Citizen Milton
Illustration by Gustav Doré of Satan hurtling towards earth.

Bodleian Library Bodleian Library, Oxford
Dec 2007 - Apr 2008

Text by Sharon Achinstein

Site designed by Richard Rowley

8. 'Of the Devil's Party': Heroism redefined

Was Milton's Satan, the rebel against God, the true hero of Paradise Lost? William Blake and many others thought so. In the Romantic era, artistic and technical innovation were the accomplices of political and ideological change, and poets inaugurated a new interest in Milton's radical vision. Political reformer William Godwin remarked that "Satan bore his torments with fortitude." Milton inspired a group of artists including Blake, Fuseli, Romney, Flaxman and Stothard, who were drawn to the Satanic figure of revolutionary power that arises from Milton's civic and political imagination.

William Combe, The Diaboliad (1777)

For his title page inscription, 'To reign is worth ambition, tho' in hell,' the satirist William Combe (1742-1823) takes the gathering in Hell from Books 1 and 2 of Milton's Paradise Lost as a thinly veiled allegory for his attacks on members of parliament in his own day. In this burlesque of Paradise Lost, members of Parliament vie with each other for succession to Satan, competitively exposing their crimes.
Douce T286(3)

Poetical Works of John Milton, illustrated by Richard Westall (Boydell, 1794)

In Satan, Milton created a politician and a seducer, a tragic but heroic figure with virtues of readiness, fervour, eloquence and opposition to tyranny. Richard Westall (1765-1836) captures the virility and urgency of Satan as the Classical hero of Paradise Lost.
Richard Westall illustration of Satan.
[Full size image]
280 i.373. Westall, PL. Show facing p. 12 (Satan). OR 27980b.1-3.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790)

The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it.

"Milton lov'd me in childhood and shew'd me his face," Blake wrote of his special connection with Milton. This colour etching with hand colouring from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell radically suggests Satan as the true hero of Paradise Lost. Blake illustrated almost all of Milton's major poems, making two sets of illustrations for Paradise Lost (1807, 1808), and in his great illustrated book, Milton (1810), championed the freedom of inspiration over reason.
Arch. g d.53

Milton's Paradise Lost, illustrated by Henri Fuseli (F. J. Du Rouveray, 1802)

The Swiss artist Henri Fuseli devoted nine years in the creation of his Milton Gallery, opened in 1799, and his influence on painters and illustrators—Westall, Mortimer, Blake, Flaxman, Barry, and others--was profound. His 'Satan Risen from the Flood' was a melodramatic engraving made from one of the most popular Gallery pictures, although Fuseli was disappointed in this small scale edition, engraved by Bromley.
Henri Fuseli engraving
[Full size image]
Vet. A6 d.15/1

Paradise Lost, illustrated by John Martin (1825-26)

John Martin (1789-1854), deist and radical reformer, designed and executed twenty-four illustrations to Paradise Lost. Martin innovated the technique of mezzotint, where the artist began with a dark plate and literally scratched his way to light. In his image of Satan, "He call'd so loud, that all the hollow Deep / Of Hell resounded" (Bk 1, line 314), Martin masters the "darkness visible" of hell with its burning flood, a cavernous space lit mysteriously.
Henri Fuseli engraving
[Full size image]
Dunstan B 47

Percy B. Shelley, poetry fragment, 'I dreamed that miltons spirit rose and took' (1821)

In a poetical fragmant, here in its original autograph, Shelley summoned the spirit of Milton—
I dreamed that Milton's spirit rose, and took
From life's green tree his Uranian lute;
And from his touch sweet thunder flowed, and shook
All human things built in contempt of man,--
And sanguine thrones, and impious altars quook,
Prisons and citadels….

These lines relate to Shelley's poem Adonais, where Milton was ranked third greatest poet of all time (behind Homer and Dante).
Ms. Shelley adds. e.9, pp. 332-333

Percy B. Shelley, Prometheus Unbound (1820)

Shelley remarked that "Milton gives the Devil all imaginable advantage," and his heroic, but tragic figure of Prometheus contains many resemblances to the Satan of Paradise Lost, though Shelley thought his own figure "a more poetical character than Satan," because he used his courage and majesty for good, not for evil.
280 i. 190

James Barry, 'Satan Departing from Hell.' Pen and brown ink over indications in black chalk.

The Irish-born James Barry (1741-1806) esteemed Milton among the saviours of English liberties. As he searched for "a moral art… to the improvement and deepest interest of society," Barry stood up for constitutional rights of the American Colonists and the Irish Catholics, voicing republican sentiments in numerous paintings and etchings. He undertook to illustrate Milton's Paradise Lost as in this preparatory watercolour drawing of 1777, where the monumental Satan appears as a defiant superhero.
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

John Keats, Hyperion in Lamia (1820)

In Hyperion, begun in 1818 and abandoned in April 1819, Keats attempted an epic poem in Miltonic blank verse in telling the story of the fall of the Titans. Hyperion's speech, 'O dreams of day and night' echoes Satan, who in Paradise Lost laments his fallen condition. Milton's influence is apparent, and one Keats found supremely challenging, as Keats wrote in a letter in 1819: "I have given up Hyperion---There were too many Milton inversions in it."
Don. f. 100

Paradise Lost by John Milton: A Series of Twelve Illustrations by William Strang (John C. Nimmo, 1896)

With the revival in illustration of Milton's poetry in the 1890s, artists developed the decorative style of Art Nouveau. William Strang's etchings for Paradise Lost were designed in a separate issue before the Routledge publication of Paradise Lost in 1905 (see Case 4). Strang, who also illustrated Pilgrim's Progress and Don Quixote, gives a reflective Satan, here the sensitive fallen angel.
1718 B.3

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Top image: Illustration by Gustav Doré of Satan hurtling towards earth.