The serious-minded who, despite such babblings, conclude that he to whom every great man of letters from Dryden to Meredith has granted the crowning laurel must surely be one whom it is an honorable privilege to know, may be assured that the obstacles to familiarity with Milton are not at all insuperable. From three sources especially does his greatness arise—the strength of his imagination, the harmony of his verse, and the truth of his thought. Each of these will become more clearly apparent to the reader if he will accept certain practical suggestions. To grow aware of the astounding imaginative power of Milton in “Paradise Lost,” “Paradise Regained,”〖H. C., iv, 359.〗 “Samson Agonistes,”〖H. C., iv, 414.〗 and even the “Nativity Ode,”〖H. C., iv, 7.〗 one should before turning to those works read the biblical passages, in each case brief, which gave the poet the outlines of his themes. It need hardly be said that such a story as that of Adam and Eve has in the Bible a simple and poignant beauty which is perfect in its way; but when one turns from the few chapters that contain it and follows the course of the great epic, one begins to realize how sublimely Milton’s imagination enlarges our conceptions of the past, the distant, and the unseen. Nor is it only realms, forces, and spirits unvisited and unknown that he reveals. Read the short account of Samson, or of the temptation of Christ; observe how few, though graphic, are the strokes of characterization; and you will thereupon in “Samson Agonistes” and “Paradise Regained” recognize with what vision Milton has penetrated into the hearts of hero and Lord and devil.

The mistake which prevents a full enjoyment of the musical beauty of Milton’s blank verse is to read it silently—a sure way to make it seem like prose curiously printed. Aloud the blind poet uttered the most and the best of it; and aloud it should be read. Only thus can the artistic sense that slumbers within us be aroused to feel responsively the grandest rhythm and resonance that ever proceeded from an English tongue. Like ocean breakers, in varying lengths and with tireless energy, it beats and surges upon our emotions; and presently we are ready to receive those elevated thoughts it is marvelously designed to instill, because the sound has lifted us into a mood exalted above our ordinary state. He who thus comes to feel the artistic powers of Milton has taken a decisive step toward literary culture: he will thenceforth not easily be imposed upon by whatever is imaginatively weak or fantastic; and his ear, once attuned to the “grand style” of the master, will no longer delight in verse that is thin or harsh.

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