Johnson’s critical limitations are most clearly seen in his criticism of Paradise Lost. He was prejudiced against Milton on political grounds. He was allergic to the Republicanism. His argument that the poet had no regular hours for prayer though he made Adam and Eve pray clearly indicated his mind not accepting the indisputable scholarship of Milton. He, with hesitations accepts Paradise lost as an epic though Milton was not the first attempt such he has his own reservation about the grand style of the epic. His criticism that the mixing up of the supernatural and the human cannot be justified as the same happens in every epic.
Yet he regarded him as a very great poet and he considered paradise load “a poem which, considered with respect to design, may claim the first place, and with respect to performance the second among the production of the human mind.” The view of the epic he gives in this connection is cogent of the Neo-classic position on the subject. By the general consent of critics, the first praise of genius is due to the writer of an epic poem, as it requires an assemblage of all the powers which are singly sufficient for other compositions. Poetry is art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason epic poetry undertakes to teach his most important truths by the most pleasing precepts, and therefore relates some great event in the most effecting manner.
History must supply the writers with the rudiments of narration, which he must improve and exalt by a nobler art, must animate by dramatic energy and diversify by retrospection and anticipation; morality must teach him the exact bounds, and different shades, of vice and virtue; from policy, and the practice of life, he has to learn the discrimination of character, and the tendency of the passions, either single or combined; and psychology must supply him with illustrations and images. To put these materials to poetical use, is required an imagination capable of painting nature, and realizing fiction. Nor is he yet a great poet till he has attained the whole extension of his language, distinguished all the delicacies of phrase, and all the colours of words, and learned to adjust their different sounds to all the varieties of material modulation.