Thursday, October 29, 2009

Portraits of Milton

The reception of Milton is interesting. He is clearly not everyone's cup of tea. Here's Dr. Johnson, whom we last encountered ripping Lycidas to shreds, here being critical of the poet's whole political cast of mind:
Milton's republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of controul, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the state and prelates in the church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority. Life of Milton

If such was the judgment of the preeminent critic of the British Enlightenment, here, not too long after, we have Wordsworth, moved by the revolutionary uprising in France, and displeased with the self-impressed social fabric of England:
LONDON, 1802.

Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea;
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In chearful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on itself did lay.

No comments: