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cerning a mighty genius, who has been consigned more than a century to the tomb, especially when, in the records of his life, we can find no positive evidence on the point in question? However trifling the chances it may afford of success, the investigation is assuredly worthy our pursuit; for, as an accomplished critic has said, in speaking of another poet, with his usual felicity of discernment and expression, “ the enquiry cannot be void of entertainment whilst Milton is our constant theme: whatever may be the fortune of the chace, we we are sure it will lead us through pleasant prospects and a fine country."
It has been frequently remarked, that accident and genius generally conspire in the origin of great performances; and the accidents that give an impulse to fancy are often such as are hardly within the reach of conjecture. Had Ellwood himself not recorded the occurrence, who would have supposed that a few words, which fell from a simple youth in conversation, were the real source of Paradise Regained ? Yet the
offspring3 of imagination, in this point of view, have a striking analogy to the productions of nature. The noble poem just mentioned resembles a rare and valuable tree, not planted with care and forecast, but arising vigorously from a kernel dropt by a rambling bird on a spot of peculiar fertility We are perfectly assured that Milton owed one of his great poems to the ingenuous question of a young quaker; and Voltaire, as we have seen, has asserted that he was indebted for the other to the fantastic drama of an Italian stroller. It does not appear that Voltaire had any higher authority for his assertion than his own conjecture from a slight inspection of the drama, which he hastily describes; yet it is mere justice to this rapid entertaining writer to declare, that in his conjecture there is great probability, which the English reader, I believe, will be inclined to admit, in proportion as he becomes acquainted with Andreini and his Adamo; but before we examine their merit, and the degree of influence that we may suppose them to have
had on the fancy of Milton, let us contemplate, in one view, all the scattered hints which the great poet has given us concerning the grand project of his life, his design of writing an epic poem.
His first mention of this design occurs in the following verses of his poetical compliment to Manso:
O mihi sic mea sors talem concedat amicum,
O might so true a friend to me belong,
Mr. Warton says, in his comment on
“ It is possible that the advice of Manso, the friend of Tasso, might determine our poet to a design of this kind.” The conjecture of this respectable critic may appear confirmed by the following circumstance :-In the discourses on Epic Poetry, which are included in the prose works of Tasso, Arthur is repeatedly recommended as a proper hero for a poem. Thus we find that Italy most probably suggested to Milton his first epic idea, which he relinquished ; nor is it less probable that his second and more arduous enterprise, which he accomplished, was suggested to him by his perusal of Italian authors. If he saw the Adamo of Andreini represented at Milan, we have reason to believe that performance did not immediately inspire him with the project of writing an epic poem on
First Parents; because we find that Arthur kept possession of his fancy after his return to England.
In the following verses of his Epitaphium Damonis, composed at that period,
he still shews himself attached to romantic heroes, and to British story:
Dicam et Pandrasidos regnum vetus Inogeniæ Brennumque Arviragumque duces priscumque Be
linum, Et tandem Armoricos Britonum sub lege colonos, Tum gravidam Arturo fatali fraude Iogernen, Mendaces vultus assumptaque Gorlois ama Merlini dolus.
Of Brutus, Dardan chief, my song shall be,
In one of his controversial works, published in 1641, Milton informs us what poetical ideas were then fluctuating in his