Milton Criticism: Selections from Four Centuries

By James B. Thorpe | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This book is an invitation to the reading of Milton. It was compiled primarily to provide a convenient collection of criticisms that can, by their intrinsic merits, lead to a more complete understanding of the achievement of Milton and send the reader back to the text of Milton. The major portion of the volume consists of sixteen extended essays and studies from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. In most cases the material is printed in its complete form; in a few instances it was necessary to make certain omissions in order to prevent undue repetition of biographical data and to maintain the limits imposed by a single volume. A brief concluding section comprises excerpts and brief statements, ranging from 1674 to 1888, from the works of sixteen critics whose remarks (though not admitting of extended presentation) are of importance and have been of notable influence. In order to assuage the pain of the individual reader who discovers that some personal favorite is not here included, I had originally intended to justify the ways of the editor to the reader. The mass of Milton criticism is so great, however, that I can do no more than plead that this book, growing out of a re-examination of all that criticism, is an attempt at a balanced selection of what seems to me to have permanent significance.

The book has a secondary aim, which is indicated in Emerson's dictum that "the fame of a great man is not rigid and stony like his bust. . . . [It] characterizes those who give it, as much as him who receives it." These selections, by displaying the diversity of opinions on Milton held by outstanding critics and poets and scholars of four centuries, elucidate important aspects of the history of literary criticism. They sug

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