Page images
PDF
EPUB

which he had discharged with so much integrity and ability under Cromwell; but he persisted in re.. fusing it, though the wife pressed his compliance; ( Thou art in the right, says he; you, as other women, would ride in your coach; for me, my aim is to live and die an honest man.". What is more çertain is, that in 1661 he published his Accedence commenced Grammar, and a tract of Sir Walter Raleigh intitled Aphorisms of State; as in 1658 he had published another piece of Sir Walter Raleigh intitled the Cabinet Council discabinated, which he printed from a manuscript, that had lain many years in his hands, and was given him for a true copy by a learned man at his death, who had collected seve. ral such pieces : an evident sign, that he thought it, no mean employment, nor unworthy of a man of genius, to be an editor of the works of great authors. It was wliile he lived in Jewen-Street, that Elwood the Quaker (as we learn from the history

of his life written by his own hand) was first introduced to read to him ; for having wholly lost his sight, he kept always some body or other to perform that office, and usually the son of some gentleman of his acquaintance, whom he took in kindness, that he. might at the same time improve him in his learning, Elwood was recommended to him by Dr. Paget, and, went to his house every afternoon except Sunday, and read to him such books in the Latin tongue as Milton thought proper. And Milton told him, that if he would have the benefit of the Latin tongue,

not only to read and understand Latin authors, but to converse with foreigners either abroad or at home, he must learn the foreign pronunciation : and he instructed him how to read accordingly. And having a curious ear, he understood by my tone, says Elwood, when I understood what I read, and when I did not; and he would stop me and examine me, and open the most difficult passages to me. But it was not long after his third marriage, that he left Jewen-Street, and removed to a house in the Artillery Walk leading to Bunhill Fields : and this was his last stage in this world: he continued longer in this house than he had done in any other, and lived here to his dying şay: only when the plague began to rage in London in 1665, he removed to a small house at Saint Giles Chalfont in Buckinghamshire, which Elwood had taken for him and his family; and there he remained during that dreadful calamity ; but after the sickness was over, and the city was cleansed and made safely habitable again, he returned to his house in London.

His great work of Paradise Lost had principally engaged his thoughts for some years past, and was, now compleated. It is probable, that his first design of writing an epic poem was owing to his conversations at Naples with the Marquis of Villa about Tasso and his famous poem of the Delivery of Jefusalem ; and in a copy of verses presented to that pobleman before he left Naples, he intimated his intention of fixing upon King Arthur for his hero.

In an Eclogue, made soon after his return to England upon the death of his friend and school fellow Deo. dati, he proposed the same design and the same subject, and declared his ambition of writing something in his native language, which might render his name illustrious in these islands, though he should be obscure and inglorious to the rest of the world. And in other parts of his works, after he had engaged in the controversies of the times, he still promised to produce some noble poem or other of a fitter season ; but it doth not appear that he had then determined upon the subject, and King Arthur had another fate, being reserved for the pen of Sir Richard Blackmore. The first hint of Paradise Lost is said to have been taken from an Italian tragedy; and it is certain, that he first designed it a tragedy himself, and there are several plans of it in the form of a tragedy still to be seen in the author's own manuscript, preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. And it is probable, that he did not barely sketch out the plans, but also wrote some parts of the drama itself. His nephew Philips informs us, that some of the verses at the beginning of Satan's speech, addressed to the sun, in the fourth book, were shown to him and some others as designed for the beginning of the tragedy, several years before the poem was begun: and many other passages might be produced, which plainly appear to have been originally intended for the scene, and are not so properly of the epic, as of the tragic strain. It was not till after he

was disengaged from the Salmasian controversy, which ended in 1655, that he began to mold the Paradise Lost in its present form; but after the Restoration, when he was dismissed from public business, and freed from controversy of every kind, he prosecuted the work with closer application. Mr. Philips relates a very remarkable circumstance in the composure of this poem, which he says he had reason to remember, as it was told him by Milton himself, that his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal, and that what he attempted at other times was not to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much. Mr. Toland imagines that Philips might be mistaken as to the time, because our author in his Latin elegy, written in his twentieth year, upon the approach of the spring, seemeth to say just the contrary, as if he could not make any verses to his satisfaction till the spring begun: and he says farthes, that a judicious friend of Milton's informed him, that he could never compose well but in spring and autumn. But Mr. Richardson cannot comprehend, that either of these accounts is exactly true, or that a man with such a work in his head can suspend it for six months together, or only for one; it may go on more slowly, but it must go on: and this laying it aside is contrary to that eagerness to finish what was begun, which he says was his temper in his epistle to Deodati, dated Sept. 2, 1637. After all, Mr. Philips, who had the perusal of the poem. from the beginning,

by twenty or thirty verses at a time, as it was composed, and having not been shown any for a considerable while as the summer came on, inquired of the author the reason of it, could hardly be mistaken with regard to the time: and it is easy to conceive, that the poem might go on much more slower in summer than in other parts of the year; for notwithstanding all that poets may say of the pleasures of that season, I imagine most persons find by experience, that they can compose better at any other time, with more facility and with more spirit, than during the heat and languor of summer. Whenever the poem was wrote, it was finished in 1665,' and as Elwood says was shown to him that same year at Saint Giles Chalfont, whither Milton had retired to avoid the plague, and it was lent to him to peruse it and give his judgment of it: and considering the diffi. culties which the author lay under, his uneasiness on account of the public affairs and his own, his age and infirmities, his gout and blindness, his not being in circumstances to maintain an amanuensis, but obliged to make use of any hand that came next to write his verses as he made them, it is really wonderful, that he should have the spirit to undertake such a work, and much more that he should ever bring it to perfection. And after the poem was finished, still new difficulties retarded the publication of it. It was in danger of being suppressed through the malice or ignorance of the licencer, who took exception at some passages, and particularly at that noble

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »