Saturday, May 6, 2017

Two Unrelated Poems


"Though I may be sent to Hell for it, such a God will never command my respect", was Milton's well known opinion of the doctrine.
 -- Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Parsons, Giddens Trans.)

What an incredibly intriguing quote!
Which Weber attributes as if it were spoke
By a great puritan poet, and yet -- 'tis plain
It is a heroic rebuttal of all Calvin's pains!
 How could that be? And it is made
more tantalizing still by the striking fact
That it is apparently "well known," yet its source--
 impossible to track!
Each undergraduate asks:

How could Milton, of all people,
  in his dark pious century
Have uttered such a lightning stroke
  of glamorous heresy?

 Milton didn't actually quite say it -- and one is slightly perturbed
By the close likeness it bears to another man's words
Who also shares with Milton three tell-tale letters
As well as his free mind, though born in freer times
  (While Milton's was in fetters)
A name so like the other that one can easily see
How a German, though adept
 in early sociology
And well read in literatures
 both ancient and modern
Might still mistake one for the other as author:

I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.
-- John Stuart Mill, An Examination of William Hamilton's Philosophy

One's suspicion grows stronger,
 Once one becomes aware
That the latter quote actually was well known
In certain freethinking lairs
-- Favored of Bloomsbury, etc., and retrieved by me
From reading Geoffrey Rowell on Victorian eschatology

Yet despite the fact that this resolution
Is found as soon as looked
It has so far eluded
Every source on Google Books!

Search this phrase of "Milton's" *ahem*
And you will quickly find
Elaborate analyses of his thought,
That assume this quote a product of his mind!

Followed by poor apologia in the footnotes like this:

As quoted in Max Weber [...] I have been unable to find the original source of the quote.
-- Robert Joseph Matava, Divine Casualty and Human Free Choice, p. 342

Poor scholars, it remains for them a riddle
Why Milton would have said such a thing
So redolent of nineteenth century liberty,
  Not seventeenth century muddles!

There is even -- saddest to behold
(Because it comes so near the scent of truth
But is insufficiently bold)
A biography of John Stuart Mill,
That has spotted the similarities,
and from this concludes:

There is an important parallel here between Milton and Mill, and a great influence of the former on the latter.
-- Nicholas Capaldi, John Stuart Mill: A Biography, p. 284

And what is the source he cites
For Milton's side of the comparison? It's true
"Tis none other than Weber! See Capaldi -- 402.
Since in all Milton's own works,
 this quote nowhere appears!
And I think this at last serves
 To prove our misattribution fears.

Nor could such a quote have been a product
 Of that gifted hand
Whose project was to "justify
 the ways of God to man."
A free spirit's creativity
  Poured into a coward's plan
-- I prefer to take my stand
With John Stuart Mill,
  Whose world-historic brain
Was far more likely to endue theology
With a whiff of the morally sane
And who better overmatched
 all orthodoxy's forces
And taught us a further lesson today --
That we should cite original sources.


Sometimes when I am made to sign
A list entire of my political crimes
Here then is the sweetest pleasure – to know
That within me always is that Satanic pride,
Undimmed, undiminished– it is the kind
That knows full well where it has erred
And even is guilty – it is not scared
To face the truths of its failures of heart
In matters of class or race (indeed,
it knows them better
 than any sanctimonious fool that ever
Pinned a scarlet letter)
But it knows as well its moral gain
 Is wrought by every effort to stain
That record same;
 each attempt to blacken
mine or any name
Is in fact a kind of holy unguent
  That scrubs it sinless,
 shining clean! For shame,
You red guards and commissars, you do not know
That all your persecutions serve only to prod
Me into Luciferian revolt, for they show
 That righteous cruelty is at last more wrong
Than the mind that loves itself
 Even for its unrighteousness -- That is my song
That bursts within me, every time
You sit me down and make me sign
The list of my political crimes

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