Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader

Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader

Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader

Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader

Excerpt

Most of the chapters in this book represent an attempt to see Paradise Lost through the eyes of Milton's contemporaries. I have tried, in other words, to reconstruct the response of an alert and qualified reader of the epic, who shared the values and interests of Milton's generation. Such a reconstruction cannot be much more than speculative, but I hope I have prevented it from becoming wholly capricious by relating it persistently to the available facts. I do not claim that the interpretation which emerges has any special status or authority; but I have found my own understanding of the epic enriched by the attempt to study it from a different viewpoint. I should add that the first chapter has little to do with this programme and that the second is merely an attempt at demolition, designed to remove obstacles rather than to reconstruct effects. The last chapter has caused me some anxiety and I hope I may be excused for not having referred to the long and indecisive debate upon its subject. I felt that I could best make my contribution by stating my own views clearly, rather than by refuting, or correcting the views of others.

With so large a subject debts are not easy to remember and I offer my apologies to those critics from whom I have learnt, and whose help I have failed to record in my footnotes. I also regret that I have not been able to make use of two volumes -- Canon Hutchinson's Milton and the English Mind and Mr. J. S. Diekhoff 's study of Paradise Lost -- which were published while this book was in the press. A special acknowledgment is due to Dr. E. M. W. Tillyard without whose encouragement this book would never have been written. Both he and Professor Willey have very kindly read through most of the manuscript and on several occasions saved me from my ignorance. I need hardly insist on my responsibility for whatever errors remain.

CAMBRIDGE, MARCH 1947 . . .

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