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Sentences Long and Involved.–For ourselves, we find the instances of classic form not numerous enough to form a serious blot on the book, the historical digressions interesting and à propos : the chief difficulty to the modern reader springs rather from the inordinate length and careless conjunction of sentences, which is almost a necessary evil with writers in this "periodic" style—a style of which Milton is the last example. Sentence is added to sentence, period balanced against period, clauses linked or contrasted until the passage becomes a labyrinth, and both writer and reader are lost. For example, take the two following passages :
“For had an angel been his discipliner, unless it were for dwelling too much upon Ciceronianisms, and had chastised the reading, not the vanity, it had been plainly partial; first to correct him for grave Cicero, and not for scurril Plautus, whom he professes to have been reading not long before ; next to correct him only, and let so many more ancient fathers wax old in those pleasant and florid studies without the lash of such a tutoring apparition; insomuch that Basil teaches how some use may be made of Margites, a sportful poem not now extant, writ by Homer; and why not then of Morgante, an Italian Romance much to the same purpose ? ” (1. 406-417.)
“Seeing therefore that those books, and those in great abundance which are likeliest to taint both life and doctrine, cannot be suppressed without the fall of learning and of all ability in disputation, and that these books of either sort are most and soonest catching to the learned, from whom to the common people whatever is heretical and dissolute may quickly be conveyed, and that evil manners are so perfectly learnt without books a'thousand other ways which cannot be stopped, and evil doctrine not with books can propagate, except a teacher guide, which he might also do without writing, and so beyond prohibiting, I am not able to unfold how this cautelous enterprise of licensing can be exempted from the number of vain and impossible attempts."
(1. 578-590.) Loose Constructions. The following passages are examples of " loose construction
Those which otherwise came forth, if they be found mischievous and libellous, the fire and the executioner will be the timeliest and the most effectual remedy.” (1. 1669-1671.)
“There is a vision recorded by Eusebius . . and, besides, has nothing of a fever in it."
(1. 418.) “ That other leading city of Greece, Lacedæmon, considering that Lycurgus their law-giver was so addicted it is to be considered how museless and bookish they were.” (1. 191-198.)
The student will find it difficult to show in analysis the function of the passages we have marked in italics.
Ellipses.-A third evil of style is found in Milton's tendency to ellipses, a tendency fortunately shown less in his prose writings than in his poetry, but even in his prose of sufficient frequency to add to the difficulty of grasping the author's meaning:
“ The books not many which they so dealt with." (1. 273.) “There be who perpetually complain.”
(1. 1273.) “Besides yet a greater danger which is in it." (11. 1597, 1598.) Although I dispraise not the defence of just immunities, yet.
love peace better.” (1. 1471.) “ But now the Bishops abrogated and voided out the church.”
Language Majestic.--Whatever stress may be laid upon Milton's adherence to classic form, and however much we may censure the length and loose connection of his sentences, we must acknowledge that in the Areopagitica these faults appear much less frequently than in his other prose works, and that, when the sentences are freed from their entanglements, the language is majestic and sonorous, rising at times to the eloquent imagery of the poet, while the argument is put clearly, consecutively, and forcibly.
Biblical Illustrations.--The reader will notice that Milton is careful to play upon the fondness of his audience for the Bible, dragging in Moses, Daniel, and St. Paul to form one of the weakest of his arguments, and that he is equally vigorous in playing upon their intense hatred for the Pope and Spain.
Limited Toleration.-Strong as Milton's plea is for liberty and for toleration, he wrote too near the times of religious persecution, and was too much imbued with the Puritan spirit to advocate the toleration of the Papist,
“This doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian, that many be tolerated rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated popery." (ll. 1569-1571.)
To use his own adjective, this is a “cloistered” toleration, too narrow in its limits for the modern mind.
Personalities.—The Peroration or close of the Speech also is somewhat marred by the personal reflection which the writer makes upon the promoters of the Ordinance.
Wordsworth's Sonnets.--In spite of these small blemishes the book remains a splendid example of Milton's zeal for liberty, a zeal which compelled him to write boldly and fearlessly against the side on whose behalf he had but shortly before been equally bold and fearless.
The circumstances under which the book was written, the objects for which it fights, called forth the eloquent cry of Wordsworth when, one hundred and fifty years later, the face of Europe was dark with gathering gloom:
“ Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour,
England hath need of thee; she is a fen
Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;
Other Views on the Subject.—Many writers since Milton have taken up the subject which he had the honour of being the first to bring forward, and while most have agreed with his argument and conclusion, the agreement had been by no means universal, Those who have written on the subject on the same side have invariably borrowed most of their arguments from Milton, and the great Mirabeau of the French Revolution, published in 1789 what is almost a translation of the work into French,
“ The liberty of the Press may be claimed as the common right of mankind,” and “we may conclude that the liberty of England is gone for ever when these attempts (i.e. attempts at licensing) shall succeed.” (HUME.)
" It seems not more reasonable to leave the right of printing hunrestrained because writers may be afterwards censured, than it would be to sleep with doors unbolted, because by our laws we can hang a thief." (DR. JOHNSON.)
“The danger of such unbounded liberty (of Unlicensed Printing), and the danger of bounding it, have produced a problem in the science of government which human understanding seems unable to solve." (DR. JOHNSON.)
Arguments for Licensing.--The principal arguments adduced on the opposite side are:
(a) Unrestrai ied printing is dangerous to religion. (b) Unrestrained printing is dangerous to government. (c) Scandal will be published. (d) No man ought to write what he would be ashamed to own, In the England of to-day the views of Milton have triumphed, and a free press exerts its powerful influence generally to the greatest benefit of the people. Where the bounds of decency or of fair comment are overstepped, the law deals with the individual case. The whole press is not muzzled because one printer loses his reason. In the words of the learned Selden,
“ Above all, Liberty,” or in the phrase attributed to King Alfred,
“A people have liberty when they are free as thought is free."
In the chapter dealing with Style and Argument mention has already been made of
(a) Long and involved sentences.
and illustrations of these are there given.
(1.) Latin Forms.- Milton is very much blamed, particularly by Dr. Johnson, for attempting to force the Latin idiom into English prose. In the Areopagitica, for instance, we find :1. Latinised expressions, such as : There be who; e.g.,
« There be who perpetually complain.”
(l. 1273.) “ There be who envy and oppose."
(l. 1514.) after the Latin idiom “ Sunt qui." 2. Absolute expressions; e.g., “But now the Bishops abrogated and voided out the Church."
(1. 1090.) " After all which done."
(1. 876.) in imitation of the Latin ablative absolute.
3. Adaptation of the Latin use of the Gerundive implying
necessity or obligation; e.g., "Under pretence of the poor in
their company not to be defrauded.” (11. 1687, 1688.) “Why was he not to be expelled by his own magistrates ?',
(il. 650, 651.) 4. Latin Form of Participle, ; e.g., "extirpate " for extirpated, in
imitation of Latin extirpatus. 5. Abundant Use of Words of Latin Origin.
(2.) English of the Period.-Other variations from Modern English which will strike the reader, and which are not the