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6 Milton’s Depictives and the History of Style Depictive Secondary Predicates When En­ glish speakers say She drove drunk or He cooked naked or I walked home alone, they use the adjectives that linguists call subject-­oriented depictive secondary predicates, or depictives for short.1 Though ­these adjectives modify the subject of the sentence, they are part of the predicate and syntactically dependent on the verb. ­ Because they describe the state of the subject during the event expressed by the verb, the sentences above can generally be paraphrased as When she drove, she was drunk; When he cooked, he was naked; and so on. Depictives are more abstract than the linguistic forms studied in the previous chapters; unlike Was it for this? or X as if Y or What would X Y?, they have no fixed lexical content and no specified word order whatsoever. Though depictives are an unexceptional part of En­ glish, as they are of many other languages, I hope to show that John Milton puts them to special use in his epic poem Paradise Lost. When the demons in hell raise themselves up off a lake of fire in response to Satan’s call, we read that “to their general’s voice they soon obeyed / Innumerable” (1.337–38).2 When the Son of God reenters heaven following the six days of creation, the angels sing that “the ­ great Creator from his work returned /Magnificent” (7.567–68). Depictives like ­ these, about which this chapter has much to say, are telltale markers of Milton’s epic style; they generate some of the most distinctive aesthetic and semantic effects of Paradise Lost. They are an essential part of how Milton made the poem, how the poem means, and how it guides the responses of readers. Nevertheless , this chapter is not primarily concerned to offer a reading of Milton ’s epic. Instead it attends to the poem’s depictives in order to challenge Milton’s Depictives 155 the kinds of stories that scholars have told about the history of style and to propose in their place the rudiments of a dif­fer­ ent kind of story. Twentieth-­ century histories of style largely followed the work of Erich Auerbach in telling stories about the succession and development of Ciceronian genera dicendi, the doctrinal types, levels, kinds, or registers of style.3 In ­these histories, types play the role of protagonists: Attic and Asiatic, high and low, painted and plain, ­grand and ­humble styles do ­battle in the literary field, develop through conflict, ally with ascendant cultural forces, achieve their apotheosis in the works of exemplary authors, and fall into subsequent desuetude. Breaking with the ostensible impressionism and imprecision of Ciceronian types, quantitative stylistics began to accumulate epistemological prestige and forensic success as early as 1964, when Frederick Mosteller and David Wallace hand-­ counted function words to determine which of the disputed Federalist Papers had been written by Hamilton, Madison, or Jay.4 The growth of computing power has since made style an increasingly tractable object of quantitative study, with authorship attribution providing the most prominent success stories. Instead of dusting kits and glass slides, digital Pudd’nhead Wilsons now use off-­ the-­ shelf plagiarism software and statistical suites like R to discover the fingerprints of an author’s style. By counting and computing the frequency and distribution of individual words, clusters of words (collocations), n-­grams (phrases of word length n), or, more recently, skip-­ grams (sequences of nonadjacent words), they have reshaped the oeuvres of writers like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Kyd, and William Shakespeare.5 Computational approaches to style have not limited themselves to answering forensic questions. In seeking to uncover trends that contribute to meaning and reception, they have occupied territory that has, with a few exceptions (like the recent interest in “late style”), largely been ceded by qualitative literary inquiry.6 When the relative frequencies of quantitative stylistics are plotted across time, the history of style appears as the rise and fall of trend lines.7 This chapter argues that the history of style is the history of the reproduction of stylistic markers, which neither the stylistician’s trend lines nor Cicero’s genera dicendi can adequately account for. It looks instead to Seneca ’s parable of the bees for an early treatment of the mechanisms of gathering , extraction, and imitation by which markers are reproduced. Markers accumulate significance as they pass through successive texts, come into conjunction with and travel in the com­ pany...


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