Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“
[merged small][ocr errors]

which he had discharged with so much integrity and ability under Cromwell; but he persisted in refusing it, tho' the 'wife pressed his compliance;." Thou « art in the right, says, he; you, as other women, " would ride in your coach; for me, my aim is to « live and die an honest man." What is more certain is, that in 166 1 he published his Accedence commenced Grammar, and a tract of Sir Walter Raleigh intitled Aphorisms of State; as in 1658 he had published another piece of Sir Walter Raleigh intitled the Cabinet Council discabinated, which he printed from a manuscript, that had lain many years in his hands, and was given him for a true copy by a learned man at his death, who had collected feveral such pieces: an evident fign, that he thought it no mean employment, nor unworthy of a man of genius, to be an editor of the works of great authors. It was while he lived in Jewen Street, that Elwood the quaker (as we learn from the history of his life written by his own hand) was first intro duced to read to him; for having wholly lost his fight, he kept always some body or other to perform that office, and usually the son of some gentleman of his acquaintance, whom he took in kindness, that he might at the fame time improve him in his learning. Elwood was recommended to him by Dr. Paget, and went to his house every afternoon except Sunday, and read to him such books in the Latin tongue, as Milton thought proper. And Milton told him, that if he would have the benefit of the Latin tongue, not only to read and understand Latin authors, but to converse with foreigners either abroad or at homę, he must learn the foreign pro

nunciation

to me.

nunciation; and he instructed him how to read accordingly. And having a curious ear, he understood by my tone, says Elwood, when I understood what I read, and when I did not; and he would stop me, and examin me, and open the most difficult passages

But it was not long after his third marriage, that he left Jewen Street, and removed to a house in the Artillery Walk leading to Bunhill Fields : and this was his last stage in this world; he continued longer in this house than he had done in any other, and lived here to his dying day: only when the plague began to rage in London in 1665, he removed to a small house at St. Giles Chalfont in Buckinghamshire, which Elwood had taken for him and his family; and there he remained during that dreadful calamity; but after the sickness was over, and the city was cleansed and made safely habitable again, he returned to his house in London.

His great work of Paradise Loft had principally engaged his thoughts for some years past, and was now completed. It is probable, that his first design of writing an epic poem was owing to his conversations at Naples with the Marquis of Villa about Tasso and his famous poem of the delivery of Jerusalem; and in a copy of verses presented to that nobleman before he left Naples, he intimated his intention of fixing upon King Arthur for his hero. And in an eclogue, made soon after his return to England upon the death of his friend and schoolfellow Dealati, he proposed the same design and the fame subject, and declared his ambition of writing something in his native language,

[ocr errors]

which might render his name illustrious in these
ilands, though he should be obscure and inglorious
to the rest of the world. And in other parts of his
works, after he had engaged in the controversies of
the times, he still promised to produce some noble
poem or other at a fitter season; but it doth not ap-
pear that he had then determined upon the subject,
and King Arthur had another fate, being reserved
for the pen of Sir Richard Blackmore. The first
hint of Paradise Lost is said to have been taken from
an Italian tragedy; and it is certain, that he first de-
figned it a tragedy himself, and there are several
plans of it in the form of a tragedy still to be seen in
the author's own manuscript preserved in the library
of Trinity College Cambridge. And it is probable,
that he did not barely sketch out the plans, but also
wrote some parts of the drama itself. His nephew
Philips informs us, that some of the verses at the
beginning of Satan's speech, addressed to the fun in
the fourth book, were shown to him and some
others as designed for the beginning of the tragedy,
several
years

before the poem was begun : and many other passages might be produced, which plainly appear to have been originally intended for the scene, and are not so properly of the epic, as of the tragic strain. It was not till after he was disengaged from the Salmasian controversy, which ended in 1655, that he began to mold the Paradise Lost in its present form; but after the Restoration, when he was dismissed from public business, and freed from controversy of every kind, he prosecuted the work with closer application. Mr. Philips relates a very remarkable circumstance in the composure of this

poem,

poem, which he says he had reason to remember, as it was told him by Milton himself, that his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal, and that what he attempted at other times was not to his fatisfaction, tho he courted his fancy never fo much. Mr. Toland imagins that Philips might be mistaken as to the time, because our author, in his Latin elegy, written in his twentieth year, upon the approach of the spring, feemeth to say just the contrary, as if he could not make any verses to his fatisfaction till the spring begun: and he says farther that a judicious friend of Milton's informed him, that he could never compose well but in spring and autumn. But Mr. Richardson cannot comprehend, that either of these accounts is exactly true, or that a man with such a work in his head can suspend it for fix months together, or only for one; it may go on more Nowly, but it must go on: and this laying it afide is contrary to that eagerness to finish what was begun, which he says was his temper in his epistle to Deodati dated Sept. 2. 1637; After all Mr. Philips, who had the perusal of the poem from the beginning, by twenty or thirty verses at a time, as it was composed, and having not been shown any for a considerable while as the summer came on, inquired of the author the reason of it, could hardly be mistaken with regard to the time : and it is easy to conceive, that the poem might go on much more flowly in summer than in other parts of the year; for notwithstanding all that poets may say of the pleasures of that season, I imagin most persons find by experience, that they can compose better at

any

[ocr errors]

own, his

[ocr errors]

any other time, with more facility and with more fpirit, than during the heat and languor of summer, Whenever the poem was wrote, it was finished in 1665, and as Elwood says was shown to him that fame year at St. Giles Chalfont, whither Milton had retired to avoid the plague, and it was lent to him to peruse it and give his judgment of it: and confidering the difficulties which the author lay under, his uneasiness on account of the public affairs and his

age and infirmities, his gout and blindness, his not being in circumstances to maintain an amanuensis, but obliged to make use of any hand that came next to write his verses as he made them, it is really wonderful, that he should have the spirit to undertake such a work, and much more, that he Thould ever bring it to perfection. And after the poem was finished, still new difficulties retarded the publication of it. It was in danger of being suppressed thro’ the malice or ignorance of the licencer, who took exception at some passages, and particularly at that noble fimile, in the first book, of the fun in an eclipse, in which he fancied that he had discovered treason. It was with difficulty too that the author could sell the copy; and he sold it at last only for five pounds, but was to receive five pounds, more after the sale of 1300 of the first impression, and five pounds more after the sale of as many of the second impression, and five more after the sale of as many of the third, and the number of each impression waş not to exceed 1500. what a poor consideration was this for such an inestimable performance ! and how much more do others get by the works of great authors, than

the

1500. And

« AnkstesnisTęsti »