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John Milton

John Milton: The Self and the World

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 368
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    John Milton
    Book Description:

    The facts of John Milton's life are well documented, but what of the person Milton -- the man whose poetic and prose works have been deeply influential and are still the subject of opposing readings? John Shawcross's "different" biography depicts the man against a psychological backdrop that brings into relief who he was -- in his works and from his works.

    While the theories of Freud, Lacan, Kohut, and others underlie this pursuit of Milton's "self," Jung and some of his followers provide the basic understanding by which Shawcross places Milton in the panorama of history. His explorations of the psychological underpinnings of Milton's decision to become a poet, of the homoerotic dimensions of his personality, and of his relationships with father and mother demonstrate the extent to which psychobiography proves itself invaluable as a means to appreciate this complex writer and his complex writings.

    This biography combines the traditional chronological narrative with a technique akin to that of fiction, "a mixture of times and a triggering of remembrances from various time frames without time differentiations." Such an approach offers a view of Milton "not only in being but in process of being."

    Shawcross's examination of two current concerns, gender attitudes and political ideologies, ranges Milton's work against the self he exhibits. Specialists and nonspecialists alike will find in this magisterial biography a wealth of new insight into one of the greatest of English poets.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5791-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The Roots of Being: Some Problems in Milton’s Biography
    (pp. 1-15)

    Problems still loom large over a biography that is so much more replete than that of comparable writers of the age, such as Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, or Marvell, or anyone else from those more than a hundred years. So much is known about the biography of John Milton that attention has narrowed to details: Did he die before or after midnight on November 8/9, 1674? WasThe Reason of Church-Governmentpublished in January or February 1642? When did he live on Jewin Street, early 1661 through sometime in 1669? Was his sister Anne alive when he returned from the Continent...

  5. 2 A Biographical and Literary Overview to 1645
    (pp. 16-32)

    John Milton is one of the world’s foremost writers, largely as author ofParadise Lostand other poems and ofAreopagitica,his tract arguing against prepublication censorship, as well as other prose works influential in the development of republicanism in England, the United States, and France. His presence can be felt in educational theory and reform, in the arguments for the separation of church and state, in religious toleration of schismatic or dissenting sects, in the need for accountability of political leaders and for control of government in the hands of the people, and in arguments for divorce on the...

  6. 3 The Lady of Christ’s
    (pp. 33-60)

    At the conclusion of “Epitaphium Damonis,” the Latin elegy on the death of his friend Charles Diodati, Milton makes a curious pagan-Christian collocation. Of Diodati’s apotheosis he writes: “You, encircled around your glorious head with a shining crown / and riding in happy bowers entwined with palm leaves, / shall pursue eternally the immortal marriage / where song and mingled lyre rage with blessed dances, / and festal orgies revel under the thyrsus of Sion” (11. 215-19).¹ Diodati, now an angel of pure air (11. 203-4), is haloed and resident in the happy bowers of Paradise. Earthly bowers of bliss...

  7. 4 Decision to Become a Poet
    (pp. 61-70)

    A number of years ago William Riley Parker noted the “legend” that “Milton’s life was preternaturally consistent: that he knew early what he intended to do, set about it simply and directly, never swerved from his determined course, and died with every item on his mental list neatly ticked off as completed.”¹ Unrealistic though this theory is, it has encompassed the basic commentary on Milton’s decision to become a poet by occupation, as distinguished from the schoolboy writer of verse. Even the cautious statement of Merritt Y. Hughes is based on this theory: “Long before he took his degree, however,...

  8. 5 Preparations
    (pp. 71-92)

    Upon deciding to emulate the great poets of all nations, Milton embarked upon a threefold program to be fit: he began a notebook of poetic writing, both improving some items of the past and recording “contemporary” poems; he set up a notebook oftopoidrawn from his extensive reading with an eye to possible future use in the great literature envisioned; and he embarked on a sojourn abroad from around April 1638 to August 1639. The poetic notebook, the Trinity MS, was later also to record possible subjects for his writing—dramas in most cases—and some outlines, usually in...

  9. 6 The Left Hand and the Great Purpose
    (pp. 93-107)

    Since at least the publication in 1895 of the little piece by A.W. Verity on “Milton’s Great Purpose,” appended to his edition of the sonnets,¹ it has been commonplace to consider the writing of a great poem John Milton’s major objective in life. Increasingly, however, the prose works have been looked upon as a fulfillment of urges to write great literature and to educate men in the ways of God. E.M.W. Tillyard stated the attitude most directly: “It is usually thought that Milton’s early ambition was to be a poet; that the prose works were undertaken entirely against his performance...

  10. 7 Education as Means
    (pp. 108-127)

    The prose works of John Milton have often been dismissed or vilified because of his argument against monarchy, his defense of the Cromwellian government, his championing of divorce, and his rebuttal of Charles I (or rather, ofEikon Basilike,supposedly written by Charles). In the seventeenth century itself we have Joseph Addison (1694) advancing praise of Milton’s poetry and dismay at some of the prose:

    But when, with eager step, from hence I rise,

    And view the first gay scenes ofParadise;

    What tongue, what words of rapture can express

    A vision so profuse of pleasantness.

    Oh had the poet...

  11. 8 Covenant: Sacred and Profaned
    (pp. 128-142)

    The first seven chapters of this different biography have proceeded somewhat chronologically from Milton’s earlier life to the time when his great purpose was being enacted. But they have also shot ahead to consider that purpose through an overview of his accomplishments and thus to suggest a readjustment in fact of that purpose. Ahead will be considerations, on the one hand, of his thinking, his beliefs, his personal self, and, on the other, his further achievements, again taken up somewhat chronologically. When dealing with a creative artist, a biographer—or even a kind of biographer—should probably stress certain works,...

  12. 9 Moves toward the Great Purpose
    (pp. 143-162)

    The form that Milton’s writing would take during 1639-40 was a historical poem, one, for the most part, involving materials of an Arthuriad. In “Mansus,” written while abroad in 1639, Milton contemplated such a poem, and in “Epitaphium Damonis,” written probably toward the end of 1639,’ he talks of having made an attempt at it. In fact this contemplated poem may constitute his life work (line 168), or once finished, he may be able to compose a quite different work on British themes. Perhaps the discouragement he felt in not being able to produce worthwhile poetry at this time caused...

  13. 10 A Biographical and Literary Overview to 1674
    (pp. 163-174)

    The years immediately after 1645 saw Milton immersed in his own study and writing, partially as a reaction against the hurt and anger felt over being cast as a “divorcer” with that label’s moral and irreligious connotations. The public figure involved in controversy receded to the private world of tutoring and poetry and “educational” writing. From all accounts he had progressed somewhat in composing what becameParadise Lost, whether as a single dramatic work along the lines of a morality or as a number of dramatic works, as Allan Gilbert argued, to be combined later into a major creation, at...

  14. 11 Interferences of the Self
    (pp. 175-192)

    One of the interferences between Milton’s self and his world—and I do not imply anything negative by the word “interference”—lies in the influence of his mother, an almost nonexistent figure in his biographies except for the question of her name before marriage and except for slight mention of her relatives—such as William Blackborough, who would have been part of Milton’s extended family. Indeed, little has been investigated about Milton’s extended family, even by Parker. The reader’s own experience will suggest the importance of Milton’s extended family to him and his life. His extended family, for example, included...

  15. 12 The Personal World: Man and Woman
    (pp. 193-212)

    The motif of Adam and Eve hand in hand is a major one inParadise Lost,as we all know. They are introduced into the poem in Book IV at line 288: “Two of far nobler shape erect and tall, /Godlike erect, with native Honour clad /In naked Majestie seemd Lords of all” (288-90). Thirty-three lines later—and we remember the significance of that number in Gunnar Qvarnstrom’s investigation of the poem¹—we read: “So hand in hand they pass’d, the loveliest pair / That ever since in loves imbraces met” (321-22). The phrase indicates both their individuality and their...

  16. 13 Further Interferences of the Self
    (pp. 213-232)

    Some of the manifestations of the self that Milton exhibits in the years between 1641 and 1660 are the aims of correcting conceived wrongs or wrong thinking, repression of hopes and desires, and the idealism that one can create a lasting political and social world that will only reflect change, not be changed. These are manifestations of a mother-fixation, as Chapter 11 has outlined it. Corrections of conceited wrongs or wrong thinking emerge, as numerous biographical and critical examinations of this period attest, first in the antiprelatical tracts (1641-42), which attack church administration rather than religion itself. The rejection of...

  17. 14 The Political Dimension
    (pp. 233-246)

    The most obvious interference in Milton’s working on and completing his intended great bid for fame, the one most readily cited, was his governmental service as Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State from March 1649 through October 1659. The burden of Chapter 6 here has been that the achievement ofDefensio primaandDefensio secunda,if not his other governmentally connected prose, refocussed that great bid for fame and satisfied it through instruments of education against the antichrists of the world and toward the achievement of salvation when each human’s Book of Life will be read at...

  18. 15 The Religious Precept
    (pp. 247-259)

    Ask someone what Milton’s religion was and the immediate answer will be “Puritan.” Just what a Puritan was is confused, of course, and has frequently been the subject of historical study that has pointed out the “purifying” etymology of the name. Puritans were people who wished to remove such traces of Roman Catholicism remaining in the new state church, the Anglican church as it was soon to be called, as vestment, kneeling, certain rituals, and hierarchic positions that persisted between the Godhead and the believer. The Puritan was Calvinist, but just how extreme or liberal his attitude was concerning election,...

  19. 16 The Bible
    (pp. 260-271)

    Milton is the English author most generally acknowledged as the greatest religious poet. That opinion rests for most people on his masterworkParadise Lost.What is implied is, first, the subject matter; second, the scriptural foundation and quotation of the poem; and third, the sense of religiosity imbued by it. Indeed, many people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seemed to learn the substance of the Bible from the poem, often confusing the two. The archangel Uriel, for instance, who does not appear in the Bible but owes his being to Hebraic tradition, has a very important role in the...

  20. 17 Milton and 1674
    (pp. 272-280)

    He was only sixty-five, an age many of us can look forward to as our removal to Sarasota or Coronado or Woodstock, Vermont. He had not even reached the promised biblical age of three score and ten or come close to the symbolic full life of a hundred days which he alluded to in “when I consider how my light is spent.” He was living in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, where he had been since around 1669, about nine or ten blocks from where he had been born on Bread Street and even nearer to five other locations where he...

  21. APPENDIX A: The Commonplace Book
    (pp. 281-284)
  22. APPENDIX B: Languages in the Commonplace Book
    (pp. 285-288)
  23. APPENDIX C: Dating of the Plans
    (pp. 289-294)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 295-343)
  25. Index
    (pp. 344-360)