« السابقةمتابعة »
have no effect upon our conduct, as we have nothing remarkable or eminent to propose to our imitation. The epitaph composed by Ennius for his own tomb, has both the faults last mentioned.
Nemo me decoret lacrumis, nec funera fletu
The reader of this epitaph receives scarce any idea from it; he neither conceives any veneration for the man to whom it belongs, nor is instructed by what methods this boasted reputation is to be obtained.
Though a sepulchral inscription is professedly a panegyrick, and, therefore, not confined to historical impartiality, yet it ought always to be written with regard to truth. No man ought to be commended for virtues which he never possessed, but whoever is curious to know his faults must inquire after them in other places; the monuments of the dead are not intended to perpetuate the memory of crimes, but to exhibit patterns of virtue. On the tomb of Maecenas his luxury is not to be mentioned with his munificence, nor is the proscription to find a place on the monument of Augustus.
The best subject for epitaphs is private virtue; virtue exerted in the same circumstances in which the bulk of mankind are placed, and which, therefore, may admit of many imitators. He that has delivered his country from oppression, or freed the world from ignorance and errour, can excite the emulation of a very small number; but he that has repelled the temptations of poverty, and disdained to free himself from distress, at the expense of his virtue, may animate multitudes, by his example, to the same firmness of heart and steadiness of resolution.
Of this kind I cannot forbear the mention of two Greek inscriptions; one upon a man whose writings are well known, the other upon a person whose memory is preserved only in her epitaph, who both lived in slavery, the most calamitous estate in human life:
Zosima, quæ solo fuit olim corpore serva,
Zosima, who, in her life, could only have her body enslaved, now finds her body, likewise, set at liberty."
It is impossible to read this epitaph without being animated to bear the evils of life with constancy, and to support the dignity of human nature under the most pressing afflictions, both, by the example of the heroine, whose grave we behold, and the prospect of that state in which, to use the language of the inspired writers, "The poor cease from their labours, and the weary be at rest.”
The other is upon Epictetus, the Stoick philosopher:
Δοῦλος ̓Επίκτητος γενόμην, καὶ σῶμ ̓ ἀνάπηρος,
Epictetus, who lies here, was a slave and a cripple, poor as the beggar in the proverb, and the favourite of heaven."
In this distich is comprised the noblest panegyrick, and the most important instruction. We may learn from it, that virtue is impracticable in no condition, since Epictetus could recommend himself to the regard of heaven, amidst the temptations of poverty and slavery; slavery, which has always been found so destructive to virtue, that in many languages a slave and a thief are expressed by the same word. And we may be, likewise, admonished by it, not to lay any stress on a man's outward circumstances, in making an estimate of his real value, since Epictetus the beggar, the cripple, and the slave, was the favourite of heaven.
PREFACE TO AN ESSAY
ON MILTON'S USE AND IMITATION OF THE MODERNS
IN HIS PARADISE LOST.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE YEAR 1750.
Ir is now more than half a century since the Paradise Lost, having broke through the clouds with which the unpopularity of the author, for a time, obscured it, has attracted the general admiration of mankind; who have endeavoured to compensate the errour of their first neglect, by lavish praises and boundless veneration. There seems to have arisen a contest, among men of genius and literature, who should most advance its honour, or best distinguish its beauties. Some have revised editions, others
a The history of Lauder's imposition is now almost forgotten, and is, certainly, not worth revival. It is fully detailed in Dr. Drake's Literary Life of Johnson, and in Boswell's Life, i. The conflicting inferences drawn from Johnson's connexion with Lauder, by Hayley, Dr. Symonds and Boswell, may easily be settled by those who have leisure for, or take interest in, such inquiries. In the very heat of the controversy, Johnson was never accused of intentional deception. Dr. Douglas, in the year 1750, published a letter to the earl of Bath, entitled, Milton vindicated from the charge of plagiarism brought against him by Mr. Lauder. In this masterly letter, after exposing the gross impositions and forgeries of Lauder, he thus adverts to the author of the preface and postscript. "It is to be hoped, nay, it is expected, that the elegant and nervous writer, whose judicious sentiments, and inimitable style, point out the author of Lauder's preface and postscript, will no longer allow one to plume himself with his feathers, who appears so little to have deserved his assistance; an assistance which, I am persuaded, would never have been communicated, had there been the least suspicion of those facts, which I have been the instrument of conveying to the world in these sheets." p. 77. 8vo. 1751.
In Boswell's Life, i. 209, ed. 1816, Mr. Boswell thus writes, in a note: "His lordship (Dr. Douglas, then bishop of Salisbury) has been pleased now to authorise me to say, in the strongest manner, that there is no ground whatever for any unfavourable reflection against Dr. Johnson, who expressed the strongest indignation against Lauder."-ED.
have published commentaries, and all have endeavoured to make their particular studies, in some degree, subservient to this general emulation.
Among the inquiries, to which this ardour of criticism has naturally given occasion, none is more obscure in itself, or more worthy of rational curiosity, than a retrospection of the progress of this mighty genius, in the construction of his work; a view of the fabrick gradually rising, perhaps, from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre, and its turrets sparkle in the skies; to trace back the structure, through all its varieties, to the simplicity of its first plan; to find what was first projected, whence the scheme was taken, how it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what stores the materials were collected, whether its founder dug them from the quarries of nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his own.
This inquiry has been, indeed, not wholly neglected, nor, perhaps, prosecuted with the care and diligence that it deserves. Several criticks have offered their conjectures; but none have much endeavoured to enforce or ascertain them. Mr. Voltaire tells us, without proof, that the first hint of Paradise Lost was taken from a farce called Adamo, written by a player; Dr. Pearce, that it was derived from an Italian tragedy, called Il Paradiso Perso; and Mr. Peck, that it was borrowed from a wild romance. Any of these conjectures may possibly be true, but, as they stand without sufficient proof, it must be granted, likewise, that they may all possibly be false; at least, they cannot preclude any other opinion, which, without argument, has the same claim to credit, and may, perhaps, be shown, by resistless evidence, to be better founded.
e Essay upon the civil wars of France, and also upon the epick poetry of the European nations, from Homer down to Milton, 8vo. 1727, p. 103.
f Preface to a review of the text of the twelve books of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which the chief of Dr. Bentley's emendations are considered, 8vo. 1733.
New memoirs of Mr. John Milton, by Francis Peck. 4to. 1740. p. 52.
It is related, by steady and uncontroverted tradition, that the Paradise Lost was at first a tragedy, and, therefore, amongst tragedies the first hint is properly to be sought. In a manuscript, published from Milton's own hand, among a great number of subjects for tragedy, is Adam unparadised, or Adam in exile; and this, therefore, may be justly supposed the embryo of this great poem. As it is observable, that all these subjects had been treated by others, the manuscript can be supposed nothing more, than a memorial or catalogue of plays, which, for some reason, the writer thought worthy of his attention. When, therefore, I had observed, that Adam in exile was named amongst them, I doubted not but, in finding the original of that tragedy, I should disclose the genuine source of Paradise Lost. Nor was my expectation disappointed; for, having procured the Adamus exul of Grotius, I found, or imagined myself to find, the first draught, the prima stamina of this wonderful poem.
Having thus traced the original of this work, I was naturally induced to continue my search to the collateral relations, which it might be supposed to have contracted, in its progress to maturity: and having, at least, persuaded my own judgment that the search has not been entirely ineffectual, I now lay the result of my labours before the publick; with full conviction that, in questions of this kind, the world cannot be mistaken, at least, cannot long continue in errour.
I cannot avoid acknowledging the candour of the author of that excellent monthly book, the Gentleman's Magazine, in giving admission to the specimens in favour of this argument; and his impartiality in as freely inserting the several answers. I shall here subjoin some extracts from the seventeenth volume of this work, which I think suitable to my purpose. To which I have added, in order to obviate every pretence for cavil, a list of the authors quoted in the following essay, with their respective dates, in comparison with the date of Paradise Lost.