Friday, December 12, 2008

Re-reading Dr. Johnson

It took John Milton's 400th birthday, and an encounter with John Basinger to bring me once again to the great 18th century essayist Sam Johnson, and his famous critique of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Back when I was in grad school, this kind of reading was an everyday occurence, but now, it's haphazard, and rare.

I found the essay in an introduction to Paradise Lost that is now publicly available on the internet as a GoogleBook.

Of course, the famous line, "None ever wished it longer than it is," is actually part of a devastating paragraph which states:
Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays dow, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions.

It's beautiful, and it's Johnson's devastating wit and intellect on full display. But I had forgotten the prodigious praise Johnson heaps on Milton, and the epic poem, before he pricks him with this sharp pin of disapproval.

I actually love Paradise Lost. And both it, and Johnson's essay are worth re-reading.

And if you can't imagine re-reading Paradise Lost, this weekend, you can see John Basinger perform it, in a marathon session, from memory, Saturday and Sunday, at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown.

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