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

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Sun May 18 13:17:33 EDT 2008


Thanks for that, Tom (I hadn't seen it). So much for Taylor's 
"credentials"--which only reinforce the argument that Smith shouldn't 
have left Milton open to such obvious attack by trying to compare the 
two in the first place.

The fact is that, in the U.S. as well as in England, both are 
endangered species to a greater or lesser degree. Shakespeare--who 
writes, I have repeatedly been told, in "Old English" is hard to read; 
Milton is harder. In our idealistic efforts to leave no child behind, 
we seem to be reducing everything to the lowest common denominator, 
rather than providing the skills students need to master what they 
find challenging.

I doubt that any of us found Shakespeare or Milton easy to read on the 
first or second attempt; neither, for that matter, is Faulkner or Poe 
or Swift or Hawthorne or a hundred other authors who use language not 
found in _Horton Hears a Who_. (My stepson struggled with _To Kill a 
Mockingbird_, not knowing the meanings of some four hundred words used 
in that tenth-grade standard.) But we were not allowed to abandon such 
works because they were "hard" to read: we were given glossaries, and 
dictionaries, and taught patiently and firmly how to go about reading 
them.

Taylor is hardly a fit judge of the relative merits of Shakespeare or 
Milton, and is not someone most of us would take seriously (especially 
not after the light you've shed on the "authority" of this 
"authority"). But how many parents of college students will see his 
piece in _Time_, and defend their children's hue and cry against 
having to read the works of an author most of America has supposedly 
abandoned--and how many of them will march right down to the dean's 
office, protesting that Milton should be removed from the curriculum?

I think Smith's book, as well-intentioned as I'm sure it was, will 
ultimately do Milton more harm than good.

Best to all,

Carol Barton 




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