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this way or that way. He is a great admirer of Ho. race, Persius, Juvenal, and Tibullus; but of your modern writers he makes small account. Among the rest, he has a particular pique against Du Burtas and Paradise Lost, which, he says, has neither rhyme nor reason."* This, says Mr. Godwin, is certainly a homage paid at the shrine of Milton's fame. It is not thus that an obscure and inglorious poet will ever be spoken of.'t We suppose, Du Burtas is a renowned and glorious poet; and was, on that account, named before Milton in the same sentence of damnatory praise. Those, at any rate, who are determined not to think, that Du Burtas was obscure and inglorious,' will have this decisive fact, and Mr. Godwin's authority, to bear them out.
The next witnesses are Barrow and Marvel; who prefixed laudatory verses to the second edition of Paradise Lost. We should like to know, if there was any author, in those days—whether he wrote in poetry, or prose, upon law, or physic, or divinity, or politics, or any thing else,--who could not find two friends to write a few lines in praise of his book? Had these precious verses even appeared in the first edition, it would have been no proof of merit. It was the fashion of the times to preface all works with such encomiums. Jonson's Sejanus called forth eight ;+ and Browne's Pastorals had nineteen.Ş They were as necessary as a title page; and many a forgotten book has more copies of verses to the first and only edition, than Paradise Lost has to the second. Again, we are told by these eulogists, that Dryden wrote a hexastich upon the author; but we are not told, that, reflecting upon the un. popularity of the poem, the same poet once thought to make it better known by tagging it with
rhyme.* There is, it seems, a Dr. Woodford, who, in a Paraphrase upon the Canticles, published in 1679, has something in praise of Paradise Lost. There is a Samuel Slater, too, who, in the same year, 'was much taken with the learned Mr. Milton's cast and fancy;' though he thought his own correcter pen' might improve that gentleman's style.'! Roscommon cited a passage from Paradise Lost, in his Essay on Translated Verse, published in 1680.9 An anonymous translator of Jacob Ctesius, in the same year, talks of a Cowley, and a Milton.'ll Sheffield's Essay on Poetry, when first printed in 1682, contained some lines, in which Milton was placed below both Torquato and Spencer; but, in a subsequent edition, the names were transposed, and Milton placed above both. The writer of the noblest epic, he says, in the first,
Must above Cowley, Gay and Milton too prevail,
Succeed where great Torquato, and our greater Spencer fáil, In the second,
Must above Tasso's lofty flights prevail,
Succeed where Spencer, and even Milton fail. In the next year, the situation of paradise was * found out,' by an unknown author; who had occasion to quote some verses from the fourth book of Milton's poem. The first book was translated into Latin in 1685; and, two years afterwards, another nameless author, in a Poem to the Memory of Waller, is detected in using the name of Milton.** Atterbury praised him in 1690: a Mr. W. W., in a book upon Ecclesiastes, published in the following year, commends him for rejecting rhyme; and Patrick Hume wrote annotations upon the poem, in 1695.ft
Scot. Dryd. vol. i.
Todd, vol. i. p. 114, ** Ibid. p. 112,
Id. ibid. 1+ Ibid. p. 115.
Mr. Godwin brings in the Athenian Mercury as • paying early honours to Paradise Lost;' nor does he seem to consider it as at all an unfavourable circumstance, that this author, twenty-five years after the poem had been published, seriously propounds and discusses the question, whether Waler or Milton was the greatest poet?* In 1694, Charles Gildon, in a volume of Miscellaneous Letters, devotes one to the "Vindication of Mr. Milton's Paradise Lost.'t. The poem had now been published nearly thirty years; and yet, so little had it exalted the fame of the author, that Gildon can only speak of him under the epithet of Mr. Some of the other testimonies offend our ear in the same way; and, indeed, in reading the praises of them all, a modern can hardly help imagining how he should feel, if a person were to tell him, as a piece of information, by the by, that this Iliad, by Mr. Homer, is a very fine poem.'
There are two witnesses of a different description. Mr. Godwin considers it as a good omen, that, in 1677, the celebrated Thomas Rhymer, the loudest and the fiercest of all the adversaries that ever assailed the reputation of Shakspeare, in his Tragedies of the Last Age Considered, threatens shortly to issue from the press, some reflections on that Paradise Lost of Milton's, which some are pleased to call a poem.'+ It was now ten years since the poem appeared ; and Rhymer probably seeing, that it began to creep slowly towards fame, threatened to spurn it back to its original obscurity. Rhymer and Dennis were critics of the same character; yet Mr. Godwin is in such a strait for testi. monies, that the censure of the one, and the praise of the other, are considered as equally honourable to his author of Paradise Lost.' Dennis published Letters on Milton and Congreve, in 1696; and
strange to tell he gave the former his due meed of praise. If we had been to choose the most conclusive argument against the original fame of Paradise Lost, perhaps it would have been exactly the fact here stated. When did Dennis ever censure any thing, which was not praised by others? Or, when did he ever praise any thing, which others had not either condemned, or passed by in silence? That he acted from this perversity of motive, on the present occasion, is evident from a passage, afterwards cited by Mr. Godwin, in which he congratulates himself on having given Paradise Lost its first start into celebrity. I was the first;' says he, 'to do justice to this great pattern of heroic poetry among the moderns, in 1696; and Addison came fifteen years after, and has run away with the ho. nour.'* That such a poem should have needed the praises of either of these competitors, at the distance of thirty or forty years from its publication, is not the least among the proofs of its previous unpopularity.
It would have been better, if these idolaters had not descended to particulars, in endeavouring to persuade us, that Paradise Lost was adequately lauded on its first appearance. Had they left the subject in dubious generality, our present veneration for the author might easily have peopled the vacuity with a host of admirers, equally ready, with ourselves, to give the author all honour and praise. But, by attempting to enumerate the testimonies, they have only disclosed the paucity of their numbers, and the general obscurity of their characters. After leaving not a book unturned, which might possibly speak of the poem, and after raking up every person, who has alluded to the name of the author, whether for good, or evil, only about fifteen writers, learned and unlearned, known and un
known, inimical and friendly, have been found to mention the one or the other, for a tract of more than thirty years. Four, out of the fifteen, are authors of some celebrity themselves. Four of the remainder are anonymous; and, for any difference of fame or authority, they might all have been so. No person has ever undertaken to collect, in this manner, the evidences of Blackmore's celebrity; but we venture to say, that any diligent man shall get together more persons, who spoke of him and his poems, in one year, than have been found to mention Milton and Paradise Lost, in thirty. Indeed, if, to be much spoken of, is to be famous, we know few authors, who have a fairer chance of immortality, than sir Richard Blackmore. Nor were his friends all obscure individuals. Locke praised Prince Arthur: Moleneaux admired it;* and sir Edward Haward placed it upon a level with Paradise Lost. • The two elaborate poems of Blackmore and Milton,' said the latter, may, for the dignity of them, be well looked upon as the two grand examples of poetry.'t
Mr. Godwin makes much noise, because Paradise Lost was rendered into Latin, twenty-four years after it was published. “There is no species of evidence,' says he, that can be more decisive to the character and reception of a poet, than that which is afforded us by Hog's translation into Latin, of Paradise Lost.'# Now, it unfortunately happens, that, in this decisive species of evidence,' sir Ri. chard Blackmore transcends Milton by fifteen years. His Prince Arthur was published in 1695 ; and, five years afterwards, this very Mr. Hog turned the first book into Latin. Mr. Southey has said, that Cow
* Joh. Life of Blackm. + Scot. Dryd. vol. i. p. 100.
i Godw. p. 288. Hog never translated the poem at all; though he wrote a paraphrase in 1690. Todd, vol. i. pp. 201, 202List of Translations. Nos. III. and IV.
8 Ibid. p. 201. No. III. Mr. Godwin might have had a better in. stance; for the first book of Paradise Lost was Latinized in 1686. Id. ibid. No, I.