History of Literature

English literature



The Old English period

The early Middle English period

The later Middle English and early Renaissance periods

The Renaissance period: 1550–1660

Elizabethan and early Stuart drama

Effect of religion and science on early Stuart prose

The Restoration

The 18th century

The 18th century. The novel

The Romantic period

The later Romantics

The Post-Romantic and Victorian eras

Late Victorian literature

The 20th century. The Modernist revolution

The literature of World War I and the interwar period

Literature after 1945. Fiction. Poetry

Literature after 1945. Drama. The 21st century


English literature

The Renaissance period: 1550–1660


Effect of religion and science on early Stuart prose


Francis Bacon  PART I  "New Atlantis", PART II "THE ESSAYS OR COUNSELS"
Owen Felltham
Sir Thomas Overbury
Thomas Fuller
Izaak Walton
Robert Burton  "Anatomy of Melancholy
Sir Thomas Urquhart
Sir Thomas Browne
James Harrington

John Milton   "Paradise Lost"    BOOK 1, BOOK 2, BOOK 3, BOOK 4, BOOK 5, BOOK 6  Illustrations by G. Dore
BOOK 7, BOOK 8, BOOK 9 Illustrations by J. Martin, BOOK 10, BOOK 11, BOOK 12 Illustrations by H. Fuseli


Puritanism also had a powerful effect on early Stuart prose. The best sellers of the period were godly manuals that ran to scores of editions, such as Arthur Dent’s Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven (25 editions by 1640) and Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety (1611; some 50 editions followed), two copies of which formed the meagre dowry of preacher and author John Bunyan’s first wife. Puritans preferred sermons in the plain style too, eschewing rhetoric for an austerely edifying treatment of doctrine, though some famous preachers, such as Henry Smith and Thomas Adams, believed it their duty to make the Word of God eloquent. The other factor shaping prose was the desire among scientists for a utilitarian style that would accurately and concretely represent the relationship between words and things, without figurative luxuriance. This hope, repeatedly voiced in the 1640s and ’50s, eventually bore fruit in the practice of the Royal Society (founded 1660), which decisively affected prose after the Restoration. Its impact on earlier writing, though, was limited; most early Stuart science was written in a baroque style.

The impetus toward a scientific prose derived ultimately from Sir Francis Bacon, the towering intellect of the century, who charted a philosophical system well in advance of his generation and beyond his own powers to complete. In the Advancement of Learning (1605) and the Novum Organum (1620), Bacon visualized a great synthesis of knowledge, rationally and comprehensively ordered so that each discipline might benefit from the discoveries of the others. The two radical novelties of his scheme were his insight that there could be progress in learning (i.e., that the limits of knowledge were not fixed but could be pushed forward) and his inductive method, which aimed to establish scientific principles by experimentation, beginning at particulars and working toward generalities, instead of working backward from preconceived systems. Bacon democratized knowledge at a stroke, removing the tyranny of authority and lifting scientific inquiry free of religion and ethics and into the domain of mechanically operating second causes (though he held that the perfection of the machine itself testified to God’s glory). The implications for prose are contained in his statement in the Advancement that the preoccupation with words instead of matter was the first “distemper” of learning; his own prose, however, was far from plain. The level exposition of idea in the Advancement is underpinned by a tactful but firmly persuasive rhetoric, and the famous Essays (1597; enlarged 1612, 1625) are shifting and elusive, teasing the reader toward unresolved contradictions and half-apprehended complications.



Francis Bacon, Viscount Saint Alban

 "New Atlantis"


British author, philosopher, and statesman
also called (1603–18) Sir Francis Bacon

born Jan. 22, 1561, York House, London, Eng.
died April 9, 1626, London

British statesman and philosopher, father of modern scientific method.

He studied at Cambridge and at Gray’s Inn. A supporter of the Earl of Essex, Bacon turned against him when Essex was tried for treason. Under James I he rose steadily, becoming successively solicitor general (1607), attorney general (1613), and lord chancellor (1618). Convicted of accepting bribes from those being tried in his court, he was briefly imprisoned and permanently lost his public offices; he died deeply in debt. He attempted to put natural science on a firm empirical foundation in the Novum Organum (1620), which sets forth his scientific method. His elaborate classification of the sciences inspired the 18th-century French Encyclopedists (see Encyclopédie), and his empiricism inspired 19th-century British philosophers of science. His other works include The Advancement of Learning (1605), History of Henry VII (1622), and several important legal and constitutional works.

lord chancellor of England (1618–21). A lawyer, statesman, philosopher, and master of the English tongue, he is remembered in literary terms for the sharp worldly wisdom of a few dozen essays; by students of constitutional history for his power as a speaker in Parliament and in famous trials and as James I’s lord chancellor; and intellectually as a man who claimed all knowledge as his province and, after a magisterial survey, urgently advocated new ways by which man might establish a legitimate command over nature for the relief of his estate.

Life » Youth and early maturity
Bacon was born Jan. 22, 1561, at York House off the Strand, London, the younger of the two sons of the lord keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon, by his second marriage. Nicholas Bacon, born in comparatively humble circumstances, had risen to become lord keeper of the great seal. Francis’ cousin through his mother was Robert Cecil, later earl of Salisbury and chief minister of the crown at the end of Elizabeth I’s reign and the beginning of James I’s. From 1573 to 1575 Bacon was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, but his weak constitution caused him to suffer ill health there. His distaste for what he termed “unfruitful” Aristotelian philosophy began at Cambridge. From 1576 to 1579 Bacon was in France as a member of the English ambassador’s suite. He was recalled abruptly after the sudden death of his father, who left him relatively little money. Bacon remained financially embarrassed virtually until his death.

Life » Youth and early maturity » Early legal career and political ambitions
In 1576 Bacon had been admitted as an “ancient” (senior governor) of Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court that served as institutions for legal education, in London. In 1579 he took up residence there and after becoming a barrister in 1582 progressed in time through the posts of reader (lecturer at the Inn), bencher (senior member of the Inn), and queen’s (from 1603 king’s) counsel extraordinary to those of solicitor general and attorney general. Even as successful a legal career as this, however, did not satisfy his political and philosophical ambitions.

Bacon occupied himself with the tract “Temporis Partus Maximus” (“The Greatest Part of Time”) in 1582; it has not survived. In 1584 he sat as member of Parliament for Melcombe Regis in Dorset and subsequently represented Taunton, Liverpool, the County of Middlesex, Southampton, Ipswich, and the University of Cambridge. In 1589 a “Letter of Advice” to the Queen and An Advertisement Touching the Controversies of the Church of England indicated his political interests and showed a fair promise of political potential by reason of their levelheadedness and disposition to reconcile. In 1593 came a setback to his political hopes: he took a stand objecting to the government’s intensified demand for subsidies to help meet the expenses of the war against Spain. Elizabeth took offense, and Bacon was in disgrace during several critical years when there were chances for legal advancement.

Life » Youth and early maturity » Relationship with Essex
Meanwhile, sometime before July 1591, Bacon had become acquainted with Robert Devereux, the young earl of Essex, who was a favourite of the Queen, although still in some disgrace with her for his unauthorized marriage to the widow of Sir Philip Sidney. Bacon saw in the Earl the “fittest instrument to do good to the State” and offered Essex the friendly advice of an older, wiser, and more subtle man. Essex did his best to mollify the Queen, and when the office of attorney general fell vacant, he enthusiastically but unsuccessfully supported the claim of Bacon. Other recommendations by Essex for high offices to be conferred on Bacon also failed.

By 1598 Essex’ failure in an expedition against Spanish treasure ships made him harder to control; and although Bacon’s efforts to divert his energies to Ireland, where the people were in revolt, proved only too successful, Essex lost his head when things went wrong and he returned against orders. Bacon certainly did what he could to accommodate matters but merely offended both sides; in June 1600 he found himself as the Queen’s learned counsel taking part in the informal trial of his patron. Essex bore him no ill will and shortly after his release was again on friendly terms with him. But after Essex’ abortive attempt of 1601 to seize the Queen and force her dismissal of his rivals, Bacon, who had known nothing of the project, viewed Essex as a traitor and drew up the official report on the affair. This, however, was heavily altered by others before publication.

After Essex’ execution Bacon, in 1604, published the Apologie in Certaine Imputations Concerning the Late Earle of Essex in defense of his own actions. It is a coherent piece of self-justification, but to posterity it does not carry complete conviction, particularly since it evinces no personal distress.

Life » Career in the service of James I
When Elizabeth died in 1603, Bacon’s letter-writing ability was directed to finding a place for himself and a use for his talents in James I’s services. He pointed to his concern for Irish affairs, the union of the kingdoms, and the pacification of the church as proof that he had much to offer the new king.

Through the influence of his cousin Robert Cecil, Bacon was one of the 300 new knights dubbed in 1603. The following year he was confirmed as learned counsel and sat in the first Parliament of the new reign in the debates of its first session. He was also active as one of the commissioners for discussing a union with Scotland. In the autumn of 1605 he published his Advancement of Learning, dedicated to the King, and in the following summer he married Alice Barnham, the daughter of a London alderman. Preferment in the royal service, however, still eluded him, and it was not until June 1607 that his petitions and his vigorous though vain efforts to persuade the Commons to accept the King’s proposals for union with Scotland were at length rewarded with the post of solicitor general. Even then, his political influence remained negligible, a fact that he came to attribute to the power and jealousy of Cecil, by then earl of Salisbury and the King’s chief minister. In 1609 his De Sapientia Veterum (“The Wisdom of the Ancients”), in which he expounded what he took to be the hidden practical meaning embodied in ancient myths, came out and proved to be, next to the Essayes, his most popular book in his own lifetime. In 1614 he seems to have written The New Atlantis, his far-seeing scientific utopian work, which did not get into print until 1626.

After Salisbury’s death in 1612, Bacon renewed his efforts to gain influence with the King, writing a number of remarkable papers of advice upon affairs of state and, in particular, upon the relations between Crown and Parliament. The King adopted his proposal for removing Coke from his post as chief justice of the common pleas and appointing him to the King’s Bench, while appointing Bacon attorney general in 1613. During the next few years Bacon’s views about the royal prerogative brought him, as attorney general, increasingly into conflict with Coke, the champion of the common law and of the independence of the judges. It was Bacon who examined Coke when the King ordered the judges to be consulted individually and separately in the case of Edmond Peacham, a clergyman charged with treason as the author of an unpublished treatise justifying rebellion against oppression. Bacon has been reprobated for having taken part in the examination under torture of Peacham, which turned out to be fruitless. It was Bacon who instructed Coke and the other judges not to proceed in the case of commendams (i.e., holding of benefices in the absence of the regular incumbent) until they had spoken to the King. Coke’s dismissal in November 1616 for defying this order was quickly followed by Bacon’s appointment as lord keeper of the great seal in March 1617. The following year he was made lord chancellor and baron Verulam, and in 1620/21 he was created viscount St. Albans.

The main reason for this progress was his unsparing service in Parliament and the court, together with persistent letters of self-recommendation; according to the traditional account, however, he was also aided by his association with George Villiers, later duke of Buckingham, the King’s new favourite. It would appear that he became honestly fond of Villiers; many of his letters betray a feeling that seems warmer than timeserving flattery.

Among Bacon’s papers a notebook has survived, the Commentarius Solutus (“Loose Commentary”), which is revealing. It is a jotting pad “like a Marchant’s wast booke where to enter all maner of remembrance of matter, fourme, business, study, towching my self, service, others, eyther sparsim or in schedules, without any maner of restraint.” This book reveals Bacon reminding himself to flatter a possible patron, to study the weaknesses of a rival, to set intelligent noblemen in the Tower of London to work on serviceable experiments. It displays the multiplicity of his concerns: his income and debts, the King’s business, his own garden and plans for building, philosophical speculations, his health, including his symptoms and medications, and an admonition to learn to control his breathing and not to interrupt in conversation. Between 1608 and 1620 he prepared at least 12 draftings of his most celebrated work, the Novum Organum, and wrote several minor philosophical works.

The major occupation of these years must have been the management of James, always with reference, remote or direct, to the royal finances. The King relied on his lord chancellor but did not always follow his advice. Bacon was longer sighted than his contemporaries and seems to have been aware of the constitutional problems that were to culminate in civil war; he dreaded innovation and did all he could, and perhaps more than he should, to safeguard the royal prerogative. Whether his policies were sound or not, it is evident that he was, as he later said, “no mountebank in the King’s services.”

Life » Fall from power
By 1621 Bacon must have seemed impregnable, a favourite not by charm (though he was witty and had a dry sense of humour) but by sheer usefulness and loyalty to his sovereign; lavish in public expenditure (he was once the sole provider of a court masque); dignified in his affluence and liberal in his household; winning the attention of scholars abroad as the author of the Novum Organum, published in 1620, and the developer of the Instauratio Magna (“Great Instauration”), a comprehensive plan to reorganize the sciences and to restore man to that mastery over nature that he was conceived to have lost by the fall of Adam. But Bacon had his enemies. In 1618 he fell foul of George Villiers when he tried to interfere in the marriage of the daughter of his old enemy, Coke, and the younger brother of Villiers. Then, in 1621, two charges of bribery were raised against him before a committee of grievances over which he himself presided. The shock appears to have been twofold because Bacon, who was casual about the incoming and outgoing of his wealth, was unaware of any vulnerability and was not mindful of the resentment of two men whose cases had gone against them in spite of gifts they had made with the intent of bribing the judge. The blow caught him when he was ill, and he pleaded for extra time to meet the charges, explaining that genuine illness, not cowardice, was the reason for his request. Meanwhile, the House of Lords collected another score of complaints. Bacon admitted the receipt of gifts but denied that they had ever affected his judgment; he made notes on cases and sought an audience with the King that was refused. Unable to defend himself by discriminating between the various charges or cross-examining witnesses, he settled for a penitent submission and resigned the seal of his office, hoping that this would suffice. The sentence was harsh, however, and included a fine of £40,000, imprisonment in the Tower of London during the King’s pleasure, disablement from holding any state office, and exclusion from Parliament and the verge of court (an area of 12 miles radius centred on where the sovereign is resident). Bacon commented to Buckingham: “I acknowledge the sentence just, and for reformation’s sake fit, the justest Chancellor that hath been in the five changes since Sir Nicolas Bacon’s time.” The magnanimity and wit of the epigram sets his case against the prevailing standards.

Bacon did not have to stay long in the Tower, but he found the ban that cut him off from access to the library of Charles Cotton, an English man of letters, and from consultation with his physician more galling. He came up against an inimical lord treasurer, and his pension payments were delayed. He lost Buckingham’s goodwill for a time and was put to the humiliating practice of roundabout approaches to other nobles and to Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador; remissions came only after vexations and disappointments. Despite all this his courage held, and the last years of his life were spent in work far more valuable to the world than anything he had accomplished in his high office. Cut off from other services, he offered his literary powers to provide the King with a digest of the laws, a history of Great Britain, and biographies of Tudor monarchs. He prepared memorandums on usury and on the prospects of a war with Spain; he expressed views on educational reforms; he even returned, as if by habit, to draft papers of advice to the King or to Buckingham and composed speeches he was never to deliver. Some of these projects were completed, and they did not exhaust his fertility. He wrote: “If I be left to myself I will graze and bear natural philosophy.” Two out of a plan of six separate natural histories were composed—Historia Ventorum (“History of the Winds”) appeared in 1622 and Historia Vitae et Mortis (“History of Life and Death”) in the following year. Also in 1623 he published the De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum, a Latin translation, with many additions, of the Advancement of Learning. He also corresponded with Italian thinkers and urged his works upon them. In 1625 a third and enlarged edition of his Essayes was published.

Bacon in adversity showed patience, unimpaired intellectual vigour, and fortitude. Physical deprivation distressed him but what hurt most was the loss of favour; it was not until Jan. 20, 1622/23, that he was admitted to kiss the King’s hand; a full pardon never came. Finally, in March 1626, driving one day near Highgate (a district to the north of London) and deciding on impulse to discover whether snow would delay the process of putrefaction, he stopped his carriage, purchased a hen, and stuffed it with snow. He was seized with a sudden chill, which brought on bronchitis, and he died at the Earl of Arundel’s house nearby on April 9, 1626.

Kathleen Marguerite Lea
Anthony M. Quinton, Baron Quinton

Thought and writings » The intellectual background
Bacon appears as an unusually original thinker for several reasons. In the first place he was writing, in the early 17th century, in something of a philosophical vacuum so far as England was concerned. The last great English philosopher, William of Ockham, had died in 1347, two and a half centuries before the Advancement of Learning; the last really important philosopher, John Wycliffe, had died not much later, in 1384.

The 15th century had been intellectually cautious and torpid, leavened only by the first small importations of Italian humanism by such cultivated dilettantes as Humphrey Plantagenet, duke of Gloucester, and John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester. The Christian Platonism of the Renaissance became more established at the start of the 16th century in the circle of Erasmus’ English friends: the so-called Oxford Reformers—John Colet, William Grocyn, and Thomas More. But that initiative succumbed to the ecclesiastical frenzies of the age. Philosophy did not revive until Richard Hooker in the 1590s put forward his moderate Anglican version of Thomist rationalism in the form of a theory of the Elizabethan church settlement. This happened a few years before Bacon began to write.

In England three systems of thought prevailed in the late 16th century: Aristotelian Scholasticism, scholarly and aesthetic humanism, and occultism. Aristotelian orthodoxy had been reanimated in Roman Catholic Europe after the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation had lent authority to the massive output of the 16th-century Spanish theologian and philosopher Francisco Suárez. In England learning remained in general formally Aristotelian, even though some criticism of Aristotle’s logic had reached Cambridge at the time Bacon was a student there in the mid-1570s. But such criticism sought simplicity for the sake of rhetorical effectiveness and not, as Bacon’s critique was to do, in the interests of substantial, practically useful knowledge of nature.

The Christian humanist tradition of Petrarch, Lorenzo Valla, and, more recently, of Erasmus was an active force. In contrast to orthodox asceticism, this tradition, in some aspects, inclined to glorify the world and its pleasures and to favour the beauty of art, language, and nature, while remaining comparatively indifferent to religious speculation. Attraction to the beauty of nature, however, if it did not cause was at any rate combined with neglect and disdain for the knowledge of nature. Educationally it fostered the sharp separation between the natural sciences and the humanities that has persisted ever since. Philosophically it was skeptical, nourishing itself, notably in the case of Montaigne, on the rediscovery in 1562 of Sextus Empiricus’ comprehensive survey of the skepticism of Greek thought after Aristotle.

The third important current of thought in the world into which Bacon was born was that of occultism, or esotericism, that is, the pursuit of mystical analogies between man and the cosmos, or the search for magical powers over natural processes, as in alchemy and the concoction of elixirs and panaceas. Although its most famous exponent, Paracelsus, was German, occultism was well rooted in England, appealing as it did to the individualistic style of English credulity. Robert Fludd, the leading English occultist, was an approximate contemporary of Bacon. Bacon himself has often been held to have been some kind of occultist, and, even more questionably, to have been a member of the Rosicrucian order, but the sort of “natural magic” he espoused and advertised was altogether different from that of the esoteric philosophers.

There was a fourth mode of Renaissance thought outside England to which Bacon’s thinking bore some affinity. Like that of the humanists it was inspired by Plato, at least to some extent, but by another part of his thought, namely its cosmology. This was the boldly systematic nature-philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa and of a number of Italians, in particular Bernardino Telesio, Francesco Patrizzi, Tommaso Campanella, and Giordano Bruno. Nicholas of Cusa and Bruno were highly speculative, but Telesio and, up to a point, Campanella affirmed the primacy of sense perception. In a way that Bacon was later to elaborate formally and systematically, they held knowledge of nature to be a matter of extrapolating from the findings of the senses. There is no allusion to these thinkers in Bacon’s writings. But although he was less metaphysically adventurous than they were, he shared with them the conviction that the human mind is fitted for knowledge of nature and must derive it from observation, not from abstract reasoning.

Thought and writings » Bacon’s scheme
Bacon drew up an ambitious plan for a comprehensive work that was to appear under the title of Instauratio Magna (“The Great Instauration”), but like many of his literary schemes, it was never completed. Its first part, De Augmentis Scientiarum, appeared in 1623 and is an expanded, Latinized version of his earlier work the Advancement of Learning, published in 1605 (the first really important philosophical book to be written in English). The De Augmentis Scientiarum contains a division of the sciences, a project that had not been embarked on to any great purpose since Aristotle and, in a smaller way, since the Stoics. The second part of Bacon’s scheme, the Novum Organum, which had already appeared in 1620, gives “true directions concerning the interpretation of nature,” in other words, an account of the correct method of acquiring natural knowledge. This is what Bacon believed to be his most important contribution and is the body of ideas with which his name is most closely associated. The fields of possible knowledge having been charted in De Augmentis Scientiarum, the proper method for their cultivation was set out in Novum Organum.

Third, there is natural history, the register of matters of observed natural fact, which is the indispensable raw material for the inductive method. Bacon wrote “histories,” in this sense, of the wind, of life and death, and of the dense and the rare, and, near the end of his life, he was working on his Sylva Sylvarum: Or A Natural Historie (“Forest of Forests”), in effect, a collection of collections, a somewhat uncritical miscellany.

Fourth, there is the “ladder of the intellect,” consisting of thoroughly worked out examples of the Baconian method in application, the most successful one being the exemplary account in Novum Organum of how his inductive “tables” show heat to be a kind of motion of particles. Fifth, there are the “forerunners,” or pieces of scientific knowledge arrived at by pre-Baconian, common sense methods. Sixth and finally, there is the new philosophy, or science itself, seen by Bacon as a task for later generations armed with his method, advancing into all the regions of possible discovery set out in the Advancement of Learning. The wonder is not so much that Bacon did not complete this immense design but that he got as far with it as he did.

Thought and writings » The idols of the mind
In the first book of Novum Organum Bacon discusses the causes of human error in the pursuit of knowledge. Aristotle had discussed logical fallacies, commonly found in human reasoning, but Bacon was original in looking behind the forms of reasoning to underlying psychological causes. He invented the metaphor of “idol” to refer to such causes of human error.

Bacon distinguishes four idols, or main varieties of proneness to error. The idols of the tribe are certain intellectual faults that are universal to mankind, or, at any rate, very common. One, for example, is a tendency toward oversimplification, that is, toward supposing, for the sake of tidiness, that there exists more order in a field of inquiry than there actually is. Another is a propensity to be overly influenced by particularly sudden or exciting occurrences that are in fact unrepresentative.

The idols of the cave are the intellectual peculiarities of individuals. One person may concentrate on the likenesses, another on the differences, between things. One may fasten on detail, another on the totality.

The idols of the marketplace are the kinds of error for which language is responsible. It has always been a distinguishing feature of English philosophy to emphasize the unreliable nature of language, which is seen, nominalistically, as a human improvisation. Nominalists argue that even if the power of speech is given by God, it was Adam who named the beasts and thereby gave that power its concrete realization. But language, like other human achievements, partakes of human imperfections. Bacon was particularly concerned with the superficiality of distinctions drawn in everyday language, by which things fundamentally different are classed together (whales and fishes as fish, for example) and things fundamentally similar are distinguished (ice, water, and steam). But he was also concerned, like later critics of language, with the capacity of words to embroil men in the discussion of the meaningless (as, for example, in discussions of the deity Fortune). This aspect of Bacon’s thought has been almost as influential as his account of natural knowledge, inspiring a long tradition of skeptical rationalism, from the Enlightenment to Comtian positivism of the 19th and logical positivism of the 20th centuries.

The fourth and final group of idols is that of the idols of the theatre, that is to say mistaken systems of philosophy in the broadest, Baconian sense of the term, in which it embraces all beliefs of any degree of generality. Bacon’s critical polemic in discussing the idols of the theatre is lively but not very penetrating philosophically. He speaks, for example, of the vain affectations of the humanists, but they were not a very apt subject for his criticism. Humanists were really anti-philosophers who not unreasonably turned their attention to nonphilosophical matters because of the apparent inability of philosophers to arrive at conclusions that were either generally agreed upon or useful. Bacon does have something to say about the skeptical philosophy to which humanists appealed when they felt the need for it. Insofar as skepticism involves doubts about deductive reasoning, he has no quarrel with it. Insofar as it is applied not to reason but to the ability of the senses to supply the reason with reliable premises to work from, he brushes it aside too easily.

Bacon’s attack on Scholastic orthodoxy is surprisingly rhetorical. It may be that he supposed it to be already sufficiently discredited by its incurably contentious or disputatious character. In his view it was a largely verbal technique for the indefinite prolongation of inconclusive argument by the drawing of artificial distinctions. He has some awareness of the central weakness of Aristotelian science, namely its attempt to derive substantial conclusions from premises that are intuitively evident, and argues that the apparently obvious axioms are neither clear nor indisputable. Perhaps Bacon’s most fruitful disagreement with Scholasticism is his belief that natural knowledge is cumulative, a process of discovery, not of conservation. Living in a time when new worlds were being found on Earth, he was able to free himself from the view that everything men needed to know had already been revealed in the Bible or by Aristotle.

Against the fantastic learning of the occultists Bacon argued that individual reports are insufficient, especially since men are emotionally predisposed to credit the interestingly strange. Observations worthy to substantiate theories must be repeatable. Bacon defended the study of nature against those who considered it as either base or dangerous. He argued for a cooperative and methodical procedure and against individualism and intuition.

Thought and writings » The classification of the sciences
Book II of the Advancement of Learning and Books II to IX of the De Augmentis Scientiarum contain an unprecedentedly thorough and detailed systematization of the whole range of human knowledge. Bacon begins with a distinction of three faculties—memory, imagination, and reason—to which are respectively assigned history, “poesy,” and philosophy. History has an inclusive sense and means all knowledge of singular, individual matters of fact. “Poesy” is “feigned history” and not taken to be cognitive at all and so really irrelevant. After subdividing poesy perfunctorily into narrative, representative (or dramatic), and allusive (or parabolical) forms, Bacon gives it no further consideration.

History is divided into natural and civil, the civil category also including ecclesiastical and literary history (which for Bacon is really the history of ideas). History supplies the raw material for philosophy, in other words for the general knowledge that is inductively derived from it. Although Bacon proclaims the universal applicability of induction, he himself treats it almost exclusively as a means to natural knowledge and ignores its civil (or social) application.

Two further general distinctions should be mentioned. The first is between the divine and the secular. Most divine knowledge must come from revelation, and reason has nothing to do with it. There is such a thing as divine philosophy (what was later called rational, or natural, theology), but its sole task and competence is to prove that there is a God. The second, more pervasive distinction is between theoretical and practical disciplines, that is, between sciences proper and technologies, or “arts.”

Bacon acknowledges something he calls first philosophy, which is secular but not confined to nature or to society. It is concerned with the principles, such as they are, that are common to all the sciences. Natural philosophy divides into natural science as theory on the one hand and the practical discipline of applying natural science’s findings to “the relief of man’s estate” on the other, which he misleadingly describes as natural magic. The former is “the inquisition of causes,” the latter, “the production of effects.”

To subdivide still further, natural science is made up of physics and metaphysics, as Bacon understands it. Physics, in his interpretation, is the science of observable correlations; metaphysics is the more theoretical science of the underlying structural factors that explains observable regularities. Each has its practical, or technological, partner; that of physics is mechanics, that of metaphysics, natural magic. It is to the latter that one must look for the real transformation of the human condition through scientific progress. Mechanics is just levers and pulleys.

Mathematics is seen by Bacon as an auxiliary to natural science. Many subsequent philosophers of science would agree, understanding it to be a logical means of expressing the content of scientific propositions or of extracting part of that content. But Bacon is not clear about how mathematics was to be of service to science and does not realize that the Galilean physics developing in his own lifetime was entirely mathematical in form. Although one of his three inductive tables is concerned with correlated variations in degree (while the others concern likenesses and differences in kind), he really has no conception of the role, already established in science, of exact numerical measurement.

Bacon is fairly cursory about “human philosophy.” Four somewhat quaint sciences of body are sketched—medicine, cosmetic, athletic, and “the voluptuary arts.” The sciences of mind—logic and ethics—are practical, consisting of sets of rules for the correct management of reasoning or conduct, with no suggested theoretical counterpart. Bacon is unreflectively conventional about moral truth, content to rely on the deliverances of the long historical sequence of moralists, undisturbed by their disagreements with one another.

Bacon represents civil philosophy in the same uninquiringly practical way. It comprises not only the art of government but also “conversation,” or the art of persuasion, and “negotiation,” or prudence, the topic of proverbs and, to a considerable extent, of his own Essayes.

In principle, Bacon is committed to the view that human beings and society are as well fitted for inductive, and, in 20th-century terms, scientific study as the natural world. Yet he depicts human and social studies as the field of nothing more refined than common sense. It was, of course, an achievement to extricate them from religion, and to do so without unnecessary provocation. But in his conception they remain practical arts with no sustaining body of scientific theory to ratify them. It was left to Thomas Hobbes, for a time Bacon’s amanuensis, to develop complete systems of human and social science. Bacon’s practice, however, was better than his program. In his writings on history and law he went beyond the commonplaces of chronicle and precedent and engaged in explanation and theory.

Thought and writings » The new method
The core of Bacon’s philosophy of science is the account of inductive reasoning given in Book II of Novum Organum. The defect of all previous systems of beliefs about nature, he argued, lay in the inadequate treatment of the general propositions from which the deductions were made. Either they were the result of precipitate generalization from one or two cases, or they were uncritically assumed to be self-evident on the basis of their familiarity and general acceptance.

In order to avoid hasty generalization Bacon urges a technique of “gradual ascent,” that is, the patient accumulation of well-founded generalizations of steadily increasing degrees of generality. This method would have the beneficial effect of loosening the hold on men’s minds of ill-constructed everyday concepts that obliterate important differences and fail to register important similarities.

The crucial point, Bacon realized, is that induction must work by elimination not, as it does in common life and the defective scientific tradition, by simple enumeration. Thus he stressed “the greater force of the negative instance”—the fact that while “all A are B” is only very weakly confirmed by “this A is B,” it is shown conclusively to be false by “this A is not B.” He devised tables, or formal devices for the presentation of singular pieces of evidence, in order to facilitate the rapid discovery of false generalizations. What survives this eliminative screening, Bacon assumes, may be taken to be true.

Bacon presents tables of presence, of absence, and of degree. Tables of presence contain a collection of cases in which one specified property is found. They are then compared to each other to see what other properties are always present. Any property not present in just one case in such a collection cannot be a necessary condition of the property being investigated. Second, there are tables of absence, which list cases that are as alike as possible to the cases in the tables of presence except for the property under investigation. Any property that is found in the second case cannot be a sufficient condition of the original property. Finally, in tables of degree proportionate variations of two properties are compared to see if the proportion is maintained.

Bacon rightly showed some hesitation in arriving at the goal he had prescribed for himself, namely constructing a method that would yield general propositions about substantial matters of natural fact that were certain and beyond reasonable doubt. But he hesitated for an insufficient, secondary reason. The application of his tables to a mass of singular evidence, he said, would give only a “first vintage,” a provisional approximation to the truth, because of the defects of natural history, that is to say, the defects inherent in the formulation of the evidence.

There are, however, more serious difficulties. An obvious one is that Bacon assumed both that every property natural science can investigate actually has some other property which is both its necessary and sufficient condition (a very strong version of determinism) and also that the conditioning property in each case is readily discoverable. What he had himself laid down as the task of metaphysics in his sense (theoretical natural science in 20th-century terms), namely the discovery of the hidden “forms” that explain what is observed, ensured that the tables could not serve for that task since they are confined to the perceptible accompaniments of what is to be explained. This point is implied by critics who have accused Bacon of failing to recognize the indispensable role of hypotheses in science. In general he adopted a naive and unreflective view about the nature of causes, ignoring their possible complexity and plurality (pointed out by John Stuart Mill) as well as the possibility that they could be at some distance in space and time from their effects.

Another weakness, not sufficiently emphasized, is Bacon’s preoccupation with the static. The science that came to glorious maturity in his own century was concerned with change, and, in particular, with motion, as is the natural science of the 20th century. It was with this aspect of the natural world that mathematics, whose role Bacon did not see, came so fruitfully to grips.

The conception of a scientific research establishment, which Bacon developed in his utopia, The New Atlantis, may be a more important contribution to science than his theory of induction. Here the idea of science as a collaborative undertaking, conducted in an impersonally methodical fashion and animated by the intention to give material benefits to mankind, is set out with literary force.

Thought and writings » Human philosophy
Although, as was pointed out above, Bacon’s programmatic account of “human and civic philosophy” (i.e., human and social science) treats it as a matter of practical art, or technique, his own ventures into history and jurisprudence, at any rate, were of a strongly theoretical cast. His Historie of the Raigne of King Henry the Seventh is explanatory, interpretative history, making sense of the King’s policies by tracing them to his cautious, economical, and secretive character. Similarly his reflections on law, in De Augmentis Scientiarum and in Maxims of the Law (Part I of The Elements of the Common Lawes of England), are genuine jurisprudence, not the type of commentary informed by precedent with which most jurists of his time were content. In politics Bacon was as anxious to detach the state from religion as he was to disentangle science from it—both concerns being indicative of very little positive enthusiasm for religion, despite the formal professions of profound respect convention extracted from him. He endorsed the Tudor monarchy and defended it against Coke’s legal obstruction because it was rational and efficient. He had no patience with the inanities of divine right with which James I was infatuated. Bacon wrote little about education, but his memorable assault on the Scholastic obsession with words—an obsession largely carried over, if to different words, by the humanists—bore fruit in the educational theory of Comenius, who acknowledged Bacon’s influence in his argument that children should study actual things as well as books.

Thought and writings » Assessment and influence
Bacon’s personality has usually been regarded as unattractive: he was cold-hearted, cringed to the powerful, and took bribes, and then had the impudence to say he had not been influenced by them. There is no reason to question this assessment in its fundamentals. It was a hard world for someone in his situation to cut a good figure in, and he did not try to do so. The grimly practical style of his personality is reflected in the particular service he was able to provide of showing a purely secular mind of the highest intellectual power at work. No one who wrote so well could have been insensitive to art. But no one before him had ever quite so uncompromisingly excluded art from the cognitive domain.

Bacon was a hero to Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle, founders of the Royal Society. Jean d’Alembert, classifying the sciences in the Encyclopédie, saluted him. Kant, rather surprisingly for one so concerned to limit science in order to make room for faith, dedicated the Critique of Pure Reason to him. He was attacked by Joseph de Maistre for setting man’s miserable reason up against God but glorified by Auguste Comte.

It has been suggested that Bacon’s thought received proper recognition only with 19th-century biology, which, unlike mathematical physics, really is Baconian in procedure. Darwin undoubtedly thought so. Bacon’s belief that a new science could contribute to the relief of man’s estate also had to await its time. In the 17th century the chief inventions that flowed from science were of instruments that enabled science to progress further. Today Bacon is best known among philosophers as the symbol of the idea, widely held to be mistaken, that science is inductive. Although there is more to his thought than that, it is, indeed, central; but even if it is wrong, it is as well to have it so boldly and magnificently presented.

Anthony M. Quinton, Baron Quinton

Philosophical works
The Twoo Bookes of Francis Bacon. Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning Divine and Humane (1605); Instauratio Magna (1620), also known as Novum Organum; Historia Naturalis et Experimentalis ad Condendam Philosophiam: Sive Phaenomena Universi (1622), also known as Historia Ventorum; Historia Vitae & Mortis (1623); De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum (1623).

Literary and historical works
Essayes (1597), 10 essays enlarged to 38 as The Essaies of Sr Francis Bacon Knight (1612), and to 58 as The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall (1625); Francisci Baconi De Sapientia Veterum Liber (1609); The Historie of the Raigne of King Henry the Seventh (1622).

Political works
A Declaration of the Practices & Treasons Attempted and Committed by Robert, Late Earle of Essex (1601); Certain Considerations Touching the Better Pacification, and Edification of the Church of England (1604); Sir Francis Bacon His Apologie, in Certaine Imputations Concerning the Late Earle of Essex (1604).


Essays are masterworks in the new Stuart genre of the prose of leisure, the reflectively aphoristic prose piece in imitation of the Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Lesser collections were published by Sir William Cornwallis (1600–01), Owen Felltham (1623), and Ben Jonson (Timber; or, Discoveries, published posthumously in 1640). A related genre was the “character,” a brief, witty description of a social or moral type, imitated from Theophrastus and practiced first by Joseph Hall (Characters of Virtues and Vices, 1608) and later by Sir Thomas Overbury, John Webster, and Thomas Dekker. The best characters are John Earle’s (Micro-cosmography, 1628). Character-writing led naturally into the writing of biography; the chief practitioners of this genre were Thomas Fuller, who included brief sketches in The Holy State (1642; includes The Profane State), and Izaak Walton, the biographer of Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Hooker. Walton’s biographies are entertaining, but he manipulated facts shamelessly; these texts seem lightweight when placed beside Fulke Greville’s tragic and valedictory Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (c. 1610; published 1652). The major historical work of the period was Sir Walter Raleigh’s unfinished History of the World (1614), with its rolling sentences and sombre skepticism, written from the Tower of London during his disgrace. Raleigh’s providential framework would recommend his History to Cromwell and Milton; King James I found it “too saucy in censuring princes.” Bacon’s History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh (1622) belongs to a more secular, Machiavellian tradition, which valued history for its lessons in pragmatism.


Owen Felltham

born 1602?
died Feb. 23, 1668, London

English essayist and poet, best known for his essays Resolves Divine, Morall, and Politicall, in which the striking images (some borrowed by the poet Henry Vaughan) are held to be more original than the ideas.

Felltham wrote the first edition of Resolves (1623), which contained 100 essays, when he was 18. The second edition, Resolves, a Second Centurie, published in 1628, contained a further 100 essays. After becoming the Earl of Thomond’s steward sometime before 1640, Felltham printed A brief Character of the Low Countries under the States (1652), which appeared in a reissue of the Resolves in 1661 together with 41 poems, some letters, and occasional pieces. Felltham spent most of his life at Great Billing, Northamptonshire, or at the Earl of Thomond’s London house.


Sir Thomas Overbury

baptized June 18, 1581, Compton Scorpion, Warwickshire, England
died September 15, 1613, London

English poet and essayist, victim of an infamous intrigue at the court of James I. His poem A Wife, thought by some to have played a role in precipitating his murder, became widely popular after his death, and the brief portraits added to later editions established his reputation as a character writer.

Overbury was educated at Oxford and entered the Middle Temple, London, in 1598. Having traveled in the Low Countries, in 1606 he became secretary and close adviser to Robert Carr, the king’s favourite who was to become earl of Somerset. Overbury was knighted in 1608, and Carr became Viscount Rochester in 1611.

That same year Rochester became enamoured of Frances Howard, wife of the Earl of Essex. Lady Essex soon secured a divorce from her husband with the intention of marrying Rochester. Overbury feared that Rochester’s prospective marriage would reduce his own influence over Rochester, however, and he tried strongly to dissuade the latter from marrying her. Overbury’s A Wife, which described the virtues that a young man should demand of a woman, was also circulating in manuscript at the court, where it was interpreted as an indirect attack on Lady Essex. Her powerful relatives tried to maneuver Overbury out of the way by having him appointed to diplomatic missions overseas, but he refused to go and was imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of treason. Rochester acceded to Overbury’s imprisonment only until he could marry Lady Essex, but she herself was evidently determined to have Overbury murdered there. She secretly arranged to have him slowly poisoned to death, which he was.

Three months after Overbury died, Rochester, now Earl of Somerset, married Lady Essex. Two years passed before public suspicions were aroused over what had taken place, but then investigations were undertaken and the participants in Overbury’s murder were put on trial. Four accomplices in the murder were convicted and executed; the Earl and Countess of Somerset were also convicted but were pardoned by the king.

Overbury’s A Wife was published in 1614 and went through several editions within a year because of the publicity aroused by Overbury’s death. Its real literary value lies in the Characters, ultimately 82, that were added to the second and subsequent editions. These prose portraits of Jacobean types, drawn with wit and satire, give a vivid picture of contemporary society and are important as a step in the development of the essay. Several were by Overbury, but most were contributed by John Webster, Thomas Dekker, and John Donne.


Thomas Fuller

born June 19, 1608, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, Eng.
died Aug. 16, 1661, London

British scholar, preacher, and one of the most witty and prolific authors of the 17th century.

Fuller was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge (M.A., 1628; B.D., 1635). Achieving great repute in the pulpit, he was appointed preacher at the Chapel Royal, Savoy, London, in 1641. He officiated there until 1643, when the deteriorating political situation, which had led to the first battles of the English Civil Wars a year before, forced him to leave London for Oxford.

For a time during the fighting, he served as chaplain to the Royalist army and, for nearly two years, was in attendance on the household of the infant princess Henrietta at Exeter. He returned to London in 1646 and wrote Andronicus, or the Unfortunate Politician (1646), a satire against Oliver Cromwell. In 1649 he was given the parish of Waltham Abbey, Essex, where he became a friend of the other leading biographer of the age, Izaak Walton.

Fuller was again appointed to a pulpit in London (1652). There he completed The Church-History of Britain (1655), notable for its number of excellent character sketches, and added to it The History of the University of Cambridge and The History of Waltham-Abbey in Essex (1655). In 1658 he was given the parish of Cranford, near London, and continued to preach in the capital. Upon the reestablishment of the monarchy (1660), all Fuller’s ecclesiastical privileges were restored, and he became a doctor of divinity at Cambridge.

By enriching his factual accounts with descriptions of psychological oddities and other details of human interest, Fuller widened the scope of English biographical writing. His History of the Worthies of England, published posthumously in 1662, was the first attempt at a dictionary of national biography. He was also a historian who gathered facts from original sources, producing works that provide much valuable antiquarian information. He acquired a reputation for quaintness because his writings abound with epigrams, anecdotes, puns, and other conceits, but he also paid careful attention to literary form.

For the modern reader, Fuller’s most interesting work is probably The Holy State, the Profane State (1642), an entertaining collection of character sketches important to the historian of English literature.


Izaak Walton

born Aug. 9, 1593, Stafford, Staffordshire, Eng.
died Dec. 15, 1683, Winchester, Hampshire

English biographer and author of The Compleat Angler (1653), a pastoral discourse on the joys and stratagems of fishing that has been one of the most frequently reprinted books in English literature.

After a few years of schooling, Walton was apprenticed to a kinsman in the linendrapers’ trade in London, where he acquired a small shop of his own and began to prosper. Despite his modest education he read widely, developed scholarly tastes, and associated with men of learning. Walton lived and worked close to St. Dunstan’s Church, and he became active in parish affairs and a friend and fishing companion of the vicar, John Donne. Donne died in 1631, and, when his poems were published two years later, Walton composed “An Elegie” for the volume. In 1640 he wrote The Life and Death of Dr. Donne to accompany a collection of Donne’s sermons. The Life was revised and enlarged in 1658.

During the Civil Wars, Walton, a staunch Royalist, quit London for the relative security of his native Staffordshire. After the Royalist defeat at Worcester in 1651, he took part in a successful adventure to preserve a jewel belonging to Charles II. He spent the remainder of his life reading, writing and editing, fishing, and visiting among the eminent clergymen who were his friends.

The second of Walton’s biographies, The Life of Sir Henry Wotton (provost of Eton), appeared in 1651. Two years later the work that made Walton immortal, The Compleat Angler, or, the Contemplative Man’s Recreation, was published. Walton enlarged and improved the work through four subsequent editions, a quest for perfection also evident in repeated revisions of the biographies. He wrote The Life of Mr. Richard Hooker, the Elizabethan bishop, in 1665 and revised it the next year. In 1670 he issued The Life of Mr. George Herbert, the poet, and in the same year he brought out an edition containing all four lives.

Upon the Restoration, one of Walton’s Royalist friends, George Morley, was made bishop of Winchester and offered Walton residence in the bishop’s palace, where he stayed for the rest of his life. His final personal revision (the fifth edition) of The Compleat Angler appeared in 1676 and included additional material written by his friend Charles Cotton. Walton published a biography of Bishop Sanderson in 1678.

Since the late 18th century, more than 300 editions of The Compleat Angler have appeared, and the unpretentious treatise, of which Walton did not even claim authorship on its first appearance, became a household word. Many of its devotees have been fishermen, but Walton’s attractive style in dialogue and description, his enthusiasm for innocent outdoor recreation, and his genial partiality for the past have lifted The Compleat Angler out of the category of handbooks into that of the pastoral. The book opens on the first day of May, as three sportsmen—Auceps the fowler, Venator the hunter, and Piscator the fisherman—compare their favoured pastimes while traveling through the English countryside along the River Lea. The discourse is enlivened by songs and poems, country folklore, recipes, anecdotes, moral meditations, quotes from the Bible and from classic literature, and lore about fishing and waterways. The central character, Piscator, is not simply a champion and expositor of the art of angling but a man of tranquil, contented temper, pious and sententious, with a relish for the pleasures of friendship, verse and song, good food, and drink.

Prose styles

Anatomy of Melancholy

The essayists and character writers initiated a reaction against the orotund flow of serious Elizabethan prose that has been variously described as metaphysical, anti-Ciceronian, or Senecan, but these terms are used vaguely to denote both the cultivation of a clipped, aphoristic prose style, curt to the point of obscurity, and a fashion for looseness, asymmetry, and open-endedness. The age’s professional stylists were the preachers, and in the sermons of Donne and Lancelot Andrewes the clipped style is used to crumble the preacher’s exegesis into tiny, hopping fragments or to suggest a nervous, agitated restlessness. An extreme example of the loose style is Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), a massive encyclopaedia of learning, pseudoscience, and anecdote strung around an investigation into human psychopathology. Burton’s compendiousness, his fascination with excess, necessitated a style that was infinitely extensible; his successor was Sir Thomas Urquhart, whose translation of François Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel (1653) outdoes even its author in invention. In the Religio Medici (1635) and in The Garden of Cyrus and Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial; or, A Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in Norfolk (both printed 1658) of Sir Thomas Browne, the loose style serves a mind delighting in paradox and unanswerable speculation, content with uncertainty because of its intuitive faith in ultimate assurance. Browne’s majestic prose invests his confession of his belief and his antiquarian and scientific tracts alike with an almost Byzantine richness and melancholy.

These were all learned styles, Latinate and sophisticated, but the appearance in the 1620s of the first corantos, or courants (news books), generated by interest in the Thirty Years’ War, heralded the great 17th-century shift from an elite to a mass readership, a change consolidated by the explosion of popular journalism that accompanied the political confusion of the 1640s. The search for new kinds of political order and authority generated an answering chaos of styles, as voices were heard that had hitherto been denied access to print. The radical ideas of educated political theorists like Hobbes and the republican James Harrington were advanced within the traditional decencies of polite (if ruthless) debate, but they spoke in competition with writers who deliberately breached the literary canons of good taste—Levelers, such as John Lilburne and Richard Overton, with their vigorously dramatic manner; Diggers, such as Gerrard Winstanley in his Law of Freedom (1652); and Ranters, whose language and syntax were as disruptive as the libertinism they professed. The outstanding examples are Milton’s tracts against the bishops (1641–42), which revealed an unexpected talent for scurrilous abuse and withering sarcasm. Milton’s later pamphlets—on divorce, education, and free speech (Areopagitica, 1644) and in defense of tyrannicide (The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1649)—adopt a loosely Ciceronian sonorousness, but their language is plain and always intensely imaginative and absorbing.

Robert Burton
"Anatomy of Melancholy PART I,  PART II,  PART III,  PART IV

born Feb. 8, 1577, Lindley, Leicestershire, Eng.
died Jan. 25, 1640, Oxford

English scholar, writer, and Anglican clergyman whose Anatomy of Melancholy is a masterpiece of style and a valuable index to the philosophical and psychological ideas of the time.

Burton was educated at Oxford, elected a student (life fellow) of Christ Church (one of the colleges of the university) in 1599, and lived there the rest of his life, becoming a bachelor of divinity in 1614 and vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Oxford, in 1616. He also held livings in Lincolnshire (1624–31) and Leicestershire, the latter bestowed by his patron, Lord Berkeley. His “silent, sedentary, solitary” life, as he himself described it, lent his view of mankind an ironic detachment, but it certainly did not make it that of a scholar remote from reality: he is as informative on the pastimes of his day as on the ideas of the ancients, and as keen to recommend a rational diet as to relate human disorders to his own essentially Christian view of the universe.

Burton’s first work was the Latin comedy Philosophaster (1606; edited with an English translation by P. Jordan-Smith, 1931), a vivacious exposure of charlatanism that has affinities with Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist. It was acted at Christ Church in 1618.

The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is; with all the Kindes, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes and Several Cures of it: In Three Maine Partitions With Their Several Sections, Members, and Subsections, Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically Opened and Cut up, by Democritus Junior appeared in 1621, and five subsequent editions (1624, 1628, 1632, 1638, and 1651) incorporated Burton’s revisions and alterations. In the treatise, Burton sets himself in the first part to define melancholy, discuss its causes, and set down the symptoms. The second part is devoted to its cure. Love melancholy is the subject of the lively first three sections of the third part. A master of narrative, Burton includes as examples most of the world’s great love stories, again showing a modern approach to psychological problems. The fourth section deals with religious melancholy, and on the cure of despair he rises to heights of wisdom and of meditation.

Burton’s colloquial style is as individual as his matter. It is imaginative and eloquent, full of classical allusions and Latin tags that testify to his love of curious and out-of-the-way information as well as to his erudition. He is a master of lists and catalogs, but their sonorous roll is often broken by his humorous asides.

The Anatomy, widely read in the 17th century, lapsed for a time into obscurity, but in the 18th it was admired by Samuel Johnson, and Laurence Sterne’s borrowings from it are notorious. In the 19th century the devotion of Charles Lamb helped to bring the Anatomy into favour with the Romantics. The standard modern edition is The Anatomy of Melancholy, 6 vol., edited by Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, and Rhonda L. Blair (1989–2000).



Sir Thomas Urquhart

born 1611, Cromarty, Scot.
died 1660

Scottish author best known for his translation of the works of François Rabelais, one of the most original and vivid translations from any foreign language into English.

Urquhart studied at King’s College, Aberdeen, and fought against the Covenanters at Turriff (1639). He was knighted by Charles I in 1641. His strong Royalist convictions led him to join the army of Charles II in 1651. Taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester, he was incarcerated in the Tower of London and at Windsor. Cromwell allowed his release on parole, and after 1653 he appears to have been at liberty, probably taking refuge on the European continent with other Cavaliers. He died abroad, allegedly “in a fit of excessive laughter, on being informed by his servant that the King was restored,” in 1660.

In the 1640s and early ’50s Urquhart published several fantastical works that combined an obscure symbolism with sharply drawn autobiographical reminiscences. Urquhart eventually found the perfect medium for his rich, inventive, idiosyncratic style in translating Rabelais. In the Works of Mr. Francis Rabelais (books i–ii, 1653; part of book iii, 1693), his linguistic exuberance and his sympathy with Rabelais’s spirit combined to make this translation the long-established English-language version. Peter Anthony Motteux completed book iii (1693–94), as well as books iv and v (1708).



Sir Thomas Browne

born Oct. 19, 1605, London
died Oct. 19, 1682, Norwich, Norfolk, Eng.

English physician and author, best known for his book of reflections, Religio Medici.

After studying at Winchester and Oxford, Browne probably was an assistant to a doctor near Oxford. After taking his M.D. at Leiden in 1633, he practiced at Shibden Hall near Halifax, in Yorkshire, from 1634, until he was admitted as an M.D. at Oxford; he settled in Norwich in 1637. At Shibden Hall Browne had begun his parallel career as a writer with Religio Medici, a journal largely about the mysteries of God, nature, and man, which he himself described as “a private exercise directed to myself.” It circulated at first only in manuscript among his friends. In 1642, however, it was printed without his permission in London and so had to be acknowledged, an authorized version being published in 1643. An immediate success in England, the book soon circulated widely in Europe in a Latin translation and was also translated into Dutch and French.

Browne began early to compile notebooks of miscellaneous jottings and, using these as a quarry, he compiled his second and larger work, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or, Enquiries into Very many received Tenets, and commonly presumed truths (1646), often known as Browne’s Vulgar Errors. In it he tried to correct many popular beliefs and superstitions. In 1658 he published his third book, two treatises on antiquarian subjects, Hydriotaphia, Urne-Buriall, or, A Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk, and The Garden of Cyrus, or the Quincunciall Lozenge, or Net-Work Plantations of the Ancients. Around the theme of the urns he wove a tissue of solemn reflections on death and the transience of human fame in his most luxuriant style; in The Garden, in which he traces the history of horticulture from the garden of Eden to the Persian gardens in the reign of Cyrus, he is especially fascinated by the quincunx. A smaller work of great beauty and subtlety, entitled A Letter to a Friend, Upon occasion of the Death of his Intimate Friend, was published posthumously in 1690.

Browne had always been a Royalist, and his fame both as doctor and as writer gained him a knighthood when Charles II visited Norwich in 1671. He seldom left the city but corresponded with such men of learning as John Evelyn, Sir William Dugdale, and John Aubrey. Most of his surviving letters, however, were written to his eldest son, Edward Browne, and these give an intimate picture of his medical practice and his relations with his family. Browne has been criticized for the part he played in 1664 as a witness in the condemnation of two women as witches.

The first edition of Browne’s collected works was published in 1686; the standard edition (including letters) is Works, edited by Geoffrey Keynes, 4 vol., new ed. (1964). Keynes also compiled A Bibliography of Sir Thomas Browne Kt. M.D., 2nd ed. rev. and augmented (1968).



James Harrington

born Jan. 7, 1611, Upton, Northamptonshire, Eng.
died Sept. 11, 1677, London

English political philosopher whose major work, The Common-wealth of Oceana (1656), was a restatement of Aristotle’s theory of constitutional stability and revolution.

Although Harrington was sympathetic to republicanism, he was a devoted friend of King Charles I and was briefly imprisoned shortly before the King was executed in 1649 in the course of the English Civil War. His views did not favourably impress Oliver Cromwell, lord protector (1653–58) during the Commonwealth; Oceana was seized from its printer, and the intervention of Cromwell’s daughter Elizabeth (Mrs. John Claypoole) was required to release the book for publication. Imprisoned in the early 1660s on a dubious charge of plotting against the restored monarchy under Charles II, Harrington was freed after his physical and mental health had been permanently impaired.

Oceana presents Harrington’s vision of the ideal state—an aristocracy of limited, balanced powers. Harrington believed that democracy is most stable where a strong middle class exists and that revolution is a consequence of the separation of economic and political power. These beliefs particularly influenced U.S. Pres. Thomas Jefferson’s democratic agrarianism and the antitrust policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Harrington also advocated the division of the country into landholdings of a specified maximum value, a referendum on each law proposed by the legislature, and a complicated scheme of rotation for public officials. His ideas are said to have been partly responsible for such U.S. political developments as written constitutions, bicameral legislatures, and the indirect election of the president.

An edition of Oceana prepared by Sten Bodvar Liljegren appeared in 1924.


John Milton, the last great poet of the English Renaissance, laid down in his work the foundations for the emerging aesthetic of the post-Renaissance period. Milton had a concept of the public role of the poet even more elevated, if possible, than Jonson’s; he early declared his hope to do for his native tongue what “the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy” had done for theirs. But where Jonson’s humanism had led him into court service, Milton’s was complicated by a respect for the conscience acting in pursuance of those things that it, individually, knew were right; he wished to “contribute to the progress of real and substantial liberty; which is to be sought for not from without, but within.” His early verse aligned him, poetically and politically, with the Spenserians: religious and pastoral odes; Lycidas (1637), a pastoral elegy that incidentally bewails the state of the church; and Comus (1634), a masque against “masquing,” performed privately in the country and opposing a private heroism in chastity and virtue to the courtly round of revelry and pleasure. But he was also well read in Latin and modern Italian literature and ambitious to write in English a poem to compare with Virgil’s Aeneid.

During the Civil Wars and the Cromwellian republic (1642–60), Milton saw his role as the intellectual serving the state in a glorious cause. He devoted his energies to pamphleteering, first in the cause of church reform and then in defense of the fledgling republic, and he became Latin secretary to Cromwell’s Council of State. But the republic of virtue failed to materialize, and the Cromwellian settlement was swept aside in 1660 by the returning monarchy. Milton showed himself virtually the last defender of the republic with his tract The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660), a courageous but desperate program for a permanent oligarchy of the Puritan elect, the only device he could suggest to prevent the return to royal slavery.

Milton’s greatest achievements were yet to come, for Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes were not published until after the Restoration. But their roots were deep in the radical experience of the 1640s and ’50s and in the ensuing transformations in politics and society. With its antihero, Satan, in flawed rebellion against an all-powerful divine monarchy, Paradise Lost revisits the politics of the last generation; its all-too-human protagonists, turned out of Eden into a more difficult world where they have to acquire new and less-certain kinds of heroism, are adjusting to a culture in which all the familiar bearings have been changed, the old public certainties now rendered more private, particular, and provisional. For Milton and his contemporaries, 1660 was a watershed that necessitated a complete rethinking of assumptions and a corresponding reassessment of the literary language, traditions, and forms appropriate to the new age.

M.H. Butler


John Milton 

"Paradise Lost"    

BOOK 1, BOOK 2, BOOK 3, BOOK 4, BOOK 5, BOOK 6  Illustrations by G. Dore

Illustrations by J. Martin

BOOK 10, BOOK 11, BOOK 12
  Illustrations by H. Fuseli

born Dec. 9, 1608, London, Eng.
died Nov. 8, 1674, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire

one of the greatest poets of the English language. He also was a noted historian, scholar, pamphleteer, and civil servant for the Parliamentarians and the Puritan Commonwealth.

Milton ranks second only to Shakespeare among English poets; his writings and his influence are an important part of the history of Englishliterature, culture, and libertarian thought. He is best known for Paradise Lost, which is generally regarded as the greatest epic poem in the English language. Milton's prose works, however, are also important as a valuable interpretation of the Puritan revolution, and they have their place in modern histories of political and religious thought.

Milton's grandfather, an Oxfords hire yeoman, had been a staunch Roman Catholic who had disinherited his son, the poet's father, for turning Protestant. John Milton, Sr., went to London, where he made his way to prominence and a comfortable fortune as a scrivener, or notary, and through the collateral business of private banking or money lending. Milton was to pay repeated tributes to his father's generous concern with his education. Of his mother (d. 1637) Milton said only that she was well esteemed and known for her charities. He had an older sister, Anne, and a younger brother, Christopher, who became a lawyer.

Education and early poems

Milton was educated at St. Paul's School, London. The conventional date given for his admission is 1620, but it may have been as early as 1615. In addition to his regular schoolwork in Latin, Greek, and, later, Hebrew, the boy had instruction at home, perhaps partly in modern languages, from private tutors. Milton was a voracious student; he traced the initial cause of his later blindness to his having, from his 12th year, rarely quit his books before midnight. Along with a couple of Latin exercises that have survived, his earliest attempts at verse, made when he was 15, were rhymed paraphrases of Psalms 114 and 136. Milton's closest friend, at school and later, was Charles Diodati, the son of a prominent physician of Italian origin, who went from St. Paul's to Oxford.

On April 9, 1625, Milton entered Christ's College, Cambridge; he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in March1629 and his Master of Arts in July 1632. His experience at Cambridge can be partly gathered from his abundant Latin verse and his seven Latin prolusions (public speeches that were expected to display the speaker's learning and rhetorical and argumentative powers). Apparently in March 1626 he clashed in some way with his tutor and was suspended temporarily. On his return to the university he was assigned to another tutor and graduated at the normal time.

Milton's nickname at the university, “the Lady,” was apparently bestowed because of his handsome and delicate features and a purity of mind and behaviour that disdained the diversions of his coarser fellows. During his seven years at Cambridge he seems to have moved from some unpopularity to general respect and, among dons and cultivated students, to high esteem. He did not love the scholastic logic that dominated the curriculum; then, as well as later, he denounced it as barren. In his last prolusion (c. 1631/32) he proclaimed the fervent creed and dream of a young Renaissance humanist who was at once a Christian and a Platonist. By Milton's own account, his early enthusiasm for the sensual poetry of Ovid and other Roman writers gave way to an appreciation of the idealism of Dante, Petrarch, and Edmund Spenser. He then moved on to Platonic philosophy and finally came to hold the mysticism of the biblical Book of Revelation in the highest esteem.

Meanwhile, Milton had been learning his craft and sometimes revealing his inner self in writing Latin verse. (Latin was then the standard language of the university world.) The young poet's sensuous instincts were revealed inthese poems and were further displayed, along with his mastery of Italian, in six Italian pieces (1630?), with which his first English sonnet, “O Nightingale,” may be linked.

Early in 1628 Milton wrote the first of his extant English poems (apart from the two psalms), “On the Death of a Fair Infant,” an elegy, in the Elizabethan vein, on his baby niece, Anne Phillips. In part of an academic prolusion in English couplets (“At a Vacation Exercise,” July 1628) he declared his devotion to his native language, a style free from eccentricity, and exalted themes concerning nature and humanity. And in the Latin “Elegy VI,” addressed to Diodati in the Christmas season of 1629–30, he praised the light verse kindled by wine and love but turned from that to celebrate the ascetic purity of the heroic poet. The elegy ended with a reference to a poem he had just written, his first great poem in English, “On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.” Such a poem, composed shortly after his 21st birthday, may be taken as a kind of announcement of his poetical coming of age and future direction, both in its religious theme and in its mastery of conception and form and image and rhythm. Probably in 1631 Milton wrote the companion poems “L'Allegro” and “Il Penseroso.” Though less ambitious in theme than the “Nativity,” they have their own complexity, concealed beneath a unique grace and charm. Milton had lately (1630) also written the lines “On Shakespeare,” which were printed in the Shakespearean Second Folio, 1632.

Milton's scholarly and literary gifts had from childhood marked him out in the minds of his family and teachers for the ministry; in his later prose he said he had refused to “subscribe slave” in a church governed by prelacy, but the date of his negative decision is not known. As his academic career approached its end, the problem of an occupation came up, and the poem “Ad Patrem”—though some scholars link it with Comus (1634)—may well have been written in 1631–32. In “Ad Patrem” (“To Father”), with a mixture of filial gratitude, firmness, and confidence in poetry and himself, Milton assumes or urges that he should not be pushed into some basely lucrative profession by a father who has fostered his literary pursuits and is himself a devotee of the muses.

Paradise Lost. Illustrations by G. Dore

Horton period (1632–38)

On taking his Master of Arts degree in July 1632, Milton retired to his father's house—until 1635 at Hammersmith, then at the country estate at Horton, near Windsor—and proceeded to give himself the liberal education Cambridge had not provided. It was in these years that he laid the foundation or set the direction of his liberal thinking. He sought to digest the mass of history, literature, and philosophy, to gain the “insight into all seemly and generousarts and affairs” needed by the citizen-poet who would be a leader and teacher.

Two short religious poems written at this time, “On Time” and “At a Solemn Musick” (1632–33?), are early renderings ofthe beatific vision that always kindled Milton's imagination. Both contrast the grossness of temporal life, the jarring discord of sin, with the eternity and harmony of heaven and good. The same contrast is sounded in the masque known as Comus . During 1630–34, perhaps in 1632, Milton had, at the invitation probably of the musician Henry Lawes, written Arcades, a miniature masque of Jonsonian courtliness. This presumably led to a request from Lawes for another masque.Comus was presented on Sept. 29, 1634, before John Egerton, earl of Bridgewater, at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, in honour of his becoming lord president of Wales. The acted version of Comus, though somewhat shorter than the text familiar to readers, in length and elevated seriousness went far beyond the limits of the usual court masque, which emphasized lavish costumes, spectacle, music, and dancing. Comus is a masque against “masquing,” contrasting a private heroism in chastity and virtue with the courtly round of revelry and pleasure. It was Milton's first dramatizing of his great theme, the conflict of good and evil.

The allegorical story in Comus centres on a virtuous Lady who becomes separated from her two brothers while traveling in the woods. The Lady encounters the evil sorcerer Comus, son of Bacchus and Circe, who imprisons her by magic in his palace. In debate the Lady rejects Comus' hedonistic philosophy and defends temperance and chastity. The chastity the Lady represents is not mere abstinence; it is a positive love of the good that is both Christian and Platonic. Comus, who is portrayed with a dramatic irony that anticipates the treatment of Satan in Paradise Lost, puts forth specious naturalistic arguments which the Lady answers first on the rational level; then, with a conscious change of tone, she rises to an impassioned religious affirmation of chastity, and the masque's epilogue celebrates the love of virtue.

If Comus is, in a way, a song of innocence, “Lycidas” (written in November 1637) is a song of experience—Milton's first attempt to justify the ways of God to himself and to men. His former fellow collegian, Edward King, was drowned in a shipwreck in the Irish Sea in August 1637, and Milton was asked to contribute to a volume of elegies; “Lycidas,” signed“J.M.,” appeared at the end of an undistinguished collection of pieces in Latin, Greek, and English (1638). The classical pastoral elegy had, from its Greek beginnings, proved its value as a dramatic vehicle for almost anything that a poet wished to say. Milton, working as usual within a venerable tradition, as usual re-created it. He had no reason to feel deep personal sorrow, but the drowning of a virtuous and promising young man, on the threshold of service as a clergyman, brought home the whole enigma of life and death, of the rightness of things in a world where such events could happen. What if his own talents—which during his years of study he had been nurturing—should be cut off? At the poem's end, divine justice and providence and the conditions of earthly life are vindicated not by reason but by the beatific vision of Lycidas' soul received into heaven. It is impossible to summarize the complexities and depths of the poem, its reverberating solidity of reference, its rich variety of pace and tone, the artistic control that dominates turbulent emotions and ends with the high serenity of victory won. “Lycidas” may be the greatest short poem in the English language.

Italian tour (1638–39)

In May 1638, a year after his mother's death, Milton set off—with one servant—on a visit to Italy. He sojourned chiefly in Florence, Rome, and Naples. Milton and some of his early Latin poems were cordially welcomed among men of letters and patrons and their academies. This experience warmed his heart and nourished his self-confidence. (It should be remembered that at home he had very little literary acquaintance and, outside a small circle, no poetic reputation.) In Naples he was the guest of Giambattista Manso, marchese di Villa, who had been the patron of Torquato Tasso, and in Florence he made a call—later recorded in Areopagitica—on the aged astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was under house arrest because his views on the universe conflicted with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. Milton felt obliged to forgo a visit to Sicily and Greece because of news of mounting political tension in England, although he lingered some time longer in Italy. In August 1638 Milton's friend Diodati died. Milton had been informed of his loss while in Italy; on his way home he stopped to see Diodati's uncle, Giovanni Diodati, who was professor of theology at the University of Geneva.

Middle period (1641–60)

Milton returned to England in July 1639, settled in a house in London, and prepared to take in pupils. He composed an elaborate pastoral elegy on Diodati, “Epitaphium Damonis” (c. 1640), which has commonly been ranked as his finest Latin poem, though as an elegy it is inferior to “Lycidas.” Milton had returned to England with plans for an Arthurian epic; like other ambitious poets of the Renaissance, he hoped to write the great modern heroic poem. But he was also deeply anxious about the Puritan cause. In his denunciation of hireling clergy in “Lycidas,” Milton had virtually declared his Puritan allegiance, and the years 1641–60 he gave almost wholly to pamphleteering in the cause of religious and civil liberty. There is an important personal passage in his fourth tract, The Reason of Church-Government Urg'd Against Prelaty (1642), that show sit was a heavy sacrifice to put aside his craving for poetic immortality and leave his cherished studies to “embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes.” And, as his work went on, he was sustained by the conviction that in his many and varied defenses of liberty he was, in another way, fulfilling his epic and patriotic aspirations. His first five pamphlets (1641–42) were contributions to the attack made on prelacy in the Anglican church by a group of Presbyterian divines (called, from their initials, the “Smectymnuus” group). The attack was directed chiefly against the church's episcopal hierarchy, The Book of Common Prayer, and ritual, as being a compromise with Rome. The group urged a return to the democratic simplicity and purity of the apostolic church. Milton's first tract was Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England (1641). This begins by assailing the Anglican service and ends with a vision of the new and grand Reformation. In a personal passage in his fourth pamphlet, The Reason of Church-Government, Milton explains his religious conception of poetry and the deferment of his great epic because of what he feels to be his public duty.

Notoriety came in 1643, with Milton's pamphlet Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (enlarged edition 1644), which was followed by three more tracts in 1644 and 1645 on the same theme. His preoccupation with the subject of divorce was presumably hastened by his own marital disaster. In June(?) 1642, several months before the outbreak of the Civil Wars, Milton had married Mary Powell, the daughter of a royalist squire of Oxfords hire who owed money to his father. Success could hardly be predicted for the marriage of a scholar and poet of 33 to an uneducated girl half his age from a large, easygoing household. The young wife, visiting her family a little later, declined—doubtless with their backing—to return to her new husband's household. The shock must have been especially severe for a man who—as one may infer from the anguished cries that recur in the Doctrine—had approached marriage with high hopes and earnest prayers, and there was no release from such a tragic mistake. In the tracts Milton argued that the sole cause admitted for divorce—adultery—might be less valid than incompatibility and that the forced yoke of a loveless marriage was a crime against human dignity. For this he was attacked as a libertine by royalists and Presbyterians alike. In 1645 friends brought about a reunion between Milton and his wife, and in1646, when the Powells had been ruined by the war, he took into his house, for nearly a year, the whole noisy family of 10. Three daughters, Anne, Mary, and Deborah, were born in 1646, 1648, and 1652. A son died in infancy. Mrs. Milton dieda few days after Deborah's birth.

In 1644 Milton published what are for modern readers his best-known pamphlets, Of Education and Areopagitica . Of Education is one of the last in a long line of European expositions of Renaissance humanism. His aim was to mold boys into enlightened, cultivated, responsible citizens and leaders on the basis of the study of the ancient classics, in due subordination to the Bible and Christian teaching. But he also gave notable emphasis to science. Areopagitica is on the freedom of the press and was specifically written to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development and reasserts above all his belief in the power of truth to triumph over falsehood through free inquiry and discussion. Areopagitica is now regarded as a classic plea on behalf of civil liberties and democratic values, but the tract seems to have had very little effect in its own time.

During the next four years Milton may have worked chiefly on his The History of Britain (1670). On Feb. 13, 1649, two weeks after the execution of Charles I, Milton's first political tract, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates , appeared. In it he expounds the doctrine that power resides always in the people, who delegate it to a sovereign but may, if it is abused, resume it and depose or even execute the tyrant. A month later he was invited to become secretary for foreign languages to Cromwell's Council of State. Hitherto a detached observer, Milton, in spite of his private studies, was doubtless eager to have a hand in the workings of government. He was not on the policy-making level, but he had the easy command of Latin needed for foreign correspondence. Also, as a publicist of demonstrated sympathy with the revolution, he was expected to continue his defense of the cause against the multiplying attacks on the regicides.

Milton's first effort in this line was Eikonoklastes (October 1649), one of a number of answers to Eikon Basilike, a book edited from the late king's papers by his chaplain, John Gauden. During 1651 Milton was censor and supervisory editor of the chief Commonwealth newspaper, Mercurius Politicus, edited by Marchamont Needham. In this year appeared his Latin Defence of the People of England. CharlesII, in exile, had engaged Claudius Salmasius (Claude de Saumaise), the most eminent of classical scholars, to arraignthe regicides (Defensio Regia pro Carolo I, 1649). Milton was less effective in legal argument than in discrediting Salmasius by personal abuse; like some other crusaders, he tended to see opponents as monstrous enemies of a sacred cause who must be destroyed by any means.

If he was, then and later, uplifted by the vanquishing of a renowned antagonist, he was inevitably and profoundly depressed by the loss of his eyesight; it had been failing for years, and blindness became complete in the winter of 1651–52. Milton was only 43, and the great poem was still unwritten. Blindness reduced his strictly secretarial duties, though he continued through 1659 as a translator of state letters.

The Second Defence of the People of England—also in Latin, since it was also addressed to Europe at large—was much more worthy of its subject and its author. In it he celebrated the achievements of the Commonwealth leaders (though he was bold enough to warn Cromwell against one-man rule). In 1659 two more tracts on church and state were published. In A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes Milton argued for religious freedom (except for Roman Catholics, since Catholicism had shown itself a danger to national security). In Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church he reasserted the ideal of a clergy of apostolic simplicity of life.

His last political pamphlet, The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, was published in March 1660 and again, enlarged, in April. It was an act no less courageous than futile, since machinery was patently moving to bring back Charles II and install him as king (he made his triumphal entry on May 29). Milton's pamphlet is a cry of incredulity and despair from the last champion of “the good Old Cause.” The glories of the Commonwealth, to which he himself had given 20 years and his eyesight, were being swept away by a nation of slaves “now choosing them a captain back for Egypt.” The Restoration was the last and heaviest of Milton's many disillusionments.

The Restoration government executed the Commonwealth leader Sir Henry Vane the Younger and exhumed and hangedat Tyburn the bodies of Cromwell, Henry Ireton, and John Bradshaw. Milton himself, as a noted defender of the regicides, was in real danger. In the summer of 1660 a warrant was out for his arrest; he was kept in hiding by friends. In August the Act of Oblivion, granting pardon to most Commonwealth supporters, was passed. Milton was safe within its terms but was nevertheless taken into custody (and released on December 15). According to various early stories, his life was spared through the intercession either of the poet Andrew Marvell, who in 1657 had become a fellow secretary and was now a member of Parliament, or of the royalist playwright Sir William Davenant, whose life Milton had earlier been the means of saving. It may have been decided that the blind writer was now harmless and that token proceedings against him would be enough.

The large bulk of Milton's prose—which fills four times as many volumes as his poetry—is read only by scholars, but much of it is important for several reasons. In an age of great prose, Milton's, at its best, has an individual if often undisciplined greatness, and Areopagitica at least is a classic document. Moreover, as the record of Milton's growth (a leftward growth, in religion and politics) and of his dreams and disillusionments, his prose works are the essential introduction to Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, providing a bridge between the radiant idealism of his youth and the much-tried faith and fortitude of his later years. In particular, his A Treatise on Christian Doctrine held a central place in his thoughts and labours. He seems to have finished it by about 1658–60 (it was first printed and translated by Charles Sumner in 1825). Its importance is that it expounds, with differences, the theological frame of Paradise Lost. Viewed in perspective, most of Milton's essential beliefs are those of traditional Christianity, but he does depart from orthodoxy on a few points, notably his denial of predestination. Brought up, like most Anglicans of his time, as a Calvinist, he regarded himself as one at least until 1644, but his final belief was in the Arminian doctrine—the salvation not of a predestined few but of all believers, who constitute the true elect. Milton above all insisted on humanity's rational freedom and responsible power of choice.

Sonnets and other poems (1642–58)

Milton's early poems, in English, Latin, Greek, and Italian, were published at the beginning of 1646 (dated 1645). During the 20 years given to public affairs he was mostly cut off from poetry but did write 17 occasional sonnets, versifieda number of psalms, and began the composition of Paradise Lost. Some of the sonnets are deeply personal: two on his blindness (1652–55) and one on the death in 1658, some months after childbirth, of his second wife, Katherine Woodcock, whom he had married in 1656.

The major sonnets have much poetical as well as autobiographical interest, and as a group they illustrate (with “Lycidas”) both in texture and rhythm the beginnings of the grand style (i.e., a literary style marked by a sustained and lofty dignity and sublimity) that was to have full scope in Paradise Lost. One is less conscious of sonnet structure and of rhymes than of a single massive unit that approaches a paragraph of Milton's blank verse.

Paradise Lost. Illustrations by by H. Fuseli

Paradise Lost

By 1650 Milton had given up the idea of composing a Britishepic. Instead he chose what was considered the most momentous event, next to the life and death of Christ, in the world's history—the fall of mankind from grace. It is not known when Paradise Lost was actually begun. Guesses have centred on 1655–58. Clearly, the lines on the poet's having fallen on evil days, in the prelude to Book 7, were composed after the Restoration, and the whole may have been done pretty much in the order in which it stands. It was finished by 1665. The first edition of 1667 was in 10 books; this was reissued in 1668 and 1669, and in some of these issues Milton added the prefatory note on his use of blank verse and “The Argument.” In the second edition (1674), Books 7 and 10 were each split into two, making a total of 12 books. The arguments, which summarize the contents of each book and were formerly grouped together, were placed at the head of the respective books.

Paradise Lost is an epic poem written in blank verse—i.e., unrhymed iambic pentameter verse. It tells the story of Satan's rebellion against God and his expulsion from heaven and the subsequent temptation and expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. By Milton's time the Fall of Man had already received innumerable literary treatments, narrative and dramatic, so that the simple tale in Genesis and the more shadowy role of Satan in heaven, earth, and hell had acquired a good deal of interpretative and concrete embellishment. So the main motives and events of Paradise Lost had abundant literary precedent, though they were handled with powerful originality; Milton, like a Greek dramatist, was reworking a story familiar in outline to his audience. His story, moreover, gave him the advantage of immemorial belief and association in the minds of his earlier readers. This advantage no longer operates in the same way—although, for modern readers, the fable still possesses at least the immemorial and universal import of archetypal myth.

The story of the Fall of Man had little of the solidity and variety of character and action of the classical epics, however, and so Milton the classicist naturally borrowed much in the way of form and style and epic convention. While he was said to have known the Homeric poems by heart, his great classical model was Virgil's Aeneid, with which Paradise Lost has some inner as well as surface affinities.

Some Virgilian features of Paradise Lost are easily observable. Milton centres the magnificent first two books of his poem on the figure of Satan and his legions as they lie in hell. Virgil has a roll call of the Italian chiefs who gather to oppose Aeneas; Milton's roll call of the leaders of the fallen angels, in making them individuals, also becomes a survey of the spread of heathen idolatry over the Eastern world. The realistic power of the debate of the fallen angels in hell dwarfs all other epic councils. Epic accounts of Hades are combined, in Milton's pictures of hell, with Christian lore, but the lurid and dismal scenes and the physical and mental diversions of the fallen angels symbolize their spiritual death and futile striving. The wars of gods and Titans and giants in classical literature supply details for the war in heaven in Paradise Lost, which is a large metaphor for the anarchy of sin. And Odysseus' and Aeneas' retellings of past events become the archangel Raphael's account of Satan's revolt and war and the Son's creation of the world.

Much has been written about Milton's powerful characterization of Satan, who is one of the supreme figures in world literature. Satan has, on a superhuman scale, the strength, the courage, and the capacity for leadership that belong to the ancient epic hero, but these qualities are all perverted in being devoted to evil and self-aggrandizement. In his first grand speech to his lieutenant Beelzebub, Satan's defiance of God manifests his egoistic pride, his false conception of freedom, and his alienation from all good; and his other public harangues reinforce and amplify our sense ofpower that is religiously and morally corrupt and blind. Against the background of hell, Satan maintains the false magnificence of his “heroic” stature, but outside of hell he loses even that. In his soliloquy addressed to the Sun, he reveals, like Dr. Faustus or Macbeth, his despairing consciousness of his own evil and damnation, a consciousness that gives him potentially tragic dimensions. Thus Satan and his fellows are enveloped in dramatic irony because—though the corruption of man is achieved—they fight and scheme in ignorance of the unshakable power of God and goodness.

Adam and Eve are enveloped in a parallel kind of irony. The picture of the Garden of Eden is a symbolic rendering of Milton's vision of perfection, but it is presented when the reader accompanies Satan into the garden, so that idyllic innocence and happiness are seen only under the shadow of evil. Though the pair have had warnings, Eve is beguiled by an appeal to her vanity and ambition, by the hubristic dream of attaining godlike knowledge and power; and Adam allows his love for Eve to oversway his love for God. Both, far from attaining godlike knowledge, succumb to animal lust; yet, when grace and penitence begin to work in them, they have astrength beyond the reach of Satan. On the other hand, though there is promised redemption for the faithful, and though the poem is, logically, a divine comedy with a happy ending, Milton's panorama of human history gives little ground for hope on earth. Irony, profoundly compassionate irony, pervades the moving last lines which describe Adam and Eve as they depart from Eden—not now the majestic lords of creation but two frail human beings beginning life anew in the world of sin and sorrow and death, though “with Providence their guide” and the hope of achieving a “paradise within.”

The more one reads Paradise Lost the more one recognizes Milton's powers of imagination and organization. Everywhere, on the largest or the smallest scale, in abstract idea or concrete act, theme and material are closely knit through parallel and contrast. The central conflict and contrast between good and evil are reflected and intensified in the contrasts between heaven and hell, light and darkness,order and chaos, love and hate, humility and pride, reason and passion. In the council in hell, Satan alone volunteers forthe perilous journey to earth to bring about the Fall of Man; inthe council in heaven, the Son alone volunteers to suffer on earth for man's salvation. Satan unlooses the destructive anarchy of war; the Son creates the world. Eve and Adam reenact the sin and fall of Satan. The boundless scene of Paradise Lost is indeed only a backdrop or magnified reflection of the drama that goes on in the hearts of the human protagonists, and, when they fall, the ideal world of eternal spring and eternal life becomes the world we live in.

To speak of the setting in more literal terms, Milton's imagination fills space so immense that the created universe—the Ptolemaic one—hangs from heaven like one of the smallest stars close to the Moon. Milton showed his awareness of the Copernican universe, but the Ptolemaic one had the advantages of traditional familiarity and of keeping earth and man at the focal centre. In his handling of vast space Milton's imagination and language work with a suggestive vagueness that is very different from the minute particularity of Dante's world. He is excited by the starry dance of the cosmic order and, likewise, by the fecundity of Eden, and his account of creation is alive with the sense of movement and growth. The poem is rich in its appeal to both the eye and the ear.

Milton's preface stresses the novelty and rightness of blank verse for a heroic poem, and his manipulation of rhythm and sound is of course one of his supreme achievements. The continuous flow of his long sentences and paragraphs is naturally unlike the dramatic blank verse of Shakespearean dialogue, and it builds up a continuous onward pressure. While the iambic pentameter line remains the norm, there may be extra syllables, and there is endless variety in the number, weight, and position of stresses. At the same time there is a secondary and still more fluid system of rhythmic units, which flow from the caesura in one line to the caesura in the next, resulting in an infinity of permutations and combinations. Milton's blank verse is never monotonous, and the pattern of sound is so wedded to the pattern of sense that each is essential to the other.

Milton's frequently Latinate syntax and diction have sometimes been censured, especially by modern poets and critics for whom colloquial speech and rhythm are the only acceptable medium. But Milton's means of achieving the elevation required by a lofty theme is intermixed with pure simplicity. His use of Latinate syntax or structure and his freedom in the placing of phrases and clauses greatly enlarge and enrich his range of emphasis and his use of economy, contrast, suspension, all the devices of forceful utterance—devices often really colloquial. Many other functional elements of the grand style can be noted: periphrasis, epic similes, geographic, historical, and mythological allusions, and so on.

Paradise Lost. Illustrations by J. Martin

Last major works

In Paradise Lost (Book 9) Milton had spoken of “patience and heroic martyrdom” as themes unsung, though nobler than martial prowess, and this “better fortitude” was celebrated in the epic poem Paradise Regained and the tragedy Samson Agonistes (published in the same volume in1671). Paradise Regained is a natural sequel to Paradise Lost : Christ, the second Adam, wins back for man what the first Adam had lost. But Milton did not, as might have been expected, deal with the Crucifixion; instead, he showed Christ in the wilderness overcoming Satan the tempter, thereby proving his fitness for his ultimate trial and, in his human role, showing what humankind might achieve throughstrong integrity and humble obedience to the divine will. Although the poem has been found cold by the mass of readers and critics, it nevertheless has all the fire of Milton's religious and moral passion and his reverence for true heroism.

For some readers, the drama of Samson Agonistes is the most powerful and completely satisfying of Milton's major works. It is by far the greatest English drama on the Greek model and is known as a closet tragedy—i.e., one more suitedfor reading than performance. The play deals with the final phase of Samson's life and recounts the story as told in the Book of Judges of the Old Testament. The action, up to the reported catastrophe, is wholly psychological; it is the process by which Samson, “eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves,” moves from preoccupation with his misery and disgrace to selfless humility and renewed spiritual strength, so that he can once more feel himself God's chosen champion. He is granted a return of his old strength and pullsdown the pillars that support the temple of the Philistine god Dagon (also spelled Dagan), crushing himself along with his captors. The drama must owe a great deal of its power to Milton's sense of kinship with his hero; he has been eyelessin London among a nation of slaves. But nowhere does the classical impersonality and restraint of Milton's art show so strongly; there is nothing in the drama that does not belong to the story of Samson. And Milton's classical style appears in a new phase, in a rugged, sinewy, colloquial texture, and inirregular rhythms of new expressiveness.

Altogether, if Samson was his last epic poem, it was a grand testament. Like Samson, Milton was able to conquer despairor to sublimate it in his last three great poems. These expressed not his earlier revolutionary faith in men and movements but a purified faith in God and the regenerative strength of the individual soul.

Last years (1658–74)

The poet's final 16 years of life, during which these three works were finished or composed, were peaceful, although there were concrete troubles: a frugal domestic economy necessitated by greatly diminished resources; blindness and what was sometimes a more severe affliction, the pains of gout; and a degree of friction with his daughters, due probably to faults on both sides. Apart from the publication of books, the chief events of these years were Milton's marriage (1663) to a third wife, the young and amiable Elizabeth Minshull, who survived him, and the removal, during the plague of 1665, to a house (now a Milton museum) at Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire.

The publications of Milton's late years were Paradise Lost (1667), for which he received £10; textbooks of simplified Latin grammar (1669) and logic (1672); The History of Britain(1670); Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (1671); the second, enlarged edition of the Poems of 1645 (1673); the second, revised edition of Paradise Lost (1674); and Epistolae Familiares with the Prolusiones Oratoriae (1674). A Brief History of Moscovia appeared in 1682. A Latin dictionary on which Milton had long worked was completed by others and published in 1693. Edward Phillips translated Letters of State (1694). Milton's great epic poems were, of course, composed in his head, especially at night, as famous allusions in Paradise Lost indicate; when he was ready “to be milked,” he would dictate, often with one leg flung over the arm of his chair. The taking of dictation, the correcting of copy, and reading aloud in various languages were services performed by paid assistants, his two nephews, his younger daughters, and friends and disciples.

In religion Milton had moved from the low-church Anglicanism of his parents to Presbyterianism to Independency to independence. In the latter part of his life, according to his early biographer John Toland, “he was not a professed member of any particular sect among Christians, he frequented none of their assemblies, nor made use of their peculiar rites in his family.” But, as Samuel Johnson observed, “his studies and meditations were an habitual prayer.” Milton died “of the gout stuck in,” just before his 66th birthday. His burial in the churchyard of St. Giles, Cripplegate, was attended by “all his learned and great friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the vulgar.”


Milton's reputation grew steadily after 1667 and was well established before Joseph Addison's papers on Paradise Lostappeared in The Spectator (1712); these were instrumental in extending the poet's fame to the Continent. His influence on 18th-century verse was immense. In the 19th century two main streams of critical opinion are evident. On the one hand, the revolutionary Romantic poets William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley launched the “Satanist” misinterpretation of Paradise Lost and made its author, like themselves, a rebel; their attitude is summed up in Blake's saying that Milton was of the devil's party without knowing it (in other words, that he had projected himself into Satan, who was the poem's real hero). On the other hand, other critics—also concentrating on the epic—threw overboard Milton's beliefs and ideas as long-dead fundamentalism and attended to the poem's purely literary qualities.

The poet's influence waned during the Victorian age, and in the 20th century the new poetry and criticism launched by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were strongly anti-Milton and pro-John Donne. But during the 1940s and '50s a shift in critical attitudes took place, and dozens of books and hundreds of articles were given to the ideas and beliefs of the thinker, the publicist, and the poet and brought a new refinement of perception and analysis to the aesthetic study of Milton's poetry. By the second half of the 20th century his works had regained their place in the canon of Western literature.

Douglas Bush



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