1644
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Areopagitica.

Areopagitica; a Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of unlicenc'd Printing, to the Parliament of England.

John Milton


John Milton's remark on "our sage and serious poet Spencer" generated one of the best-known epithets for the poet. The phrase recalls Jonson's "grave and diligent Spenser" in the Masque of Queens and Drayton's "grave, moral Spenser" in "Epistle to Henry Reynolds." The Palmer does not, as Milton seems to imply, accompany Guyon through the Cave of Mammon. See Ernest Sirluck, "Milton Revises the Faerie Queene" Modern Philology 48 (1950) 90-96.

William Godwin: "If we compare the style of Milton to that of later writers, and particularly to that of our own days, undoubtedly nothing but a very corrupt taste can commend it. But the case is altered, if we compare it with the writings of his predecessors. An impartial critic would perhaps find no language in any writer that went before Milton, of so much merit as that of Milton himself.... The Areopagitica of Milton, or a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, notwithstanding the occasional stiffness of its style, is one of the most eloquent prose compositions in this or any other language" "Of English Style" The Enquirer (1797) 405-06, 409.

Dora Anna Scribner: "Here is an opinion on Spenser's moral teaching far more definite and emphatic than anything written in Spenser's own time" "Spenser's Literary Reputation" (1906) 71.

Herbert E. Cory: "In the growing Age of Literary Anarchy we have already noted another figure proudly independent of the frailties of one age — John Milton. He, too, gave sturdy praise to the moralistic aspect of Spenser's genius. In the Areopagitica (1644) he wrote of 'Our sage and serious Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas.' Edward Dowden has made this the text of the richest essay on Spenser that our age can claim" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 103.

David Norbrook: "Already by the early seventeenth century, admirers of Essex were propagating the myth of Spenser not as a court panegyrist but as an exile from court, championed in his poverty by Essex alone. Milton inherited this view of Spenser, which helps to explain why he could find this monarchist poet such an inspiring example" Poetry and Politics (1984) 126.




It was from the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdome can there be to choose, what continence to forbeare without the knowledge of evill? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister'd vertue, unexercis'd and unbreath'd, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortall garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is triall, and triall is by what is contrary. That vertue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evill, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank vertue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an excremental whitenesse; Which was the reason why our sage and serious Poet Spencer, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher then Scotus or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon, and the bowr of earthly blisse that he might see and know, and yet abstain. Since therefore the knowledge and survay of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human vertue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with lesse danger scout into the regions of sin and falsity then by reading all manner of tracts, and hearing all manner of reason? . . .


[pp. 12-13]