This page reflects a scholar's association with the Folger Institute.
Marshall Grossman (d. 2011) was Professor of English at the University of Maryland.
"Reason’s Martyrs: Poetry and Belief in Paradise Regained, to which is added, Samson Agonistes" (NEH, 2009–2010)
To focus a broader investigation of the historical overlap-and-transition between mimetic and expressive modes in literature, I propose to study the relationship of poetry to belief in Milton's Restoration poems, concentrating on the volume containing Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. Milton's "poems doctrinal to the nation" promise something more ethically engaged than doctrine made palatable by poetry, or poetry ennobled by doctrine. I hope to show in detail, in the texts themselves, the constitutive interplay, between beliefs that condition the act of writing and discoveries 'in' the act of writing that circle back to condition belief and allow the poems to ring true as verisimilar representations of a world authentically experienced by their speaker. To do this, I will argue three principal points: that Milton's volume is structured in imitation of the New Testament "Epistle to the Hebrews"; that Milton's reading of Hebrews, deeply informed by that of the polish Socinian, Jan Crell, leads him to represent in these poems a soteriology of reason that anticipates and perhaps enables the enlightenment; and that, whether in parallel with Socinian models or under their influence, Milton confronts the politically urgent inaccessibility of inward revelation by depicting Samson as a case study of enthusiasm under the Law and contrasting him with Jesus, who is rendered as reason's martyr. In staging a dramatic confrontation between inward motions acted out immediately and those mediated by explicit reason Milton achieves a double coup: "in a historical register," he appropriates an identifiably Socinian style of argument, along with the peculiar Christology that follow from it: while "in a formal register," he affirms poetry as a mediation of inward truth submitted to transcendental reason.