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said he, 'the book lies on my hands as waste paper.' When Lord Burkhurst had read the copy, he sent it to Dryden; who soon returned it with the answer: This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too.' He afterwards spoke of it in high terms to sir W. L. a north country gentleman; who exclaimed, Why, Mr. Dryden, 'tis not in rhyme.' 'No,' replied Dryden, nor would I have done my Virgil in rhyme, if I was to begin it again.' Richardson says, that sir W. L. told him this thing himself;' and that the anecdote of Lord Burkhurst was derived from Mr. Tancred Robinson, an eminent physician, who had it from Mr. Shepherd's own mouth.*
Mr. Malone's first difficulty is, to conceive, how sir John Denham should get a sheet of the poem wet from the press. Neither the proof nor finished sheets, he says, are subject to the inspection of any person but the author, or the persons to whom he may confide them; and there is no evidence or probability, that any intimacy subsisted between sir John Denham and Milton.' It is not likely, that the proofs were 'subject to the inspection' of their blind author, who could have done them little service; and Mr. Malone takes it for granted, that sir John Denham could not have procured a sheet, unless he had himself been entrusted with the whole impression. For our own parts, we can easily conceive, that, being an author himself, and consequently a haunter of printers' shops, he might, in casting his eye over the piles of sheets in the warehouse, or by the side of the press, accidentally light upon a passage he liked; and, expressing his admiration to the bookseller, wanted nothing more than such an assurance of praise, to obtain as many sheets as he pleased. Indeed, conscious of being well known, he might even snatch up a sheet, without ceremony, and carry it off, without leave.
But, in the next place, says Mr. Malone, during a great part of the year 1667, when Milton's poem probably was passing through the press, the knight was disordered in his understanding.' There is no evidence, that Paradise Lost was passing through the press during the greater part of 1667. It is confessed to have been printed before April, of that year, when Milton sold the copy right; and we think we have proved, that it was put to press some time in the preceding year. Johnson says, that Denham's frenzy did not last long:' he died in March, 1668;* and, as Mr. Malone only makes him crazy for a part of 1667, if the poem were printed early in that year, or any time in the year before, the knight may still run a chance of having been in a sane mood at the time. His second marriage is said to have produced his delirium; but it has been more than suggested, that it came and went at his pleasure;† and we may observe, without meaning it as a sarcasm, that there were doubtless many honest people, who would take his extravagant encomium on a nameless book, as a clear proof of his being out of his senses.
This difficulty, then, may be overcome. we are told, a stronger objection remains behind; for, upon examination, it will be found, that Denham, who is said to have blazoned Paradise Lost in the house of commons, was never a member of Parliament.' Mr. Malone might have spared himself this examination; for who said that Denham ever was a member of parliament? Richardson merely tells us, that he came into the house;' and do none come into the house besides members? It is, also, gratuitously assumed, that Denham 'blazoned' the poem, and 'pronounced his eulogy upon it in a full house of commons.' One would
Joh. Life of Denh.
+ Hamilton's Mem. of Count Grammont. Translated from the French, 2d edit. Lond. 1809.
think Richardson had asserted, that the knight first called the house to order; and then proclaimed, in an audible voice, that he held in his hand a part of the finest poem, that ever was written in any language or in any age. It is further assumed, that the story supposes Dryden never to have seen the poem, till two years after its appearance; and this circumstance is considered as so decisive of Richardson's credit, that Mr. Malone triumphantly puts down a note of admiration. Now, it is not denied, that Dryden may often have seen the poem; but, as he had become an ardent royalist, and as he knew himself to be incessantly watched by a host of enemies, it is not likely, that he durst be caught reading any thing of Milton's, till it had passed through the hands of a nobleman. The account, besides, does not necessarily suppose him to have read it, on this occasion, for the first time. Richardson says, he sent back the poem in a short time;' and he might, like many others, have retained his opinion in silence, a year, or two years, before Lord Burkhurst emboldened him to express it. Mr. Malone proceeds to heighten the absurdity, by repeating, with equal triumph, the old story of there having been 1300 copies sold in two years; nor does he perceive, that he runs himself into a much greater absurdity, when he says, instead of almost the whole impression lying on the bookseller's hands, 1300 copies out of the 1500 copies of this poem had been already disprised.' This may be a decisive fact to those, who do not stop at believing, that sixteen copies were sold, during the first two years, where one could be disposed of, for the five years following; but, to those, who prefer a less absurdity to a greater, we think it may be safely submitted, whether Mr. Malone has a right to conclude, that 'this anecdote must be rejected as wholly unworthy
* Mal. edit. of Dryd. Lond. 1800. vol. i. p. 112, et seq.
It is extremely uncomfortable for Englishmen to believe, that their ancestors did not immediately discern the beauties of a poem, which they now consider as the boast of the nation. Each succeeding biographer and critic, accordingly, thinks himself bound to prove, that it was hailed with abundant praise, both express and implied; and nothing can equal the satisfaction, with which they parade a new witness, with or without name, who has said any thing, for or against Paradise Lost. First, there is Edward Phillips, the nephew of the author,-if he did not consider himself as partly the author; for he tells us, 'he had the perusal of the poem from the very beginning for some years, as he went from time to time to visit him, in a parcel of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time, which, being written by whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction as to the orthography and pointing.** It would have been a wonder, indeed, of Edward Phillips had failed to applaud his uncle's performance; and we can only say, that his praise, even in the translation of Mr. Godwin, is given with a great deal more of reserve, than was to have been expected from a person in his situation. The poem will receive, if I mistake not,' says he, 'the name of truly heroic, and is adjudged by the suffrages of many, not unqualified to decide such a question, to have reached the perfection of this species of poetry.' This is the language of a man, who is conscious, that he is speaking against the general voice; and only durst venture into public with his own opinion, under cover of the subjunctive mood. In the original, indeed, it can hardly be called his own opinion. He relies upon those, whom he calls good judges; and tells us, it is because they have praised the poem, that he feels inclined to call it truly heroic. Verè heroicum, ni fallor: plurium enim suffragiis, &c.'‡ Ph. ap. Godw. p. 376. + Godw. p. 145. Enum. Compend, Poet. ap. Buch, 1669,
The younger nephew, too, must be summoned upon the same side; though he bitterly reviles the author, in one book, and speaks with contempt of his poem, in another. It is enough, that he has mentioned the two names. He will count; and may kill his man. In 1676, he wrote a continuation of Heath's Chronicle; and, under the date of 1649, he has the following passage upon the man, who enabled him to be so abusive: To better the condition of the king our sovereign, Charles the second, as to his kingdom, came forth several defences of his authority in several treatises, especially that of Salmasius, called the Royal Defence, (which one Milton, since stricken with blindness, cavilled at, who wrote also against that incomparable book and remains of king Charles the martyr, about this time produced to light, though endeavoured by all means to be suppressed, called Eikon Basilike, in an impudent and blasphemous libel, called Iconaclastes, since deservedly burnt by the common executioner) doth justly challenge to be here registered.** Under the date of 1664, the burning of books, by the common executioner, is justified upon the same principle, that men may be hanged after they are dead. 'Nor can we omit,' says he, 'the punishment of a criminal book, long after the author's decease. For with the same justice may books, as well as men, be executed for treason.'t
In 1687, the same author translated Don Quixote; and, among numberless other English subjects, he contrives to introduce Paradise Lost as one of the books, which Don Diego de Miranda says, his son did not relish. 'He spends whole days in his criticisms,' says Diego, whether Homer said well or ill in such a verse of his Iliads, whether Martial were bawdy or no in such an epigram, whether such or such a verse in Virgil ought to be understood in
* Ap, Godw. p. 173.
+ Ibid. p. 174.