[Milton-L] Areopatigitica

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Fri May 26 18:46:36 EDT 2006

Mike Selby <mike at mikeselby.com> wrote:

>>The whole argument appears to boil down to how can
anyone know what is best without realizing the worst.
But Milton seems to be arguing for the general good of
the English people, and I am having difficulty
applying this, or finding where Milton applies it to
the individual.<<

Mike, here's the passage that I was thinking of:

"Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow
up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of
good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge
of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to
be discerned, that those confused seeds which were
imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labour to cull
out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixed. It
was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the
knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving
together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps
this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good
and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil. As
therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can
there be to choose, what continence to forbear without
the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and
consider vice with all her baits and seeming
pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and
yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true
wayfaring Christian.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue,
unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and
sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where
that immortal garland is to be run for, not without
dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into
the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which
purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is
contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a
youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not
the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and
rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her
whiteness is but an excremental whiteness. Which was
the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, whom
I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus
or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the
person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through
the cave of Mammon, and the bower of earthly bliss,
that he might see and know, and yet abstain. Since
therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this
world so necessary to the constituting of human
virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation
of truth, how can we more safely, and with less
danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than
by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all
manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be
had of books promiscuously read. "

This argument seems to be about individual moral
development, as this sentence would confirm:

"He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her
baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet
distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly
better, he is the true wayfaring Christian."

Milton is such an idividualist that I can't imagine
him not thinking of individual moral development, so I
think that we're warranted in reading the above
passage in this way.

Milton is a nationalist, too, of course, so he'd want
this moral development to add up to the good of the
English nation.

Jeffery Hodges

University Degrees:

Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
(Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

Email Address:

jefferyhodges at yahoo.com



Office Address:

Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
Department of English Language and Literature
Korea University
136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
South Korea

Home Address:

Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
Sehan Apt. 102-2302
Sinnae-dong 795
Seoul 131-770
South Korea

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