[Milton-L] Nigel Smith's Milton in Time Magazine

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Sun May 18 12:40:36 EDT 2008

This would seem to be the Week of the Unfortunate Analogy.

Comparing Milton to Shakespeare seems rather like comparing Mel Brooks to Steven Spielberg: they work in the same generic genus, but what they produce is of an entirely different species, for an entirely different audience and purpose. I don't know what Gary Taylor's credentials are, but his bias is evident, and it is clearly not in the least bit favorable toward Milton.

I have loved Shakespeare since I was a little girl, Milton since I first encountered him as an undergraduate, and after decades of study, I still consider them both masters of their craft. One does not (at the outset, at least) read Milton to be "entertained"--any more than one reads Descartes for his humor, or Locke for his satire, or Shakespeare for his theology. But to damn Milton with faint praise by observing that he "is a great poet, but living with him [i.e. reading him] is hell," and thereby conclude that "that's why most of our culture has taken Milton's own advice, and filed for divorce" seems to me to be exceedingly unfair--a cheap shot, if you will, invited by Professor Smith's "defense" of a premise clearly indefensible.

Apples and oranges are both fruits, and both healthy foods. To argue that one is preferable to the other (except as a subjective matter of taste and preference) takes a much deeper analysis of each--and a much more balanced argument--than Professor Smith has apparently provided, and that is a shame indeed. His reputation as a literary historian has earned him notice in _Time_; unfortunately, in this instance, it is a "bad eminence," which will do nothing to advance Milton studies in the U.S.

Not quite the birthday present his champion would have liked.

Best to all,

Carol Barton
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