Portrait of the Artist as a Young ?

Debora Shuger, University of California, Los Angeles

Portrait of the Artist as a Young ?
(or Milton’s Religion: The Early Years[i])

That the two splendid recent biographies of Milton--one by Lewalski, the other the joint work of Corns and Campbell—come to radically different conclusions about Milton’s early religious convictions is no secret. It is, however, a surprise. Lewalski, in concert with the scholarly tradition, portrays the artist as a young puritan; Corns and Campbell, breaking ranks, as a young Laudian.[ii] Since puritans and Laudians take opposing positions on virtually every contested religious issue of the Caroline era, it should not, one would think, be hard to tell on which side someone belonged, especially if the individual in question had written on religious topics numerous times. That serious scholars could seriously disagree as to whether the young Milton was a “Puritan revolutionary in the making”[iii] or a high-flying ceremonialist seems, on the face of it, truly surprising.

                  If one reads through Milton’s pre-1641 corpus--Latin as well as English, and prose as well as poetry--the disagreement becomes easier to understand, and this for two reasons. First, Milton barely mentions the contested issues dividing puritan from Laudian: Sabbath observance, ceremonies, predestination, altar rails, the relative importance of preaching vis-à-vis prayer and sacrament. The silence is stunning, and, as I shall argue in the end, significant. Second, his handful of allusions to these matters divide, almost down the middle, into evidence of both puritan and Laudian sympathies; what clues we have for Milton’s early theological stance point, that is to say, in opposite directions. Il Penseroso’s concluding paean to the high-vaulted Gothic church beloved of its titular hero strongly suggests Laudian affinities: at least it is hard to imagine what else, in the 1630s, its celebration of stained glass windows casting “a dim religious light,” of “service high,” of choral anthems sung to “pealing organ” that “bring all Heav’n before mine eyes” might signify.[iv] So too, the Commonplace Book entry “of curiosity,” which the Yale editors date to ca. 1635-37, endorses the standard anti-Calvinist caution against probing the arcana Dei as an exercise at once futile and divisive:[v] a warning that in the early Stuart period almost always targeted the godly penchant for predestinarian dogmatizing. Equally probative, although on the opposite side, is, rather obviously, St. Peter’s scathing denunciation of clerical careerism in Lycidas, but also, a decade earlier, the Latin verse epistle (now known as Elegia IV) Milton wrote to his boyhood tutor and future anti-prelatical confederate, Thomas Young, then serving as chaplain to the English Merchant Adventurers in Hamburg, whose presbyterian discipline and non-conformist worship “carried on the puritan tradition of Cartwright and Travers.”[vi] Whatever the actual circumstances that led Young to leave England in 1620, Milton’s poem renders the event in the politically-charged Foxean topoi of radical puritanism, denouncing England for repeatedly driving away the very men whom God had sent to “bring glad tidings from heaven” (l. 93), and comparing Young to to Elijah wandering “the rough sands of Arabia when he fled from the hands of King Ahab” (ll. 97-99) and to St. Paul “driven out of the Emathian city with his flesh bleeding from the hissing scourge”(ll.101-2).[vii]

                  The biographies disagree because the evidence of the writings (and, as will shall see, the life) supports contradictory conclusions. However, neither biography—nor the critical tradition as a whole—grapples with, or even acknowledges, the rather intractable problem posed by someone who in 1627 and again in 1637 invokes the hallmark rhetoric of radical puritanism and yet on two occasions between those dates employs the Laudian-troped discourses of Catholic nostalgia and reverent silence de rerum sublimium arcanis abditis. Nor do the biographies or the critical tradition address the perhaps deeper conundrum that these confessionally-marked passages are exceptions: that Milton’s writings throughout a period that includes the entire Caroline era—almost none of which were intended for print and so not muted for (or by) the censors—have a deeply religious coloring, yet the colors are not those of the early Stuart spectrum. Instead, the recent biographies, like the bulk of the scholarship, strive to make the case that the young Milton belongs at one end or the other, either in the beauty of holiness camp or among the godly opposition. The attempt has required some fudging of the evidence. Two instances, in particular, are worth noting since they concern matters that will prove to have a bearing on Milton’s religious commitments prior to 1641.

                  The first instance, whose significance will only become clear at the end of this essay, concerns Milton’s request upon arriving in Paris in 1638 for an audience with Hugo Grotius, whom, Milton writes, “I ardently desired to meet.”[viii] Grotius was the only Parisian, as far as we know, whose acquaintance Milton sought, and Lewalski tries to explain his interest in the exiled Dutch luminary by suggesting that Milton was drawn to his Arminianism and the anti-monarchic republicanism of De iure belli ac pacis (1625) which proclaims “that monarchy and liberty are as incompatible as slavery and freedom.”[ix] This explanation seems problematic on two fronts. First, although Milton may have admired Grotius’ Arminianism, such an attraction seems fatal to Lewalski’s argument for the young poet’s radical-puritan leanings. Among puritans, both radical and moderate, throughout the early Stuart period, “Arminian” meant Laudian, high-church, crypto-Catholic; and indeed when Grotius visited England in 1613 to garner support for the Remonstrants, he sought out high-churchmen like Overall and Andrewes; Archbishop Abbot, a firm Calvinist, proved an implacable foe.[x] Shortly thereafter, the Dutch Calvinist hardliners had Grotius imprisoned and then, after he escaped, banished for life. Most seventeenth-century English Calvinists found Grotius’ refusal to equate pope and anti-Christ, a refusal he shared with Laud, “shocking and revolting,” and Increase Mather “warn[ed] young scholars to beware of him, lest they suck down poison.”[xi] Moreover, the radical-republican passage Lewalski quotes does not represent Grotius’ view but a hypothetical objection to it; Grotius’ own position is clearly stated a few paragraphs earlier: (A) “And here we must first reject their opinion, who will have the supreme power to be always, and without exception in the people, so that they may restrain or punish their kings as often as they abuse their power. What mischiefs this opinion has occasioned, and may yet occasion, if once the minds of people are fully possessed with it, every wise man sees.”[xii] Why Milton might have been eager to meet Grotius remains to be seen, but his admiration does not bespeak radical puritan leanings.

                  However, some of the key evidence Campbell and Corns adduce for Milton’s high-church upbringing seems equally dubious: in particular, the claim that Joseph Mede (or Mead), the most eminent of Christ’s thirteen tutors during Milton’s Cambridge years, “belonged with the Arminians and ceremonialists.”[xiii] Mede’s circle included Milton’s own tutors, Chappell and Tovey—Fletcher describes Mede and Chappell as close friends—so Mede’s views in the late 1620s tell us something about the undergraduate Milton’s religious formation. In the spring of 1628 Mede wrote to his regular correspondent, Martin Stuteville, excoriating the proto-Laudian, John Cosin, as “a most audacious fellow, and I doubt scarce a sound protestant . . . [who] takes upon him most impudently to bring superstitious innovations into our church,” as, for example, banks of candles on the high altar, Mede adding that a “great part, if not most of the evil in our church at this present, is supposed to proceed from him.” Mede’s politics are of a piece with his liturgical preferences. As Parliament debated the Petition of Right in late April of the same year, Mede informed Stuteville with dismay that “all is grown woeful and desperate. . . . the parliament is not like to hold above three or four days . . . [and] the greater part of the Lords stand for the king’s prerogative against the subjects’ liberties,” a second letter, written a few days later, describing the contest in the Lords as pitting “nine peers of the side that stood for freedom” against “nine others of that party, that to please one man, labored might and main to make themselves and their posterity slaves.”[xiv]

Mede is a parliamentary-protestant low-churchman. Yet he does, once, warmly praise Laud, and does so for reasons that make a Miltonist’s ears prick up. In 1631 the Court of High Commission convicted Sir Giles Allington of having married his half-sister. The Court’s eight bishops, Mede reports, “made speeches, and all very good ones, many excellent and learned, wherein the Bishop of London [Laud] bore the bell from them all, demonstrating the foulness and heinousness of the crime.” Elaborating on this final point, Mede describes how he has heard that when Allington appealed to the judges of Common Pleas for a prohibition, which would have quashed the conviction and removed the case from the ecclesiastical courts,

(B) the Bishop of London especially showed himself a man of spirit and courage: for . . . as some say, at the council table, he spake in this manner: ‘If this prohibition,’ quoth he, ‘had taken place, I hope my Lord's Grace of Canterbury [Abbot] would have excommunicated throughout his province all the judges who should have had a hand therein. For mine own part, I will assure you, if he would not, I would have done it in my diocese, and myself in person denounced it both in Paul's Church and other churches of the same, against the authors of so enormous a scandal to our church and religion.’ I know not what you will think of it in the country, but we say here it was spoken like a bishop indeed.[xv]

Mede was not a root-and-branch man; nothing in the letter suggests that “spoken like a bishop” might be sardonic. What impressed Mede was Laud’s firm defense of ecclesiastical authority, his courage to uphold the canons’ prohibition of incest against the combined powers of Cupid and the common law. What impressed Mede, that is to say, was Laud’s clericalism, and in particular his courage in maintaining the Church’s jurisdiction over the love-lives of the laity. Milton, of course, would be less impressed. His bitter condemnation of ecclesiastical marriage law for blighting the happiness of countless gentlemen dates from a later period, but Mede’s support for Laud in 1631 suggests that Milton would not have identified clericalism with Laudianism per se, and hence also suggests that the violent anti-clericalism that imprints Milton’s work from Lycidas on embraces his conformist tutors no less than the Caroline bishops within the scope of its animus.

                  Mede’s low-churchmanship, however, would have little bearing on the question of Milton’s early religious commitments, were it not that in 1641, two years after Mede’s death, there appeared in print a little treatise of his that points to the answer. We don’t know when Mede wrote The apostasy of the latter times; recent scholarship dates it to the years immediately before Milton arrived at Cambridge,[xvi] but its apocalyptic-millenarian reading of post-Reformation history forms the central theme of all Mede’s writings. What distinguishes the Apostasy, however, is its reading of 1 Timothy 4 as prophesying that the awful revolt against God, the revolt ushering in the “latter times,” would occur when “the Gentiles idolatrous Theology of Daemons should be revived among Christians.“[xvii] Mede takes the Roman Church’s veneration of saints and angels to constitute precisely such a revival of ancient demon-worship. Mede’s “daemons” (or daimons; from Δαιμονες) are not the demons of Christian tradition, but, as he makes clear, the middle spirits of Greco-Roman antiquity. Drawing principally on Hesiod, Plutarch, Plato, and Apuleius, Mede explains that the daimons—the beings, known in Latin as genii and including as sub-species both lares and heroes—comprise “an inferior sort of deified powers . . . to be as mediators and agents between the sovereign gods and mortal men” (9-10). The Gentiles, according to Mede, recognized two kinds of daimons. Some daimons, he notes, were “deified souls of worthy men after death” (24), quoting Hesiod’s account of how Jupiter promoted men of the Golden Age to the rank of daimons, “that is, keepers and protectors, or patrons of earthly mortals, and overseers of their good and evil works” (14), as well as Plutarch’s claim that the souls of the virtuous dead first rise to the ranks of heroes, then daimons, “and after that, if they deserved well, to a more sublime degree” (18). Daimons of Mede’s second type were not human souls raised to middle spirits but beings semi-divine by nature, and it is these “more high and sublime daemons,” on Apuleius’ reading of Plato, who serve as guardians for individual men (19).[xviii] These higher daimons, Mede adds, correspond to “that sort of spiritual powers which we call angels,” just as the “soul-demons” correspond to “those which with us are called saints” (19). The apostasy of the latter time is the Roman Church’s return to the ancient, idolatrous religion of daimons: the worshipping of saints and angels.[xix]

                  Milton’s early writings contain little controversial divinity, but, beginning with the poems written during his early undergraduate years through his 1639-40 elegy for Diodati, they are overrun by daimons. Of the two best known, Lycidas’ “genius of the shore” represents Mede’s first type of daimon: the soul of a virtuous mortal, who, like the saints, watches over those still “wander[ing] in that perilous flood”; the Ludlow Masque’s Attendant Spirit, whom the Trinity manuscript calls a “Daemon,” belongs to the second, guardian-angel, type.[xx] These are both works of the mid-1630s, but already in “On the death of a fair infant,” written in 1625-6—that is, during Milton’s first years at Cambridge—he imagines his niece as having been “some Star which from the ruin’d roof/ Of shak’t Olympus by mischance didst fall” (ll. 43-4). Like the Attendant Spirit who descends from “the starry threshold of Jove’s court,” the star-child is an astral daimon; so in Plutarch’s “The daimon of Socrates,” Timarchus beholds “stars leaping up and down” around a “huge and deep gulf”; and then the voice tells him, “these be . . . the daemons.”[xxi] So too Milton’s third elegy, “On the death of the Bishop of Winchester” (Lancelot Andrewes), written about the same time, climaxes in a vision of the saintly bishop as a “semidea anima” (l. 30), a daimonic middle spirit between gods and men, his white robes flowing down to golden sandals and “in his glorious face shone the radiance of stars” (Siderum nitido fulsit in ore iubar [l. 54; trans. mine]). Daimons reappear in Milton’s later Cambridge writings as well: referred to by name in Prolusion VII (ca 1632), in its rhapsodic survey of “universal learning” ascending from the study of natural phenomena to “the divine might and power of the soul,” and finally to whatever knowledge can be had “concerning those beings which we call lares and genii and daemons.”[xxii] Prolusion III, an attack on scholastic philosophy written ca 1628,[xxiii] includes an equally passionate celebration of an ideal humanistic curriculum, covering history, ethnography, the natural sciences, and lastly (ultimo) “wander[ing] beyond the confines of the world” to the highest things: knowledge of oneself and of those holy minds and intelligences whose eternal society it shall thereafter join.”[xxiv] As in Prolusion VII, the highest objects of human knowledge prove none other than the middle spirits of antiquity. Mede, in all likelihood, heard Milton deliver these prolusions, presumably with horror.

                  As the initial examples from Comus and Lycidas attest, the daimons retain their hold on Milton’s imagination into, and indeed throughout, the 1630s, the Genius of the 1633 Arcades, akin to both the Attendant Spirit of the Ludlow Maske and the “Genius of the shore”; the “Daemons that are found/ In fire, air, flood, or under ground,” “to unfold” whose powers Il Penseroso seeks the daimon-spirit of Plato;[xxv] the divine tertia mens that winds mysteriously through the voice of a woman Milton heard singing in Rome in 1638-39.[xxvi] They return in the final lines of Daemon’s epitaph, as Milton first imagines his beloved Diodati now feasting “amongst the souls of heroes and undying gods” (Heroumque animas inter, divosque perennes) and then addresses him in language that borders on prayer: (C) “Dexter ades, placidusque fave, quicunque vocaris,/ Seu tu noster eris Damon, sive aequior audis/ Diodatus (ll. 208-10).[xxvii] “Damon” is, of course, like “Lycidas” a name borrowed from pastoral convention, and “Seu tu noster eris Damon” can simply mean “whether we are to call you ‘Damon,’” but the context also suggests a pun on “daemon.” The rather pointless question as to whether Diodati might prefer to be called “Damon” only half-veils the unspoken one: “whether you will be our daemon”—as Lycidas in death became a genius, the Latin term for a daimon.
That the Prolusions describe the ancient middle spirits as the highest objects of human knowledge makes it hard to dismiss the daimons that populate Milton’s early verse as classicizing ornament. Nor can the implicit challenge to Mede and his ilk have been coincidence. Milton’s celebration of lares, genii, heroes, and other such semideae animae mounts a royal-fireworks assault on mainstream Protestant sensibility: on its horror of idolatry and its refusal of any intermediaries “in the space/ Betwixt this world and that of grace.”[xxviii] In Milton’s case, however, veneration of the daimons represents an apostasy not of Mede’s latter age but of the modern, not the death grip of popery but the apotheosis of poetry. For Milton’s daimons, especially those portrayed as extraordinary mortals exalted in death to semi-divine mediators between heaven and earth (Andrewes, Edward King, Leonora, Diodati), seem almost mirror-images of his youthful figurations of the poet, of his own poetic vocation. Moreover, from the beginning, Milton portrays this calling as an alternative priesthood.[xxix] Thus in his 1629 verse letter to Diodati (“Elegy VI”), enclosing, amazingly, the Nativity Ode, Milton renders the visionary self-image at the core of his poetics as like a priest (auger), radiant in his sacred robes, standing before the hostile gods (infensos . . . deos), and then, a few lines later as a priest, affirming that “the poet is sacred to the gods, and their priest,” for “from the hidden places of his breast, his lips breathe Jove.”[xxx] The poet is a priest, but a priest whom rather than sacrificing at an altar, daimon-like traverses the middle space “between divine and mortal . . . interpreting and transporting human things to the gods and divine things to men.”[xxxi] Similarly sacral images of the poet‘s divine song recur in Ad patrem, along with a mysterious daimonic Spiritus “who flies through the swift spheres even now, between the starry choirs singing his immortal melody and ineffable song.”[xxxii]

                  The daimons return in the 1637 letter to Diodati where Milton confesses that he is no longer seeking to take holy orders but aspiring to immortality, which, given the Pegasus-allusion that follows (and the entire context of the letter), seems to mean poetic immortality. Immediately before this confession and prefacing it, Milton described himself to Diodati in a heady mix of Latin and Greek as a passionate lover of beauty, as one seeking the idea of the beautiful “throughout all the forms and faces (facies) of things,” and then adds parenthetically, as though to explain or justify this pursuit of beauty, a line from Euripides that the Complete Prose translates (E) “many are the shapes of things divine,” which is perfectly correct, but the Greek is pollaì morfaì tωn daimonίωn, or, literally, “many are the shapes of the daimonic.”[xxxiii] Indeed, both senses of the word seem operative: the poet seeks Beauty—the “Idea of the Beautiful”—which Milton imagines as, like the Platonic Eros, a daimon in the metaxy, the middle space between gods and men;[xxxiv] and this pursuit of beauty is not only legitimate but holy because the divine assumes many forms. The Euripidean parenthesis seems to be responding to the obvious Protestant objection that the divine manifests itself to us only in Scripture. By suggesting that in seeking the beautiful the poet is pursuing divinity (or, as Milton goes on to affirm, “immortality”), the parenthesis makes poetry a sacred calling, a religion of beauty.

                  The daimons’ relation to this religion of beauty discloses itself in a peculiarity of Milton’s early poetry, especially the Latin poetry. One finds passage after passage describing heaven: detailing the exquisite sensuous beauty of its “silver rivers,” “rosy light,” and “perfumed winds borne beneath myriad roses”; the splendor of the “heavenly host . . . with their jeweled wings” and “immortal harps of golden wires;”[xxxv] the magnificence of “the shining portals of Olympus, the palace of crystal and the beryl-paved courts,” where the “sweet societies” of the blest “sing, and singing in their glory move;” where “song and the sound of the lyre are mingled in ecstasy with blessed dances, and where the festal orgies rage under Zion’s heavenly thyrsus.[xxxvi] However, except for the brief mention of the “him” that sits on the “sapphire-colour’d throne” in “At a solemn music,” heaven in these poems does not include the presence of God, and Milton uses biblical allusion to underscore the omission. In Lycidas, it is the saints who “wipe the tears for ever from his eyes” (l. 181), an allusion to Revelations 7:17, but there God wipes the tears. Ad patrem misremembers Revelations to similar effect. In heaven, Milton writes his father, (F) “we shall walk, crowned with gold, through the temples of the skies (caeli templa) and with the harp’s soft accompaniment we shall sing sweet songs to which the stars shall echo” (ll. 32-34). The notes point one to Revelations 21:22, but in his vision of heaven, St. John “saw no temple therein: For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” Seventeenth-century Englishmen knew their Apocalypse; they would have noticed, would have been meant to notice, the temple that signifies the absence of Lord and Lamb in the heaven of Ad patrem. The poem, which defends Milton’s own poetic vocation, replaces the beatific vision with aesthetic rapture. As with the young Milton’s other portraits of eternity, what initially looks like the beauty of holiness seems rather to celebrate the holiness of beauty—and for Milton, this beauty embraces both the splendor of heaven’s landscape and the magnificence of its saints and angels, Mede’s latter-day daimons.
                  Milton’s celebration of these glorious semi-divine beings, some of them transfigured human beings, whose “solemn troops and sweet societies” have no apparent Lord but rather “in their glory move” to the beat of their own singing, borders on the heterodox. In other early works, Milton takes his daimons across that line. In Prolusion VII the transgression is so flagrant that one suspects Milton was being deliberately outrageous, perhaps, since this seems to have been his M.A. performance, a farewell gesture of insubordination. The work, which, as noted above, pours abuse on scholasticism and lays out an ideal curriculum whose final object is the daimons, throughout presents humanistic study as deiform self-fashioning. The liberal arts, Milton declares, enable the mind to rise to the contemplation of eternity and thereby imitate, enraptured, the life of the immortal gods; among the ancients, those who were first among men sought by such study to become not last among gods, nor would they have had far to seek, since the intellect, if conjoined with virtue, has “an excellence and splendor and majesty almost divine.” Moreover, once a man has attained encyclopedic erudition, “he will seem to be the one whose will and lordship the stars obey, whom earth and sea follow, to whom winds and storms submit”; once, that is, man attains divinizing knowledge, he becomes the lord of creation, or, in Milton’s extraordinary Freud-meets-Faust scenario, (G) “Mother Nature will yield herself in surrender to him, just as if some God [the capitalization is in the Latin], having abdicated his rule of the world, ceded its governance and administration to him as its new commander.”[xxxvii] As in the young Milton’s visions of heaven, God retires, his place filled by saints and scholars.
The heterodoxy of Comus is more subtle, but also more significant, if only from literary-critical perspective, since the masque has been claimed by proponents of both the oppositional-puritan Milton and his Laudian-Arminian doppelgänger. The work is often read as a Christian allegory.[xxxviii] Yet as Michael Lloyd pointed out in 1960, the opening and closing speeches of the Attendant Spirit (whose first name was “Daemon”) derive from Plutarch.[xxxix] The masque’s theological frame, that is to say, is not Christian. That it is not should be evident at a moment’s glance. In his opening speech, the Spirit, noting that most mortals strive merely “to keep up a frail and feverish being,/ Unmindful of the crown that Virtue gives/ After this mortal change, to her true servants” (ll. 8-10), declares that for none of this rabble would he “soil . . . [his] pure ambrosial weeds/ With the rank vapours of this sin-worn mould” (ll. 16-17); his errands are only on behalf of such “that by due steps aspire/ To lay their just hands on that golden key/ That opes the palace of eternity” (ll. 12-14). The masque’s final lines say much the same: that mortals who would ascend to the Spirit’s mansion must love virtue, for this alone “can teach ye how to climb/ Higher than the sphery chime,” and that heaven will stoop to assist those who so strive, if at any time their strength fail (ll. 1018-23). Christianity of whatever stripe holds that the Son of God, unlike Milton’s fastidious Spirit, endured not only dirt but death for rank sinners. Moreover, in the post-Augustinian West, mainstream Christianity, Catholic and Protestant alike, insisted on the prevenience of grace; it is not something one merits but the precondition of all merit (or, as Protestants would say, of all good works).[xl]

The Attendant Spirit’s theology derives not from Paul but from Plutarch’s essay on the daimon of Socrates. The Spirit’s opening speech restates its claim that “the divine spirits which surmount our nature” choose “out of the whole [human] flock the best of us” as objects of their care and protection, leaving “the common and rascal sort” to their own devices. Like Milton’s Spirit, these daimons are (H) “favorable unto them who in their good endeavors aspire to the same end that they have attained to; yea, and after a sort banding and siding with them, do incite and exhort them to virtue.” So too the Spirit’s final promise of heaven’s assistance to those in mid-climb echoes Plutarch’s account of how (I) the daimon “suffereth us to strive and labor of ourselves; yea, and by our own patience and long-sufferance to save ourselves and gain the haven; but when there is a soul which . . . straineth all her might and main with much sweat to get forth and ascend up, to it God envieth not her own proper daemon and familiar spirit to be assistant.”[xli]

 It is hard to know what to make of all this. Mede, of course, would have been appalled by the masque’s disregard for Augustinian orthodoxy, but Laud might have found it almost as distasteful. The masque’s poetic theology, in which the heavens care for the exceptionally virtuous few, whom they assist at the eleventh hour but otherwise let fight the good fight on their own, does not take sides in the controversies tearing apart the Caroline Church from within, and, barring a few lines on persecuted saints and a few more of medieval nostalgia, the same holds true for the rest of the early works. These, taken together and with due weight given to the Latin writings, make clear that the young Milton was neither Calvinist nor Caroline; indeed more than a few passages suggest that he had sailed off the Christian mainstream—although still trusting in “the dear might of him that walked the waves.” There’s nothing in these early writings, that is, to suggest that Milton saw himself in revolt against Christianity. He does, however, seem to have been repelled by the version(s) on offer at Cambridge.
 Indeed, this antipathy to the intellectual and cultural universe of the clerical establishment—to the logical “brambles,” “barren controversies,” and “absurd doctrines of driveling monks” purveyed by academic divines of all theological stripes[xlii]—is, if not the only, at least the most obvious, thread binding Milton’s early works to the radical tracts of the Interregnum.[xliii] The vocal hostility of his 1659 position that “it were much better there were not one divine in the university, no school-divinity known”[xliv] already shoots through the prolusion against scholastic philosophy of three decades earlier,[xlv] where that antipathy seems intimately bound up with a defense of poetry and of his own vocation as a poet (rather than, if one may read between the lines, a clergyman). As he declares in the presence of his clergyman teachers, who could not have been pleased, when attempting to master the “useless and barren controversies” of their beloved schoolmen, he feels like someone trying to force his way through “desolate wildernesses . . . where no laurels grow nor flowers bloom, and to which the sound of Apollo’s lyre can never penetrate.”[xlvi]

Milton was, of course, not the first person to champion Apollo’s lyre against the logical-metaphysical aridities of scholasticism, nor does he claim to be; his response is the classic Renaissance-humanist one first voiced by Petrarch nearly three centuries earlier. But it is this Arnoldian battle, not the Caroline bellum theologicum, which the warfaring young poet is fighting under the banner of sweetness and light, Parnassus and Apollo, the daimon-spirit flying “between the starry choirs singing his immortal melody and ineffable song” and the poet-priest “whose lips breathe Jove.” And if Milton’s siding with the Muses over the ministry did not require abjuring Christianity, it did involve a repudiation of Christian orthodoxy more radical and thorough-going than that of Erasmian humanism. For Erasmus, as for many Laudians thereafter, the Church Fathers provided a model of spiritual renewal from within the canonical heart of Christian tradition. Milton seems not to have embarked on the study of Christian antiquity until 1641-42, and when he turned to this patristic material, he found it dull.[xlvii]

Over the next two decades, Milton did read extensively in theology. His religious outlook seems, in fact, to have become progressively more orthodox (albeit never wholly so), his poetry more biblical, until the final rejection of Athens for Jerusalem in Paradise Regained. The Restoration Milton is a Protestant poet. His early writings, however, belong to the Renaissance. They affirm--in the teeth of Christ’s “sour old men,” whose “petty disputations . . . [reek] of the monkish cells in which they were written”--the many shapes of things divine and the saving grace of art, which, (J) “by that power with which it is by heavenly grace endued, raises aloft the soul . . . and breathing over it the scent of nectar and bedewing it with ambrosia . . . whispers to it everlasting joy.”[xlviii]

[i] The spelling and punctuation of early modern texts has been silently modernized throughout.
[ii] Puritan” and “Laudian” are notoriously elusive terms; here, as in much Milton criticism, they are merely labels for two of the three dominant religious groupings in the England of Milton’s youth (the third being low-church conformity or what Patrick Collinson called, in his wonderful book of that title, “the religion of Protestants”).
[iii] Barbara Lewalski, The life of John Milton: a critical biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 17.
[iv] Graham Parry, The arts of the Anglican Counter-Reformation (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2006), 154-56; Gordon Campbell and Thomas Corns, John Milton: life, work, and thought (Oxford: OUP, 2008), 61-62.
[v] Complete prose works of John Milton (CPW), gen. ed. Don Wolfe, 8 vols. In 10 (New Haven: Yale, 1953-82), 1:380. See also Shuger, “A protesting catholic puritan in Elizabethan England,” JBS 48.3 (2009): 616-18, 623 and her “The Laudian idiot,” in Sir Thomas Browne: the world proposed, ed. Reid Barbour and Claire Preston (Oxford: OUP, 2008), 44-45; Richard Montagu, A gagg for the new Gospel? No: a new gagg for an old goose . . . (London: Thomas Snodham for Matthew Lownes and William Barret, 1624), 178-79; Kevin Sharpe, Reading revolutions: the politics of reading in early modern Europe (New Haven: Yale, 2000), 232.
[vi] Keith Sprunger, Dutch puritanism: a history of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Leiden: Brill, 1982) , 256.
[vii] Elegy IV, in John Milton: Paradise Regained, the minor poems, and Samson Agonistes, ed. Merritt Hughes (New York: Odyssey, 1937), ll. 82-93. Unless otherwise noted, subsequent references to Milton’s poems come from this volume, abbreviated “Hughes.”
[viii] CPW 4.1.615.
[ix] Lewalski, 89.
[x] Edwin Rabbie, intro. to Hugo Grotius, Ordinum Hollandiae ac Westfrisiae pietas (1613): critical edition with English translation and commentary, ed. Edwin Rabbie (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 30-33.
[xi] Jeffrey Jue, Heaven upon earth: Joseph Mede (1586-1638) and the legacy of millenarianism (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006), 151. See also Johannes van den Berg, “Grotius’ views on antichrist and apocalyptic thought in England, in Hugo Grotius, Theologian: Essays in honour of G. H. M. Posthumus Meyjes, ed. Henk Nellen and Edwin Rabbie, 169-84 (Leiden: Brill, 1994), which notes that the two Grotian theological works published in 17th c. England were both published in Laudian Oxford (175).
[xii]Hugo Grotius, De iure belli ac pacis 1.3.8 (the passage quoted by Lewalski comes from 1.3.12); http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1425&chapter=138597&layout=html&Itemid=27; accessed 8/18/11.
[xiii] Campbell and Corns, 26.
[xiv]Thomas Birch, ed., The court and times of Charles the First, 2 vols. (London: Henry Colburn, 1848), 1:335-36, 346, 349. The debate concerned whether or not to accept the Commons version of the Petition of Right.
[xv] Ibid, 2:119-20.
[xvi] Jue thinks the treatise might have been written as early as 1617-24 (100), but that seems inconsistent with his claim that after 1632 Mede could no longer publish his apocalyptic speculations, since Laudian censorship blocked works that equated the pope with the anti-Christ (32). If the Apostasy had been written during Abbot’s arch-episcopate, why did Mede not publish it at the time?
[xvii] Joseph Mede, The apostasy of the latter times . . . or the Gentiles’ theology of daemons . . . (London: Printed by Richard Bishop for Samuel Man, 1641), 8.
[xviii] Mede gives the passage from Apuleius in Latin: “Ex hac sublimiori Daemonum copia autumat Plato singulis hominibus in vita agenda testes & custodes singulos additos.”
[xix] Behind Mede’s thesis is the fact that the Septuagint translates the Hebrew word for idol as daimon.
[xx] Michael Lloyd, “’Comus’ and Plutarch’s daemons,” NQ, Nov. 1960, 421.
[xxi]Plutarch, The philosophie, commonlie called, the morals written by the learned philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea, trans. Philemon Holland (London : Printed by Arnold Hatfield, 1603), 1219. On the daimon’s astral habitation, see also the passage from Manilius’ Astronimica describing the Milky Way quoted in George Sandys’ 1632 notes to his translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis:
Or troops of unseen stars there join their light;
And with united splendor shine more bright.

Or souls of Heroes, from their bodies freed,
Exchanging Earth for Heaven (their virtues’ meed)
Shine in that Orb, their proper place of rest;

And live ethereal lives, of heaven possest.
[xxii] CPW 1:296 (translation modified)
[xxiii] Campbell and Corns (36-7) date it from Milton’s undergraduate years, i.e., 1625-29
[xxiv] sanctas illas mentes, & intelligentias quibuscum post haec sempiternum initura est sodalitium. The Latin is from Joannis Miltonii Angli, epistolarum familiarium liber unus, quibus accesserunt ejusdem . . . prolusions (EF) (London, 1674), 95; the English is a modified version of CPW 1:247.
[xxv] Il Penseroso, ll. 88-96. On the Hermetic background of these daimons, see E. C. Baldwin, “A note on Il Penseroso,” MLN 33 (1918): 184-85
[xxvi] See Ad Leonoram Romae cantatem, although here the supernatural being is referred to as “Deus” (God? A god?), not a daimon or genius.
[xxvii] “Dexter ades” echoes the prayer to Janus in Ovid’s Fasti, 1.67 (http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/ovid/ovid.fasti1.shtml; accessed 8/18/11).
[xxviii] George Herbert, “Affliction (IV),” l. 6.
[xxix] Or ministry, for Protestants writers, no less than Catholic, depict the clergy as mediating between God and humankind, although for the former, this has more to do with preaching than the sacraments.
[xxx] (D) Diis etenim sacer est vates divumque sacerdos,/ Spirat et occultum pectus et ora Iovem. “Elegia Sexta: ad Carolum Diodatum, ruri commorantem,” ll. 65-66, 77-78. Trans. mine.
[xxxii] Ad patrem 18, 25-26, 35-37 (trans. mine). Milton’s spirit may derive from Plutarch’s “Why the Pythian priestess ceases her oracles in verse,” 9, which tells how the first Delphic sibyl, having been raised by the Muses on Helicon, prophesied that after her death she would ascend to the moon and “that her voice and prognostications should be always heard in the air, intermixed with the winds and by them driven about from place to place” (Plutarch’s Miscellanies and essays, ed. William Goodwin, 5 vols., 6th ed. [Boston: Little, Brown, 1889], 3:77).
[xxxiii] CPW 1:326-27; EF, 18-19. For the Greek, see Euripides, Bacchae 1388. The same two lines recur in several of Euripides’ plays.
[xxxiv] Plato, Symposium 202d-e. See note 31.
[xxxv] Elegy III, ll. 45, 39, 47-48, 59; “At a Solemn Music,” l. 13.
[xxxvi] “On the death of the Bishop of Ely,” ll. 64-65; “Lycidas,” ll. 179-80; “Damon’s epitaph,” ll. 218-19. The translations in this paragraph follow the Hughes edition, with occasional modifications.
[xxxvii] EF 139, 142-43, 145; trans. mine.
[xxxviii] The locus classicus is A. S. P. Woodhouse, “The argument of Milton’s Comus,” UTQ 11 (1941): 46-71; for a fine recent treatment, with bibliography, see Catherine Gimelli Martin, “The non-puritan ethics, metaphysics, and aesthetics of Milton’s Spenserian masque,” Milton Quarterly 37 (December 2003): 215-244.
[xxxix] Lloyd, 421-23.
[xl] Roman Catholics and “Arminians” (taking the term as a loose equivalent for the liberal anti-Calvinism of the Dutch Remonstrants, most early Stuart high-churchmen, the Great Tew circle, and, of course, Milton at some point in his life) hold that we must cooperate with grace and can refuse it, but all these theologies affirm the claim of Milton’s God that man’s salvation is “not of will in him, but grace in me” (Paradise lost, 3.174).
[xli] Plutarch, The philosophie, 1221-22.
[xlii] CPW 243-44, 293.
[xliii] Campbell and Corns, 139.
[xliv] Quoted in Campbell and Corns, 289 (modernized).
[xlv] Leo Miller had made a strong case that it was this prolusion that precipitated the falling out between Milton and Chappell, who was renown for his prowess at scholastic disputation, which raises the distinct possibility that Milton’s savage attack on the practice and the values it embodied may have targeted his own tutor; see his “Milton’s clash with Chappell: a suggested reconstruction,” Milton Quarterly 14 (1980): 77-87.
[xlvi] CPW 1:243-44; see Miller, “Milton’s clash,” 80.
[xlvii] Lewalski 65; CPW 1:560-2.
[xlviii] Prolusion 3, CPW 1:241, 243-44, 291.