The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton

By John Rogers | Go to book overview

4
Chaos, Creation, and the Political Science of Paradise Lost

"Milton's Utopia never rose above chaos." -- ARTHUR BARKER, Milton and the Puritan Dilemma

Well before Marvell had begun to write the poems that would draw on Comus's affirmation of the bodily power of the virgin, Milton had abandoned his commitment to both the practice of celibacy and the theory of virginal apocalypticism.1 But when he came in the 1640s to champion the state of holy matrimony, he did not abandon the image of bodily integrity as the figural basis of his liberatory politics and theology. Milton's early interest in the bodily state of virginity has been seen to generate the extraordinary doctrines of animist materialism and mortalism that would come to distinguish the heretical temper of Christian Doctrine and Paradise Lost. The path from youthful celibate to mature monistic materialist may not at first seem an obvious one. But we might usefully turn to a statement by Denis Saurat, the first critic to explore the radical nature of Milton's materialism, for a clear-sighted, if simplistic, mapping of this path: "Milton was driven to pantheism by his pride and chastity: his body was holy in his eyes; his body will be of the substance of God; matter will be of the substance of God."2

During the years of Marvell's stay at Nunappleton, from 1650 to 1652, the period of the most intense activity among vitalist intellectuals, Milton had not yet begun a formal articulation of his monistic materialism. This work he would begin at the end of the decade, in chapter 7 of the first part of Christian Doctrine and in Paradise Lost. Milton was occupied instead at this time as a propagandist for the republican cause, writing by far the most radical of his political treatises, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), Eikonoklastes (1649), and, after he had been appointed Latin Secretary by

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1
On the question of the young Milton's investment in the ideal of celibacy, see Leonard, "Saying 'No' to Freud"; and Kerrigan, "Politically Correct Comus".
2
Denis Saurat, Milton: Man and Thinker ( New York: Dial Press, 1925), p. 46. For a different, far more elaborate account of the origin of Milton's materialist heresies, see Kerrigan, "Heretical Milton".

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