Milton Criticism: Selections from Four Centuries

By James B. Thorpe | Go to book overview

THOMAS WARTON


PREFACE TO MILTON'S POEMS
UPON SEVERAL OCCASIONS (1785)

OUR author is said to be the first Englishman, who after the restoration of letters wrote Latin verses with classic elegance. But we must at least except some of the hendecasyllables and epigrams of Leland, one of our first literary reformers, from this hasty determination.

In the Elegies, Ovid was professedly Milton's model for language and versification. They are not, however, a perpetual and uniform tissue of Ovidian phraseology. With Ovid in view, he has an original manner and character of his own, which exhibit a remarkable perspicuity of contexture, a native facility and fluency. Nor does his observation of Roman models oppress or destroy our great poet's inherent powers of invention and sentiment. I value these pieces as much for their fancy and genius, as for their style and expression.

That Ovid among the Latin poets was Milton's favourite, appears not only from his elegiac but his hexametric poetry. The versification of our author's hexameters has yet a different structure from that of the Metamorphoses: Milton's is more clear, intelligible, and flowing; less desultory, less familiar, and less embarrassed with a frequent recurrence of periods. Ovid is at once rapid and abrupt. He wants dignity: he has too much conversation in his manner of telling a story. Prolixity of paragraph, and length of sentence, are peculiar to Milton. This is seen, not only in some of his exordial invocations in the Paradise Lost

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