Milton's Personality Revealed in Paradise Lost Book 2

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      John Milton is in every line of his Paradise Lost. It cannot be denied that behind every true art there is the personality of the artist himself. The deepest thoughts and ideas, dreams and ambitions, convictions and aspirations of the artist reveal themselves through his art. But nowhere this is true as in the case of Milton whose writings are always full of autobiographical interest. The contrast between Milton and Shakespeare is very striking in this respect. The great dramatist is perfectly impersonal in his dramas. We cannot say that this is his opinion or that is Shakespeare's view of life. His characters express different opinions about different subjects, social, political, religious, moral, but the clever dramatist never identifies himself with any of them. We know much of his character, but very little of him. This complete self-effacement is certainly a merit in a great dramatist, but the revelation of self is far from being a fault in the writers of other branches of literature. In fact a good deal of the fascination of Milton's poetry and prose depends on this self-revelation of the poet through his writings.

      Paradise Lost is the grandest revelation of Milton’s self. It is his lifeblood, the fulfillment of his long-cherished dream, the consummation of his life's study and self-preparation. As such this great epic could not but be thoroughly colored by Milton’s personality. In brief, Paradise Lost and Milton are identifiable with each other. Milton the Puritan, Milton the scholar, Milton the hater of tyranny, and Milton the despiser of woman are to be found on every page of his epic. In the character of Satan, we find a good deal of Milton reflected. The great lover of political rebellion on earth had a secret sympathy with the great lover of rebellion in heaven. Milton the republican rising against the tyranny of Charles II is Satan revolting against the power and authority of God. In Satan's unconquerable will, study of revenge, fierce love of freedom, spirit of revolt, we find a picture of the great militant poet waging an eternal war against tyranny, oppression, arbitrary laws and meaningless conventions.

      Milton reveals a good deal of himself in the admirable picture of the debate in the infernal council. The fierce republican’s deep seated hatred of the Stuart tyranny is expressed almost in every line of that debate. For the time being the poet most successfully deludes us into the belief that we are not in Hell but in die British House of Commons in the Long Parliament, and it is not Moloch and Beelzebub but Hampden and Pym who are thundering against Ship Money and the Star chamber. Milton’s personal knowledge of the Parliamentary debate of his own time is largely responsible for the success of this excellent picture of the infernal council. Proposals and counter-proposals, attacks and defenses, satires and ironies and the entire wealth of Parliamentary eloquence are surely based on the personal experience of the poet himself. Something of Moloch’s fire is undoubtedly Milton's own.

      When that fiery spirit impatient of God's tyranny thunders out, saying:

"Let us rather choose,
Armed with Hell-flames and fury, all at once
O'er Heaven's high towards to force resistless way,
Against the Tortures",

      We hear the unmistakable voice of the fierce and uncompromising republican, the author of Eikonoklastes and the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. Monarchy and Episcopacy were so galling to this ardent champion of liberty that the Restoration England was nothing but a "dark opprobrious den of shame" to him. Through the mouth of Moloch he seems to summon the liberty-loving people of England to do or die, regardless of all consequences:

"More destroyed than thus,
We should be quite abolished, and expire.
What fear we then? What doubt we to incense
His utmost ire? Which, to the height enraged,
Will either quite consume us, and reduce
To nothing this essential-happier far
Than miserable to have eternal being".

      Milton’s undaunted spirit and iron determination are expressed in the following noble words of Mammon:

"Our greatness will appear
Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,
Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse
We can create, and in what place so ever
Thrive under evil and work ease out of pain
Through labour and endurance".

      With the Restoration Milton's long cherished dream-dome of a Puritan commonwealth was shattered to pieces and he was hurled headlong from the heaven of his ideal; but the born fighter and staunch republican did not lose his masculine optimism. Though old blind, neglected and persecuted he kept his head erect. Through Satan's inaugural address in the infernal assembly he thus expresses the vigor of his own mind and the strength of his own hope:

"For since no deep within her gulf can hold
Immortal vigor, though oppressed and fallen,
I give not Heaven for lost; from this descent
Celestial Virtues rising will appear
More glorious and more dread than from no fall, And trust themselves to fear no second fate."

      The barren metaphysical and theological controversies in which the divines and theologians of Milton’s time often indulged and thus lost themselves in the meandering mazes of vague and abstruse speculations are ridiculed by the poet in the following passage which describes one of the chief diversions of the fallen angels in Hell:

"Others apart sat on a hill retired,
In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost
Of good and evil much they argued then
Of happiness and final misery,
Passion and apathy, and glory and shame,
Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy!"

      The endless theological and political controversies which tore the England of Milton's time into various parties and sections always at dagger’s drawn with one another were certainly in the mind of the poet when he cried out,

"O shame to men! Devil with devil damned
Firm concord holds, men only disagree,
Of creatures rational, through under hope
Of heavenly grace"

      The entire episode of Sin and Death owes its origin to Milton’s Puritanism and deep religious nature. His love of virtue and hatred of vice are evident in part of this wonderful allegory. Satan weltering in the immense waste of Chaos and struggling heroically onward is a true picture of the blind persecuted and solitary poet "fallen on evil days and evil tongues" and struggling with adverse circumstances.

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