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Astonishing as chaos," 1 were frequently applied to its author, who was regarded as a kind of Michaelangelo of verse, less regular than Homer and Virgil but, in the words of Dennis, "more lofty, more terrible, more vehement, more astonishing," and with "more impetuous and more divine Raptures."2 Collins pictured him

High on some cliff, to heaven up-piled,

Of rude access, of prospect wild,

Where, tangled round the jealous steep,

Strange shades o'erbrow the valleys deep.❜


Gray praised "that enchanting air of freedom and wildness" in his versification; and another poet mentioned "splendid Acts" which "require A MILTON, or a Muse of Fire." It was of Milton that Isaac Watts immediately thought when he invoked the "Adventurous Muse." "Give me," he wrote,

Give me the Muse whose generous Force
Impatient of the Reins

Pursues an unattempted Course,
Breaks all the Criticks Iron Chains,
And bears to Paradise the raptur'd Mind.
There Milton dwells: The Mortal sung
Themes not presum'd by mortal Tongue;
New Terrors and new Glories shine
In every Page, and flying Scenes Divine

Surprize the wond'ring Sense, & draw our Souls along."

The same characteristics were emphasized by the figures of speech under which Milton was described. He is an "Eagle, wonderful in his soarings, [who] shews in his very stoops the power of his wing"; he "pours upon us a torrent of images, great and terrible"; or, to versify the figure,

MILTON is like a Flood, whose Tide,

Swell'd with tempestuous Deluge, roars,
Which from some lofty Mountain's Side
Resistless foams, and knows no Shores."

1 Robert Merry, Diversity, 1788, in British Album (Boston, 1793), 231; Thomson, Summer, 1569-70.

? Reflections upon an Essay upon Criticism, 1711, p. 17 (Good, p. 150).

Ode on the Poetical Character, 55-8.

4 Observations on English Metre, in Works (ed. Mitford), v. 233.

G. T. Ridsdale, Ode, Congratulatory, etc. (Dublin, 1799), 14.

Adventurous Muse, in Horae Lyricae (2d ed., 1709), 212. Half of the piece is de

voted to Milton, who is the only poet mentioned.

Daniel Webb, Remarks on the Beauties of Poetry (1762), 13; Leonard Welsted, "Remarks on Longinus," 1712, Works (1787), 422; Verses to the Author, "by a Divine," in Stephen Duck's Poems (1738), 129.

"In his most exalted flights," wrote Leonard Welsted, .. he appears to me as a vast comet, that for want of room is ready to burst its orb and grow eccentric." 1

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This last comment, like some of the passages previously quoted, hints that Paradise Lost was not in complete conformity with the neo-classic rules, a charge that was often made and freely admitted even by Milton's admirers. Dennis, who touched upon nearly all aspects of the work, characterized it as "the most lofty, but most irregular Poem, that has been produc'd by the Mind of Man";2 and a writer in the Bee, in 1732, declared Milton to be "a prodigious, tho' an irregular Genius." It may be remembered that when Boileau, in Lyttelton's dialogue, referred to the critics who were disturbed by the "absurdities" and "extravagant fictions" of the poem, Pope replied that Milton's "Genius was indeed so vast and sublime, that his Work seems beyond the Limits of Criticism." 4 This defence, though it sounds strangely romantic, was the one usually offered. Samuel Wesley thought the English Homer "rather above the common Rules of Epic than ignorant of them"; Gray, who was the antithesis of an irregular or formless poet, praised Milton's versification for being "unconfined by any rules but those which his own feeling and the nature of his subject demanded"; 6 and Watts wrote,

Immortal Bard! Thus thy own Raphael sings,

And knows no Rule but native Fire."

Even to Addison Paradise Lost seemed "above the critic's nicer laws," a view that is particularly interesting because the Spectator papers were devoted to proving that the poem conformed to the critic's laws.

1 66

Remarks on Longinus," 1712, Works (1787), 405.

2 Grounds of Criticism in Poetry (1704), prefatory "Specimen," sign. br.

3 i. 449 (1733).

4 See p. 19 above. An opinion similar to this is to be found in John Newbery's (Goldsmith's?) Art of Poetry (1762), ii. 348.

Life of our Blessed Lord (1693), preface.

6 Observations on English Metre, in Works (ed. Mitford), v. 233-4.

7 Adventurous Muse, in Horae Lyricae (1709), 213.

8 Account of the Greatest English Poets, in Works (Bohn ed.), i. 24. So, too, William Somervile praises Thomson for being "above the critic's nicer law" (Epistle to Thomson, 1730, in Anderson's British Poets, viii. 503-4); and Robert Lloyd writes (On Rhyme, in Poetical Works, 1774, ii. 109),

But critics (who still judge by rules,
Transmitted down as guides to fools,
And howsoe'er they prate about 'em,

Drawn from wise folks who writ without 'em).

It is probable that Addison and many others really held, in a confused way, to both these opinions. They felt Milton's profound classicism and essential correctness; yet they saw that his work was strangely unlike their own and the French classical productions, and could not be completely reconciled with the letter at least of the rules. It is significant of their unconscious dissatisfaction with their own critical standards that most persons liked the irregularities, that they found the wildness pleasantly disturbing. Presumably a good `many felt vaguely what one of them wrote, "Accuracy and Correctness are without doubt Advantages. but still they are not Essentials"; and some may have been not far from Dennis's opinion, "The first and grand Rule in the greater Poetry is, that a Poet must every where excite great Passion," or "Enthusiasm."2 Milton's art was by no means appreciated at this time; his style was thought to be rough, much less finished than Pope's or even Shakespeare's, and he was at times censured for not having "fil'd off his Rust" or "learned to polish some rudeness in his verses." Yet this very rudeness attracted not a few, and by the majority was accepted as a natural drawback of the poet's fascinating irregularity.

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It must not be supposed, however, that Milton was thought of as a barbarian. His roughness seemed very different from that of Donne, or of Chaucer and his contemporaries; he was free from the formlessness of Spenser, and his wildness was not the extravagance which many found excessive in the Faerie Queene and the Jerusalem Delivered. The Augustans enjoyed literary adventures but wished them to be decorous; they liked a certain amount of the unusual but had no taste for roughing it. Their classicism, though not extreme, went deep. Milton could never have held his great body of readers if he also had not been fundamentally classical, if those who read Paradise Lost had not felt back of its romantic wildness the standards of Homer and Virgil, of Aristotle and Longinus, just as behind the freedom and apparent irregularity of its verse they were conscious of the regular beat of the iambic pentameter. In the combination of classicism with romanticism lay Milton's strength. It was because his work preserved a balance between these conflicting elements that it was peculiarly adapted to a period of transition; that is what gave it an almost equal appeal not only to readers 1 Dodsley's Museum (1747), iii. 284.

2 Grounds of Criticism in Poetry (1704), 15.

• Verses prefixed to Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel (2d ed., 1681); Hume's History of England (new ed., 1762), vi. 126.

of opposing tastes but to the two forces at war in almost all readers. Robert Lloyd has summed up the whole matter in his line,

Thus MILTON, more correctly wild.1

To their correct wildness the shorter pieces as well as the epic owed much of their popularity.

This freedom or irregularity which distinguished Milton's poetry was, as his followers and opponents dimly realized, neither superficial nor simply literary, but grew naturally out of his strong love of liberty in all fields. "His political notions," as Johnson informs us, "were those of an acrimonious and surly republican," which is only the Doctor's Tory way of saying that, next to religion, the deepest feeling of the poet who postponed his chief work in order to write political pamphlets was a passion for liberty, a passion that flamed in the sonnets and in the speeches of Satan, that furnished the subject of practically all his prose and the altar upon which were sacrificed his property, his eyesight, his best years, and almost his life itself. This love of freedom was another reason for the popularity of the poems; for those who shared it (and they were many in the period which culminated in the French Revolution), if they were also lovers of verse, came naturally to look upon Milton as the embodiment of their ideal and almost as the object of their worship.

Thomas Hollis, the motto of whose life might well have been the words he inscribed in one of the books he presented to Harvard College, "Floreat Libertas," was a Milton enthusiast. He collected notes for an edition of the prose of his favorite author, republished Toland's account of his life, presented many editions of his works to libraries, defended him in the public press, acquired relics and portraits of him (one of which was the only thing he attempted to save from a fire), and gave his bed to Akenside in the hope that it might inspire an ode on the one whom he termed "my hero, and the guide of my paths." To Hollis his hero was preeminently the

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1 A Dialogue, in Poetical Works (1774), ii. 11. It was mainly because Paradise Regained was more correctly tame, because it lacked the "magnificent images and romantic descriptions" of the earlier poem, that it was less successful: see Crit. Rev., xlv. 74 (Good, p. 218 n.)

2 "Milton," in Lives (ed. Hill), i. 156.

› Francis Blackburne, Memoirs of Hollis (1780), 365–71; 107; 73, 126, 127–8, 154, 167, 491; 621-7; 86, 95, 106, 167, 513-14, *583*; 111-12. Instances of Hollis's interest are, indeed, to be found on almost every page of the Memoirs. In Blackburne's words (p. 526), Hollis "was indefatigable in his researches after every memorial of him [Milton] he could hear of." But, according to Richard Fenton (Memoirs of an Old Wig, 1815, p. 127), it was at that time "the rage, not only to write the life of Milton, but to hunt out busts, paintings, prints, nay to trace him through all his different places of residence."

"arch-defender of liberty." "It is to Milton, the divine Milton," he wrote, "and such as he . . . that we are beholden for all the manifold and unexampled blessings which we now every where enjoy." 1 Indeed, it is possible that, like several of his friends, Hollis was less interested in Comus and Paradise Lost than in the prose writings and the political activities of the Latin secretary of the Commonwealth.2 It was Johnson's misrepresentation of Milton's love of liberty that called forth the denunciation from Hollis's biographer, Archdeacon Blackburne, who says frankly, "We profess however not to concern ourselves with Milton the poet." 3

One of the books that Hollis was accustomed to present to libraries in various parts of the world was Thomas Birch's edition of Milton's prose (1738). Birch was a pronounced Whig, and probably expressed his own views when he said in his biography of the poet,+ "As he look'd upon true and absolute Freedom to be the greatest Happiness of this Life, whether to Societies or single Persons, so he thought Constraint of any sort to be the utmost Misery." A revision of Birch's work was brought out in 1753 by Richard Baron, an extremist as regards both religious and political liberty, who also issued a separate edition of the Eikonoklastes (1756). In the preface to the latter book Baron spoke of his author much as Wordsworth did in the sonnet "Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour." "Many circumstances," he declared, "at present loudly call upon us to exert ourselves. Venality and corruption have well-nigh extinguished all principles of Liberty. . . . One remedy for these evils, is to revive the reading of our old Writers. . . . MILTON in particular ought to be read and studied by all our young Gentlemen as an Oracle. He... combated Superstition and Tyranny of every form, and in every degree. Against them he employed his mighty Strength." The poet Thomson, who was a great admirer of all Milton's works and who wrote a long poem in praise of liberty, combined his two enthusiasms in a preface to the Areopagitica (1738). Another worshipper, Auditor William Benson, who gave Dobson a thousand pounds for a Latin translation of Paradise Lost, erected the monument to its author in Westminster Abbey, had a medal

1 1 Memoirs, 236, 93.

* At any rate, it was the prose works that he usually presented as gifts (see ib. 73, 126, 127-8, 154); and he gave twenty guineas towards the publication of the Eikonoklastes (ib. 487-8).

Ib. 514. For Blackburne's attack on Johnson, see above, p. 31.

* Prefixed to his edition of the prose works (1738, p. lix).

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