« السابقةمتابعة »
abuse of the Sabbath, The king issued a declara- ;
The literature of the times was quite as hopeless as the religion. The sort of composition, which pleased the court, was a farrago of English
absurdity, Italian conceit, and French frivolity. This taste first made its appearance in the reign of queen Elizabeth: time gradually matured and expanded it; and, in the reign of Charles the second, the importation of French modes set off and finished the work. The reader may judge what it must have became at last, by knowing what it was originally 'In Elizabeth's reign,' says Mr. Scott, 'the court language was formed on the plan of one Lillie, a pedantic courtier, who wrote a book, entitled Euphues and his England, or the Anatomy of Wit; which quality he makes to consist in the indulgence of every monstrous and overstrained conceit, that can be engendered by a strong memory and a heated brain, applied to the absurd purpose of hatching , unnatural conceits. Our deserved idolatry to Shakspeare and Milton was equalled by that paid to this pedantic coxcomb in his own time. He is called, in the title page of his plays, (for, besides Euphues, he wrote what he styled Court Comedies,) "the only rare poet of that time; the witty, comical, facetiously quick, and unparalleled John Lillie.' Moreover, his editor, Mr. Blount, assures us, that'he sate at Apollo's table; that Apollo gave him a wreath of his own bays, without snatching; and that the lyre he played on had no broken strings. Besides which, we are informed, 'our nation are in debt for a new English, which he taught them; Euphues and England be
gan first that language. All our ladies were then scholars; and that beauty in court who could not parle Euphusim, was as little regarded, as she which now there speaks not French."* In an age, when this taste, in its improved state, was the fashion of the court,--and the court was every thing;-Paradise Lost must have been the most heterodox of all imaginable poems. To be caught reading it, must have been literary treason; and literary treason would have been punished with literary death. It was an age of hopping and croaking; and Paradise Lost must have dropped upon the world, like the king of the frogs.
It must be needless to observe, that the politics of the court were, if possible, more unpropitious, than either its religion or its literature, to the ori. ginal celebrity of Milton. There were but two parties in the country,—the royalists, and the puri
There was no trimming on a middle course. The slightest declination from royalty was considered as a fall into downright puritanism. The payment of civil obedience to the king and the laws of the land satisfied not: if any durst dispute his impositions, he was presently reckoned among the seditious and the disturbers of the public peace, and accordingly persecuted: if any were grieved at the dishonour of the kingdom, or the griping of the poor, or the unjust oppressions of the subject, by a thousand ways, he was a puritane: if any gentleman in his country maintained the good laws of the land, or stood up for any public interest, he was a puritane: and, if a puritane, then an enemy to the king and government; a seditious, factious hypocrite, an ambitious disturber of the public peace, and, finally, the pest of the kingdome.'t Milton, in this compre
* Scott's edition of Dryden's Works, vol. i. p. 7, note.
+ Hutch. Mem. as above. These remarks have a more immediate reference to the reign of Charles I.; but, with tile variation, they are equally applicable to that of his son, Charles II.
hensive sense of the word, was a puritan of the worst stamp. He had written against kings and kingship, ever since he could write against any thing; and Charles II. had peculiar occasion to remember the man, who had justified the condemnation of his father, and would have been equally ready, perhaps, to justify his own. He may, indeed, have partially forgotten Milton, as he at first kept out of the way: but Lauder says, it was under debate, three days, whether he should suffer with the other regicides; and, though he was at last spared by generosity or forgetfulness, it was his own interest, and the interest of all courtiers, to keep his name from the ears of majesty. Authors of all descriptions must, in those days, bask in the favour of the court, or be nipped for ever; and, indeed, in all ages, 'whither fy the gnats but to the sun?' Those, therefore, who could do Milton any good, were afraid to lisp his name, or to be seen with his works: nearly half of his few. public praisers were anonymous; and this very Mr. Godwin, who is so indignant at Dr. Johnson's mention of secret love,' has himself told us, that the despotism of these times had forced his admirers to perpetuate by the tradition of memory only, or to inculate in the secrecy of manuscript copies,' the sonnets to lyriac Skinner, Fairfax, Cromwell, and Sir Henry Vane.* Yet Mr. Godwin's countrymen are never afraid 'to give breath to their approbation.'
The very length, and style, and versification, of Paradise Lost, were against its original popularity. It was not a time for any thing solid or prolix; and, to people who had no thought but for the present, twelve books of poetry about Adam and Eve were a task beyond endurance. This disadvantage was not at all relieved by the uncourtly manner, in which the author had treated the subject. He had affected
* Godw. p. 278.
obsolete modes of expression; and the whole composition wore such an air of old fashioned formality, as was little calculated to delight a generation of puppets. What greatly enhanced this stiffness, was the author's attempt to imitate Greek and Latin; and we venture to say, that his constant inversions of style rendered the poem utterly incomprehensible to a majority of those, who undertook to read it. But, perhaps its most unpardonable offence was the want of rhyme. Poetry and rhyme were then synonymous terms. Every thing in literature was inverted. The substance was considered as the shadow; the accessary, became the principal; and, so far did the rage extend in poetry, that even a tragedy would hardly be borne, unless it were in rhyme. We do not wonder, therefore, that Milton was called a “schismatic in poetry;'* or that, when Dryden was praising Paradise Lost to one of his acquaintance, he should exclaim, as if it were an insurmountable objection, 'Why, 'tis not in rhyme.'t So concerned was Dryden at this fatal deficiency, that he once asked permission of the author to turn the
poem into a rhyming tragedy ;t and, two years after its publication, it was thought necessary to affix a special advertisement of the reason, 'why the poem rhymes not.'S
Let us see, then, whether the actual reception of Paradise Lost was such as might have been antici. pated from such a poem, upon such a subject, in such a style, by such an author, and in such an age. We believe, there has been a general mistake, in supposing, that it was not published till 1667. Ell. wood, the intimate friend of the author, says, he read a complete copy in 1665;|| and, while we see no reason why a person, in Milton's circumstances, should delay its publication for two years, it does
Transposer Rehersed. Ox. 1673.
+ Richards, Life. Aub. ap. Godw. p. 339. Scott's Dryd, vol, i. p. 170. Ś Edit. 1668. To the Reader. Life of himself, 2d edit. Lond. 1714.
not seem to have been generally known, that both Phillips and Toland date the first edition in 1666.* The mistake probably arose from the fact, that the receipt from Simmons, for the copy right, was given the 27th of April, 1667. But, even Mr. Hayley, who adopts the common belief, is yet of opinion, that the poem was originally printed at Milton's own expense ;t and, if it was published any time before the copy was sold, what should prevent us from believing, that it appeared a year before? Toland mentions, in the very same page, both the receipt of Simmons, and the date of the first edition; yet he does not even hint, that the two facts have the least connexion with each other. The only circumstances, indeed, which seem to invalidate our supposition, are, that no copy, with the date of 1666, has ever been discovered; and that the first edition on the list of the very accurate Mr. Loft was printed in 1667.?! When our readers, however, have seen the tricks which were played with the title page, they will need little persuasion to believe, that the interest of the bookseller was sufficient to make him add that of post-dating the original appearance of the volume. It was not his policy to let the public see, that such a work had already been a year in the market; and the fact, that, in the edition of 1667, 'the poem,' as Mr. Todd says, “im. mediately follows the title page, without any arguments or list of errata,’s is a pretty strong proof, that the first leaves of the original impression had been torn out, and a new title page inserted.
We suppose, with Mr. Hayley, that Milton originally printed the book at his own expense; but, finding, that it had few purchasers, and reflecting, that a person, in his situation, was little calculated to find more, he concluded to put the edition into
* Ph.ap. Godw. p. 378. Tol. p. 121.