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was perhaps of all authors the least addicted to imitation, rarely imitates even Tasso in composition : in life indeed he copied him more closely, and to his great poetical compeer of Italy he discovers a very striking resemblance in application to study, in temperance of diet, in purity of morals and in fervency of devotion. The Marquis of Villa in closing his life of Tasso, has enumerated all the particular virtues by which he was distinguished; these were all equally conspicuous in Milton; and we may truly say of him, what Manso says of the great Italian poet, that the preference of virtue to every other consideration was the predominant passion of his life.
Enthusiasm was the characteristic of
having taken a wife, and then was surprised by reading a compositiou of his, in which he inveighs not only against the ladies, but against matrimony. with great politeness and spirit, assumes the defence of both, and in the close of a learned and eloquent panegyric, indulges his heart and fancy in a very animated and beauiful address to wedded love, which Milton has copied with his usual dignity and sweetness of expression, VOL. I.
his mind; in politics, it made him sometimes too generously credulous, and sometimes too rigorously decisive; but in poetry it exalted him to such a degree of excellence as no man has hitherto surpassed; nor is it probable that in this province he will ever will be excelled; for although in all the arts there are undoubtedly points of perfection much higher than any mortal has yet attained, still it requires such a coincidence of so many advantages depending on the influence both of nature and of destiny to raise a great artist of any kind, that the world has but little reason to expect productions of poetical genius superior to the Paradise Lost. There was a bold yet refin ed originality of conception, which characterised the mental powers of Milton, and give him the highest claim to distinction : we are not only indebted to him for having extended and ennobled the province of epic poetry, but he has another title to our regard, as the founder of that recent and enchanting English art, which has embellished our country, and, to speak the glowing
language of a bard very eloquent in its praise,
Made Albion smile,
The elegant historian of modern gardening, Lord Orford, and the two accomplished poets, who have celebrated its charms both in France and England, De Lille and Mason, have, with great justice and felicity of expression, paid their homage to Milton, as the beneficent genius, who bestowed upon the world this youngest and most lovely of the
As a contrast to the Miltonic garden, I
may point out to the notice of the reader, what has escaped, I think, all the learned writers on this engaging subject, the garden of the imperions Duke of Alva, described in a poem of the celebrated Lope de Vega. The sublime vision of Eden, as Lord Orford truly calls it, proves' indeed, as the same writer observes, how little the poet suffered from the loss of sight. The native disposition of Milton, and his personal infirmity, conspired to make contemplation his chief
business and chief enjoyment: few poets have devoted so large a portion of their time to intense and regular study; yet he often made a pause of some months in the progress of his great work, if we may confide in the circumstantial narrative of his nephew. “I had the perusal of it from the very beginning,” says Philips, “ for some years, as I went from time to time to visit him, in parcels often, 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). Having as the summer came on, not been shewed any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered that his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal."
Johnson takes occasion, from this anecdote, to treat the sensations of Milton with sarcastic severity, and to deride him for submitting to the influence of the seasons; he lavishes ridicule, not less acrimonious, on the great poet for having yielded to a fashionable dread of evils still more fantastic.
*There prevailed in his time (says the critic) an opinion that the world was in its decay, and that we have had the misfortune to be born in the decrepitude of nature.” Johnson exposes, with great felicity of expression this absurd idea, of which his own frame of body and mind was a complete refutation ; but instead of deriding the great poet for harbouring so weak a conceit, he might have recollected that Milton himself has spurned this chimera of timid imagination in very spirited Latin verses, written in his twentieth year, and expressly against the folly of supposing nature impaired.
Ergone marcescet, sulcantibus obsita rugis,