The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The "P.R." Letter Bag.
[The Editor is not responsible for the opinions of Correspondents.]
Dear Editor,-- The following few words have been suggested to me by the Essay in the November issue of the Parents' Review. In the first place, it seems to me that the educational value of Milton for young people, except for a scattered few, is a very debateable quantity.
* * * *
The expediency of admiring Satan so much may be questioned; he is, we know, the very personification of evil, which if not so strong as good, is, alas! very powerful; but if his strength commands some admiration, that ought never to be dwelt upon, especially to the young, without calling attention to the profound, boundless pity he must inspire in all who read his wonderful soliloquy aright. Here, no doubt, no second interpretation is possible; he makes a splendid apology for free will and looks his past in the face; in short, powerful in thought as in action, he turns the knife in his wounds and tells us he might have been everlastingly happy in obedience and that there was no inherent necessity for him to sin. That is the language we ought to hear in an emasculate age, at a time when many exaggerate heredity and eliminate free will. The famous "beneath the lowest deep a lower deep," can only in all its abysmal sadness, be grasped by those who having suffered can measure the fearful possibilities of ever deeper descent. "Myself am Hell"; it is the canker of character and not of adverse circumstances that eats into the happiness of man and angel alike, and so Satan is, oh! how deeply to be pitied as the prototype of all who stray further and further from God and "pierce themselves through with many sorrows"; it is not only the love of money that does that. Kant has shown how the Ego has the power of making motives for its own conduct and is thus self-determined or able to become a law to itself and in this sense free. Satan anticipated Kant, and does not blink this truth for an instant.
Milton worked on the Bible story, which many people choose to regard as a myth, but all who love that great instrument of human thought, which the English language is, and know what misery sin and disobedience can work in a home must read with bated breath when they come to Eve's despair and Adam's manly resignation. The former, like many of us, can't brook the bitter consequences of her action and would rather die than face what she sees awaiting her down the long vista of years. She was, in fact, the first apologist of suicide; Adam's consolations induce a more resigned attitude, but who can help feeling moved by her complaint on leaving those beautiful surroundings, her passionate lament for those flowers that for her will never bloom elsewhere? And yet we feel that, as Adam points out, justice will be tempered with mercy, that God will never forsake them, and we know that what we have often dreaded unspeakably often turns out to have mitigations and that we enjoy shadow and fruit that are not of our planting.
"Thy Presence all my journey through
That must console us, even when sin has momentarily separated the soul from God, but Paradise Lost and our own experience teach us that evil is done beyond recall and that there is no beginning life again in the strict sense of the word; we must continue the best we can.
And now it only remains for me to apologize for so hasty an attempt to put Milton or Paradise Lost into the right perspective for the young. Oh! shade of one of the greatest men that ever lived, forgive me in consideration of the fact that I know and would fain have others feel that your poem is like one of those grand cathedral aisles which embody the worship of the past and in which we would like to kneel. The young should be taught reverence, and Milton's story would gain for them by being told in all its hard, naked pathos; by degrees his purpose and his beauty might be dimly revealed to them, to bear fruit in after life. Failing that, one must regard one's attempt to "educate" them as an egregious failure.
[Some interesting letters are held over for want of space.--ED.]
Typed by Blossom Barden, May, 2023; Proofread by LNL, June, 2023
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