[Milton-L] Milton's use of sublime in Paradise Lost

Hugh Wilson hwilson at together.net
Fri Nov 19 20:29:02 EST 2004

The topic of Milton and the sublime
has been broached before.  This is
a little time capsule from the previous

On Thu, 14 Dec 1995, Hugh Wilson wrote:

"I have some information on Milton and
Longinius.  At Murfreesboro I presented
a paper, "The Preface to _Paradise Lost_:
The Recovery of 'Ancient Liberty,'" in which
I argue for the probable influence of the ideas
of  Longinius (among others) on _Paradise

Milton almost certainly read _On the Sublime_,
and I was surprised (and a trifle elated) when
Professor J. Martin Evans suggested that
I was correcting M.H. Abrams' remarks in
_The Mirror and The Lamp_.  Abrams--whose
 > work I haven't had time to re-read--apparently
postdates major Longinian influence on English
poetry, per se, until the romantic period.  Having
read Abrams years ago, I didn't realize that the
idea that Milton had read Longinius was so
heterodox; it seems so utterly obvious: _Paradise
Lost_ is one of the most the most sublime poems
in the language.  Even Milton's prose soars.

I missed David Boocker's helpful reference to John
Steadman's note in the _Milton Encyclopedia_,
but in _Of Education_ [1644], Milton recommends
that students be made to read Longinius, and he
praises the "sublime art [good criticism]. . .  which
teaches what are the laws of a true 'Epic' poem"
(_Of Education_, ed. Patrides, 191).  Milton doesn't
utterly counterpose poetry to rhetoric or logic, broadly
conceived.  To borrow a word from John Donne, logic
and rhetoric "interinanimate" poetry.

Milton didn't have to read Longinius in Latin,
like Stella Revard, Milton read Greek.  Finally,
I can prove Longinius was available in an English
translation well before the publication of _Paradise
Lost_, long before Boileau.

(One last point, circumstantial evidence suggests
that there is a very good chance that Milton would
have heard of the work in question.)

So much for now.  I will explore this further later.
In passing, I should say that I am concerned about
issues of copyright, and in addition, I have to compose
one final exam, score another, compile my grades, and
submit a conference paper abstract on something else.
I hope to publish my article and I seriously doubt
that a tenure committee will give me any credit for
non-peer reviewed discussions over the Internet.


Hugh Wilson  Texas Tech
dithw at ttacs.ttu.edu

P.S.  The issue of accreditation for a contribution is
still a real problem, especially for the untenured.  At
the same time, I love to read notes like those written
by Derek Wood, Alan Rudrum, Roy Flanagan, and
John Leonard over Dalila.  I especially enjoyed John's
well-written note on Dalila request, Samson's rebuke,
and the significance of touching in Greek tragedy:
his comment seems like the nucleus of an excellent
article.  More later. . ."

So it ends.  I have re-formatted the text
to remove the > marks and the old e-mail
address is invalid.  In any case, here we
are, nearly ten years later, and it seems
like I'm grading the same pile of term papers
and exams. . .


Hugh Wilson
hwilson at together.net
(518) 562-8027

At 01:24 PM 11/19/2004 -0600, you wrote:

>tuck at mail.utexas.edu wrote:
> >
> > [clip]
> > To sum up, I think it's an exciting and timely subject matter, and well 
> worth
> > attempting to map out; but if you want to say that Milton was _using_ the
> > sublime (and I think he was) you've got your work cut out for you.
> >
> > Sincerely,
> >
> > Matt
> >
>Matt's thumbnail account of the appearance of the sublime as a critical
>category is a little miracle in itself.
>My query is whether the phrase "using the sublime" is even coherent.
>When we speak of "using X," X is usually a readily
>identifiable/definable entity. The Sublime, even after the intense
>scrutiny it received first in the 18th century, then in modern 18th-c
>scholarship (not to speak of its handling by the romantics), hardly
>seems like something one would pick up and use. Is this another way of
>saying "Milton _achieves_ the sublime" or "PL is a sublime poem"?
>P.S. Personally, I've always found Pope's "Profund" a more useful
>critical category than the Longinian sublime.
>Milton-L mailing list
>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu

More information about the Milton-L mailing list