As Bloom’s theory would suggest, John Milton is often credited with influencing literary figures – particularly during the Romantic period. T.S. Eliot writes of Milton’s ‘bad influence’ upon his successors while others, such as Lucy Newlyn , celebrate his impact. Many critics use Wordsworth as a perfect example of this influence and there is certainly a valid argument for his ‘emulation’ of, and ‘rebellion’ against, Paradise Lost. Throughout The Prelude, Wordsworth revises and alludes to Milton. Though there are too many links to be traced in one essay, Milton’s legacy provides an interesting point of discussion.Initially, Wordsworth exhibits what could be called an ‘anxiety of influence’. In Book III of The Prelude, he incorporates Milton into a scene that comes to a troubling conclusion:
…O temperate Bard!
I to thee
Poured out libations, to thy memory drank,
…till my brain reeled
Never so clouded by the fumes of wine
Before that hour, or since…
[…] …Empty thoughts!
I am ashamed of themThe scene is arguably a metaphorical manifestation of Wordsworth’s anxiety towards his predecessor. Just as Wordsworth stands where Milton once did, The Prelude figuratively inhabits the genre that Milton occupied. As he writes, he fears that The Prelude is unworthy of Paradise Lost and that, just as with his drinking, he will feel ‘ashamed’. Bloom’s theory would then appear accurate, and a sense of ‘rebellion’ is definitely apparent.
Whereas Milton’s epic is profoundly Christian, Wordsworth secularises his poem. Adam and Eve are led by God, Nature is Wordsworth’s guide:
The earth is all before me: with a heart
Joyous, nor scar’d at its own Liberty,
…His Nature is a secular update of heaven, while the city of London is The Prelude’s 19th century version of hell. On multiple occasions, Wordsworth imitates Milton:
All the marvellous craft
Of modern Merlins, wild beasts, puppet-shows
All out-o’-th’-way, far-fetched, perverted things,
All freaks of Nature, all Promethean thoughts
Of man – his dullness, madness, and their feats,
All jumbled up together to make up
This parliament of monsters (Prel VII.686-92)
• T.S. Eliot, Milton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947)• Lucy Newlyn, Paradise Lost and the Romantic Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)
• William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805 text), in William Wordsworth: The Major Works edited by Stephen Gill (Oxford World’s Classics)
• John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667, revised 1674), ed. Alastair Fowler (2nd ed. Longman)