Milton and the Cult of Conformity (1956)
In a recent essay entitled ‘A Meditation on Literary Blasphemy’, Merritt Hughes, the eminent Milton scholar at the University of Wisconsin, commented on the uses and abuses of blasphemy against the literary idols of the past. It is surely as normal for each generation to revolt against the standards and literary gods of the preceding generation as it is for sons to revolt against their fathers. ‘Blasphemous impulses’, Mr Hughes remarked, ‘are part of the instinct for self preservation, but they are healthy only when they are spontaneous, personal, and unfashionable. Unfortunately, they are seldom any of these things.’ All too soon the once-new heresy becomes the new conformity, and fashionable anti-conformity may be as crippling both to reader and writer as fashionable conformity. Mr Hughes concluded his meditation with considerable irony: ‘Let us grant that … Milton is [not] entitled to the unqualified respect of a society that is as anti-revolutionary and as deeply committed to psychological analysis as ours.’
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.