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ship displayed in the latter: and while it impressed more deeply the thoughtful mind with the majestic superiority of Milton, it would give to this obscure poet, his rightful honor,—that of having been the first to tell in epic verse the story of the Paradise Lost.
Thus far was written in the North American Review in 1860. A few words more are appended by the writer of this Introduction who has carefully copied out the poem as it appears in the solitary printed copy in the British Museum:
Paradise Lost was the outgrowth of that great moral change which occurred in England from the latter half of Elizabeth's reign to the meeting of the Long Parliament. During this era the Bible became the one book, the absorbirg study of the people, and no Englishman however illiterate, was ignorant of its sacred teachings. It was read aloud in the churches, at all private gatherings not of a frivolous character, and at the domestic fireside. And its sublime truths every where kindled a startling enthusiasm. Other causes than religion contributed to the popularity of the book. There was practically no literature in England at this period, no history, no romance, no poetry save the little known verse of Chaucer. It is not surprising then that crowds gathered at all the churches on Sundays to hear it read, and that it took entire possession of minds unoccupied by any rival literature. It thus became the standard of the English language, and its literary effect was less than its social. The power of the book over the mass of the people showed itself in a thousand superficial ways, and in none more conspicuously than in the influence it exerted on ordinary speech. It formed the whole literature, we must repeat, which was practically acceptable to ordinary Englishmen. The mass of picturesque allusion and illustration which in this day we borrow from a thousand books our fathers were forced to borrow from one; and the borrowing
was the easier and the more natural as the range of the Hebrew literature fitted it for the expression of every phase of feeling.
The whole character and temper of the people was changed and new views of life and man superseded the old. A new moral and religious impulse spread through every class. Literature reflected the general tendency of the time, and Grotius, the great jurist, who was the Dutch Envoy to England ten years after the death of Elizabeth, says: “Theology rules there—all point their studies in that direction.” The whole nation became, in fact, a church. It cannot be doubted then that Thomas Peyton who had improved his natural parts with the acquisition of learning betook himself with zeal and religious devotion to the study of the Scriptures as a means of grounding himself in the principles of religion, and that we owe the following work as well to the spirit of the times as to his genius.
Very shortly after the completion of the present work, before he had had time to execute the continuation of the same which he promised, Peyton died at the early age of thirty-one, in the year 1626. No knowledge seems to have survived of his poem, and it only came to light about seventy years ago when Lord Bolland purchased the copy now in the British Museum at the sale of the late Mr. Brindley's library, Feb. 220, 1816, paying for it £19. 58., about $97.00, and the title page of the second part or volume at the sale of the same gentleman's prints for £2. 12s. 6d. This poem is pointed out by Rev. Henry J. Todd, Archdeacon of Cleveland, in his life of Milton (Vol. I., p. 298), as one of those relating to the state of Innocence which preceded Par. adise Lost. It was evidently unknown to Hallam and other writers on the literature of England, and it is due to the memory of the author, who was a man of genius, and a poet in the highest sense of the term, and to the literature of the seventeenth century that both the writer
and his work should be rescued from unmerited . oblivion,
Little more remains to be told of our author. In none of our investigations have we been able to learn whether he ever married. It is most probable he died a bachelor. On a visit to the Parish church of Isleham, County Cambridge, England, a church built by the Peyton family, and where the tombs of many of them are still preserved, the writer could find no monument to his memory. He probably died and was buried in London, though no tablet in Westminster Abbey indicates that he found a resting place there. As little as we know of him, we can readily gather, from what he wrote, that he must have been a well informed and agreeable gentleman, as well as pious Christian, and that his talents were exerted to lead others into the same path of usefulness, in which his own steps had trodden. He evidently saw the value of learning and tried to induce others to study with the same zeal which undoubtedly rendered him conspicuous among his fellows. He must have felt deeply the value of Christianity and tried to lead others to the same waters of salvation in which he had so copiously and freely participated. His work shows that he was industrious and painstaking, of extensive learning and great humility. To which it is safe to say that he joined general benevolence and generosity to the poor.
His premature death, when he had already given evidence of rare genius and promise of future usefulness, cannot but be esteemed for Eng. land a national calamity as also a serious loss to our common literature-British and American. Dimly as he is seen through the mists which envelope his career he brings to mind some words of one of our popular writers: “It is interesting to notice how some minds seem almost to create themselves, springing up under every disadvantage and working their solitary but irresistible way through a thousand obstacles. Nature seems to delight in disappointing the assiduities
of art, with which it would rear dullness to maturity; and to glory in the vigor, and luxuriance of her chance productions. She scatters the seeds of genius to the winds, and though some may perish among the stony places of the world, and some may be choked by the thorns and brambles of early adversity, yet others will now and then strike root even in the clefts of the rock, struggle bravely up into sunshine, and spread over their sterile birth-place all the beauties of vegetation."