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the writer, less likewise would content the judges of his work. Among this lagging race of frosty grovellers he might still have risen into eminence by producing something which they should not willingly let die. However inferior to the heroes 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. He might still be the giant of the pygmies, the one-eyed monarch of the blind.
Of his artifices of study, or particular hours of composi- 10 tion, we have little account, and there was perhaps little to be told. Richardson, who seems to have been very diligent in his enquiries, but discovers always a wish to find Milton discriminated from other men, relates, that "he would sometimes lie awake whole nights, but not a verse could he make; and on a sudden his poetical faculty would rush upon him with an impetus or oestrum, and his daughter was immediately called to secure what came. At other times he would dictate perhaps forty lines in a breath, and then reduce them to half the number.” 20
These bursts of lights, and involutions of darkness; these transient and involuntary excursions and retrocessions of invention, having some appearance of deviation from the common train of Nature, are eagerly caught by the lovers of a wonder. Yet something of this inequality happens to every man in every mode of exertion, manual or mental. The mechanick cannot handle his hammer and his file at all times with equal dexterity; there are hours, he knows not why, when his hand is out. By Mr. Richardson's relation, casually conveyed, much regard cannot be 30 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 he have been obliged, as is universally confessed, to have employed any casual
visiter in disburthening his memory, 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 morn.
ing, I suppose before his mind was disturbed with common 10 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 his command.
At what particular times of his life the parts of his work were written, cannot often be known. The beginning of the third book shews that he had lost his sight; and the Introduction to the seventh, that the return of the
King had clouded him with discountenance; and that he 20 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 sculked 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 him. self in danger, fallen on evil days and evil tongues, and with
darkness and with danger compass'd round. This darkness, 30 had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly de
served compassion : but to add the mention of danger was ungrateful and unjust. He was fallen indeed on evil days ; the time was come in which regicides could no longer boast their wickedness. But of evil tongues for Milton to complain, required impudence at least equal to his other
cution, mobilities, howe send the wit,
powers; Milton, wlaose warmest advocates 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 him, either serious 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 misused: they who contemplated in Milton the scholar and the wit, were contented to forget 10 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 complete copy of “ Paradise Lost," and, having perused it, 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 Bunhill-fields, and designed the publication of his poem. A license was necessary, and he could expect 20 no great kindness from a chaplain of the archbishop of Canterbury. He seems, however, to have been treated with tenderness; for though objections 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 hundred should be sold of the first edition: and again, five pounds after the sale of the same number of the second edition: and another 30 five pounds after the same sale of the third. None of the three editions were to be extended 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 twelfth ; and some other small improvements were made. The third
edition was published in 1678; and the widow, to whom 10 the copy was then to devolve, sold all her claims to Simmons for eight pounds, according to her receipt given Dec. 21, 1680. Simmons had already agreed to transfer the whole right to Brabazon Aylmer for twenty-five pounds; and Aylmer sold to Jacob Tonson half, August 17, 1683, and half, March 24, 1690, at a price considerably enlarged. In the history of “ Paradise Lost,” a deduction thus minute will rather gratify than fatigue.
The slow sale and tardy reputation of this poem have been always mentioned as evidences of neglected merit, and 20 of the uncertainty of literary fame; and enquiries have
been made, and conjectures offered, about the causes of its long obscurity and late reception. But has the case been truly stated ? Have not lamentation and wonder been lavished on an evil that was never felt ?
That in the reigns of Charles and James the “ Paradise Lost” received no publick acclamations, is readily confessed. Wit and literature were on the side of the Court: and who that solicited favour or fashion would venture to praise the
defender of the regicides ? All that he himself could think 30 his due, from evil tongues in evil days, was that reverential
silence which was generously preserved. But it cannot be inferred that his poem was not read, or not, however unwillingly, admired.
The sale, if it be considered, will justify the publick. Those who have no power to judge of past times but by
their own, should always doubt their conclusions. The call for books was not in Milton's age what it is in the present. To read was not then a general amusement; neither traders, nor often gentlemen, thought themselves disgraced by ignorance. The women had not then aspired to literature, nor was every house supplied with a closet of knowledge. Those, indeed, who professed learning, were not less learned than at any other time; but of that middle race of students who read for pleasure or accomplishment, and who buy the numerous products of modern 10 typography, the number was then comparatively small. To prove the paucity of readers, it may be sufficient to remark, that the nation had been satisfied, from 1623 to 1664, that is, forty-one years, with only two editions of the works of Shakspeare, which probably did not together make one thousand copies.
The sale of thirteen hundred copies in two years, in opposition to so much recent enmity, and to a style of versification new to all and disgusting to many, was an uncommon example of the prevalence of genius. The de- 20 mand did not immediately increase; for many more readers than were supplied at first the nation did not afford. Only three thousand were sold in eleven years; for it forced its way without assistance: its admirers did not dare to publish their opinion; and the opportunities now given of attracting notice by advertisements were then very few; the means of proclaiming the publication of new books have been produced by that general literature which now pervades the nation through all its ranks.
But the reputation and price of the copy still advanced, 30 till the Revolution put an end to the secrecy of love, and “ Paradise Lost” broke into open view with sufficient security of kind reception.
Fancy can hardly forbear to conjecture with what temper Milton surveyed the silent progress of his work, and marked