« AnteriorContinuar »
ESSAY ON MILTON'S
USE AND IMITATION OF THE MODERNS
[First published in the year 1750.)
IT is now more than half a century since the PARADISE Lost, having broke through the clouds with which the unpopularity of the author, for a time, obscured it, has attracted the general admiration of man. kind; who have endeavoured to compensate the error of their first neglect, by lavish praises and boundless
*" It is to be hoped, nay, it is expected, that the elegant and nervous writer, whose judicious sentiments, and inimitable style, points out the author of Lauder's Preface and Postscript, will no longer allow one to plume himself with his feathers, who appears so little to have deserved his assistance; an assistance which, I am persuaded, would never have been communicated, had there been the least suspicion of those facts which I have been the instrument of conveying to the world in these sheets.”_Milton vindicated from the charge of plagiarism brought against him by Mr. Lauder, and Lauder himself convicted of several forgeries and gross impositions on the public. By John Douglas, M. A. Rector of Eton Constantine, Salop, Syo. 1751, p. 77.
veneration. There seems to have arisen a contest, among men of genius and literature, who should most advance its honour, or best distinguish its beauties. Some have revised additions, others have published commentaries, and all have endeavoured to make their particular studies, in some degree, subservient to this general emulation.
Among the inquiries to which this ardour of criticism has naturally given occasion, none is more obscure in itself, or more worthy of rational curiosity, than a retrospection of the progress of this mighty genius, in the construction of his work; a view of the fabric gradually rising, perhaps from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre, and its turrets sparkle in the skies; to trace back the structure, through all its varieties, to the simplicity of its first plan; to find what was first projected, whence the scheme was taken, how it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what stores the materials were collected, whether its founder dug them from the quarries of nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his own.
This inquiry has been, indeed, not wholly neglected, nor, perhaps, prosecuted with the care and diligence that it deserves. Several critics have offered their conjectures; but none have much endeavoured to enforce or ascertain them. *Mr. VOLTAIRE tells us, without proof, that the first hint of PARADISE Lost was taken from a farce called ADAMO, written by a player; ťDr. Pearce,
* Essay upon the civil wars of France, and also upon the Epic Poetry of the European nations, from Homer down to Milton, 8vo. 1727, p. 103.
. E.. + Preface to a Review of the Text of the Twelve books of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which the chief of Dr. Bentley's Emendations are considered, 8vo. 1733.
that it was derived from an Italian tragedy, called IL PARADISO PERSO; and Mr. *Peck that it was borrowed from a wild romance. Any of these conjectures may possibly be true; but, as they stand without sufficient proof, it must be granted, likewise, that they may all possibly be false; at least they cannot preclude any other opinion, which, without argument, has the same claim to credit, and may perhaps be shewn, by resistless evidence, to be better founded.
It is related, by steady and uncontroverted tradition, that the PARADISE Lost was at first a TRAGEDY, and therefore, amongst tragedies, the first hint is properly to be sought. In a manuscript, published from MilTon's own hand, among a great number of subjects for tragedy, is ADAM UNPARADISED, or ADAM IN EXILE; and this, therefore, may be justly supposed the embryo of this great poem. As it is observable that all these subjects had been treated by others, the manuscript can be supposed nothing more than a memorial or catalogue of plays, which, for some reason, the writer thought worthy of his attention. When, therefore, I had observed that ADAM IN EXILE was named amongst them, I doubted not but, in finding the original of that tragedy, I should disclose the genuine source of PaRADISE Lost. Nor was my expectation disappointed; for, having procured the Adamus Exul of Grotius, I found, or imagined myself to find, the first draft, the PRIMA STAMINA of this wonderful poem.
Having thus traced the original of this work, I was naturally induced to continue my search to the COLLATERAL RELATIONS, which it might be supposed to have contracted, in its progress to MATURITY: and
New Memoirs of Mr. John Milton. By Francis Peck, 410. 1740, p. 52.
having, at least, persuaded my own judgment, that the search has not been entirely ineffectual, I now lay the result of my labours before the public; with full conviction that, in questions of this kind, the world cannot be MISTAKEN, at least, cannot long continue in error.
I cannot avoid acknowledging the CANDOUR of the author of that excellent monthly book, the GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE, in giving admission to the specimens in favour of this argument; and his IMPARTIALITy in as freely inserting the several answers. I shall here subjoin some EXTRACTS from the 17th volume of this work, which I think suitable to my purpose. To which I have added, in order to obviate every pretence for cavil, a list of the authors quoted in the following Essay, with their respective DATES, in comparison with the DATE of PARADISE Lost,
WHEN this essay was almost finished, the splendid Edition of PARADISE Lost, so long promised by the reverend Dr. Newton, fell into my hands; of which I had, however, so little use, that as it would be injus. tice to censure, it would be flattery to commend it: and I should have totally forborn the mention of a book that I have not read, had not one passage, at the conclusion of the life of Milton, excited in me too much pity and indignation to be suppressed in silence.
“ Deborah Milton's youngest daughter,” says the Editor, “was married to Mr. Abraham Clarke, “a weaver, in Spitalfields, and died in August 1727, in the 76th year of her age. She had ten children. Elizabeth, the youngest, was married to Mr. Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spitalfields, and had seven children, who are alt dead; and she herself is aged about sixty, and weaky and infirm. She seemeth to be a good plain sensible
woman, and has confirmed several particulars related above, and informed me of some others, which she had often heard from her mother.” These the doctor enu. merates, and then adds, “ In all probability Milton's whole family will be extinct with her, and he can live only in his writings. And such is the caprice of fortune, this grand daughter of a man, who will be an everlasting glory to the nation, has now for some years, with her husband, kept a little chandler's or grocer's shop, for their subsistence, lately at the lower Holloway, in the road between Highgate and London, and at present in Cock-lane, not far from Shoreditch church.”
That this relation is true cannot be questioned: but, surely, the honour of letters, the dignity of sacred poetry, the spirit of the English nation, and the glory of human nature, require that it should be true no longer. In an age, in which statues are erected to the honour of this great writer, in which his effigy has been diffused on medals, and his work propagated by translations, and illustrated by commentaries; in an age which, amidst all its vices, and all its follies, has not become infamous for want of charity; it may be, surely, allowed to hope, that the living remains of MILTON will be no longer suffered to languish in distress. It is yet in the power of a great people to reward the poet whose name they boast, and, from their reliance to whose genius, they claim some kind of superiority to every other nation of the earth; that poet, whose works may possibly be read when every other monument of British greatness shall be obliterated; to reward him —not with pictures or with medals, which, if he sees, he sees with contempt, but with tokens of gratitude, which he, perhaps, may even now consider as not un. worthy the regard of an immortal spirit. And surely, to those who refuse their names to no other scheme of ex