The eighteenth-century adoption of Paradise Lostand its continuing permanent positioninto the canon of English classics is a testament to Milton's genius for subtlety and intertextuality. The combination of classical sources, contemporaneous politics, symbolism, sexuality and didactic instruction all had varying degrees of nuance, perfectly suited for the burgeoning field of literary criticism. It is precisely the inaccessibility of Paradise Lost, and the large amount of erudition required to properly understand its influences, which contributed to its popularity. If, as Thomas Vogler observed, the perennial goal of historical thought can be seen to be a mode of self-definition in the form of a narrative in which a modernity' defines itself over against a past perceived as essentially different, then Paradise Lost is no exception. The focus of Miltonic scholarship is, to a large extent, a reaction against the previous generation's reverence. One constant, however, is that each generation appreciates the elitism of Milton's greatest work.
[...] In order to adopt (and adapt) Paradise Lost for a modern Augustan audience, Milton was stripped of his democratic and revolutionary leanings, and his dry academic style and classical learning was emphasized, and sum the eighteenth-century trend is the separation of Milton the poet from Milton the prose writer, the bard from the rebel” (Lynch 407). His pamphlets and political tracts were almost forgotten and scarcely read; Milton the man was a poor representative of Enlightenment values. Milton the poet, however, was an amalgam of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman sources. [...]
[...] As the eighteenth century progresses, understanding of scholarship and education evolves in a way that begins to affect the nature of Paradise Lost criticism. Whereas the typical Augustan scholar was a combination of professor, reader, critic, gentleman, and writer, by the late eighteenth century, numerous economic, social, and political changes had accrued which separated these facets into their own entities. These fissures are dramatized as early as the late 1690s, when William Temple and Richard Bentley engaged in the infamous Ancients vs. [...]
[...] Though it would take until the middle of the eighteenth century for these laws to take the majority of their effect, the promise of financial framework led to an increasingly sophisticated system of literary publishing and distribution. The explosion in popularity of pamphlets and newspapers allowed information to pass more quickly and universally than ever before. The written word, during the 1640s to the 1660s, became a great equalizer. In 1642 when Milton was doing preliminary work on Paradise Lost, contemporary source Roger Cocks described the publishing environment as frenzied: “Pamphlets, like wild geese, fly up and down in flocks about the country. [...]
[...] On the other end of the spectrum, it is worth noting that Bentley idolized Paradise Lost because of its “intensive” layering of classical allusions: classical treatment of a modern text is more explicit still in Bentley's Paradise Lost, which shows that some eighteenth-century readers went too far in their association of English and Roman classics.” While a certain number of scholars such as Bentley embraced overly- analytical approaches to Milton, another sort of “scholar”—the less focused, more genteel “gentleman scholar” such as Pope or Addison—approached Paradise Lost as a kind of scripture. [...]
[...] Shelley and his Oxford contemporaries were feeling the dual-sided encroachment on their position as the intellectual elite: on one hand, the increasingly professional scholars (defined by Carolyn Steedman as “producers of propositional knowledge, and what would now be called socio- and psycho-linguistics” and on the other, the increasingly broad and superficial “learned gentlemen.” During the late eighteenth century, Paradise Lost had gone through numerous adaptations to make it appealing to the sort of audience Shelley despised. Surely Benjamin Stillingfleet's 1760 Paradise Lost oratorio, William Jackson's 1767 Lycidas, A Musical Entertainment, or James Buchanan's 1773 First Six Books of Paradise Lost, Rendered into Grammatical Construction (Lynch 403-4) did nothing keep Milton as the exclusive property of the intellectual elite. [...]
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