Sunday, April 06, 2014


The Duty of a Reader

Jonathan Richardson, Explanatory Notes and Remarks on Milton's Paradise Lost (London: James, John, and Paul Knapton, 1734), pp. cxliv-cxlv:
[A] Reader of Milton must be Always upon Duty; he is Surrounded with Sense, it rises in every Line, every Word is to the Purpose; There are no Lazy Intervals, All has been Consider'd, and Demands, and Merits Observation. Even in the Best Writers you Sometimes find Words and Sentences which hang on so Loosely you may Blow 'em off; Milton's are all Substance and Weight; Fewer would not have Serv'd the Turn, and more would have been Superfluous.

His Silence has the Same Effect, not only that he leaves Work for the Imagination when he has Entertain'd it, and Furnish'd it with Noble Materials; but he Expresses himself So Concisely, Employs Words so Sparingly, that whoever will Possess His Ideas must Dig for them, and Oftentimes pretty far below the Surface. If This is call’d Obscurity let it be remembered 'tis Such a One as is Complaisant to the Reader, not Mistrusting his Ability, Care, Diligence, or the Candidness of his Temper; not That Vicious Obscurity which proceeds from a Muddled Inaccurate Head, not Accustomed to Clear, Well Separated and Regularly Order'd Ideas, or from want of Words and Method and Skill to Convey them to Another, from whence Always Arises Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and a Sort of a MoonLight Prospect over a Landscape at Best not Beautiful; whereas if a Good Writer is not Understood 'tis because his Reader is Unacquainted with, or Incapable of the Subject, or will not Submit to do the Duty of a Reader, which is to Attend Carefully to what he Reads.
I owe the reference to Stanley Eugene Fish, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (London: Macmillan, 1967), p. 54.

Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), Old Scholar

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