Milton and Dryden
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Tracing the evolution of charm, Beckman notes that the word remained pejorative until the seventeenth century when it took on an additional sense, that of “pleasing quality.” Until then charm carried the negative sense of spell-casting. Even Congreve’s well-known “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast” (1697) retains the sense of magic and spell-casting. Not so in Milton, who could take charm either way, and it is both malign and benign in Paradise Lost. But early in his career in Comus (1634), Milton used it approvingly:
How charming is divine Philosophy!
Not harsh, and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar’d sweets,
Where no crude surfet raigns.
KeywordCharm from pejorative to positive
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