[Milton-L] Re: John Shawcross: Shoulders

Nancy Charlton nbcharlton at comcast.net
Fri Mar 11 23:15:45 EST 2011

These last few days I have been trying to remember just what was 
the occasion upon which John Shawcross emailed me privately about 
something I had posted on Milton-L.  It resides on a failed hard 
disk of an old computer, so I can't access it, but I do remember 
that it had to do with "Methought I saw." Now I notice that 
Hughes cited Mr Shawcross as having summed up the controversy as 
to whether the sonnet referred to Mary or Katherine, and then 
Hughes quotes him as saying that "it is only our sensibilities 
that make us feel that, if Mary was intended, the sonnet had to b 
written before the second marriage."

I think I had posted something about how moving was the last line 
of the sonnet, for indeed this is among the few places in the 
Milton canon where human pathos seems to break through, and as I 
recall Mr. S. pointed out that there is a very selfish or 
self-centered aspect to the line also. To paraphrase the quote 
above, it is only my own sensibilities that make me feel such 
sympathy for the poet.  It struck me that while a very rounded 
picture of this great scholar, editor, teacher, and human being 
was emerging from these encomia, there were very few quotations 
from JM himself.  Indeed, there aren't very many explicitly 
commemorative poems beyond the Epitaphium Daemonis, Lycidas, and 
a few of the sonnets.  PL, PR, SA,, however much they may face 
the issues of death, can be said to focus primarily on issues of 
life -- why and how to live it, why it matters.

Although I fail to think of an appropriate quotation from any of 
the major poems, the concluding lines of Milton's tribute to his 
father in Ad Patrem may sum up how so many feel about John Shawcross:

... Sit memorasse satis, repetitaque munera grato
Percensere animo, fiadeque reponere menti, ...
Forsitan has laudes, decanttumque parentis
Nomen, ad exemplum, sero servatitis aevo.

.. let it suffice that with a grateful mind I remember and tell 
over your constant kindnesses, and lay them up in a loyal heart. 
... perhaps you will preserve this eulogy and the name of the 
father whom my song honors as an example to remote ages.  (ll. 
112-114, 119-120.)

Thank God there has been such a man!

Nancy Charlton
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