Monday, August 12, 2013

Clay Daniel: “Restoration Lost”

Clay Daniel

Restoration Lost: Milton’s Epic Pre-emption

1> An often overlooked question about Paradise Lost concerns the non-impact on the poem of the monarchical restoration.[1] Few readers, not knowing the poem's historical context or the few confessional lines at the start of Book Seven, would discern the poem’s traumatic political contexts, the final collapse of a Cause and the imprisonment and near execution of its most eloquent defender, John Milton. There is no radical disjuncture between the books written before and after the monarchy’s restoration. Furthermore, no substantial evidence suggests that the poet revised his “easy . . . unpremeditated Verse” (9.24) which he believed to be given to him by the Holy Spirit. Even after his narrow escape, he sang, or was milked, "unchanged" (Paradise Lost 7.24).[2] Yet, in light of a revolution that would seem to have indicated a profound misreading of the divine agenda, this refusal to change one’s mind would appear to have been a profound error. Why wasn’t it? The old standard answer, the poem if not the Restoration Milton is apolitical, clearly is wrong. Many of the scholars who have established the poem’s political contexts have also pointed out that “long before 1660 Milton had to face the fact that God’s kingdom was not to be established in England yet” (Hill, Milton and the English Revolution 347). Hill locates political disaster in the 1650s, contrasting this period with “the heights of 1644 and 1649-50” (Milton and the English Revolution 390). Others, citing the History of Britain and its MS Digression, have argued that Milton’s intense political skepticism had certainly developed by the late 1640s (von Maltzahn). And for still others, his “interest in probing history to reveal the causes of national and ecclesiastical failure was . . . already manifested in his first polemical work” (Loewenstein 94).

2> Milton’s skepticism points to one answer to why the monarchical restoration did not substantively change Paradise Lost. The poem does not have to react to the monarchical restoration because the poet anticipates and even creates it in his epic. An urgent, contemporary political message coheres in the poem’s biblical-epic narrative.[3] Courtly and often regal devils, the leaders of a military force that could only have been defeated by God in a celestial civil war, successfully plot to establish a monarchy by subverting a “happy state” (5.536) that had been newly created in the wake of their fall for those “less / In power and excellence but favoured more” by God (2.349-50). The broad message of this epic sequence is that just as the devils must escape from hell and reestablish a monarchy on earth, so the British royalists, vanquished by God and his faithful, will return to reestablish the monarchy in England. A monarchical restoration, then, is a predetermined event within the epic’s narrative of the fall of man and its consequences, a post-lapsarian world where it is human nature to lose paradise, whatever shape that paradise attempts to take. But the epic not only foretells the restoration of a monarchy because of the sinfulness of generic man. It suggests the imminent restoration of the British monarchies because of the national vice(s) that Milton had cited in his political tracts: an appetite for “luxury” that can be acquired through the violence of empire. This is most evident in Books One and Two (composed before the Restoration) and Books Eleven and Twelve (composed after), which advance mutually confirming political arguments that tend to recast the warnings of monarchical restoration that appear in Milton’s polemics of the 1650s. The intervening books too anticipate Restoration cultural configurations---and of course those of the long eighteenth-century, the Romantic rebellions, and Victorianism, as Milton writes the most influential poem of the next 250 years. I will look at these books as reinforcing Milton’s preemptive attack on the Restoration’s courtly sexual ethic. Finally, as I examine the poem’s contemporary political messages, I will attempt to explain why, whatever their tensions and conflicts, they appear with the tranquil sublimity that for centuries has deluded readers into thinking that Milton’s justification of God’s ways lacked any connection with the tumultuous political world of 1640-1660/66.

A Brief Context

3> A very possible consequence of Milton’s well-documented political skepticism has not been recognized: his long awareness of a probable if not inevitable monarchical restoration and its impact on his epic. As early as February 1649 he had publicly warned against “doubling divines” and the rest of those “who of late so much blame Deposing [Charles I] . . . the Men that did it themselves.” Milton alerts his readers to “an old and perfet enemy” who will execute his “destind revenge upon them, when they have servd his purposes”: “Let them, feare therefore if they be wise . . . and be warn’d in time they put no confidence in Princes whom they have provok’d, lest they be added to the example of those that miserably have tasted the event” (Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 3: 189, 198, 238-39).[4] Even Milton’s triumphant Defenses hammer away at this theme. Milton “farr from being concern’d in the corrupt designs of his Masters . . . in very solemn Perorations at the close of those Books [the Defenses] . . . little less than Prophetically, denounc’d the Punishments due to the abusers of that Specious name” of “Liberty” (Darbishire 30). This is from the anonymous biography of Milton that was probably written by John Phillips. If so, Phillips’ insistence that Milton prophesies (a strong word) a republican collapse was perhaps based not only on expedient hindsight but on a close knowledge of his uncle’s private political assessments.

4> Whether or not his Defenses actually prophesy a restoration, these works clearly reveal Milton’s skepticism about establishing a republic in a land of saints whose beckoning idols are “self-seeking, greed, luxury, and the seductions of success” (First Defense [February 1651] 4.1: 535) and “avarice, ambition, and luxury” (Second Defense [March 1654] 4.1: 684). Warning the mercenary English “there will not be lacking one who will shortly wrench from you, even without weapons, that liberty” won on the battlefield, Milton explains,

Unless you be victors here [in the virtues of peace], that enemy and tyrant whom you have just now defeated in the field has either not been conquered at all or has been conquered in vain. For if the ability to devise the cleverest means of putting vast sums of money into the treasury, the power readily to equip land and sea forces, to deal shrewdly with ambassadors from abroad, and to contract judicious alliances and treaties has seemed to any of you greater, wiser, and more useful to the state than to administer incorrupt justice to the people, to help those cruelly harassed and oppressed, and to render every man promptly his own deserts, too late will you discover how mistaken you have been, when those great affairs have suddenly betrayed you . . . .” (Second Defense 4.1: 680-81).[5]

5> The dim hopes here that the English will retain their republic is apparent in Milton’s address to England’s liberators. These no longer include those whom Milton previously had credited with having performed “it themselves,” the numerous and influential Presbyterians and their affiliates, whose political turbulence, in England and Scotland, had been essential to the political reforms that had occurred in 1640-42 and did not occur in 1642-60.[6] Where the First Defense shifts its praise from the English people to the English republicans, the praise in the Second Defense seemingly dwindles from republicans to republican or at least quasi/anti-republican: “Cromwell, we are deserted! You alone remain. On you has fallen the whole burden of our affairs. On you alone they depend” (Second Defense, 4.1:674-78, 671). For Milton, Cromwell’s dismissal of the Rump and his movements toward creating a Protectorate seem to have been more than compensated by his status as God’s Englishman. The invincible general represented the best hope that the English would have the opportunity to develop a republic under divine sponsorship (Second Defense, 4.1:536, 550, 557-58). And his death in September 1658, perhaps, prompts Milton, his life’s political wisdom having taken a definitive shape, to write his epic before it was too late.[7] But no single person ---“not even Cromwell himself, nor a whole tribe of liberating Brutuses” (4.1: 682)---can successfully establish a republic. A republic must be created by a sufficient number of virtuous citizens. Consequently, Milton lectures on the political consequences of self-enslavement, especially to the vice of “luxury”: “Unless you expel avarice, ambition, and luxury from your minds, yes, and extravagance from your families as well, you will find at home and within that tyrant who, you believed, was to be sought abroad in the field---now even more stubborn” (Second Defense, 4.1: 680; 684).

6> This insistence that political liberty depends upon spiritual liberty explains Milton’s last, final hope that his Cause would survive and eventually prosper: Milton himself. Englishmen make good soldiers, but Milton apparently saw no one in whom he could recognize a worthy comrade in the pre-determining spiritual wars. Even before the Second Defense had been published, Milton had failed “to support . . . the Saints in their stand for those state principles he believed in most passionately” (4.1: 242). Milton’s cultural isolation is explicitly announced in the Defensio Pro Se (August 1655). Disregarding several defenses of the commonwealth (4.2: 698n), Milton declares, “. . . for me, it appears, for me alone, it remains to fight the rest of this war” (4.2: 698). Anticipating the comments in the anonymous biography, Milton writes, “I foresaw even then [1649], Englishmen, that your war with the enemy would not be long, but that mine with the fugitives and their hirelings would be almost endless” (4.2: 698). The acerbity of this comment is disguised by the implication that “Englishmen” refers to those who had physically resisted the King, and that Milton now engages against royalism in a different, intellectual and spiritual, warfare. Yet it remains a deeply pessimistic comment on a people that, according to Milton, lacked the ability “to govern justlie and prudently in peace” (MS Digression, 5: 451).

7> And then there were none. After announcing his role as his republic’s chief hope, Milton’s public activity apparently ceases for nearly three years. By 1657, Milton was maintaining “very few intimacies with the men in favor, since” he remained “at home most of the time, and by choice” (“Letter to Peter Heimbach” French 4: 89-90). In October 1658, he republishes his Defensio, adding the concluding claim that, like Cicero, he too could swear “that by his efforts alone he had saved the city and the state [presumably from monarchical restoration]” (4.1: 536). But a year later (October 1659), he writes that his support for the commonwealth had been reduced to his “prayers for them that govern” since neither “God or the publick required” his services (7: 324).[8] And, in this same “Letter to a Friend,” Milton observes that the restitution of the “not blameless” Rump Parliament required divine aid “when so great a part of the nation were desperately conspir’d to call back again the Egyptian bondage” (7: 325), which echoes the solemn warning that concludes his Likeliest Means (7: 320-21).[9]

8> Though he had published his Treatise on Civil Power in February 1659, and his Likeliest Means in August 1659, it was not until February 1660 with his Ready and Easie Way that Milton resumed the battle against a monarchical restoration that was then imminent. This work appears to many readers to have been composed by someone who was blind to political reality. Nevertheless, the tract, for other readers, seems to be written by one who was fully aware that if a republic had not been established in 1649, or 1653, or 1655, or 1658, it certainly was not going suddenly to materialize in 1660. Milton earlier had failed to contribute to, or to create, a public discussion on establishing a permanent basis for an enduring commonwealth because, I suggest, he had long recognized that such an establishment was highly improbable. And the Ready and Easie Way, rather than a hopeful blueprint for a flourishing commonwealth, is a “self conscious performance” (Knoppers, “Milton’s The Readie and Easie Way 224). The tract not only acts as a literary monument to the already cold corpse of the English republic but, more importantly, is an early and deft configuration of the imminent new monarchy. And this rhetoric recurs in his Brief Notes (March 1660):

But that a victorious people should give themselves again to the vanquishd, was never yet heard of; seems rather void of all reason and good policie, and will in all probabilitie subject the subduers to the subdu'd, will expose to revenge, to beggarie, to ruin and perpetual bondage the victors under the vanquishd: then which what can be more unworthie?" (Brief Notes upon a Late Sermon 7: 482).

9> This "most surprising” passage (7:482n), at odds with Milton’s arguments that “Regal prodigalite” creates a “people, wealthy indeed perhaps and wel-fleec’t” (Readie and Easie Way, 7:384), nevertheless nicely summarizes his epic that he was then writing.[10]

Books One and Two & Eleven and Twelve

10> As the poem begins, the throngs that heed Satan’s call to restoration reveal why the devils, like British royalists, are “not lost / In loss itself” (1.525-26). Out of the thick, fast complexities of Hell’s royal images, at least one lean, clear political message coheres: losers to God repeatedly subvert God’s people by manipulating the epic activities of love and war---“lust hard by hate” (1.417). Not a devil marches out of the rich, complex tradition of Christian demonology but is identified either with the appetite for luxury that motivates the acquisition of empire or with the violence that actually acquires it. And these devils, sometimes tediously and often singularly, are consistently defined within political/imperial contexts that represent them as adept at incorporating God’s people into this scheme.[11] Additionally, unlike with its biblical antecedents, this scheme accords with Milton’s anti-monarchical arguments that the loss of liberty will generate immense wealth for the seduced nation, as it indeed will for a Britain set to burgeon into an empire.

11> Moloch, literally “king,” leads the procession of devils, a “horrid king besmeared with blood” (1.392) whose villainy is disguised by “the noise of drums” (1.394). “First Moloch” (1.392) evokes Charles the First in his guise as the Man of Blood, source of the war in which England devoured her own children and yet the idol that even in the 1650s was often seen as leading the procession back to Egypt (Potter 243). “First Moloch” also suggests an inevitable “Second Moloch,” the man of flesh who was being identified in the late 1650s as the essential player in the scheme for an imperial “government of and for trade” (Hoxby 91; Chapter 3, “The King of Trade”). Moloch’s mighty empire is defeated by David (1.397-99n), but the defeated devil will seduce the perennial embodiment of kingly wisdom Solomon (1.401-02). A violent King (Moloch), defeated by violence, is restored by his exploiting the vice of luxury to corrupt his victors---an interesting message indeed in 1658. Ironically (especially from Milton’s perspective), when Charles II could be legally celebrated in 1660, Solomon was frequently cited by “mercantile writers” as “a biblical exemplar of the sort of king they wished Charles II to become” (Hoxby 165). The Second Triumphal Arch, through which Charles II passed in his coronation procession, hailed him as a Solomon for his commitment to imperial trade (99). And royalist panegyrists were soon to consolidate this identification because of the new king’s many mistresses. Milton uncannily anticipates, and attempts to subvert, this identification. Within a political context, the lusts of the flesh (concupiscence) and of the eye (“vanity”) were commonly seen as pillars of the luxury that perverts public virtue, a truism embodied in contemporary accounts of ancient Rome, such as in the Second Defense (4.1: 583). In the epic “the wisest heart / Of Solomon”---“beguiled by fair idolatresses”---is “led by fraud” to embrace the violence of Moloch, transforming “the pleasant valley of Hinnom” into a “type of hell” (1.400-05, 445).

12> Lust, violence, and a luxury-intent people beguiled by conquering losers also inform the account of the other devils. The violent Moloch is again explicitly linked with luxury as he is followed by “Chemos, the obscene dread” (1.406) of the proverbially proud, prosperous Moabites. Chemos is a rather minor devil, and his presence here reveals much about Milton’s political purposes. Another losing, lascivious devil subverts God’s people, again embodied in Solomon, king of “that hill of scandal”: “His lustful orgies he enlarged / Even to that hill of scandal, by the grove / Of Moloch homicide, lust hard by hate” (1.415-17; Fowler 85-86n). Solomon’s identification with Charles II is further suggested here by the reference to “the good Josiah” (1.418), a favorite role-model for Puritan reformers since the earlier 1640s. Josiah here does not destroy these idols, as he does in scripture, but drives them into the exile hell.

13> Nevertheless, in 1658, Moloch and Chemos were on the march, as we learn in the immediate next lines that “with these came” (1.419) Baalim and Ashtaroth, devils that are defined by their androgyny/bisexuality. These gender issues were far from central to contemporary theological or even cultural debate, and it is doubtful that the Lady Milton was homophobic. But Milton often identified androgyny and bisexuality with the supposedly effete Stuart court(s): “for those the race of Israel oft forsook / Their living strength, and . . . sunk before the spear / Of despicable foes” (1.432-37). Victory on the battlefield is forfeited, rather than lost, because demonic sexuality is irresistible to those who have already surrendered to their own lusts. With amazing prescience, Milton images the almost bloodless monarchical restoration, as the New Model Army self-destructs and a riotous sensuality sweeps a country more interested in a return to the active bedroom and busy shop than to the bloody battlefield.

14> And the theme of conquering losers continues, as Milton attempts to undermine a looming Cavalier sexual ethic that will soon take center stage. The irony of the defeated devils embodying triumphant imperial militarism is seconded by a catalogue of fertility deities who have been sexually incapacitated: “. . . the price of warring against omnipotence is impotence” (Kermode 114). Astoreth and Thammuz are gods of the rich and imperial Phoenicians, who nevertheless lament Thammuz’s “annual wound” (1.447) if not his “annual humbling” (10.576). These devils generate a blood-soaked “love-tale” that “infected Sion’s daughters with like heat,” producing “the dark idolatries / Of alienated” and soon to be conquered “Judah” (1.452-57). And “maimed,” mutilated Dagon, whose Philistian empire is “dreaded through the coast / Of Palestine,” seduces “his sottish conqueror . . . to adore the gods whom he had vanquished” (1.459, 464-65, 472-76). Milton does not elaborate the violence-lust-empire dialectic of “Osiris, Isis, Orus and their train” since they were so closely identified with an archetype of this configuration, “fanatic Egypt and her priests” (1.478, 480). In Egypt, as in contemporary England, “borrowed gold” and a “rebel king” will seduce a people into forsaking God for pusillanimous idols, “wandering” and “bleating gods” (1.483-84, 481, 489).

15> “Belial came last” (1.490), a conclusive statement of imminent restoration. Even in 1658 the intensely sexual Belial was a popular embodiment of the cavalier (Fowler 90-91n).[12] The insistence here on an itinerant devil glances specifically at the idol(atrous) king in exile. : “. . . to him no temple stood / Or altar smoked” (1.492-93). Even his thoughts, according to report like the exiled King’s, are defined by wandering (2.148). But he works his powerful magic from a distance, indirectly, unofficially: “yet who more oft than he / In temples and at altars, when the priest / Turns atheist” (1.493-95), as many Puritans apparently were turning in the late 1650s. Though Temples and altars were officially scarce in 1658, as were the “courts and palaces” where “he also reigns” (1.497), Milton deftly suggests an ominous turn of political events with his enjambment of “reigns” with “and in luxurious cities” (1.498). London, rich and Puritan, was intent on becoming even richer, abandoning their God-given republic to welcome home a wandering king and his lusty courtiers who would lead them in their own, more purposeful, ventures abroad. In the darkness that accompanies a restored reign of the sons of Belial, another wandering will commence through the streets of London, characterized by the vices of luxury, “lust and violence” (1.496). The latter vice, not a usual attribute of Belial, nevertheless restates Milton’s imperial dialectic as it anticipates the brutality of the Restoration rake.[13]

16> In Book Two, Satan, loser to the forces of God, plots to regain through subversion what he had lost through military weakness. Not surprisingly, he summons a Parliament, and “high on a throne of royal state” (2.1) functions not as Charles I during the years of personal rule, but as King-in-Parliament, an enormously popular concept in the England of the late 1650s. Hell in 1658 is “a monarchy in the making, with royalist politics, perverted language, perverse rhetoric, political manipulation, and demagoguery” (Lewalski 51). “Princes, potentates, / Warriors, the flower of heaven” (1.315-16) convene “the infernal court” which strongly resembles “a House of Lords controlled by a monarch” (Lewalski 152). In images that recall “the unholy glitter of Stuart finery,” every devil seems to be an exiled king, or sultan, or emperor, one of Satan’s “throned powers” (1.128; 360) (Davies 12). With these defeated, exiled princes “peace / And rest can never dwell” until they regain their “happy state” (1.65-66, 141). Yet, ringing with fine political rhetoric, the demonic council also clearly is characterized by the vices that Milton and others frequently attributed to the Long Parliament, the Commonwealth, and the Protectorate. Indeed, Satan and his peers encompass all those, Royalist and Parliamentarian, who, having destroyed the opportunity to establish a republic, were set to restore King-in-Parliament (Hill, Milton and the English Revolution 366-75).

17> To explain this restoration, Book Two restates the imperial dialectic of Book One. Satan, an embodiment of imperial violence and luxury/wealth (2.1-5), summons counselors of violence, lust-luxury, and wealth. These counselors not only restate the motives for monarchical restoration, but they summarize the progressive phases that have culminated in the explosive political situation of 1658-60. “Moloch, sceptred king” (2.43) recalls the last monarch actually to reign in England. Speaking for a military force that could have been defeated only through God’s intervention, he again evokes Charles I, whose claims to divine right had transformed him, for Milton, into the Man of Blood (1.392, 2.46-52). And his stirring account of his sufferings and imprisonments recalls contemporary accounts of the captivity of Charles I. His plan, too, advocates the tactics of a King who, as long as he lived, would create continual conflict until he re-attained, through a lucky combination of military forces, his throne: “Millions that stand in Arms, and longing wait / The signal to ascend, sit lingering here / Heaven's fugitives” (2.55-57). Yet these lines also point out the immediate threat of 1658-60, often fueled by the image of the defeated martyr king. “Millions” glances at the anxious British nations, who were indeed watchful for a “signal” that royal fugitives were prepared to reestablish the monarchy.

18> Belial, again, even in 1658 was a by-word for a Cavalier, especially the exiled Cavaliers. And Milton characterizes this devil in terms that echo his own assessments of “the younger Charles and his damned crew of emigrant courtiers” (First Defense 4.1: 534), a supposedly lazy and licentious court that had abandoned hope of a military re-conquest of Great Britain. “. . . his thoughts were low; / To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds / Timorous and slothful” (2.115-17). Impregnable Heaven, “scorning surprise” (1.134) with its perpetual “armѐd watch” (1.130) and scouts resembles the England of Cromwell and Thurloe. But Cromwell in October 1658 was dead; and Milton, like the rest of the country, recognized that the royalists’ “change / Worth waiting” for had occurred (2.222-23). Yet Milton also believed that many of the king’s courtiers were lazy if not cowardly and that they would “perplex and dash / Maturest counsels,” delaying but not averting a restoration (2.114-15).

19> Mammon is only briefly mentioned in Book One. Perhaps as “the least erected spirit” (1.679), he would have been as out of place in the catalogue of fertility deities as many Presbyterians were among the graceful sons of Belial. More important, he resonates not with the defeated, exiled Cavaliers but with the London, often Puritan, merchants. He embodies Milton’s view of why England, clearly unfit for the republic that they did not want, nevertheless still remained without a monarchy in 1658. Yet, with Cromwell dead, Milton sensed an imminent change; and Mammon represents the final phase (“led them on” [1.678]) of a political cause that was ripe for success. King Charles I was dead, and Charles II was in shabby exile. But mercenary City Presbyterians were powerful political figures still in an England that was experiencing a severe economic depression which they believed could be dispelled by “nothing but kingship” as Milton states in the tract that he composed as he was writing his epic (Readie and Easie Way 7:385). In the peroration to Readie and Easie Way, Milton argues this to be the primary motivation for the “return back to Egypt” and “those calamities which attend alwais and unavoidably on luxurie” (7: 387).[14] Whatever their religious noise, “even in heaven” (1639/40?) their “thoughts / Were always downward bent, admiring more / The riches of heaven’s pavement, trodden gold, / Than aught divine” (1.680-83). Yet this love of wealth has prevented them from too zealously opposing the Cromwellian state. Riches grow in hell too; and London, even without a monarch, “wants not her hidden lustre, gems and gold” (2.271) as her merchants reaped the limited rewards of Cromwell’s commercial expansionism. On the other hand, any attempt to change “the settled state” (2.279) is dangerous if it fails and perhaps even more dangerous if it succeeds. Mammon registers the political paranoia that will seethe beneath the Restoration celebrations, despite the Declaration of Breda, and anticipates the political divisions that eventually will emerge in 1665-66 and more dramatically in the Exclusion Crisis. Evoking the more unpleasant memories of Personal Rule, Mammon frets,

                        Suppose he should relent
And publish grace to all, on promise made
Of new subjection; with what eyes could we
Stand in his presence humble, and receive
Strict laws imposed, to celebrate his throne
With warbled hymns, and to his Godhead sing
Forced alleluias; while he lordly sits
Our envied sovereign, and his altar breathes
Ambrosial odours and ambrosial flowers
Our servile offerings? (2.237-46)

20> “Worship paid” (2.248) in standing, singing (even hymns and allelujah), altars, incense, and offerings---not for these Presbyterians, not even in Hell. A “nether[lands?] empire” (2.296) is better than no empire. Mammon, then, with much applause states the prevailing wisdom for generations in the City: anything but another civil war. “Such another field” the devils “dreaded worse than Hell” (2.292-93). Instead, Mammon counsels a mercantile culture based upon Puritan perversions that are at odds with Milton’s own beliefs that work and liberty are sources of productive joy. Mammon advocates making “great things of small” (2.258) through “hard liberty” (2.256; Milton probably winced at the words), advancing a belief that work is fundamentally painful, to be endured until one is at ease in one’s own shop (2.261).

21> The demons conflict with one another because they have advised how directly to respond to God and regain Heaven, which according to the poem’s political narrative correlates to the restoration of Caroline divine right monarchy through vanquishing the New Model Army. In 1658, with Charles I and Oliver Cromwell dead, this contingency was rapidly becoming irrelevant. And in the poem, the primary political context radically shifts with the counsel of Beelzebub, the only devil that is not satirized. This devil, using a mercantile, “royalist vocabulary of praise” (Hoxby 152), refocuses from the God who has dethroned the devils to the humans who will restore them. He points out that the devils in hell are not secure from God’s power, no more perhaps than the court-in-exile, as it wandered out of France, had been beyond Cromwell’s reach. He then rejects the “vain empires” (2.378) to be expected from an exiled court’s projected military restoration of monarchy, or from a Cavalier idleness, or even from a City-man’s “Republic of Hell.” Beelzebub fuses the demonic factions into a single super-plan distinguished by a Cavalier pursuit of “glory” as well as a by a Puritan’s “close ambition varnished over with zeal” (2.484-85). Rejecting the patriarchal and divine arguments that had celebrated Personal Rule, Beelzebub embraces the shrewd political pragmatism that will characterize Charles II. He seeks a monarchy based upon human “weakness” (2.357), a weakness that is directly connected with an economic, military imperialism. The devils will either violently “drive” or “seduce” the “puny inhabitants” of a “new world” (2.367-68, 403): those “like to us, though less / In power and excellence” (2.349-50). Puny Englishmen, seduced by puny and defeated devil-idols, will in turn despoil those even punier as they extend their power to another new world. Hearing this scheme, “devil with devil damned / Firm concord holds” (2.496-97), as firm perhaps as the concord that was soon to form between the Monck-led army, the purportedly dissolute and lazy court-in-exile, and the mercantile Presbyterian (not “the first / That practiced falsehood under saintly show” [4.121-22]), as they restore an “imperial sovereignty” that will provide their “happy isle” with the wealth/luxury of an empire on which the sun, eventually, will never set (2.446, 410). Sadly, republican and free “men only disagree” (2.497).

22> Books One and Two were completed before the English people had exchanged their nascent, godly, smaller government for a monarch who, while he was not merrily encouraging the sons of Belial, was luxuriously presiding over the initial great expansion of the British Empire. The political-ideological structures of these books are spectacularly validated rather than tragically questioned by the events of 1660. In Lycidas, Milton had asserted providence by foretelling the destruction of God’s enemies. In Paradise Lost, he asserts it by foreseeing their success. The inevitability of the monarchical restoration indicates that it accords with, and is structured by, the divine laws of Milton’s political theology. Milton, by foreseeing these events, is triumphant in the vindication of this foresight, even his foreseeing the collapse of his political cause. Indeed, it is surprising that Milton did not place a headnote to his epic or at least to the first six books: "In this epic the author narrates Satan's conquest of paradise. And by occasion foretells the restoration of the King and his court, then in their exile."

23> He does, however, approximate this brashness in the last two books, which often function politically as an “I told you so.” Adam, like many an Englishman in 1660-65, is “from Death released” but is anxious about “new laws to be observed” (and obeyed?), an alarm caused by the arrival of the warrior angel Michael of “the thrones” (11.296) in a “military vest of [royal] purple” (11.197, 228, 296, 241). Adam’s fall, like the English republic’s, is a providential development that is supervised by the only justified monarchy, God’s. Adam demands to know “how could this have happened?” as he beholds the events that swirl around the Flood (an event often cited when characterizing Milton’s perspective on 1660). Michael then verbalizes, as prosaic divine wisdom, the pattern that was dramatically enacted in the procession of devils in the pre-1660 books. Indeed, “commentators have quite rightly noted similarities between the unhappy world of Michael’s history and the opening books of the epic” (Loewenstein 99). In Book Eleven, especially, “Milton’s whole sequence . . . seems to parallel the sequence in the procession of fallen angels in Book 1” (Fixler 172). These well-documented parallels are the dialectic of violence and lust-luxury. The violent Cain produces incarnations of lust-luxury who seduce those “whose lives / Religious titled them the sons of God” (11.621-22). The resulting race of “great conquerors” (11.695) generates scenes of “jollity and game / . . . luxury and riot, feast and dance” (11.714-15). Michael, explaining the connection between violence and luxury (11.787-95), tells us that an extremely content people because of “piety feigned” (11.595) have lost their virtuous freedom. “Cooled in zeal,” these citizens “practise how to live secure, / . . . on what their lords / Shall leave them to enjoy; for the earth shall bear / More than enough” (11.801-05).

24> As this comments on circumstances before the Flood, it points to the pre-Restoration scene. Milton, in the peroration of the Second Defense, had declared that if Englishmen become “corrupted and dissipated by luxury”---and he strongly suggests they already “had been so easily corrupted”---they were best ruled by a king: “It is not fitting, it is not meet, for such men to be free” (Second Defense, 4.1: 682-83). Englishmen had been as unfit to participate in a Milton’s republic as Adam and Eve had been to remain in Eden. And it is better that they, like Adam and Eve, have been relocated to the satanic world of conflict, struggle, and opposition by which they can make themselves fit to be free. Indeed, the first event of the post-Flood narrative, as in the Restoration, is the institution of monarchy by Nimrod, frequently identified with Charles II and Charles I. One would expect a dismal narrative to ensue. But where Book Eleven represents man’s corruptions before the Flood (politically, republican failures), Book Twelve represents man’s, or at least one just man’s, triumphs after the Flood (politically, monarchical failures). Adding to this optimism, in the pre-Restoration books, the devils’ impressive revival is tainted by the foreshadowing of their future political troubles. Book Twelve represents these woes, often inflicted by one just man who reverses the demonic order, reducing Pandemonium to pandemonium.

25> Milton argued a similar role for the new intellectual, and he happily assigns himself a place in the iconoclastic procession when God humiliates an imperial Nimrod. The poet and polemicist, not the theologian, identifies Nimrod with Babel as he states that Nimrod “from rebellion shall derive his name / Though of rebellion others he accuse” (12.36-37). Nimrod’s humiliation is emphatically linguistic-literary: “the jangling noise of words unknown” (12.55) sneers at a rhyming court. The “great laughter . . . in Heaven” (12.59) (and presumably in Milton’s house) at the post-Flood cultural scene echoes throughout Michael’s narrative of just one man’s reducing Pandemonium to cultural chaos. Hearing the consequences of Satan’s restoration, culminating in God becoming a man, Adam wants to “rejoice” rather than “repent” (12.474-75). And perhaps Milton felt similarly as he viewed the Restoration political settlement, founded on the ruins of sectarian and Caroline paradises, that would force men and women to abandon attempts to construct a political Eden without and to begin to create a paradise within, and within a cynical political culture that had ceased to make any grand claims for itself. Republican collapse yields to the raucous, raunchy court culture of the “merry monarch,” the explosive emergence of a new public sphere, the modern political party system, and many other modernisms that will enable the conflict by which the English people can make themselves fit, even as they read Paradise Lost, to be free of monarchy.

26> And this leads to the sublime calm of the poem’s perhaps primary political message: the appropriate nature of the restored kingship. The definitive fact about the royal winners, King and devil, is not that they are resurgent, but that they have to revive at all and then to assume a status that falls far short of their former glories. Had there been no monarchical restoration of Charles II, the golden age of Charles I, the legend of the martyr-king as gloriously represented in Eikon Basilike, would have remained the triumphant myth of English monarchy. The powerful influence of these myths had aroused the English to appropriate them, against all evidence, for the rush to restoration in Spring 1660 and even to project them into the coronation festivities of the following year, by which time it was clear that the monarchical restoration hardly signaled a return of Caroline cultural politics.

27> Satan’s well-charted disintegration vividly enacts the argument that the restoration of Charles II would institutionalize the death of divine right monarchy that had occurred during the civil wars. Satan, rejecting the grander tragedies of Hell, commits himself to a sordid restoration that is based upon the exploitation of human weakness. False, degraded restoration climaxes in his final appearance in the poem. Satan is defined as an imperialist, returning as a “great adventurer from the search / Of foreign worlds” (10.439-40). The awaiting devils “appear like merchants or investors” intent on receiving a report on their foreign investment (Hoxby 153). He at first appears as the “plebian angel militant” (10.442) recalling Charles II and his ragged army’s service to the Spanish, 1656-1660. Now, as a king should, Satan reappears on his “high throne . . . in regal lustre” as a sun emerging from an eclipse, though now reduced to a “permissive glory” (10.445-451). He informs his “great consulting peers” that the success of his monarchical restoration, like all monarchical restorations, can be traced to an “apple” (10.456, 487). They now will “rule, as over all he [Adam] should have ruled” (10.492-93). He concludes by asserting the imperial imperative in peculiarly mercantile terms: “A world who would not purchase with a bruise, / Or much more grievous pain? . . . what remains ye gods, / But up and enter now into full bliss” (10.500-03).

28> “Full bliss,” however, is what neither King nor devil will ever regain. Their restorations are dead sea fruit. The political context is evident in Milton’s satirizing the most famous tree-climbing incident in British history. Charles II, as something like a “plebian angel militant,” famously ascended Royal Oak after the Battle of Worcester: “The six weeks during which Charles II was on the run were as important to his view of himself as the masques of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones had been to his father” (Ollard, Image 85). Royal Oak was a prominent motif of the coronation festivities, the symbolic climax of the King’s restoration and “visible sign of the failure of the parliamentary forces” (Backscheider 17). The Royal Oak backgrounded the figure of Charles II atop the eighty-foot First Triumphal Arch, inscribed with the Adventus Augusti of Virgil, inviting comparisons with “Octavius’s return to Rome after the civil wars of the triumvirate” (Ogilby 18, 21). Imitating the Roman tradition of hanging “the Arms of the Conquered Enemy” in a tree, the Royal Oak bore “Crowns, and Scepters, instead of Acorns” ( 22, 37). Nor were absent representations of the “Commonwealth-men.” “Rebellion” announced herself as “Hell’s Daughter, Satan’s Eldest Child,” who hangs “men in their Beds, / With Common-wealths, and Rotas fill their Heads”:

On the North-side, on a Pedestal before the Arch, was a Woman personating REBELLION, mounted on an Hydra, in a Crimson Robe, torn, Snakes crawling on her Habit, and begirt with serpents, her Hair snaky, a Crown of Fire on her Head, a bloody Sword in one Hand, a charming Rod in the other. (47, 13)

29> Milton appropriates these images to rewrite the imperial celebration of “an economic paradise expressed in terms of the traditional golden age” (39). His emphasis on a flaming Sodom (10.562) recapitulates the poem’s sexual arguments as it again glances at purported court sexuality and its identification with the appetite for luxury that fuels the pursuit of lucrative empire. The imperial “world” is a “purchase” for those rich as “Lords” to “possess” (10.500, 466-67). Yet the purchase is a bad bargain, in sexual as well as economic and political terms. Reduced to phallic symbols, the devils consume dead sea fruit. The ensuing “soot and cinders” and sputtering serpents sneers not only at the fugitive king’s disguise in the tree (Ollard, The Escape of Charles II 27), but at the flaming city that the king eventually possesses, or is “plagued” with, literally and metaphorically (10.570-72). The satanic restoration has generated lush phantoms of courtly eroticism, venereal sterility, disease, loveless and meaningless sex, sodomy. and/or disappearance of an authentic feminine. And, in political terms, the old cavaliers had seen their triumph turn to shame as they “chewed bitter ashes” (10.566), watching the fruits of victory distributed to those who had negotiated the monarchical restoration: former Cromwellians, powerful Presbyterians, former Parliamentarians, and City-men. Even the King was among those who discovered that “not the touch, but taste / deceived” as they attempted “to allay / Their appetite with gust” (10. 563-65). Charles II, too, annually observed his humbling, which was commemorated as Oakapple Day. But his cherished design “to found a new order of knighthood, the Royal Oak, for the most distinguished of the King’s old adherents was mysteriously dropped, presumably to avoid offence to former parliamentarians” (Hutton, King Charles the Second 145).

Waiting for the Fall

30> The political arguments of the opening and closing books are clearly heard in Eden’s subtle and compelling sexual fictions. Milton’s political argument might explain his daring even to construct an active paradisal sexuality between Adam and Eve, “unique and isolated in this respect,” working against not only Puritan tradition but his own divorce tracts (Turner, One Flesh 79). Milton, here as elsewhere in the poem, is lowly and highly wise. Paradise Lost’s intense and wholesome eroticism, with its illustrators, was a powerful factor in the poem’s attaining a long national popularity. Not, of course, that Milton was interested in titillating the many and unfit readers. But erotic-minded readers would also have been opening themselves to the unperceived influences of the poem’s political arguments, especially those concerning the relationships between luxury and the evils of monarchical restoration. Indeed, Milton’s keen eye for sexual behavior would have alerted him to the powerful political attractions of a more open, permissive, and robust sexual ethic that even in 1658 was widely connected to Charles II. Milton’s constructions of the politics of sex so powerfully anticipate the triumph of this ethic that for many readers they appear to “constitute personal reminiscence of Milton’s situation after the Restoration” when “the first conspicuous results of the collapse of moral Puritanism” was the collective “release of the libido” (Le Comte 83, Stone 530). This release, like the sexual politics of Milton’s poem, is almost always seen as a consequence rather than as a cause of the Restoration. But Milton, if Books One and Two are a reliable indication, seems to have believed that this sexual ethic, especially as seen within the context of “luxury,” was a potent source for the Restoration. The poet intended to blunt the force of the foreseen success of this ethic through pre-emptive, prophetic, shaming, epic representation.[15]

31> These purposes are sounded in the poem’s opening lines. “Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?” (1.33): “first” implies subsequent endemic seductions of urgent contemporary importance; “them” indicates the community of these seductions; “that foul revolt” tends to distinguish the imminent and foul overthrow of the remnant commonwealth from the divinely inspired revolt against the Caroline monarchy; and seduction, repeatedly asserted throughout the poem, has obvious political-sexual implications that Milton exploits and complicates. As Adam tells Eve when discussing his wish to preserve this “happy state,” Satan’s “sly assault” will “withdraw / Our fealty to God” by targeting their “conjugal love, than which perhaps no bliss /Enjoyed by us excites his envy more” (9.256, 262-64). Sexuality is not simply an accessory to power (especially political); it is power. Milton again makes explicit these political implications in the hymn to “wedded love, mysterious law, true source / Of human offspring sole propriety, / In Paradise of all things common else” (4.750-52). This is the climax, especially as prophecy, of Book Four (Martz 14). And it tends to sneer at Englishmen whose ideas on sexual relations and property, especially sexual relations as a kind property-power transaction, made them vulnerable to royalist seductions. Milton uses the ready images of Caroline debauchery to represent the looming and unexperienced-undefined onslaught of Restoration court sexuality---ruthlessly, cynically, carnally, and often brutally public---on Milton’s Puritan, gentle middle-class concept of love, sex, spirituality, and the private bedroom. Restoration Court sexuality will tend to erase private sexuality by providing a model of powerful, glamorous encounters in the public bedroom (and streets). Milton works in reverse, enlarging the private bedroom to facilitate a more intimate, gentler public sphere. This tender happy state, in which men and women make love and work together naked, is “secure from outward force” (9.348) but vulnerable to a lapse in the spiritual quality of its inhabitants, especially those who would desert the private and holy marriage bed for the public transactions of satanic erotics.

32> Resonant with politics, spirituality, and sexuality, Milton’s astonishing warning voice anticipates, and in Book Nine comments upon, the royalist celebration of the restored King to the bed of his wife country. According to Restoration panegyrists, the interregnum nation, acting as Tarquin, had ravished the body politic, sending its husband-ruler into exile. And “in 1660 . . . when political subjects celebrated their ‘marriage’ to the returning king, it was the kingdom that was being lifted from the iniquity of licentious liberty and tyranny” (Peters 191). This marriage was often celebrated with a revival of images from the Caroline mask, celebrating the neo-platonic radiations that royally spiritualize a nation. This divine aura, under the political and cultural pressures of the civil wars, had intensified rather than dissipated. The long trek of the martyr King had ended precisely where Milton had predicted, as the powerful cultural myths of the spiritual Charles I were projected into his carnal son: sacred king, pater patriae, neoplatonic light, second Augustus, second Charles, second Christ.

33> To expose these misappropriations, Milton launches his epic assault, with a vigor in Book Nine that had been enabled by recent public experience of Restoration sexual culture. To seduce his new political world, the devil accepts an epic degradation that is represented in startlingly sexual terms that discredit any neo-platonic motivations for monarchical restoration. Charles II’s cynical, pragmatic, carnal politics were often shaped, if not determined, by his experience of the pitiless destruction of the lofty ideals of his father’s divine right monarchy. The defeated, embittered Satan, too, rejects spiritual, chaste, neo-platonic court culture as a platform (though not as a brief disguise for his platform) to obtain “ambition and revenge” (9.168). He hatefully derides the preeminent symbol of divine kingship, the sun. “With surpassing glory crowned,” the sun reminds Satan “from what state” he fell because his “pride and worse ambition” had provoked divine punishment (4.32, 38-40).[16] The “exiled” Satan, reduced to “the throne of hell,” disdains to “obtain / By act of grace” his “former state” because he soon “would recant / Vows made in pain, as violent and void” (4.106, 89, 94-97), as Milton expected that the uncompromising Charles I would have done if he had been restored through negotiations. Echoing Beelzebub’s words on puny victims, Satan rejects Caroline court culture, scorning the celestial virtues that purportedly had authorized the autocracy of Charles I and the “remarkable Renaissance” of Caroline court culture that had promoted the idea that “Kingship, the rule of the soul over the body politic, might lead man back to his earthly paradise” (Strong 213). “Myself am hell” (4.75), the fallen Satan, embodiment of the new monarchy, abandons his angelic poses and pretensions to embrace a shabby political expediency that will gain him a throne that is based upon, not a father supervising his children, but a ruthless politico exploiting a “frail” humanity (4.11).

34> And, again, this frailty was often emphatically, publicly, sexual. Hell, in relation to this frailty, resembles not only the court-in-exile with no country to debauch, but the country itself attempting to abide by the more restrictive codes of the gloomier Saints. Satan laments that in Hell there is “neither joy nor love, but fierce desire / Among our other torments not the least, / Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines” (4.509-11). Burning on “that fiery couch” (1.377), the devils seethe with sexual frustration in the new environment created for them by God (Daniel, Death in Milton’s Poetry 26-33). These frustrations can be assuaged not through airy Caroline sublimations in a sterile Hell, but through corrupt seductions, and seducers, of vulnerable humans. At midnight, in search of sex and power, and power through sex, Satan commits himself to the libertine’s body (“a beast, and mixed with bestial slime”) rather than to the neo-platonist’s spirit (“that to the height of deity aspired”), reducing himself to the phallic (9.165, 167). And it is in this that Satan commits the central act of the poem, restoring himself to a comfortable throne.

35> Yet welcoming home their beloved King, the English people, led by Puritan merchant-hypocrite and cynical courtier, insisted on loftier public images with which to celebrate, images that evoked the chaste golden age ideology of Personal Rule. This evokes the bogus rhetoric with which Satan disguises his corruption of Eve. Initiating the seduction, Satan momentarily hesitates in a “mid-heaven” of neo-platonic admiration before Eve, an inadequacy indicated in his being “stupidly good” (9. 468, 465). Then becoming “erect” the “spirited sly snake” astonishes Eve with the rhetoric of the Caroline mask (“a goddess among gods” “Wonder not, sovereign mistress”) to relate his acquisition of the ability to perceive “the heavenly ray” of Eve’s “divine / Semblance” (9. 501, 613, 532, 547-48. 606-07). This epitomizes Milton’s view of the Caroline court mask as generated by libidinous, poetasters: empty neo-platonic praise is recited by the phallic in pursuit of power. In “perhaps the first use of sex = sexual intercourse, gratification,” the serpent claims that he “nor aught but food discerned / Or sex” until he ate the fruit that provided him with the intellect/spirit to value the beauty of the “Sovereign of creatures, universal dame” (9.573-74n, 612). Significantly, Satan, after bringing Eve to the tree, is compared to “some orator renowned / In Athens or free Rome” (9.670-71), and a subversion of a republic would seem imminent, especially in a republic where (with at least one spectacular and modest exception) eloquence purportedly had been “mute” (9.672). Satan constructs his violation of God’s law within the context of a heroic/neo-platonic romance, a context commonly used by Stuart ideologues to celebrate Personal Rule and the monarchical restoration. The “Empress of this fair world” (9.568) then attempts to assume the status of a “Goddess humane” (9.732)?[17]

36> Defying the God of their little Eden, Eve and then Adam quickly engage with this construct of power that is attained through assertion of one’s divinity rather than through submission to God (9.936-37, 961-62, 967, 975).Yet their divine pretensions last no longer than the lofty, golden age images in 1640 and 1660, which vanished first before Parliamentarian zeal and then before Restoration court bawdy. The climactic, compulsive transformation of the devils into snakes tends to indicate that, whatever their pretenses to epic glory, their satanic success is based on a chaotic sexual dynamic. And the idolatrous worshippers of the King’s image, whatever their lofty declarations, soon revealed that they were motivated by a very different love as they surged toward Restoration. Adam and Eve’s first fallen act is an earthy release of the libido:

As with new wine intoxicated both
They swim in mirth, and fancy that they feel
Divinity within them breeding wings
Wherewith to scorn the earth. (9.1008-11)[18]

37> Eve and Adam’s pursuit of neo-platonic divinity and heavenly luxury, and their rejection of healthy work in an earthly Eden, has ended in a rough bout of too-earthly sex. They awaken from their subsequent sleep angry, darkened, shamed, cheated, fleeced. And so did, though perhaps not so quickly, Restoration England. In Readie and Easie Way Milton had urged his countrymen to retain the simpler, solider prosperity of a republic. They instead had pursued the fabulous imperial way, which in the long run produces dividends indeed for Britons. But in 1667, when Milton publishes his poem, the euphoria of 1660 had yielded to national indignation at the sexual, political, and cultural chaos caused by a libertine court and the disasters caused by the mercantile-based war with the Dutch. Milton, in 1667, probably rejoiced, as a prophet probably should who lives to see his prophecy consummated.


38> In the beginning of Book Four, the poet futilely seeks a “warning voice,” seeming “to throw his theology to the winds” as the epic voice appears to fault providence, even possibly implying that an angelic warning to Adam and Eve could have averted the Fall (Martz 13). Yet a warning voice is provided in Books Five through Eight, where it is clearly indicated that it will not avert a Fall that Adam and Eve freely choose to incur. This futile search for a warning voice assumes an urgent coherence within a contemporary political context. With the repeated (six times), tortured urgency of now, Milton assumes the role, as he will (or perhaps had) in Readie and Easie Way, of one just man to explain the origin of evils that have created the inevitability of the imminent monarchical restoration of the “secret foe . . . far off and fearless, nor with cause to boast,” identified with military defeat, with “loss / Of that first battle” and “second rout” [Worcester?] and “not rejoicing” in the “speed” of a success that had been expected since, arguably, Fall 1642 (4.3, 7, 11-14). Ironically, Milton’s success as a prophet-poet will confirm that Milton as a poet-educator has lacked the skills that could have created a populace with the ability effectively to heed the warning voice. But even the angels lack a pedagogy to avoid such catastrophes, and Milton places himself, and justifies himself in the placement, in the futile company of St. John the Divine and the Angel of Revelation---and Raphael, Abdiel, and Uriel (whom Milton connects with the angels of Revelation) in his own poem.

39> Speculating on a more specific cause for Milton’s sense of failure as public intellectual/educator provides a fresh perspective on one of the oldest, most vexed questions about Milton’s epic. Why does Satan, if negatively conceived, appear to be a character with which Milton sympathized, often defying God by echoing Milton’s own political rhetoric? Certainly Milton would have recognized the articulation of his own political views, such as in 5.772-802, and so Satan’s republican rhetoric is deliberately included. Yet, Satan is not a republican with whom Milton’s sympathizes. On the contrary, he is a republican (and a Royalist and Presbyterian and Major-General among many other things)[19] to whom Milton objects most vehemently because his views diabolically counterfeit Milton’s own arguments. Few circumstances could reveal as clearly why Milton, after announcing his role as his republic’s chief hope in the Defensio Pro Se in August 1655 (4.2: 698) apparently withdraws from public life until 1659-60. Milton recognized that his authentic revolutionary voice had been, and would be, coopted and perverted by public discourse: the devil, and the army men, and the Commonwealthmen, and the Rumpers, and the Parliamentarians, could, like the King in Eikon Bailike (Daniel, “Eikonoklastes and the Miltonic King”), voice Miltonic views as they harmonized in the political processes that would soon restore, and not too soon destroy, monarchy. It was subversion then, rather than opposition and suppression, to which the post-1655 Milton was most sensitive.

40> “Fear to Transgress” (6.912): Milton, with Griffith’s sermon perhaps still ringing in his memory, makes this the poem’s last line before the Restoration. The divine and human warning voices combine in apparent futility. Raphael, like the epic’s poet, fails to avert the restoration of satanic monarchy, which is predetermined to succeed at the time his warning voice is heard. Adam and Eve, like the English people, will choose not to fear God, a choice that produces an unhappy state in which kings are to be feared. Yet Raphael’s account of Satan’s defeat in his war against God predetermines the shabby nature of Satan’s restoration. Similarly, Milton’s epic (like The Readie and Easie Way) does not attempt to avert a monarchical restoration, but rather to subvert it by anticipating and indeed even creating it according to Milton’s own keenly republican, skeptical, sensibility.[20] If Paradise Lost is the weapon, or ark, that the solitary Milton chose, in 1655/58, to forward his Cause, and to wage war against the divine right monarchy as embodied in Charles I, he chose wisely. Far from becoming either a majestic relic of the Renaissance or the disappearing paradise created by a defeated Saint, the intensely contemporary poem immediately exerts its enormous force on English culture, shaping, and being shaped by, a larger cultural matrix of contexts, crises, currents and (ex)changes that had caused the monarchical restoration itself. The monarchy, as embodied in Charles I, had not been restored. The monarchy that is restored soon will be reduced to the Hanoverian succession; and its Restoration rakes will rapidly fade into a period cliché. But Milton's epic emerges, and rather quickly too, as England’s most influential poem as the country moves much closer to Milton’s cultural ideals than the poet probably ever would have expected.


[1] I would like to thank editors Michael Nagy and Bruce Brandt for their help with a an earlier version of this essay that appeared in Proceedings of the 14th Annual Northern Plains Conference on Earlier British Literature (2007).

[2] Citations to Milton's poetry, cited parenthetically within the text, will refer to Fowler. “About the order of writing we know almost nothing” (Fowler 4). Alan Gilbert provides the most cogent arguments for revision.

[3] Many contemporary observers, including Andrew Marvell, expected that the poet would use his religious epic as a platform to articulate his politics (Hill, “Milton and Marvell” 22-23). Of course, he did. That Milton’s contemporaries, searching for the alien and discredited, failed to notice the poem’s intense political engagements suggests that Milton’s ideology was emphatically of the present (and future) and not of the past. And the definitive political fact, for Milton, was not the failure to establish a successful republic but the destruction of the Caroline monarchy. As the monarchy of Charles II rapidly took shape, Milton, happily, recognized that he was, after all, on the winning side (Daniel, “Milton and the Restoration”).

[4] Citations to Milton's prose, cited parenthetically within the text, unless otherwise noted will refer to The Complete Prose Works of John Milton.

[5] Hill links the republican failure with the fact that “the men of property refused to advance money to any government they did not control” (God’s Englishman 253).

[6] The MS Digression clearly attributes, as L’Estrange perceived, the failure of the republic neither to the Rump nor to the Major-Generals, but to the Long Parliament, especially in the years 1641-46. This could be explained by the date of composition, the late 1640s, but the date of publication (1670) would have allowed Milton to revise this important statement, if he had changed his mind.

[7] Royalists’ prospects at Cromwell’s death “exceeded expectation . . . . A more favorable conjunction for the Stuarts could hardly be imagined” (Ollard, Image 111). A standard university textbook from the late 1960s states that “when the death of Cromwell left the Protectorate to his feeble son, the nation was very nearly unanimous in the opinion that only one course lay before it---to restore the monarchy in the person of Charles II” (Ferguson and Bruun 424). In the 1960s, Milton was often represented as having been blind to this political reality because of his idealism. Since then, a much shrewder Milton has tended to emerge.

[8] This distance might partially explain why Milton was asked, around 1661, to join the restored court. Those who could have extended this invitation are as numerous as the powerful Restoration figures who could have saved Milton from execution.

[9] Parker calls this warning a “prophecy”: “ ‘Infinite disturbances in the state’ came so quickly after the publication of Milton’s prophecy that he himself was profoundly shocked” (534). I do not think, however that Milton was shocked or “disillusioned, and also frightened” (535) at hearing of his prophecy vindicated.

[10] Milton’s inability to understand political reality is supposedly indicated by his mishandling of his large investment in the Excise bank. Milton, “neglecting to recall it in time, could never after get it out, with all the Power and the Interest he had in the Great ones of those times” (Edward Phillips, in Darbishire 78). Yet, “times” and “never after” would seem to suggest a Restoration context. More important, Milton would have been the more reluctant to salvage his investment, the more he recognized the futility of the political situation or, perhaps, his impending execution. Certainly, Milton would not have approved of a preoccupation with personal finances at a time when the nation was, one last time, rejecting God’s homely plan for one that advanced lucrative imperial expansion. He certainly did not approve of it in those who sought to “huckster the common-wealth” in 1641 (MS Digression, CPW 5:445).

[11] For the poem’s critique of the monarchical restoration in general, see especially Davies; Achinstein; and Knoppers, Historicizing Milton.

[12] Embodiments of self-enslavement, “Moloch and Belial are complex developments of the two royalist types that Salmasius had held up for admiration because of their reaction to Charles’s fall” (Bennett 56).

[13] Turner examines how “the ‘high’ libertinism of the Restoration aristocracy deliberately simulates the sexuality and violence of the streets” (Libertines and Radicals 156; 156-63).

[14] Hill links the republican failure with the fact that “the men of property refused to advance money to any government they did not control” (God’s Englishman 253).

[15] As Hutton points out, “It must be stressed that Interregnum England was far from sober and virtuous” (The Restoration 185). Yet Milton’s “hypocrites” (4.744), whatever they did in private, insisted on an austere public code of morality that has been enshrined in public memory, with much good reason, as “Puritanism.” And sexual puritanism was often directly linked with political puritanism: “If the Restoration culture of priapism had any obvious purpose, it was to legitimize the new regime by contrast with the repressive Cromwellian period” (Turner, Libertines and Radicals 171). Turner adds that “frenetic hedonism became a badge of anti-Puritan loyalty.”

[16] These lines were probably written while Milton was also writing the divorce tracts.

[17] “Kings are not onely Gods Lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon gods throne, but even by God himselfe they are called Gods” (James I 307). Contemporary documentation is, of course, extensive.

[18] This passage alludes to “the allegory in Phaedrus of the winged soul” (Samuel 166).

[19] Hill, Milton and the English Revolution 366-75.

[20] See Knoppers’ essay for how The Readie and Easie Way, rather than written to avert a monarchical restoration, has “a distinctively literary aim, to provide a myth of the nation” (224).

Works Cited:

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Backscheider, Paula. Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.

Bennett, Joan. Reviving Liberty: Radical Humanism in Milton's Great Poems. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.

Daniel, Clay. Death in Milton’s Poetry. Lewisburg, Pa: Bucknell University Press, 1994.

---. "Eikonoklastes and the Miltonic King." South Central Review 15 (Summer 1998): 34‑48.

---. "Milton and the Restoration: Some Reassessments." Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate. 11.2-3 (2001-02): 201-21.

---. “Paradise Lost Books One and Two: Milton Predicts the Restoration.” Proceedings of the 14th Annual Northern Plains Conference on Earlier British Literature (2007): 175-203.

Darbishire, Helen, ed. The Early Lives of Milton. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1932.

Davies, Stevie. Images of Kingship in Paradise Lost: Milton’s Politics and Christian Liberty. Columbia, Mo: U of Missouri P, 1983.

Gilbert, Alan. On the Composition of “Paradise Lost;” a Study of the Ordering and Insertion of Material. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1947.

Ferguson, William and Geoffrey Bruun. A Survey of European Civilization. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.

Fixler, Michael. “The Apocalypse within Paradise Lost.” New Essays on Paradise Lost. Ed. Thomas Kranidas. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. 131-78.

Fowler, Alistair, ed. Paradise Lost. London: Longman, 1998.

French, Joseph Milton , ed. The Life Records of John Milton. Vol. 4. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers UP, 1949-58.

Hill, Christopher. God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution. New York: Harper and Row, 1970

---. “Milton and Marvell.” Approaches to Marvell : the York Tercentenary Lectures. Ed. C. A. Patrides. London ; Routledge, 1978.. 1-30.

---. Milton and the English Revolution. New York: Viking, 1978.

Hoxby, Blair. Mammon’s Music: Literature and Economics in the Age of Milton. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003.

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

Hutton, Ronald. King Charles the Second: King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989.

---. The Restoration : a Political and Religious History of England and Wales, 1658-1667. New York : Oxford UP, 1985.

James I. The Political Works of James I Reprinted from the Edition of 1616. 1918; New York: Russell and Russell, 1965.

Kermode, Frank. “Adam Unparadised.” The Living Milton: Essays by Various Hands. Ed. Frank Kermode. London: Routledge, 1960. 85-123.

Knoppers, Laura. “Milton’s The Readie and Easie Way and the English Jeremiad.” Politics, Poetics, and Hermeneutics in Milton's Prose. Ed. David Loewenstein and James G. Turner. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990). 213-25.

---. Historicizing Milton: Spectacle, Power, and Poetry in Restoration England. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994.

Le Comte, Edward. Milton and Sex. New York: Columbia UP, 1978.

Lewalski, Barbara. "Paradise Lost and Milton's Politics." Milton Studies 38 (2000): 144-46.

Loewenstein, David. Milton and the Drama of History: Historical Vision, Iconoclasm, and the Literary Imagination. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Martz, Louis. “Milton’s Prophetic Voice.” Of Poetry and Politics: New Essays on Milton  and His World. Ed. P. G. Stanwood. Binghamton: Medieval Texts and Studies, 1995.

Milton, John. The Complete Prose Works of John Milton. Gen. ed. Don Wolfe. 8 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953‑82.

---. John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

---. “Letter to Peter Heimbach.” In The Life Records of John Milton. Ed. Joseph Milton French. Vol. 4. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers UP, 1949-58.

---. Paradise Lost. Ed. Alistair Fowler. London: Longman, 1998.

Ogilby, John. The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II in His Passage through the City of London to His Coronation. 1662. Introduction Ronald Knowles. Binghamton, New York: Center for Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1988.

Ollard, Richard. The Escape of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester. 1966. London: Robinson, 2002.

---. The Image of the King Charles I and Charles II. 1979. London: Phoenix Press, 2000.

Parker .William Riley. Milton: A Biography. Ed. Gordon Campbell. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

Peters, Belinda. Marriage in Seventeenth-Century Political Thought. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Potter, Lois. “The Royal Martyr in the Restoration.” The Royal Image: Representations of Charles I. Ed. Thomas Corns. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. 240-62.

Samuel, Irene. Plato and Milton. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1947.

Stone,  Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977.

Strong, Roy. Splendor at Court; Renaissance Spectacle and the Theater of Power. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.


Turner, James. Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London: Sexuality, Politics and Literary Culture, 1630-1685. New York: Cambridge UP, 2002.

---. One Flesh : Paradisal Marriage and Sexual Relations in the Age of Milton. Oxford: Clarendon , 1987.

von Maltzahn, Nicholas. Milton’s History of Britain: Republican Historiography in the English Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Clay Daniel is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas—Pan American. His research on Milton has appeared in such journals as Milton Quarterly, Milton Studies, and, most recently, in Quidditas. He’s especially interested in Milton’s relation to the Restoration.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Six (2013): Editions & Editing

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