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1 Commentary Introductory Note Critical discussions of books 11 and 12 of Paradise Lost often focus on the entwined questions of whether the final two books are artistically equal to the preceding ten and what the books represent in themes, structures, or genres. Neoclassical critics initially complained that the ending was not happy enough for an epic, whereas some early twentieth century critics have complained that it was not disconsolate enough for the theology (Moore 1–34). Among the earlier critics, Addison complains that the vision/narrative disjunction between the final books is “as if an History Painter should put in Colours one half of his Subject, and write down the remaining part of it” (Spectator 3 [May 3, 1712]: 386). Dunster (in Todd) argues that the epic needed to conclude with the state of the postlapsarian world because Milton was “standing upon the earth” and writing to its inhabitants for their instruction as well as their delight (380). Johnson famously said of PL that “None ever wished it longer than it is” (“Milton” 196), though one cannot be sure he was referring specifically to the last two books. Coleridge, on the other hand, wished that PL were read and studied more carefully, “especially those parts which, from the habit of always looking for a story in poetry, are scarcely read at all,—as for example, Adam’s vision of future events in the eleventh and twelfth books,” and Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in her journal for February 2, 1802, “After tea I read aloud the eleventh book of PL. We were much impressed, and also melted into tears” (Wittreich 110, 245). McColley sees a sea change in attitudes toward the last two books since perhaps as late as 1750; earlier readers were far more interested in amplified paraphrases of biblical history (“Paradise Lost” [1939], 228–29). Good 2 A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton compares book 11 with social criticism based on deviations from a state of innocence ; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the first great champion of such criticism, was a student of PL (229). McColley also finds extensive structural similarities with Du Bartas (“Paradise Lost”: An Account 199). In his notes to PL 11.113–15 and 384, Fletcher emphasizes the vision at the expense of the narration, claiming that epic ends with a “grand apocalypse, or vision,” just as the Bible ends with the book of Revelation. Maurice Kelley, presenting a study of DocCh as a gloss upon the epic, claims that much of book 12 is “a rapid blank-verse summary of the doctrines” in DocCh 1.14–32 (Patterson, Works 15:257) and that the epic is as antitrinitarian as the treatise, as for instance in there being no “full notice” of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the third person of the Trinity) until book 12 (193). Another famous criticism is that of C. S. Lewis, who thinks that the last two books represent one of Milton’s few artistic failures, “an untransmuted lump of futurity” at a “momentous part of the narrative” in writing that is “curiously bad” (Preface 129), though as Madsen notes, Lewis does not offer any specific examples of that badness (“Idea” 256). Lewis’s comment has evoked much response, such as that of Thompson, who argues that Milton chooses the details of his historical survey poetically and orders them effectively, that the syntax is similar to the rest of the epic, and that Michael’s revelation of history affords Adam not only positive assurance of God’s justice but also some necessary experience of the world (“For Paradise Lost” 376, 378). Ross judges these last two books to be a historical “desert,” since permanent redemption can be imposed only from outside. In his reading, the Old Testament saints are not types of Christ but rather moral signposts in that desert (Poetry and Dogma 95–99). Muir finds the last two books poetically inferior, complaining that “Michael’s outline of history is too brief for any episode to be very effective in itself, except the account of the Flood”; Muir nevertheless thinks the books are necessary, or at least the last 200 lines that include the announcement of the felix culpa in 12.469–78 (160). Whaler points out the relative paucity of similes in book 12 and explains that Milton could find no range of simile that would illustrate post-Adamic history to Adam (“Compounding” 324–25). The critical watershed of the theme/structure reconciliation is probably F. T...


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