Sound and Sense: 1667–1800
This chapter discusses early responses to Milton’s style. Modern critics often assume that ‘apt Numbers’ in the poem’s prefatory note on ‘the Verse’ advertises a routine metrical pattern (the number of syllables in the line), but early critics recognized that ‘apt’ signals a close correspondence between sound and sense, and they valued Milton as the pre-eminent poet of such correspondence. A change came with Johnson’s four Rambler papers on Paradise Lost (1751), which downplayed this aspect of Milton’s style, questioned whether it was possible for ‘the numbers’ to echo the sense, and faulted Milton for failing to match sound and sense. Johnson frequently builds his argument on passages that he misquotes, but his argument is often cited as authoritative, even to this day, even though it collapses when the misquotations are pointed out. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Lord Monboddo, one of Milton’s best but most neglected critics
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