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AND ON HIS CREST SAT HORROR" EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY INTERPRETATIONS OF MILTON'S SUBLIMITY AND HIS SATAN ARTHUR BARKER MILTON'S reputation in the eighteenth century has already been so thoroughly examined that another article on the subject must seem super£uous.1 I am however less concerned with Milton and his influence on Jiterary practice than with the development of certain ideas which played an important part in the evolution of Romanticism and readily found illustration in his work. Few of us still believe that the paradoxical interpretation of Paradise Lost set forth by Blake and Shelley, expanded by other early nineteenth-century writers, and given respectability by Sir Walter Raleigh, sprang fully-armed from the miraculous marriage of Heaven and Hell effected by Romantic inspiration· over the dead body -of Neo-~lassicism. · We understand nineteenth-century Romanticism better through seeing it as the fruit of a steady (though complex) growth. I propose to trace and document two minor elements in this complexity which have not, I think~ received much attention: the interpretation of Milton's sublimity, and of his Satan.2 Such a study should throw some indirect light on our own interpretation of Paradise Lost; but its purpose is to examine the emergence of the romantic attitude from the neo-classical, not in aesthetic theory or literary practice, but in one specific critical instance. 1 See E. Dowden, "Milton and the Eighteenth Century," and J. G. Robertson, "Milton's Fam~ on the Continent" (Proceedings of the British Academy, 1907-8); J. W. Good, Studies in the Milton Tradition (University of Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, I, 1913); R. D. Havens, Influence of Milton, 1922; Ants Oras, Milton's Editors and Commentators, 1931. To all of these I am indebted , and also to Professor A. S. P. Woodhouse, whose course in.the Graduate School, The Origins of Romanticism, directed my attention to the subject several years ago. 2S. H. Monk's The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in the 18th Century, 1935, provides a very full account of the development of the principle in aesthetics. For Satanism in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, see E. Raila, The Haunted Castle, 1927; M. J. Rudwin, The Deoil in Legend and Literature, 1931; M. Praz, The Romantic Agony, 1933. 421 422 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Milton's influence on eighteenth-century- opinion was unique in that he alone among the great English poets was at once sufficiently neo-classical to recommend himself and sufficiently irregular to exert a salutary pressure against inflexible canons. Spenser had to wait till 1754 to be defended in his "barbarity" by Warton. Shakespeare, though loved, ~as regarded as a "natur~l genius" whose achievements were sometimes remarkable in spite of his ignorance of what was fitting. But Milton had written of poetry in terms which were commonplaces among the Augustans; and Addison could set him among the more correct in Apollo's court, with Virgil, Tully, and _others who had "formed themselves by rules and submitted the greatness of their natural geniuses to the corrections and restraints of art."3 Pa-radise Lost was, moreover, the only English epic which could challenge comparison with classical and Italian epics. Throughout the first half of the century attempts were consequently made to refute the criticism of Dryden and Rymer, that it offended against epic rule. Such attempts could be successful only if the rules were liberalized; and even before Shakespeare's influence began to have its full effect, Milton's ltalianate Neo-classicism was offsetting the more precise French doctrine. In particular he exemplified that sublimity beyond the reach of regular art for which the treatise of Longinus suggested a critical justification. Boileau, and after him Pope and Addison, endeavoured to fit this elevating and transporting quality into the Neo-classical code.4 Milton reminded the eighteenth century that the effect could be achieved in English. This influence is already apparent in Addison's Spectator papers on Paradise Lost (1712). These admirable essays require no analysis here; but they provide an excellent point of departure: they established the normal eighteenth-century view of the poem,5 and they indicate the two chief points at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 421-436
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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