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An Apology Against a Pamphlet

This is a response to a pamphlet (supposedly authored by Bishop Hall and his son) entitled A Modest Confutation of the Animadversions. Essentially, Milton has been called out for the vicious invective of his previous pamphlet, the Animadversions. An Apology is one of the lesser pamphlets, but it does contain some valuable early autobiographical material.

Major points

  1. Milton "resolved . . . to stand on that side where [he] saw both the plain authority of scripture leading and the reason of justice and equity persuading . . . " in the debate over Church organization.
  2. "Rear and dull disposition, lukewarmness and sloth" are equated with the "affected name of moderation"; "true and lively zeal" is disparaged as "indiscretion, bitterness and choler . . ."
  3. Comparison of the "fame of his elder adversary" with the "calculating" of Milton’s "years" (youth).
  4. Milton’s project is "to give a more true account of [himself]" than was given in the Halls’ pamphlet.
  5. His best defense would have been silence, but Milton claims he is defending the truth when defending himself: "I discerned his intent was . . . through me to tender odious the truth which I had written."


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Justification (autobiography) section:

  1. University "fellows" wanted Milton to stay.
  2. Milton’s response to the "vomited out thence" description of his university experience: the body keeps the worse while vomiting the better—a weak argument at best.
  3. Mornings spent reading.
  4. Response to whoring charges (made sarcastically by the Halls): how can a reader know that Hall is not speaking of himself and his own experience? (A "takes one to know one" kind of argument.)
  5. The Confuter must know that "old cloaks, false beards, night-walkers and salt lotion" are elements of a bordello from personal experience, in order to be able to charge Milton of impropriety for such mentions in his Animadversions.
  6. Snide reference to sexual content in passages from Hall’s earlier satire Mundus Alter et Idem—indicative of Hall’s being a bordello regular?
  7. Reading as moral preparation.
  8. Separation of art from the morality of the artist.
  9. He who would be a true poet (like Milton) must be of high moral fiber.

Reading history:

    1. "lofty fables and romances"—Arthurian/Ariosto
    2. Plato and Xenophon
    3. Bible/Christian religion
    4. Milton argues that he never could have been guilty of the things he is accused of in A Modest Confutation, because of this moral education through reading.

Arguments against A Modest Confutation:

General Remarks

  1. "This tormentor of semicolons is as good at dismembering and slitting sentences, as his grave Fathers the Prelates have been at stigmatizing and slitting noses."
  2. "Our inrag’d Confuter . . . like a recreant Jew calls for stones"—response to call for stoning of Milton in A Modest Confutation.
  3. "To be the Remonstrant is no better than to be a Jesuit."

Point by Point Refutations

Section 1

  1. Violence done to a holy prelat? Milton writes that he did not know it was a holy prelate, for "evil is written of those who would be prelates."
  2. "Prelaticall Pharisees" –Contrast this to Bishop Hall’s Pharisaisme and Christianity (1625).
  3. Defense of harsh language: Christ used it; Luther used it. "There may be a sanctified bitterness agaist the enemies of truth."
  4. "If therefore the Remonstrant complain of libels, it is because he feels them to be right aimed." Milton accuses Hall of never having objected to ad hominem techniques before he found them aimed at him: "How long is it simce he hath dis-relished libels?"

Section 4

  1. "In what degree of enmity to Christ shall we place that man then, who is so with him, as that it makes more against him, and so gathers with him, that it scatters more from him?"
  2. Milton runs over his arguments again—Scripture vs. Tradition, and anti-ceremony/anti-liturgy arguments.

Section 5

Milton takes Hall to task for ducking his responsibility for, and complicity with, the ex officio oaths: "that the Remonstrant cannot wash his hands of all the cruelties exercised by the Prelates is past doubting."

Section 6

  1. Milton takes Hall on for criticizing his "simile of a Sleekstone," which, according to Hall, "shewes [Milton] can be as bold with a Prelat as familiar with a Laundresse."
  2. Milton argues that the "lacivious promptnesse of his [Hall’s] own fancy" shown in Hall’s early satires causes Hall to reach such a conclusion. This is a "He must have a dirty mind" kind of argument.

Section 10

  1. Milton takes on the contention (in AMC) that "a rich Widow, or a lecture, or both, would content me [Milton]."
  2. "I think with them who both in prudence and elegance of spirit would choose a virgin of mean fortunes honestly bred, before the wealthies widow."

Section 11

  1. Milton argues against Hall’s argument for "expedience of set forms" in church services.
  2. He also argues against Hall’s assertion that Liturgy "is the preserving of order, unity, and piety."

Section 12

Milton argues against Hall’s defense of rewards for the clergy.

The Atheist Milton

Michael Bryson
(Ashgate  Press, 2012)

Basing his contention on two different lines of argument, Michael Bryson posits that John Milton–possibly the most famous 'Christian' poet in English literary history–was, in fact, an atheist.

First, based on his association with Arian ideas (denial of the doctrine of the Trinity), his argument for the de Deo theory of creation (which puts him in line with the materialism of Spinoza and Hobbes), and his Mortalist argument that the human soul dies with the human body, Bryson argues that Milton was an atheist by the commonly used definitions of the period. And second, as the poet who takes a reader from the presence of an imperious, monarchical God in Paradise Lost, to the internal-almost Gnostic-conception of God in Paradise Regained, to the absence of any God whatsoever in Samson Agonistes, Milton moves from a theist (with God) to something much more recognizable as a modern atheist position (without God) in his poetry.

Among the author's goals in The Atheist Milton is to account for tensions over the idea of God which, in Bryson's view, go all the way back to Milton's earliest poetry. In this study, he argues such tensions are central to Milton's poetry–and to any attempt to understand that poetry on its own terms.


The Tyranny of Heaven
Milton's Rejection of God as King

Michael Bryson
(U. Delaware Press, 2004)

The Tyranny of Heaven argues for a new way of reading the figure of Milton's God, contending that Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven. Though Milton portrays God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this neither to endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity. Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained rejects external rule as the model of politics and theology for Milton's "fit audience though few." The portrait of God in Paradise Lost serves as a scathing critique of the English people and its slow but steady backsliding into the political habits of a nation long used to living under the yoke of kingship, a nation that maintained throughout its brief period of liberty the image of God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with open arms the return of a human king.

Review of Tyranny of Heaven