Jan 252018
 

Today is the birthday (1627) of Robert William Boyle FRS, an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor. Boyle is regarded today as one of the founders of modern chemistry, and one of the pioneers of modern experimental scientific method, even though, like his contemporary, Isaac Newton, he was an alchemist also. He is best known for Boyle’s law, which describes the inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and the volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system. Among his publications, The Sceptical Chymist is seen as a cornerstone book in the field of chemistry. He was a devout and pious Anglican and is noted for his writings in theology.

Boyle was born at Lismore Castle, in County Waterford, Ireland, the seventh son and fourteenth child of the 1st Earl of Cork (‘the Great Earl of Cork’) and Catherine Fenton. Lord Cork, then known simply as Richard Boyle, had arrived in Dublin from England in 1588 during the Tudor plantations of Ireland and obtained an appointment as a deputy escheator. He had amassed enormous wealth and landholdings by the time Robert was born, and had been created Earl of Cork in October 1620. Catherine Fenton, Countess of Cork, was the daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, the former Secretary of State for Ireland, who was born in Dublin in 1539, and Alice Weston, the daughter of Robert Weston, who was born in Lismore in 1541.

As a child, Boyle was fostered out to a local family, as were his elder brothers. Boyle received private tutoring in Latin, Greek, and French and when he was 8 years old, following the death of his mother, he was sent to Eton College in England. His father’s friend, Sir Henry Wotton, was then the provost of the college. During this time, his father hired a private tutor, Robert Carew, who had knowledge of Irish, to act as private tutor to his sons in Eton. Boyle’s first language was Irish. After spending over three years at Eton, Boyle travelled abroad with a French tutor. They visited Italy in 1641 and remained in Florence during the winter of that year studying the “paradoxes of the great star-gazer,” Galileo Galilei, who was elderly but still living in 1641.

Boyle returned to England from continental Europe in mid-1644 with a keen interest in scientific research. His father had died the previous year and had left him the manor of Stalbridge in Dorset as well as substantial estates in County Limerick in Ireland. Boyle then made his residence at Stalbridge House, from 1644 to 1652, and conducted many experiments there. From that time, Boyle devoted his life to scientific research and soon took a prominent place in the band of enquirers, known as the “Invisible College”, who devoted themselves to the cultivation of the “new philosophy”. They met frequently in London, often at Gresham College, and some of the members also had meetings at Oxford.

Having made several visits to his Irish estates beginning in 1647, Boyle moved to Ireland in 1652 but became frustrated at his inability to make progress in his chemical work. In one letter, he described Ireland as “a barbarous country where chemical spirits were so misunderstood and chemical instruments so unprocurable that it was hard to have any Hermetic thoughts in it.” In 1654, Boyle left Ireland for Oxford to pursue his work more successfully. An inscription can be found on the wall of University College in the High Street in Oxford (now the location of the Shelley Memorial), marking the spot where Cross Hall stood until the early 19th century. It was here that Boyle rented rooms from the wealthy apothecary who owned the Hall.

Reading in 1657 of Otto von Guericke’s air pump, he set himself with the assistance of Robert Hooke to devise improvements in its construction, and with the result, the “machina Boyleana” or “Pneumatical Engine”, finished in 1659, he began a series of experiments on the properties of air. An account of Boyle’s work with the air pump was published in 1660 under the title New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of the Air, and its Effects. Among the critics of the views put forward in this book was a Jesuit, Francis Line (1595–1675), and it was while answering his objections that Boyle made his first mention of the law that the volume of a gas varies inversely to the pressure of the gas, which among English-speaking people is usually called Boyle’s Law after his name. The person who originally formulated the hypothesis was Henry Power in 1661. Boyle in 1662 included a reference to a paper written by Power, but mistakenly attributed it to Richard Towneley. In continental Europe the hypothesis is sometimes attributed to Edme Mariotte, although he did not publish it until 1676 and was likely aware of Boyle’s work at the time.

In 1663 the Invisible College became The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, and the charter of incorporation granted by Charles II of England named Boyle a member of the council. In 1680 he was elected president of the society, but declined the honor because of a scruple about oaths. In 1668 he left Oxford for London where he lived at the house of his elder sister Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, in Pall Mall. His contemporaries widely acknowledged Katherine’s influence on his work, but later historiographies dropped her from the record. Theirs was “a lifelong intellectual partnership, where brother and sister shared medical remedies, promoted each other’s scientific ideas, and edited each other’s manuscripts.”

In 1669, Boyle’s health, never very strong, began to fail seriously and he gradually withdrew from his public engagements, ceasing his communications to the Royal Society, and advertising his desire to be excused from receiving guests, “unless upon occasions very extraordinary.” In the leisure thus gained he wished to “recruit his spirits, range his papers”, and prepare some important chemical investigations which he proposed to leave “as a kind of Hermetic legacy to the studious disciples of that art”, but of which he did not make known the nature. His health became still worse in 1691, and he died on 31 December that year, just a week after the death of the sister with whom he had lived for more than 20 years. He was buried in the churchyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields, his funeral sermon being preached by his friend Bishop Gilbert Burnet. In his will, Boyle endowed a series of lectures which came to be known as the Boyle Lectures.

Boyle’s great merit as a scientific investigator is that he carried out the principles which Francis Bacon espoused in the Novum Organum. Yet he would not avow himself a follower of Bacon, or indeed of any other teacher. On several occasions he mentions that to keep his judgment as unprepossessed as might be with any of the modern theories of philosophy, until he was “provided of experiments” to help him judge of them, he refrained from any study of the Atomical and the Cartesian systems, and even of the Novum Organum itself, though he admits to “transiently consulting” them about a few particulars. Nothing was more alien to his mental temperament than the spinning of hypotheses. He regarded the acquisition of knowledge as an end in itself. This, however, did not mean that he paid no attention to the practical application of science, but that pure knowledge was for Boyle a higher goal than applying scientific knowledge to utilitarian purposes.

Boyle was a committed alchemist, and, believing the transmutation of metals to be a possibility, he carried out experiments in the hope of achieving it. He was instrumental in obtaining the repeal, in 1689, of the statute of Henry IV against multiplying gold and silver. Despite all the important work Boyle accomplished in physics – the enunciation of Boyle’s law, the discovery of the part taken by air in the propagation of sound, and investigations on the expansive force of freezing water, on specific gravities and refractive powers, on crystals, on electricity, on color, on hydrostatics, etc. – chemistry was his favorite study. His first book, The Sceptical Chymist, published in 1661, criticized the “experiments whereby vulgar Spagyrists are wont to endeavour to evince their Salt, Sulphur and Mercury to be the true Principles of Things.” For him chemistry was the science of the composition of substances, not merely an adjunct to the arts of the alchemist or the physician. He endorsed the view that elements were the indivisible constituents of material bodies, and made the distinction between mixtures and compounds. He made considerable progress in the technique of detecting their ingredients, a process which he designated by the term “analysis”. He further supposed that the elements were ultimately composed of particles of various sorts and sizes, into which, however, they were not to be resolved in any known way. He studied the chemistry of combustion and of respiration, and conducted experiments in physiology, where, however, he was hampered by the “tenderness of his nature” which kept him from anatomical dissections, especially vivisections, though he knew them to be “most instructing”.

In addition to philosophy, Boyle devoted much time to theology, showing a very decided leaning to the practical side and an indifference to controversial polemics. At the Restoration of the king in 1660, he was favorably received at court and in 1665 would have received the provostship of Eton College had he agreed to take holy orders, but this he refused to do on the ground that his writings on religious subjects would have greater weight coming from a layman than a paid minister of the Church.

Moreover, Boyle incorporated his scientific interests into his theology, believing that natural philosophy could provide powerful evidence for the existence God. In works such as Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688), for instance, he criticized contemporary philosophers – such as René Descartes – who denied that the study of nature could reveal much about God. Instead, Boyle argued that natural philosophers could use the design apparently on display in some parts of nature to demonstrate God’s involvement with the world. He also attempted to tackle complex theological questions using methods derived from his scientific practices. In Some Physico-Theological Considerations about the Possibility of the Resurrection (1675), he used a chemical experiment known as the reduction to the pristine state as part of an attempt to demonstrate the physical possibility of the resurrection of the body. Throughout his career, Boyle tried to show that science could lend support to Christianity.

As a director of the East India Company he spent large sums in promoting the spread of Christianity in the East, contributing liberally to missionary societies and to the expenses of translating the Bible or portions of it into various languages. Boyle supported the policy that the Bible should be available in the vernacular language of the people. An Irish language version of the New Testament was published in 1602 but was rare in Boyle’s adult life. In 1680–85 Boyle personally financed the printing of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, in Irish. In this respect, Boyle’s attitude to the Irish language differed from the English Ascendancy class in Ireland at the time, which was generally hostile to the language and largely opposed the use of Irish (not only as a language of religious worship).

In his will, Boyle provided money for a series of lectures to defend the Christian religion against those he considered “notorious infidels, namely atheists, deists, pagans, Jews and Muslims”, with the provision that controversies among Christians were not to be mentioned.

Boyle’s Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours has a section in it on the use of syrup of violets as a chemical indicator. The syrup is normally violet, of course, but turns red when an acid is added and green in alkaline solutions. Modern, commercial syrups of violets are of no use for experimentation because they contain artificial coloring agents precisely so that they will not change color depending on what they are mixed with. You can, however, make your own syrup. I am a huge fan of violet as a flavoring, especially for the cream centers of dark chocolates. My sister sends me half a dozen from England every Christmas.

Here’s a 17th century MS recipe for syrup of violets. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Here’s a modern recipe that works just as well.

Syrup of Violets

Ingredients

50g sweet violets
150ml boiling water
300gm white caster sugar

Instructions

Boil a 450ml bottle in clean water to sterilize it.

Remove all green matter, including stalks, from the violets, and place them in a clean glass or ceramic bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flowers, then cover the bowl with cling film or a tea towel, and let the violets infuse overnight.

When the violets have infused, place them with their water into the top of a double boiler. Add the sugar and stir well. Bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a slow boil, then place the top containing the violets, sugar, and water over the boiling water. Stir the violet mixture steadily until the sugar has completely dissolved.

When the sugar has dissolved remove the mixture from the heat, and strain it through muslin lining a funnel into the sterilized bottle. Cap the bottle and store in a cool place or the refrigerator.

 

 

 

May 052016
 

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Today is the birthday (1813) of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author who was an early contributor to what became known as existentialism. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a “single individual”, giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was opposed to easy answers and, therefore to critics who summed up idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time: Swedenborg, Hegel, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, Schlegel and Hans Christian Andersen he felt were all “understood” far too quickly by “scholars.”

Kierkegaard’s theological work covers a broad spectrum: Christian ethics, the institution of the Church, humans and God, and the individual’s subjective relationship to Jesus the Christ, which for Kierkegaard came through faith. Much of this work entails Christian love. He was extremely critical of the practice of Christianity as a state religion, primarily that of the Church of Denmark. His psychological work explored the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices.

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Kierkegaard’s early work was written under various pseudonyms that he used to present distinctive viewpoints and to interact with each other in complex dialogue. He explored particularly complex problems from different viewpoints, each under a different pseudonym. He wrote many Upbuilding Discourses under his own name and dedicated them to the “single individual” who might want to discover the meaning of his works. Notably, he wrote: “Science and scholarship want to teach that becoming objective is the way. Christianity teaches that the way is to become subjective, to become a subject.” While scientists learn about the world by observation, Kierkegaard emphatically denied that observation could reveal the inner workings of the world of the spirit.

Kierkegaard’s wrote in Danish and his works were initially limited to Scandinavia. By the turn of the 20th century, however, his major works had been translated into major European languages, so that by the mid-20th century, his thought exerted a substantial influence on philosophy and theology.

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I won’t try to summarize Kierkegaard’s work because that would do him an injustice. Instead here are a few quotations to give you an idea.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

Once you label me you negate me.

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

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I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth’s orbit ——————————— and  wanted to shoot myself.

There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.

I have never fought in such a way as to say: I am the true Christian, others are not Christians. No, my contention has been this: I know what Christianity is, my imperfection as a Christian I myself fully recognize — but I know what Christianity is.

It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.

A man’s personality is matured only when he appropriates the truth, whether it is spoken by Balaam’s ass or a sniggering wag or an apostle or an angel.

Job endured everything — until his friends came to comfort him, then he grew impatient.

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One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?

To say that I understand Kierkegaard would be to go against the very nature of his work. Rather, there are points he makes on which I concur. Chief of these is that it is incumbent on each individual to THINK, and not to accept blindly what you are told. His notion of “truth for me” for example, is not what most moderns believe when they use the phrase – “if I believe it, it is true.” He is saying that you cannot simply assent to truth as purveyed by others: you must OWN it by working it out for yourself.

I see Kierkegaard as a precursor of Freud in that his notion of owning the truth involves knowing oneself. For Kierkegaard self knowledge requires concentrated reflection on oneself, preferably in isolation. I am sympathetic to this notion because it is exactly what I do. Since the death of my wife nine years ago, I have lived alone, and have increasingly used my time alone to reflect on all manner of things.  This is not a skill that can be learned; you have to work it out for yourself, perhaps with writers such as Kierkegaard as guides. Friendships, relationships, and the like, can be helpful, but they can also be distractions that get in the way of self reflection. Read Kierkegaard for yourself and you will see what I mean.

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Danish cuisine can be colorful, but is often rather bland. I’ve mentioned smørrebrød, open faced sandwiches, several times before, and you can certainly get creative with them, heaping all manner of toppings on to dark rye bread for a base. For example:

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Today I am interested in æggekage (lit. egg cake), which is very similar to English batter pudding or traditional Argentine tortilla, that is, a mix of milk, flour, and eggs that is fried and baked in a heavy skillet with various toppings. My basic recipe for the egg mixture is presented in this video:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?usp=sharing

Toppings can be savory or sweet. I made an apple æggekage this morning. First, I chopped one apple coarsely (without peeling), and sautéed it in a little butter and sugar until the pieces took on color.

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Then I made the batter (as per the video), and poured it over the apples whilst the pan was still warm, and cooked the bottom a little.

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Then I finished it off in a hot oven sprinkled with a little sugar and cinnamon.

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For breakfast I ate some slices straight from the pan. For lunch I re-heated the remainder on the stove with a few sliced tomatoes and bacon.

Apr 102016
 

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Today is the Anglican commemoration of William of Ockham (also Occam) c. 1287 – 1347, an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher and theologian, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. He is commonly known for Occam’s razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logic, physics, and theology.

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William of Ockham joined the Franciscan order at an early age. It is believed that he studied theology at the University of Oxford from 1309 to 1321, but while he completed all the requirements for a master’s degree in theology (the English 14th century equivalent of a doctorate), he was never made regent master. During the Middle Ages, theologian Peter Lombard’s Sentences (1150) had become a standard work of theology, and many ambitious theological scholars wrote commentaries on it. William of Ockham was among these scholarly commentators and his works were heavily criticized leading to charges of heresy.

It is generally believed that these charges were levied by Oxford chancellor John Lutterell. The Franciscan Minister General, Michael of Cesena, had been summoned to Avignon, to answer charges of heresy. A theological commission had been asked to review his Commentary on the Sentences, and it was during this that Ockham found himself involved in a different debate. Michael of Cesena had asked Ockham to review arguments surrounding Apostolic poverty. The Franciscans believed that Jesus and his apostles owned no property either individually or in common, and The Rule of Saint Francis commanded members of the order to follow this practice. This brought them into conflict with Pope John XXII. Fans of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose will be familiar with this debate. Tough one – should the church and its leaders get rich or not?

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Because of the pope’s attack on the Rule of Saint Francis, Ockham, Michael of Cesena and other leading Franciscans fled Avignon on 26 May 1328, and eventually took refuge in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria, who was also engaged in dispute with the papacy, and became Ockham’s patron. After studying the works of John XXII and previous papal statements, Ockham agreed with the Minister General. In return for protection and patronage Ockham wrote treatises that argued for emperor Louis to have supreme control over church and state in the Holy Roman Empire. On June 6, 1328, Ockham was officially excommunicated for leaving Avignon without permission, and Ockham argued that John XXII was a heretic for attacking the doctrine of Apostolic poverty and the Rule of Saint Francis, which had been endorsed by previous popes. Despite his excommunication, Ockham’s philosophy was never officially condemned as heretical.

He spent much of the remainder of his life writing about political issues, including the relative authority and rights of the spiritual and temporal powers. After Michael of Cesena’s death in 1342, William became the leader of the small band of Franciscan dissidents living in exile with Louis IV. Ockham died (prior to the outbreak of the plague, or Black Death) on 9 April 1347. He was officially rehabilitated by Innocent VI in 1359.

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William of Ockham believed,

only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover.

Ockham’s theism was based solely on private revelation and faith (fideism). He believed that science was a matter of discovery. Therefore in the modern world his importance lies in his strongly developed interest in logical method.

In inquiry, Ockham advocated for a reform both in method and in content, the aim of which was simplification. Ockham incorporated much of the work of some previous theologians, especially John Duns Scotus. From Scotus, Ockham derived his view of divine omnipotence, his view of grace and justification, much of his epistemology and ethical convictions. However, he also reacted to and against Scotus in the areas of predestination, penance, his understanding of universals.

Discussion of Ockham’s philosophy and theology will get us into deep waters very quickly.  I will say, though, that his ideas are still discussed. His view of parsimony which became known as Occam’s Razor, is certainly his best known tenet, but unfortunately it bears his name undeservedly. The idea can easily be traced to Pythagoras and Aristotle.

The term “Occam’s razor” first appeared in 1852 in the works of Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet (1788–1856) Its association with Ockham is probably be due to the frequency and effectiveness with which he used it. Ockham stated the principle in various ways, but the most popular version, “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” (Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate) was formulated by the Irish Franciscan philosopher John Punch in his 1639 commentary on the works of Duns Scotus (from whom Ockham derived it).

I usually phrase the principle informally thus: “If two competing hypotheses have equal merit, choose the simplest.” It is not a rule of logic or science, but merely a guideline for inquiry. Its force lies in the simple notion that if you are trying to develop a scientific theory, the fewer assumptions you make in deriving the theory, the better. Well and good. But as my mentor and friend, Rodney Needham (professor of Social Anthropology at Oxford University from 1976 to 1990) pointed out, the principle of parsimony is not useful in all fields of inquiry. You don’t want an analysis of Hamlet, for example, reduced to a few simple sentences: just the opposite. The more complex, the better.

So . . . what about cooking? Can we apply Occam’s razor to recipes? Here we have a matter of personal choice. Longtime readers here will recall my incredibly convoluted recipes, as well as my simplest. Which is better? This question strikes at the heart of evolving culinary traditions. Fads come and go. Generally I prefer simplicity, but I’m not averse to dishes that involve days-long preparation, using myriad ingredients.

Here is a traditional recipe for Surrey fish pudding which I think serves for simplicity, is delicious, and comes from Ockham’s home county. There’s no telling, but it might have been made in his day.

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Surrey Fish Pudding

Ingredients

1½ lb cooked firm fish
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup whole milk
1 oz butter, melted
anchovy paste
chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Instructions

Break up the fish as finely as possible in a bowl. Mix in the breadcrumbs, then fold in the rest of the ingredients (anchovy paste, parsley, salt and pepper to taste).

Place the ingredients in a buttered mould and steam for 45 minutes.

 

Dec 092015
 

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Today is the birthday (1608) of John Milton, an English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), written in blank verse.

The phases of Milton’s life parallel the major historical and political changes in Stuart Britain. Under the increasingly personal rule of Charles I and its breakdown in constitutional confusion and war, Milton studied, travelled, wrote poetry mostly for private circulation, and launched a career as pamphleteer and publicist. Under the Commonwealth of England, he ceased being thought dangerously radical and even heretical; the shift in accepted attitudes in government placed him in public office, and he even acted as an official spokesman in certain of his publications. The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 deprived Milton, now completely blind, of his public platform, but this period saw him complete most of his major works of poetry.

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Plenty has been written on Milton’s life and politics which you can read if it takes your fancy. I’m mainly interested in his theology, both in plain prose tracts and in poetry. Like many writers before him, Milton attempted to integrate Christian theology with classical modes. In his early poems, the poet narrator expresses a tension between vice and virtue, the latter invariably related to Protestantism. In his later poems, Milton’s theological concerns become more explicit.

Milton embraced many heterodox Christian theological views which in earlier centuries would have had him burnt at the stake. He rejected the Trinity, for example, in the belief that the Son was subordinate to the Father – a position related to the heretical Arianism. In his 1641 treatise, Of Reformation, Milton expressed his dislike for Catholicism and episcopacy, presenting Rome as a modern Babylon, and bishops as Egyptian taskmasters.

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Through the Republic, Milton often presents England, rescued from the trappings of a worldly monarchy, as an elect nation akin to the Old Testament Israel, and shows its leader, Oliver Cromwell, as a latter-day Moses. These views were bound up in Protestant views of the Millennium, which some sects, such as the Fifth Monarchists predicted would arrive in England. Milton, however, would later criticize the “worldly” millenarian views of these and others.

The Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 began a new phase in Milton’s work. In Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, Milton mourns the end of the godly Commonwealth. The Garden of Eden may allegorically reflect Milton’s view of England’s recent Fall from Grace, while Samson’s blindness and captivity—mirroring Milton’s own lost sight—may be a metaphor for England’s blind acceptance of Charles II as king.

Despite the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton did not lose his personal faith; Samson shows how the loss of national salvation did not necessarily preclude the salvation of the individual, while Paradise Regained expresses Milton’s continuing belief in the promise of Christian salvation through Jesus Christ.

Milton had come to stand apart from all sects, though apparently finding the Quakers most congenial. He never went to any religious services in his later years. When a servant brought back accounts of sermons from nonconformist meetings, Milton became so sarcastic that the man eventually resigned his position. Milton did, however, call in the Areopagitica for “the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties” (applied, however, only to the conflicting Protestant denominations, and not to atheists, Jews, Muslims or Catholics). Milton argued for disestablishment as the only effective way of achieving broad toleration.

Milton’s understanding of humanity by itself and in relation to God are crystallized in his classic epic, Paradise Lost.

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The poem is separated into twelve “books” or sections, the lengths of which vary greatly (the longest is Book IX, with 1,189 lines, and the shortest Book VII, with 640). The Arguments at the head of each book were added in subsequent imprints of the first edition. Originally published in ten books, a fully “Revised and Augmented” edition reorganized into twelve books was issued in 1674, and this is the edition generally used today.

The poem follows the epic tradition of starting in medias res (in the middle of things), the background story being recounted later.

Milton’s story has two narrative arcs, one about Satan (Lucifer) and the other following Adam and Eve. It begins after Satan and the other rebel angels have been defeated and banished to Hell, or, as it is also called in the poem, Tartarus. In Pandæmonium, Satan employs his rhetorical skill to organize his followers; he is aided by Mammon and Beelzebub. Belial and Moloch are also present. At the end of the debate, Satan volunteers to poison the newly created Earth and God’s new and most favored creation – humankind. He braves the dangers of the Abyss alone in a manner reminiscent of Odysseus or Aeneas. After an arduous crossing of the Chaos outside Hell, he enters God’s new material World, and later the Garden of Eden.

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At several points in the poem, an Angelic War over Heaven is recounted from different perspectives. Satan’s rebellion follows the epic convention of large-scale warfare. The battles between the faithful angels and Satan’s forces take place over three days. At the final battle, the Son of God single-handedly defeats the entire legion of angelic rebels and banishes them from Heaven. Following this purge, God creates the World, culminating in his creation of Adam and Eve. While God gave Adam and Eve total freedom and power to rule over all creation, he gave them one explicit command: not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on penalty of death.

The story of Adam and Eve’s temptation and fall is a fundamentally different, new kind of epic: a domestic one. Adam and Eve are presented for the first time in Christian literature as having a full physical relationship while still being without sin. They have passions and distinct personalities. Satan, disguised in the form of a serpent, successfully tempts Eve to eat from the Tree by preying on her vanity and tricking her with rhetoric. Adam, learning that Eve has sinned, knowingly commits the same sin. He declares to Eve that since she was made from his flesh, they are bound to one another ‒ if she dies, he must also die. In this manner, Milton portrays Adam as a heroic figure, but also as a greater sinner than Eve, as he is aware that what he is doing is wrong.

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After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve have lustful sex. At first, Adam is convinced that Eve was right in thinking that eating the fruit would be beneficial. However, they soon fall asleep and have terrible nightmares, and after they awake, they experience guilt and shame for the first time. Realizing that they have committed a terrible act against God, they engage in mutual recrimination.

Meanwhile, Satan returns triumphantly to Hell, amidst the praise of his fellow fallen angels. He tells them about how their scheme has worked and humankind has fallen, giving them complete dominion over Paradise. As he finishes his speech, however, the fallen angels around him become hideous snakes, and soon enough, Satan himself turns into a snake, deprived of limbs and unable to talk.

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Eve’s pleas to Adam reconcile the two to a degree. Her encouragement enables them both to approach God, to “bow and sue for grace with suppliant knee”, and to receive grace from God. In a vision shown to him by the angel Michael, Adam witnesses everything that will happen to humankind until the Great Flood. Adam is very upset by this vision of the future, so Michael also tells him about humankind’s potential redemption from original sin through Jesus Christ (whom Michael calls “King Messiah”).

Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden, and Michael says that Adam may find “a paradise within thee, happier far”. Adam and Eve also now have a more distant relationship with God, who is omnipresent but invisible (unlike the tangible Father in the Garden of Eden).

You will have to read the whole thing to glean the poetics above this bald epitome. There are some extremely lofty moments that capture the spirit:

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n

Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.

Solitude sometimes is best society.

Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.

Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is and saw Virtue in her shape how lovely: and pined his loss

All is not lost, the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and the courage never to submit or yield.

Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.

Each fragment you find that resonates can leave you with a sense of the awe and wonder that Milton felt.

jm6

After that, a recipe seems rather lowly, but I found this one in The Whole Duty of a Woman: Or a Guide to the Female Sex (1696), quite the epitome of thoughts about women in the 17th century. The title continues — From the age of sixteen to sixty, &c. Being directions, how women of all qualities and conditions, ought to behave themselves in the various circumstances of this life, for their obtaining not only present, but future happiness. I. Directions how to obtain the divine and moral virtues of piety, meekness, modesty, chastity, humility, compassion, temperance and affability, with their advantages, and how to avoyd the opposite vices. II. The duty of virgins, directing them what they ought to do, and what to avoyd, for gaining all the accomplishments required in that state. With the whole art of love, &c. 3. The whole duty of a wife, 4. The whole duty of a widow, &c. Also choice receipts in physick and chirurgery. With the whole art of cookery, preserving, candying, beautifying, &c. Written by a lady.

 I am not sure that Milton would approve of the author’s vision of the contemporary Eve, but the book gives considerable insight into the thinking of the times. You can find the whole text online in a number of places. This is a simple scan of the 1737 printing:

https://archive.org/stream/wholedutyawoman00unkngoog#page/n17/mode/2up

jm7

From it I have chosen this recipe:

A Shoulder of Mutton with Oysters.

Stuff your Mutton with strong Oysters, of a moderate size, and sweet herbs, roast it before a pretty quick Fire, basting it with Butter, and saving the Gravy which falls from it, separate from the Fat, make it into a sauce, with Claret, Pepper, and grated Nutmeg, then lay the Oysters that you pull out about the Mutton, Garnish it with Parsly, and slices of Lemon; and so serve it up.

My take on this is fairly obvious. Start with a boned shoulder of lamb – you’re not going to find mutton. Lay it out flat and spread it with freshly shucked oysters and sprinkle liberally with sweet green herbs such as savory and marjoram, plus salt and pepper to taste. Then roll it and tie it firmly with baking twine. Roast at around 400°F, basting frequently until the outside is deeply browned, about an hour, depending on size. Lamb is best when it is pink inside.

Remove the lamb from the roasting pan and cover it with foil to rest whilst you make the gravy. Add flour to the pan in equal quantity to the pan juices and cook over medium high heat to form a roux. Then, whisking vigorously, stir in a mix of claret and stock to make a thick gravy, seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg and black pepper.

Unroll the shoulder on a platter, push the oysters to one side, and slice the meat thickly. Then bathe the platter with the hot gravy and serve garnished with parsley and lemon slices. I’d recommend some boiled new potatoes and poached greens as side dishes.