Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Young Archibald MacLeish's Essay on John Milton

In Archibald MacLeish: An American Life, Scott Donaldson (2016) informs us of an essay on John Milton by a 17-year-old MacLeish, an essay on Milton's dilemma, which was also MacLeish's dilemma, a:
dilemma that was to confront him time and again in his career: how to reconcile the demands of private poetry with those of public service. Using the kind of concrete detail notably missing from his Lincoln essay and from the fable of the westerner, MacLeish focuses on the choice the great English poet had to make between his art and his country, "between the dream which had become himself, and the duty which was calling him from off the road." Milton chose to do his duty, to give up the artistic career that had already produced such brilliant work as "Il Penseroso," in order to become a pamphleteer and treatise writer for the Puritan cause and Oliver Cromwell's government. "His pen, which once had traced the sweetest poetry, was turned to work that any scribbler could have done." In the process "his sight was taken - his sword was fallen from his hand." When the Stuart kings returned to the throne, Milton was left “sightless, friendless, and alone.” Yet Milton made the right choice, the essay maintains, for not only did he serve when needed, but Paradise Lost lay ahead. As Archie expressed it in a flight of rhetoric, "Now there gathered in his brain the threads of the great realities of life and death, and exalted by the scenes of noble beauty in his sightless eyes, he wrote his epic through the hand of one who did not know the greatness of the thing he wrote." At the annual literary contest between the Forum and its rival society the Agora, in December 1909, Archie read his "John Milton," which won the bestessay award and contributed to the Forum's victory. [40 . . . "John Milton," Hotchkiss Record Literary Supplement, (January 1910), 20-23]
This passage includes some of MacLeish's essay on Milton. From such an essay by one so young, we can infer that MacLeish entertained a desire to be like Milton, if duty should call him to do so. I will refer to this passage again in another blog entry when I have more on MacLeish's familiarity with Milton.

Meanwhile, does anyone have access to MacLeish's entire essay?

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