« AnteriorContinuar »
One of the earliest encomiums which this volume of Milton seems to have received, was from the pen of Addison. In a specTATOR, written 1711, he mentions Milton's Laughter in the opening of L'ALLEGRO as a very poetical figure: and adds, citing the lines at large, that Euphrofyne’s groupe of Mirth is finely described." But this specimen and recommendation, although from fo favourite a writer, and so elegant a critic, was probably premature, and I suspect contributed but little to make the poem much better known. In the mean time I will venture to pronounce, that although the citation immediately resulted from the subject of Addison's paper, he thought it the finest groupe or description either in this piece or its companion the PENSBROSO.
Had Addison ever entered into the spirit and genius of both poems, he certainly did not want opportunities of bringing them forward, by exhibiting passages of a more poetical character. It has been observed in the Essay on the Genius of Pope, that Milton's nephew, E. Philips, in his “ Tractatus de carmine “ dramatico poetarum veterum cui subjungitur “ Enumeratio Poetarum, Lond. 1670." mentioning his uncle's PARADISE LOST, adds,
præter alia quæ fcripfit elegantiffime tum An“ glicè tum Latine." p. 270. And Toland, from the fame quarter, says of comUS, “ like which
• piece, in the peculiar disposition of the story, “ the sweetness of the numbers, the justness of “ the expression, and the moral it teaches, there " is nothing extant in any language.” LIFE, prefixed to Milton's Profe Works, Amst. 1698. And of LYCIDAS, “ the Monody is one of the “ finest (poems) he ever wrote.” Ibid. p. 44. These indeed are early testimonies; but as coming from his relations, are not properly admiffible.
My father used to relate, that when he once, at Magdalene college Oxford, mentioned in high terms, this volume to Mr. Digby, the intimate friend of Pope, Mr. Digby expressed much surprise that he had never heard Pope speak of them, went home and immediately gave them an attentive reading, and asked Pope if he knew any thing of this hidden treasure. Pope availed himfelf of the question : and accordingly, we find him soon afterwards sprinkling his ELOISA TO ABELARD with epithets and phrases of a new form and found, pilfered from comus and the PENSEROso. It is a phenomenon in the history of English poetry, that Pope, a poet not of Milton's pedigree, should be their first copier. He was
• It ought to be added, that in the fourth edition of Dryden's Miscellanies, published 1716, and as it has been reported at the fuggestion of Elijah Fenton, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas, were inserted in that collection, and they are much praised by Fena ton in his life of Milton, 1725. Il Penferoso was quoted in the Spectator, No. 425. in the year 1713. in a paper on the Seasons.
however conscious, that he might borrow from a book then scarcely remembered, without the hazard of a discovery, or the imputation of plagiarism. Yet the theft was so flight, as hardly to deserve the name: and it must be allowed, that the experiment was happily and judiciously applied, in delineating the sombrous scenes of the pensive Eloisa’s convent, the solitary Paraclete.
At length, we perceive these poems emerging in the criticism of the times. In 1733, doctor Pearce published his Review of the Text of PARADISE LOST, where they frequently furnish collateral evidences in favour of the established state of that text; and in refutation of Bentley's chimerical corrections. In the following year, the joint labour of the two Richardson's produced Explanatory Notes on the PARADISE LOST, where they repeatedly lend their affiftance, and are treated in such a style of criticism, as shews that their beauties were truly felt. Soon afterwards, such respectable names as Jortin, Warburton, and Hurd, conspired in examining their excellencies, in adjusting their claims to praise, and extending their reputation. They were yet further recommended to the public regard. In 1738, COMUS was presented on the stage at Drury-Lane, with musical accompaniments by Dr. Arne, and the application of ad
ditional songs, selected and adapted from L'ALLEGRO, and other pieces of this volume : and although not calculated to shine in theatric exhibition for those very reasons which constitute its essential and specific merit, from this introduction to notice, COMUS grew popular as a poem. L'ALLEGRO and IL PENSEROSO were set to music by Handel in 1741 ; and his expressive harmonies here received the honour which they have so seldom found, but which they fo justly deserve, of being married to immortal verse. Not long afterwards, LYCIDAS was imitated by Mr. Mason : as L'ALLEGRO and IL PENSEROSO had been before, in his Il Bellicoso ed Il Pacifico. In the mean time, the PARADISE LOST was acquiring more numerous readers: the manly melodies of blank-verse, which after its revival by Philips had been long neglected, caught the public ear: and the whole of Milton's poetical works, associating their respective powers as in one common interest, jointly and reciprocally cooperated in diffusing and forming just ideas of a more perfect species of poetry. A visible revolution succeeded in the general cast and character of the national composition. Our versification contracted a new colouring, a new structure and phraseology; and the school of Milton rofe in emulation of the School of Pope,
An editor of Milton's juvenile poems cannot but express his concern, in which however he may have been anticipated by his reader, that their number is so inconsiderable. With Milton's mellow hangings, delicious as they are, we reasonably rest contented: but we are justified in regretting that he has left fo few of his early blossoms, not only because they are so exquisitely sweet, but because so many more might have naturally been expected. And this regret
yet aggravated, when we consider the cause which prevented the production of more, and intercepted the progress of fo promising a spring: when we recollect, that the vigorous portion of his life, that those years in which imagination is on the wing, were unworthily and unprofitably wasted on temporary topics, on elaborate but perishable dissertations in defence of innovation and anarchy. "To this employment he sacrificed his eyes, his health, his repose, his native propensities, his elegant studies. Smit with the deplorable polemics of puritanism, he suddenly ceased to gaze on such hghts as youthful poets dream. The numerous and noble plans of tragedy which he had deliberately formed with the discernment and selection of a great poetical mind, were at once interrupted and abandoned; and have now left to a disappointed pofterity only a few naked outlines, and confused sketches. Instead of embellishing original tales of chivalry,