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TSE  October 2002

TSE October 2002

Subject:

Re: Milton (was Bloom v Eliot?)

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Tue, 22 Oct 2002 13:49:01 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (77 lines)

INGELBIEN RAPHAEL wrote:
>
>> [clip]
>
> Milton's reputation DID suffer, although it is easy to see why Puritan
> America should have been less affected (I am using 'Puritan' in the
> historical sense).

The range of responses  in the 1950 book edited by Kermode, _Living
Milton_ gives some substance to your point re contrast of England & U.S.
But I'm not sure if puritanism will explain it one way or the other.
(Digression: I wonder if anyone has ever attempted to do a careful
survey of editions and press runs of Milton's works. Back in the late
'50s I did my dissertation on Pope criticism in the first half of the
20th century, and all the while I was writing it I was nagged by doubt
as to whether the published criticism in a given period was any index to
how many people were actually _reading_ Pope in the years from 1880 to
1930 when most of the printed responses to him were negative or positive
in a belittling way. After all, his collected poems were _never_ out of
print, and many of the editions remained in print for a long time. If a
large proportion of readers of poetry read Poet A, then Poet A is
popular regardless of whether those readers sneer or praise. Until
someone can prove otherwise, I will continue to believe that regardless
of what critics were or weren't saying in the '30s and '40s, Milton
remained one of the two most popular poets in English: that is, almost
anyone who read much English literature at all would have read
Shakespeare, Milton, & Austen. And I would venture that those three
writers are _still_ the most widely read English authors in the present
day. As Satan to Ithuriel (PL4, 826-31)

    Know ye not then said Satan, fill'd with scorn,
Know ye not mee? ye knew me once no mate
For you, there sitting where ye durst not soare;
Not to know mee argues your selves unknown,
The lowest of your throng . . . .

so these three could always reply to the critic who knows them not.)

What Milton's "defenders" (mostly American)seemed really obsessed over
was not the response of Eliot or Pound but Raleigh's turn-of-the-century
remark on PL as a "monument to dead ideas." This obsession produced
reams of absurdity. One critic spoke of PL as being "taut with living
ideas," utterly innocent it seems of any recognition that whether ideas
lived or not was determined by forces quite outside the poem, and that
Raleigh's observation was an historical one about the 19th and 20th
centuries, not about the text of Milton. And another critic (1972),
reacting rather hysterically to the social movements of the '60s, argued
that Milton's (assumed) loss of popularity was due to resentment of
authority. (The whole essay showed not an inkling of recognition that
pro-authority and anti-authority were empty concepts, quarrels usually
being over _which authority to honor_!)

> As for the Romantics, I am more than prepared to believe Bloom when he says
> that New Criticism had been detrimental to their reputation in America as
> well as Britain. . . .[clip]

That is probably true -- I guess. But there again, it would be
interesting to have actual figures on editions, sales figures, class
enrollments, and other indications of what people were actually
_reading_. Note: no one ever writes essays seriously arguing how bad a
poet Eddie Guest was -- in fact one of his lines (It takes a heap of
living to make a house a home) is probably known by some who have never
heard of him unless they live in Detroit and went to Eddie Guest Junior
High School or happen to know Dorothy Parker's wonderful epigram (I'd
rather flunk my Wasserman test / Than read a poem by Eddie Guest). One
only publishes attacks on writers that are widely read. How many
scholars today would write an essay on the poetic deficiencies of The
Sweet Singer of Michigan ('beloved' of Mark Twain).

But perhaps many in the '50s really didn't even read Shelley, and in
addition didn't bother to defend their not reading him.???? On the other
hand, Cleanth Brooks clearly felt that in order to establish the New
Criticism it was necessary to show that it could appreciate Milton. That
is, he implicitly acknowledged that Milton was a judge of criticism, not
criticism of Milton.

Carrol

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