Walter Alexander Raleigh.

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Author of
'Style,' 'Wordsworth,' &c.

Tenth Impression

Edward Arnold
41 & 43 Maddox Street, Bond Street, W.





"Sciences of conceit"; the difficulties and imperfections of literary
criticism; illustrated in the case of Shakespeare; and of Milton;
the character and temper of Milton; intensity, simplicity,
egotism; his estimate of himself 1

John Milton

His birth, and death; his education; early life in London; ships and
shipping; adventurers and players; Milton and the Elizabethan
drama; the poetic masters of his youth; state of the Church of
England; Baxter's testimony; growing unrest; Milton's early
poems; the intrusion of politics; the farewell to mirth; the
Restoration, and Milton's attitude; the lost paradise of the
early poems; Milton's Puritanism; his melancholy; the political
and public preoccupations of the later poems; the drama of
Milton's life; his egotism explained; an illustration from
_Lycidas_; the lost cause; the ultimate triumph 12

The Prose Works

Poets and politics; practical aim of Milton's prose writings; the
reforms advocated by him, with one exception, unachieved;
critical mourners over Milton's political writings; the mourners
comforted; Milton's classification of his prose tracts; the
occasional nature of these tracts; allusions in the early prose
works to the story of Samson, and to the theme of _Paradise
Lost_; Milton's personal and public motives; his persuasive vein;
his political idealism; Johnson's account of his political
opinions; the citizen of an antique city; Milton's attitude
towards mediæval romance, and towards the mediæval Church; his
worship of liberty; and of greatness; his belief in human
capacity and virtue; Milton and Cromwell; Milton's clear logic;
his tenacity; his scurrility, and its excuse; his fierce and
fantastic wit; reappearance of these qualities in _Paradise
Lost_; the style of his prose works analysed and illustrated; his
rich vocabulary; his use of Saxon; the making of an epic poet 39

Paradise Lost: The Scheme

Vastness of the theme; scenical opportunities; the poetry independent
of the creed; Milton's choice of subject; King Arthur; _Paradise
Lost_; attractions of the theme: primitive religion, natural
beauty, dramatic interest; difficulties of the theme, and
forbidden topics; how Milton overcomes these difficulties by his
episodes, his similes, and the tradition that he adopts
concerning the fallen angels; the cosmography of _Paradise Lost_;
its chronology; some difficulties and inconsistencies; Milton's
spiritual beings, their physical embodiment; the poem no treasury
of wisdom, but a world-drama; its inhumanity, and artificial
elevation; the effect of Milton's simpler figures drawn from
rural life; De Quincey's explanation of this effect; another
explanation; the homelessness of Eden; the enchanted palace and
its engineer; the tyranny of Milton's imagination; its effect on
his diction 81

Paradise Lost: The Actors. The Later Poems

Milton's argumentative end; its bearing on the scenes in Heaven; his
political bias, and materialism; Milton's Deity; his Satan; the
minor devils; Adam; Eve; personal memories; Adam's eulogy of Eve,
criticised by Raphael; Milton's philosophy of love and beauty;
the opinions of Raphael, of Satan, and of Mrs. Millamant; the
comparative merits of Adam and Eve; Milton's great epic effects;
his unity and large decorum; morning and evening; architectural
effects; the close of _Paradise Lost_; Addison and Bentley;
_Paradise Regained;_ the choice of subject; Milton's favourite
theme - temptation; other possible subjects; the Harrying of Hell;
_Samson Agonistes;_ the riddle of life. 126

The Style of Milton: Metre and Diction

Difficulties of literary genealogy; the ledger school of criticism;
Milton's strength and originality; his choice of a sacred
subject; earlier attempts in England and France; Boileau's
opinion; Milton's choice of metre an innovation; the little
influence on Milton of Spenser, and of Donne; Milton a pupil of
the dramatists; the history of dramatic blank verse; Milton's
handling of the measure; the "elements of musical delight";
Tennyson's blank verse; Milton's metrical licenses; the Choruses
of _Samson Agonistes_; Milton's diction a close-wrought mosaic;
compared with the diffuser diction of Spenser; conciseness of
Virgil, Dryden, Pope, Milton; Homer's repetitions; repetitions
and "turns of words and thoughts" rare in Milton; double meanings
of words; Milton's puns; extenuating circumstances; his mixed
metaphors and violent syntax, due to compression; Milton's
poetical style a dangerous model; the spontaneity and license of
his prose 170

The Style of Milton; and its Influence on English Poetry

The relation of Milton's work to the 17th-century "reforms" of verse
and prose; the Classicism of Milton, and of the Augustans;
Classic and Romantic schools contrasted in their descriptions;
Milton's Chaos, Shakespeare's Dover Cliff; Johnson's comments;
the besetting sins of the two schools; Milton's physical
machinery justified; his use of abstract terms; the splendid use
of mean associations by Shakespeare; Milton's wise avoidance of
mean associations, and of realism; nature of his similes and
figures; his use of proper names; his epic catalogues; his
personifications; loftiness of his perfected style; the
popularity of _Paradise Last_; imitations, adaptations, and
echoes of Milton's style during the 18th century; his enormous
influence; the origin of "poetic diction"; Milton's phraseology
stolen by Pope, Thomson, and Gray; the degradation of Milton's
style by his pupils and parodists 218


Milton's contemporaries; the poetry of Religion, and of Love; Henry
Vaughan; the Court lyrists; Milton's contempt for them; how they
surpass him; Sedley; Rochester; the prophet of the Lord and the
sons of Belial; unique position of Milton in the history of our
literature 256

Index 265


Francis Bacon, in one of his prose fragments, draws a memorable
distinction between "arts mechanical" and "sciences of conceit." "In arts
mechanical," he says, "the first device comes shortest, and time addeth
and perfecteth. But in sciences of conceit the first author goeth
farthest, and time leeseth and corrupteth.... In the former, many wits
and industries contributed in one. In the latter, many men's wits spent
to deprave the wit of one."

I fear that literary criticism of the kind that I propose to myself in
these chapters on Milton must be classified with the "sciences of
conceit." Indeed, Bacon puts it out of question that he himself would so
have regarded it, for he goes on to explain how, after the deliverances
of a master, "then begin men to aspire to the second prizes, to be a
profound interpreter and commentor, to be a sharp champion and defender,
to be a methodical compounder and abridger. And this is the unfortunate
succession of wits which the world hath yet had, whereby the patrimony of
all knowledge goeth not on husbanded and improved, but wasted and

The blow is aimed at the scholastic philosophers, but it falls heavy on
the critics of literature, on all who "aspire to the second prizes," or
who think "that a borrowed light can increase the original light from
whom it is taken." It is a searching arraignment of all who set
themselves to expound in words the meaning and purpose of a master of
verbal expression. Yet the very breadth of the indictment brings comfort
and a means of escape. For the chief difficulties of an attempt to
understand and judge Milton are difficulties inherent in the nature, not
only of all criticism in the large sense, but also of all reading. In
this association with great spirits which we call reading we receive but
what we give, and take away only what we are fit to carry. Milton himself
has stated the doctrine in its most absolute form, and has sought an
enhanced authority for it by attributing it to the Christ -

Who reads
Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
A spirit and judgment equal or superior
(And what he brings what needs he elsewhere seek?)
Uncertain and unsettled still remains,
Deep versed in books and shallow in himself,
Crude or intoxicate, collecting toys
And trifles for choice matters, worth a spunge,
As children gathering pebbles on the shore.

Literally taken, this is the negation of all the higher functions of
criticism, and the paralysis of all learning. Only his peers, it is
argued, can read Shakespeare intelligently; and, as if that did not give
him few enough readers, they are further told that they will be wasting
their time! But love, unlike this proud Stoicism, is humble, and
contented with a little. I would put my apology in the language of love
rather than of philosophy. I know that in Shakespeare, or in Milton, or
in any rare nature, as in Faire Virtue, the mistress of Philarete -

There is some concealèd thing
So each gazer limiting,
He can see no more of merit
Than beseems his worth and spirit.

The appreciation of a great author asks knowledge and industry before it
may be attempted, but in the end it is the critic, not the author, who is
judged by it, and, where his sympathies have been too narrow, or his
sight too dim, condemned without reprieve, and buried without a

Imperfect sympathy, that eternal vice of criticism, is sometimes
irremediable, sometimes caused by imperfect knowledge. It takes forms as
various as the authors whom it misjudges. In the case of Shakespeare,
when we attempt to estimate him, to gauge him, to see him from all sides,
we become almost painfully conscious of his immensity. We can build no
watch-tower high enough to give us a bird's-eye view of that "globe of
miraculous continents." We are out of breath when we attempt to accompany
him on his excursions, where he,

through strait, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet pursues his way,
And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies.

He moves so easily and so familiarly among human passions and human
emotions, is so completely at home in all societies and all companies,
that he makes us feel hide-bound, prejudiced and ill-bred, by the side of
him. We have to widen our conception of human nature in order to think of
him as a man. How hard a thing it is to conceive of Shakespeare as of a
human spirit, embodied and conditioned, whose affections, though higher
mounted than ours, yet, when they stooped, stooped with the like wing, is
witnessed by all biographies of Shakespeare, and by many thousands of the
volumes of criticism and commentary that have been written on his works.
One writer is content to botanise with him - to study plant-lore, that is,
with a theatrical manager, in his hard-earned leisure, for teacher.
Another must needs read the Bible with him, although, when all is said,
Shakespeare's study was but little on the Bible. Others elect to keep him
to music, astronomy, law, hunting, hawking, fishing. He is a good
companion out of doors, and some would fain keep him there, to make a
country gentleman of him. His incorrigible preoccupation with humanity,
the ruling passion and employment of his life, is beyond the range of
their complete sympathy; they like to catch him out of hours, to draw him
aside and bespeak his interest, for a few careless minutes, in the trades
and pastimes that bulk so largely and so seriously in their own
perspective of life. They hardly know what to make of his "unvalued
book"; but they know that he was a great man, and to have bought a
wool-fell or a quarter of mutton from him, that would have been
something! Only the poet-critics attempt to see life, however brokenly,
through Shakespeare's eyes, to let their enjoyment keep attendance upon
his. And from their grasp, too, he escapes by sheer excess.

In the case of Milton the imperfection of our sympathy is due to other
causes. In the first place, we know him as we do not know Shakespeare.
The history of his life can be, and has been, minutely written. The
affairs of his time, political and religious, have been recorded with
enormous wealth of detail; and this wealth, falling into fit hands, has
given us those learned modern historians to whom the seventeenth century
means a period of five thousand two hundred and eighteen weeks. Milton's
own attitude towards these affairs is in no way obscure; he has explained
it with great fulness and candour in numerous publications, so that it
would be easy to draw up a declaration of his chief tenets in politics
and religion. The slanders of his adversaries he met again and again with
lofty passages of self-revelation. "With me it fares now," he remarks in
one of these, "as with him whose outward garment hath been injured and
ill-bedighted; for having no other shift, what help but to turn the
inside outwards, especially if the lining be of the same, or, as it is
sometimes, much better." In his poetry, too, he delights to reveal
himself, to take the knowing reader into his confidence, to honour the
fit audience with a confession.

But the difficulty is there none the less. Few critics have found Milton
too wide or too large for them; many have found him too narrow, which is
another form of imperfect sympathy. His lack of humour has alienated the
interest of thousands. His ardent advocacy of toleration in the noblest
of his prose treatises has been belittled by a generation which prides
itself on that flaccid form of benevolence, and finds the mere repeal of
the Licensing Act the smallest part of it. His pamphlets on divorce and
on government have earned him the reputation of a theorist and dreamer.
The shrewd practical man finds it easy to despise him. The genial
tolerant man, whose geniality of demeanour towards others is a kind of
quit-rent paid for his own moral laxity, regards him as a Pharisee. The
ready humourist devises a pleasant and cheap entertainment by dressing
Adam and Eve in modern garments and discussing their relations in the
jargon of modish frivolity. Even the personal history of the poet has
been made to contribute to the gaiety of nations, and the flight of Mary
Powell, the first Mrs. Milton, from the house in Aldersgate Street, has
become something of a stock comic episode in the history of English
literature. So heavy is the tax paid, even by a poet, for deficiency in
breadth and humour. Almost all men are less humorous than Shakespeare;
but most men are more humorous than Milton, and these, it is to be
feared, having suffered themselves to be dragooned by the critics into
professing a distant admiration for _Paradise Lost_, have paid their last
and utmost tribute to the genius of its author.

It may be admitted without hesitation that his lonely greatness rather
forces admiration on us than attracts us. That unrelenting intensity;
that lucidity, as clear as air and as hard as agate; that passion which
burns with a consuming heat or with a blinding light in all his writings,
have endeared him to none. It is impossible to take one's ease with
Milton, to induce him to forget his principles for a moment in the name
of social pleasure. The most genial of his personal sonnets is addressed
to Henry Lawrence, the son of the President of Cromwell's Council, and is
an invitation to dinner. The repast promised is "light and choice"; the
guest is apostrophised, somewhat formidably, as "Lawrence, of virtuous
father, virtuous son," and is reminded, before he has dined, that

He who of these delights can judge, and spare
To interpose them oft, is not unwise.

But the qualities that make Milton a poor boon-companion are precisely
those which combine to raise his style to an unexampled loftiness, a
dignity that bears itself easily in society greater than human. To attain
to this height it was needful that there should be no aimless expatiation
of the intellect, no facile diffusion of the sympathies over the wide
field of human activity and human character. All the strength of mind and
heart and will that was in Milton went into the process of raising
himself. He is like some giant palm-tree; the foliage that sprang from it
as it grew has long since withered, the stem rises gaunt and bare; but
high up above, outlined against the sky, is a crown of perennial verdure.

It is essential for the understanding of Milton that we should take
account of the rare simplicity of his character. No subtleties; no tricks
of the dramatic intellect, which dresses itself in a hundred masquerading
costumes and peeps out of a thousand spy-holes; no development, one might
almost say, only training, and that self-imposed. There is but one
Milton, and he is throughout one and the same, in his life, in his prose,
and in his verse; from those early days, when we find him, an uncouth

With eager thought warbling his Doric lay,

to the last days when, amid a swarm of disasters, he approved himself
like Samson, and earned for himself the loftiest epitaph in the language,
his own -

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.

The world has not wholly misunderstood or failed to appreciate this
extraordinary character, as one curious piece of evidence will serve to
show. Milton is one of the most egotistic of poets. He makes no secret of
the high value he sets upon his gifts - "gifts of God's imparting," as he
calls them, "which I boast not, but thankfully acknowledge, and fear also
lest at my certain account they be reckoned to me many rather than few."
Before he has so much as begun his great poem he covenants with his
reader "that for some few years yet I may go on trust with him toward the
payment of what I am now indebted, as being a work not to be raised from
the heat of youth or the vapours of wine; ... nor to be obtained by the
invocation of dame Memory and her siren daughters, but by devout prayer
to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge,
and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch
and purify the lips of whom he pleases; to this must be added industrious
and select reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly and
generous arts and affairs; till which in some measure be compassed, at
mine own peril and cost, I refuse not to sustain this expectation from as
many as are not loth to hazard so much credulity upon the best pledges
that I can give them." And when he came to redeem his pledge, in the very
opening lines of his epic, trusting to the same inspiration, he
challenges the supremacy of the ancients by his

adventrous song
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

"This man cuts us all out, and the Ancients too," Dryden is reported to
have said. But this man intended to do no less, and formally announced
his intention. It is impossible to outface Milton, or to abash him with
praise. His most enthusiastic eulogists are compelled merely to echo the
remarks of his earliest and greatest critic, himself. Yet with all this,
none of the later critics, not the most cavalier nor the dullest, has
dared to call him vain. His estimate of himself, offered as simple fact,
has been accepted in the same spirit, and one abyss of ineptitude still
yawns for the heroic folly, or the clownish courage, of the New


John Milton, the son of a middle-aged scrivener, was born on Friday,
December the 9th, 1608, at his father's house in Bread Street, Cheapside;
and died on Sunday, November the 8th, 1674, in a small house, with but
one room on a floor, in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, London. Of his
father the records that remain show him to have been a convinced member
of the Puritan party in the Church, a man of liberal culture and
intelligence, a lover of music (which taste Milton inherited), a wise and
generous friend to the son who became a poet. We owe it to his wisdom
rather than to his prosperity that Milton was allowed to live at home
without any ostensible profession until he was thirty years of age and

For the first sixteen years of his life Milton was educated partly at
home, by a Presbyterian tutor called Thomas Young, partly at St. Paul's
School, which he attended for some years as a day-scholar. From his
twelfth year onward he was an omnivorous reader, and before he left
school had written some boyish verses, void of merit. The next fourteen
years of his life, after leaving school, were spent at Cambridge, in
Buckinghamshire, and in foreign travel, so that he was thirty years old
before he lived continuously in London again.

We know pretty well how he spent his time at Cambridge and at Horton,
sedulously turning over the Greek and Latin classics, dreaming of
immortality. We know less about his early years in London, where there
were wider and better opportunities of gaining an insight into "all
seemly and generous arts and affairs." London was a great centre of
traffic, a motley crowd of adventurers and traders even in those days,
and the boy Milton must often have wandered down to the river below
London Bridge to see the ships come in. His poems are singularly full of
figures drawn from ships and shipping, some of them bookish in their
origin, others which may have been suggested by the sight of ships. Now
it is Satan, who, after his fateful journey through chaos, nears the

And like a weather-beaten vessel holds
Gladly the port, though shrouds and tackle torn.

Now it is Dalila, whom the Chorus behold approaching.

Like a stately ship
Of Tarsus, bound for the isles
Of Javan or Gadire,
With all her bravery on, and tackle trim,
Sails filled, and streamers waving,
Courted by all the winds that hold them play.

Or, again, it is Samson reproaching himself,

Who, like a foolish pilot, have shipwracked
My vessel trusted to me from above,
Gloriously rigged.

The bulk of Satan is compared to the great sea-beast Leviathan, beheld
off the coast of Norway by

The pilot of some small night-founder'd skiff.

In his approach to the happy garden the Adversary is likened to

them who sail
Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past
Mozambic, off at sea north-east winds blow
Sabaean odours from the spicy shore
Of Araby the Blest, with such delay
Well pleased they slack their course, and many a league
Cheered with the grateful smell old Ocean smiles;
So entertained those odorous sweets the Fiend.

And when he draws near to Eve in the rose-thicket,

sidelong he works his way,
As when a ship, by skilful steersman wrought,
Nigh river's mouth, or foreland, where the wind
Veers oft, as oft so steers, and shifts her sail.

There is nothing here that is not within the reach of any inland reader,
but Milton's choice of nautical similitudes may serve to remind us how
much of the interest of Old London centred round its port. Here were to
be heard those tales of far-sought adventure and peril which gave even to
the boisterous life of Elizabethan London an air of triviality and
security. Hereby came in "the variety of fashions and foreign stuffs,"
which Fynes Moryson, writing in Milton's childhood, compares to the stars

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