Christopher Hill, Social Historian

Christopher Hill, Social Historian

Christopher Hill, Social historian

born in York, 1912

retired Master of Balliol College

author: The English Revolution 1640

Society and Puritanism in Pre Revolutionary England

Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution

The World Turned Upside Down

Milton and the English Revolution

These are the two chapters out of his last book, ones most pertinent to Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes.

Main Premise: that Milton was not alone in his reaction to the Revolution's defeat, and that his last three poems deal with intensley topical problems set in motion by the defeat of God's cause. [as stated in Hill's "The Experience of Defeat"]

Main Problem: How Milton, and his contemporary saints [that is, the elect], men and women who are geared for action, can come to terms with the Post Restoration need for patience. Paradise Regained and Samson are studies in both the means and the rewards commensurate with such patience. For in Paradise Regained, christ, the perfect man, found his true purpose within God on the pinnacle. His patience, the ordeal of the wilderness had to be got through. Samson, as Hill calls him, the "more ordinary sinful man," likewise undergoes the two fold process of losing the self [as did Christ talk of earlier desire to triumph in arms], and gaining his purpose under God, one found between the pillars. Thus, he is more applicable to humanity.

Theme Tracing: Hill goes through the works and makes connections between storyline, contemporary 17th century thought, and Milton's personal relationship with that revolutionary history. Along the way, a strong sense of the linkage of the parts to the whole leads to a clearly exampled code of conduct for the Inner light Protestant

I am not writing a paper here, so I shall only touch on a few of the type connections Hill makes, and on a few of the type perceptions that result. But first, I must very briefly outline the charged historical atmosphere of the 17th century, as seen by Hill and Haller [The Rise of Puritanism], an atmosphere that Jauss sees as the invisible backdrop upon which the character of the genius, or the individual who answers the contemporary question, stands out in relief.

So, to the Text:

Jesus depicted as being thick in the world. Baptized out in the wilderness, being tempted. Subject to passions, Anxiety, ambition. Very Human. And Milton states in Paradise Regained [I 2 4], the son of God triumphs by staying human, whereas Adam and Eve fell by aspiring to be Gods. The symmetry alludes to the comprehensive Miltonic literary design, one incorporating all three Post Restoration poems in its purpose. And, as we are the sons and daughters of the fallen Eve, we mix in as well. Of Key importance, as Hill sees it, is Miltons emphasis on the temptation of Christ and the avoidance of the crucifixion of Christ. The Heroic Christ is more in keeping with 17th century Revolutionary Elect calls to action, while the crucifixion is passive. And yet, the revolution failed. Action initiated by the elect, culminating in regicide, did not take. Hill sees the wilderness scenes then, as a Miltonic version of a time for re thinking, not only for Christ, but for 17 century Saints [Puritans]. As Christ emerges from the wilderness he is readied to assume his role in the spiritual revolution toward the millenium. He has undergone, blindly, not knowing who he is, the trial by ordeal, the baptism through test so much in keeping with Calvinism and Milton and the 17th, and these poems witness Aers pointing out that god in Paradise Lost did not want Adam to stand by the ordained view of women, but to rather, develop his own. God laid down a test. Like Christ, and even more like Samson, the 17th Century Saint must, after 1660, blindly, patiently, wait on Gods sense of timing, and not act on their own.

That Milton slowly geared for a period of active retrenchment, as it were, is shown by Hill in its development:

1. 1641 "shortly expected king"

2. 1644 "Kingdom which we pray incessantly may soon come."

3. 1651 we must "look for"

4. 1660 Readie and Esie Way of course, shows the ideal faltering, desperately holding out for a compromise to stave off utter defeat of the notions which set the Revolution going to God.

Thematically, since Milton's own history saw military and political solutions toward a Saintly state thwarted,, it is easy to see, as Hill points out, why Christ rejects Satan's proposals or short cuts to world domination. Such solutions are premature, inchoate, simply elements of Satanic Temptation, as were those of the English revolution.

Suggestion that PR a rebuke to the impatience of the Fifth Monarchists [another radical splinter].

Also suggests Christ's rebuke of Temptation is analogous to the Miltonic/Cromwellian refusals to be wedded to any sure form of government, refusals [in milton's case] deriving from, as Hill puts it, "a fluid conception of Christ's kingdom." More important here, the Miltonic attitude towards the revolution, one shrinking away from the Cavinistic notion of Usage, that is, the Means [as posited by Satan] lawyers, guns, and money, does not so much dwindle as it reformulates right along the lines of Inner Light Protestant Thought typical of the times.

Hill suggests that The Redie and Esie Way was one such solution, being a state of mind rather than a proposed constitutional model. And, as we can see:

1. Christ as following the guidance of an inner light in his dealings with Satan and opinions on government;


2. As allusions of linkages between man and christ are rampant through the text;


3. To the degree that Christ and Samson embody this inner guidance and Milton emphasizes action [temptation over crucifixion] over inaction, we are led by Hill to see PR and Samson as dialogues not only pertinent to 17th century Church and State politics [christ big on the separation of church and state adamant], that is, Revolutionary politics, but to consider it as the dialogue of Milton himself, pitting the internal intuitive world of faith against the extrinsic rationale that both brought the revolution to pass and justified regicide. This is what Hill would have us see. And the intuitive faith, posited in these post 1660 texts, proves the long true course for the elect is of a spiritual nature, uncorrupted by usage/military means, and emphasizing blind patience awaiting God's will.

Certainly, the use of means would not appeal to a blind, politically ovethrown, imprisoned Milton of 1671, any more than does an organic cosmos today appeal to the crippled physcist Hawking, whose entropic view of the universe sees the overthrow of positive, thermodynamic emanationism. So, if we can see that Christ, and Samson, and Milton, and the 17th Century are engaged in an internal dialogue, one pitting intuitional and unnknowing faith in divine guidance against rational, external, satanic, self guidance, we have got hold of at least one key to these three post restoration texts. Such a connection is available to the degree that we see, with Hill, the inter connectedness of all these plays on time, mind, event, and theological theme. And so I will give a partial list of the linkings that Hill brings out for us to see.

1. Jesus' disciples in Bk II: "Now, now,for sure, deliverance is at hand." mirrors English non conformist hopes of revolutionary 40's, 50's, thinking that the overthrow of the norman yoke [house of Stuart] would lead to international revolution.

2. Satan's temptations very much like those playing in the minds of 40's and 50's. Political action/alliances/ means/ military necessity...Puritans very much caught up in discussion and appropriateness of just these means. ....Satans suggestion that Christ ally with Parthia against Rome likened to Cromwell's alliance with France to defeat mutual enemy Spain. Too, Satan has the mindset of a dictator. He sees in terms of conquest.

in passing, Hill shows ongoing theme of Milton against


3. Miltonic Appropriations/revisions/interpolations of biblical scenes:

a. Stressing Temptation over Crucifixion unorthodox[ [allows our heroic elect activity to be personified in

christ, the while allowing for the change in historical circumstance; for christ in PR says "who best can suffer/best can do." As well, fact that Christ respects Socrates, because of his interest in usefeull knowledge further develops themes of action over passivity, even if it is actively engaging in the waiting process. Samson too, culminates in heroic action, divinely blessed. link with Michael/Raphael speeches in P.L. ]

b. Marrying Dalilah to Samson [like traitorous covenantors, the vow makes the crime more severe]

c. Manufacturing a Storm: [ Storm before Pinnacle analogous to Royalist propaganda attacks on Saints after Restoration.]

d. Christ as "Composite son" who will take the headship of the church, and who will be sustained by the community of the sons, of which he is the embodied persona.

e. Mary, referring to Herod, expresses sentiments of English post 1660 people: I to wait with patience inurred, recalling what had remarkably passed."

f. Banqueting scene not part of scripture. Hill speculates Milton used it to discredit Clarkson's RANTER doctrine stating that to the pure, all things are pure. Because Christ acknowledges his right to eat anything, but does not eat Satan's food specifically because it is proffered by Satan, there is an implication of factors external to the elect, that must be considered. Something the RANTERS did not do, even to the point of sleeping with the wives of other men. They ruined the Digger movement by making virtuous anarchy unworkable. In the same way that today, we might consider that we must keep the doors of America open to the dispossed or immigrant numbers of other nations, eventhough it might sink the wship, the Diggers, under Winstanely, communal and peacefull and virtuous bynature, had to admit RANTERS to live with them. Their policies made unworkable the tenets of peace and harmony and inner light government.

4. Christ's rejection of Athens and Learning properly likens to 17th century Mechanic preacher tradition that stood against the Oxfordian/Cambridge Scholar preachers that held a monopoly on learning, and who trained there for Anglican positions. In fact, until James I brought out the authorized King James text in 1611, at the behest of a bunch of Puritans that met him at Hampton court as he came down from Scotland to ascend, the bible was latinized, and as such, served as a tool for manipulation of the ignorant masses. the KJV really opened up the door for the fervor that preceded the revolution, as it was a vernacular text, written simply, for all to understand. So, not only did the English people get a text they could read for the first time, but they got it simultaneously with an active printing press, and before government knew what type of danger a free press constitued. too, ever since Henry VIII's Reformation, English theodicy was living in a storm of tension. a storm that was managed [as Haller says][ effectively, kept in check, as it were, by Elizabeth, and by James, but which was not by Charles. Such rejection typical of the Familists, of Jacob Boehme, and john Reeve, among others.

Important to note that PR knows that the intellectuals lost the war, using reason [look at Prose arguments of Milton]. That is why Christ, like Samson, follows strong, mysterious motions of faith. Too The charge against learning may have been Milton's acknowledgement of that same charge levelled against him.

5. Emphasis on Christ's ferocious attack on the people, calling them a "herd confused," and relating that "they pray and they admire they know not what." also should be seen as more properly the words of Milton than as those of Christ, given personal dissillusionment. These are all Hill's thoughts.

6. Samsons name, too, linked to history, as was the biblical figure regularly used as an analogy to Revolution.

a. Thomas Tyler used Samson Myth, saying that Samson was an Hebraic Magistrate, in order to say that Calvinistic doctrine on revolt, which says that revolt is legitimate if initiated by a subordinate magistrate, could be tranferred as more revolutionary justification to 17th.

b.Quarles,in 1632, in his Divine Fancy likens Samson to Christ, and a key section of his other related work, History of Samson 1631 applies to Miltons treatment. He may have been a Milton source.

c. Milton's own choice for the Samson possibly related to the experience and defeat of the English Revolution. Earlier on, Milton had a few themes for a Samson story in the works. Hubris, Dagonalia...but chose this one.

d. 1645 Henry Robinson says bishops hair might grow back, and thereby their strength.

e. 1647 Lilburne stated that if he was not released from prison he wouold, by his death, do his oppressors [Samson like] more mischief than he did them in all of his life.

f. Name meant "here the second time."

g. 17 used to seeing Samson linked to political thought.

7. Milton's own usage of Samson:

a. 1642 In Reason of Church Government; milton compared a sober and temperate king to Samson, who loses all integrity as he lays down his head/locks amongst the "strumpet flatteries of prelates."

b. 1643/44 Doctrine of Discipline and Divorce;

"to grind in the mill of an undelightfull and servile copulation must be the only forced work of a christian marriage."

c. 1644 Areopagitica; likens English Nation to Samson, "shaking his invisible locks."

d. 1655 65 De Doctrina: "the slavish pounding mill of an unhappy marriage."

e. Paradise Lost: first Analogy after the fall was drawn between Adam/Eve on one hand, Samson on the other:


Shorn of his strength, they destitue and bare

Of all their virtue. [IX 1059 63]

ee. Too, in Paradise Lost:

Adam and Eve exit: "with wandering steps and slow."

Samson begins: " A little further lend thy guiding hand."

8. Thematic touchtones:

a. Samson, at beginning of drama, is both externally and internally blind, much like condition of "God's servants in England after 1660."

b. That Samson sees himself to blame fro the predicament and betrayal of himslef and his people much like milton's own feelings.

c. Hill sees Samson as having aspired to godhead, as did Satan, Adam and Eve, and the Ranters.

d. Samson, like the Revolutionaries, reduced to servitude because they failed to live up to God's calling.

e. Samson, like Adam, like Milton,[the fallen road Christ did not need to take, having stood firm] came to recognize his responsibility in redemption after being

"now blind, disheartened, shamed, dishonored, quelled." [from Samson]

f. Harapha seen as a Cavalier [follower of Charles I] who now has the insolence to taunt the defeated Saints, much as he does Samson, calling him:

"a murderer, a revolter, and a robber."

g. Further, Samson's challenge to Harapha, Hill says, "reverberates with the social overtones associated with the Norman Yoke theory."

"Put on all thy georgeous arms, thy helmet

and brigandine brass, thy broad habergeon

Vantbrace and greaves."

h. Dalila's claim that the priests were always in her ear recalls Milton's hostility to both the Presbyterian and Anglican clergy.

i. Too, along with the social overtones reverberating round the confrontation with Harapha, Hill notes that the vulgar escape when the pillars fall. They were not milton's enemies. Dante's, it is often pointed out, fair no better in the Inferno. Rather, it was the "lords, ladies, captains, counsellors, or priests." who were. But it can not be hoped that milton expects much to come of that escape. Rather, as Hill points out, and as expressed through Christ in Regained,, Milton's message, woven through all the three works, is "adressed to the potential Samsons," not to the rabble. And, in terms of justifying the ways of God to Man, the express purpose of Paradise Lost, Hill ends by concentrating on Samson as an analysis of defeat and failure, one that, in league with the other two poems, culminates in a sense of spiritual hope, wherein, as Hill says, "human freedom has been exhonerated, providence again asserted."

The remaining few pages adress criticism concerning the negative feeling left the reader after Samson. The suicide and what not. Hill says that simply put, Milton's hope is inherently negative in design, as is Calvin's. But we must see the hope behind it. "If there had been no blindness," Hill says, "no captivity, there could have been no victory." As well, we must be prepared, as readers, in the same way that milton's potential Samson audience did, to "understand that...succumbing to her (Dalila's) wiles may be part of God's plan" also. Such is the nature of Calvinistic and Miltonic tasking.


While christ was the perfect Man, unique, Samson was a man in kind, one regenerate, acting, redeemed to God after giving up his self, his hero status. He had to lose all, in typical Calvinistic purgative fashion, so that he might find his place and role in God. Like, in Westminster Abbey, there is a sarcaphogus of an old knight, and on it is written, 'learn to die that ye might live. For Samson, and Milton, and the Presbyters, especially after 1660, to live is soley a spiritual phenomena.