John Milton

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 12,691 words

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About this Person
Born: December 09, 1608 in London, England
Died: November 08, 1674 in London, England
Nationality: English
Occupation: Poet



  • A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634: On Michaelmas night, before the Right Honorable, Iohn Earle of Bridgewater, Vicount Brackly, Lord Præsident of Wales, And one of His Maiesties most honorable Privie Counsell [Comus] (London: Printed for Humphrey Robinson, 1637).
  • Epitaphivm Damonis. Argvmentvm (London: Printed by Augustine Mathewes?, 1640?).
  • Of Reformation Touching Chvrch-Discipline in England: And the Cavses that hitherto have hindered It. Two Bookes, Written to a Freind (London: Printed for Thomas Underhill, 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: One whereof goes under the Name of Iames' Arch-Bishop of Armagh (London: Printed by R. O. & G. D. for Thomas Underhill, 1641).
  • Animadversions upon The Remonstrants Defence, against Smectymnuus (London: Printed for Thomas Underhill, 1641).
  • The Reason of Church-governement Urg'd against Prelaty by Mr. John Milton. In Two Books (London: Printed by E. G. for John Rothwell, 1641 [i.e., 1642]).
  • An Apology Against a Pamphlet Call'd A Modest Confutation of the Animadversions upon the Remonstrant against Smectymnuus (London: Printed by E. G. for John Rothwell, 1642).
  • The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce: Restor'd to the Good of Both Sexes, From the bondage of Canon Law, and other mistakes, to Christian Freedom, guided by the Rule of Charity. Wherein also many places of Scripture, have recover'd their long-lost meaning: Seasonable to be now thought on in the Reformation intended (London: Printed by Thomas Payne & Matthew Simmons, 1643); revised and enlarged as The Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce: Restor'd to the good of both Sexes, From the bondage of Canon Law, and other mistakes, to the true meaning of Scripture in the Law and Gospel compar'd. Wherin also are set down the bad consequences of abolishing or condemning of Sin, that which the Law of God allowes, and Christ Abolisht Not. Now the second time revis'd and much augmented, In Two Books: To the Parlament of England with the Assembly, as J. M. (London, 1644).
  • Of Education. To Master Samuel Hartlib (London: Printed for Thomas Johnson, 1644).
  • Areopagitica; a Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Vnlicenc'd Printing, To the Parlament of England (London, 1644).
  • Tetrachordon: Expositions upon The foure chief places in Scripture, which treat of Mariage, or nullities in Mariage. On Gen. 1. 27. 28. compar'd and explain'd by Gen. 2. 18.23.24. Deut. 24. 1. 2. Matth. 5. 31. 32. with Matth. 19. from the 3d. v. to the 11th. 1 Cor. 7 from the 10th to the 16th. Wherin the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, as was lately Publish'd, is confirm'd by explanation of Scripture, by Testimony of ancient Fathers, of Civill Lawes in the Primitive Church, of famousest Reformed Divines, And lastly, by an intended Act of the Parlament and Church of England in the last yeare of Edward the Sixth, as J. M. (London: Printed by Thomas Payne & Matthew Simmons, 1645).
  • Colasterion: A Reply to a Nameles Answer against The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Wherein The Trivial Author of that Answer is Discover'd, the Licenser conferr'd with, and the Opinion which they traduce defended, as J. M. (London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1645).
  • Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin, Compos'd at several times. Printed by his true Copies. The Songs were set in Musick by Mr. Henry Lawes (London: Printed by Ruth Raworth for Humphrey Moseley, 1645).
  • 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, and after due conviction, to depose, and put him to death; if the ordinary Magistrate have neglected, or deny'd to doe It. And that they, who of late, so much blame Deposing, are the Men that did it themselves, as J. M. (London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1649); enlarged as 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, and after due conviction, to depose, and put him to death; if the ordinary Magistrate have neglected, or deny'd to doe It. And that they, who of late, so much blame Deposing, are the Men that did it themselves. Published now the second time with some additions, and many Testimonies also added out of the Best & learnedest among Protestant Divines asserting the position of this book (London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1650).
  • 'EIKONOKLA'ΣTEΣ. In Answer To a book Intitl'd E'IKΩ'N BAΣILIKE, the Portrature of his Sacred Majesty in his Solitude and Sufferings, as J. M. (London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1649; revised and enlarged edition, London: Printed by T. N., sold by Thomas Brewster & Gregory Moule, 1650).
  • Joannis Miltoni Angli pro Populo Anglicano Defensio contra Claudii Anonymi, aliàs Salmasii, Defensionem Regiam (London: Printed by William Dugard, 1651; revised edition, London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, 1658).
  • Joannis Miltoni Angli pro Populo Anglicano Defensio Secunda. Contra infamem libellum anonymum cui titulus, Regii sanguinis clamor ad Colum adversus parricidas Anglicanos (London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, 1654).
  • Joannis Miltoni Angli pro Se Defensio contra Alexandrum Morum Ecclesiasten, Libelli famosi, cui titulus, Regii sanguinis clamor ad Colum adversùs Parricidas Anglicanos, authorem Rectè Dictum (London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, 1655).
  • A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical causes: Shewing That it is not lawfull for any power on earth to compell in matters of Religion, as J. M. (London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, 1659).
  • Considerations Touching The likeliest means to remove Hirelings out of the church. Wherein is also discourc'd Of Tithes, Church-fees, Church-revenues; And whether any maintenance of ministers can be settl'd by law, as J. M. (London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, 1659).
  • The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, and The Excellence therof Compar'd with The inconveniences and dangers of readmitting kingship in this nation (London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, sold by Livewell Chapman, 1660; revised and enlarged edition, London: Printed for the author, 1660).
  • Brief Notes Upon a late Sermon, Titl'd, The Fear of God and the King; Preachd, and since Publishd, By Matthew Griffith, D. D. And Chaplain to the late King. Wherin many Notorious Wrestings of Scripture, and other Falsities are observed by J. M. (London, 1660).
  • Paradise lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books (London: Printed & sold by Peter Parker, Robert Boulter & Matthias Walker, 1667); revised and enlarged as Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books. The Author John Milton. The Second Edition Revised and Augmented by the same Author (London: Printed by Samuel Simmons, 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; the elder sort especially, with little teaching, and their own industry (London: Printed by Samuel Simmons, 1669).
  • The History of Britain, That part especially now call'd England. From the first Traditional Beginning, continu'd to the Norman Conquest. Collected out of the antientest and best Authors thereof (London: Printed by J. M. for James Allestry, 1670).
  • Paradise Regain'd. A Poem. In IV Books. To which is added Samson Agonistes (London: Printed by J. M. for John Starkey, 1671).
  • Joannis Miltoni Angli, Artis Logicæ Plenior Institutio, ad Petri Rami Methodum concinnata, Adjecta est Praxis Annalytica & Petri Rami vita (London: Printed for Spencer Hickman, 1672).
  • Of True Religion, Hæresie, Schism, Toleration, And what best means may be us'd against the growth of Popery, as J. M. (London, 1673).
  • Joannis Miltonii Angli, Epistolarum Familiarium Liber Unus: Quibus Accesserunt, Ejusdem, jam olim in Collegio Adolescentis, Prolusiones Quædam Oratoriae (London: Printed for Brabazon Aylmer, 1674).
  • A Declaration, or Letters Patents of the Election of this present King of Poland John the Third, Elected on the 22d of May last past, Anno Dom. 1674. Containing the Reasons of this Election, the great Vertues and Merits of the said Serene Elect, His eminent Services in War, especially in his last great Victory against the Turks and Tartars, whereof many Particulars are here related, not published Before. Now faithfully translated from the Latin Copy (London: Printed for Brabazon Aylmer, 1674).
  • Literæ Pseudo-Senatús Anglicani, Cromwellii, Reliquorumque Perduellium nomine ac jussu conscriptæ (Amsterdam: Printed by Peter & John Blaeu, 1676); translated by Edward Phillips, with omissions and additions, as Letters of State, Written by Mr. John Milton, To most of the Sovereign Princes and Republicks of Europe. From the Year 1649. Till the Year 1659. To which is added, an Account of his Life. Together with Several of His Poems; And a Catalogue of his Works, never before Printed (London, 1694).
  • Mr John Miltons Character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines. In MDCXLI. Omitted in his other Works, and never before Printed, And very seasonable for these times (London: Printed for Henry Brome, 1681).
  • A Brief History of Moscovia: And Of other less-known Countries lying eastward of Russia as far as Cathay. Gather'd from the Writings of several Eye-Witnesses (London: Printed by M. Flesher for Brabazon Aylmer, 1682).
  • A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton, Both English and Latin; with som Papers never before Publish'd. To which is Prefix'd the Life of the Author, 3 volumes, edited by John Toland (Amsterdam [i.e., London], 1698).
  • A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton: Correctly Printed from the Original Editions. With an Historical and Critical Account of the Life and Writings of the Author; Containing Several Original Papers of His, Never before Published, 2 volumes, edited by Thomas Birch (London: Printed for A. Millar, 1738); revised as The Works of John Milton, Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous. Now more correctly printed from the Originals, than in any former Edition, and many passages restored, which have been hitherto omitted. To which is prefixed, An Account of his Life and Writings, 2 volumes, edited by Birch and Richard Baron (London: Printed for A. Millar, 1753).
  • Joannis Miltoni Angli De Doctrina Christiana libri duo posthumi, edited and translated by Charles R. Sumner (Cambridge: Printed at the Cambridge University Press by John Smith, Printer to the University, 1825).
  • A Common-place Book of John Milton, and a Latin Essay and Latin Verses Presumed To Be by Milton, edited by A. J. Horwood, Camden Society Publications, new series 16 (Westminster: Printed for the Camden Society, 1876; revised, 1877).
  • A Common-Place Book of John Milton. Reproduced by the Autotype Process from the Original Manuscript in the Possession of Sir Frederick J. U. Graham.... With an Introduction by A. J. Horwood (London: Privately printed at the Chiswick Press, 1876).
  • The Works of John Milton, 18 volumes in 21, edited by Frank Allen Patterson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931-1938).


  • The Poetical Works of Mr. John Milton. Containing Paradise Lost, Paradise Regain'd, Sampson Agonistes, and His Poems on Several Occasions. Together with Explanatory Notes on Each Book of the Paradise Lost and a Table Never before Printed, with notes to Paradise Lost by David Hume (London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1695).
  • The Works of Mr. John Milton (London, 1697).
  • The Prose Works of John Milton: With a Life of the Author, 7 volumes, edited by Charles Symmons (London: J. Johnson, 1806).
  • The Prose Works of John Milton: Containing His Principal Political and Ecclesiastical Pieces, with New Translations, and an Introduction, 2 volumes, edited by George Burnett (London: Printed for J. Miller, 1809).
  • A Selection from the English Prose Works of John Milton, 2 volumes, edited by Francis Jenks (Boston: Bowles & Dearborn, 1826).
  • The Prose Works of John Milton; with an Introductory Review, edited by Robert Fletcher (London: Westley & Davis, 1833).
  • The Prose Works of John Milton: With a Biographical Introduction, 2 volumes, edited by Rufus Wilmot Griswold (Philadelphia: Hooker, 1845).
  • The Prose Works of John Milton, 5 volumes, edited by J. A. St. John and Charles Sumner (London: Bohn, 1848-1853).
  • The Works of John Milton, in Verse and Prose, Printed from the Original Editions, with a Life of the Author, 8 volumes, edited by John Mitford (London: Pickering / Boston: Little & Brown, 1851).
  • Milton's Prose, edited by Malcolm W. Wallace (London: Oxford University Press, 1925).
  • Areopagitica and Other Prose Works (London: Dent, 1927; New York: Dutton, 1927).
  • The Student's Milton, Being the Complete Poems of John Milton, with the Greater Part of His Prose Works, Now Printed in One Volume, Together with New Translations into English of His Italian, Latin and Greek Poems, edited by Frank Allen Patterson (New York: Crofts, 1930; revised, 1933).
  • John Milton: Prose Selections, edited by Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1947).
  • Complete Prose Works of John Milton, 8 volumes in 10, edited by Don M. Wolfe and others (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953-1982).
  • Complete Poems and Major Prose, edited by Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957).
  • Milton's Prose Writings, edited by K. M. Burton (London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1958).
  • The Prose of John Milton, edited by J. Max Patrick and others (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967).
  • Selected Prose edited by C. A. Patrides (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1974; Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1985).


  • "A Postscript," in An Answer to a Booke Entitvled, An Humble Remonstrance, by Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstow, as Smectymnuus (London, 1641), pp. 85-94.
  • The Ivdgement of Martin Bucer, Concerning Divorce. Writt'n 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. To the Parlament of England, translated by Milton (London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1644).
  • "Observations upon the Articles of Peace with the Irish Rebels, on the Letter of Ormond to Col. Jones, and the Representation of the Presbytery at Belfast," in Articles of Peace, Made and Concluded with the Irish Rebels, and Papists, by James Earle of Ormond, for and in behalfe of the late King, and by vertue of his Autoritie. Also a Letter sent by Ormond to Col. Jones, Governour of Dublin, with his Answer thereunto. And a Representation of the Scotch Presbytery at Belfast in Ireland. Upon all which are added Observations (London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1649), pp. 43-64.
  • T. B., The Cabinet-Council: Containing the Cheif [sic] Arts of Empire, And Mysteries of State; Discabineted In Political and Polemical Aphorisms, grounded on Authority, and Experience; And illustrated with the choicest Examples and Historical Observations. By the Ever-renowned Knight, Sir Walter Raleigh, Published by John Milton, Esq., edited by Milton (London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb for Thomas Johnson, 1658).


John Milton's claim to continued recollection rests primarily, of course, on his preeminence as a poet. In 1642 he said that he had been forced by a sense of political duty to interrupt his efforts to become "a Poet soaring in the high region of his fancies." He had instead to linger "here below in the cool element of prose," where he had the use of his "left hand" only. In terms of his ultimate creative ambitions, poetry was to prose as heaven was to earth. But Milton's own early assessment of the discursive media competing for his energies should not be taken at face value. His earthly commitments were strong enough to keep him "here below in the cool element of prose" for nearly two decades, until the demise of the English Revolution in 1660. Even then Milton did not fall entirely silent as a prose writer: in the 1670s he published two works of political commentary.

Milton's renewed involvement in political discourse a decade after the Restoration was based on a judgment that it had again become possible to gain a hearing for his most cherished convictions. In this respect his final prose works anticipate a central feature of the posthumous publication history of all his prose: there has been an interest in the prose for its own sake mostly when the political situation has made it seem relevant again. This pattern has prevailed from the first publication of the Character of the Long Parliament in 1681, through the publication or translation of many of his pamphlets during the American and French revolutions, all the way to the twentieth century, in which, in the aftermath of the 1960s, there has been a marked increase in the number of academic books and articles about Milton's prose. It should come as no surprise that the author of Paradise Lost (1667) should have poured forth sufficient vitality of thought and expression from his "left hand" alone to command attention at most of the moments of high political passion and resolve in modern Anglo-American and Western history.

Milton was born in London on 9 December 1608, the second of the three children of John and Sara Jeffrey Milton who would survive into adulthood. His father's father was Richard Milton, an Oxfordshire yeoman who had been excommunicated from the Church of England in 1582 for his persistent allegiance to Roman Catholicism. Around this time, Richard Milton had come upon his son reading an English Bible. This adherent of the old "true religion" was not about to countenance the observance of the new "heretical" religion of the Reformation by his own son and heir. In the quarrel that thereupon erupted, the son was disinherited.

The man who was to become the poet's father proceeded to London, where he gradually made his way as a scrivener, a profession that included lending money, copying documents, and providing other financial, clerical, and legal services. He also gained a considerable reputation as a musician and composer. Around the turn of the seventeenth century, John Milton married and occupied the premises in All Hallows parish in which his illustrious namesake was to be born.

Most of the households in this neighborhood were inhabited by industrious merchants and entrepreneurs and their dependents, the sort of people who had begun in the 1560s, under clerical leadership, to demand the elimination from the Church of England of all traces of Roman Catholic hierarchalism and ceremonialism. Derisively named "Puritans" by their ecclesiastical opponents, these were people among whom one might well expect to find a man who had been disinherited by a Catholic father for reading the Bible. And indeed, during Milton's childhood the Puritan minister of All Hallows did stress from the pulpit continuous reading of the Bible and other tenets of Puritan ideology.

John Milton, Sr., devoted "ceaselesse diligence and care," as well as a great deal of money, to the education of his eldest son, expecting that at the end of the process would emerge a clergyman of the same stripe as his own minister. Lessons were given at home by a tutor, the Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Young, another Puritan influence. By the age of twelve Milton had developed "so keen an appetite" for intellectual pursuits that he was apt to stay awake studying until midnight. It was probably around this time that he was sent to St. Paul's School. This institution was a product of sixteenth-century humanism, a movement that, in its criticisms of the papacy and aversion to medieval Scholastic theology, anticipated many of the central features of Protestantism. In the early seventeenth century the curriculum at St. Paul's continued to be grounded in humanist admiration for the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.

By 1625 Milton was ready for higher education. There was, no doubt, little hesitation about sending him to Cambridge, which had been a major center of the Puritan movement for two generations, and he matriculated there on 9 April. As part of his course of study at Cambridge, Milton composed his Prolusiones in Latin prose. From these exercises, which were not published until 1674, it is clear that by the time his formal education was completed Milton had thoroughly mastered the methods and patterns of classical rhetoric.

After taking his M.A. on 3 July 1632, Milton decided not to proceed directly to ordination for the ministry but to devote himself to private study at his parents' homes in London from 1632 to 1635 and in Horton, Buckinghamshire, from 1635 to 1638. During this period of contemplation his hesitations about the ministry were exacerbated by two factors: the beginnings of fulfillment of his long-harbored poetic ambitions with the successful performance of his masque Comus in 1634 (published, 1637) and the closing down of safe havens for clergymen of Puritan inclinations after the installation of William Laud as archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud was determined that the Puritan clergy would either cease evading the established forms and ceremonies of the Church of England or cease functioning as its priests. His policies propelled many Puritans across the Atlantic to New England, and they also helped to propel Milton into redefinition of his life's work. At some point during the 1630s Milton came to view himself as a minister of an unconventional sort, one whose care of Christian souls would be exercised through writing poetry.

In April 1638 Milton went on a tour of the Continent, where he met such leading intellectual figures as Hugo Grotius, Galileo, and Giovanni Battista Manso, the onetime patron of the Italian epic poet Torquato Tasso. In Florence, Milton was welcomed as a participant in the private academies that constituted the core of the city's intellectual life and that were a legacy of the Florentine humanist Renaissance. In John Calvin's Geneva, the center and symbol of European Protestantism, he frequented the house of the leading theologian, Giovanni Diodati, the uncle of his closest friend, Charles Diodati.

Milton had planned to visit Sicily and Greece as well, but while in Naples he learned of "the sad tidings of civil war from England." A conflict over church government was brewing in Scotland. Scotland had a long tradition of presbyterian church government, a system in which the only ecclesiastical authority higher than that of the local parish minister, or presbyter, was that exercised by groups of such presbyters. Beginning in 1637, Charles I had sought to impose on the land of his birth an episcopalian church government similar to that which Archbishop Laud was endeavoring to impose in England, in which local ministers functioned in strict subordination to bishops. By late 1638 it was clear that war was about to break out over the issue.

This was the phase of the struggle of which Milton probably received news in Naples. He later claimed that he immediately decided to change his travel plans and return home, "for I thought it base that I should travel abroad at my ease for the cultivation of my mind, while my fellow-citizens at home were fighting for liberty." This version of what transpired is open to question, since approximately six months elapsed between the time Milton heard of the troubles and his arrival back in England. During those months of northward journeying he continued to cultivate his mind in the centers of Continental learning and piety. On the other hand, it is not implausible to suppose that the news Milton heard in Naples stirred up tensions between a desire to continue to ready himself for ultimate creative fulfillment and a sense of immediate duty. He manifested his inability to resolve these tensions by reversing the direction of his journey of inner cultivation so that he was moving toward, not away from, the sites of Puritan and English values and struggles.

Arriving in England in July 1639, Milton established himself in London and began giving lessons to his two young nephews, the sons of his sister, Anne. Meanwhile, the disenchantment of major portions of the English public with the rule of Charles and Archbishop Laud continued to intensify. In 1640 financial pressures forced Charles to call Parliament into session for the first time in eleven years, and from November onward this body, known to history as the Long Parliament, proceeded to seek redress of grievances on many fronts. In regard to the Church of England, within six weeks, its resolve strengthened by the multitude of anti-Laudian pamphlets that were being circulated with the collapse of the apparatus of censorship, the House of Commons had voted to abolish Archbishop Laud's policies of liturgical ceremonialism and episcopal power.

It remained unclear whether the episcopal hierarchy was to be eliminated or merely reformed. The moderate Episcopalian, Bishop Joseph Hall , argued that the office of bishop was grounded in succession from the Apostles and that established liturgical practices were also amply justified. The most ambitious reply to Hall, An Answer to a Booke Entituled, An Humble Remonstrance (1641), was written under the pseudonym Smectymnuus by Milton's old tutor, Young, with the assistance of four other ministers of presbyterian sympathies. Young and his colleagues maintained that in the early church the terms bishop and presbyter had been synonymous and that the sorts of liturgical practices required in the Laudian church should be, at most, optional. Appended to this presbyterian tract was a nine-page postscript now thought to have been written by Milton.

In the pamphlets that Milton began to produce at this time he generally exploited, among sixteenth-and seventeenth-century discursive traditions, the conventions of both "Ciceronian" and "loose" Senecan prose. Ciceronian syntax usually builds through subordinate clauses to climactic resolutions. It gives the impression of careful planning and organization, and, as its being named for a Roman statesman implies, it is well suited to the affirmation of public dignity and order, which is how it was used by its most notable English practitioner, Richard Hooker . Loose syntax, most artfully displayed in English in the writings of Sir Thomas Browne , strives for an impression of greater spontaneity through such devices as the "trailing effect," in which a clause is generated not by the main idea of the clause preceding it but by its last word only--as though the act of placing that word on the page had, at that very moment, associatively conjured up the fresh thought expressed in the trailing clause. Such a syntax is suited to convey the sort of energetic private inquisitiveness that a "Ciceronian" public order may tend to ignore or repress.

Characteristically, Milton writes a Ciceronian suspended sentence, to which, at the moment of its resolution, he loosely attaches a trailing clause that itself generates a series of suspended clauses building toward another resolution and climax; or, in some cases, the progress of the subordinate clauses toward resolution is interrupted by a proliferation of second-order subordinate clauses with their own second-order resolutions. Sometimes the result is nothing but long-winded manipulation, but at its best Milton's style projects an image of a public realm in constant process of renewal and recreation.

In his first pamphlet, Of Reformation , published in May 1641, Milton assumes the truth of the Presbyterian view of church government and devotes his energies to presenting the standard scenarios of Puritan apocalypticism. This set of attitudes, given wide currency by the immensely popular Actes and Monuments (1563) of John Foxe , used the prophecies of the Book of Revelation as keys to the interpretation of Christian history, identifying the period of papal dominance as the reign of Antichrist. As the struggle within the English church between Puritan and anti-Puritan had persisted, the denunciations of established authority as Antichristian had begun to be directed more at the immediately oppressive English prelacy than at the more distant Roman papacy. To say that the bishops of the state church are Antichristian, as Milton does in Of Reformation, is obviously, in the circumstances of 1641, to rule out every option but the radical one of the total abolition of episcopacy. Moreover, where earlier, more cautious writers had recommended to people confronted with Antichristian tyranny a posture of reliance on the leadership of truly Christian leaders in church and state, Milton takes more seriously the core Protestant principle of the priesthood of all believers, stressing the indispensable role of lay agency and initiative as against deference to established authority, however worthy.

Milton's second pamphlet, Of Prelatical Episcopacy , appeared one or two months after Of Reformation. Defenders of episcopacy were relying on the writings of the post-Apostolic early church leaders, the "fathers." Milton insists that such patristic evidence is not only unreliable but also superfluous and even impious when set against the absolute authority of the Bible, which clearly makes no distinction between bishops and other ministers.

At this point Milton intervened directly in the controversy between his former tutor and the other Presbyterian ministers, on the one hand, and Bishop Hall, on the other. It seemed to him that his Presbyterian friends, while easily having the best of the argument on substantive grounds, were losing out rhetorically by ignoring Hall's pose of continuously condescending urbanity. He therefore produced a fiercely satiric attack on Hall titled Animadversions upon the Remonstrants Defence, against Smectymnuus (1641). Scholars have placed this pamphlet in a tradition of rough Puritan handling of bishops that goes back to the "Martin Marprelate" tracts of the 1590s.

Six or seven months later, in early 1642, Milton brought out another antiepiscopal pamphlet, The Reason of Church-Governement . This work includes one of the best-known passages in all of his prose: an account of his reasons for choosing not to become a clergyman, his motives for engaging in pamphleteering, and his poetic aspirations. This self-portrait is not as digressive as it may at first seem. The pamphlet's other feature of particular interest is its continued urging of the right of the average Protestant layperson to participate fully in the life of the church. Indeed, Milton now speaks in favor of tolerating the sectarian groups that, with the collapse of episcopal authority, were beginning to proliferate and that were already being viewed as heretical by the Presbyterians with whom he had thus far been allied. With this emphasis in mind, one can see the autobiographical passage as the tract's most developed celebration of lay dignity, a testimonial to the virtually unbounded capabilities of the regenerate Protestant once the episcopal shackles have been thrown off.

In his fifth and final antiprelatical pamphlet Milton was again entangled with Bishop Hall. Hall had published a reply to Milton's Animadversions, in response to which Milton brought out in April 1642 An Apology against a Pamphlet Call'd A Modest Confutation of the Animadversions upon the Remonstrant against Smectymnuus. This tract amplifies the self-portrait presented in The Reason of Church-Governement and offers biblical and classical justification for the vehemence of the satiric procedures in Animadversions.

About a month after the publication of the Apology, at a time when the Parliamentary and Royalist forces were maneuvering for position in the impending civil war, Milton married Mary Powell, the eldest daughter of an Oxfordshire gentry family that was in debt to Milton's father. The Powells were also Royalists, and one month after Milton returned to London with his new wife, she left him to go back to her family home in what was to be Royalist territory. For three years she would refuse to be reunited with her husband.

This calamity was the precipitating cause of Milton's next pamphlet, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce , published in August 1643. Here he advocates what was, at the time, an extremely radical idea: divorce for reasons of incompatibility of temperament. The biggest problem in constructing an argument in support of this position was that Jesus had seemed to prohibit divorce for any reason other than adultery. Milton was forced into ingenious maneuvers in scriptural interpretation: marriage had originally been instituted as a remedy for loneliness; Eve had been created and given to Adam as a source of full human companionship; sexual congress and procreation had been left as merely secondary purposes; under Old Testament Law, divorce had been permitted for "uncleanness," which, Milton claims, referred to the failure to fulfill this primary marital end of fullness of companionship. Since the New Testament is more charitable to legitimate human needs than the Old, Jesus's comments on divorce could not have been meant to overturn the Old Testament's concession to the human propensity to err. Instead, he was only rebuking the Pharisees, who had been abusing the Mosaic permission of divorce by granting it for frivolous reasons.

In February 1644 Milton published an expanded second edition of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce in which he availed himself of an analogy that apologists for the parliamentary struggle against the king had begun to use. They were likening Parliament's withdrawal of allegiance to the king, on the grounds that he had failed to perform his part in his implicit contract with the nation, to the right of a husband or wife to divorce if the other party to the marriage fails, by committing adultery, to perform her or his part in the marital contract. In the preface to the revised edition Milton stands this analogy on its head: if the nation may, in effect, divorce itself from an unfit monarch, as it was now doing, so may a man or woman be divorced from an unfit, incompatible wife or husband.

Milton's own fresh experience of marital travail is not far below the surface of this tissue of fine-spun reasoning. Although he is consistent enough to recognize that his proposed reform must apply to women as well as men, his portrayals of domestic unhappiness invariably show an idealistic husband whose quest for companionship is being frustrated by a grossly unfit wife. Such an emphasis has lent credibility to the views of those who regard Milton as a proponent of the subordination of women. The issue is complex, but the most thorough investigation to date of Milton's thinking on gender relations (by James Grantham Turner) shows that both of the traditions within which he was working, Protestantism and Renaissance humanism, were riddled with ambiguity and contradiction. Both insisted that women were inferior to men but then acknowledged that they ought to be treated as virtual equals. In Milton's writings such contradictions are intensified.

Milton's advocacy of divorce reform is one of the turning points in his intellectual development. His search for a remedy for his marital situation led him into a line of thought that identified him in the eyes of his former Presbyterian allies as heretical, for his public rhetorical response to his private crisis occurred just at the moment that a great divide was opening up in the antiepiscopal and anti-Royalist coalition between Presbyterians and moderates, on the one hand, and "Independents" and radicals, on the other. The primary aims of the former were to replace an Episcopalian national church with a Presbyterian one, under which a code of orthodoxy would be even more stringently enforced, and to prosecute the war against the king in such a way that the structure of traditional authority would remain in place. Many of those in the more radical group were inclined to wage the war against the king in the most vigorous fashion, to reduce to a minimum all authority in the church beyond the local level, and to tolerate and even welcome the flood of intellectual experimentation that the revolutionary crisis had let loose.

The moderates were quick to impute to the radicals all the worst irregularities--especially sexual ones--that had allegedly befouled that great cautionary precedent in the annals of Protestant extremism, the commune briefly established in the German city of Münster in the 1530s in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation. Milton's ideas on divorce were at once perceived within these ready-made categories: he was accused of advocating "divorce at pleasure." None of his subsequent efforts to demonstrate the unimpeachable Protestant sobriety of his position were of any avail against these stereotyped accusations. Milton learned that one of the leading lights of the Reformation, Martin Bucer, had written a treatise on divorce arguing a position quite similar to his own. He rushed his translation of Bucer's work into print in August 1644 with a preface triumphantly demanding that his detractors cease and desist from their wild charges of novelty and lewdness. He had his answer a week later, when a Presbyterian divine declared that Milton's "wicked book" on divorce was "deserving to be burnt."

Milton returned to the fray in March 1645 with Tetrachordon . Here he associates his argument more integrally with the Parliamentary case against the king. Parliament's spokesmen had begun to argue that all government was grounded in the "secondary law of nature," which God had framed after the Fall to facilitate the continuance of human life. Under this law, kingship would be a valid form of government as long as it fostered a modicum of civilized existence; once it ceased to do so, the same law provided equal warrant for the overthrow of kingship and its replacement with something better. Milton proceeds to argue that marriage is also a manifestation of the secondary law of nature. When marriage fails to serve its purpose of counteracting the Fall, divorce is the secondary law of nature's secondary remedy.

Simultaneously with Tetrachordon appeared Colasterion, which was occasioned by the only published reply to The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Colasterion consists principally of ridicule of the humble social origins of Milton's opponent. It thus forms part of what has been called "Milton's quest for respectability" in response to heresy baiting. But he remained a notorious figure. Those, such as Daniel Featley in Kατα-βαπτiσταi khατ'απτuστoi: The Dippers Dipt (1644), who were appalled at the direction in which the nation seemed to be heading would continue to list "a Tractate of Divorce, in which the bonds of matrimony are let loose to inordinate lust" among the books freely circulating that were espousing "many ... most damnable doctrines, tending to carnall liberty ... and a medley and hodg-podge of all Religions."

Featley does not mention anything by Milton as promoting a medley and hodgepodge of all religions; that honor he bestows on The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (1644), by Roger Williams . But he might have accused Milton of malfeasance in this regard as well. Only two of the pleas for toleration and liberty of conscience produced by the radical faction within the parliamentary and Puritan coalition were destined for lasting fame and influence: Williams's Bloudy Tenent and Areopagitica; a Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc'd Printing, To the Parliament of England published in November 1644. Areopagitica is not a component of a quest for respectability on Milton's part; it is, rather, an embrace of that very culture of emergent disrespectability in which he stood accused of participating.

The immediate issue to which Milton was responding was Parliament's Licensing Ordinance of June 1643. This legislation required, as had the Stuart regime's Star Chamber Decree of 1637, that no book or pamphlet be published without official approval. It amounted to an attempt on the part of the evolving revolutionary state apparatus to regain some sort of control over the nation's intellectual and cultural life, the traditional institutions and means of such control having disappeared in 1641 along with the other organs of the Stuart and episcopal regime. Like many others, Milton had not allowed the Licensing Ordinance to influence his conduct, not bothering to obtain the stipulated approval for The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Now he chose to defy the ordinance more flamboyantly: not only did he have his arguments against it published without permission but he also, by the way in which he constructed the title, made his responsibility for this insubordinate gesture an integral part of the gesture itself.

Milton offers many arguments against pre-publication censorship; the final and most important one is that censorship impedes the progress of truth. For centuries truth had been conceived of as something settled, a body of interrelated dogmas that, once properly apprehended, was no more capable of alteration than was the immutable God whose manifestation it was. Milton did not invent the alternative conception of truth he brings forward in Areopagitica; it had been gaining ground in radical Protestant circles for some time. But his is the most forceful exposition to that point of the idea that truth is not a thing at all but a process--that very process of untrammeled inquiry and debate that had been taking place since the rule of bishops and absolutist courtiers had been overthrown. Parliament should not fear and repress but should encourage and embrace, as the happiest of the many happy results of its policies, this splendid emergence of empowerment and articulation. Truth would be revealed in ever greater fullness only if such collective intellectual energy were permitted to be freely manifested in perpetuity.

By 1644 Milton had been tutoring his nephews for more than four years. An acquaintance who was devoted to educational reform urged him to make public his thoughts on this question. The result was Of Education , published in June 1644. In a well-known phrase that reflects the heady optimism of those early days of the revolution, Milton says that the purpose of education is "to repair the ruins of our first parents." Grounding his ideas in positive recollections of St. Paul's and negative ones of Cambridge, as well as in his own teaching practices, Milton proposes that the Scholastic abstractions that continue to dominate university education be replaced by a course of study in which students attain to knowledge of the abstract by way of the concrete and of the complex by way of the simple. The Fall is to be reversed by a curriculum based on a sense of reality.

For almost four years after the publication of his final divorce tracts in the spring of 1645 Milton wrote no more prose pamphlets. Sometime that year a reconciliation with his wife was effected. In 1646 Mary Powell Milton gave birth to a daughter, Anne, and in 1648 to a second daughter, Mary. At some point in the 1640s Milton began to have trouble with his eyesight. He probably began composing The History of Britain, That Part Especially Now Call'd England. From the First Traditional Beginning, Continu'd to the Norman Conquest. Collected out of the Antientist and Best Authors Thereof (1670) during these years and perhaps completed his grammar and logic textbooks and A Brief History of Moscovia (1682).

This period of renewed mental cultivation on Milton's part was also a period of dramatic developments in the political realm: the formation, at the instigation of the Independent and radical forces led by Oliver Cromwell, of an army that would fight the war more energetically; its victory over the Royalist forces; the deterioration of relations between the army and Parliament, along with efforts by the defeated king to turn these quarrels among his enemies to his own advantage; the king's resumption of the war and his immediate defeat. In the autumn and winter of 1648-1649 Parliament was purged by the army of its conservative and Presbyterian members. Charles was tried and, on 30 January 1649, put to death as a tyrant.

Within two weeks of the regicide, Milton was in print with The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates , written in rejoinder to the multitude of sermons and pamphlets by the Presbyterians denouncing the proceedings against the king. The presbyterians maintained that the army's coup d'état was illegal; the Bible and Protestant political thought commanded obedience to lawful authority. With the same emphasis on the inherent prerogatives of the ordinary person that had characterized his prose from the beginning, Milton responds with the contractual arguments he had used in his divorce pamphlets: the subject's allegiance to the king is conditional on the king's ruling justly; a failure to rule justly leaves the subject with the right conferred by his native human dignity to seek redress consistent with that dignity; if the injustice has been so flagrant as to amount to tyranny, he is justified in punishing the tyrant.

Milton also devotes himself to demonstrating that the Presbyterians' present position is opposed to their past actions: in their previous exhortations to resist the king, they had begun the process of punishing him that the army and High Court of Justice are only bringing to a logical conclusion. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, however, leaves the impression not of triumphant counterattack but of frustrated defense. The same charges of traitorous inconsistency are leveled again and again, suggesting that Milton senses that his trenchant reasoning and biting eloquence have not laid the opposition of the Presbyterians decisively to rest and betraying an uneasy awareness on Milton's part that the actions of the army and radical Independents had little support in the nation at large.

A month after the publication of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates Milton accepted an offer from the Council of State of the new English republic to be its secretary for foreign languages. His primary task would be composing and translating diplomatic correspondence, but he would also function as a propagandist for the government. He was at once ordered to begin working at the latter aspect of his new job: Charles I's representative in Ireland had concluded a treaty with the Irish Catholics and was negotiating with the Ulster Presbyterians, and there was a real danger that a potent Royalist coalition, devoted to placing the slain monarch's son, Prince Charles, on the throne of England, would be formed. Milton's endeavor to defuse this threat, "Observations on the Articles of Peace," was in print by mid May. His primary rhetorical strategy was to stress the Royalists' open alliance with Irish Catholics.

Milton's next official rhetorical chore immediately awaited him. Within days of the regicide there had appeared a book entitled Eiκων βασiλiκe [Eikon Basilike]: The Pourtraicture of His Sacred Maiestie in His Solitudes and Sufferings . This work proved to be the most spectacularly successful piece of propaganda of the seventeenth century. In every respect Eikon Basilike was masterfully calculated to play on traditional veneration for the monarch as a sanctified, quasi-divine figure and to stir up fears of the incalculable consequences that would be visited on the nation if substantial atonement--such as the acceptance of the martyred king's son as his successor--were not soon forthcoming.

Milton's answer, 'EIKONOKLA'ΣTEΣ [Eikonoklastes], was published in October 1649, but the battle was already over. Eikonoklastes is, indeed, devastatingly iconoclastic, demonstrating that Eikon Basilike is as deceptive a piece of sentimentality and theatricality as the verses, plays, and masques that were so central a feature of court life during Charles's reign. It was a hollow victory, however. In the context established by the posture of paternal magnanimity taken by Eikon Basilike, any vigorous refutation was bound to seem cruel--an impression Milton exacerbated by writing in tones of haughty contempt. In the second edition, published in 1650, this hauteur is combined with abuse of the English people for their foolishly fond reception of Eikon Basilike. Like the attacks on the presbyterians in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, the repetitiousness of this litany of denunciation testifies only to the writer's sense of political weakness, his inability to reduce the forces arrayed against him to manageable proportions.

The Commonwealth regime faced rhetorical assault in 1649 from yet another quarter. The eminent scholar Claudius Salmasius had been commissioned by Prince Charles to write something that would discredit the regicides in the court of educated European public opinion. The resulting Latin treatise, Defensio Regia, pro Carolo I (The Defense of King Charles I), was in print by November 1649. The Council of State delegated to its secretary for foreign languages the task of composing a reply. To Milton this was the opportunity of a lifetime. He had dedicated himself to learning, eloquent discourse, and the fight for liberty; he had hoped that the eloquent discourse would primarily take the form of poetry, but the exigencies of the fight for liberty seemed to be dictating otherwise. Here, at least, was a chance both to strike a blow for liberty and, given the stature of his opponent, attain the sort of intellectual fulfillment and glory to which he had always aspired. Despite a warning from his doctors that the effort of producing such a work would result in total blindness, he at once accepted the challenge.

Salmasius sets forth the familiar Royalist claim that a king is the father of his people and holds his office by divine right. The killing of a king, therefore, combines the worst of crimes: sacrilege and parricide. Salmasius also stresses that the regicide had been carried out by a small group of army officers and fanatics, with virtually no support from the nation as a whole. Milton's Latin answer, Joannis Miltoni Angli pro Populo Anglicano Defensio contra Claudii Anonyomi, aliàs Salmasii, Defensionem Regiam (The Defense of the People of England, by John Milton, Englishman, against the Defense of the King by Claudius Anonymous, Alias Salmasius), was published in February 1651. It repeats the arguments of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates about the conditional nature of all government, and it also makes use of the sort of ridicule that Milton had employed ten years before against Bishop Hall and that was a common feature of seventeenth-century polemics. To the charge of oligarchy Milton offers the response to which he would thenceforth stubbornly cling: that in politics the key categories are not majorities and minorities but virtue and merit; if it is only a minority that is prepared to act decisively on behalf of true political principles, so be it.

Milton's rhetorical victory over Salmasius was more complete than he had dared to hope. Throughout 1651 there were reports that his Defensio was being eagerly read and admired everywhere on the Continent. He had scored a smashing success not only for the Commonwealth but also for himself personally. Not until the summer of 1652 did there appear a Royalist reply of sufficient force to necessitate a rebuttal: the anonymously published Regii Sanguinis Clamor ad Colum adversus Parricidas Anglicanos (The Cry of the King's Blood to Heaven, against the English Parricides). Responding to Milton's ridicule of Salmasius, the work revives the heresy-mongering of the divorce controversy: small wonder, it said, that a demonic enemy of the family was also the foe of divinely constituted government.

Milton did not reply until May 1654. In Joannis Miltoni Angli pro Populo Anglicano Defensio Secunda (The Second Defense of the People of England, by John Milton, Englishman) he propounds once again the cases for regicide and rule by a meritocratic elite, offers an elegantly crafted autobiography, and vilifies the author of Regii Sanguinis Clamor ad Colum adversus Parricidas Anglicanos, whom he had come erroneously to believe was Alexander More, a Continental clergyman and professor. Defensio Secunda also includes panegyrics to Cromwell and other leaders of the revolution, not all of whom were in accord with one another by this time. It closes with a plea for liberty of conscience addressed to Cromwell, who the year before had dissolved the Commonwealth and established the quasi-monarchical Protectorate, and with advice for the entire nation to the effect that the fight for liberty will have been in vain if it is not henceforth accompanied by a recognition that liberty and a wholehearted commitment to virtue are one and the same thing. It has been argued that the defenses, especially the Defensio Secunda, should be regarded as the fulfillment in prose of Milton's epic ambitions, a narrative on the grand scale of a nation's unfinished struggle to transform itself.

But what had begun as high drama or epic, with national destinies and major intellectual reputations at stake, was about to conclude as farce. Milton had chosen to have the Defensio Secunda published exactly as he had written it, in spite of having received, in advance of publication, credible information that More had not written Regii Sanguinis Clamor ad Colum adversus Parricidas Anglicanos. In October 1654 More published a vindication of himself, protesting his innocence of the authorship of the earlier work, but Milton refused to budge. In August 1655 he brought out Joannis Miltoni pro Se Defensio contra Alexandrum Morum Ecclesiasten, Libelli Famosi, cui Titulus, Regii Sanguinis Clamor ad Colum adversus Parricidas Anglicanos, Authorem Rectè Dictum (The Defense of Himself by John Milton, Englishman, against the Clergyman Alexander More, Who Is Rightly Called the Author of an Infamous Libel Entitled The Cry of the King's Blood to Heaven, against the English Parricides), offering the lamest of justifications for continuing to regard More as the author of Regii Sanguinis Clamor ad Colum adversus Parricidas Anglicanos and reiterating his indictment of More's character.

In March 1651 Milton's wife had given birth to a son, John. In February 1652 the predictions of Milton's doctors about the consequences of his writing the first Defensio had been borne out: Milton had become entirely blind. In May a daughter, Deborah, had been born; three days later, Mary Powell Milton had died, and shortly thereafter the fifteen-month-old John Milton, Jr., was also dead.

In spite of his blindness, Milton continued until 1659 as secretary for foreign languages. By the sort of irony in which victorious revolutionaries almost inevitably become entangled, the author of Areopagitica was called on to be the government's licenser of printed materials. In 1651 he had approved the publication of the Racovian Catechism, the testament of faith of the Socinians of Poland, in which the Trinity was denied and other heresies were affirmed. From 1652 onward, others, Andrew Marvell and John Dryden among them, were employed alongside Milton.

Beginning in 1655, Milton had more leisure for the cultivation of his mind; he may have begun composing Paradise Lost at this time. Most scholars believe that he also began work in the mid 1650s on De Doctrina Christiana (Of Christian Doctrine), a Latin treatise in which he attempts to reconstruct Christian theology from the ground up. This work indicates Milton's agreement with the anti-Trinitarian heresy that he had permitted to be disseminated in the Racovian Catechism, and it indicates as well that he had become heterodox on other points. The manuscript for the work was lost at Milton's death and not recovered until the early nineteenth century. It was first published in 1825 and is now regarded as an aid to the understanding of Milton's major poems.

On 12 November 1656 Milton married Katherine Woodcock. Eleven months later a daughter, Katherine, was born. In February and March 1658, respectively, Milton's wife and baby daughter both died.

This abrupt termination of Milton's attempt to reconstitute his domestic life was followed in September 1658 by the first of the series of events that would lead to the unraveling of his political life: the death of Cromwell, who had been named Lord Protector of England in 1654. Cromwell had become king in all but name, and his rule had gravitated in a conservative direction, to the increasing dissatisfaction of many of those who had been associated with him in the days of the regicide and the Commonwealth. With his death, restraints on the open expression of these conflicts were removed, and within two years the monarchy would be restored.

Questions relating to the church had in the meantime come to the fore. In spite of objections propounded by Milton and other radicals, neither the Commonwealth nor the Protectorate governments had based their ecclesiastical policies on an unqualified affirmation of liberty of conscience. In 1654 procedures had been established for examining the credentials of candidates for the ministry and dismissing scandalous or incompetent incumbents. No provision was made for an official confession of faith, but clergymen were to continue to be paid by the state.

From Milton's point of view, it was bad enough that the concept of an established church had not been renounced. But matters had been made even worse by another recent development: a conference of leading Independent clergymen had drafted a confession of faith, the Savoy Declaration. The very existence of such a document, however tolerant, was objectionable to Milton: it could easily be used as a test of orthodoxy, inhibiting the free flow of speculation and discourse that Milton had commended in Areopagitica and in which he was probably engaged at the moment, if he was in fact working on De Doctrina Christiana.

In an effort to avert these dangers, in February 1659 Milton addressed to Parliament A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes , his first prose pamphlet in English in nine years. Writing in a relatively plain style, he offers a succinct argument for the separation of church and state. First, the Protestant faith is based on the Bible as understood by each individual believer. The only genuine faith is an inwardly persuaded, conscientious faith. No external power, therefore, can legitimately compel anyone to believe in any particular set of dogmas or form of worship. All church society is voluntary, and all church discipline is spiritual only. A wayward member of a particular church can be excommunicated but cannot be fined or imprisoned.

Moreover, state coercion in religion violates the essential nature of the New Testament. The difference between the New and Old Testament dispensations is precisely that Christ set regenerate believers free from the external ecclesiastical apparatus of the Old Testament, as well as from many other aspects of external authority. External law in matters of religion--set forms, places, times, and creeds--no longer applies. And if people are not now required to obey what God himself had once commanded, they certainly do not have to obey what mere human beings have later invented.

In August 1659 Milton dealt with the related question of the payment of clergy in Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church . The primary form of clerical maintenance in the Church of England was tithes, the requirement that parishioners yield up one-tenth of their incomes and resources for the support of parish priests. Demands for the reform or elimination of this practice had formed part of the debate about the church throughout the two decades of the revolution; in 1659 the issue continued to be energetically discussed, with radicals--including the Quakers, who had emerged in the 1650s as the distillation of everything that had been appalling conservatives since the early 1640s--arguing and petitioning once again for the abolition of tithes.

To Milton, tithes were profoundly incompatible with the essential nature of the Christian religion. Christ having abolished all aspects of the Old Testament state church, there was no further justification for a clerical caste in the pay of the state. What qualifies any given believer to preach and teach is not an education at one of the established universities but the inward prompting of the Holy Spirit. The requisite linguistic, theological, and historical knowledge can be obtained at relatively little expense by private study. The financial support of such an inspired minister can only come from the freely given contributions of those to whom he ministers, not from taxation. Moreover, such ministers should also be capable, like the Apostles, of pursuing some practical trade or craft, thus breaking the spiritually dangerous link between economic interest and ministerial practice.

Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church was addressed to a different Parliament than A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes had been, for during the intervening six months the conflict between conservatives and radicals had come to a head. In April the radicals in the army and Parliament had dissolved the conservative Parliament sitting at the time of A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes . They had then proceeded not only to depose Richard Cromwell, the son whom Oliver Cromwell had chosen to succeed him as lord protector, but also to bring the Protectorate to an end and recall the Parliament known as the Rump, which in 1649, after the ejection of the recalcitrant majority of the members of the Long Parliament, had carried out the trial and execution of Charles I. It was to the Rump that Milton offered his thoughts on questions of ecclesiastical economics.

But the Rump proved incapable of developing a stable ruling coalition. The dilemma remained the same as it had been all along: putting into practice the central republican principle of consent of the governed would mean the end of the republican regime. Various constitutional schemes were floated; most involved withholding the franchise from the great majority of the nation, which would, if given the opportunity, vote to bring back the monarchy.

By October the army and the Rump were at loggerheads as significant elements in the army began to suspect that the Rump was no longer fully committed to what was then being called "the good old cause." In the middle of the month the army forced the Rump to bring its deliberations to an end, and the nation was left without a legislative body. The situation had become desperate indeed if the few remaining radicals could no longer agree among themselves. Among the voices immediately contributing to the search for a way out of the impasse was that of Milton. On 20 October he dictated the brief "A Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth," condemning the army's coup and proposing that the crisis be resolved by the establishment of a senate based on two fundamental points: religious liberty for all conscientious Protestants and the denial of sovereignty to any "single person." The army would appoint the members of the senate, including as many members of the Rump as would agree to these two points. In stunning testimony to Milton's awareness that there was no hope of obtaining the consent of the governed for his or any other republican constitution, he proposed that senate membership be lifelong (he did not specify how a deceased senator was to be replaced). As a safeguard against the danger of oligarchy manifestly inherent in this scheme, he suggested a more consensually based system of county government.

"A Letter to a Friend" was not published during Milton's lifetime (it first appeared in a collection of his works edited by John Toland in 1698) and is of interest primarily because it contains the gist of the proposals that were more fully presented a few months later in his final, quixotically courageous pamphlet, The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660). The hopeless circumstances in which this work was published were primarily the result of the intervention of George Monck, the commander of the army in Scotland. Certain that the current situation of naked military rule was untenable, Monck brought pressure to bear for the renewed sitting of the Rump. In this move he was seconded by various other forces, particularly the City of London, where demands for a newly elected Parliament were also beginning to be heard. In the midst of these agitations of November and December, Milton composed "Proposalls of Certaine Expedients for the Preventing of a Civill War Now Feared, & the Settling of a Firme Government," essentially another manuscript draft for what was to become The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth , adding ideas for legal and educational reform on the local level. This work was also not published in Milton's lifetime (it first appeared in volume eighteen of The Works of John Milton, 1931-1938).

The Rump was restored in late December, but it immediately had to cope with two ominous developments: Monck's decision, unbidden by it, to march his army from Scotland to London; and demands for new parliamentary elections that were increasing daily in volume and intensity from all over England. By early February 1660 Monck and his army were in London. A few days later Monck sent the Rump an ultimatum demanding that it make itself a more genuinely representative body by holding elections to fill its vacant seats, many of which had remained empty since the expulsion in 1648 of the members opposed to any proceedings against Charles I.

This demand amounted to a declaration on Monck's part that he wanted the monarchy restored. The Rump made one last show of resistance, drawing up restrictions on who was eligible to run for office that would have ensured that no supporters of a restoration would have become members. Monck thereupon forced the readmission of enough of the presbyterian members who had been expelled in 1648 to constitute a majority of the body. Parliament thus became a reasonable facsimile of the pre-1649 Long Parliament, which had never wanted to do away with the monarchy in the first place. The restrictive qualifications on candidacy for a new Parliament were at once abolished, and preparations began to be made to hold elections for a Parliament that would have the nation's mandate to invite Prince Charles to occupy the throne as Charles II.

The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth was published in two editions. The first was written during the brief interval in February when the Rump had promulgated its restrictive electoral qualifications. Thus, the way was apparently "readie and easie" for the implementation of the scheme Milton had concocted the previous autumn. Reconstituted by the elections that were about to take place, the Rump could simply establish itself as Milton's perpetual senate. By the time the tract was published, however, the situation had completely changed, as Milton acknowledges in a prefatory paragraph. With a majority of Parliament hostile to the republican enterprise, the restoration of monarchy was inevitable; the idea of a ready and easy stabilizing of republican rule had become unrealistic, as Milton must have realized on some level.

Indeed, he almost certainly realized it while he was composing the pamphlet, before events had turned decisively in the direction of a restoration. The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth alternates between ostentatiously calm descriptions of its proposed constitutional settlement and sprawling passages of prophetic denunciation of the popular clamor for monarchy. It is the passages of prophetic rage that have the last word. As in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and Eikonoklastes, the reader is left with the impression that the forces hell-bent on a restoration are too strong to be held in check, despite the strenuous efforts of the most distinguished rhetorical champion of English republicanism. Milton brings his part in the fight for liberty to conclusion and climax by representing himself as going down fighting for liberty.

He had not quite finished fighting for it, however. It was probably a few days after the first edition of The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth was published that he drafted a letter to General Monck, "The Present Means, and Brief Delineation of a Free Comonwealth," (first published in the 1698 collection), suggesting a procedure for organizing the forthcoming elections so as to guarantee a republican result. His suggestions were ignored, and by the latter part of March 1660 the elections were in progress. Also by this time the writing and dissemination of arguments against monarchy had become dangerous. The bookseller of the first edition of The Readie & Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth was arrested on 27 March. Milton nevertheless published a revised and expanded second edition, perhaps in an attempt, which he had to have realized was doomed, to influence the outcome of the elections. The tone and structure of the first edition are retained and intensified. Milton speaks as an even more impassioned biblical prophet, crying woe upon a backsliding, degenerate nation that is refusing to listen.

There was one additional minor episode in Milton's revolutionary prose career, Brief Notes upon a Late Sermon, Titl'd, The Fear of God and the King published sometime before 20 April 1660 in reply to a prematurely exultant welcoming of the Restoration by an Episcopalian divine. Milton desperately proposes that if a king cannot be avoided, let it be General Monck himself.

But the king who was not to be avoided would be Charles II. The proud defender of regicide had good reason to fear retribution at the hands of the new government, and he went into hiding. The recently passed Act of Indemnity and Oblivion granted pardon for actions committed during the previous twenty years that the restored monarchy regarded as crimes, but some were excepted from its provisions: along with those directly involved in the regicide, twenty additional men would be singled out as meriting punishment.

In June 1660, as the identity of the twenty marked men was being debated, Parliament issued an order for the arrest of Milton and the public burning of Eikonoklastes and the first Defensio. Milton's name was brought up as the twentieth and last man on the list, but nobody seconded the motion, and the list was completed with another name. It is thought that among those interceding on Milton's behalf was Marvell, his former colleague in the work of the office of the secretary for foreign languages and at this time a member of Parliament. Milton came out of hiding, and within a few months, probably in November 1660, the order for his arrest was carried out. He petitioned for pardon under the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion; the petition was granted, and in mid December he was released. One hostile member of Parliament remarked in the course of the proceedings that, as far as he was concerned, Milton deserved hanging.

The remainder of Milton's life was, for the most part, lived out of the public eye. On 24 February 1663 he married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull. There was apparently bad feeling between Milton and his new wife, on the one hand, and at least some of his daughters, on the other.

Apart from such domestic difficulties, Milton could devote himself to the private cultivation of his mind. The exact periods of composition of those of his works that remained to be created and published remain uncertain, but he did not confine himself to poetry. Paradise Lost was published in 1667, Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes together in 1671. He may have continued working on De Doctrina Christiana, and he almost certainly made final changes in The History of Britain, which he had begun in the 1640s and which was published in 1670. This chronicle of the rise and fall of chieftains and kings is probably intended as covert commentary on the failure of the revolution, as the narrative points toward the Norman Conquest as a national punishment analogous to the Restoration.

In the last years of his life and first few years after his death several of Milton's old manuscripts were published: in 1669 Accedence Commenc't Grammar, a textbook probably written in the 1640s when he was teaching his nephews; in 1672 the Artis Logicæ Plenior (Art of Logic), another textbook from the same period; in 1674 the Cambridge school exercises, the Prolusiones, in a volume of his letters; in 1681 the Character of the Long Parliament, an indictment of the conservative forces in the revolutionary coalition that was intended to be inserted in The History of Britain and is believed to have been composed in the late 1640s; and in 1682 A Brief History of Moscovia, a geographical and historical survey probably also written in the 1640s for pedagogical purposes.

Milton wrote two additional prose works during his last years. In 1673 he brought out a pamphlet, Of True Religion, Hæresie, Schism, Toleration, and What Best Means May Be Us'd against the Growth of Popery, on the issue that had always most centrally concerned him: liberty of conscience. In 1672 Charles II had attempted to grant to Roman Catholics, and incidentally to former Puritans as well, some relief from the coercive Restoration ecclesiastical settlement. But a "no Popery" agitation had immediately erupted, and during its meeting of February and March 1673 Parliament annulled Charles's proclamation. Parliament also proceeded, however, to debate a bill that would have significantly widened liberty of conscience for the former Puritans, who were known by this time as Nonconformists. Of True Religion was Milton's attempt to influence this legislative situation. It repeats the arguments from A Treatise of Civil Power, stressing, in view of the widespread hostility to Roman Catholicism, the argument that liberty of conscience is virtually the defining characteristic of Protestantism. Milton also hoped to convince Parliament to alter the bill so that toleration would be more widely extended, even to those who denied the Trinity. Finally, A Declaration, or Letters Patents of the Election of This Present King of Poland John the Third (1674) was perhaps intended, by its portrayal of an elected as opposed to a hereditary monarch, as another piece of oblique political commentary.

Milton's prose is not Milton's poetry. On the other hand, Milton's poetry would not have been what it became without Milton's prose, and scholars are no longer inclined to dismiss the prose as a subtraction from a larger body of poetry that might have been. With the preference since the 1970s for a more historically informed literary criticism there has been increasing fascination with the idea that a figure long accounted England's second-greatest poet (after William Shakespeare ) placed himself, during the prime of his life, near the center of a series of historical events that played an important part in the emergence of the modern world. Milton's prose writings are intensely interesting because the English Revolution is intensely interesting.

Such an approach has consequences for perceptions of Milton's poetry as well. Between 1641 and 1660 Milton developed a set of political principles and commitments. He also came to appreciate the unfolding, dynamic nature of history in general and to understand the history of his own time in particular as a major turning point. What he had distilled from his political and historical experience he poured into the major poems that he wrote after gaining this experience. Especially in Paradise Lost he mobilized all the resources of ancient Western wisdom to meditate more effectively on the overall course of human historical development as it had unfolded into, and would continue to unfold into, the modern world. A faith in humanity's power to shape its own historical destiny has never been more movingly portrayed than in the concluding lines of Paradise Lost. There, in spite of a record of failure and defeat that would extend from the Fall to the calamitous events of 1660 and beyond, the representatives of the human race set forth into a world that continues to lie all before them, open to their initiatives and efforts.

In November 1674 John Milton died of the gout, from which he had been suffering for several years. As a poet he had achieved all that he had hoped to achieve, and more. As a prose writer, his best epitaph is perhaps the closing words of one of his last pamphlets: "I in the mean while have borne my witnes not out of season to the church and to my countrey."


Milton materials are scattered around the world, but most of the important collections of manuscripts and early printed editions are in Britain and the United States. In Britain, the important depositories are the British Library in London, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and the Trinity College Library in Cambridge. In the United States the important depositories are the New York Public Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Yale University Libraries, the University of Kentucky Libraries, the Columbia University Library, the Union Theological Seminary Library, the University of Illinois Library, and the Princeton University Library.




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Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200006292