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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Milton's view of human destiny Anonby, John August

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to prove that Milton was keenly interested in the process of time and made use of historical materials to demonstrate in his poetry and prose his belief that God's omnipotent will controlled human destiny. While Milton's formalized attempts at history-portrayal were confined to his Brief History of Moscovia and History of Britain, his fascination for history was also expressed in his political and social treatises as well as in the great epic poems that he wrote during the final period of his life. Milton's view of human destiny closely resembled the traditional Christian concept of history as formulated by St. Augustine in The City of God. The providential, universalistic epochal and teleological aspects of the Christian view of history were all present in Milton's concept of the destiny of man. Milton, however, did not merely reproduce these traditional ideas; he transformed them to fit his conception of God's will dynamically operating in the affairs of man. This thesis attempts to show that Milton did not reproduce historical material for its own sake. His prime concern was "to instruct and benefit" the reader. The theme which Milton wished to convey was two-fold. Firstly, he demonstrated that God's will was sovereign; nothing transpired in history apart from the controlling will of God. Secondly, Milton stressed the idea that, while God's will was an indisputable absolute, the free will of man was operative in history. There was, therefore, a direct connection between the process of history and human moral behavior. Man's chief responsibility on earth was to conform voluntarily to God's revealed will. Milton thus profusely illustrated from biblical and secular history that individuals and nations who disobeyed the will of God lapsed inevitably into political, domestic, and spiritual bondage. As far as Milton was concerned, there was no liberty apart from submission to the will of God. In this thesis an attempt has been made to apply the term "Baroque" to Milton's portrayal of human destiny. In spite of his antipathy towards Roman Catholic institutions and practices, Milton demonstrated in his poetry the sense of certainty and affirmation which characterized the Baroque painting and architecture of Italy after the Counter-Reformation. By means of panorama, spectacle, and dynamism—techniques which have been considered by many critics as particularly apparent in Baroque art— Milton portrayed his concept of the dominating, unifying, and benevolent will of God dynamically controlling and directing human destiny.

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