Chapter XXXIV John Milton. His Life and Paradise Lost. Milton and Grotius. Milton and Vondel. Milton and Junius. Milton and Salmasius. Milton and Alexander Morus. Bibliography. Hugo Grotius and John Selden. Selden and Ghaswinckel.
For the questions to be considered in this chapter a short outline of the most important dates in Milton's life may be useful. Milton's life is commonly divided for the convenience of the students into three periods: his education, followed by his life at his father's home at Horton, and his travel to France and Italy (1608-1639); his public life in the service of the great cause of the struggle against the Stuarts, before and during the Commonwealth (1640-1660); and his retirement after the great struggle and under the restoration of the Stuarts (1660-1674).
From his earliest youth until 1632, the year in which he received his master's degree at Christ's College, Cambridge, Milton had a splendid education and was a very serious student, having very early a strong consciousness of the important task of his life. Although he expected to become a minister of the church, Milton, after he left the University, devoted himself rather to the writing of poems and to scholarship, and consequently he stayed with his father at Horton, not far from Windsor Castle, until in 1638
he started on his journey to Italy. On his way to Italy he stopped at Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Hugo Grotius, at that time in more than one respect the most famous scholar, poet, lawyer, and theologian in Europe. From that time on, new subjects and new ideals influenced his mind and his program of life, while in England the most critical period of a civil war began.
Therefore, with Milton's return to England in 1639 commences the second period of his life. It is the period of the civil war, and of the Commonwealth. Feeling to the bottom of his heart the far reaching importance of the mortal struggle in which the whole nation was involved, and in which freedom of conscience was at stake, Milton sided with Cromwell and the other leaders of Democracy from start to finish. During that struggle, to which he gave all the assistance he could, and which pressed upon his mind with all its bewildering grandeur, and its overwhelming power of earnestness, his poetic feelings grasped for subjects adequate to, and in harmony with what was going on, subjects which he found in the sublime problems of ‘the ways of God with men,’ and in the tremendous ideas of the fall of the angels and of man, which make up the majestic pictures of Paradise Lost. No trace of this subject can be found in the first period of his life, although his poems written during that period, give us ample information of what were subjects in his mind. After his return from Italy in 1639, authentic proofs in his own handwriting exist to show, that these sublime questions had engrossed his mind, and that they never left him, until, in the years from 1658 until 1663, he composed the magnificent work which lies now before us in Paradise Lost. And as if the natural depth and seriousness of his life,
the religious strictness of his education and the terrible struggle in which his people became involved, were by themselves not enough to uplift his soul to the serene sublimity of this subject, he was after the year 1652 afflicted with total blindness, by which still more if possible his entire mind was directed to the unseen spiritual world.
After the great conceptions of Paradise Lost had taken their final form and shape, and while Milton was engaged in dictating them, in 1660 occurred the Restoration, and from that time, begins the third period of Milton's life. From 1660, until his death in 1674, he lived in retirement, writing his Paradise Regained, as a triumphant consequence of his Paradise Lost, and many other poems and prose works, amongst which the Samson Agonistes, ‘a subject peculiarly appropriate to the last sad years of the old Independent,’ came the ‘nearest to the level of his great epic.’
After this brief outline, which may recall the circumstances under which Paradise Lost was written and its place in the great poet's life, we come now to the great question, what were the sources accessible to Milton for this grand epic, and to which of them was he most indebted?
That Milton's work rested only on what he read in his bible, and consequently that he did not even know what had been written about the subject before him, and during his lifetime, as Dr. J.J. Moolhuizen puts the case, is certainly the most improbable possibility that ever could be supposed. A scholar like Milton, ‘a man of epic genius, great artist and originator that he is before anything else, is also inescapably predisposed to be a collector and conserver of the
perishing riches of the past.’1 No scholar in the world, of any account, would do such a thing, as Dr. Moolhuizen thinks Milton did. Indeed we may be sure, before anything else be said, that Milton had taken due notice of everything written about his great subject, which he could in any possible way obtain. We may be just as sure that every great idea, which he found in any work, and which he could make use of in his gigantic composition, really was used. It is derogatory to the high standard of Milton's scholarship, even to doubt about this.
Three works there are, which in this connection, deserve to be taken into special consideration: 1st, The Adamus Exul by Hugo Grotius, published in 1600; 2nd, The Lucifer by Joost van den Vondel, published in 1653, and, 3rd, The ‘Paraphrasis’ of Caedmon, published by Franciscus Junius in 1655. That these three works were the most important sources, which were at Milton's disposal, is just as sure as that every one of these books was published by a man of Dutch nationality.
Milton and Hugo Grotius.
In the year 1638, on his way to Italy, Milton at Paris made the acquaintance of Hugo Grotius. This means that a young English poet of thirty years of age, as Milton was at that time, enjoyed the opportunity of getting into contact with a man twenty-five years his senior; a man famous throughout all Europe as a scholar, lawyer, poet, theologian and historian, some of whose works were in the library of every
University; whom, years before Princes like Louis XIII and Gustaphus Adolphus had admired and honored; whose work De jure belli ac pacis, alone, had established his everlasting fame, and whose book De veritate Religionis Christianae had been translated in many languages, even into the Arabic and the Chinese; a Dutch scholar who was at that time ambassador for Queen Christina of Sweden at the Court of France; besides that a man of a very gentle and amiable character. That Milton must have highly appreciated this meeting with Grotius, does not admit of doubt. It must have brought Milton into more close contact also with the works of Grotius. At least when we see that among the themes for projected poems in the manuscripts of Milton, which are now in the Library of Trinity College, and which date about 1640-1642, there are four which relate to the theme of Paradise Lost, and one called Christus Patiens, we cannot help thinking of Hugo Grotius, whose Adamus Exul and Christus Patiens, as two Tragoediae Sacrae, were published in one volume in 1603, in 1608 at Leyden and in 1610 and 1618 at Paris.
Before Milton's personal acquaintance with Hugo Grotius, he might have read these tragedies of Grotius, and he might have seen the plays of Phineas Fletcher, published in 1627, while Milton was a student; he might have known Joshua Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas' Divine Weeks, but the fact is that Milton up to 1640 had written many poems, and had been pondering over many beautiful subjects, but had not written a single verse that reminds us of the sublime theme of these works. On the other hand, immediately after he met Hugo Grotius, the theme appears in his common-place book, and, as if to
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remind us of Grotius, he inserts also the title Christus Patiens. For this reason it seems probable that, whatever else Milton may have read or known about the theme of Paradise Lost, he got from Hugo Grotius the deciding inspiration for the great theme, for the development of which the following years in Milton's life became so exceedingly favorable.
In England the idea that Milton got his first inspiration for Paradise Lost from Grotius, has been held from a very early date, for in the Life of Milton in the English Plutarch, published in 1762, the author says on p. 124: ‘Mr. Lauder, in his Essay on Milton's Life and Imitation of the Moderns, has insinuated that Milton's first hint of Paradise Lost was taken from a tragedy of the celebrated Grotius, called Adamus Exul, and that Milton has not thought it beneath him to transplant some of that author's beauties into his noble work, as well as some other flowers culled from the gardens of inferior geniuses; but by an elegance of art, and force of nature peculiar to him, he has drawn the admiration of the world upon passages, which, in their original authors, stood neglected and undistinguished.’1
As for the comparison of passages in Grotius' Adamus Exul, and Milton's Paradise Lost, to find the indebtedness of Milton to Grotius as far as the contents of the poem goes, I refer to the dissertation of Conley because he follows the only method I can agree with, when he says: ‘We shall moreover discard a method often pursued in the study of this and other like problems - that of rather promiscuously ransacking one or more poems for single lines or passages that are similar to an equal number of lines or words in the poem which is being considered.
Many results, often of value only to the curious have been produced in this way, but we prefer to consider here only such likenesses as exhibit fundamental parallelisms of plot, matter and imagery in passages of some length.’1
Conley devotes not less than fifty pages to a comparison of Adamus Exul and Paradise Lost, and at the end, in a summary, he makes, among others, the conclusion that ‘we can safely say that the outlines of Adamus Exul and Paradise Lost are the same,’ and ‘that the relationship in most of the cases’ (as quoted in great number) ‘are fairly evident.’ ‘We have now come to the end of this long set of interesting correspondences between Paradise Lost and Adamus Exul, which, we find, has extended from the very beginning of each poem almost to the end.’2
Milton and Vondel.
Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679) is considered the greatest poet of the Netherlands, and his drama Lucifer, is, of his thirty-two plays, the masterpiece. His particular beauty, in which he can hardly be said to be excelled by any poet in the world, lies in the lyrical songs, which, after the manner of Greek tragedy, he introduces into his plays. Although until the year 1640 he belonged to the more humanistic circle of literary men, he was of a deeply religious character, and being strongly opposed to the Calvinistic party, he at last took refuge in the Roman Catholic Church in the year 1640. His tragedy, Gysbrecht van Amstel, having for its subject an episode of the early history of Amsterdam, is played every year on Christmas in the great theatre of that city. Lack of sufficient action, too many monologues
and narratives, are the faults of Vondel's plays, and because of these faults they never attained to world-fame by being often brought on the stage, either in Holland or in foreign countries.
Among his plays are, besides the Lucifer, the Adam in Ballingschap on the same theme as Grotius' Adamus Exul; and his Samson Agonistes. Vondel was a strong royalist, and wrote a drama Maria Stuart of Gemartelde Majesteit (Tortured Majesty). During the civil war he wrote satires in favor of Charles I, and against Cromwell.
Milton probably never got personally acquainted with Vondel, but there were many ways for Milton to know about Vondel's writings. Vondel was a great friend of Hugo Grotius, whom Milton met at Paris, and was well acquainted with Franciscus Junius, who lived in England for many years, and above all, as Conley remarks: ‘Vondel's efforts as a royalist pamphleteer, both as regards Dutch and English politics, if nothing else, would have brought him and his play to Milton's notice.’1
The question of Milton's indebtedness to Vondel in his Samson Agonistes, and especially in his Paradise Lost, is a very interesting one, and a considerable number of monographs have been published on the subject, a list of which has been made up by Conley, and is given at the end of this chapter. Edmundson may have gone too far in a few respects in asserting Milton's indebtedness; on the other hand Dr. Moolhuizen undoubtedly goes to the other extreme by denying every relationship between Vondel and Milton. The last and the best monograph on the subject seems to me indeed the dissertation of Conley, both for his right method and his thorough researches.
In a really scrutinizing comparison of all the parallel places in Paradise Lost and Lucifer, which fills not less than seventy pages of his dissertation, Conley comes to the following conclusions: ‘Indeed, though Lucifer certainly did not furnish the initial impulse for the composition of Paradise Lost, it probably exerted the dominant influence upon Milton's mind while he was giving his poem its final form.’ And: ‘we have been enabled, we think, to show that in a large number of cases Milton greatly elaborated suggestions which he obtained from Lucifer, and in still others he probably expressed his disagreement with Vondel.’1
As for Vondel's Adam in Ballingschap (Adam in exile), and its influence on Milton, Conley says: ‘The certainty of Vondel's intimate knowledge of Adamus Exul (of Grotius) is confirmed by the discovery that Vondel had previously made a Dutch translation of Adamus Exul. These facts throw light upon our problem in this way: Milton, as we have discovered, had with Adamus Exul as a basis, in his early writing formed the plan of the whole epic, and since Vondel had formed his plan upon the same, when Adam in Ballingschap came into his hands, he found Vondel's plot without change, enough like his own to furnish excellent material for elaboration.’2
Milton and Junius.
Franciscus Junius3 was the man who furnished Milton with that source for his Paradise Lost, which is called the Paraphrase of Genesis by Caedmon. Junius studied this ‘Paraphrase,’ and after having learned its old Anglo-Saxon language, published it in 1655 at Amsterdam, just in time for Milton to use it as one of his sources.
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‘At first,’ says Conley, ‘it seems rather hard to connect Milton with this poem, for very probably he knew no Anglo-Saxon, at least, very little, but Junius was in England from 1620 to 1651, employed as the librarian of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, an estate famous for its antiquities, and situated fifty-five miles southwest of London. During his life at Arundel, Junius made several trips to Oxford, and doubtless passed through London many times. And it is believed that through conversations with Junius, and by examining his manuscript for the sake of the illuminations, Milton became thoroughly acquainted with the contents of the poem.’
It would be hard to find anyone except Junius who could have given such full information about the contents of the Caedmon Paraphrase, at that period, as Milton needed to be useful for his purpose.
It was especially for the ‘visual images’ as ‘the imagery of this poem surpasses anything tradition may have possessed, and approaches Milton's brilliant conceptions.’1
Bibliography on the ‘Milton and Vondel’ Question.
Conley, Cary Herbert. Milton's indebtedness to his contemporaries in ‘Paradise Lost.’ A master's thesis for the University of Chicago, 1910. Only in typewritten copies in the Harper Library. As I think this is the best treatise on the subject, I give here as further bibliography, the books and articles enumerated by Conley.
Milton and Salmasius.
At a time when Cromwell with his Ironsides was fighting the battle of Marston-Moor, and Milton was defending the cause of English Democracy with his arguments, there was at the University of Leyden a
professor by the name of Claude Salmasius, or Saumaise as he was called in France, from where he came. Born in 1588 at Semur-en-Auxois, in Burgundy, Salmasius had a very brilliant career in almost every department of learning, and scholarship. He studied law for three years under the famous Godefroy at Heidelberg, but afterwards preferred the study of languages and literature. His fame as a scholar of the very first rank ran through all Europe. The Universities of Padua and Bologna offered him a professorship, and England tried to win him, until in 1623 he accepted the call of Leyden in order to take the place of Scaliger. After that Louis XIII of France made him Counsel of State; Henry of Bourbon, Governor of Burgundy, made all efforts to recall him to France; the queen Christina of Sweden invited him to her court; the Cardinal de Richelieu offered him a great amount of money in case he would leave Holland; Prince Maurits asked him to write a book on Roman military training, and Prince Frederick Henry once, when Salmasius had to make a journey to France, ordered a ship to be put at his disposal, and a part of the Dutch fleet to accompany him to one of the seaports of France. Never before was a scholar given so much honor. To all this Salmasius responded by writing an almost incredible number of books on all kinds of subjects, as well as pamphlets on the prominent questions of the day. Being a royalist, he wrote, shortly after the execution of Charles I, a booklet entitled ‘Defensio Regia pro Carolo I,’ dedicated to the king's oldest son Charles, whom he called the heir and legitimate successor of his father as King of England.
This book appeared in October or November, 1649. On January 8, 1650, it was ordered by the
English Council of State ‘that Mr. Milton do prepare something in answer to the book of Salmasius, and when he has done it bring it to the Council.’ Milton undertook this task and wrote his book ‘Pro-Populo Anglicano Defensio.’ Salmasius at the height of his European fame, living near to the court of Prince William II, who had married Princess Mary, the daughter of the beheaded king, and the sister of the Princes Charles and James, who had found refuge at The Hague, wrote in a very dignified, quiet, somewhat pedantic style, hardly imagining that anybody in the world could surpass him. But Milton was in quite another disposition. His indignation rose to heaven. ‘His scorn of the presumptuous intermeddler, who had dared to libel the people of England, is ten thousand times more real than Salmasius' official indignation at the execution of Charles. His contempt for Salmasius' pedantry is quite genuine; and he revels in ecstacies of savage glee, when taunting the apologist of tyranny with his own notorious subjection to a tyrannical wife. But the reveler in Milton is too far ahead of the reasoner.’1
‘There is no comparison between the invective of Milton and of Salmasius; not so much from Milton's superiority as a controversialist, though this is very evident, as because he writes under the inspiration of a true passion.’
Of course both Salmasius and Milton were able to adduce strong arguments in favor of the side which they were defending, and the question which wrote best depends largely upon what point of view the critic adopts. Those who look at the controversy from a purely literary point of view, will certainly give the palm of victory to Milton.
Milton and Alexander Morus.
Among the pamphlets that were published in answer to Milton's Defense of the English people, there was one that was deemed worthy of an answer. It was entitled ‘Clamor regii sanguinis ad coelum adversus paricidas Anglicanos,’ and was published at The Hague in 1652, without mentioning the author. Milton was informed that Alexander Morus, a professor in the Athenaeum at Amsterdam, was the author, and wrote his Defensio secunda against Morus, who was an accomplice, only in so far as he seems to have brought the pamphlet to the printer, and may be supposed to have agreed with it perfectly. Milton's Defensio secunda, published in 1654, is especially interesting, because in answering the personal attacks made upon him, he gave a fairly complete account of his own youth. At the same time Milton had obtained such intimate information about the life and the faults of Morus, and with this knowledge attacked him so fiercely, that the curators of the Athenaeum took official notice of it, and he became involved in a good deal of trouble, from which he tried to extricate himself in a pamphlet entitled, ‘Alexandri Mori fides publica.’ The real author, however, was not Morus, but Peter Du Moulin (son of the well-known Frenchman of the same name) ex-rector of Wheldrake in Yorkshire.
The only merit in these controversies, whether with Salmasius or with Morus, is that they gave sufficient offense to Milton to make him produce his double defense of the English Democracy.
Hugo Grotius and John Selden.
In this connection the controversy between Hugo Grotius and John Selden may be mentioned in a few words, as occurring at the same time between an Eng-
lish and a Dutch scholar. It is the famous controversy between the Mare Liberum of Hugo Grotius and the Mare Clausum of John Selden.
John Selden (1584-1654) was one of the greatest scholars, one of the best defenders of the people's liberties, one of the most able members of Parliament, that ever lived in England. Some of the authors who write about him, will tell us that he was not in favor of Democracy, but they do not understand that a man may be of the highest aristocratic spirit, and be living exclusively with men of high learning, and high standing, and yet be one of the best defenders of the rights of the people.
But in the controversy with Grotius, Selden made the great mistake of his life. He declared in his Mare Clausum, that ‘the sea as much as the land is the subject of private property,’ and more especially that England owned that property to a considerable extent, while Grotius defended the freedom of the open sea.
With Grotius the Mare Liberum was originally only a chapter in his great work De jure Praedae Commentarius, which formed the fundamental conception of his later work, De jure belli ac pacis, which is considered now all over the world as the foundation of international law, and which gave to the name of Hugo Grotius an imperishable fame.1 Selden's book was only a single study in that field, written at the command of James I and Charles I; King Charles was very much pleased with it, and although this is no great compliment for Selden, it was no reason for another Dutch juris consult of fame, Graswinckiel, to accuse Selden of writing the book to get out of prison. Selden gave a due answer to Graswinckel in his Vindiciae, a short time before he died, in 1654.