Jonathan Richardson on Milton

A reader of Milton must be always upon duty; he is surrounded with sense, it arises in every line, every word is to the purpose; there are no lazy intervals, all has been considered, and demands and merits observation. Even in the best writers you sometimes find words and sentences which hang on so loosely you may blow ’em off; Milton’s are all substance and weight; fewer would not have serv’d the turn, and more would have been superfluous.

—Jonathan Richardson

This is, to my mind, very nearly the highest praise of a writer’s style that anyone could make. The only other thing that might be added is if the writing also sounds well, and the sounds and rhythms comport with the meaning, so that the suggestive and poetical qualities of the language reinforce the plain meaning of the words. This quality also (I would add on my own account) Milton has in abundance.

Dr. Johnson, in choosing literary sources for his Dictionary, tried to include just those authors whose use of language was unimpeachable by the standards of the time, and recent enough still to be a fairly faithful representation of living speech. The better the writer, the more he could be excused for not being recent, and contrariwise. The oldest author that Johnson included in his list of authorities was Milton; and granting that remark of Richardson’s, and my own addendum to it, I think he was eminently right to include him.