صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

to mention Valvasorie's Angeleida, published at Venice, in 1590; Marino's Struge degli Innocenti, translated by Crashaw in 1648; together with a number of other Italian poems, of which he never could get a sight.

In 1800, Mr. Dunstar undertook to prove, that the poetry of Du Burtas, a French author, 'contains more material prima stamina of Paradise Lost, than any other book whatever: and my hypothesis is,' he adds, 'that it positively laid the corner stone of that monumentum aere perennius."* Du Burtas was translated by Sylvester; and is said to have been a popular book when Milton first began to write poetry. If he laid the first stone, there was many a Spanish and Portuguese poet to assist in the su perstruction;-such, for instance, as Antonio Car. nazano, who wrote a Creazione del Mondo, in 1472; Gasparo Murtola, whose Poema Sacra, with the same name, appeared in 1608; Alonzo de Azevedo, who produced another Creacion, in 1615; and Luis de Camoens, who, in the same year, gave the world three cantos more, Da Creaçao et Compolicao do Homem.+ We had hoped, that these were the last claimants; but Mr. Todd, too, makes a discovery. Besides ten other Italian poems, which come in for a share, there is L'Adamo, written by one Pona, in 1644; from which Milton, we are told, acknowledged himself to have received some of his finest hints. Nor is this the end. L'Eva, published by Frederico Malipiero, in 1640, must go hand in hand with L'Adamo. And, after all, Mr. Turner thinks, 'there seems much more reason to give the honour to our venerable Cedmon,' an Anglo Saxon author, who wrote a poem on the Fall of the Angels, long enough before Milton or his epic was ever thought of. What part of Paradise Lost is left for its pretended author, the reader must now determine.


* Considerations on Milton's Early Reading, &c. Lond. 1800.
Tod, vol. ii. p. 243.
Tod. vol. ii. p. 251.
Id. ibid. p. 254-5. Pref. Hist. Ang. Sax. Lond. 1799.

We think, we have already proved, that he early conceived an idea of such a poem; and, when he tells us himself, that he 'pursues things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,' who can believe, that he had seen the cloud of books, that have just been enumerated? Lauder considered it as a mysterious fact, and Mr. Hayley, for once, is not afraid to think with Lauder, that Edward Phillips should pass over, in silence, almost all the authors, who have thus been roused from their slumbers.* It is not likely, that poor Edward Phillips ever dreamed of such beings.

Having thus tried to ascertain how Paradise Lost came to be written, it is now time to see how it was originally received. It used to be said, that Addison's Criticism gave it the earliest impulse of popularity; and Dr. Johnson, we believe, was the first who undertook to subvert so good a story. The slow sale and tardy reputation of this poem,' says he, have been always mentioned as evidences of neglected merit, and the uncertainty of literary fame; and inquiries have been made, and conjectures offered, about the causes of its long obscurity and late reception. But, has the case been truly stated? Have not lamentation and wonder been lavished on an evil that never was felt?' He then proceeds to state what few facts his indolence had suffered him to collect; and finally concludes, that the sale of Paradise Lost, was, considering all the circumstances, an uncommon example of the prevalence of genius.'t


Our readers will now be amused to hear Mr. Godwin scolding at the old moralist, as the original fabricator of the very story, which he thus laboured to discredit. 'I am happy in this place,' says the for

* Hayl. p. 245.

This remark was founded upon the supposition, that 1300 copies were sold in the first two years. We shall see, by and by, whether this supposition is warranted by the facts.


mer, to have occasion to contradict a wretched fancy of Dr. Johnson, respecting the progress of the character of Paradise Lost. Its reputation,' he says, 'still advanced, till the revolution put an end to the secrecy of love, and the poem broke into open view, with sufficient security of a kind reception."* Three scurrilous linest are now quoted upon the Doctor; and Mr. Godwin then goes on to disprove, what he calls his silly idea'-not by a pertinent deduction of facts and circumstances,but from the nature of man, in general, and the nature of Englishmen, in particular. 'Man,' he says, is not so poor a creature as Dr. Johnson imagines. Englishmen, however debased by the restoration, and the unprincipled politics of Charles the second, were of too generous a frame of spirit, to want to be taught by a king what they should admire, and to wait till a new revolution had unloosed their political fetters, before they should venture to give breath to their approbation. Even Philoxenus, the slave of the Sicilian tyrant, had the virtue to cry out, 'Lead me back to the mines,' rather than lend his voice to the lying commendation of the verses of his master.' This is indignant, and fine, and classical; but it is a most sorry argument ad homines, on this side of the Atlantic; and we must again ad mire the simplicity of the man, who, to prove that Englishmen praised Milton's verses, shows us, that Philoxenus refused to praise his master's.

The class of writers, to which the Hayleys and the Godwins belong, have conceived so horrid an idea of the iconoclast, who breaks or prostrates so many of their idols, that, partly through fright, and partly through infatuation, they think the destroyer is at hand, whenever their worship is disturbed

*Godw. Pph. p. 262.

-There's no such thing.
It was the slavish temper of his soul
That shaped the baseless notion.

Godw. pp. 262-3.

and, like the bewitched children of Connecticut, <cry out 'JOHNSON,' at every thing they see. He is a savage monster, who goes about to devour innocent opinions, trample upon pretty stories, and break up nests of enthusiasts. Systems bow before him; and the flight and howling of the meaner ani mals, give notice that the mammoth is in the neighbourhood. Thè dismay is but little diminished, though his bones are now laid in the dust; for, if, as was said of old, the den even of an absent lion is to be dreaded,' what must be the terror inspired by the mere haunts of a beast so much more tremendous? We hope the time draws near, when the realms of literature will be rid of this fright; and, when even such writers as Mr. Godwin will acknowledge, that, though Johnson overset many things, which might better have been left standing, he has cleared the ground of much rubbish, and chased away a multitude of idle opinions. Among the rest of his good deeds, we reckon his disproof of the tale which has occasioned these remarks; and, though we do not subscribe to every thing, which he has said upon the subject, a faithful examination of the facts will show, that he was right, at least, in the judgment, which has given such umbrage to Mr. Godwin.

How, in the first place, was a poem, like Paradise Lost, likely to be received in the age of the Stuarts? And, secondly, what was its actual reception? For the taste of the times, as it respected religion, we are willing to take Mr. Godwin's own account. The character of the two parties who engaged themselves for and against the house of Stuart,' says he, is not generally known. The assertors of liberty were not only at war with the encroachments of the princes who succeeded on the death of Elizabeth; they were also adherents of a religious party, called the puritans. In this character, they stood up for a purer form of worship and

a stricter course of moral discipline, and were fervent in their invectives against the relaxations and licentiousness, which, they said, were growing up in the state. This had a singular and an unfortunate effect upon the court. The name of puritan was a familiar appellation for every one that was distasteful to the government; and therefore all that were anxious to be acceptable there, four it expedient to be as unlike puritans as possible. They were afraid of sobriety, decency, and gravity, for these were puritanical qualities."


It was

6 an age,' says Johnson, when he that would be thought a wit, was afraid to say his prayers; an age, when, if any, out of mere morality and civil honesty,' we are told by Colonel Hutchinson, 'discountenanced the abominations of those days, he was a puritan; and, in short, all that crossed the views of the needie courtiers, the proud encroaching priests, the thievish projectors, the lewd nobility and gentry; whoever could endure a sermon, modest habit or conversation, or any thing good, all these were puritans.' Mr. Godwin says,

it is curious to observe, that no poet could expect to be allowed to enter under the court standard, till he had written some pieces of gross and shocking indecency; and accordingly,' he adds, 'in the volumes of Carew, of Suckling, of Cleveland, of Denham, there uniformly occurs one or two copies of verses of this description, not written, if we may judge from the general tenor of their works, so much to gratify any inherent depravity of their dispositions, as by way of an oblation offered up to the demon of the times.'s The puritans exclaimed against the profanity of stage plays. They were acted in defiance, at court, by the queen and ladies of honour. The puritans cried out against the

* Godw. p. 32, 33.

Hutch. Mem. vol. i. p. 121.

+Joh. Life of Duke.
Godw. p. 34.

« السابقةمتابعة »