Milton Criticism: Selections from Four Centuries

By James B. Thorpe | Go to book overview

JONATHAN RICHARDSON


EXPLANATORY NOTES AND REMARKS ON MILTON'S PARADISE LOST (1734)*

THERE is music in all language; the meanest peasant varies the sound as he speaks, though in that he is easily known from a gentleman. Sound is abundantly more expressive of the sense than is commonly imagined; animals who have not the use of words, that we understand at least, express their minds by sounds as well as by gestures, looks and actions; and we know their meaning as we know that of a man whose language we are absolute strangers to. Verse and prose have each their peculiar music, and whether one or the other, 'tis different according to the subject. All kinds of verses have sounds of their own; blank verse comes nearest to prose, and as the prose of some writers approaches verse, Milton's blank verse, that of Paradise Lost, has the beauty of both; it has the sweetness of measure, without stopping the voice at the end of the line, or any where else but as the sense requires; one verse runs into another, and the period concludes in any part of a line indifferently, and as if 'twas his choice 'tis very often not at the end of one or of a couplet, as is too frequent with those who write in rhyme. He has frequently eleven syllables in a verse, but 'tis rarely so unless those are no more in quantity than the ten of another.

____________________
*
Approximately one-tenth of the essay is here reprinted. The sections on Milton's life and the external history of the composition and publication of Paradise Lost are omitted, but most of the critical material is included. In order to spare the reader Richardson's typographical eccentricities, the spelling has been modernized.

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