18 MAY 1912, Page 14



SIR,—Will you allow me a word of comment on a sentence in your current " Notes of the Week" P The writer is dealing with Browning, and Bays : " In truth, Browning had all the merits of a great poet except one. Assuming, with Milton, that poetry to be complete must be 'simple, sensuous, pas- sionate.' " Where, may I venture to ask, does Milton either assume or say this P In his tract on " Education" he con- siders the claim to priority in time between logic and rhetoric on the one hand and poetry on the other in the scheme of studies which he recommends; and decides (not without some hesitation) for taking poetry first, " as being less subtle and fine, but more simple, sensuous, and passionate," i.e., than logic and rhetoric. The statement is interesting and important; but it is surely not equivalent to a statement or an assumption that " poetry to be complete must be simple, sensuous, passionate." Does he make such a statement anywhere else P I raise the point because, famous as are Milton's words, I have never known them referred to in the sense in which Milton used them. Re is always credited with having said that poetry ought to be simple, sensuous, and passionate, as if that were an exhaustive statement of its ideal, He may have thought 110 (though I question it), but he does not say so in the only passage known to me in which the words occur. As the con- text clearly shows, be is not laying down an ideal of poetry; he is, from an educational point of view, enumerating those "organic arts" the study of which helps towards good writing as well as towards the appreciation of literary masterpieces ; and his point is that such works as Aristotle's Poetics and Horace's Are Poetica ought probably to be taken before books on logic and rhetoric, because the matters with which they are concerned are simpler, more sensuous, and more passionate than the subject-matters of logic and rhetoric, and, therefore, better suited to younger students. And, judging from other sayings of his about the characteristics and aims of poetry, as well as from his own practice, I am inclined to think that if one had charged Milton in the flesh (as he is so often charged by critics) with naming the vital nerves of poesy simplicity, sensuousness, and passion, he might have met the charge with a lofty and somewhat scornful repudiation. —I am, Sir, &c.,

[A reference to the tract on " Education " shows that Mr. Rannie's account of what Milton said is perfectly correct. He affords us another proof of the importance of the maxim, "Verify your references." We may plead in excuse that Coleridge fell into the same error that we did.—En. Spectator.]