Reason Embattled

  • Andrew Milner


In the previous chapter, we outlined the structure of the Miltonic world vision as it developed in the years of struggle and triumph. In this chapter we turn to the problematic of reason embattled, and to a direct analysis of the three longer poems. It should be emphasised, however, that the central structure of the rationalist world vision remained intact even in the face of the Restoration. In each of the three last poems, the notions of the discrete rational individual, and of freedom from both external constraint and passion, recur as central leitmotifs. The Restoration effects a transformation, not of the central categories themselves, but rather of their specific conjunctural organisation. In the earlier works, those categories had pointed remorselessly towards an essentially optimistic outcome: the Lady was rescued from Comus, the English people were twice successfully defended and, even at the bitter end, there yet remained a ready and easy way to save the Commonwealth.’ But that ready and easy way proved elusive. The coffers of the City of London were closed to the revolutionary government, and General Monck sold his second kingdom for filthy lucre.2 The defeated rationalists were thus faced with the problem of developing an adequate response to the triumph of un-reason over reason.


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© Andrew Milner 1981

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  • Andrew Milner

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