« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
the parliaincnt or Cromwell, might have forborn to talk very loudly of his honety; and if he thought the office purely -ministerial, he certainly might have honestly retained it under the king. But this tale has too little evidence to deserve a disquisition; Targe offers and sturdy rejections are among the common topicks of falsehood.
He had so much either' of prudence or gratitude, that he forbore to dis, ftrb the new settlement with any of his political or ecclesiastical opinions, and from this time devoted himself to poetry and literature. Of his zeal for learning in all its parts, he gave a proof by publishing, the next year (1661), Acidence commenced Grammar; a little book which has nothing remarkable, but that its author, who had been lately defending the supreme powers of his country, and was then writing Paradise Lost, could descend from his elevation to rescue children from the perplexity of grammatical confusion, and the trouble of lessons unnecessarily repeated.
About this time Elwood the quaker, being recommended to him as one who would read Latin to him, for the advantage of his conversation, attended him every afternoon, except on Sundays. Milton, who, in his letter to Hartlib, lrad declared, that to read Latin with an English mouth is as ill a hearing as Lar, French, required that Elwood should learn and practise the Italian pronunciation, which, he said, was necessary, if he would talk with foreigners. This seems to have been a task troublesome without use. There is little reason for preferring. the Italian pronunciation to our own, except that it is more general: and to teach it to an Englishman is only to make him a foreigner at home. He who travels
, if he speaks Latin, may so soon learn the sounds which every native gives it, that he need make no provision before his journey; and if strangers visit us, it is their business to practise such conformity to our modes as they expect from us in their own countries. Elwood complied with the directions, and improved himself by his attendance, for he relates, that Milton having a curious car, knew by his voice when he read what he did not understand, and would stop him, and open the most difficult passages, In a short time he took a house in the Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields; the mention of which concludes the register of Milton's removals and habitations. He lived longer in this place than any other. . He was now busied by Paradise Lost, Whence he drew the original design has been variously conjectured by men who cannot bear to think themselves ignorant of that which, at last, neither diligence nor sagacity can discover. Some find the hint in an Italian tragedy. 'Voltaire tells a wild and unauthorised story of a farce seen by Milton in Italy, which opened thus: Let the Rainbow be the Fiddlestick of the Fiddle of Heaven. It has been already shewn, that the first.com ception
' was a tragedy or Mystery, not of a narrative, but a dramatick work, wtich he is supposed to have begun to reduce to its present form abont the. time (1655) when he finished his dispute with the defenders of the king.
He long had promised to adorn his native country by some great performanice
, while he had yet perhaps no settled design, and was stimulated only by such expectations as naturally arose from the survey of his attainments
and the consciousness of his powers. What he should undertake, it was difficult to determine. He was long choosing, and began late.
While he was obliged to divide his time between his private studies and af. fairs of state, his poetical labour must have been often interrupted ; and perhans he did little more in that busy time than construct the narrative, adjust the episodes, proportion the parts, accunulate images and sentiments, and treasure in his niemory, or preserve in writing, such hints as books or meditation would supply. Nothing particular is known of his intellectual operations while he was a statesman; for, having every help and accommnodation at band, he had no need of uncommon expedients,
Bing driven from all public stations, lie is yet too great not to be traced by contest in his retirement; where he has been found by Mr. Richardson, the findest of his admirers, sitting before his dos in a grey coat of coarse cloth, in warm vity meather, to enjoy the fı esk gir ; and so, as in his own room, receiving the visits of mo, distinguished parts as well as quality. His visitors of high quality must
ho by te invagined to be few, but men of parts might reasonably court the com usation of a man so generally illustrious, that foreigners are reported, by Wood, to have visited the house in Bread-street where he was born.
According to another account, he was seen in a small house, neatly enough dirssed in black cloaths, sitting in a room hung with rusty green ; pale but not cadaverous, with chalkstones in his hands. He said, that if it were. it not for the gout, his blindness would be tslerable.
In the intervals of his pam, being made unable to use the common exercises, be used to swing in a chair, and sometiines played upon an organ.
He was now confessedly and visibly employed upon his poem, of which the progress might be noted by those with whom he was familiar; for he was obliged, when he had coniposed as many lines as his memory would conveniently retain, to enploy some friend in writing them, having, at least for part of the time, ne regalar attendant. This gave opportunity to observations and reports.
Mr. Philips observes, that there was a very remarkable circumstance in the composure of Paradise Lost," which I have a particular reason," says he,“ to re“member: for whereas I had the perusal of it from the very beginning, for
some years, as I went from time to time to visit him, in parcels of ten, twenty, « or thirty verses at a time (wbich being writteri, by whatever hand came next, "might possibly want correction as to the orthography and pointing), having
the summer came on, not been shewed any for a considerable wbile, and “ desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his vein never happily flowed “ but from the Autumnal Equinox to the Vernal; and that whatever he at“ tempted at other times was never to his satisfaction, though he courted his “ fancy never so much; so that, in all the years he was about this poem, he “ may be said to have spent half his time therein."
Upon this relation Toland remarks, that in his opinion Philips las mistaken the time of the year; for Milton, in his Elegies, declares that with the advance of the Spring he feels the incrcase of his poetical force, redeunt in carmina virese To this it is answered, that Philips could hardly mistake time so well marked;
and it may be added, that Milton might find different times of the year favourable to different parts of life. Mr. Richardson conceives it impossible that such a work should be suspended
for six months, or for one. It may go on faster or san, but it must go on. By what necessity it must continually go on, or why it might not be laid aside and resumed, it is not easy to discover.
This dependance of the soul upon the seasons, those temporary and periodi. cal ebbs and flows of intellect, may, I suppose, justly be derided as the funes of vain imagination. Sapiens dominabitur astris. The author that thinks him self weather-bound will find, with a little help from hellebore, that he is only idle or exhausted, But while this notion has possession of the head, it produces the inability which it supposes. Our powers owo much of their energy to our hopes; possunt quia posse videntur. When sụccess seems attainable, diligence is enfarced; but when it is admitted that the faculties are suppressed by a cros wind, or a cloudy sky, the day is given up without resistance, for who can contend with the course of Nature?
From such prepossessions Milton seems not to have been free. There prevailed in his time an opinion that the world was in its decay, and that we have had the misfortune to be produced in the decrepitude of Nature. It was suspected that the whole creation languished, that neither trecs nor animals had the height or bulk of their predecessors, and that every thing was daily sinking by gradual diminution *. Milton appears to suspect that souls partako of the general degeneracy, and is not without some fear that his book is to be written in an age too late for lieroic poesy.
Another opinion wanders about the world, and sometimes finds reception arpong wise men; an opinion that restrains the operations of the mind to particular regions, and supposes that a luckless mortal may be horn in a degree of latitude too bigh or too low for wisdom or for wit. From this fancy, wild as it is he had not wholly cleared his head, when he feared lest the climate of his country might be too cold for fights of imagination.
Into a mind already occupied by such fancies, another not more reasonable night easily find its way. He that could fear lest his genius had fallen upon too old a world, or too chill a climate, might consistently magnify to himself the inApence of the seasons, and believe his faculties to be vigorous only half the year.
His submission to the seasons was at least more reasonable than his dread of decaying natyre, or a frigid zone ; for general causes must operate uniformly in a general abatement of mental power; if less could be performed by the writer, less likewise would content the judges of his work. Among this lagging Face of frosty grovellers he might still have risen into eminence by producing something which they should not willingly let dię. However inferior to the heroes
• This opinion is, with great learning and ingenuity, refuted in a book now very little known, “ An Apology or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the Government
of the World," by Dr. George Hakewill, London, folio, 1635. The first who ventured ta propagate it in this country was Dr. Gabriel Goodman, bishop of Gloucester, a man of a ver. satile temper, and the author of a book entitled, “ The Fall of Man, or the. Corruption of "Nature proved by natural Reason." Lond. 1616 and 1624, quarto. He was plundered in the Iaupaţion, turned Roman Catholic, and died in obscurity. Vide Athen. Oxon. vol. I. 727. H.
who were born in better ages, he might still be great among his contemporaries with the hope of growing every day greater in the dwindle of posterity. H might still be a giant among the pygmies, the one-eyed monarch of the blind
Of his artifices of study, or particular hours of coinposition, we have little account, and there was perhaps little to be told. Richardson who seems to bar been very diligent in his enquiries, but discovers always a wish to find Milo discriminated from other men, relates, that "he would sometiines lie awake “ whole nights
, but not a verse could he make; and on a sudden his poetical faculty would rush upon hin, with an impetus or æstrum, and his daughter ma “immediately called to secure what came. At other times he would dictat
perhaps forty lines in a breath, and then reduce them to half the number."
These bursts of light, and involutions of darkness, these transient and involun tary excursions and retrocessions of invention, having sonie appearance of devi ation from the common train of Nature, are eagerly cauglit by the lovers of wonder. Yet something of this inequality happens to every man in every mode of excrtion, inanual or mental. The mechanick cannot handle his hammer an his file at all times with equal dexterity; there are hours, lic knows not why, wher his hand is aut. By Mr. Richardson's relation, casually conveyed, much regard cannot be claimed. That, in his intellectual hour, Milton called for his daughter' to secure what came, may be questioned; for unluckily it happens to be known that his daughters were never taught to write; nor would tre have been obliged, as is universally confessed, to have employed any casual visitor in disburthening his meniory, if his daughter could have performed the office.
The story of reducing his exuberance has been told of other authors, and, though doubtless true of every fertile and copious mind, seems to have been gratuitously transferred to Milton.
What he has told us, and we cannot now know more, is, that he composed much of his poem in the night and morning, I suppose before his mind was disturbed with common business ; and that he poured out with great fluency his unpremeditated verse. Versification, free, like his, from the distresses of rhyme, must by a work so long be made prompt and habitual; and when his thoughts were once adjusted, the words would come at bis command.
At what particular times of his life the parts of his works were written, can. not often be known. The beginning of the third book shews that he had lose his sight; and the Introdụction to the seventh, that the return of the King had clouded him with discountenance; and that he was offended by the licentious festivity of the Restoration. There are no other internal notes of time. Milton, being now cleared from all effects of his disloyalty, had nothing required from him, but the common duty of living in quiet, to be rewarded with the common right of protection, but this, which, when he skulked from the approach of his King, was perhaps more than he hoped, seems not to have 'satisfied him ; for no sooner is he safe, than he finds himself in danger, fallen ont evil days and evil tongues, and with darkness and with danger compası'd round. This darkness, had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly deserved compassion: but to add the mention of danger was ungrateful and unjust. He was
fa' len indeed on cüil days; the time was come in which regicides could no longer boast their wickedness. But of evil tongues for Milton to complain, rcprired impudence at least equal to his other powers ; Milton whose warmest adrocates must allow, that he never spared any asperity of reproach or brutality of insolence.
But the charge itself seems to be false ; for it would be hard to recollect any reproach cast upon biin, either sericus or ludicrous, through the whole remaining part of his life. He pursued his studies or his amusements, without persecution, molestation, or insult. Such is the reverence paid to great! abilities, however nisused: they who contemplate in Milton the scholar and the wit, were contented to forget the reviler of his king.
When the plague (1665) raged in London, Milton took refuge at Chalfont in Bucks; where Elwood, who had taken the house for him, first saw a conplete copy of Paradise Lot, and, having perused ic, said to him, “ Thou hast said “a great deal upon Paradise Lost; what hast thou to say upon Paradise found?"
Next year, when the danger of infection had ceased, he returned to Bunhillfields
, and designed the publication of his poem. 'A license was necessary, and he could expect no great kindness from a chaplain of the archbishop of Canterbury
. He seems, however, to have been treated with tenderness ; for, though 06jections were made to particular passages, and among them to the simile of the sun eclipsed in the first book, yet the license was granted; and he sold his copy, April
, 27, 1667, to Samuel Simmons, for an immediate payment of five pounds, with a stipulation to receive five pounds more when thirteen liundred should he sold of the first edition: and again, five pounds after the sale of the same number of the second edition: and another five pounds after the same sale of the third. None of the three editions were to extend beyond fifteen hundred copies.
The first edition was ten books, in a small quarto. The titles were varied from year to year; and an advertisement and the arguments of the books were omitted in some copies, and inserted in others.
The sale gave him in two years a right to his second payment, for which the receipt was signed April 26, 1669. The second edition was not given till 1674 ; it was printed in small octavo; and the number of books was inCreased to twelve, by a division of the seventh and twelftlı; and some other szall improvements were made. The third edition was published in 1678; and tie widow, to whom the copy was then to devolve, sold all her claims to Simmons for eight pounds, according to her receipt, given Dec. 21, 1680. Simninons had alieady agreed to transfer the whole right to Brabazon Aylmer
twenty-five pounds; and Ayliner sold to Jacob Tonson half, August 17, 1638 , half
, March 24, 1690, at a price considerably enlarged. In the history of Paradise Lost a deduction thus minute wil! rather gratify than fatigue.
The slow sale and tardy reputation of this poem have been always mėn. tioned as evidences of neglected merit, and of the uncertainty of literary fame; and enquiries have been made, and conjectures offered, about the cause of its long obscurity and late reception. But has the case been truly stated ? Have Rot lamentation and wonder been lavished upon an evil that was never felt ?