[Milton-L] A response from Carol Barton on Christopher Hill (was puritans & other protestants)

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 17 10:56:47 EST 2007

As Cristine comments, the difference between saying what Prof. Rudrum 
said--that "Milton wrote his life-story into his works just as surely as 
T.S.Eliot did his, though this is not to say that Mary's walking out on him 
was the only reason for the divorce tracts "--and saying what Hill 
says--that Milton wrote the divorce tracts *because* Mary deserted him--is 
significant. Of course his personal experience with marriage would figure 
into the equation--but Milton was contemplating the subject of divorce in 
the abstract long before he ever took a wife, as the commonplace book 
demonstrates. It is, as he argues, a species of captivity, if one is "yoked" 
to an unfit, unmeet spouse--and a bad marriage is no more to be tolerated 
than tyrannous kingship or oppressive prelacy; it is domestic as opposed to 
political or religious enslavement, and inimical to the natural liberty of 
the human condition. His experiences with Mary Powell Milton may have 
concretized what was prior to Milton's marriage to her only theoretical, but 
they did not *precipitate* his interest in the subject.

And my original response was not Hill-bashing in any form. Hill makes many 
observations that are perceptive and astute (he would never have become the 
darling of the Oxbridge dons if he didn't). But I was cautioning Michele 
against taking him too literally, especially on the subject of the 
relationship between Miltonic biography and the Miltonic canon, where he 
frequently makes statements of "fact" that are less than factual, but does 
it with such authority that they might be misleading to the uninitiate. 
("Satan the revolutionary resembles Milton the revolutionary in a number of 
ways" means something very different from "Satan the rebel is Milton the 
regicide," but Hill tends to make pronouncements like the latter without the 
qualifiers that would separate fact from opinion.)

Best to all,

Carol Barton 

More information about the Milton-L mailing list