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" As when the sun new risen
Perplexes monarchs." The particulars of this fortunate escape from so dangerous an obstruction have not been preserved; but much as we may now be disposed to smile at the absurd objection, the world has cause to rejoice that party malice and rancour did not succeed in strangling the immortal poem in its birth.
Milton was accustomed, as we have already mentioned, to employ his daughters to read to him, as well as to transcribe from his dictation, but on their expressing dislike to such occupations in the service of their blind father, he at once dispensed with their assistance, and set them to learn the working of embroidery in gold and silver-an art which, at that time, formed one of the chief employments of females of rank and fortune. From that time forward, he always engaged some young man for this honourable service. Shortly after his last marriage, his kind friend Dr Paget, who had been his adviser in the choice of a wife, introduced to him the amiable but singular Thomas Ellwood, who added to the most conscientious adherence to the tenets and practices of the Quakers, an ardent thirst for learning, and a keen relish for poetry.
We are indebted to him for some interesting notices of Milton, which occur in his minute history of his own life. Ellwood, at this time about three-and-twenty, was the son of a justice of the peace in Oxfordshire, who, from motives of economy, took him early from school. After several years had been wasted in this forced idleness, he adopted with great zeal the novel tenets of Quakerism, submitting to much cruel treatment from his father, as well as to long imprisonments at different periods of his life, on account of his religious opinions. By the mediation of Dr Paget, he obtained access to Milton, and engaged to read to him such authors as he desired.
The object of Ellwood in seeking this introduction, was to increase the scanty share of learning his father's mercenary
conduct had permitted him to acquire. He accordingly devoted a portion of each day to reading aloud such Latin authors as Milton wished to hear read; and the gentleness and courtesy with which the latter condescended to all his difficulties, and sought to make their intercourse profitable to his young friend, manifest how strangely the native kindness of his disposition has been falsified by those who represent him as harsh and morose. But their intercourse experienced many painful interruptions; long sickness, on one occasion, and successive arbitrary imprisonments afterwards, separated them, so that learning, as the poor youth remarks, was almost a forbidden fruit to him.
During the prevalence of the plague in London in 1665, Ellwood manifested his gratitude to his instructor, by obtaining for him a pleasant little cottage at Chalfont, in Buckinghamshire, near to which he was then engaged in the capacity of tutor in a wealthy Quaker's family. On his first visit to Milton in this new retreat, he was shown the manuscript of the Paradise Lost.
On their next interview after Ellwood had “modestly and freely" expressed his opinion, he adds, “I pleasantly said to him, Thou hast said much here of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found?” Nothing more was said on this subject at the time, but when, at a later period, in London, Milton showed him the Paradise Regained, he added, “ This is owing to you, for you put it into my head, by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of.”
The first edition of the Paradise Lost was published in 1665, the author receiving, as is well known, the sum of five pounds for his immortal work, with a further condition of receiving fifteen pounds more, should it reach a third edition! Whatever be the feelings of sorrow or indignation with which his admirers may now regard this fact, it is to the honour of his countrymen, that in defiance of the prejudices and per.
al enmity of his contemporaries, its sale was rapid, and the a
ution it excited almost universal. Some of the most eminent men of his time addressed to himu
eulogies; and its first announcement to the world, as related by Richardson, was worthy of its pre-eminent worth.
Sir John Denman, a man distinguished as a soldier, a senator, and a poet, entered the House of Commons with a proof-sheet of Milton's work, wet from the press, and exclaimed, “This is part of the noblest poem that ever was written in any language or in any age;" and Dryden's er. clamation on first seeing it was no less pithy—“This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too!"
With the close of his great life-work, we may end this biographical sketch. Ere the first edition of his poem had been sold, he was numbered with the mighty dead. “With a dissolution so easy that it was unperceived by the persons in his bed-chamber, he closed a life, clouded indeed by uncommon and various calamities, yet ennobled by the constant exercise of such rare endowments, as render his name, perhaps the very first in that radiant and comprehensive list, of which England, the most fertile of countries in the produce of mental power, has reason to be proud.”
His funeral was attended by “all his learned and great friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the vulgar." His place of burial is in the church of St Giles's, Cripplegate, and there England's noblest poet was committed to the dust, calm in the Christian's sure and certain hope of a blessed immortality.
The first Book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, Man's
disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise, coherein he was placed. Then touches the prime cause of his fall, the serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent; who, revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of angels, was by the command of God driven out of heaven, with all his crew, into the great deep. Which action passed over, the Poem hastens into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his angels now fallen into hell, described here, not in the centre for heaven and earth may be supposed as yet not made certainly not yet accursed,) but in a place of utter darkness, fitliest called Chaos: here Satan, with his angels Gring on the bærning lake, kunder-struck and astonished, :afterio certain space recovers, us from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him: they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner con founded: they rise, their numbers, array of battle; their chief leaders named, according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech; comforts them with hope yet of, regaining heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world and new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in hea. ven: for that angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to full councze. What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep: the infernal Peers there sit in council.