopher Hill reviews14 indicates how Milton agreed with different groups on this point or that, but we cannot push him into any specific pigeonhole, although he came close to the Muggletonians for Hill on the basis of anti-clericalism, materialism (since Milton saw creatio ex deo as fundamental), millenarianism, and mortalism, but also, invalidly, anti-Trinitarianism and hell internal.

The anti-Trinitarian controversy in Milton studies—so frequently and erroneously labeled Arian controversy—has had a long and still ignorantly viable life. It is not that Milton was anti-Trinitarian but that he subscribed to the nonheretical (until the Council of Nicæa) doctrine of subordinationism. In De doctrina Christiana (I, v) he wrote, "it is certain that the Son existed in the beginning, under the title of the Word or Logos, that he was the first of created things, and that through him all other things, both in heaven and earth, were afterwards made…. All these passages prove that the Son existed before the creation of the World, but not that his generation was from eternity."15 He continues that the Father and the Son are not one in essence and that the essential unity of the three persons of the Trinity is illogical. Rather, each has its own essence, but all derive from the same substantia, the Godhead, as does everything created. The concept of the one God equates with God the Father; the other persons of the Trinity may be called God "in accordance with the Father's decree and will," but, like all things created, they come from the substantia of God. This is not an anti-Trinitarian position, no matter how unorthodox it may seem to be.

Milton's language in De doctrina Christiana evidences his worriment of the word more incisively than allowed by the superficial "Three Persons in One Indivisible God" that seems to constitute Trinitarianism for most people. Milton contended that such a statement was indefensible because of illogic and contradictory of scripture: "I have already demonstrated satisfactorily, from the agreement of spiritual texts, that when both Father and Son are mentioned, the name, attributes, and works of God, and also the divine honor, are always ascribed to the one and only God the Father…. Even the principal texts which are quoted as proof of the Son's divinity show quite plainly, when they are closely and carefully studied, that he is God in the way I have suggested….. If Father and Son were of one essence, which, because of their relationship, is impossible, it would follow that the Father was the Son's son and the Son the Father's father. Anyone who is not a lunatic can see what kind of conclusion this is. For I have said enough already to show that more than one hypostasis cannot be fitted into one essence."16 The statement in the Confession of Faith on the Trinity falls between the general, inexact catch-phrase and Milton's analytic argument: "In the Unity of the God-head there be Three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Sonne, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding: The Sonne is eternally begotten of the Father: the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son."17

John Short's exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 reads Paul's words in a way that is consistent with Milton's ideas. "Therefore, while he is in no doubt that God is mediated through Jesus Christ, he never fully identifies the two. God must be supreme from first to last. It is God, and God alone, who is the alpha and the omega. Whatever the relationship in terms of communion may be between the Father and the Son, they are not in the apostle's thought identical. In respect of the work of Christ among men, for man's redemption, the relationship is one of subordination to the Father."18 Saint Augustine is also both helpful and confusing on the issue, but yielding a seemingly much less unorthodox Milton: "For by the name Father, the Father by Himself is made known, but the name God includes Himself, as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit, because the Trinity is one God…. God alone makes and is not made, nor can any passive potency be conceived in Him, insofar as He is a substance, by virtue of which He is God…. To sum up: Whatever is spoken of God in respect to Himself and of each single person, that is, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Sprit, and together of the Trinity itself, is to be predicated in the singular of each divine person and not in the plural…. [J]ust as we do not speak of three essences, so we do not speak of three greatnesses. I give the name essence to what the Greeks call ousia, but which we more generally designate as substance."19

For Milton—the later Milton at least—creation is ex deo, that is, from the substance that is God. When at the end of time the Son puts himself under the Father so that God will be All in All (1 Corinthians 15:28),20 Milton interprets, there will be a bodily return of all substance to the one and only substantia, the Godhead, out of which creation has come. Similarly, with double meaning he wrote in Paradise Lost at the defeat of the rebellious angels, with reference to the Messiah's Sign in Heaven: "Under whose conduct Michael soon reduc'd / His Armie, circumfus'd on either Wing, / Under thir Head imbodied all in one" (VI, 777-79).

The concept of a "hell internal" that Christopher Hill refers to derives 1) from Satan's remarks, such as "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n" (PL I, 253-54) and "Which way I flie is Hell, my self am Hell" (PL IV, 75); 2) from the narrator's reference to Satan, "The Hell within him, for within him Hell / He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell / One step no more then from himself can fly / By change of place" (PL IV, 20-23); and 3) through contrast, from Michael's prophetic voice telling Adam, "Then [with knowledge, deeds, and love] wilt thou not be loath / To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess / A Paradise within thee, happier farr" (PL XII, 585-87). C.A. Patrides has shown how common the "hell internal" metaphor was among writers on religion,21 and thus Adam's "O Conscience, into what Abyss of fears / And horrors hast thou driv'n me; out of which / I find no way, from deep to deeper plung'd!" (PL X, 842-44) is not unusual, surely not a means of linking Milton with any sectarian group. He refers, of course, to "The second degree of death … called SPIRITUAL DEATH."22 It consists "in the loss or at least the extensive darkening of that right reason, whose function it was to discern the chief good, and which was, as it were, the life of the understanding," and "in that extension of righteousness and of the liberty to do good, and in that slavish subjection to sin and the devil which is, as it were, the death of the will."23

What all this is meant to suggest is that the various attempts to make Milton a proponent of one creed or another are unacceptable because they are based on a tangency or two, not on a clear placement of him in any specific fold past his defection from Anglicanism. Commentators have been too eager to place Milton in a niche, find a similar thought or approach, and precipitantly pounce on a label. His religion was his own, and a description of it—which must be accordingly generalized except inasmuch as one can detail theological positions from De doctrina Christiana—indicates that it was.

Quite simply, Milton was Calvinist, agreeing with election and predestination but also accepting renovation (and vocation) as the means to restoration through the redemption of Christ. Renovation means the state of grace to which man is brought after having been cursed and subject to God's anger; through vocation—God's invitation to fallen man to learn the way to placate and worship the Godhead—all are invited to salvation. Like the Puritan, Milton emphasized the doctrine of the Fall, the inheritance of "the sin common to all men," and the need and means of regeneration. "Ingrafting in Christ" defined regeneration for Milton, as the former person is destroyed and a new inner man emerges, restored to God's image, sanctified in soul and body, to God's service and to good works. Regeneration brings repentance and faith. A logical conclusion for this precept is that no agent is needed to bring the individual into regeneration: the internality of "Faith, … Vertue, Patience, Temperance, … Love, By name to come call'd Charitie" (PL XII, 582-84) is an individual matter entirely. It is most unlikely that Milton had come to such attitudes during the early 1640s when he was arguing against prelaty, but perhaps the Protectorate, the "Blue Laws" under Major-General Lambert, and the issue of liberty of conscience led him to these ideas.

We can see such ideas dimly before the end of the 1650s, but it was probably the experiences of those years that, around 1658 onward, led to the thoughts of Paradise Lost and De doctrina Christiana, both apparently developed in those years of 1658-65 when fears about the Restoration did not encroach. It would have been an easy step to turn from church attendance or any other external show of religious action. The minister has his function to maintain "the primitive faith" and feed "the sheep that worship Christ," "to bring joyous messages from heaven, and … teach the way which leads beyond the grave to the stars" ("Elegia quarta," ll. 17-18, 92-93). But for those like Milton who recognize that way already, there is no continued need for ministerial services, not even for the preaching of the Word. If internal scripture, then, is superior, it follows that no visible church has authority over the inner scripture. And with the nullification of the church's role in administering the two sacraments that remain, baptism and the Lord's supper,24 the church had lost for him almost all reason for being. The charity to be dispensed to those one comes into contact with, one's "neighbors," is the main topic of Book II of De doctrina Christiana; it is not church-related. While he acknowledges that worship be maintained, he deduces that no special day or place is required. He does not object to holding a sabbath and in a specific place, but he firmly believes that no coercion from civil authority should exist to ensnare one's free conscience, particularly by invalid recitation of scripture. Milton's church is a church of one.25

Two areas in which Milton's theological thought have caused consternation for some are the Incarnation and the eschatological relationship of body and soul. Milton's view of the Incarnation and the death of Christ seems to come close to Nestorianism and Monarchianism, although neither label is apposite. The relationship of the divine being and the human being in the Incarnation of the son as Jesus may be a union of the two natures (traditional and orthodox), a union of two persons (as Milton argued), a dominance of humanity and human personality in the person of Jesus (Nestorianism), or a single person as well as a single being (Monarchianism). Behind Milton's thinking is traducianism, which alleges that since the soul is substance, it was propagated from parent to child. Thus the soul as substance would die (or sleep) with the body and await reemergence at the Last Judgment. Early on, if "Lycidas" and "Epitaphium Damonis" can fully carry the weight of theological interpretation, Milton would seem to have believed that the soul did not die with the body at death. We see Lycidas and Damon both mounted high, rejecting the rainbow. But later Milton accepted the doctrine of thanatopsychism, that is, that the soul dies with the body and awaits renewal at the resurrection. Similar is psychopannychia, which taught that the soul slept until the resurrection of the body. Milton's language in De doctrina Christiana (I, xiii) places him in the category of thnetopsychist, but he also uses the word "sleep" of the soul at death, suggesting he did not distinguish between the two concepts. This belief in the death (or sleep) of the soul is generally called mortalism and was not uncommon in the Renaissance, as Norman T. Burns has shown us.26 The main issue, of course, between the ascent of the soul and the death of the soul is its nature, that is, its materiality.

For the Nestorian the natures of God and man were not merged; Jesus was man in whom God worked his will, as it were. There was no union of essences; instead the divine Logos took up abode in the man Jesus. Milton proceeds from his interpretation of kenosis in Philippians 2:6-8,27 which we see reflected in 1629 in the "Nativity Ode": "That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable, / And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty, / Wherwith he wont at Heav'ns high Councel-Table, / To sit the midst of Trinal Unity, / He laid aside" (8-12); and later in "Upon the Circumcision": "for us frail dust / Emptied his glory" (19-20). If the Son fully "emptied" himself of his Godhead and was incarnated as Jesus, then we are surely on the verge of Nestorianism. But Milton hedges somewhat, saying, "Christ, then although he was God, put on human nature, and was made Flesh, but did not cease to be numerically one Christ" (YP, VI, 420). Thus Christ is thought of as not relinquishing his divine nature: he maintains "the essence itself." There is union for Milton, but the stress on the individual beings flirts with the concept that God worked through Jesus rather than that Jesus was divine. Milton, however, also contends that Jesus died in both natures (divine and human), and of course this is logical if the soul is substance and was propagated from parent to child.28 Monarchians were anti-Trinitarian, seeing Christ either as mere man, chosen by God, and inspirited and exalted by him (he is Son of God by adoption), or as truly divine but thus indistinguishable from God the Father. Such thinking led to the heresy espoused by the Patripassians and Sabellians that the Father also suffered in the Crucifixion. Again Milton's interpretation of kenosis puts him dangerously close to the first view noted for Monarchianism, even though he was not anti-Trinitarian, as I have argued.

While there has been much attention to theological issues in Milton and some attempts to categorize his creed and church on the basis of a likeness or two, little scholarship has been devoted to Milton's religion per se. The best statement, though brief, is that already cited, by William B. Hunter in A Milton Encyclopedia (7:106-20). Another is the published dissertation by Paul Chauvet,29 who reviewed the Anglican and Puritan contexts as well as the schismatic groups such as the Arminians, the Independents, and the Antinomians, which Milton would have known. Deriving evidence from the facts of his life and from the works, including De doctrina Christiana, Chauvet presents a Milton who is anti-Roman Catholic, recognizes that in 1632 he was an Anglican as the signing of the Thirtynine Articles makes clear (38), and sees him moving toward a middle position between Anglicanism and Puritanism (such as the Arminians represented) at least after 1639 and by 1645. For Milton the Bible is of prime importance. Chauvet recognizes an affinity first with Presbyterian attitudes, with Baptist beliefs, and with Antinomian thought, and thus stresses the importance of individual conscience for Milton "et que les bonnes et les mauvaises oeuvres sont également indifférentes à notre salut" (119). He discusses Milton's beliefs in toleration, separation of Church and State, and liberty of conscience. "Milton est le constant accusateur du péché et le chantre infatigable de la Rédemption…. mais que ce même puritanisme, en émancipant sans prudence la conscience individuelle, sapait les bases de la fois apostolique et tendait a démolir la doctrine après la discipline …" (211). He therefore concludes that Milton's religion is individualistic and not specifically congruent with those given classifying labels: "Le Miltonisme est, dans son essence, la religion puritaine fortement modifiee par la personnalité ultra-intense de John Milton" (243).

Religion is an escape from the unconscious, supplying the "other side," or anima. Milton's father may have been a deterrent in bringing him to realizations about himself and about his religion: the church was the world to which he was intended until 1637 when, with his mother's death, he was able to achieve some freedom of decision as well as movement. But it took two decades to traverse the road to his individualistic religion, "Le Miltonisme," as Chauvet labeled it. Taking on his father's energy in its formulated religious structure repressed his own energy (I use the term in its Jungian manifestations). As the form that such energy took in religious matters, the church was the first to be reexamined and recast, only later to take new form for Milton's own energy. "[E]verything depends on the form into which energy passes. Form gives energy its quality…. For the creation of a real value, therefore, both energy and valuable form are needed."30 It is the father archetype that supplies energy, the anima or mother archetype that supplies form.

Through those two decades, the content which the form held also underwent reexamination and recasting. And it was with his father's death in 1647 that Milton moved into such revision, although at first the concerns were governmental, religious ostensibly only in religiongovernment issues such as liberty of conscience. In a way this period was a delaying action created by the transference of ego energy to the object government; only with reductive analysis (a severing of that transference) can one release that energy to achieve what was promised oneself in the past. With the period of 1658-65 and the writing of De doctrina Christiana and Paradise Lost , Milton was able to forge new religious content for his new form through the exercise of his own energy. Again Jung supplies a rationale of this human experience. The adult cut loose from parents finds that "energy streaming back from these manifold relationships [of the past] falls into the unconscious and activates all the things he had neglected to develop…. To the man in the second half of life the development of the function of opposites lying dormant in the unconscious means a renewal."31 In the postscript to Defensio prima published in 1658 Milton has given proof of this statement: "Now that my toil has won the richest rewards I had hoped for in this life, I do delight in them with all thankfulness, but at the same time I am earnestly seeking how best I may show not only my own country, to which I devoted all I have, but men of every land and, particularly, all Christian men, that for their sake I am at this time hoping and planning still greater things, if these be possible for me, as with God's help they will."32

But we can see the major beginning of the assertion of self in Sonnet 19, "When I consider how my light is spent," written surely in (October?) 1655, "Ere half my days in this dark world and wide," despite some attempts to place it earlier. (It is not "On His Blindness," of course; that is only a significant background for the tenor of the poem, which is the resolve to activate the things that had been neglected to develop when time and occasion and psychic energy should appear.) What the poem suggests is an emptying of self and the past, and a picking up the pieces of what remains to reform them in the present and future. According to James P. Driscoll, "Nothingness beneath real identity [and this is what Sonnet 19 shows us] is a necessary condition for understanding the larger self…. [I]t symbolizes consciousness freed from ego tyranny to gain contact with the whole self."33 The opposites of rebellion and sublimation are rawly presented in Paradise Lost, perhaps because they were rawly and recently the oppositions within Milton's own two-decade experience. Paradise Regain'd, I have argued elsewhere,34 was begun in the late 1640s and completed and expanded in different form after 1665. This reexamination of Milton's religion and its apparent psychological substructs suggests a reason for the poem's inchoate condition and for an alteration of content and form, and for its renewal as a work of real value beyond the influence of Paradise Lost and Thomas Ellwood's imperceptive reading of that epic. With Paradise Regain'd Milton proceeded to full assertion of his religious precept.


De doctrina Christiana ("Of Christian Doctrine")
The Columbia Milton: The Works of John Milton. Frank Patterson, gen. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1931-38.
Milton's Commonplace Book
The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce
A Milton Encyclopedia. William B. Hunter, gen. ed. Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell University Press, 1978-83.
Paradise Lost
Paradise Regain'd
Samson Agonistes
The Yale Prose: Complete Prose Works of John Milton. Don M. Wolfe, gen. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954-82.


1 Alan Dures, English Catholicism, 1558-1642 (London: Longmans, 1983), 39.

2 Ibid., 84.

3 See also my discussion (and rejection) of Milton's "Alleged Roman Catholicism" in ME, 2:26-27. Many of the issues here that involve Milton's thinking, particularly in Of True Religion, are examined in my essay '"Connivers and the Worst of Superstitions': Milton on Popery and Toleration," forthcoming.

4 See my essay "The Structure and Myth of Paradise Regain 'd."

5 Compare Carl Jung's remark in Aion (The Collected Works of Carl G. Jung [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1968], 9, pt. 2:109): "the God-image is immediately related to, or identical with, the self, and everything that happens to the God-image has an effect on the latter." The view of "Ad Patrem" presented in Chapter 4 is consistent with this reading of this statement.

6 See Thomas B. Stroup, Religious Rite and Ceremony in Milton's Poetry (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1968), and Hunter's book on Comus, already cited, among others.

7 The passages read: "Shepherd I take thy word, / And trust thy honest offer'd courtsie, / Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds / With smoaky rafters, then in tapestry halls / And courts of princes, where it first was nam'd, / And yet is most pretended" (321-26), and "If every just man that now pines with want / Had but a moderate and beseeming share / Of that which lewdly-pamper'd Luxury / Now heaps upon som few with vast excess, / Natures full blessings would be well dispens't / In unsuperfluous eev'n proportion" (768-73). In the first instance the manuscript of the poem (in the Trinity MS, that is) shows alterations being made as Milton wrote; the second is preceded by extensive revision, which is made on the pasted leaf, definitely in 1637. Both seem odd passages to have been presented before the Bridgewaters in 1634.

8Milton: A Biography, 1:556.

9 Jung, Psychology and Religion, 5.

10 Jung, Two Essays, 215.

11 See ME, 7:107.

12The Confession of Faith (London, 1651), Chapter XXIV, Section VI, 53; it appears on 44 of the 1646 expanded version of An Humble Advice.

13A Treatise of Civil Power (London, 1659), 34-35.

14 In Milton and the English Revolution, esp. 100-116.

15 YP, trans. John Carey, 6:206.

16 Ibid., 233, 238, 264.

17 I quote from the thirty-two-page first edition of An Humble Advice (London: Printed for the Company of Stationers, [1646]), Chapter II, Section 3, p. 8.

18The Interpreter's Bible (New York and Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1953), 10:238. See also Timothy J. O'Keeffe, Milton and the Pauline Tradition: A Study of Theme and Symbolism (Washington, D.C.: Univ. Press of America, 1982).

19The Fathers of the Church: Saint Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Stephen McKenna (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Univ. Press, 1963), Book V, Chapter 8, 186-87. For clarification of the terms ousia, hypostasis, and substantia, see C.A. Patrides, Milton and the Christian Tradition, Chapter 1, esp. 16-20, and William B. Hunter, "Some Problems in Milton's Theological Vocabulary," Harvard Theological Review 57 (1964): 353-65. See also William B. Hunter, C.A. Patrides, and Jack Adamson, Bright Essence: Studies in Milton's Theology (Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press, 1971), and Peter A. Fiore, Milton and Augustine: Patterns of Augustinian Thought in Paradise Lost (University Park: Penn State Univ. Press, [1981]).

See Michael Baumann, Milton's Arianism (Frankfurt: Verlag Peter Lang, 1987), for an out-of-date and uninformed restatement of Milton's "heresy."

20 The 1611 Authorized Version reads: "And when all things shall be subdued vnto him, then shal the Sonne also himselfe bee subiect vnto him that put all things vnder him, that God may be all in all." See also PL III, 339-41, and VI, 730-33. In The Interpreter's Bible, Clarence Tucker Craig writes in his exegesis (10:240) that "Though an English reader might assume that all the world of phenomena was to be absorbed into the ultimate reality of God, that certainly was not the expectation of Paul. He did not believe in the loss of individual consciousness by absorption in the world soul."

21 See Patrides, Milton and the Christian Tradition, 111-15, 174-78.

22De doctrina Christiana, I, xii; YP, 6:394.

23 YP, 6:395.

24 See ibid., 573: "If, then, any believer can preach the gospel, so long as he is endowed with certain gifts, it follows that any believer can administer baptism"; and ibid., 557: "I do not know why ministers should forbid anyone except themselves to celebrate the Lord's Supper."

25 The term has been used before. Its sense can be inferred from remarks of Milton's being "Church-outed" (The Reason of Church-Government, 41); it is more implicit in Considerations Touching the likeliest means to remove Hirelings out of the church (1659) where he speaks of "the true freedom of Christian doctrin and church-discipline subject to no superior judge but God only" and of Christ, "who hath promised … both his holy spirit and his own presence with his Church to the worlds end" (142, 144). Cf. John S. Tanner's "Milton Among the Mormons" in Ringing the Bell Backward, ed. Ronald G. Shafer (Indiana, Pa.: Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Imprint Series, 1982), 123-32.

26Christian Mortalism from Tyndal to Milton (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1972).

27 "Who being in the forme of God, thought it not robbery to bee equall with God: / But made himselfe of no reputation, and tooke vpon him the forme of a seruant, and was made in the likenesse of man. / And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himselfe, and became obedient vnto death, euen the death of the Crosse." See also Michael Lieb, "Milton and the Kenotic Christology: Its Literary Bearing," ELH 37 (1970): 342-60; republished in The Sinews of Ulysses: Form and Convention in Milton's Works (Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Press, 1989), Chapter 4, 38-52.

28 "For if Christ really died, then both his soul and his body died … on the same day. As for his divine nature, it is more questionable whether that also succumbed to death. A lot of passages in the Bible make his divine nature succumb to death along with his human nature, and they seem to do so too clearly for it to be explained away as mere idiomatic parallelism" (De doctrina Christiana, I, xvi; YP, 6:439).

29La religion du Milton (Paris: H. Didier, 1909).

30 Jung, Two Essays, 58.

31 Ibid., 71.

32 YP, 4, i: 537, trans. Donald C. MacKenzie.

33Identity in Shakespeare, 135. Also interesting in connection with Milton's sense of Patience in this poem is Driscoll's remark (141): "But if evil's facticity gains acute, personal reality, it shatters the roseate armor of our anthropomorphic cosmologies and leaves patience the sole defense against madness. Job is the pattern of all patience; faith is the substance of his patience." Samson, of course, has exhibited some amount of impatience, and thus not true faith, in contrast to the Son in Paradise Regain 'd.

34 "The Chronology of Milton's Major Poems," 356. See also my discussion in Paradise Regain'd, Chapter 2, 9-28.

Sharon Achinstein (essay date 1994)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Milton and the Fit Reader: Paradise Lost and the Parliment of Hell," in Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 177-223.

[Below, Achinstein examines Milton's political and ethical concerns in Paradise Lost and his belief that perceptive readers who possess self-knowledge are key to the maintaining of liberty in England.]

… Paradise Lost is no squib nor a polemical barb in some pamphlet war; it is, rather, an extraordinary epic poem, encompassing far more than simply a topical political intention. Marvell summed it up best by listing the ingredients of Paradise Lost as an almost unimaginable heap: " Messiah Crown'd, God's Reconcil'd Decree, / Heav'n, Hell, Earth, Chaos, All."56 In that frail "All" hangs the entire tale. However, in its mission to justify the ways of God to men, and also to find a "fit audience … though few," Milton's poem is consistent with the ethical concerns voiced in his prose. Soon after his Interregnum books were indexed, Milton's great poem appeared, with the approval of the licenser Thomas Tomkins, and was duly entered into the Stationers' Registers in 1667. Milton did not put his name on the title page of several of these 1667 editions, only his J.M., and he may have found some anonymity in that; he also sold the rights to the publishers so that any risks of scandal would involve the publisher rather than the author; he did name himself, however, on the title page of the 1674 edition.57 Was Milton one of those adaptable loyalists, like Marchamont Nedham, or even Dryden, who was to be forgiven for the sins of his Interregnum politics?58

Did Milton purge his magnificent poem of all political intention? It appears not, especially since in the first two books of his epic, Milton repeated certain words and situations that were constantly appearing in pamphlets of The Parliament of hell genre. In Paradise Lost, the Devil is the "author" of "woe"; devils appear as fallen angels or saints; they embark on a mission to retrieve former glory through deceit: "our own loss how repair, / How overcome this dire Calamity" (1.188-89); they take their revenge in the form of political seduction: "Seduce them to our Party"; they contrive to make "that thir God / May prove thir foe…. This would surpass / Common revenge" (2.367-71); they use persuasion and false rhetoric as their tools, with Belial using "words cloth'd in reason's garb" (2.226) and Beelzebub speaking as the Devil's mouthpiece; they appeal to the multitude, "the popular vote" (2.313); the hellish crowd is "the hasty multitude" (1.730) or a "captive multitude" (2.323), over which skilled orators exert power. The poem even seems to share the very words of Bradshaw's Ghost (1660), for example, a pamphlet in which Bradshaw insists, "To drive black Pluto's Coach I'd rather dain, / Than to be Wagoner to Charles' wain," just as Satan in Paradise Lost refuses, "To bow and sue for grace / With suppliant knee, and deify his power" (1.111), insisting, "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven" (1.263). In Bradshaw's Ghost, Bradshaw boasted, "for where / So e're I am, Hell properly is there," just as Mephistopheles in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus remarked, "but where we are is hell. / And where hell is, There must we ever be" (2.1.122-23).59 In these lines, we also hear Satan in Paradise Lost who has "The Hell within him, for within him Hell / He brings, and round about Him" (4.20-21). In the case of Bradshaw's Ghost, there is a precise analogy to current English history, as the "hell" described in that pamphlet is the chaos that resulted from the Interregnum period. In Milton's case, any analogy between the demons of Paradise Lost and the Interregnum political figures is imprecise, yet the language is similar.60 The Miltonic representations of hell build force within the context of the other like references to particular political figures in the pamphlet literature of the English Revolution. To me, these similarities suggest that the author's involvement with this genre may be quite deep indeed.

There are several possible explanations for this resemblance. Though Milton does not allegorize particular figures in the manner conventional to Parliament of hell pamphlets, nevertheless, by drawing upon the same tropes, Milton might still raise fears about current popish or radical plots, and thus signal his continuing commitment to the Protestant cause. In picturing Satan in his Paradise Lost, Milton loads him with images from antipopery propaganda. And it is true, Milton remained a fierce enemy of all popery throughout his life. It would have been important for Milton, an advocate of religious toleration, to oppose Catholicism with virulence, especially in the Restoration, where defenders of religious toleration were accused of also defending Catholicism. However, Satan more closely resembles the parliamentary figures lampooned in the Parliament of hell genre of the Interregnum than he does the conventional papist.

Milton's use of this royalist convention could lead us to draw a surprising conclusion, that Paradise Lost expressed not only a general anti-Catholic sentiment, but specifically voiced an anti-Cromwellian, and even a royalist, message. Given the pervasiveness of the Parliament of hell conventions in the revolutionary period, we might infer that Milton's own readers would compare his Satan to the Royalists' accounts of the rebels during the English Revolution. There is much to compare. In Paradise Lost, Satan begins his second war campaign with a rally to his troops, using republican rhetoric (5.772-907) which recalled that of the Interregnum leaders: "what if better counsels might erect / Our minds and teach us to cast off this Yoke?" (5.785-86). Abdiel's response, that Satan "hast'n to appease / Th'incensed Father, and th'incensed Son, / While Pardon may be found in time besought" (5.846-48), is perhaps that of the post-Restoration parliamentarian, who hoped for mercy and an "act of oblivion" to be dispensed by the returning king. Could Milton have welcomed the second Charles, like Marvell, who in disavowing the "Good Old Cause," reported, "I think the Cause was too good to have been fought for"?61 Milton has been associated with Royalism before; this evidence of his condemnation of the revolution could be used to deliver a fatal blow to the recent Marxistinspired image of Milton as a left-leaning radical even to the end of his days. If Milton adopted the royalist genre, then perhaps we ought to reconsider Milton's political allegiances in the Restoration.

Yet Milton just never gave in and supported Charles II. Just a little more than a month before the king returned, Milton brought out a second and enlarged edition of his Readie and Easie Way; "What I have spoken," he revealed in its introduction, "is the language of the good old cause."62 Though he might have come to disapprove of the Interregnum government's means, he never wavered in his commitment to the fundamental principles of "spiritual or civil libertie," as he described them in The Readie and Easie Way. His opposition to arbitrary power as a kind of self-enslavement keeps popping up in the poem, and so at many times his beliefs conflicted with the Restoration Royalists' scheme.

Or could Milton have presented this episode to throw Royalists off his scent? By evoking the royalist tradition in the first pages of his book, Milton could be steering potentially hostile readers toward a judgment that he had indeed changed his mind about the Interregnum, while covertly remaining loyal to the Good Old Cause. Any reader who picked up Paradise Lost in 1667 looking for political intent could have seen those fallen angels in hell in the first books as the convention dictated: as a condemnation of Cromwell and his crew. By opening with this recognizable genre, perhaps Milton evaded the Restoration censors. In his account of Paradise Lost, Christopher Hill suggests that vigilant readers will penetrate beyond the "deliberate mystification" of his poetry to get at Milton's true meaning, as, for example, in Milton's epithet "sons of Belial," which Hill argues "everyone would understand" to refer to Cavalier and new-Cavalier "bullies."63 Yet if all we need is a "key," as Hill recommends, if Milton encodes his poem with things "everyone would understand," then we might imagine the censor's job to be quite easy. If this were the case, we would have no Paradise Lost in the seventeenth century.

Paradise Lost, of course, is a censored text, but not in the way that Hill sees it. Paradise Lost is not merely a stump for Milton's revolutionary political ideas, now unpopular in current political climate, ideas that under specific circumstances could not be voiced overtly. The very circumstances of Milton's work—the restoration of monarchy, the new literary milieu, the tempering of religious enthusiasm—are all integral to Milton's poem. We cannot merely remove such aspects in order to find the "real" meaning of the poem—for these constitute the meaning of the poem. I see Paradise Lost as a work that expresses anxieties about the status of indirect, allegorical, and censored writing, conditions specific to the Restoration literary milieu but ones that, as Milton sadly came to realize, were inherent in public writing.

I argue here that in Paradise Lost, Milton not only thwarted the expectations that might be raised by the Parliament of hell trope; he also rejected a simple ratio of literary representation to history and cleared the way for his revolutionary reader to perform interpretive acts in the future. Milton evoked this genre in order to convey his loyalty to the spirit of the revolution, though not to its agents. Milton shared with the Royalists a degree of contempt for actors on the Interregnum political stage. But he did not go so far as to condemn the revolution. With his representation of the devils in hell, Milton showed that a single set of signs could bear numerous interpretations; that political allegory—and allegory in general—required special skills in reading; and that, finally, the failure of the English Revolution was not a matter of God's decree, but of human weakness. Consequently, I focus on Milton's search for a "fit audience" in light of the demands of the mode of allegory on its readership. In Paradise Lost, Milton summons readers to become more keenly aware of their susceptibility to political deception. Milton aimed to promote readerly skills as a means for English citizens to regain the individual freedoms that had slipped through the revolutionary leaders' fingers.

Milton and the Parliament of Hell: Political Intention in Paradise Lost

Mixing bejeweled imagery of Oriental splendor with the mundane tropes of republican rhetoric, Milton creates an entirely original Satan in his first two books of his poem. But Milton begins Paradise Lost with a conventional Parliament of hell scene, as Satan greets his host and convenes his Stygian council. Just as the Devil, who, represented in numerous pamphlets in the Restoration, plotted to regain England from his hellish headquarters, Milton's devils in Paradise Lost vowed to "reascend" and "repossess thir native seat" (1.633-4; 2.75-76). Moloch's plan of "open War" (2.51) mirrors the parliamentary strength, its New Model Army. Satan's throne, "of Royal State, which far / Outshone the wealth of Ormus or of Ind, / Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand / Show'rs on her Kings Barbaric Pearl and Gold" in Paradise Lost (2.1-4) resembles that of the illegitimate parliamentary leaders in the royalist pamphlet Mercurius Elencticus (1649): "They have murdered the King; Banished or Imprisoned his Consort, Children, seized upon his Palace, set his Crown on their heads; wear his Apparel, and Furniture; and then they cry out—see in what splendor we sit."64 Much like Hugh Peters in The Famous Tragedie of King Charles I (1649), whom the dramatic character Cromwell praises for his "insinuating persuasive art," Milton's Belial touts a "persuasive accent," making "the worse appear / the better reason, to perplex and dash / Maturest Counsels" (2.118, 113-15).65

Worst of all, Satan in Paradise Lost has become a tyrant. In hell, the obedient fallen angels "towards him they bend / With awful reverence prone; and as a God / Extol him equal to the highest in Heav'n" (2.477-79). Fawning and idolatrous, these minions have surrendered their liberty to their diabolical master. In the royalist Parliament of hell genre also, the devil's sway over his underlings was envisioned as a tyranny. In A Trance; or, News from Hell (1649), one underling gleefully reports to Lucifer her lord: "We have reduced that Kingdom to a new conformity with this of your Majesties'."66 This royalist picture matches Milton's estimation of Satan's power over his fleet: "Devil with Devil damn'd / Firm concord holds" (2.496-97). Full obedience to Satan is also presented in The Parliaments Petition to the Divell (1648), in which Parliament swears "that we (to serve you) have laid aside all service of God, all Loyalty towards our King, and all Christian love and charity towards men, we have robbed God of as much of his glory as we possibly could"; later, Parliament grants, "we are your creatures," wholly merging with their creator and owner, Satan.67

In Paradise Lost, Satan's tyranny consists partly in not allowing free debate. For the debate in hell is not really a free exchange of ideas; Satan wrote a script in which Beelzebub would propose his plan, and then Satan himself "prevented all reply" (2.467). This is not a true dialogue, such as that in which truth and "Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter" (Areopagitica, CPW2.561). Rather, Satan coerced his audience by his sole voice's power: "But they / Dreaded not more th'adventure than his voice / Forbidding; and at once with him they rose" (2.473-75). The debate in hell is one example of falsified public speech, a context in which Truth may not "open herself faster" (Areopagitica, CPW2.521).

Yet the Royalists found the Devil's reign politically unsatisfactory only in that it placed the wrong man on top. According to the royalist renditions of the Parliament of hell, once God reinstated Charles II in his proper spot at the top of the pyramid, all Satan's evil effects would be reinverted. In the Restoration Parliament of hell genre, this is so. In The Trial of Traytors; or, The Rump in the Round (1660), for example, the Rump Parliament is represented as a coven of Devil's minions who futilely attempt to stop "time's wheel" from revolving, to stop the Restoration of monarchy. Too late. The figures in the illustration—half beast, sporting heads of animals like goats, cats, and foxes and cloven hoofs—all wear the dress of Puritans, stand upright, and are labeled with the names of Parliamentmen and other Interregnum figures, including Judge Cook (ram), Hugh Peters (buck), Arthur Haselrig (fox), and Henry Vane (wolf). The "Rump's Scout," parodying the name of the parliamentary newsbook, is represented as the Devil himself, with his wings, curled tail, horns, and staff prodding his men on. The author of the piece reveals that,

These Traitors all who had the World at will, Have now their Scout continues with them still; He pokes them forward with a Fork of steel, Urging Sir Arthur [Haselrig] for to stop the Wheel A while, but stay Time's Wheel is turned round, All's for the KING, but traitors in the Pound.68

In this Restoration Royalist's opinion, the return of the king was God's way of reasserting control over satanic forces; there was something inevitable, and surely providential, about the proper reinstating of cosmic hierarchy.

Yet in Milton's eyes, the hierarchy itself was part of the problem; in thinking that earthly politics mirrored celestial politics, Royalists were making a mistake. As Joan Bennett has persuasively argued, Satan's logic of analogy between his own realm and God's—and, by implication, the earthly arena and the divine—is completely flawed.69 But a further argument against Satan's rule is that his hierarchy did not allow for the exercise of free reason. In spite of Satan's rhetoric of "mutual league," the outcome of Satan's regime was conformity. For Milton, forcing conformity is sin: "How goodly, and how to be wished, were such an obedient unanimity as this, what a fine conformity would it starch us all into!" (Areopagitica, CPW2.545), Milton writes of censorship. Conformity not only bridled the human spirit, but it went against conscience, a view Milton expresses in his poem "On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament," where he railed against the tyranny of the Presbyterians:

Dare ye for this adjure the Civil Sword To force our Consciences that Christ set free, And ride us with a classic Hierarchy … ?

Those newly in power may be tyrants just like those whom they have evicted, as Milton asserts as he ends his poem: "New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ Large."70 In Paradise Lost, tyranny in hell and on earth may be the same. Milton disavows the kind of tyranny Satan imposes—not because it is Satan's—but because it is tyranny. Milton raises the question of legitimate or coerced persuasion as a kind of satanic tyranny in his example of Abdiel, who refused to adhere to Satan's program. In fact, the kind of tyranny Satan projects is like any other kind of tyranny, including that of Charles I and even that of the parliamentary leaders.

In finding Interregnum leaders were satanic, Milton puts himself in the same camp as the Royalists. Royalists had also blamed individual figures for ambition: meeting in hell in the pamphlet Bradshaw's Ghost (1659), Charles asks John Bradshaw, What is the good old cause? "As for the thing called the Good Old Cause," Bradshaw answers, "it is no other than the Quarrel at first begun with you, and now newnamed, nicknamed, or indeed rather rebaptised, but it was not long reverenced either for its age, or goodness, but like an old Almanack laid aside as useless, and this was it that broke my heart, the air of a Common-wealth, with the profit arising thereby, might have lengthened my life, but to see Mars triumphant, and yet ourselves cashiered, would it not even vex a Saint?"71 But Milton's resemblance to the royalist critique of the Interregnum leaders stops there. For Milton, the Interregnum leaders exerted tyranny over free conscience, and that was their sin. Even as early as the Second Defense, Milton expressed apprehensions about the ambitions of the leaders of the new government. When he praised Cromwell for refusing the crown, he also warned him that to have taken it would make it seem "as if, when you had subjugated some tribe of idolators with the help of the true God, you were to worship the gods you had conquered"; Milton also cheered Fairfax for having overcome "ambition … and the thirst for glory which conquers all the most eminent men" (CPW 4.672). But Milton's worst fears did come true; the leaders of the revolution did prefer their own ambitions to the country's interest. Milton, it has been argued, began to lose faith in the English rulers as early as February 1649.

We are treading on the dangerous terrain of analyzing Paradise Lost for topical political intention. Of course, Paradise Lost is no political pamphlet. But in his masterpiece of poetry, Milton expresses ethical concerns that arise out of his political moment, though they are not restricted to it. In a different manner, but not perhaps with a different intent, Milton also voices ethical aims in his prose writings; as we have seen in Areopagitica, Milton works to promote a reasoning, virtuous subject. In his History of Britain, Milton explicitly states his sour views about Parliament, and it is to these we shall turn in exploring the meanings of Milton's "Parliament of Hell" scenes in Paradise Lost. Because of its thorny publication history, it is not clear whether the views Milton expresses in the History of Britain are those of 1649, a warning to the Interregnum Parliament leaders, or of 1660, as an intervention in Restoration politics. The History itself was published in 1670, yet the section in which Milton comments directly on his political milieu, the Character of the Long Parliament, also called the "Digression," was not released until well after his death, withheld from print until 1681, and at that late date it was made to serve Tory political interests in the Exclusion crisis.72 Only in 1932 did the full text of Milton's Digression appear. It is not clear why the Digression was omitted from publication in 1670, whether it was Milton's decision or that of L'Estrange, the censor. Perhaps Milton struck the passage because it was terribly dark. Masson thinks the excision was Milton's decision, since the passage had become "irrelevant."73 But the Digression is relevant to us, for in it, Milton gives not only his opinions about the Long Parliament—even if he withdrew them later—but also, and most importantly here, an image of a revolutionary reader.

Vociferously in the Digression, Milton voices dissatisfaction with Parliament. In his complaints, he sounds like the satirical Royalists who used the Parliament of hell genre to demolish the Parliamentarians during the Interregnum. Milton refers to the committeemen as "Children of the Devil" (History, CPW5.449). He reviles them and the Presbyterian divines for having "set up a spiritual [sic] tyrannie by a secular power to the advancing of thir owne authorit[ie]" (447). Rather than reforming the Commonwealth, the end for which they were raised to power, they acted "unfaithfully, unjustly, unmercifully, and where not corruptly, stupidly" (449). What is more, the people blindly followed them. "Thus they who but of late were extolld as great deliverers, and had a people wholy at thir devotion," Milton wails, "by so discharging thir trust as wee see, did not onely weak'n and unfitt themselves to be dispencers of what libertie they pretented [sic,] but unfitt also the people, now growne worse & more disordinate, to receave or to digest any libertie at all" (449). Like the Royalists who mocked the giddy multitude, the people were rendered "unfit" for liberty by their traitorous leaders in Milton's view: "For libertie hath a sharp and double edge fitt onelie to be handl'd by just and virtuous men, to bad and dissolute it become[s] a mischief unweildie in thir own hands" (449). In like manner, Milton had chided the people of England for swallowing the king's book whole: "that people that should seek a King … would shew themselves to be by nature slaves, and arrant beasts; not fitt for that liberty which they cri'd out and bellow'd for, but fitter to be led back again into thir old servitude, like a sort of clamouring & fighting brutes, broke loos from thir copyholds, that know not how to use or possess the liberty which they fought for" (Eikonoklastes, CPW3.581). Milton concurs, then, with the royalist author of A Trance; or, News from Hell (1649): "And never did the common people more truly act the part, and discover the genius of a common people more lively, whose nature is still thirsting after novelties and Utopian reformations, though they fool themselves thereby into a baser kind of slavery."74

Milton may agree with the Royalists in finding that the behavior of the common people in the Interregnum was wholly despicable, but he comes to a different conclusion about what is to be done in consequence. The royalist solution was to reinstate the king and restore the lower sorts to their lower places. In his History of Britain, however, Milton may have reviled his beloved English and their leaders, but he would not wish them to be placed under a leader's thumb. Rather, Milton thought that the common people must be prepared for freedom in the future better than they were in 1649. What was needed was a "fitter" people, able to withstand corrupt leaders. A fitter people would be hard to find in Britain, whose citizens succeeded at the arts of war rather than at those of peace: "For Britain (to speake a truth not oft spok'n) as it is a land fruitful enough of men stout and couragious in warr, so is it naturallie not over fertil of men able to govern justlie & prudently in peace; trusting onelie on thir Mother-witt, as most doo, & consider not that civilitie, prudence, love of the public more then of money or vaine honour are to this soile in a manner outlandish; grow not here but in minds well implanted with solid & elaborate breeding" (CPW 5.451). Milton urges that leaders, like farmers and husbandmen, implant "solid & elaborate breeding" in the people in the future. Writing poetry was a like task, as he remarked in the prologue to the second book of his Reason of Church Government: the aim of poetry was "to inbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and public civility" (CPW 1.816).

The antidote to the miserable state of unfitness of the English people lay in their pursuit of that "strenuous liberty" Milton alludes to in Areopagitica, a liberty that is to be obtained through proper education, and their reading. He remarks in the Digression that virtue may be culled from the past by reading stories: "for stories teach us that libertie out of season in a corrupt and degenerate age brought Rome it self into further slaverie" (CPW 5.449). In his History, Milton believes that the public and its leaders could withstand these temptations if they knew more history. Milton urges his public to become educated in "civilitie, prudence," and "love of the public." For the English do not know history, "bred up, as few of them were, in the knowledge of Antient and illustrious deeds" (451). Because of their lack of this kind of training, like their forbears, the Britons, "what in the eyes of man cou[ld] be expected but what befel those antient inhabita[nts] whome they so much resembl'd, confusion in the end" (451).

In writing the History of Britain, Milton wants to make sure that, should another opportunity present itself, the people of England will not be so ill-equipped to meet it. His own writing will help to prevent that unfortunate outcome, for the failure of the Long Parliament was its "ill husbanding of those faire opportunities" (CPW 5.443). The story of the fate of the Britons after the demise of Roman rule offers an enlightening analogy: "Considering especially that the late civil broils had cast us into a condition not much unlike to what the Britans then were in, when the imperial jurisdic tion departing hence left them to the sway of thir own Councils" (129). Milton knows he makes an unappealing comparison, but it is one that offers lessons in England's current weaknesses. Milton writes in his opening paragraph to the third book:

Which times by comparing seriously with these later, and that confused Anarchy with this intereign, we may be able from two such remarkable turns of State, producing like events among us, to raise a knowledge of our selves both great and weighty, by judging hence what kind of men the Britans generally are in matters of so high enterprise, how by nature, industry, or custom fitted to attempt or undergoe matters of so main consequence: for if it be a high point of wisdom in every private man, much more is it in a Nation to know it self; rather than puft up with vulgar flatteries and encomiums, for want of self knowledge, to enterprise rashly and come off miserably in great undertakings. (129-30)

In this extremely rich and promising paragraph, Milton urges self-knowledge on the part of the entire nation as a first step in political liberty. Milton's political vision is premised on a personal vision of the individual self-scrutinizing soul, "a high point of wisdom in every private man," which is to be the model for an entire nation. If individuals are prideful, "puft up with vulgar flatteries and encomiums, for want of self knowledge," so much more are they a danger to the people over whom they are stewards. Milton presented another case of failed self-knowledge that led to a divine punishment in his account of David's taking the census in Christian Doctrine. There, Milton recollects language very like that of the passage from the History of Britain: "as a result of his power King David's spirit was so haughty and puffed up" (CPW 6.333). The lesson in Christian Doctrine of this failure in self-knowledge was that David suffered punishment for his sins, but also that "God always produces something good and just out of these" (333). In his History of Britain, Milton hopes to help English citizens gain knowledge from their sins, offering a remedy to his troubled times of renewal and giving the entire English people a task to complete. When Milton draws a connection between the nation and an individual reader of texts, he recommends that reading itself is a means to a political end, of which self-knowledge is to be the base. Thus Milton asks his readers to pay especially close attention to history, which "may deserve attention more than common, and repay it with like benefit to them who can judiciously read" (CPW 5.129). By appealing to those who can "judiciously read," Milton understands his political analogy to include an ethical mission, one in which he presses for citizens of his nation to become readers, educating themselves in spiritual matters and history. Such ethical training may resolve the question of responsibility for the failure of the English Revolution.

The royalist allegory of the Parliament of hell put the responsibility for the Restoration squarely in God's hands. Milton, on the other hand, blamed humans. By casting such blame, Milton finds that God's justice allows for free will: "So we must conclude that God made no absolute decrees about anything which he left in the power of men, for men have freedom of action" (Christian Doctrine, CPW 6.155). By encouraging humans to learn how to read as a first step toward ethical and political improvement, Milton vouches for the exercise of the will. By this logic, just as Adam and Eve's Fall in Paradise Lost was not proof that God foreordained it, the English Revolution was not divinely fated to fail. Rather, its current leaders, like their prototypes, Adam and Eve, freely fell by making bad political choices, by reading history badly or not at all.

Since humans, and not God, had failed England, what remained then was for humans to make themselves capable of succeeding in the future when another opportunity for liberation reared up. In the mean time, Milton believed, preparation was needed, to make "the people fittest to choose and the chosen fittest to govern" (CPW 4.615), through an education in "moulding the minds of men to virtue (whence arises true and internal liberty), in governing the state effectively, and preserving it for the longest possible space of time" (615).75 These goals, while patently republican in their political vision of an "immortal commonwealth," as Harrington would put it, also are ethical, as Milton expresses a continued optimism about human capacity for change and growth. Harrington, by contrast, never gave the people a chance, sneering in 1656,

A people, when they are reduced unto misery and despair, become their own politicians, as certain beasts when they are sick become their own physicians and are carried by a natural instinct unto the desire of such herbs as are their proper cure; but the people, for the greater part, are beneath the beasts in the use of them. Thus the people of Rome, though in their misery they had recourse, by instinct as it were, unto the two main fundamentals of a commonwealth, participation of magistracy and the agrarian, did but taste and spit at them, not (which is necessary in physic) drink down the potion and in that their healths…. But if you do not take the due dose of your medicines (as there be slight tastes which a man may have of philosophy that incline unto atheism), it may chance to be a poison; there being a like taste of the politics that inclines to confusion, as appears in the institution of the Roman tribunes, by which magistracy, and no more, the people were so far from attaining unto peace that they, in getting but so much, got but heads for eternal feud.

Milton, in opposing this shabby portait of the people, believes that individuals may be made fit to govern themselves effectively; he believes they may be made so by acquiring habits of reading. It is true that Milton had pictured the mob as "a herd confus'd / A miscellaneous rabble, who extol / Things vulgar, & well weigh'd scarce worth the praise" (Paradise Regained 3.49-51). But their leaders had been even worse. The people may be yet molded: "to guide Nations in the way of Truth / By saving Doctrine, and from error lead / To know" (Paradise Regained 2.473-75). Over the passage of time, Michael explains in Paradise Lost, humans will be brought "Up to a better Cov'nant, disciplin'd / From shadowie Types to Truth, from Flesh to Spirit" (12.302-3), finally able to convert their "works of Law to works of Faith" (12.306). Satan will not be destroyed until the Second Coming, but his ability to affect men will diminish before that time: "nor so is overcome / Satan, . . , but his works / In thee and in thy Seed" (12.390-95).76

Thus in the first two books of Paradise Lost, Milton agreed with the royalist judgment on the leaders of the English Revolution; the leaders had become "thyself not free, but to thyself enthralled," as Abdiel had taunted Satan (6.181). But Milton disagreed with the Royalists about who was responsible for that fact. While the Royalists blamed Satan and praised God for his victory in 1660, Milton blamed the individual men who had failed so miserably in their pursuit of liberty. In Paradise Lost, Milton corrected the current notion that Providence had designed the Restoration from the start.77 As he wrote on Providence in Christian Doctrine, "even in sin, then, we see God's providence at work, not only in permitting it or withdrawing its grace, but often in inciting sinners to commit sin, hardening their hearts and blinding them" (CPW 6.331). Evil does not come from God, "but he directs a will which is already evil" (332; Guns don't kill people; people kill

Milton suggests there is a discrepancy between interpretations made in hell or on earth and those made in heaven. True intepretation comes from without, as God's word is rewritten in a man's heart. Abdiel in his "testimony of Truth" (6.33) rebukes Satan for his reading of matters, first on doctrinal grounds, and then on experiential ones: "by experience taught we know how good, / And of our good, and of our dignity / How provident he is" (5.826-28). Abdiel is commended by God, for withstanding the hellish ridicule; "though Worlds / judg'd thee perverse" (6.35-36), in God's perspective he is on the right path. Authentic signification is difficult to distinguish in the lower realms, and may indeed appear "perverse." Milton thus resists the satanic practice of allegory, in which there is a one-to-one relation between the political order, the cosmic order, and the representational order. In so doing, Milton resists the Royalists' appeal to an audience to read history along the fixed lines of those correspondences. Milton acknowledges the mediation required to understand the figures of history.99Paradise Lost is principally concerned with proper interpretation, given the human condition of contingency, both in spiritual and in political terms.

Milton's repeated strategy of provoking allegorical interpretations while refusing to supply unequivocal "keys" to the allegory is meant as a lesson, a challenge, and more importantly, as a warning to his revolutionary readers. He presses the stress points of a popular contemporary political allegory, and baffles readers' expectations of a clear meaning. Doing so, Milton, in two books of Paradise Lost, sets before the reader a subtext of the multiple political possibilities of literary genres, and the rest of the poem leads readers down a path toward spiritual enlightenment that involves learning how to read. Milton used what Annabel Patterson has called "the concept of functional, intentional ambiguity,"100 not to encode a particular meaning, as if the fit reader could find the "key" to unlock Milton's cabinet. Rather, Milton exposes the dangers of such allegories for the unwary reader. This is not to say that Milton "gave up" on his public, or even on history, in playing indeterminately upon this allegory, or that he retreated into an unpolitical "Paradise within." The lessons of Paradise Lost, on the contrary, are activist and engaged. Milton urged his readers to become a fit audience, revolutionary readers, and they were to do this by reading between the lines, by becoming adept at detecting and resisting propaganda: not because rhetoric and propaganda were inherently evil or satanic; nor because a plain style was better (in fact, there was no such thing as a plain style, except in Eden and in heaven: the one irrevocably in the past, and the other presently always mediated through fallen language). Members of Milton's fit audience sit and wait in the darkness, but they read by the candlelight in the meantime.


56 Andrew Marvell, "On Paradise Lost" in Merritt Y. Hughes, ed., John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1984), 209-10.

57 William Riley Parker, Milton: A Biography, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), I:602.

58 After all, Milton, Marvell, and Dryden, as employees of the Protectorate, all walked in the procession at Oliver Cromwell's funeral in September 1658. Christopher Hill, "Milton and Marvell," in C. A. Patrides, ed., Approaches to Marvell: The York Tercentenary Lectures (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), 1.

59Bradshaw's Ghost (1660), 1, 2. This is also an echo of Achilles in Odyssey 11.460. Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, in Russell A. Fraser and Norman Rabkin, eds., Drama of the English Renaissance: The Tudor Period (New York: Macmillan, 1976).

60 Of current scholars, Michael Wilding in Dragon's Teeth: Literature in the English Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), chap. 8, makes the closest concrete connection between the devils in Paradise Lost and midcentury political figures, though Wilding argues that Milton was critical of the Interregnum parliament, which, reflecting the tyranny of Satan, exemplified the dangers of democracy.

61 Andrew Marvell, The Rehearsal Transpros'd, ed., D.I.B. Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 135.

62 Austin Woolrych, "Milton and the Good Old Cause," in Ronald G. Shafer, ed., Ringing the Bell Backward: The Proceedings of the First International Milton Symposium (Indiana, PA: Indiana University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 135.

63 Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution (New York: Viking, 1977), 406-9.

64Mercurius Elencticus, no. 6 (28 May-4 June 1649), 42.

65The Famous Tragedie of King Charles I (1649), 1. Barbara K. Lewalski, in "Paradise Lost" and the Rhetoric, discusses Milton's treatment of Satan's deliberative rhetoric as a "genre of the damned" (84-97); Michael Wilding urges that we see the first two books in Paradise Lost as an example of the dangers of politics, where Milton is warning the reader that beautiful rhetoric can waylay democratic processes. Dragon's Teeth, 229.

66 Mercurius Acheronticus [James Howell], A Trance, 6.

67The Parliaments Petition to the Divell (1648), 3, 7.

68The Trial of Traytors; or, The Rump in the Round (1660). The same illustration was used in The Dragon's Forces totally Routed (1660).

69 Bennett, Reviving Liberty, 50.

70 "On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament," CP, 144.

71Bradshaw's Ghost: Being a Dialogue between Said Ghost, and an Apparition of the Late King Charles … The third Edition, Corrected and Enlarg'd (1659), 11.

72 Nicholas von Maltzahn dates the Digression in February 1649, in Milton's "History of Britain": Republican Historiography in the English Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 31; Hill takes these ominous statements as a sign of Milton's losing hope in 1654, in Milton and the English Revolution, 193; Austin Woolrych dates the Digression in 1660, finding that Milton retained optimism until 1659, in "The Date of the Digression in Milton's History of Britain," in Richard Ollard and Pamela Tudor-Craig, eds., For Veronica Wedgwood These: Studies in Seventeenth-Century History (London: Collins, 1986), 236-41. For the controversy over the dating of the Digression, see von Maltzhan, Milton's History of Britain, 22-48.

73 David Masson, Life of Milton, 7 vols. (Cambridge and London: Macmillan, 1859-94), 6: 811.

74A Trance, 9.

75 In my argument here I concur with Mary Ann Radzinowicz's superlative account of Milton's late politics in Toward "Samson Agonistes": The Growth of Milton 's Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 145-49, though, as I will go on to show, my sense of Milton's educational program involves readers not just learning political truths but acquiring interpretive activities.

76 James Harrington, Oceana, in J.G.A. Pocock, ed., The Political Works of James Harrington (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 277.

77 Thus I disagree with Don M. Wolfe, who, in Milton in the Puritan Revolution (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1941), 342, found that Milton believed the Restoration was God's punishment to the people of England.

78 On the debate over whether Milton wrote Christian Doctrine, see William B. Hunter, who argues that he did not, in "The Provenance of the Christian Doctrine," Studies in English Literature 32, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 129-42, 163-66; and, arguing that he did, Barbara Lewalski, "Forum: Milton's Christian Doctrine," Studies in English Literature 32, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 143-54; and John T. Shawcross, "Forum: Milton's Christian Doctrine," Studies in English Literature 32, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 155-62….

99 Maureen Quilligan has argued that, because of her inherently mediated status, "Eve's intial interpretive situation is closer to the fallen reader's corrected reading than any other perspective in the poem," in Milton 's Spenser, 242.

100 Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 158.

Victoria Kahn (essay date 1996)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: "Political Theology and Reason of State in Samson Agonistes," in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 95, No. 4, Fall, 1996, pp. 1065-97.

[In the following excerpt, Kahn discusses Milton's Samson Agonistes in the context of Renaissance ideas of state authority, focusing on the tragic nature of the choices individuals had to make when ethical and political demands were at odds.]

In his treatise on Political Theology of 1922, Carl Schmitt defined the sovereign as "he who decides on the exception."1 Schmitt, a conservative scholar of constitutional law during the Weimar Republic and later a supporter of the Third Reich, was interested in the paradox that the sovereign both "stands outside the normally valid legal system, [and] nevertheless belongs to it, for it is he who must decide whether the constitution needs to be suspended in its entirety…. The essence of the state's sovereignty [is] not … the monopoly to coerce or to rule, but … the monopoly to decide." While modern con-stitutionalist thought tends, according to Schmitt, to eliminate "the sovereign in this sense," the seventeenth-century tradition of natural law recognized the exception: "The classical representative of the decisionist type [of juristic thought] … is Thomas Hobbes," with his maxim auctoritas, non veritas facit legem.2 The sovereign is he who has the power to decide what counts as the norm and the exception, as true and false, in the political sphere. The sovereign also has the right to suspend positive law for the good of the people or the preservation of the state. In the idiom of seventeenth-century political theory the problem of the exception is the problem of reason of state.

Although Schmitt distinguished between the monopoly to coerce and the monopoly to decide, it is clear that for him the latter presupposed the former. It is perhaps for this reason that Schmitt was interested in Walter Benjamin's early essay "The Critique of Violence"; both viewed the foundation of law as a "coup de force," a performative or interpretive violence for which there is no prior justification.3 Similarly, according to this logic, it is impossible to say that a decision is just if it merely conforms to a prior rule of law (which would be mere legality, not justice); rather, to the extent that the law has to be enacted, it is reinvented each time.4 Here we see that reason of state does not necessarily reinforce the status quo: because it does not identify justice with positive law, it may also criticize existing relations of power.5 Not surprisingly, given his account of the fiat behind all legal order, Schmitt believed that all modern concepts of the state are secularized theological concepts: "The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology."6 Perhaps for similar reasons, Benjamin associated the violence of founding a new political order with divine violence.

Samson Agonistes is Milton's—and Samson's—attempt to think the exception in the realm of politics and theology. In doing so, it necessarily takes up the relations of the law and violence, of reason and reason of state—issues that Milton had addressed with considerably more equanimity, even optimism, in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and the first Defence. Although in these prose tracts of the late 1640s and early 1650s Milton assimilated reason of state to Aristotelian or Thomistic natural law, in Samson Agonistes reason of state comes to represent a crisis of rationality and of the will. As Arthur Barker noted long ago, while in principle the law of right reason and nature is different from divine grace, in practice "that theoretical distinction was difficult to preserve, especially when reason and faith, natural and spiritual law, were together involved in the dispute over the rights of conscience." In radical puritan thought, reasoning about the exception on the basis of natural law and the inner promptings of grace came to involve far more than "the mere natural law of self-preservation": at stake was the relationship of unwritten natural law to the law of the spirit and thus, I would add, the power and authority of reason itself.7 In Milton's late drama, the norms of conscientious action and the sanction for violence are themselves the subject of debate: Gewalt—the authority for violence, the power to decide—is now a problem rather than simply a solution. This is a problem of political theology, on the one hand, and of genre, on the other. In the first case, it points to the voluntarism of Milton's theology, according to which God gave us the power freely to choose—not least of all in the realm of politics.8 In the second, it points to the genre of tragedy, a genre which dramatizes the tensions and ambiguities of human decision-making, of "man in his condition as an agent"—not least of all, in relation to the divine.9

In the preface to Samson Agonistes Milton tells us his model is "tragedy, as it was anciently composed," which, according to Aristotle, has the "power by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions, that is to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight."10 With this last subordinate clause, Milton enters the Renaissance debate concerning the political effects of catharsis. While Aristotle had made no particular, explicit claims for the political uses of tragedy, Italian Renaissance commentators regularly discussed its social and political consequences. Central to the debate was whether catharsis purged or merely tempered the passions, and whether purgation created quiescence or something more like stoic resolve. Giacopo Mazzoni, whom Milton mentions in Of Education, took a conservative position on the political effects of tragedy, which he saw as moderating the hubris of the great, extinguishing sedition and preserving peace. In his L 'arte poetica of 1564, Antonio Minturno argued for the more complicated effect of patience and resourcefulness: "The recollection of the grave misfortunes of others not merely makes us quicker and better prepared to support our own, but wiser and more skillful in escaping similar evils." Tragedy, in this view, may both purge and moderate the passions; it may encourage both "patience" and heroic acts of "invincible might," to quote the chorus of Samson Agonistes. As Merritt Hughes noted, although Milton does not explicitly cite Minturno in the preface to Samson, he seems to have subscribed to a similar view of the complicated, politically bracing homeopathic effect of tragedy.11

A more pointed recognition of the ambivalent effects of tragedy is signaled by Milton's reference in the preface to Paraeus's commentary on the tragedy of Revelation. As Barbara Lewalski has argued, Paraeus was not alone among Protestant commentators in "locat[ing] the tragedy of Revelation in the sufferings and agons of the Church under Antichrist: 'the forme of this Prophesie … representeth Tragicall motions and tumults of the adversaries against the Church of Christ.'"12 Samson, in this light, is not so much a type of Christ as a warfaring saint who "under the conditions of this life … cannot escape suffering and death, or the knowledge that [his] own guiltiness deserves it."13

In both Italian and English conceptions, tragedy is dialectical. In the Italian Renaissance commentaries that Milton knew well, tragedy works by contraries: it solicits the passions only to purge or modify them; it stages the representation of death and destruction so that the spectator will be elevated by experiencing the powerful and lively emotions of pity and fear. Like the rhetorical category of the sublime to which it is often allied (in both Renaissance and modern discussions), tragedy makes the theatrical representation of violence the condition of the spectator's pleasurable experience of the marvelous and of self-preservation.14 But the conjunction of Italian commentators on Aristotle with Protestant commentators on the tragedy of Revelation also points to a conception of tragedy which is dialectical, in the sense of dramatizing contradiction, equivocation, ambivalence—not just in the contrast between the fortunes of the spectator and actor but within the drama itself. In this view of tragedy, the protagonist's exercise of the will is the occasion of unintended suffering. Volition may appear to be indistinguishable from violence; the agent is acted upon; "bloody instructions," to quote Macbeth, "return to plague the inventor." The political effects of tragedy are complicated by a dramatization of the problems of agency and imitation.

If Renaissance reflections on reason of state engage some of the same contradictions as contemporary reflections on tragedy, as I believe they do, then in Samson Agonistes reason of state—reasoning about the exception—becomes the tragedy of political thought, and the ambivalent experience of tragedy the literary equivalent of the cognitive dilemma signaled by reason of state. As we will see, reason of state appears to be in excess of the law and takes the form of an exercise of extraordinary power that is justified by reference to a "higher" natural law of reason. But this reference to a higher law is problematic since reason of state can be feigned to justify lowly considerations of expedience and self-interest. Thus reason of state fascinates because it involves the potentially illegitimate transgression of the norm—of justice and ethical behavior, of divine law: it is a figure of the effect of power in all its ambivalence. Here we can begin to discern the difference between Milton's reason of state and Schmitt's political theology. For Schmitt, "theology" is a metaphor: deciding the exception can never involve an illegitimate transgression of divine law since in all important respects the human sovereign is the law. For Milton, legitimacy is of the essence precisely because theology is not simply a metaphor for secularized political sovereignty; instead, it refers to our alltoo-human knowledge of divine sovereignty. In contrast to Schmitt, for the late Milton political theology involved the ambivalent human experience of the divine, an experience which—by the time of Samson Agonistes—had come to seem irreducibly tragic. That tragedy cannot be understood without an exploration of the tension between natural law and conscience in seventeenth-century debates about reason of state.

For Milton and his contemporaries, reason of state is the form of reasoning that deliberates about exceptional political cases in which salus populi—the good of the people, the preservation of the state—demands the violation of positive and/or moral law.15 Reason of state thus poses distinctive ethical and epistemological problems. It emerges as an ethical problem when the preservation of the state is perceived to be at odds with the norms of justice—as Carl Friedrich noted, "Only when there is a clash between the commands of an individual ethic of high normativity and the needs and requirements of organizations whose security and survival is at stake can the issue of reason of state become real."16 Yet, as the ambiguity of salus populi suggests, reason of state also emerges as an ethical problem when true justice seems to require the violation of positive or moral law.

The dilemma of reason of state is epistemological as well as ethical since, from the outset, reason of state involves a series of potentially equivocal relationships between reason and decision, discretion and necessity, justice and force, law and conscience. Although in one sense reason of state simply applies the natural law or rational principle of self-preservation to the political sphere, in another sense it explodes the distinction between rational norm and application since it concerns exceptions that cannot be subsumed under ordinary reason. If they could, there would be no need to invoke a rationality intrinsic to politics (as opposed to ethics)—a supplement to reason that may take the form of divine inspiration. If, in the first case, reason of state is part of an older natural-law tradition grounded on the belief in self-evident principles of reason, in the second case it comes close to being a skeptical or instrumental approach to politics, one that could be aligned with a radical puritan belief in divine grace.17

We can begin to get a sense of the equivocal epistemological and ethical status of reason of state by examining debates between royalists and parliamentarians about discretionary political power in the years leading up to and including the Civil War. These were debates not simply about de facto power but also about legitimate authority. While "reason of state" was sometimes a term of abuse, it also served to justify the exercise of emergency powers. And, for royalists and parliamentarians alike, the Nazarite Samson functioned as an important example of these powers.18

On the royalist side, what Friedrich has described as the ethical "issue" of reason of state was resolved by assimilating it to the tradition of the arcana imperii: the king was privy to the secrets of empire that verged on and were at times explicitly identified with a God-given insight into political matters.19 Only the king had the knowledge to decide what was in the public interest; his decisions could therefore not be constrained—nor his conscience troubled—by considerations of merely human law. Reason of state was, in the view of James I, not so much a problem as a solution, another name for divine-right absolutism. So James argued in a 1621 letter to the House of Commons defending his discretionary power in matters of policy, which "were of necessity secret, unpredictable, and peremptory."20 In 1628, in response to the Petition of Right, Serjeant Ashley similarly declared that "kings rule not only by the common law but also by 'a law of state,' and added that 'in the law of state their acts are bounded by the law of nature'" rather than by positive law. In the Commons Francis Nethersole argued that "for reason of state the king could imprison [and tax] without showing cause."21 Not surprisingly, given this use of reason of state to justify impositions and imprisonment at the king's will, Sir Edward Coke remarked that "a Reason of State is a trick to put a man out of the right way; for, when a man can give no reason for a thing, then he flieth to a higher Strain, and saith it is Reason of State." In the parliamentary debates of 1628, one George (or John) Browne similarly declared that "reason of state is a meere chimera."22

By the 1640s, however, parliamentary critics of the king were invoking reason of state in defense of their own policies, identifying it not with divine right absolutism but with nascent constitutionalism. Charles Herle, a Presbyterian clergyman, argued that "mixt Monarchy" was the best form of government and that "Reason or wisdome of State … first contriv'd [the mixture]."23 Reason of state also had the more particular connotation of discretionary power in matters of necessity and self-preservation, now identified as resistance to the king. For critics of absolute monarchy such as Henry Parker and Milton, God-given reason dictated not only that government be based on an original covenant or contract with the ruler, but that this contract be revocable when the ends of government—self-preservation as well as preservation of the state—were not being served. Thus in The Contra-Replicant, His Complaint to His Majestie, Parker justified reason of state as a supplement to contract, one that achieves a kind of sublime—even an imperial—transcendence of the law:

Lawes ayme at Justice, Reason of state aimes at safety…. Reason of State goes beyond all particular formes and pacts, and looks rather to the being, then the well-being of a State…. Reason of state is something more sublime and imperiall then Law: it may rightly be said, that the Statesman begins where the Lawyer ceaseth; for when warre has silenced Law, a kind of dictatorian power is to be allowed to her; whatsoever has any right to defend it selfe in time of danger is to resort to policy in stead of Law.24

Parker's remarks suggest that he recognized reason of state could be a dangerous supplement to any fixed conception of mixed monarchy or government based on law, contract, and consent. Yet, for Parker, precisely because reason of state is concerned with the "right" of self-defense, it proves to be the underside of any legitimate model of contractual obligation.

Milton made a similar argument in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and the first Defence, stressing even more forcefully than Parker the compatibility of natural law and reason of state not simply with "safety" but with true justice. In both texts, government is established and preserved by the exercise of God-given reason in accordance with "that law of Nature and of God which holds that whatever is for the safety of the state is right and just."25 Thus, in The Tenure, Milton argued that the regicide—which violated positive law—was justified by natural law, which dictated above all the safety of the people.26 And in defending the actions of Parliament and the army, he referred to "the glorious way wherin Justice and Victory hath set them; the only warrants through all the ages, next under immediat Revelation, to exercise supream power."27 In the first Defence, Milton asserted that absolute obedience to positive law amounted to an idolatrous submission to tyrannical or de facto political power without concern for justice. In contrast, reason, justice, morality, and the natural law of salus populi all demand that tyrants be punished by violence.28 In both texts exceptions to or suspensions of positive law are normalized by reference to right reason and the law of nature. At the same time, in both texts reason of state involves critical judgment rather than an appeal to absolute authority; as such, it transforms the exercise of what Parker called "arbitrary power," making it an instrument of justice rather than legality, of revolution rather than the status quo.29

And yet contemporaries were acutely aware that reason of state and the necessities to which it claimed to respond could be abused or feigned. In such cases, reason of state was not grounded in God-given reason and natural law; rather, it represented a kind of Machiavellian supplement to reason, a usurpation of the divine prerogative to suspend the moral law. In these cases, the invocation of reason of state involved equivocation or false casuistry. In his Lectures on Conscience and Human Law, Bishop Sanderson warned in particular against the equivocal interpretation of salus populi, promoted by "a class of men [who] have used their leisure in a luckless way, to invent and import a new scheme of politics into the State … under the pretence of Christian liberty, or of liberty of Conscience" After explaining that the word people is properly understood to include both the king and his subjects, he added,

I have explained these particulars with precision … [for two reasons]; the first, that we may not suffer ourselves to be deceived and imposed upon by a fallacious construction of an ambiguous word; the other, in order that there may be no force in the mere sound of the word people, to prejudice the sovereign of the community, and the ruler of the nation.30

Sanderson might well have had in mind someone like John Goodwin, who in Right and Might Well Met identified the interest of the people with the army and the Independents, and who defended the army's illegal actions on the ground that

the law of nature, necessity, and of love to their country, … being the law of God himself written in the fleshly tables of men's hearts, hath an authoritative jurisdiction over all human laws and constitutions whatsoever, a prerogative right of power to overrule them and to suspend their obliging influences in all cases appropriate to itself. Yea many of the Lawes of God themselves, thinke it no disparagement unto them, to give place to their elder Sister, the Law of necessity, and to surrender their authority into her hand, when shee speaketh.31

For Goodwin, as for many of his contemporaries, reason of state could involve the suspension of divine as well as positive law for reasons of necessity. To the objection that it is difficult to judge what is necessary, Goodwin replied that we are obliged by our consciences to do so even though our judgment may be fallible: "The neglect, or non-exercise of that judging faculty or power, which is planted in the soules and consciences of men by God, upon such terms, and with references to such ends as these, draweth along with it that sin, w[hi]ch the Wise man called, the despising of a mans wayes…. Every man is bound to consider, judge, and determine, what is meet, and necessary for him to doe, either to, with, for, or against, all other men."32 Whereas Goodwin asserted that the effort to judge could not be condemned even though a particular judgment might be faulty, contemporary treatises on casuistry stressed that a right intention could not justify an immoral act. Yet for Sanderson the problem was not chiefly one of misconstruction but of deception: as Goodwin himself admitted, necessity may be feigned as well as misinterpreted; and when it is feigned, the new politics begins to look strangely like an attempt to use the fiction of necessity as a rationale for merely human transgressions of divine law.

This dynamic of freedom and necessity, of divine and human law, may explain the fact that Samson regularly served as a counter in royalist and parliamentary discussions of this extralegal power to determine the exception. Discussing Bate's Case (1606), which had upheld the king's right to levy impositions by arguing that the king's power was "supra-legal, so that he might for reason of state act contrary to the common law," Sir John Davies compared the strength of the king's absolute prerogative to Samson's:

The King's Prerogative in this point is as strong as Samson, it cannot be bound; for though an Act of Parliament be made to restrain it, and the King doth give his consent unto it, as Samson was bound with his own consent, yet if the Philistines come, that is, if any just or important occasion do arise, it cannot hold or restrain the Prerogative, it will be as thred, and broken as easie as the bonds of Samson.33

For Davies Samson is exemplary of sovereign power because his strength is so great that he cannot be restrained by any other force: he can only bind himself ("bound with his own consent"). Yet Davies also notes almost parenthetically that the occasion of breaking the bonds of Parliament must be "just or important," thereby suggesting that the king's arbitrary power is guided by considerations of justice above and beyond the law. In doing so, he implicitly suggests the rhetorical question which Milton's Samson asks in his first soliloquy: "What is strength without a double share of wisdom?" Or, less rhetorically, on the basis of what knowledge should the king or any individual subject break his bonds?

In The Reason of Church Government, Milton inverted the kind of argument made by Davies, comparing Samson's locks to the Mosaic law (allegorically: English law) rather than exclusively to royal prerogative:

I cannot better liken the state and person of a King then to that mighty Nazarite Samson; who being disciplin'd from his birth in the precepts and the practice of Temperance and Sobriety, without the strong drink of injurious and excessive desires, grows up to a noble strength and perfection with those his illustrious and sunny locks the laws waving and curling about his god like shoulders…. But laying down his head among the strumpet flatteries of Prelats, while he sleeps and thinks no harme, they wickedly shaving off all those bright and waighty tresses of his laws, and just prerogatives which were his ornament and strength, deliver him over to indirect and violent councels … and make him grinde in the prison house of their sinister ends and practices upon him.34

Whereas Davies compared Samson's strength to Charles's unconstrained prerogative, Milton implies that both strength and prerogative are a function of the law. And he warns that when "Law and Right" recover their "wonted might," they will "thunder with ruin upon the heads of [Charles's] evil counsellors, but not without great afflication to himself."35 Here too the law is an instrument of critical judgment as well as strength, of justice as well as arbitrary power. Milton suggests a similar linking of criticism and strength in the first Defence, where he describes Samson as a heroic tyrannicide who "thought it not impious but pious to kill those masters that were tyrants over his country."36 Yet, in describing Samson as one who "made war single-handed on his masters … whether prompted by God or by his own valor," Milton also raises the question of the divine authority for Samson's decision—the question, that is, of his calling.

Reason of state is often assumed to be a secular rationale of expedient political action, one that is incompatible with the rule of the saints. Yet, as Milton's description of the pious Samson in the first Defence suggests and as a number of scholars have observed, the Protestant doctrines of the covenant and the calling proved to be particularly hospitable to reason of state in all its ambiguity.37 On the one hand, the voluntarism of such doctrines seems to have contributed to a rational view of this worldly experience, including politics and the exigencies of reason of state. On the other hand, this same voluntarism, along with the notion of the specific calling, served to isolate politics from other kinds of activities and, at least in some cases, to make politics less a matter of shared rational deliberation than of individual decision and of the will. This is particularly the case with Samson the Nazarite, whose struggle to understand his calling—his individual covenant with God—is intimately bound up with his meditation on reason of state.

At least since Weber, the idea that Protestantism (particularly Calvinism) fostered a rational view of this worldly activity has been a familiar one. Weber famously argued for the connection between Protestantism and capitalism, but others have modified his views by extending them—and claiming that they apply chiefly—to the sphere of politics.38 According to this view, the Protestant doctrine of God's covenant with man informs and serves as a model for this worldly government conceived of as a contract established by human volition and choice—precisely what Milton argued in both The Tenure and the first Defence. Such a doctrine also served to articulate, and undoubtedly for some believers to resolve, the tension between coercion and consent in human experience. Just as the theological covenant reconciles divine predestination and human agency by making God's gift of grace an offer to which the believer must consent, so the Christian commonwealth reconciles coercion and free will by making the subordination of our interests to the public interest a matter of consent and individual conscience.39

While all saints were called in general to be conscientious and obedient citizens of the Christian commonwealth, some were called in particular to perform the duties of magistracy or political office. It is here that the Protestant notion of the vocation isolated the realm of government as a separate calling, one which has its own rules of conduct, its own ratio or rationale, separate from the sphere of religious devotion. Luther illustrated this separation when he observed, "I fulfill the commands of the Lord when I teach and pray, the plowman when he listens and does his farm work diligently; and the prince and his officials do not fulfill them, when they cannot be found when needed, but say that they must pray—for that means to withdraw from God's true service in the name of God."40 What is true of the prince is true of his soldiers as well, whose vocation Luther defends in "Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved." The occupation of the soldier, including the exercise of violent force, is as legitimate as any other occupation, as long as the soldier realizes that "no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian."41

Of particular relevance to Samson is the fact that the Protestant notion of the calling could be used to justify not only the social and political status quo, but also exceptions to that rule precisely because it hovered between vocation and work; or rather, it made one's work into a vocation by infusing it with faith and conscience. Like the notion of the covenant, it adjudicated between predestination and works, coercion and consent, by making one's vocation appear to be a response to being called.42 It was precisely this infusion of conscience—this conversion of work into "works of faith"—that made the notion of the calling equivocal and unstable: ostensibly a justification of social and political hierarchy, a calling could also be used to justify extraordinary actions "above the form of law or custome."43 Thus, in William Perkins's Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of Men, we learn that there are two kinds—the calling of the Christian believer, which is determined by God's general providence, and the individual calling or profession (king, subject, merchant, plowman), which is determined by God's specific providence. Although the two callings should be performed together, "a particular calling must give place to the general calling of a Christian when they cannot both stand together."44 Precisely because the doctrine of the calling raises the specter of an individual called to be a "public person," an individual who acts according to conscience rather than in accordance with his place in a social and political hierarchy, it stands at the intersection of norm and exception, contract and reason of state. Like the notion of contract, that of a calling attempts to negotiate a conflict between coercion and consent, divine and human will; like reason of state, being "called" could justify exceptions to the rule.

The doctrine of a special calling and of a rationality intrinsic to politics gave rise to what Michael Walzer (following George Mosse) has called a "political casuistry." If casuistry is the art of reasoning about difficult moral cases, of adjudicating between conflicting moral principles, political casuistry is the art of reasoning about political cases that are not easily—or usefully—subordinated to either positive or moral law. And one of the goals of this political casuistry was to effect precisely the sort of divorce between public and private persons mentioned above. Yet, as manuals of casuistry acknowledged, it was often impossible to separate matters of policy from matters of conscience, for in cases where there was an absolute conflict between obedience to the sovereign and obedience to God the latter took precedence. Hence Luther's and Calvin's insisting that resistance, for example, could only be undertaken by public persons who were lesser magistrates, not by private individuals acting according to their own consciences. Hence also the fear that casuistry would actually foster resistance by helping to create conscientious subjects.45

This dilemma of conscientious action "above the form of law or custome" is the subject of Luther's tract On Secular Authority, which takes up the casuistical question of "whether a Christian can even wield the secular Sword and punish the wicked [himself], seeing that Christ's words 'Do not resist evil' seem so peremptory and clear." Luther solves this case of conflicting moral principles, as a good casuist would, by distinguishing between contexts: while the sword cannot be used "over or among Christians," "a Christian use" can be made of the sword to punish or restrain the wicked.46 Similarly, while the sword cannot be used to revenge or benefit oneself, it may be used in "the service of others":

And so the two [principles] are nicely reconciled: you satisfy the demands of God's kingdom and the world's at one and the same time, outwardly and inwardly; you both suffer evil and injustice and yet punish [the wicked]; you do not resist evil and yet you do resist it. As to you and yours, you keep to the Gospel and suffer injustice as a true Christian. But where the next man and what is his are concerned, you act in accordance with the [command to] love and you tolerate no injustice against him. And that is not prohibited by the Gospel; on the contrary the Gospel commands it elsewhere.47

The criterion of Christian usage then raises the further question of whether "I can use the Sword for myself and my own concerns, provided I am not out for my own good, but merely intend that evil should be punished?"48 According to Luther, this is the case of conscience exemplified by Samson. On the one hand, Samson represents the vocation of "the sword," which, like other callings, can be used in the service of God. On the other hand, Samson sets a dangerous precedent for ordinary reason because he "used his private concerns as a pretext for declaring war against [the Philistines]," even though he "did not do it to avenge himself or to seek his own advantage, but to help [the Israelites] and punish the Philistines." Thus Luther warns, "Where [ordinary human] reason wants to do likewise, it no doubt pretends that it is not seeking its own advantage, but the claim will be false from top to bottom. The thing is impossible without grace. So if you want to act like Samson, then first become like Samson."49 As readers of Samson Agonistes know, this "becoming like Samson" is something which even Milton's Samson has to achieve.

From the very beginning of Samson Agonistes, Samson's task is to understand himself as an exception, both in the sense of an exceptional individual called by God to do exceptional acts and as an individual who has singularly failed to live up to his calling. In meditating on his equivocal status as deliverer, Samson thus necessarily addresses what we have come to understand as the problem of reason of state: the problem of the relationship of the exception to the rule, of power to legitimate authority, of justice to positive law. Precisely because reason of state involves not only reasoning about the exception but also deciding what counts as an exception, it exemplifies as well the problematic relationship of the law to the individual conscience, and of reason to the will.50

Samson's reasoning about his own exceptional status is dramatized in his soliloquy on the prophecy of his role as deliverer, a prophecy that he is unable to interpret correctly:

Samson struggles to make sense of his condition by revising his understanding of prophecy: he first interprets the prophecy that he would deliver Israel as a "prediction," a "promise" that God has failed to fulfill, then reverses his understanding, blaming himself for his fate: "Whom have I to complain of but myself?" No sooner has he done so than he begins to impugn the justice of God's creation: "O impotence of mind, in body strong! / But what is strength without a double share of wisdom?" He then recoils from this question, asserting that God's will is just, though inaccessible to human reason: "But peace, I must not quarrel with the will / Of highest dispensation, which herein / Haply had ends above my reach to know."52 Struggling to decide between these alternatives, yet incapable of doing so, Samson despairs of making sense of his experience in terms other than those of simple irony: dark amid the blaze of noon, he suffers a living death. He is not so much an exception as an example of the incomprehensibility of God's ways. Irony is here for Samson simply the other side of his either/or mode of reasoning, neither of which allows him to understand his calling or the conditional nature of God's prophecies and covenants. On the one hand, covenants are not predictions because they are not unilateral. On the other hand, because covenants are not unilateral, Samson cannot by himself bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy.53

This initial soliloquy sets the pattern for the rest of the play, in which Samson and his visitors struggle to interpret the equivocal signs of his condition. Particularly striking are the repeated failure to recognize Samson as being like his former self (here Samson is the exception to the prophecy) and the repeated attempts to erase the exception by reading Samson as an "example" of some general law or truth of the human condition. In this second case, exemplary reading has the effect of curtailing efforts to understand both Samson's responsibility for his decisions and God's justice.

The chorus unwittingly sums up the problem of turning Samson the exception into the rule when it describes Samson as a "mirror of our fickle state, / Since man on earth unparallel'd," but goes on to resolve this paradox by casting him simply as an "example" of the reverses of fortune.54 Samson describes himself as an "example" of a neglected deliverer, of fallen pride, and of the betrayed husband.55 Like the chorus, Manoa reads him as an example of our fickle state and, like Samson in his first soliloquy, glosses this state in terms of the simple irony of the "good / Pray'd for, [which] often proves our woe." Harapha sees Samson as an example of a fallen hero.56 Thus the chorus ascribes Samson's condition to fortune; Samson alternately complains that he was not given enough knowledge to use his strength correctly or that he was "overpow'r'd" by Dalila; Manoa describes Samson as "ensnared" by Dalila and unjustly punished by God; and the chorus exempts Samson of responsibility by pronouncing both that God may dispense with his own laws and that we should not reason vainly about divine justice.57 In every case, doing away with Samson's responsibility for his decisions involves giving up on God's justice or, at the very least, identifying his justice with his absolute authority or arbitrary power.58

Samson, however, continues to reason about the exception—both his calling and his weakness of the will. In contrast to his interlocutors, he struggles to make sense both of God's justice and his own actions, exploring in the process the equivocal status of reason of state as both reason and decision. The dilemma of Samson's calling is not resolved by greater knowledge, however, or by choosing one more rationally compelling interpretation over another. Instead, what the conclusion dramatizes is the necessity of decision. Crucial to our understanding of this necessity are those exchanges in the poem in which Samson discusses his own decisions, past and present, and in which he explicitly takes up the argument from reason of state.


It makes sense that, in reasoning about his past decisions, Samson should explicitly address the argument from reason of state since he had used it to justify his own violation of positive law in marrying an infidel. Through his reflections on reason of state in his encounters with Dalila, Harapha, and the Philistine officer, Samson gradually comes to understand that such reasoning about the exception involves a critical act of judgment, a negative dialectics which (against James I) refuses to equate authority with legitimacy, power with justice.59 These encounters thus amount to a kind of metadiscourse on the exception, an ironic commentary on any discourse that turns the exception into a rule in an attempt to obviate the necessity for a decision. Conversely, they show us that decisions are necessary precisely because arguments from authority (even the authority of natural law) are deeply equivocal, subject to parody, ironic manipulation, and reinterpretation. Finally, as Samson comes to understand, the equivocal signs of experience are less to be reasoned away than embraced as the condition for any true decision: equivocation and decision are two sides of the same coin.

Samson first appeals to reason of state in response to a question from the chorus about his marriages to "Philistian women," which violated Jewish law. According to Samson, his marriage to the woman of Timnah was dictated by God's concern for the salus populi of the Jews: Samson was "motion'd … of God" so that he might "begin Israel's Deliverance." This first exception to Jewish law then serves as an authorizing precedent and makes the marriage to Dalila less of an exception than an example: "I thought it lawful from my former act, / And the same end; still watching to oppress / Israel's oppressors."60 Yet, by definition, true exceptions cannot be authorized by precedent; nor can they serve as legal precedents, if by this we mean authorities that obviate the necessity of a decision in the present. It is fitting, then, that Dalila should later throw Samson's argument back in his face, effectively claiming that she thought her betrayal of him was lawful from his former act, his own example. Here, as elsewhere, arguing from precedent and example serves to diminish responsibility: "To what I did thou show'd'st me first the way"; "ere I to thee, thou to thyself was cruel."61 Even Samson's abandoning the woman of Timnah is pressed into the service of Dalila's self-justification:

I saw thee mutable Of fancy, fear'd lest one day thou wouldst leave me As her of Timna, sought by all means therefore How to endear, and hold thee to me firmest.62

Finally, Dalila glosses her love for Samson as a kind of erotic reason of state: "These reasons in Love's law have pass'd for good, / Though fond and reasonless to some perhaps."63 The "law" of love excuses reasons which from another perspective violate reason itself.

The next exchange further explores the opposition of authority and decision. In justifying her own betrayal of Samson, Dalila once again tries to turn the exception into the rule, this time by explicitly invoking reason of state or "public good" as the authorizing precedent for her actions. Describing the pressure exerted upon her by the Philistine "Magistrates / And Princes," she concludes:

… at length that grounded maxim So rife and celebrated in the mouths Of wisest men, that to the public good Private respects must yield, with grave authority Took full possession of me and prevail'd; Virtue, as I thought, truth, duty so enjoining.64

Although Dalila uses the elevated language of public good, she reasons in a fashion that suggests instead the constraints of self-preservation: she "yields" when "grave authority" takes "possession" of her. For Dalila, reason of state does not involve deciding the exception; rather, it functions as the Hobbesian authority of magistrates and princes that usurps judgment and coerces submission.

Samson's reply suggests that he has learned from Dalila's parody of his earlier argument. In response to her own argument from authority, Samson makes reason of state a matter of critical judgment: he recasts her implicit argument about protection and obedience, contending that in her married state Dalila was no longer a Philistine and therefore owed obedience to Samson rather than to her former countrymen:

Being once a wife, for me thou wast to leave Parents and country; nor was I their subject, Nor under their protection but my own, Thou mine, not theirs: if aught against my life Thy country sought of thee, it sought unjustly, Against the law of nature, law of nations, No more thy country, but an impious crew Of men conspiring to uphold thir state By worse than hostile deeds, violating the ends For which our country is a name so dear; Not therefore to be obey'd.65

Although Samson invokes the authority of the "law of nature, law of nations," he also makes it clear that Dalila has failed to reason correctly about reason of state, for he subjects the terms of her argument—not only self-preservation but also love, justice, nation, and obedience—to an immanent critique. Dalila's country is not her nation, "but an impious crew"—not to be obeyed since she has married Samson, but also because in seeking injustice they have violated the proper ends of nationhood. Thus his distinction between positive law and natural law discriminates between true and false interpretations of the law of nature as well.66

Samson's response to Harapha illustrates even more powerfully that natural law cannot serve as a standard of justice and rule of action that obviates decision.67 Although Samson first defends the Hebrews' right of resistance in terms of reason of state and the maxim of natural law—"vim vi licet repellere" (force may be repelled with force)—he justifies his own particular role as liberator by reference to his calling:

My nation was subjected to your Lords. It was the force of Conquest; force with force Is well ejected when the Conquer'd can. But I a private person, whom my Country As a league-breaker gave up bound, presum'd Single Rebellion and did Hostile Acts. I was no private but a person rais'd With strength sufficient and command from Heav'n To free my country.68

To the argument from natural law the objection could be raised that Samson was merely a private person who had wrongly (according to the standard Protestant argument) arrogated to himself the right to resist that belonged to public persons or "lesser magistrates." The justice of the argument from reason of state—the application of natural law—thus requires a decision about Samson's own exceptional status. Here too, in response, Samson does not so much reject his critics' argument as redescribe it: he does not justify his acts by reference to his public position as a judge of Israel but by a claim of individual conscience.69 As in Luther's description of Samson in Secular Authority, private persons may be public persons and may perform actions for reason of state if they are divinely called to do so.

Samson's deliberations about whether to go with the Philistine messenger dramatize more powerfully than any of his previous encounters the intersection of reason of state and the doctrine of a calling. As in his previous exchanges, here too Samson reasons about reason of state, exploring its equivocal status as reason and decision, the natural law of self-preservation and the determination of justice. But Samson also begins here to link this equivocal status itself to the necessity of a decision: whereas for Dalila an exception could be subsumed under a rule, Samson has come to understand that an exception resists easy categorization; it prompts casuistry and equivocation precisely because it is itself equivocal—open to more than one description. In accepting this openness, Samson understands his calling as an exception for which there can be no precedent, if by that we mean an authority that resolves ambiguity and obviates the need for a decision. Reason of state—reasoning about the exception—becomes an emblem of the equivocal nature of human attempts to act justly in the absence of authoritative knowledge.

The equivocal nature of reason of state emerges as Samson rehearses its potential meanings. At first he argues that it is lawful to serve the Philistines with his labor, because they have him "in thir civil power," but unlawful to be present at "idolatrous rites":

Where outward force constrains, the sentence holds; But who constrains me to the Temple of Dagon, Not dragging? the Philistian Lords command. Commands are no constraints.70

The first line sums up one view of passive obedience—obedience "where outward force constrains"—with particular attention to the argument from self-preservation. The next lines draw out an implication of this view: that one may refuse actively to serve an illegitimate power.71 Yet, shortly after this, Samson asserts that God permits an exception to these rules, one that paradoxically makes active obedience a form of active resistance:

Yet that he may dispense with me or thee Present in Temples at Idolatrous Rites For some important cause, thou needst not doubt.72

God, that is, can equivocate about reason of state, calling his servants to perform exceptions to the law which are nevertheless "not forbidden in our Law." Immediately after asserting this, Samson begins to feel "the rousing motions … which dispose / To something extraordinary" and decides to go to the temple, convinced that he will do "nothing … that may dishonor / Our Law, or stain my vow as Nazarite."73 Whether the reason of state that calls Samson to "go along" with the messenger is divine or not, it clearly allows Samson to reason dialectically about the law, to see the law as containing its own negation and higher preservation, and thus to equivocate.

This equivocation at the heart of reason of state (as obedience or resistance) is nicely dramatized by Samson's own casuistical reply to the messenger:

Because they shall not trail me through thir streets Like a wild beast, I am content to go. Master's commands come with a power resistless To such as owe them absolute subjection; And for a life who will not change his purpose?74

Practically every word in these lines is ambiguous; even the enjambment in the first line looks both ways, suggesting the ferocity behind Samson's "content." The statement that "Master's commands come with a power resistless / To such as owe them absolute subjection" only raises the question of to whom we owe absolute subjection. Finally, in mocking the argument for self-preservation, Samson also forces us to consider what is meant by "life" in "And for a life who will not change his purpose?"75

In linking equivocation to the possibility of rebellion, Milton was articulating the worst fears of many of his contemporaries at the same time that he was radically revising traditional notions of reason of state.76 In the 1650s, supporters of the Commonwealth feared that royalists would engage in equivocation or mental reservation when swearing allegiance to the new government; after 1660, supporters of the Restoration suspected a similar equivocation on the part of those who resisted it. In Leviathan Hobbes registered his fears of just such a figurative, otherworldly understanding of "life" as Samson suggests, observing that the belief in "eternal life" was more powerful than the fear that one might lose one's physical life: thus belief in a metaphorical kingdom of God could incite rebellion against the literal kingdom of the sovereign.77 And Milton justified Hobbes's fears in the first Defence when he asserted that "Christ … took upon himself… the form of a slave, so that we might be free. I do not speak of inward freedom only [but also] political freedom."78 In this light, Samson's response to the messenger is not so much a simple rejection of Dalila's reason of state as a dialectical revision of it: a purposeful equivocation that subjects the notion of literal or corporeal self-preservation to an ironic critique while suggesting a more sublime conception of what it might mean to preserve the self—a more sublime conception of reason of state.

This more sublime conception of reason of state is one that cannot be fully grasped by reason. Samson reasons up to a point, but his decision to go to the Philistine temple does not follow upon the conclusion that God has in this case dispensed with him. Rather, it follows upon "rousing motions." In the end, Samson's about-face in going to the temple suggests that, while rules can be instantiated, and examples imitated, an exception must be decided. A decision is necessary precisely because exceptions are by definition equivocal: there is no single, a priori rule of interpretation—whether the belief in antinomianism or in absolute obedience to de facto political power—that will allow us to reason them away. Decisions are also deeply equivocal since they require that we act in the absence of certainty, and in ignorance of the full meaning of our acts.79

Whereas Samson's equivocation to the messenger is deliberate and strategic, his decision to go with the messenger and his final act in the temple dramatize what I would call the deeper casuistry of tragedy: the irreducible amphiboly or equivocation at the heart of reason. If in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates reason of state is simply one instance of the application of natural reason to the sphere of politics, in the course of Samson Agonistes reason of state comes to stand for that which is necessarily in excess of reason: as a supplement to reason, reason of state suggests reason's deficiencies, its self-division, its inability to ground or coincide with itself. For reasoning about justice does not simply involve an application of moral law but a decision to act, one that—insofar as it is free—occurs in the absence of any authorizing precedent. From one theological perspective, we might call this deficiency irony; from another, it is tragedy.80

Samson's final decision to pull down the temple is notoriously available to conflicting interpretations. In his final words to the Philistines, Samson distinguishes between his "reason," which has led him to obey their commands, and his "own accord," which now moves him to a different trial of his strength.81 The description of Samson bowing his head "as one who prayed" makes this final act of conscience an act of Gewalt in all its ambiguity—for we are unsure, as Milton certainly intended us to be, whether Samson's political act is an expression of divine authority or of merely human violence. Precisely because it involves an act of faith, deciding this point is ultimately a theological act; yet the surplus of possible meanings also dramatizes the lack of sure coincidence between politics and theology, human action and divine authority.

From one perspective this conclusion might appear to conform to Milton's argument about tyrannicide in The Tenure. Taking up the example of Ehud, the slayer of King Eglon (Judges 3:12-26), Milton argued that evidence of Ehud's divine inspiration is irrelevant to our understanding of his deed since he acted "on just principles, such as were then and ever held allowable."82 As Martin Dzelzainis has commented, "A divine command establishes that a given action is lawful but is not itself what constitutes the grounds of its lawfulness; for that we must look to natural reason."83 In this light Manoa's final judgment that God did not part from Samson but favored and assisted him to the end and the chorus's belief that God "unexpectedly returnf[ed] / … to his faithful Champion" are also irrelevant.84 For, following The Tenure and the first Defence, we might surmise that here too Samson's natural reason has justified his exceptional act, "above the form of law or custome."

And yet, the feeling we are left with in the end is not that Samson's act has been rationally justified, but that it has been made more mysterious, less accessible to reason, more difficult to imitate; for the lack of coincidence between divine authority and human will is represented both as the condition for action and as self-violence. On the one hand, Manoa describes Samson's act of fulfilling the prophecy in terms of his imperfect identity: in a world where all interpretation must be in excess of the law, where there is no secure foundation for acts of conscience, Samson can only quit himself like Samson; he must always be an exception even to himself.85 On the other hand, the equivo cal final scene in which Samson is, in Manoa's words, "over-strong against [him]self," or, in the words of the chorus, "self-kill'd / not willingly," shows that this lack of identity may be experienced as violence.86 We might even conjecture that Milton intends a dark parody of the union of coercion and consent in contemporary rational theories of political contract. Whereas, according to Milton and, in a different way, Hobbes, we consent to be coerced when we transfer our power to the sovereign, Samson's final act shows us that the will is itself a mysterious locus of coercion and consent, the intersection of human decision and divine arcana imperii. In the end, Samson Agonistes is a tragedy precisely because the exception and the will as the locus of decision are deeply implicated: the exception is the condition for any meaningful decision at the same time that its incoherence (its availability to contradictory interpretations) dramatizes the violence, ineluding the self-violence, involved in any decisive imposition of sense. Hell, Augustine said, is not being able to decide;87 tragedy, for the late Milton, is having to—is what our decisions look like.

This was the case partly for historical reasons, for the Restoration was a tragedy to Milton, a stage on which the armed saint was compelled to act alone, without fellow citizens. But the act of deciding the exception also looks like tragedy because Milton was not content, as Hobbes was, to equate justice with de facto authority. Precisely because justice is not simply a matter of authority, there is room for the conscientious individual to reason about the exception—specifically, about the justice of our individual acts; but because, in the words of Areopagitica, truth has been "hewed … into a thousand pieces," there is also room for the tragedy of the will. Samson Agonistes thus gives us a tragic version of Areopagitica's "reason is but choosing."

If, in contrast to Schmitt and Hobbes, Milton presents the voluntarism of political theology as tragedy, he also—as his readers would expect—uses tragedy to teach us a lesson of political theology. God is ultimately the sovereign who decides the exception, but in this world Samson's act is open to our proximate interpretation. In this respect, it is very much like those actions of Paradise Lost that "do not express their own meaning for either the characters involved or the reader," and in response to which the reader is "radically individualized by being compelled freely to judge."88 In obscuring the grounds of Samson's decision, Milton puts the reader in Samson's position of deciding the meaning of his act. It is this interpretive reticence on Milton's part which helps to make reading Samson Agonistes such an ambivalent experience, for the mixture of attraction and repulsion, coercion and consent, identification and differentiation that characterizes the spectator's experience of tragic catharsis is rendered here as an interpretive ambivalence as well. Confronted with a Samson who is both judge and victim, and whose grounds for deciding the exception are unknowable, the reader experiences not only pity and fear but what Angus Fletcher has described as "the mixture of pain and pleasure" in the uncertainty of exegesis.89

Some readers will resolve this uncertainty by deciding that Samson is an exception and, for that reason, not to be imitated. Other readers, "like Samson," will read Samson as "a mirror … unparallel'd," an example of exceptional commitment that they too can decide to embrace. Like the regicide in the first Defence and like Samson in Luther's treatise On Secular Authority, Milton's Samson reveals the conditional structure of any exception, which is exemplary if we have the grace to make it so. In a revolutionary gloss on Schmitt's maxim that the "sovereign is he who decides the exception," Milton implies that it is not the sovereign but the conscientious subject whose task it is to differentiate between positive law and true justice and to act accordingly. The conscientious subject is ideally the true sovereign. The conclusion of Samson Agonistes thus illustrates Bishop Sanderson's fears about the revolutionaries' equivocal gloss on the word "people" to the prejudice of the king as "ruler of the nation," but only at the price of turning Samson himself into an example of tragic casuistry: to paraphrase Luther's remarks (quoted above from Secular Authority), Samson experiences the conflicting demands of God's kingdom and the world's at one and the same time, outwardly and inwardly; he both suffers evil and injustice and yet punishes the wicked; he both resists evil and yet does not resist it. Whether he thereby "satisfies" the demands of both God's kingdom and the world is something neither Samson nor we can know. But it is a question, Milton insists, that we ought not fail to ask.


1 Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, trans. George Schwab (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1985), 5. "The decision on the exception is a decision in the true sense of the word. Because a general norm, as represented by an ordinary legal prescription, can never encompass a total exception, the decision that a real exception exists cannot therefore be entirely derived from this norm…. What is argued about [sovereignty] is the concrete application, and that means who decides in a situation of conflict what constitutes the public interest or interest of the state, public safety and order, le salut public, and so on. The exception, which is not codified in the existing legal order, can at best be characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the state, or the like. But it cannot be circumscribed factually and made to conform to a preformed law" (ibid.).

2 Ibid., 6, 13, 33; quoting Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London, 1651), chap. 26.

3 On Schmitt and Benjamin, see Jacques Derrida, "Force of Law: The 'Mystical Foundation of Authority,'" in Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, a special issue of Cardozo Law Review II (1990): 919-1046, esp. 941, 943; cf. Schmitt, Political Theology, 10, where decision rather than norm is held to be the basis of legal order. Derrida notes that the German title of Benjamin's essay is "Zur Kritik der Gewalt," and that Gewalt may be translated as either violence or legitimate power, justified authority, thus raising the question of their relationship ("Force of Law," 927).

4 See Derrida, "Force of Law," 961, 963.

5 This may explain in part the interest of left-wing writers such as Otto Kirchheimer and Franz Neumann, as well as Benjamin, in Schmitt's early work. See William E. Scheuermann, Between the Norm and the Exception: The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1994), esp. chap. I.

6 Schmitt, Political Theology, 36.

7 Arthur E. Barker, Milton and the Puritan Dilemma (Toronto, 1942), 148-49.

8 By Milton's voluntarism I do not mean "the Protestant tradition of voluntarism which held that whatever God commands is just simply because it is the will of God," as Martin Dzelzainis defines it in his introduction to John Milton, Political Writings, ed. Martin Dzelzainis, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge, 1991), xv; I mean instead the belief in the efficacy of the human will.

9 Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Intimations of the Will in Greek Tragedy," in Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece, trans. Janet Lloyd (New York, 1990), 49-84; quotation from 79. See also Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Tensions and Ambiguities in Greek Tragedy," 29-48, in the same volume.

10 John Milton, Samson Agonistes, in Complete Prose and Major Poems, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (Indianapolis, 1984 [1957]), 549-93; quotation from 549.

11 Giacopo Mazzoni, On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante (1587), trans. Robert L. Montgomery (Tallahassee, 1983), 105-6; Antonio Minturno, L'arte poetica (1564), in Literary Criticism, ed. Allan H. Gilbert (Detroit, 1962), 290; see also 289. In his note on the preface to Samson Agonistes, Merritt Hughes observes that Minturno "came close to Milton's 'agonistic' conception by adding that tragedy is properly a kind of spiritual athletic discipline like the hard physical training of the Spartans, and that it trains men to endure reversals of fortune" (Milton, Samson Agonistes, 549 n. 3). Other Italian Renaissance commentators also noted that tragedy could police the passions, while implying (in some cases despite themselves) that it could also channel them into a potentially subversive stoicism. On the debate about catharsis, see Baxter Hathaway, The Age of Criticism: The Late Renaissance in Italy (Ithaca, 1962), 205-302.

12 Barbara K. Lewalski, "Samson Agonistes and the Tragedy of the Apocalypse," PMLA 85 (1970): 1050-62; quotation from 1051.

13 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1062.

14 Renaissance commentators on imitation and on Aristotle's Poetics regularly discuss the pleasure that re sults from the catharsis of pity and fear in terms of a recognition of one's distance from the threat of violence (which is thus a recognition of self-preservation). In this context Lucretius's passage on the pleasure we take in observing a shipwreck from afar is often cited or alluded to; see, for example, Giangiorgio Trissino, Poetica (1563): "That evil which does not come on ourselves, as Lucretius says, is always pleasant to observe in others" (Gilbert, ed., Literary Criticism, 227).

15 Camille Wells Slights notes, in The Casuistical Tradition (Princeton, 1981), that "the maxim salus populi suprema lex was invoked variously in Henry Parker, Observations upon some of his Majesties Late Answers and Expresses (1642); in Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex (1644); in John Goodwin, Right and Might Well Met (1648); in Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649); and in Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651). Robert Sanderson devotes two of his ten lectures on casuistry to explaining it. See Several Cases of Conscience Discussed in Ten Lectures (1660)" (276 n. 26).

16 Carl Friedrich, Constitutional Reason of State (Providence, 1957), 4.

17 On the ambiguous position of reason of state between older and newer conceptions of politics, see Michel Foucault, "Governmentality," in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago, 1991), 87-104; and "Omnes et singulatim: Towards a Criticism of 'Political Reason,'" in The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, 1981, ed. Sterling M. McMurrin (Salt Lake City and Cambridge, 1981), 225-54. Foucault overemphasizes the degree to which the concept of reason of state is divorced from natural law ("Omnes et singulatim," 244); he also does not discuss the intersection of this newer conception of politics with puritanism.

18 Christopher Hill cites a number of the references to Samson in contemporary political debates, in Milton and the English Revolution (London, 1977), 428-30. See also Joseph Wittreich, Interpreting "Samson Agonistes" (Princeton, 1986), chap. 4.

19 On the link between reason of state and arcana imperii, see Ernst H. Kantorowicz, "Mysteries of State," Harvard Theological Review 48 (1955): 65-90; Francis D. Wormuth, The Royal Prerogative, 1603-1649 (Port Washington, NY, and London, 1972 [1939]); and Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature (Baltimore, 1983).

20 Wormuth, Royal Prerogative, 1A. James I argued: "These are unfit Things to be handled in Parliament, except your King should require it of you: for who can have Wisdom to judge of Things of that Nature, but such as are daily acquainted with the Particulars of Treaties, and of the variable or fixed Connexion of Affairs of State, together with the Knowledge of Secret Ways, Ends and Intentions of Princes, in their several Negotiations?" (75).

21 Quoted by J. P. Sommerville, Politics and Ideology in England, 1603-1640 (London and New York, 1986), 167-68. J. G. A. Pocock notes that Ashley was rebuked by Parliament for his invocation of "a law of state"; see The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law, 2d ed. (Cambridge, 1987 [1957]), 290.

22 Coke is quoted by Wormuth, Royal Prerogative, 78; Browne is quoted by Sommerville, Politics and Ideology, 166. On the role of reason of state in parliamentary debate, see also David Berkowitz, "Reason of State and the Petition of Right," in Staatsräson, ed. Roman Schnur (Berlin, 1975), 165-212; Richard Tuck, Philosophy and Government, 1572-1651 (Cambridge, 1993), 202-79; and Alan Craig Houston, "Republicanism and Reason of State: From Royal Prerogative to the Rule of Law," in The Politics of Necessity: Reason of State in Modern European Political Discourse (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

23 Quoted in Tuck, Philosophy and Government, 234.

24 Henry Parker, The Contra-Replicant, His Complaint to His Majestie (London, 1642), 18-19.

25 John Milton, A Defence of the English People (1651), in Collected Prose Works, 8 vols., ed. Don M. Wolfe et al. (New Haven and London, 1953-82), 4, 1: 317-18.

26 Precisely because the people delegate or entrust their power to the sovereign in order that the state be preserved from the conflict of particular interests, the people may for reasons of state violently depose him and reassume their power when the sovereign violates this trust; see Dzelzainis, introduction to Milton, Political Writings, xvii-xviii, on Milton's use of the language of trusteeship rather than contract in The Tenure in order to avoid the implication that the king is an equal party with equal rights.

27 John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), in Wolfe et al., eds., Collected Prose Works, 3: 194.

28 Milton, Defence, 4, 1: 397, 459. As Arthur Barker noted long ago, Milton's final justification for the king's execution "was provided by 'that general and primary law' which, according 'to the will of God, to nature, and to reason,' made the people's good the supreme law of the state" (Puritan Dilemma, 147).

29 Parker, The Contra-Replicant: "For if it be lawfull for both Houses of Parliament to defend themselves, it must of necessity follow, that they may and must imprison, levye moneyes, suppresse seditious preachers, and make use of an arbitrary power according to reason of state, and not confine themselves to meere expedient of Law" (29).

30Bishop Sanderson's Lectures on Conscience and Human Law, ed. Christopher Wordsworth (London, 1877), 273-74, 278; see 278-79, on the interpretation of "people" in the phrase "salus populi" as excluding the king: "I observe … that the word people … may be taken either collectively, as it includes the whole community of the State, the sovereign and the subjects together; or disjunctively, as it implies the subjects only. … It is therefore a most dangerous mistake (not to call it a malicious design) to wrest and to apply what is said of the people collectively in the first sense, as it includes the whole community [including the king], to the people in the latter acceptation, as it signifies the subjects only, to the exclusion of the sovereign." Sanderson's lectures were delivered in 1647.

31 John Goodwin, Right and Might Well Met (London, 1648), 15.

32 Ibid., 16.

33 Sir John Davies, The Question Concerning Impositions; quoted in Wormuth, Royal Prerogative, 72. Wormuth notes that "the book was written toward the end of the reign of James I, but was not published until 1656." According to Wormuth, the "three great constitutional issues in the period 1600-1660" all involved the crown's appeal to reason of state: "the king's right to levy impositions, decided in Bate's Case (1606); the king's right to arrest for reason of state without alleging a cause, decided in the Five Knights' Case (1627); the king's right to levy taxes without the consent of Parliament, on the plea of necessity, decided in Hampden's case (1638)."

34 John Milton, The Reason of Church Government (1641), in Wolfe et al., eds., Collected Prose Works, 1: 858-59.

35 Ibid.

36 Milton, Defence, 4, 1: 401-2. See also the reference to Samson in Areopagitica, in Wolfe et al., eds., Collected Prose Works, 2: 557-58. On Milton's arguments from reason of state in The Tenure, see Victoria Kahn, "The Metaphorical Contract in Milton's Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," in Milton and Republicanism, ed. David Armitage, Armand Himy, and Quentin Skinner (Cambridge, 1995), 87-112. For an analysis of Milton's views on reason of state which arrives at different conclusions, see Steven Jablonski, '"Evil Days': Providence and Politics in the Thought of John Milton" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1993), chap. 4.

37 See George Mosse, The Holy Pretence: A Study in Christianity and Reason of State from William Perkinsto John Winthrop (Oxford, 1957); Friedrich, Constitutional Reason of State; and Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints (Cambridge, MA, 1965).

38 See Walzer, Revolution of the Saints; Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (Princeton, 1977), who argues that Weber's account of the rise of capitalism needs to be supplemented by attention to specifically political arguments; and Friedrich, Constitutional Reason of State, esp. chap. 4.

39 See Walzer, Revolution of the Saints, 47, 167.

40 Quoted in Friedrich, Constitutional Reason of State, 57.

41 Martin Luther, "Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved" (1526), in Luther's Works, 55 vols., ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; Vol. 46, ed. Robert C. Shultz (Philadelphia, 1967), 135.

42 The relevance of the doctrine of the calling to Samson Agonistes is explored in John Guillory, "The Father's House: Samson Agonistes in Its Historical Moment," in Milton, ed. Annabel Patterson (London, 1992), 202-25.

43 Milton, The Tenure, 3: 194.

44 William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of Men (1603), in The Works of William Perkins, ed. Ian Breward (Appleford, UK, 1970), 456-76; quotation from 457. Perkins is also cited by Guillory ("The Father's House"), who is interested in the instability of the notion of calling as vocation or work in Luther and Perkins, and the tension between general and specific predestination—the called and the elect—in Calvin, but his chief concern is the way this instability adumbrates a bourgeois conception of the individual.

45 See Christopher Hill, "Covenant Theology and the Concept of 'A Public Person,'" in Essays in Honour of C. B. Macpherson, ed. Alkis Kontos (Toronto, 1979), 3-21. Hill shows that the criteria for defining a public person were themselves a subject of debate: for some a public person was anyone who held a representative public position, such as a Member of Parliament; for others "the godly were public persons because Christ was a public person, and they were part of Christ" (18). On the fear that casuistry would create rebellious subjects during Elizabeth's reign, see Lowell Gallagher, Medusa's Gaze (Stanford, 1991), 77-80.

46 Martin Luther, On Secular Authority (1522-23), in Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority, ed. and trans. Harro Höpfl, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge, 1991), 15; see also 16: "It is in this way that all the saints have borne the Sword from the beginning of the world: Adam and his descendants, Abraham when he saved Lot…. And Moses, Joshua, the Children of Israel, Samson, David, and all the kings and princes of the Old Testament acted in the same way." As Höpfl points out, the German title of Luther's treatise, Von Weltlicher Oberkeit, is ambiguous: "Oberkeit" is "an abstract term meaning … the status of having authority or power" (xxxii); in this respect it is like Benjamin's "Gewalt."

47 Luther, Secular Authority, 15; cf. Romans 13:4.

48 Ibid., 22.

49 Ibid., 16, 18, 22.

50 It is thus not surprising that Samson's meditations involve some of the standard cases of casuistry (marriage with an infidel, attending forbidden rites, suicide), as well as what Perkins described as "the greatest [case of conscience] that ever was: how a man may know whether he be the child of God, or no" (quoted in Slights, Casuistical Tradition, 293). Although Slights discusses the links between Samson Agonistes and traditional cases of conscience, she stresses that these are "less important than Samson's gradual enlightenment about how to resolve moral problems" (292). On Samson Agonistes as a drama of the will, see William Kerrigan, "The Irrational Coherence of Samson Agonistes" Milton Studies 22 (1986): 217-32.

51 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 37-45.

52 Ibid., 52-54, 60-62.

53 On either/or reasoning and its transformation into both/and by the end of Samson Agonistes, see Joseph Summers, "The Movements of the Drama," in The Lyric and Dramatic Milton, ed. Joseph Summers (New York, 1965), 153-75, esp. 157-60. See also Edward Tayler, Milton's Poetry: Its Development in Time (Pittsburgh, 1979), who regards Samson Agonistes as a Christian tragedy because "Samson guided solely by God is not 'tragic,' as Samson guided solely by himself is not 'Christian'" (121).

54 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 164-66. Stanley Fish, in "Question and Answer in Samson Agonistes," Critical Quarterly 11 (1969): 232-64, notes that the chorus tries to make Samson "a particular instance of a general and implacable truth" (242). Fish also notes how the chorus turns Samson's unparalleled condition into a parallel, that is, an example; see "Spectacle and Evidence in Samson Agonistes," Critical Inquiry 15 (1989): 556-86, esp. 559-60.

55 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 241-76 and 290, 532, 765.

56 Ibid., 350-51, 1155ff.

57 Ibid., 169, 52-54, 206-8, 881, 365, 370, 293-324, 652-709.

58 On the chorus's fideism, see Joan S. Bennett, "Liberty under the Law: The Chorus and the Meaning of Samson Agonistes," Milton Studies 12 (1978): 141-63.

59 I borrow the term "negative dialectics" from Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who used it to refer to a method of dialectical thinking that is not teleological, but instead engages in an "immanent critique" of the status quo; see Victoria Silver, Milton and the Predicament of Irony (Princeton University Press, in press), on the relevance of this term to Milton's ironic poetics. Here I want to suggest that Samson engages in a kind of immanent critique of others' arguments from authority, showing that any positive term contains its own negation: dialectical thinking is reasoning about the exception (or the difference at the heart of any identity) because it turns positive terms into their own negation ("at variance" with themselves [line 1585]). In showing that every positive term can become its opposite, dialectical thinking also suggests a kind of equivocation.

60 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 222, 225, 231-33.

61 Ibid., 781, 784.

62 Ibid., 793-96.

63 Ibid., 811-12.

64 Ibid., 850-51, 865-70.

65 Ibid., 885-95.

66 See Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, "Milton's Samson and the 'New Acquist of True [Political] Experience,'" Milton Studies 24 (1989): 233-51. Lewalski remarks, "In some ways there seems little to choose between Dalila's proclaimed motives and Samson's own, since his marriage [was] intended to advance Israel's cause against the Philistines. Samson, however, challenges Dalila's relativism by appealing to widely shared human values. With all the polemic of the English civil war echoing in the background, he flatly denies ultimate authority to civil and religious leaders, or to raison d'état" (241). This is true in the obvious sense that "ultimate authority" in Milton's universe always resides with God. But there is another sense in which Samson does not reject reason of state at all: he simply redefines it as critical reasoning about the exception. As this redefinition suggests, in arguing from reason of state Dalila is not so much Samson's opposite as his parodic double. On this point, see Joan S. Bennett, "'A Person Rais'd': Public and Private Cause in Samson Agonistes," Studies in English Literature 18 (1978): 155-68, esp. 156. Slights also notes Dalila's false reasoning about the public good (Casuistical Tradition, 277).

67 Lewalski notes that "Samson's responses [to Harapha] echo the basic radical Puritan (and Miltonic) justifications … [including] appeals to the natural law, which always allows rebellion against conquerors" ("Milton's Samson," 243); but she doesn't see the relevance of these remarks to Samson's exchange with Dalila. Bennett, however, does, in "Person Rais'd."

68 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1205-13.

69 See Slights, Casuistical Tradition, 280.

70 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1369-72.

71 Slights quotes the Protestant casuist William Ames on how subjection doesn't necessarily imply obedience. Even the general rule of nonresistance was qualified by scriptural passages stating that (in cases of conflict) one should always obey God, not man (Casuistical Tradition, 285). See Luther's and Calvin's arguments for passive obedience or nonresistance, as well as their remarks justifying active resistance by lesser magistrates against unjust rulers, in Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1978), 1: 191-238 et passim.

72 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1377-79.

73 Ibid., 1409, 1381-84, 1385-86.

74 Ibid., 1402-6.

75 Summers also makes this point about the ambiguity of "life" ("Movements," 172).

76 For a sixteenth-century illustration of this fear, see the Arte of English Poesie (1589), in which George Puttenham gives examples of amphibologia, or ambiguous speech, which associate it with rebellion. On this association, see also Steven Mullaney, "Lying Like Truth: Riddle, Representation, and Treason in Renaissance England," English Literary History 47 (1980): 32-47. (The role of equivocation in Samson Agonistes may explain the echoes of Macbeth in lines 34, 82, and 605.)

77 Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. 38.

78 Milton, Defence, 4, 1: 374.

79 Fish notes that when Samson says, "I with this messenger will go along" (line 1384), the will "stands not for the fixed position of a fully formed and independent self but for a self 'willing' to have its configurations transformed by a future it cannot read" ("Spectacle and Evidence," 579). For Fish, this amounts to a shift in emphasis from Samson's final act of pulling down the temple to his decision to go with the messenger. In my reading, both actions involve decisions which are equally mysterious.

80 On the theological context of Milton's irony, see Silver, Predicament of Irony; she also briefly discusses the relationship between tragedy and irony.

81 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1641-43.

82 Milton, The Tenure, 3: 215-16.

83 Dzelzainis, ed., Milton, Political Writings, xv.

84 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1719-20, 1750-51.

85 In this sense, Milton's Samson does live up to one seventeenth-century etymology of his name: "there a second time"; see William Riley Parker, Milton's Debt to Greek Tragedy in "Samson Agonistes" (Hamden, CT, 1963 [1937]), 13 n. 35.

86 Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1590, 1664-65.

87 In book 8, section 9, of the Confessions, Augustine describes the effect of sin as the inability ex toto velle (literally, to will completely); quoted in Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge, MA, 1989), 185.

88 Carrol B. Cox, "Citizen Angels: Civil Society and the Abstract Individual in Paradise Lost," Milton Studies 23 (1987): 165-96; quotations from 176.

89 Angus Fletcher, Allegory (1964); quoted by Neil Hertz, "The Notion of Blockage in the Literature of the Sublime," in The End of the Line: Essays on Psychoanalysis and the Sublime (New York, 1985), 47. Fletcher observes that this "intellectual tension, [which accompanies] the hard work of exegetical labor … is nothing less than the cognitive aspect of ambivalence which inheres in the contemplation of any sacred object. Whatever is sacer must cause the shiver of mingled delight and awe that constitutes our sense of 'difficulty'" (ibid.).

A number of critics have commented on what I would call the double focus of Samson Agonistes. A. S. P. Woodhouse argues that Milton presents Samson as armed both with "celestial vigor" and "plain heroic magnitude of mind" and that the poem represents the human tragedy of Samson's martyrdom before it subsumes the human into a larger, providential scheme; see "Tragic Effect in Samson Agonistes," University of Toronto Quarterly 28 (1959): 205-22; quotations from 213, 221. Virginia R. Mollenkott makes a similar argument about Milton's presentation of Samson as both an instrument of God and a flawed human individual; see "Relativism in Samson Agonistes," Studies in Philology 67 (1970): 89-103. William Kerrigan, in Prophetic Milton (Charlottesville, 1974), observes that Samson's "tragedy poses one pair of alternatives that can never collapse into harmony." On the lines "doubtful whether God be Lord, / Or Dagon," he comments: "This 'Or' cannot be compromised. What the catastrophe of Samson divides, [only] the Apocalypse will clarify once and for all" (250); Samson dramatizes "the 'brotherly dissimilitudes' of Areopagitica" (253).


John Milton World Literature Analysis


Milton, John (Poetry Criticism)