Dante, Michelangelo, and Milton

Dante, Michelangelo, and Milton

Dante, Michelangelo, and Milton

Dante, Michelangelo, and Milton

Excerpt

It is always a pleasure to return to Saintsbury and to discover again the judgments one would not know how to improve on. His praise of the ancient treatise On the Sublime remains as fresh as it is just--'it abides in thought alone as in history, and almost all deserves to be written in letters of gold'. And when he came to that sentence in it he was never tired of praising, 'Beautiful words are the very light of thought', he extended its meaning to express his own central conviction, 'These words themselves are the lantern of criticism'. I am therefore understandably encouraged in using Longinus's work as the starting point of an effort to characterize the effect of greatness in three of the most remarkable writers in modern literature.

Saintsbury valued the force of Longinus's mind, its power to penetrate and systematize, and its boldness in advancing towards conclusions even Aristotle held back from. Longinus took the great writers of antiquity as the standard of excellence, and he held up their greatness, by whatever means communicated and in whatever forms--prose, verse, drama--as what mattered most, and what would continue to matter to all men, in whatever society, who had a proper reverence for nobility of mind and beauty of expression. Longinus, indeed, made it no small part of his purpose to argue that the greatest effects of literature depend on a harmony of excellences, of mind and character and language, and perfections of technique could not of themselves attain the success serious men value most.

All this--so nobly and persuasively put--was reinforced by what we must call genius, observations on particular works hardly less than miraculous in their justice. His praise of Homer . . .

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