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Milton on Eve’s discovery of the benefits of the division of labor in the Garden of Eden (1667)

In his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) John Milton (1608-1674) describes how Eve comes across the idea that by specializing on different tasks in the garden of Eden they could produce more. Adam quashes this idea because he thinks that a women must not be allowed to leave her husband’s side for a moment:

And Eve first to her Husband thus began. Adam, well may we labour still to dress This Garden, still to tend Plant, Herb and Flour. Our pleasant task enjoyn’d, but till more hands Aid us, the work under our labour grows, Luxurious by restraint; what we by day [210] Lop overgrown, or prune, or prop, or bind, One night or two with wanton growth derides Tending to wilde. Thou therefore now advise Or hear what to my mind first thoughts present, Let us divide our labours, thou where choice Leads thee, or where most needs, whether to wind The Woodbine round this Arbour, or direct The clasping Ivie where to climb, while I In yonder Spring of Roses intermixt With Myrtle, find what to redress till Noon: [220] For while so near each other thus all day Our task we choose, what wonder if so near Looks intervene and smiles, or object new Casual discourse draw on, which intermits Our dayes work brought to little, though begun Early, and th’ hour of Supper comes unearn’d.

Paradise Lost Book IX

[197] … forth came the human pair And joynd thir vocal Worship to the Quire Of Creatures wanting voice, that done, partake [200] The season, prime for sweetest Sents and Aires: Then commune how that day they best may ply Thir growing work: for much thir work outgrew The hands dispatch of two Gardning so wide. And Eve first to her Husband thus began. Adam, well may we labour still to dress This Garden, still to tend Plant, Herb and Flour. Our pleasant task enjoyn’d, but till more hands Aid us, the work under our labour grows, Luxurious by restraint; what we by day [210] Lop overgrown, or prune, or prop, or bind, One night or two with wanton growth derides Tending to wilde. Thou therefore now advise Or hear what to my mind first thoughts present, Let us divide our labours, thou where choice Leads thee, or where most needs, whether to wind The Woodbine round this Arbour, or direct The clasping Ivie where to climb, while I In yonder Spring of Roses intermixt With Myrtle, find what to redress till Noon: [220] For while so near each other thus all day Our task we choose, what wonder if so near Looks intervene and smiles, or object new Casual discourse draw on, which intermits Our dayes work brought to little, though begun Early, and th’ hour of Supper comes unearn’d. To whom mild answer Adam thus return’d. Sole Eve, Associate sole, to me beyond Compare above all living Creatures deare, Well hast thou motion’d, wel thy thoughts imployd [230] How we might best fulfill the work which here God hath assign’d us, nor of me shalt pass Unprais’d: for nothing lovelier can be found In woman, then to studie houshold good, And good workes in her Husband to promote. Yet not so strictly hath our Lord impos’d Labour, as to debarr us when we need Refreshment, whether food, or talk between, Food of the mind, or this sweet intercourse Of looks and smiles, for smiles from Reason flow, [240] To brute deni’d, and are of Love the food, Love not the lowest end of human life. For not to irksom toile, but to delight He made us, and delight to Reason joyn’d. These paths and Bowers doubt not but our joynt hands Will keep from Wilderness with ease, as wide As we need walk, till younger hands ere long Assist us: But if much converse perhaps Thee satiate, to short absence I could yeild. For solitude somtimes is best societie, [250] And short retirement urges sweet returne. But other doubt possesses me, least harm Befall thee sever’d from me; for thou knowst What hath bin warn’d us, what malicious Foe Envying our happiness, and of his own Despairing, seeks to work us woe and shame By sly assault; and somwhere nigh at hand Watches, no doubt, with greedy hope to find His wish and best advantage, us asunder, Hopeless to circumvent us joynd, where each [260] To other speedie aide might lend at need; Whether his first design be to withdraw Our fealtie from God, or to disturb Conjugal Love, then which perhaps no bliss Enjoy’d by us excites his envie more; Or this, or worse, leave not the faithful side That gave thee being, stil shades thee and protects. The Wife, where danger or dishonour lurks, Safest and seemliest by her Husband staies, Who guards her, or with her the worst endures.

About this Quotation:

Milton describes in some detail the labor which Adam and Eve must undertake in the garden of Eden. He uses words such as “gardning”, “prune,” and “lop” for example. It is interesting that he places in the mouth of the woman Eve the important economic idea that a division of labor between them (“let us divide our labours”) would result in much greater productivity. She recognizes that they could specialize in certain activities in different parts of the garden (she in the rose garden, he in arbour) and that they could spend less time talking to each other and concentrate on doing their work, thus maximizing their output. Equally interesting is the fact that Milton has the male Adam reject this idea after praising her concern in wanting to improve the “houshold” economy. He says that God doesn’t want them to work too hard in the garden, or to be too productive, and that he doesn’t mind that she have short separations from him but he fears for her security and “honour” if she strays too far from his side. Here we seem to have a clash between Eve who thinks economically and Adam who thinks more about obeying the commands of the creator.

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