John Rogers, The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1996; xvi + 257 pp.
John P. Rumrich, Milton Unbound: Controversy and Reinterpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996; xv + 186 pp.
J. Martin Evans, Miltonís Imperial Epic: Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1996; xi + 194 pp.
Stella P. Revard, Milton and the Tangles of Neaeraís Hair: The Making of the 1645 Poems. Columbia, MO: U of Missouri P, 1997; x + 299 pp.
Robert Thomas Fallon, Divided Empire: Miltonís Political Imagery. University Park: Pennsylvania SUP, 1995; xviii + 190 pp.
Gordon Campbell, A Milton Chronology. New York: St. Martinís. London: Macmillan, 1997; xii + 255 pp.Reviewed by Roy Flannagan, firstname.lastname@example.org
May 26, 1998
Six Good New Books on Milton
The Modern Language Association is a fashion-conscious institution. Without money enough to buy original numbers by Gucci or Versace, we literary critical types rely on cost-free fashions. In our talks and papers and books, we advertise postmodernism, cultural studies, feminism, eco-criticism, and deconstructionism. Our current buzzwords (not that they arenít the buzzwords of the world outside our fashion world) are multicultural, marginalization, valorization (I think thatís almost gone now), postcolonial, chaos theory, ethnicity. Milton scholars often set the fashions as well as follow them. Stanley Fish is credited with creating reader-response criticism and sometimes damned for popularizing political correctness: his postmodern hipness continues with an allusion to Office Depot in a paper delivered at the 1997 MLA in Toronto. Northrop Frye just about invented mythographical criticism, applying it to the most mythopoeic of poets, John Milton. A scholarly reputation was made for both Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar via PMLA, after they found the madwoman in the attic, when they redefined Miltonís Bogey (a Bogey in a Stan Fish title would be an allusion to the one and only Bogie, the movie star, or possibly to a bad shot in golf). Al Shoaf dis-Eved Adam in a semantic and semiotic quest for reverberating roots. And Mary Nyquist talked about Re-membering Milton, setting off a touchy bunch of reactionary deconstructionist puns.
Any given crop of books from Milton scholars is apt to set trends rather than follow them. Not one of this current lot is a rip-off in the sense that Scream 3 (or 4 or 5) might be, and not one is a mindless shuffle-along with whatever the current hip-hop in literary fashion might be. Robert Fallon is an old-line new historicist; Martin Evans is a postcolonial structuralist with an emphasis on Miltonís sources; Stella Revard is (oh, dear, should we say this?) a classicist with interest in how Milton honored and emulated Pindar, Horace, and Ovid in his earlier verse; John Rumrich wants us to re-think critical perspectives on Miltonís poetry in order to counteract a recently fashionable image of "a monolithic or institutional Milton, as censorious preacher, aggressive misogynist, and champion of the emerging bourgeoisie" (Rumrich, prefatory paragraph) and thereby to become better literary critics; and John Rogers is rummaging around in the attic of materialist science, of all places, to find out where Milton gets his vitalism and to find out what moves the blood (as in Paradise Lost 4.805).
John Rogers sets his own critical perspective from the newly uncovered turf of the history of medicine (were there any historians of medicine, professionally recognized as such, even twenty years ago?). It is all right now to talk about Harvey and the circulation of the blood in the same paragraph as one talks about Miltonís politics and poetics, as it used to be all right to talk about Milton and the seventeenth-century reader (as did Balachandra Rajan, recently honored at the MLA for fifty years of scholarship). It turns out that the discovery of the circulation of the blood has much to do with vitalism, a theory that vital substance like blood has its own internal motive power. The heart itself lost attention as the bodyís pump; instead the blood got the credit for moving itself. Did God move the blood? It depended on what theologian or physiologist or alchemist you listened to. But for blood to be able to provide its own oomph, that was something to marvel at, and Harvey did.
The famous scene of Harvey inviting King Charles I to put his hand into the open chest of Hugh, Viscount Montgomery, to feel his heart (Rogers 31) had been preceded by Harveyís realization that the heart was not sensate. Unaware of peristalsis or the existence of an involuntary nervous system, Harvey had concluded that the blood provided its own vitality: hence vitalism.
Remove the idea of the heart as the emotional center of the body, and what does one do on Valentineís Day? What Rogers wants us to replace the heart with is the self, the individual, the equivalent of the unique atom, the indivisible self. Rogers does not concentrate on vitalism at large; he is most interested in monistic vitalism. The Royalist Harvey, followed by the Royalist Hobbes, wanted the absolute monarch to control "the violent, almost purposeless collisions of atomic particles" (37). Here we are getting close to Chaos.
In his monistic vitalism, according to Rogers, Milton was the unlikely bedfellow of Hobbes and Harvey, believing that an individual should not be divided into body and soul and believing very strongly in individualism.
Taking the theory into social revolution, Rogers investigates the Levelers and Diggers, represented by Gerrard Winstanley, and their attempts to deforest common lands. This leads us to Andrew Marvell, defending the ancestral lands of Thomas Fairfax against the threat of their being appropriated by radical Levelers, and their valuable English oaks cut down for use at fuel (rather than shipbuilding) or to release potential farm land for common cultivation.
What Rogers does very well is to lead Milton scholars into worlds they had never entered before, which is one reason why his book was honored with prizes by the MLA itself and by the Milton Society of America, in Toronto in 1997.
John Rumrich, whose book appeared in print just before Rogers, unpretentiously leads Milton scholars to question their own orthodoxy, re-evaluating the stimulating works of William Empson, who hated the Christian God whom he thought Milton was endorsing, and Stanley Fish, who taught us to put so much faith in the readerís response, as the reader was in the process of being snookered by Milton. Rumrich quietly takes apart (I did not say deconstructs) the arguments of the Fish-followers, and he respectfully disallows William Kerriganís Freudian Milton and his all-but-missing mother, to replace it with a pre-Freudian matriarchal system (Rumrich 10). Milton is said to honor his female side, like the good and sensitive new-age guy he was. Rumrich does not like the images of Milton as "censorious preacher, aggressive misogynist, and champion of the emerging bourgeoisie." He does seek "a more complex Milton" than earlier critics have nailed down. The problem is that Milton can be a censorious preacher in some of his prose tracts, the Chorus of Samson Agonistes does sound at times like an aggressive misogynist, and that Milton as a middle-class son of a scrivener who managed to graduate from Cambridge does at times in his prose sound like a champion of the emerging bourgeoisie (or at least an energetic spokesperson for the emerging well-to-do Puritan or parliamentarian in his defiance of a royalist monopoly of political power and economic stability). Rumrich is not quite with Christopher Hill in picturing Milton as a wild and woolly radical ranting rogue, but he doesnít want us to sell Miltonís politics short. He wants us rather to take Milton as someone who could contain chaos in himself, and could entertain opposing views, including "uncertainty and doubt." Rumrich would have us return to the primary research of Maurice Kelley in This Great Argument and the fastidious, unimpeachable introductions and notes of the sixth volume of the Yale Complete Prose Works of Milton, to discover exactly what sort of heretic and radical Milton might be. In his recent research, Rumrich has been debating the nature of Miltonís Chaos, and the book he has just edited (with Stephen Dobransky) is called Milton the Heretic. Stan Fish was responding to Milton as heretic in the "Home Depot" speech.
Robert Fallon, author of two other books about Miltonís involvement in the public defense of the English people, about Miltonís possible commitments to military matters, and about the poet at work in his job of diplomatic translation, turns his attention to the possible effects of the Miltonís long-term active public life on his creative works. Fallon begins by dismissing William Riley Parkerís dismissal of Miltonís state papers as of no consequence to his poetry. Having read the recent work of David Loewenstein and Sharon Achinstein, Fallonís readers know much more now about how Miltonís political ideals were reflected in such works as Samson Agonistes., and thanks to Nigel Smith, Stanley Fish, and David Norbrook, among others, we know much more about how well-crafted Miltonís political prose could be. Parkerís dismissal, however, has kept most literary scholars from locating and identifying hitherto anonymous letters that can be proven to be Miltonís by their stylistic quirks in Latin. Like the late Leo Miller, Fallon continues to add state letters to the Milton canon, finding that each newly-uncovered letter adds something of value to what is known about Miltonís life or his poetry.
Fallon finds that the majority of the letters Milton wrote on behalf of Cromwellís government were addressed to the triumvirate (well, two out of the three were virs) that ruled France, Anne of Prussia, Cardinal Jules Mazarin, and the child-king Louis XIV. Then Fallon cleverly applies the principal of divided monarchy or multiple rule, again and again, to governing bodies depicted in Paradise Lost. Aside from the obvious parallels with the Holy Trinity (where Fallon sees a sometimes feminine Holy Spirit), the split-reign theory works well in Eden, with Adam being first among equals but Eve by no means an underprivileged subordinate. This does not imply, Fallon says, that Milton thought such a divided empire the ideal form of government always, but that he did use the French model as a result of his experience in writing letters to the governing French triad (any letter he wrote to Anne and Louis had to be copied to Mazarin). Incidentally, Fallon acknowledges that Miltonís opinions of the French changed, positively, from the chauvinistic attitude he expressed before he himself had to take part in positive negotiations between the Cromwell government and the combination of Anne and Cardinal Mazarin.
Fallonís study touches, as it must, on the subject of colonial conquest in the time of Milton, which is what Martin Evans concentrates on in Miltonís Imperial Epic. Evans burst on the Miltonic scene with Paradise Lost and the Genesis Tradition in 1968, one of the "Milton and the [blah blah] Tradition" books, as with others by Michael Krouse on the character Samson and the Christian Tradition (first published 1949) and the broadest of the bunch, C. A. Patridesís Milton and the Christian Tradition (1966). It is wonderful to see Evans back in the saddle again, because he is not just a "traditionist": he has been thinking about what Milton might have been doing with his own countryís colonialism, probably for thirty years or so, and now he sets down his ideas in concentrated form, with plenty of primary research to back them up. He also hit the right moment, since all the Columbus business was going on. As he did with the Genesis tradition, Evans recreates patterns of thought as they were presented to Milton through reading and through his diplomatic experience. Since God is a kind of colonial power in Eden, and since Satan, too, is the epitome of a bad colonial, and since Adam and Eve must, while they are in exile, go found further colonies in a new world, Evans can work very well within the confines of Paradise Lost. Columbus is in the epic, as is the explorer of space Galileo, and the American natives are there as viewed by Columbus.
Is Milton in the modern mold of a politically correct sympathizer with native Americans? Not really. In his political writings, Evans writes, following Thomas Corns, Milton most likely
shared his employersí evident enthusiasm for colonial expansion. He would have had little sympathy, one suspects, for the Indians of Virginia after the massacre of 1622 or for the Indians of New England when they proved to be as "indocible and averse to all Civility" as the Irish. Like Spenser before him, Milton appears to have had no qualms at all about his countryís treatment of those natives who were foolish enough to resist English imperialism." (145)
Yes, Satan is a merchant adventurer out to cheat the natives of a new world, but Evans acknowledges that one bad merchant doesnít make all merchants bad: after all, Miltonís father was "in trade." It isnít hard to reverse the values of Eden or even Heaven as a colony and to see Satan as the dispossessed (the way he sees himself) and Adam and Eve as the usurping colonials.
Seen from the perspective of colonial imperialism with a twist of religion, Raphael is a divine missionary who tries to warn Adam and Eve as an emissary of God; Satan finally succeeds in enslaving the natives; Adam is an indentured servant (of God!) who will eventually be released from necessary servitude when he has served his time obediently; and Michael is "the representative of imperial authority who drives the rebellious natives out of their original home into the alien wilderness" (29). The character types of colonialism fit the epic, more than casually. But, as Evans acknowledges, a simple political allegory wonít fit the complexities of the epic, which "not only breathes an Atlantic air but plays out in mythic form some of the deepest and most disturbing contradictions in Englandís experience of the New World" (29).
Stella Revard quite innocently commandeered a title I wanted to use for an article I wrote years ago but never published. I was fascinated by Neaeraís curls in "Lycidas" 69, which appeared in print as "Or with the curls of Neaeraís hair" (see the new Riverside Milton 103n), but which Milton had first written as "Hid in the curls of Neeraís hair," an image of even greater male weakness or vulnerability. I thought the curls might represent a kind of fearful feminine net-building that was kin to the "snares" used by Comus and his mother Circe.
What Revardís book is aboutĖmuch beyond my article--is implied in its subtitle, "The Making of the 1645 Poems." That little book, and its later recension, the 1673 Poems, are where we get just about all of Miltonís shorter poems. Like me, Revard believes that the shape and organization of Miltonís first volume of poetry are important. Because of the way most modern collected editions are arranged, very few modern Milton critics are aware that the 1645 Poems is really "a double book" (1), divided discretely into Latin poemata and English poems with separate title pages (actually, the masque has a separate title page as well). Unlike most modern Milton critics, Stella Revard knows her Latin and Greek very well; she has had a thing about Pindarís influence on Milton for years; and she has thought through the independent meaning of the Latin poetry quite carefully. The title page of the whole volume, as she points out, contains (1) a Latin epigraph, (2) Miltonís portrait, with classical nymphs and swains dancing in the background, and (3) a Greek epigram criticizing the fact that the portrait is very badly done.
What Revardís book does best, I think, is to interpret Latin and English poems in each otherís context. We get not only the usual litany of all the dead classical gods and goddesses lined up behind Miltonís poetry (Apollo has the largest number of god-entries in the index), but a strong sense of the living neo-Latin tradition in the Renaissance. When Milton went to Italy, he wasnít reading (and writing) just Italian poetry; he was seeing the literary art of the country in terms of Latin poetry by Vida (212), Mantuan (64), Pontano (102), Navagero (103), Sannazaro (104), and Crinito (104); and he was answering it in the poems he wrote, say those in response to hearing Leanora Baroni sing in Rome. There was give and take, again expressed in Latin poetry, at the Florentine academies, where Milton read some of his own poetry, presumably Latin.
I have grouped Stella Revardís book near the end of my review because I wanted to picture it as a summary reference work on the 1645 Poems. It is like an entertaining and engaging annotated edition of Miltonís shorter poems, and I found it immensely helpful as I was trying to comment on and annotate the poems found in the 1645 collection, English, Latin, Italian, and Greek, for my own Riverside Milton. Revard, like Martin Evans, puts a scholarly lifetime of thinking about Milton into her book, and a half a lifetime of work on Latin and Greek poetry, and on neo-Latin poetry. Because most of us have not read Latin poetry extensively, especially not neo-Latin poetry, what she says is largely new to the world of Milton scholars.
It is amazing that five very bright scholars can find so much new to say about Milton. Gordon Campbell has much to say that is new about the biographical facts he has uncovered in Miltonís well-documented public life, legal life, and poetic life, in his modest little Milton Chronology. Chronologies are not supposed to be readable: they are just there as ponies for Ph.D. exams, right? This one is a readable treasure of previously unknown gossip, buried in legal depositions, diplomatic rumors, encoded spy diaries, soul-searching private letters. It is true that J. Milton Frenchís Life Records is full of valuable information about Milton, and that William Riley Parkerís monumental Milton: A Biography is crammed with such information as well. But Campbellís Chronology has been to all the sources in person that French and Parker had to squint at in primitive copies (Campbell just re-did Parkerís biography), and Campbell knows that, because of the limits on French and Parker during World War II, in England and on the continent, their gathering of information was sometimes haphazard. If one tries to find the precise location of most of the public and private records cited in French, one canít: they have been moved, or they have been re-catalogued, or they have been lost. Campbellís Chronology begins the tedious work of gathering Psycheís seeds, the seeds of truth about Miltonís life. To those of us who find such bits invaluable, what Campbell has constructed is a readable and accurate closet biographyĖa documentary life made of tidbits, not unlike that of Samuel Schoenbaum for Shakespeare. And it is up-to-date and accurate.
Let me pause over a few bits. Milton had two sisters, Sara and Tabitha, we discover. Sara died shortly after being baptized, when her brother was four, but Tabitha lived a year and eight months, to die when her brother was seven. Who will speak for Miltonís sisters, and write a biography of Sara or Tabitha? Mary Powell, Miltonís wife-to-be , was born when Milton was sixteen, and grew up in Oxfordshire, not far from the ancestral home of the Milton family in Stanton St. John. Her father was a tax-collector and lord of the manor at Forest Hill; his business dealings with Miltonís father begin in 1626, when Milton was eighteen; while Milton was at Cambridge, he himself was collecting on a debt from Richard Powell twice a year.
Campbell also lets us know that the Miltons bought a house in 1629 from Sir John Suckling (the poet, together with his father by the same name), the same poet who was to be painted by Anthony Van Dyck holding the First Folio of Shakespeare. John Milton Sr. became one of the trustees of the Blackfriars Playhouse in 1620, four years after Shakespeareís death. Milton Sr.ís lease on the Blackfriars, within 300 yards of St. Paulís Cathedral, might establish a tenuous connection between the Milton family and Shakespeare. Former "housekeepers" of Blackfriars had included Richard Burbage, Shakespeare himself, and Heminges and Condell, of First Folio fame. John Cotton, whose estate Milton Sr. managed be used to establish a connection between the Milton family and the Puritan movement in general, and with New England, since at least one John Cotton (1585-1652) emigrated to Boston and founded Congregationism, wrote books, and defended another Milton friend, Roger Williams, in court.
To someone with the mastery of the right names and dates and places, Campbellís Chronology is a mine of gold bits. The Roman Catholic renegade, famous liar, and writer Kenelm Digby is there, and William Campion (any kin to the poet and composer Thomas?), and Fulke Greville, poet and biographer of Sidney.
If you are one of the readers of Review who loves good hard solid facts, read Campbellís Chronology. If you are caught in the throes of colonial guilt, read Evans on the colonial epic. If you want your classics as they were known in the Renaissance, read Revard. If you want your cultural and scientific history alongside your lit crit, read Rogers. And if you want your theory digested, your criticism criticized, and your head straightened out about how calculatedly confused and chaotic Miltonís was, read Rumrich.Roy Flannagan
NotesFish said Chaos was God's Home Depot, a compartmentalized warehouse of raw material He had slated for different projects, and from which He selected His components as needed. The panel was called "ĎAround the Flag of Each His Factioní: The Debate over Miltonís Chaos," and it took place December 28, 1997. Fish was one of the respondents..
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May 26, 1998