Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Milton > The growth of his reputation
  His temperament The early poems  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

V. Milton.

§ 9. The growth of his reputation.


Nor was this other testimony rejected. It is so easy to get a falsehood into currency, and so hard to stop it by nailing to any counter, that most people still talk about the unworthy reception of Paradise Lost—the £15 of which Milton only received £10; the coming of Addison to the rescue some fifty years afterwards; and the rest of it. It must be sufficient here to say that 1300 copies of this long poem, in a most unfashionable style and on a subject which the profane would probably think unsuitable for poetry, were sold in eighteen months; that, apparently, at least 3000 were sold in ten years; that six editions appeared before the close of the century and nine before Addison wrote. Turning from statistics to belles lettres, Dryden, the greatest by an infinite distance of the younger generation of men of letters, did it the heartiest justice from the first and always. Roscommon, who died in 1685, had praised and imitated it. Samuel Woodford, the paraphrast of the Psalms and Canticles, had criticised its versification very soon after its appearance. And though, even after blank verse had recovered the stage from intrusive heroics, the extension of its use was slow, that use came in gradually before Addison took up the matter at all; and the style was regularly called “the manner of Milton.” Piety, good taste and, perhaps, a slight fellow feeling in Whiggery, no doubt induced Addison to stamp Milton’s passport with the visé of a criticism which retained its importance throughout the eighteenth century. But that passport, from the first, had been recognised by all whose opinion was of value and even, in a vague way, by the general. A considerable commentary had been appended to the sixth edition by Patrick Hume, in 1695; fifty years later, Lauder’s calumnies and forgeries, curious, and not quite intelligible (for it was impossible that they should survive examination), started afresh the commentatorial zeal which had been displayed, not according to knowledge, by Bentley, and, not altogether according to wits, by bishop Newton. There was, and still is, plenty of room for comment, inasmuch as Milton could only seem “not a learned man” to one who, like Mark Pattison, took his standard of learning from the Casaubons. But such a calculus stands outside pure poetical-critical appreciation. This has never failed Milton, and can never fail him. If the spirit of poetry is not in him, it is nowhere.   29

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  His temperament The early poems  
 
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