Man’s Polluting Sin

  • Stanley Eugene Fish


When Bishop Joseph Hall sought a visual symbol for the waywardness of sinful man, he found it in the image of a woman with a ‘loose lock erring wantonly over her shoulders’.1 It was an apt choice: loose, erring, wantonly, do double duty as indicators of spatial position and moral status. The image is particularly effective because the abstraction it seeks to figure forth is contained in the physical representation; the response of the auditor is made in terms of the physical: he sees or imagines a lock of hair moving independently of an ordered configuration to which it nominally belongs; the lock ‘strays’ from the ‘path’ assigned to it; it is wayward. No translation is necessary; one need not allegorize the icon to extract from it the abstraction; comprehension is instantaneous, assured by the innumerable associations of female hair with seduction, and by a habit of mind which sees moral meaning in direction. Hall is hardly original. Indeed the success of the presentation depends on the familiarity of the tradition it calls upon. For students of Paradise Lost, however, Hall’s word-grouping is significant because it finds an almost exact analogue in the description of Eve.


Seventeenth Century Real Character Emphasis Mine Paradise Lost Moral Meaning 
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  1. 1.
    Quoted by Douglas Bush in English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1945), p. 116.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ricks, Milton’s Grand Style (Oxford, 1964), p. no. See also Anne Ferry’s Milton’s Epic Voice, pp. 112–15.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    For discussions of this aspect of Ramus’ thought see P. Albert Duhamel, ‘The Logic and Rhetoric of Peter Ramus’, Modern Philology, xlvi (1949), 163–71 and ‘Milton’s Alleged Ramism’, PMLA, lxvii (1952), 1035–53; also Walter J. Ong, S.J., Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue, passim.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 1.
    pp. 29–30. See also Hobbes, Leviathan, i. 4, p. 37: ‘The first author of speech was God himself, that instructed Adam how to name such creatures as he presented to his sight.’ Ramus, too, attests to the pervasiveness of this commonplace: ‘Before Adam lost the image of God, Ramus said, almost all of his judgments had been simply axiomatical; in his integrity he had been able to see and to pronounce sentence immediately, as when he named the animals’ (Perry Miller in The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Beacon Press Edition, Boston, 1961, p. 133).Google Scholar
  5. 1.
    P. W. Bridgman, ‘The Way Things Are’, in The Limits of Language, ed. Walker Gibson (New York, 1962), p. 42.Google Scholar

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© Stanley Eugene Fish 1967

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  • Stanley Eugene Fish

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