Page images
PDF
EPUB

names of that time, as the Earl of Dorset, Waller, Dryden, Dr. Aldrich, Mr. Atterbury, and among the rest Sir Roger Lestrange, though he had formerly written a piece intitled No blind Guides, &c. against Milton's Notes upon Dr. Griffith's sermon.

There were two editions inore in folio, one I think in 1692, the other in 1695, which was the sixth edition ; for the poem was now so weil received, that notwithstanding the price of it was four times greater than before, the sale increased double the number every year; as the bookseller, who should best know, has informed us in his dedication of the smaller editions to Lord Sommers.

Since that time, not only various editions have been printed, but also various notes and translations.

The first person who wrote annotations upon Paradise Lost was P. H. or Patrick Hume, of whom we know nothing, unless his name may lead us to some knowledge of his country; but he has the merit of being the first (as I say) who wrote notes upon Paradise Lost, and his notes were printed at the end of the folio edition in 1695. Mr. Addison's Spectators upon the subject contributed not a little to establishing the character, and illustrating the beauties of the poem. In 1732 appeared Dr. Bentley's new edition with notes : and the year following Dr. Pearce published his Review of the text, in which the chief of Dr. Bentley's emendations are considered, and several other emendations and observations are offered to the public. The year after that, Messieurs Richardson, father

and son, published their explanatory notes and remarks.

The poem has been also translated into several languages, Latin, Italian, French and Dutch; and proposals have been made for translating it into Greck. The Dutch translation is in blank verse, and printed at Harlem. The French have a translation by Mons. Dupré de St. Maur; but nothing sheweth the weakness and imperfection of their language inore, than that they have few or no good poetical versions of the greatest poets; they are forced to translate Homer, Virgil, and Milton into prose : blank verse their language has not harmony and dignity enough to support; their tragedies, and many of their comedies, are in rime. Rolli, the famous Italian master here in England, made an Italian translation; and Mr. Richardson the son saw another at Florence in manuscript by the learned Abbé Salvini, the same who translated Addison's Cato into Italian. One William Hog or Hogæus translated Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, into Latin verse in 1690; but this version is very unworthy of the criginals. There is a better translation of the Paradise Lost by Mr. Thomas Power, Fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge, the first book of which was printed in 1691, and the rest in manuscript is in the library of that College. The learned Dr. Trapp has also published a translation into Latin verse; and the world is in expectation of another, that will surpass all the rest,

to pursue

by Mr. William Dobson of New College in Oxford. So that by one means or other Milton is now considered as an English classic ; and the Paradise Lost is generally esteemed the noblest and most sublime of modern poems, and equal at least to the best of the ancient; the honour of this country, and the envy and admiration of all others !

In 1670 he published his History of Britain, that part especially now called England. He began it above twenty years before, but was frequently interrupted by other avocations: and he designed to have brought it down to his own times, but stopped at the Norman conquest; for indeed he was not well able

it

any farther by reason of his blindness, and he was engaged in other more delightful studies; having a genius turned for poetry rather than history. When his History was printed, it was not printed perfect and intire ; for the licenser expunged several passages, which reflecting upon the pride and superstition of the Monks in the Saxon times, were understood as a concealed satire upon the Bishops in Charles the Second's reign. But the author him. self gave a copy of his unlicensed papers to the Earl of Anglesea, who, as well as several of the nobility and gentry, constantly visited him: and in 1681 a considerable passage which had been suppressed at the beginning of the third book, was published, containing a character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines in 1641, which was inserted in its proper place in the last edition of 1738,

Bishop' Kennet begins his Complete History of England with this work of Milton, as being the best draught, the clearest and most authentic account of those early times; and his stile is freer and easier than in most of his other works, more plain and simple, less figurative and metaphorical, and better suited to the nature of history, has enough of the Latin turn and idiom to give it an air of antiquity, and sometimes rises to a surprising dignity and majesty.

In 1670 likewise his Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes were licensed together, but were not published till the year following. It is somewhat remarkable, that these two poems were not printed by Simmons, the same who printed the Pardise Zost, but by J. M. for one Starkey in Fleet-Strect; and what could induce Milton to have recourse to another printer? Was it because the former was not enough encouraged by the sale of Paradise Lost to become a purchaser of the other copies ? The first thought of Paradise Regained was owing to Elwood the quaker, as he himself relates the occasion in the history of his life. When Milton had lent him the manuscript of Paradise Lost at St. Giles Chalfont, as we said before, and he returned it, Milton asked him how he liked it, and what he thought of it :

which I modestly, but freely told him,” says Elwood;

“and after some discourse about it, I pleasantly said to him, thou hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found? he

made me nö answer, but sat some time in a muse; then broke off that discourse, and fell upon another subjeét.” When Elwood afterwards waited upon him in London, Milton shewed him his Paradise Regained, and in a pleasant tone said to him, “ This is owing to you, for you put it into

my head by the question you put me at Chalfont, which before I had jot thought of." It is commonly reported, that Niilton himself preferred this poem to the Paradise Lost; but all that we can assert upon good authority is, that he could not endure to hear this poem tried down so much as it was, in comparison with the other. For certainly it is very worthy of the author, and contrary to what Mr. Toland relates, Milton may be seen in Paradise Regained as well as in Paradise Lost; if it is inferior in poetry, I know not whether it is not superior in sentiment; if it is less descriptive, it is more argumentative; if it doth not sometimes rise so high, neither doth it ever sink so low; and it has not met with the approbation it deserves, only because it has not been more read and considered. His subject indeed is confined, and he has a narrow foundation to build upon ; but he has raised as noble a superstructure, as such little room and such scanty materials would allcw. The great beauty of it is the contrast between the two characters of the Tempter and our Saviour, the artful sophistry and specious insinuations of the one refuted by the strong sense and manly eloquence of the other.

This poem has also been translated into French,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »