- An Early View of Satan as Hero of Paradise Lost
The reading of Satan as the hero of John Milton’s Paradise Lost has had a long history. The view of the Romantics like William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley and later commentators has often been cited, 1 and we are aware of the statements of John Dryden, Charles Batteux, and William Godwin preceding them. An interesting spin on the topic, not pre-viously noted, is in the anonymous A Journey Through the Head of a Modern Poet, Being the Substance of a Dream, Occasioned by Reading the Sixth Book of Virgil (London: Printed for W. Owen, 1750). The sixth book of The Æneid, of course, recounts Æneas’s descent into Hades. In answer to William Lauder in An Essay on Milton’s Use and Imitation of the Moderns, in His Paradise Lost (London: Printed for J. Payne and J. Bouquet, 1750), which was issued in late 1749, and perhaps with influence from the anonymous Pandœ-monium: or, A New Infernal Expedition. Inscrib’d to the Being Who Calls Himself William Lauder. By Philalethes (London: Printed for W. Owen, 1750), A Journey presents the poet’s dream of movement through “Chaos and Old Night” (7), where he sees Satan (13), into Hell, with allusion to the Great Consult of Paradise Lost, Book 2 (22), where he meets Milton. 2 Milton is “in the extremest Agony,” perhaps because of “Writings in Favour of Cromwell, and justifying the unnatural Murder of one of the best Kings the World ever saw” (31–32). Both Lauder and Eikon Basilike are specifically mentioned. The character Milton answers the poet’s remarks, saying, “the Devil really was my Hero,” and citing Paradise Lost 1.250–52: “Hail Horrors! hail / Infernal World, and thou profoundest Hell / Receive thy new Possessor.” Later reprised are “uncreating Night” (36) and Satan’s fall (45). But here on pages 31–32 we have a Milton doomed to Hell for his political actions and works, betraying himself in his epic by making Satan the one to be emulated in his assault on authority. The [End Page 104] dichotomy of dispraise of the political Milton which one finds frequently in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but praise of his poetic abilities, particularly in Paradise Lost, 3 emerges in this ex amination of contemporary poets and negative criticism, being, in this section, a rebuttal of Lauder’s charges of plagiarism.
1. A survey of the question concerning Satan’s position in Paradise Lost, from Blake to Sir Walter Raleigh (1900) appears in Huckabay.
2. Earlier Edward Petit also envisioned Milton, as a champion for the Papacy, as a character in Purgatory (99–101).
3. The dichotomy can be seen, for example, in Addison 321–23, Yalden 177–78, and most notably in Johnson.