Thomas Ellwood and Milton

Excerpt From: Ellwood, Thomas. “The History of Thomas Ellwood Written By Himself.”

Of Thomas Ellwood’s experience as reader to Milton, and of Milton’s regard for the gentle Quaker, the book tells its own tale. I will only add one comment upon an often-quoted incident that it contains. When Milton gave his young friend – then twenty-six years old – the manuscript of “Paradise Lost” to read, his desire could only have been to learn what comprehension of his purpose there would be in a young man sincerely religious, as intelligent as most, and with a taste for verse, though not much of a poet. The observation Ellwood made, of which he is proud because of its consequence, might well cause Milton to be silent for a little while, and then change the conversation. It showed that the whole aim of the poem had been missed. Its crown is in the story of redemption, Paradise Found, the better Eden, the “Paradise within thee, happier far.” Milton had applied his test, and learnt – what every great poet has to learn – that he must trust more to the vague impression of truth, beauty, and high thought, that “can be made upon thousands of right-hearted men and women, than to the clear, full understanding of his work. The noblest aims of the true artist can make themselves felt by all, though understood by few. Few know the secrets of the sunshine, although all draw new life from the sun. When Milton – who, with his habitual gentleness, never allowed Ellwood to suspect that he had missed the whole purpose of “Paradise Lost” – showed him “Paradise Regained,” and made him happy by telling him that he caused it to be written; he showed him a poem that expanded the closing thought of “Paradise Lost” into an image of the Paradise within, that is to be obtained only by an imitation of Christ under all forms of our temptation.

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