I. The Milton Controversy

LIKE many years, 1958 saw the publication of a stern letter from Dr. F. R. Leavis. He announced that he was still unwilling to join the conspiracy of silence about Milton, and with much justification he deplored 'the habitual way in which the Miltonists--and the Miltonists command the academic world--virtually ignore the case that has been made against Milton . . . even while they make a show of discussing it' 1

Certainly it is true that the twentieth-century attacks on Milton's style have not been directly and satisfactorily answered. Equally certainly, the Miltonists' praise of Milton has not gone very far towards showing what exactly is good about the style of Paradise Lost. Perhaps it is natural to feel some impatience about the whole matter. Even Professor William Empson saw nothing evasive in saying 'I can sympathize with a critic who feels he cannot take seriously a proof that the poem is bad--it is so evidently not bad'.2 But if, as Dr. Johnson thought, it is the duty of criticism to 'improve opinion into knowledge', then it is hard to be satisfied with opinion. Moreover, Milton's style is still an interesting challenge to the verbal criticism which now seems one of the most important and useful ways of approaching literature.

Milton, then, can provoke a crisis of conscience. Is it possible to reconcile one's honest opinion that Paradise Lost is supremely well written with one's opinion that verbal

____________________
1
The Times Literary Supplement, 19 Sept. 1958.
2
T.L.S., 3 Oct. 1958.

-1-

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Milton's Grand Style
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Prefatory Note vii
  • Contents viii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • 1. The Milton Controversy 1
  • 2. The Grand Style 22
  • 3. Enhancing Suggestions 78
  • 4. Simile and Cross-Reference 118
  • Index of the principal passages discussed 151
  • Index 153
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