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English heroick line strikes the ear so faintly that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together: this co-operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another, as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skilful and happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive 10 where the lines end or begin. Blank verse, said an ingenious critick, seems to be verse only to the eye.
Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the lapidary style ; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alleges as precedents, not one is popular ; what reason could urge in 20 its defence, has been confuted by the ear.
But, whatever be the advantage of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is ; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse ; but those that hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme.
The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said to have contrived the structure of 30 an epick poem, and therefore owes reverence to that vigour and amplitude of mind to which all generations must be indebted for the art of poetical narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents, the interposition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain
attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance : he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them. From his contemporaries he neither courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour
gained ; no exchange of praise or solicitation of support. 10 His great works were performed under discountenance, and
in blindness, but difficulties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroick poems, only because it is not the first.
p. 1, 1. 1, already written. E.g., by Anthony Wood in his " Athene Oxonienses,” by Edward Philips, or Phillips, Milton's nephew (1694), by John Ťoland (1698), by Jonathan Richardson in his “Èxplanatory Notes on · Paradise Lost'" (1734), and by Thomas Birch (1738).
1.4, Mr. Fenton's elegant Abridgement. Elijah Fenton (16831750) was a poet, whose name is remembered mainly through his connection with Pope as one of his assistants in translating Homer. See Johnson's “Life of Pope,” Bell's English Classics, pp. 23 and 43 seg. with the editor's notes. Compare also Johnson's “ Lives," Bohn, ii. 245. Fenton's “Life of Milton" was prefixed to his edition of Milton's “Poetical Works,” 1727, and to several subsequent editions.
1. 6, this edition. The edition of the works of English Poets for which Johnson wrote the Lives.” See Introduction, p. xvi. above.
1. 7, descended from. Even Mr. Masson's research has failed to discover anything tangible about “the alleged Miltons of Milton in Oxfordshire" ("Life," i. 8). Johnson's authority is the account given by Edward Philips (Godwin, " Lives of E. and J. Philips,” p. 352) who was, perhaps, somewhat of a snob, and a little unduly anxious to magnify the social status of his illustrious uncle. The Rev. Joseph Hunter and subsequent writers have exploded the whole of this story. Milton himself only claimed that he came “ ex genere honesto.”
1. 11, the White Rose. The White Rose was the badge not only of the House of York but also of the House of Stuart, after the accession of James, Duke of York, to the throne. Was Johnson using the term by prolepsis for the earlier Stuarts ? There is scarcely any mention of the House of York in Milton's writings.
1. 12, His grandfather. Mr. Hunter, Mr. Masson, Mr. Hyde Clarke, and other writers have shown that the poet's grand. father was named Richard, not John, and that he was a yeoman and living at Stanton St. John, near Holton, near Shotover
Forest in Oxfordshire. This Richard may have been underranger of Shotover Forest; he was certainly not the ranger during the reign of Elizabeth. He was heavily fined more than once as a Popish recusant, that is, for non-attendance at his parish church.
1. 16, scrivener, one who drew up and engrossed wills, settlements, and other deeds. (From O.F. escrivain, Low Lat., scribanus, a writer or notary.) A scrivener or notary did much of the work of an attorney of to-day; who, by the way, is still in Scotland called a “writer.”.
l. 17, many of his compositions. “In the collection of madrigals, entitled “The Triumphs of Oriana,' one is by him, and two well-known psalm tunes, 'Norwich' and 'York,' are of his composition.” (Mrs. Napier's note, “Lives,” Bohn, i. 93.)
1. 20, He had probably. Johnson uses the expression “to have literature,” because he means by“ literature," scholarship or learning.
The Latin poem addressed to him is that called “Ad Patrem," Globe edition, p. 610; Aldine, ii. 367.
1. 23, Caston. This is a mistake, due to Edward Philips. Another account makes the poet's mother to have borne the name Bradshaw. It is now known however that Milton's mother was Sarah, daughter of Paul Jeffrey, a merchant-taylor of London.
1. 24, Christopher. The poet's younger brother was born in 1615, and died in 1693; he was made one of the Barons of the Exchequer, and knighted in 1686. “New judges also here, amongst which was Milton, a Papist (brother to that Milton who wrote for the Regicides) who presum'd to take his place without passing the Test." (Evelyn's “Diary,” June 2, 1686.) The brothers seem to have been on good terms although differing in politics and religion. See pp. 52-3.
p. 2, 1. 2, chamber-practice. That part of a barrister's professional work which he carries on in his chambers or office; such as advising clients, giving written legal opinions, drawing up deeds, etc.
1. 9, the Crown-office. “Crown office” here means the Crown. office of the Court of Chancery. The head of the office was called the Clerk of the Crown, and had to attend the Lord Chancellor, either personally or by deputy. He made the writs for summoning Parliament, and for the election of members, also the commissions for holding assizes and other commissions. The office was abolished soon after the Revolution. The “secondary” mentioned in l. 10, was apparently the Deputy to the Clerk of the Crown.
1. 10, John and Edward. Johnson, following Wood (“Fasti
Oxonienses,” Bliss, ii. 481), puts the names in the wrong order. Edward was the elder, John 'the younger. Edward Philips (born 1630-1, date of death uncertain,) prefixed a life of his uncle to the edition of Milton's "Letters of State," published in 1694. It is one of the principal authorities for the events of Milton's life. This has been reprinted as an appendix to Godwin's “Lives of Edward and John Philips ” (1815). Edward Philips wrote other works, including “Mysteries of Love and Elo. quence” (1658); "A New World of English Words, or a General Dictionary" (1658), based on Blount's “ Glossographia Anglicana ;” and “ Theatrum Poetarum, or a Complete Coīlection of the Poets . . . With some Observations and Reflections upon many of them" (1675). See notes on pp. 92, 94.
1. 14, the “Spread Eagle." Formerly most shops and offices had signs. In the eighteenth century they began to be confined to taverns. The eagle with extended wings was the crest of the Milton family.
1. 18, Thomas Young. A Scotchman, and a Puritan. He was one of the authors of “ Smectymnuus," see p. 12. He was made Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, by the Puritans (in contravention of the statutes) in 1644. He conformed in 1662, and died Vicar of Stowmarket in Suffolk.
Milton's fourth Latin Elegy, written at the age of 18, is dedicated to Young. Globe, p. 586, Aldine ii. 333.
l. 22, St. Paul's School. Founded in 1509-12 by Dr. Colet, Dean of St. Paul's, at the east side of St. Paul's Churchyard.
1. 23, Mr. Gill. This was Alexander Gill, of Corpus Christi College, Oxford (1564-1635), who was high master of St. Paul's School for 1608 to 1635. His son, also named Alexander (15971642), was at first a schoolfellow of Milton, and then usher at St. Paul's. When he went to Oxford Milton corresponded with him. In 1635 this younger Alexander Gill succeeded his father as high-master. Both were Puritans in doctrine and sympathy.
1. 24, entered a sizar. We should now say, entered as a sizar. A sizar at Cambridge is a student who pays lower fees to his college, and receives his “sizes” or allowances of bread, butter, etc., free. Originally the sizars, like the servitors at Oxford, performed certain menial duties for the pensioners, in fact acted as fags for them. Johnson here makes a mistake, for Milton was entered as a “lesser pensioner," that is, as an ordinary student. See Masson, “Life,” i. 75-76.
1. 28, Politian. Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494), was one of the most brilliant scholars of the Italian Renascence. He is considered one of the greatest of modern Latin poets, while his vernacular poetry, and especially his “ Orfeo " (said to be the