« AnteriorContinuar »
so deeply and could discern so finely was not likely to be baffled by the most profound, or to be eluded by the most subtle and aërial mischief. In the present instance there were many points on which the licenser's suspicion would rest. “ The sun new sisen,” was an apt representative of Charles, lately seated on his throne: “ The horizontal misty air,” by which he was “shorn of his beams," was the political atmosphere thickened with the breaths of republicans and levellers, who did what they could to diminish the king's glory: " the moon,” by whose intervention the sun was eclipsed, might be the memory of Cromwell which darkened the fame of Charles, and,
by bringing before the popular mind the man who acquired Dunkirk, would naturally place him in eclipsing opposition to the man who sold it. In the “ disastrous twilight,” which was “shed over half the nations," was clearly to be seen the tyranny of Charles, by which the Scots, the northern half of the nation, were reduced to a most calamitous condition; and finally, Charles was a monarch, and might perhaps be “ perplexed with fear of change;" or, if the licenser's acuteness should discover in this last application of the simile a confusion of the cause with the effect, and should consequently
scruple to admit it, the monarchs whom the sun in eclipse thus perplexes might be the two archbishops, in gloomy and trembling apprehension on their metropolitan thrones, in consequence of their master's unpopular; and of course dangerous conduct. So far therefore are we from being surprised at the good licenser's hesitation in the case before us, that we are rather inclined to blame him for negligence of duty, when he permitted a passage so pregnant with political rancour to issue under his imprimatur into the world.
The time, during which this noble poem engaged the attention of its author, cannot be very accurately ascertained. We have already remarked, on the authority of Philips, that it formed a part of Milton's intellectual occupation immediately after the termination of his controversy with Morus, about the end of the year 1655; and Richardson, from some expressions in a lettero of the author's to Henry, Oldenburgh in 1654, is inclined to refer its commencement to an earlier date. As it was certainly finished in 1665, we may venture to assign the term of ten or of eleven years as that within the limits of which it was composed. If we now reflect on the
• P. W. vi. 127.
poet's situation during one half of this time; if we consider that he was not only blind and advanced far towards old age, but was also the object of factious hostility and of popular neglect; that, deprived of part of his small fortune, he was saved from actual poverty only by the contraction of his wants; that
encompassed with dangers as well as with darkness;" and, though snatched, as it were by miracle, from the vengeance of the jaw, was still fearful of the assassin's ' dagger;
p The fact is recorded by Richardson.
“ He was in perpetual terror of being assassinated; though he had escaped the talons of the law he knew he had made himself enemies in abundance. He was so dejected, he would lie awake whole nights, &c. This Dr. Tancred Robinson had from a relation of Milton's, Mrs. Walker of the Temple.” (Richard. Remarks, &c. p. xciv.)
In his note on that line, « In darkness and with dangers compass'd round," the same writer observes, “ This is explained by a piece of secret history for which we have good authority. Paradise Lost was written after the restoration when Milton apprehended himself to be in danger of his life, first, from public vengeance, (having been very deeply engaged against the royal party,) and, when safe by pardon, from private malice and resentment. He was always in fear; much alone; and slept ill. When restless, he would ring for the person, who wrote for him, (which was his daughter commonly,) to write what he composed, which sometimes flowed with great ease.” Id. p. 291.
These apprehensions were not those of a weak mind, or felt without sufficient cause. The murder of Doryslaus and of Ascham, at the Hague and at Madrid, had shown to the world that royalist vengeance could assassinate; and the fate of Ludlow»
that he was unprovided with any assistance in his literary labours, but that of a girl, or of an occasional friend to read to him, and to hold the pen as he dictated, we cannot be otherwise than astonished at the boldness which could undertake, and at the inexhaustible energy of mind which could carry to its' accomplishment a poem so extended in its plan, and so magnificent in its execution as the Paradise Lost.
The origin of this great production, or the first spark which kindled the idea in the poet's mind, has been made the subject of curious, and perhaps over-anxious inquiry. On his visit to England in 1727, Voltaire suggested that the hint of the Paradise Lost had been supplied by the Adamo a poor drama, stuffed with bombast, conceit, and allegory, written by one Andreini a strolling player of Italy, This suggestion by the lively Frenchman obtained little regard at the time when it was offered; and it has since been contemptuously rejected by Dr. Johnson. From its adoption however by Mr. Hayley and Dr. Warton, it has acquired some new importance; and, when fully examined, it appears by no means to be destitute of probability.
pursued with daggers into the heart of Switzerland, fully demonstrated that, at the time of which we are speaking party rancour had resigned no portion of its revengeful and sanguinary atrocity,
Paradise Lost, as we know not only on the testimony of Philips but from the author's MSS, preserved in the library of Trinity coll. Cambridge, was first designed in the form of a tragedy, to be opened with the address of Satan to the sun, now inserted in the beginning of the fourth book of the
In the different schemes which we possess of this projected drama, we observe various allego
? These MSS, of which we have before bad occasion to speak, were found aniong some papers belonging to Sir Henry Newton Puckering, who was a great benefactor to Trinity Coll, library. They were subsequently collected, and bound by the care and at the expence of Mr. Clarke, at that time a fellow of Trin. Coll. and afterwards one of the King's Counsel. These MSS consist, in the author's own hand, of two draughts of his letter to a friend who had pressed him to engage in some profession; several of his juvenile poems, a few of his sonnets, and a variety of dramatic schemes, some on the subject of Paradise Lost, and many on other subjects taken from sacred or profane history. In these MSS are numerous interlineations and corrections; stops are seldom used; and the verses frequently begin with small letters. Among these papers are copies of some of the sonnets, composed after the author's loss of sight, which are written by different hands.
Dr. Pearce, who was afterwards bishop of Rochester, in the preface to his remarks on Bentley's edition of the Paradise Lost, supposes that Milton derived the hint of his poem from an Italian tragedy called Il Paradiso perso; which Dr. Pierce, however, bad not seen, and which we know of no person who has seen. Preface to Remarks, &c. p.7.