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REVIEWS 433 THE ARGUMENT OF PARADISE LOST A. S. P. WooDHOUSE Mr. Diekhoff's commentary on the argument of Paradise Lost* concerns itself with a single · aspect of the poem. Within its carefully defined limits it is a skilful and useful little book. fts twofold aim is to gain readers for Milton's epic and to ensure that they shall not be led astray in their reading by the old heresy that Milton was·of the devil's party, or that, at all events, the devil has the better of the argument. Milton, says Mr. Diekhoff, unreservedly accepted the dominant Renaissance theory .which approximateq poetic to· rhetoric, and the poet to the orator. Both were to instruct and to persuade or "move, to virtuous action, by or with delight; both were to win the audience to a favourable hearing, and to reinforce precept by example. Paradise Lost is an argument as well as an epic; and Milton's avowed intention, to assert Eternal Providence And justify the ways of God to men, governs the whole poem. The argument (in the narrower sense of doctrinal statement) pursues this purpose directly, while the narrative supports the argument and furnishes the illustrative example. On this view of. the poem, Mr. Diekhoff contends, everything falls into place. The char~cters, whether in the poet's description or their own dramatic utterance, are designed to call the reader's ·feelings into action on the side of truth. The celebrated passages in which the poet speaks of himself, so far from being digressions, are presentations of his credentials and claims upon the reader's sympathetic assent. Finally, through argument and narrative, Paradise Lost points the way of virtue to fallen man. Rightly recognizing that sympathy for the arch-rebel can distort one's reading of the whole poem (Shelley is the classic example), Mr. Diekhoff first seeks to demonstrate "the evil of Satan." It is. not difficult, and his case would have been strengthened rather than weakened by admitting Satan's grandeur and ·pathos as a dr~matic figure, by admitting, that is,· the kind and degree of sympathy which Milton dared to feel and to evoke . because he ·was so sure of his doctrinal argument and of his own ability to make Satan's evil manifest and ensure his ultimate condemnation. He next proceeds to the closely related themes of "man's guilt," "God's justice" and "God's providence and mercy," devoting a chapter to each, and concentrating upon the doctrinal argument. This .he handles with precision and skill, bringing together most of the relevant passages and expounding them with a careful and penetrating eye to their exact meaning. These are the most valuable chapters in the book. It is part of Mr. Diekhoff's selfimposed limitation of treatment, that they contain scarcely a reference to other theologians. Reference to St. Augustine, for example, would have *'Milton's Paradise Lost: A CommenJary on the Argument. By JoHN S. DiEKHOFF. New York: Columbia University Press. 1946. Pp. viii, 161. ($2.00) - 434 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY clinched the point that the particular form .of Adam's sin. is uxoriousness. But, much more important, references to other theologians would have brought home to the reader that many of the difficulties inherent in Milton's argument are in no way peculiar to it, but belong to the Christian tradition at large. Least satisfactory is the chapter entitled "The Way of Virtue)" partly because it is brief and sketchy and contains a· rather superficial view Iof the relation of Paradise Lost to the ethics and politics of the prose works, but chiefly because Mr. Diekhoff, abandoning his objective (if not altogether disinterested) exposition, tries to tell us what is wrong with the world and how a fuller understanding of Milton would set us on the path of recovery. _ Setting aside most of this final chapter as, strictly speaking) irrelevant) one may emphasize once more the value of Mr.· Die.khoff•s c~mmentary, within its limits, for a proper reading of Paradise Lost. But one must observe how very strict these limits are. , Mr. Diekhoff's formulation of Milton's poetic is true, so .far as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 433-435
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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