Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 12. August 15, 1957
Mr. Bollinger's letter amazes me.
Johnson did deplore Milton's bad influence. Eighteenth Century verse is greatest when it partakes of the Augustan prose virtues—as in Prior. Swith, Pope, Johnson himself. Goldsmith, and Crabbe—where words state exactly what they mean, and weak—as in Thompson, Dyer. Youing, Akenside and the rest (to sink no lower)—where poets were influenced by Miltonic verse in which words do very little work and preen themselves in being. Johnson, the greatest critic of Eighteenth Century verse recognized this and this assumption is implicit in his criticism of Eighteenth Century verse. Consider his Life of Gray where he censures the weaker poems and praised the Elegy which is a triumph of Augustan taste. Johnson recognized Milton's greatness and his praise grudging preciealy because of Milton's bad influence on the poetry of Johnsons time. Johnson wrote as a poet and not as a scholar.
Mr. Bollinger's quotation is the one good word Johnson has for Milton after three paragraphs of measured and deliberate censure. It refers to his use of melodious words. Precisely. Milton's words are too often merely melody. Johson is quite explicit about Miltons influence four paragraphs later. Milton "is to be admired rather than imitated."
I boggle at Mr. Bollinger's suggestion that in the 1936 essay "Eliot's real argument with Milton is that he finds him 'unsatisfactory' as a thinker." It is just not true. Eliot begins his essay by noting that Milton is antipathetic as a man and "unsatisfactory" as a thinker. Hut he goes on "the doubts which I have to express about him are more serious than these" and. "the serious charges to be made against him (are) in respect of the . . . particular kind of deterioration to which he subjected the language." The charge that Milton was a bad influence is repeated no less than live times in the course of the essay. Did Mr. Bollinger read beyond the fourth sentence?
I won't be drawn into a controversy on the merit and position of Eliot, but leave Mr. Bollinger's remarks to stand for what they are, a gratuitous red herring, and not a very nice smelling one, either.
It won't do to try and lump me with. Dobree, a feeble critic at the best of times. And if his case was "really scholarly" how can it have been "adequately knocked on the head" by Grierson and Smith?
L. P. Smith might have thought that "Milton's syntax and diction enriched the poetry of Keats." Keats himself seemed unaware of this. He says "The Paradise Lost though so fine in itself is a corruption [Real's spelling] of our language. . .. I have but lately stood on my guard against Milton—life to him would be death to me" (Letter 1727 Sept., 1819) and "I have given up Hyperion—there were too many Miltonic inversions in it . . . English ought to be kept up." (Letter 21 Sept., 1819).
As for Milton's being "one source of the splendour of our great Romantic Movement". Mr. Bollinger might like to compare the vague sludge of Wordsworth's public sonnets ("Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:") with, e g., the exquisite personal tone of "Surprised by joy, impatient as the wind".
Mr. Bollinger finds Milton "one of the great intellects of our literary heritage". But L. P. Smith, in the defence of Milton which Bollinger quotes approvingly, says this: "Milton's mind was not that of a Comprehensive thinker." ("Milton and his Modern Critics, p. 49.)
Jorn Milton is a great poet historically. His relevance to the present day is limited. Attention is paid to him mainly by Professors of English who, like Johnson, read Paradise Lost as "a duly rather than a pleasure."
And his influence on English poetry was pernicious.