Electronic Reserve Texts: BERNARD SHARRATT "The Appropriation of Milton"

From Essays and Studies, Vol. 35,1982,30-44.

I said to people here at Cambridge: in the thirties you were passing severely limiting judgements on Milton and relatively favourable judgements on the metaphysical poets, which in effect redrew the map of seventeenth-century literature in England. Now you were, of course, making literary judgments-your supporting quotations and analysis prove it, but you were also asking about ways of living through a political and cultural crisis of national dimensions. On the one side, you have a man who totally committed himself to a particular side and cause, who temporarily suspended what you call literature, but not in fact writing, in that conflict. On the other, you have a kind of writing which is highly intelligent and elaborate, that is a way of holding divergent attitudes towards struggle or towards experience together in the mind at the same time. These are two possibilities for any highly conscious person in a period of crisis-a kind of commitment which involves certain difficulties, certain naivetes, certain styles; and another kind of consciousness, whose complexities are a way of living with the crisis without being openly part of it. I said that when you were making your judgments about these poets, you were not only arguing about their literary practice, you were arguing about your own at that time. The reaction to this was scandalized denial that anything so tainted could have entered into the critical process.

    Raymond Williams's remarks, in an interview with the editors of New Left Review in 1977, indicate one basic difficulty in tracing and assessing the impact of Milton on subsequent generations: the inextricability (however frequently disavowed) of political and literary judgments. Thirty years earlier, T. S. Eliot, reflecting upon his own and Samuel Johnson's criticisms of Milton, admitted the difficulty:

1. Raymond Williams, Politics and Letters (London, New Left Books, 1979), pp. 335-6.


The fact is simply that the Civil War of the seventeenth century, in which Milton is a symbolic figure, has never been concluded. The Civil War is not ended: I question whether any serious civil war ever does end. Throughout that period English society was so convulsed and divided that the effects are still felt. Reading Johnson's essay one is always aware that Johnson was obstinately and passionately of another party. No other English poet, not Wordsworth, or Shelley, lived through or took sides in such momentous events as did Milton; of no other poet is it so difficult to consider the poetry simply as poetry, without our theological and political dispositions, conscious and unconscious, inherited or acquired, making an unlawful entry.(2)

Eliot's curious final phrase anticipates the later 'scandalized denial' Williams records, for what is at stake for Eliot as for those 'Cambridge critics is the very possibility of regarding 'the poetry simply as poetry'.(3) It is at least doubtful if Milton himself would have accepted Eliot's formulation, yet, ironically, Milton's own poetry has been perhaps the crucial reference-point, in England, for pre cisely that notion of 'poetry' as an activity sublimely separate from all other concerns. An investigation of that apparent paradox may link and illuminate the areas this essay proposes to explore: the influence of Milton upon later readers~ his own conception of 'the poet', and the role of Milton's work in the -development of that' "deeply ideological practice we now call 'literary criticism'.

The entangled history of the reception and reputation of Milton over three centuries obviously cannot be summarized here, (4) but some significant continuities can be indicated. As Mark Pattison noted, in 1879, Milton's repute was the work of the Whigs. The first edition deluxe of Paradise Lost (1688) was brought out by a subscription got

2. T.S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (London, Faber & Faber, 1957), p. 148.
3. Eliot makes this problem explicit in the 'Note' to section II of his 1929 essay on Dante, Selected Essays (London, Faber & Faber, 1961), pp. 269-70.

4. Cf, for example, W.R. Parker, Milton's Contemporary Reputation (Ohio State University Press, 1940); Milton: the Critical Heritage, ed.J.T. Shawcross (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970); Milton Criticism: Selections from Four Centuries, ed. J. Thorpe (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951); The Romantics on Milton, ed. J.A. Wittreich (Cleveland/London, Case Western Reserve University Press, 1970); James G. Nelson, The Sublime Puritan: Milton and the Victorians (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1963).


up by the Whig leader, Lord Somers. It was the Whig essayist, Addison, whose papers in the Spectator (1712) did most to make the poem popularly known. In 1737, in the height of the Whig ascendancy, the bust of Milton penetrated Westminster Abbey, though, in the generation before, the Dean of that day had refused to admit an inscription on the monument erected to John Phillips, because the name of Milton occurred in it.(5)

One conservative response to this Whig adulation, already apparent in the 1690s, was to concede, even applaud, Milton's stature as author of Paradise Lost while counterposing the poetry to the prose, as if either the poem redeemed the politics or the pamphlets merely spoiled our appreciation of the poet-as in the reactions of Oldys and Yalden respectively:

The bard, who next the new-born saint addrest, Was Milton, for his wondrous poem blest; Who strangely found, in his Lost Paradise, rest. 'Great bard', said he, , 'twas verse alone Did for my hideous crime atone, Defending once the worst rebellion.(6)

These sacred lines with wonder we peruse, And praise the flights of a seraphic muse, Till the seditious prose provokes our rage, And soils the beauties of thy brightest page. (7) Two centuries later, Pattison's own biography of Milton reproduces this divorce between the prose and the poetry on another level, in its explicit organization and in its basic preferences:

Milton's life is a drama in three acts. The first discovers him in the calm and peaceful retirement or Horton, of which L'Allegro, II Penseroso, and Lycidas are the expression. In the second act he is breathing the foul and heated atmosphere of party passion and religious hate, generating the lurid fires which glare in the battailous canticles of his prose pamphlets. The three great poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, are

5 Mark Pattison, Milton (London, Macmillan, 1890), p. 217.
6. Alexander Aldys, 'An Ode by Way of Elegy on. ..Mr Dryden' (1700), in Shawcross, op. cit., p. 124.
7. Thomas Yalden, 'On the Reprinting of Milton's Prose Works' (1698), in Shawcross, op. cit., p. 122.


the utterance of his final period of solitary and Promethean grandeur.(8) During the second act:

He was writing not poetry but prose, and that most ephemeral and valueless kind of prose, pamphlets, extempore articles on the topics of the day. He poured out reams of them, in simple unconsciousness that they had no influence whatever on the current of events.(9)

Both Garnett and Raleigh soon criticized Pattison for perpetuating this split, but George Whiting, writing in 1939, still had to propose a connection between the pamphlets and Paradise Lost as if his were a novel and tentative suggestion:

Literary critics who ignore backgrounds and who insist upon treating poetry as merely an esthetic product have as a rule neglected or condemned Milton's work and interests in the period from 1640 to 1658, which they regard as an unfortunate episode in the life of the poet. Even those who do not deplore his activities in this middle period and who regard his prose as a powerful but unbalanced expression of his genius often fail to observe any relationship between the prose and the later poems. ..[nevertheless] It is probable that Paradise Lost. ..is related more intimately than has been realized not only to Milton's prose but also to the political-religious interests that engrossed the middle period. (10)

One might easily interpret Eliot's notorious recommendation, three years earlier, that Paradise Lost itself should be read twice, 'first solely for the sound, and second for the sense',(11) as yet another variation on this long-established divorce between the 'prose' and the 'poetry' in Milton.

Whiting's book, as a contribution to 'Milton scholarship', utilized the prose primarily as a quarry to elucidate the poems. The long lineage behind such scholarship stretches back to Patrick Hume's

8. Pattison, op. cit., p. 14.
9. Ibid., p. 169.
10. G.W. Whiting, Milton's Literary Milieu (University of North Carolina
Press, 1939, reissued by Russell & Russell, New York, 1964), pp. 218-19.
11. On Poetry and Poets, p. 143.


'Annotations' of1695,(12) and his almost unprecedented treatment of a near-contemporary text as if it were a Greek or Latin classic requiring andjustifying scholarly commentary was followed by Bentley's 1732 edition of Paradise Lost, with a textual apparatus and editorial attitude that again accorded the poem 'classical' status. By the late nineteenth century, Paradise Lost had become, quite literally, the equivalent of a Latin text within the educational practices of the public schools: the Clarendon Commission of 1864 recorded that, at Shrewsbury, 'fourth-formers who were excused from studying Ovid's Fasti were expected to memorize about twelve hundred lines from- Milton. '(13) The Taunton Commission, a few years later, was told how pupils at a Liverpool school took passages from Milton, read them backwards and forwards, and put them into other order, and they were obliged to parse them and explain them. The same faculties were exercised there in construing Milton as in construing Latin.(14)

F.R. Leavis presumably had such educational practices at least partly in mind when he complained in 1936 that 'however admirable' Milton's own prose and verse written in Latin 'may be judged to be, to latinize in English is quite another matter, and it is a testimony to the effects of the "fortifying curriculum" that the price of Milton's latinizing should have been so little recognized. (15)

Criticism of Milton's 'latinizing' goes back to Addison, and be yond,(16) but Addison's main contribution to Milton's reputation was, of course, to develop and popularize the emphasis of Dennis and others on Milton's 'sublimity', thereby bequeathing to the

12 C£ A. Gras, .Milton's Editors and Commentators from Patrick Hume to Henry John Todd, 1695-1801 (London, Oxford University Press, 1931). Some established 'scholarly' approaches to Milton have been usefully criticized in Robert M. Adams, Ikon: John Milton and the Modern Critics (New York, Cornell University Press, 1955), especially Chapters III and v. Pattison considered that 'An appreciation of Milton is the last reward of consummated scholarship', Milton, p. 215.
13. R.D. Altick, The English Common Reader (Chicago and London, Uni
versity of Chicago Press, 1963), p. 181.
14. Ibid., p. 185.
15. F.R. Leavis, Revaluation (Harmondsworth, Penguin), p. 50.
16. T.S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets, p. 153, quotes Samuel Johnson's 'most important censure of Milton', which in turn quotes Addison's phrase, 'Our language sunk under him.'


eighteenth century one of its key terms and dominant influences. It was not, however, only the argument--and the unusual length--of Addison's criticism in the Spectator articles that shaped eighteenth century responses to Milton. By devoting his Saturday essays to Milton, Addison indicated and encouraged the suitability of Paradise
Lost for Sunday reading, (17) and throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Milton's poem shared the privileged and widely influential status of 'Sunday book' with those other 'Puritan' texts, Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe. Q.D. Leavis, lamenting in 1932 the demise of this domestic practice, commented:

The difference that the disappearance of the Sunday book a generation ago has made, its effect on the outlook and mental capacity of the people, would repay investigation.(18)

A specific topic for investigation in the case of Paradise Lost is indicated by T.H. Huxley's complaint, recorded by Pattison, that deeply engrained popular conceptions of cosmogony, so resistant to scientific enlightenment, derived from Paradise Lost Book VII rather than from Genesis itself Pattison himself claimed, even more radically yet quite convincingly, that 'most English men and women would probably have some difficulty in discriminating in recollection' what they had derived from Milton and what from the Bible concerning the whole story of the Creation and Fall.(19)

Yet it was not only ordinary households of an Evangelical cast which accorded Paradise Lost a special status. The various designations in the eighteenth century of Satan as the 'hero' of the poem, according to the 'rules' of epic, were transmuted by Blake and Shelley into a political reading of the poem which was inherited by the radical working class of the nineteenth century, while Milton's own political commitment to the Commonwealth was re-emphasized in the context of Chartist struggles. The Chartist Circular for 13 March 1841 carried a glowing account of Milton as 'an honest, unflinching stern Republican', who 'valiantly fought for civil and

17. A point made by Patrick Parrinder, Authors and Authority: a Study of English Literary Criticism and its Relation to Culture 1750-1900 (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), p. 11.
18. Q.D. Leavis, Fiction and the Reading Public (London, Chatto & Windus, 1968), p. 117.
19. Pattison, Milton, pp. 184, 189. Readers who experience this difficulty can now consult the excellent work by .M. Evans, Paradise Lost and the Genesis Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1968).


religious liberty, against the tyranny of Charles I'; but it is worth noting that Milton's life and prose writings are given priority in the article over the poetry, with Paradise Lost summarized in a single paragraph.(20) The Northern Star for 5 July 1845 advertised twelve lectures by the recently imprisoned Thomas Cooper, beginning with 'Ancient Egypt' and ending with 'prospects of the future'; the entire ninth lecture was to be on 'Milton: his patriotism and poetry etc.'(21) Cooper himself records that he had, by the age of thirteen, 'read the "Paradise Lost"; but it was above my culture and learning, and it did not make me feel, though I read it with interest, as a mere story. '(22) One wonders how many working-class readers of, for example, the eighteen 'cheap serial' numbers of Paradise Lost published in 1825-6 had the same reaction. (23)

Clearly, these mere indicators of Milton's impact and reputation represent only a highly selective fragment of the whole, while the direct and indirect influence of Milton upon English literature is; obviously, pervasive and incalculable.(24) My examples, however, illustrate the extent to which Milton's work has been appropriated within each of the crucial social and ideological institutions of English society: educational, religious, domestic and political. That Paradise Lost should be memorized by public schoolboys, recommended to radical Chartists, selected as suitable Sunday reading by Christian households, applauded by Whig politicians and encased in

20. The essay is reprinted in An Anthology of Chartist Literature, ed. V.V. Kovalev (Moscow, 1956), pp. 299-302. C£ also A.K. Stevens, 'Milton and Chartism " Philological Quarterly, XII (1933), pp. 377-88. 21 The advertisement is given in full inJohn Saville's Introduction to The Life of Thomas Cooper Written by Himself (1872) (Leicester University Press, 1971), pp. 18-20.
22. The Life of Thomas Cooper Written by Himself (London, Hodder &
Stoughton 1872), p. 35.
23. Cf. Louis James, Fiction for the Working Man 1830-1850 (Harmonds worth, Penguin University Books, 1974), p. 89. James notes (p. 113) that Milton even appeared as a character in J. F. Smith's 'immensely popular' penny issue historical novel Stanfield Hall (1849-50).
24. C£, for example, R.D. Havens, The Influence of Milton on English Poetry (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1922). For some interesting indications of Milton's indirect influence upon a significant branch of English prose fiction see David Punter, The Literature of Terror: a history of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the present day (London, Longman 1980, passim).


scholarly commentaries, at least underlines its peculiar status. Some explanation of that extraordinary position might be approached by briefly considering Milton's own practice as a writer in relation to the social and ideological institutions of the seventeenth century.

Any summary of Milton's various pronouncements on the nature ofa 'poet' and on his own conception of his 'calling' would result in a complexly overdetermined definition, drawing upon elements' inherited from or paralleled in Sidney, Spenser, Jonson and, behind them, Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, Cicero, Horace and the Bible: the poet as orator, teacher, statesman, creator, prophet. (25) A different but complementary approach would recognize that almost every text, whether 'prose' or 'poetry', produced by Milton prior to the publication of Paradise Lost bears traces of some contextual situation, ora relationship to a postulated and particular audience within some social or institutional setting, and in many cases those traces indicate more than a merely textual convention. When Milton constructs the Areopagitica as a classical oration delivered to 'the Parliament of England' or addresses himself to 'the Lords and Commons' in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, the rhetorical device embodies a real social practice which the text transposes: Milton is, at one level,
actually appealing to the Parliament as legislators who may indeed be persuaded. Even as late as February 1659 the rhetorical gestures indicate a genuine and specific attempt at intervention:

I have prepared, supreme Council, against the much expected time of your sitting, this treatise. ..in a season wherein the timely reading thereof to the easier accomplishment of your great work may save you much labour and interruption.(26)

Similarly, a great deal of the poetry can be assigned to particular occasions or socially functional practices: school exercises, elegies

25. There is a usefully compressed account by Isabel Rivers, 'The making of a seventeenth-century poet', inJohn Milton: Introductions, ed. J. Broadbent
(Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 75-107.
26. A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes, preliminary address 'To the Parliament'. For convenience of reference I have quoted from John S. Diekhoff's invaluable volume, Milton on Himself (London, Cohen & West, 1965), p. 177, following his modernizations. Subsequent references will be to Diekhoff and to the Columbia Milton, The Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Frank A. Patterson (New York, Columbia University Press, 1931-40), -20 volumes, abbreviated to CM.


and epitaphs, commemorative volumes, complimentary verses, celebrations, entertainments, devotions, epistles. Reading Milton's early poems one is aware of the poet not only adopting but in many cases actually performing particular social roles; it can even seem (almost) sensible to consider whether Milton really did attach Sonnet VIII ('Captain, or colonel, or knight in arms') to his door to disarm a potential Cavalier assault! As J. S. Smart noted in this case, 'we are in the presence of a poetical situation, not of a practical expedient', (27) but the distinction he makes is often far less applicable. Underpinning any notion Milton may have had of'the poetry simply as poetry'-in
Eliot's phrase-is an active awareness or a range of practical uses of writing, of the various functions of particular writing practices as embodying and reinforcing Milton 's relations to others as teacher, friend, correspondent, propagandist. Even when Milton formulates' C what might seem a purely 'aesthetic' notion, the underlying Platonic conception indicates that the primary aim is fundamentally philosophical-theological, even devotional, as in the letter to Diodati of 23 September 1637:

What besides God has resolved concerning me I know not, but this at least: He has instilled into me, if into anyone, a vehement love of the beautiful. ..it is my habit day and night to seek for this Idea of the beautiful, as for a certain image of supreme beauty, through all the forms and faces of things (for many are the shapes of things divine) ...(28)

When Henry Oldenburg suggested to Milton, in 1654, that his talents might be more worthily employed than in replying to the Cry of the Royal Blood Milton's response reveals rather different criteria from those Pattison, for example, would approve:

To prepare myself, as you suggest, for other labours-"--whether nobler or more useful I know not, for what can be nobler or more useful in human affairs than the vindication of liberty?--truly. ..I shall be induced to that easily enough. ..not that in any way I repent of what I have done, since it was necessary; for I am far from thinking that I have spent my toil, as you seem to hint, on matters of inferior consequence.(29)

27. J.S. Smart, The Sonnets of Milton (Glasgow, Maclehose, Jackson, 1921), p. 57.
28. Oiekhotr, p. 125, CM, XII, p. 27.
29. Diekhoff, p. 136, CM, XII, p. 65.


It is, indeed, in the prose writings concerned with 'the vindication of liberty', and not just in the poetry, that we find Milton appealing for or implying divine assistance and inspiration, and it has been plausibly suggested that Milton, by 1654, saw himself as having fulfilled his task of writing a national epic in, precisely, his authorship of the Defensio.(30) When any form of writing is recognized as performing a function over and essentially above any strictly 'literary' satisfaction, the distinction between 'the prose' and 'the poetry' is far from primary.

But for a text to perform a particular social purpose effectively it must not only postulate but actually reach and influence its appropriate audience, and by August 1659 Milton is clearly unsure of his readership, as the opening paragraphs of The Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings indicates:

to whom should I address what I still publish. ..but to you ['supreme Senate', Parliament] ... and to whom more appertain these considerations which I propound than to yourselves and the debate before you, though I trust of no difficulty, yet at present of great expectation, not whether ye will gratify (were it no more than so) but whether ye will hearken to the just petition of many thousands. ..or whether ye will satisfy. ..the covetous pretences and demands of insatiable hirelings

--and so, rather sadly, on.(31) By October 1659 Milton can only write a Letter to a Friend concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth-but the 'friend' was perhaps only a fiction, the Letter remained unpublished till 1698, and Milton himself admits to 'not finding that either God or the public required more of me than my prayers for them that govern'.(32) In the conclusion the Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, of February 1660, as the 'restoration' loomed ever closer, Milton can barely pretend that he speaks to any actual audience, except, 'with the prophet', to the very stones-and to God Himself-and, perhaps, to the future.(33) The appeal to Urania, in the invocation to Book VII of Paradise Lost, must, by then, have seemed;
if anything, over-optimistic:

30. C£ Diekhoff, pp. 222, 239.
31. Oiekhotr, p. 179, CM, VI, pp. 43 £ 82 Diekhoff, p. 183, CM, VI, p. 101. 33 Diekhotr, p. 246, CM, VI, p. 148.
32. Diekhoff, p. 183, CM VI, p. 101.
33. Diekhoff, p. 246, CM, VI p. 148.


still govern thou my song,
U rania, and fit audience find, though few.


It is, of course, a familiar argument that Paradise Lost can be read as Milton's theological attempt to make sense of the defeat of the 'good old cause' of God's own 'saints'. Since he had, to the very last, continued to believe in God's providential guidance of the political fate of the Revolution-even claiming the restoration of the Rump Parliament in May 1659 as 'a new dawning of God's miraculous providence among us' and calling upon God to 'suffer not' the fina1 Restoration in A Ready and Easy Way (34)--Milton, faced with the actual crushing fact of the Restoration, had somehow, still, to reassert 'Eternal Providence' and Justify the ways ofGod'-if only to himself. To adapt Marx: Milton could now only attempt to understand, no longer to change, his world. But to do so involved not only speaking for God but also., in a sense, to God, as A.D. Nuttall has recently argued.3s One might even suggest that Milton, in reciting the tale of mankind's fall and Christ's heroic redemption, finally assumes the traditional role of the epic poet, the court bard, he had once outlined in Ad Patrem (lines 41-49): he sings the exploits of his true and only king in the very presence ofrhat king, a presence that takes the most intimate form of inspiration. But, in more mundane terms, the choice of the epic form, that anachronistic, timeless mode, indicates that Milton is no longer writing within or for any immediate social purpose or occasion: this poem is not a political intervention but a theological inquiry, albeit an inquiry into the very deepest roots of political possibility itsel£ One can indeed interpret Paradise Lost as probing the most fundamental reasons of all for the defeat of God's 'saints', by associating that issue with the fiercely problematic nature of man's disobedience to God's will and with the desperately difficult question of the conditions for the final establishment of God's own kingdom; but such a cosmic extension of the 'immediate dilemma necessarily precludes any directly effective human rectification of the present political disaster. All that one could be required to do, as a post-Restoration reader of Paradise Lost, would be to acknowledge one's own participation in its overall

34 Diekhoff: pp. 179, 246; CM, VI, pp. 43, 148.
35 A.D. Nuttall, Overheard by God: Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, .LWilton, Dante and St. John, London: Methuen


scenario of Fall and Redemption-and reform oneself accordingly.

But what is then interesting is how this absence of any immediately practical purpose or specific audience opens up the possibility of quite alternative ways of reading Paradise Lost. Not only Milton himself but, in various ways, all the opposing participants in the struggles of 1640-60 had sought for the intelligibility and justification of their political actions and fates in overtly theological categories. By the early eighteenth century this was no longer the case, for a variety of interlocked reasons which can only be cursorily noted here. One central factor was a change in the relations and .respective powers of what Althusser terms the 'ideological apparatuses'. An index to this basic shift would be that whereas in the 1630s the liaison between the Court and the Church endowed Archbishop Laud with decisive' authority, by the reign of Queen Anne 'it caused a sensation when, for the last time, a Bishop was appointed to government office'.(36)

Another, related, facet of the change is that while the Civil War could certainly be seen by its participants as a conflict of .large social and ideological forces, with divine intervention and interest claimed by all sides, for the generation which read the Spectator the crucial reference-point was 1688 not 1649 and both the constitutional settlement of 'the Glorious Revolution' and the subsequent jostlings and local manoeuvrings of'Whigs' and 'Tories' seemed easily amenable to explanations far less grandiose, and far less noble, than the direct attentions of the Godhead. More generally, one could claim that by the .time Addison praised Paradise Lost the very notion of a seriously applied theological explanation of the defeat of a political principle or party must have seemed extremely remote, and even quaint. An appeal might still be made, of course, to the benevolent oversight of the Deity upon British affairs ('God Save the King') and the relevance of religious allegiance to the constitutional fate of James II was clear-but the change in ideological atmosphere has made theological explanations and vindications of political events seem increasingly redundant and perhaps even unintelligible in themselves. Indeed, something of that change is already apparent by the 1680s: when the preachers and pamphleteers of the 1640s characterized their opponents as 'sons of Belial' they intended a far more literal application(37) than, for example, Dryden did in writing,

36. Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution 1603-1714 (London, Spheret 1969), p. 14.

87 Cf. Whiting, op. cit Ch. VI.


in 1681, of Lord Shaftesbury as 'Achitophel'.

If however, by the 1700s the strictly theological dimension of Paradise Lost is no longer recognizable or even intelligible as a serious reaction to a specific political dilemma, the poem itself still required and prompted a response-and in Addison's treatment, above all, we can see taking shape not merely a reading of the poem 'as literature' but almost the very emergence of that notion o['literature', we have inherited. In broad terms, one could suggest that while Milton himself transposed his political. dilemma into a theological form, Addison's essays transformed Paradise Lost from a theological inquiry into a 'literary' narrative, to be read primarily for its 'literary' qualities and secondarily, perhaps, as suitable devotional (not theological) matter for a Sunday. This is not, of course, to say that Paradise Lost had not been responded to as a text with 'literary' qualities before Addison, but only that the eliding of any substantially theological or political significance of the poem in Addison's strictly 'literary' criticism encapsulates, concentrates and bequeaths to subsequent readers a notion of 'literature' as, precisely, defined by its distinction from 'non-literary' considerations which Milton would not himself have wholeheartedly endorsed. Addison's immensely influential essays on Milton did indeed become paradigmatic for the development of the allied notions of , literature' and 'criticism' which underpin today's profession of 'literary criticism'. It would take this essay too far afield to analyse Addison's role in that development in relation to his own political and ideological position(38) or to trace the full significance of his conception of 'literature' in the subsequent consolidation of an ideological notion of 'culture' in England, but a few concluding pointers can be given.

By the time of Macaulay's Edinburgh Review article on Milton, in August 1825-ostensibly a review of the recently discovered De Doctrina-the idea that Milton's own theology might be at all relevant to Paradise Lost can be casually acknowledged and perfunctorily disposed of in a sentence, while the lack of awareness of any substantial political dimension of the poem is apparent in Macaulay's use, for example, of a story from Ariosto concerning a 'foul' and 'loathsome' snake, without ever adverting to its resound

38. C£, for example, the interesting suggestions in L.A. Elioseff, 'Joseph Addison's Political Animal: Middle Class Idealism in Crisis', Eighteenth Century Studies, VI, no. 3 (Spring 1973), pp. 372-81.


ing echoes of the problem of Satan's role in Paradise Lost.(39) For Macaulay, Milton's stature and reputation as a 'great poet' merely makes him extremely useful as a culturally prestigious ornament to claim for one's own party. Some forty years later, Matthew Arnold's proposal that 'culture' and 'literature'-of which Milton is by then a supreme exemplar-might finally take the place of religious belief in our lives must seem the most perverse twist in this history of the appropriation of Milton. But that honour, one can also claim, is reserved for Eliot and Leavis who, in effect, came close to treating Paradise Lost not as itself an attempt to understand the course of history in the seventeenth century but rather as itself part of the 'explanation' of what, for them, crucially 'happened' in that century:

in the notion that 'a dissociation of sensibility set in'-the major evidence for which is Milton's work-we can see the extraordinary substitution of 'literary history' and 'cultural' explanation for both theological and political ways of making sense of history itself For Eliot's own 'theology of history' we have to go, of course, to Four Quartets.


This overcompressed account only suggests an argument that would need to be elaborated at considerable length. Clearly, the overall development I have sketched is influenced by many other factors and is exceedingly complex, but the role of Paradise Lost as a central reference-point within that development can, I think, be connected back to its status as a theological response to a political situation. Once the text became dissociated from its context and its 'literary' qualities divorced from its political and theological dimensions it could be appropriated as simply devotional reading, literary 'classic' or scholarly-critical fodder. Yet the tex,t still carried its political and theological charge, most obviously in its treatment of Satan's rebellion, and those seriously concerned with either politics or theology, whether nineteenth-century Chartists or twentieth-century Christians and atheists, have, necessarily, recognized that to treat this poem 'simply as poetry' is to avoid its full challenge.


39 Macaulay writes: 'Such a spirit is Liberty. At times she takes the form of a hateful reptile. She grovels, she hisses, she stings. But woe to those who in disgust shall venture to crush her! And happy are those who, having dared to receive her in her degraded and frightful shape, shall at length be rewarded by her in the time of her beauty and glory!' Critical and Historical Essays (London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1877), p. 19.


It seems appropriate that a generation of politically radical critics (in the wake of the 'defeat' of 1968?) have recently turned their attention to Milton(40); it is clear, once again, that the 'civil war' is still being fought out over Milton, not least in the ideological battles over the very nature of 'literature' and 'criticism' at his own university.(41) With a nice sense of irony one marxist critic has even taken Eliot's and Leavis's criticisms of Milton and argued that the features they deplore are precisely those which a 'revolutionary criticism' derived from Benjamin and Derrida should exploit.(42)

An even deeper irony has, however, to be recognized in conclusion. .It was a chaplain of King George IV who finally edited the De Doctrina in 1825, at His Majesty's command; in 1841 Prince Albert commissioned William Etty's Comus paintings for the garden pavilion of Buckingham Palace; and in 1981, at the wedding of the future King Charles III of England, it was a text by Milton that was sung while the happy couple signed the register.(43) 'Simply as poetry', as a purely aesthetic or merely devotional experience, Milton's work can still so easily be appropriated by those against whom he fought.

40. See, for example, the essays on Milton by David Aers and Gunther Kress, Anthony Easthope, and Fredric Jameson, in 1642: Literature and Power in the Seventeenth Century, 'Proceedings of the Essex Conference on the Sociology of Literature', ed. Francis Barker et al. (University of Essex 1981); Allen Grossman, 'Milton's Sonnet "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont": a note on the Vulnerability of Persons in a Revolutionary Situation', Literature in Revolution, ed. C. Newman and G. A.. White (Boston, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972), pp. 283-301; Michael Wilding, 'Regaining the Radical Milton', The Radical Reader, ed. S. Knight and M. Wilding (Sydney, Wild & Woolley, 1977), pp. 119; Robert Hodge, 'Satan and the Revolution of the Saints', Literature & History, No.7 (Spring 1978), pp. 20-33; Andrew Milner, ohn Milton and the English Revolution: a study in the sociology of literature London, Macmillan, 1981); and, of course, C. Hill, Milton and the English Revolution (London, Faber and Faber, 1977).
41. Of those most prominently involved in recent disputes within the Cambridge English Faculty, Professor C. Ricks has written Milton's Grand Style and Dr C. MacCabe is currently researching a book on Milton.

42. Terry Eagleton, Walter Benjamin or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (London, New Left Books, 1981), pp. 3-13.
43. For Etty's paintings, see M.R. Pointon, Milton and English Art (Manchester University Press, 1970), pp. 208-12. The text sung at the Royal Wedding, 29 July 1981, was from Handel's Samson, 'Let the Bright Seraphim', adapted by Handel's librettist from Milton's' At a Solemn Music', lines 10-13.