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ley and Cleveland were more popular in their day than Milton;* and we may add, that more than twenty-five years after the publication of Paradise Lost, the author had not excited interest enough to call for the least notice of his life, as an introduction to the fourth edition. · Though the two nephews of the author were yet living,' says Mr. Godwin, no bookseller, no subscriber, and no patron conceived the idea of obtaining any sketch of the life, habits, and education of the poet.'t This was said with any thing but an expectation, that it looked to the author's unpopularity; and Mr. Godwin is one of those, who would never forgive a man, for saying, that Milton was not, then, as famous as he is at present. When Dryden died, so many elegiacs were written upon the occasion, in two months, that they were collected and published in a volume. But, 'no muse's tear,' says Mr. Todd, was found to grace the obsequies' of his cotemporary, Milton; nor was it till fifteen years afterwards, that an anonymous author, set the example, in a Propitiatory Sacrifice to the Ghost of J. M.§ Paradise Lost had now been published twenty-three years; and it is a little remarkable, not only that this nameless poem was expressly designed to appease the ghost of Milton, for the injustice done to his merits;-but that the author should only talk of what his fame was going to be, in future ages. The first monument erected to his memory, was in 1737; the second, in 1793.¶
*South, Specm. of the later Eng. Poets, Lond. 1811. Pref. p. 27. † Godw. p. 264. + Scot. vol. i. Todd, vol. i. p. 126.
# -The poet's fame shall brighter shine,
Todd, vol. i, p. 141.
We have already said, that the sentence of Johnson, which so grievously offended Mr. Godwin, was, in the main, correct; that, in other words, the reputation and price of the copy still advanced, till the revolution put an end to the scenery of love, and Paradise Lost broke into open view, with sufficient security of a kind reception.' All know, that the English revolution happened in 1688; and, by comparing the frequency and kind of the editions, before and after that event, we shall see, that the observation is sufficiently warranted by the facts. From 1666 to 1688, there were but three editions. The fourth edition was published in 1688; the fifth, in 1692; and the sixth, in 1695.* Before 1688, therefore, there were but three editions in 22 years;— after that period, we have three editions in seven years-or the poem was reprinted, after the revolution, more than three times as often as it was before. The first edition was in quarto, with a price of three shillings; but the second and third were in small octavo,† with doubtless a price still lower. The very fact, that the edition of 1688 was a folio, decorated with plates, and priced at ten shillings,‡ would be enough, perhaps, to verify our biographer's remark: but, when it is also considered, that so much more expensive a work was so much oftener reprinted, we think, there can be no doubt, that open justice was never done to the poem, until after the revolution. The honours since paid to it, are not to be enumerated; though Mr. Todd has found five translations in Greek; eleven in Latin; six in Italian; ten in French; eight in Dutch and German; one in Spanish; one in Portuguese; and one in Russian. Many of these translations, however, are incomplete; and some have never been published.+
Todd, vol. i. pp. 189. 192.
+ Ibid. p. 191.
"Thou hast said a great deal upón Paradise Lost,' observed Elwood, in returning the manuscript to Milton: what hast thou to say upon Paradise Found? Five years afterwards, the author put into his hands the copy of Paradise Regained; and said, in a pleasant tone, this is owing to you; for you put it into my head by the question you put to me; which before I had not thought of." It has been considered, as a great achievement, that this poem was completed in five years. Phillips calls it a 'wonderful short space;' though Mr. Dunster, who is by no means insensible to the wonder, has calculated the rapidity of composition at ten lines a day.* A judicious eulogist will never give you the truth in the same sentence with the hyperbole: mankind will still prefer the former; and the contrast merely serves to diminish that admiration, which the latter was intended to augment. Milton must not only write much better verses,-but write them much faster, than any other person; and one of his own Latin epistles is quoted to show, that his industry could never be detached from a subject, until his work was finished. Meum sic est ingenium,' says he, nulla ut mora, nulla quies, nulla ferme illius rei cura, aut cogitatio distineat, quoad pervadam quo feror, et grandem aliquam studiorum meorum quasi periodum conficiam.' If to write verses with rapidity, be a mark of pre-eminent genius, the author of Paradise Regained might have despaired of celebrity, on that score; for, while Milton would be labouring at his ten lines a day, Lucilius could dictate two hundred in an hour, and without shifting his position.
in horâ sæpe ducentos
versus dictabat, stans pede in uno.‡
*Dunst. Edit. Par. Reg. Lond. 1795. Mr. Dunster is considered as the Addison of Paradise Regained.
+ Epist. Tam, No. vi.
+ Hor. Sat. iv.
Paradise Regained was published in 1671; and Mr. Todd has ascertained, from an old catalogue, that its price, when bound, was two shillings and sixpence.* It has been often said, that the author could never bear to see his second poem placed below the first; but Dr. Newton has furnished his successors with a mode of clearing Milton from an absurdity, which would inevitably render him like other men. We are not to suppose, that such a poet could really think Paradise Regained superior to Paradise Lost; and, therefore, if he ever manifested any impatience at the dispraise of the former, in comparison with the latter, it was not because he liked the first better than the last,-but because he thought, that, though it was, indeed, the poorest of the two, it was by no means so much the poorest as was commonly imagined. There is no getting rid of a conclusion, which sets out from the assumption, that a man is not to be supposed capable of an absurdity. Phillips was Milton's constant attendant: Elwood was his intimate friend; and they both join in telling us, he never could hear with patience any such thing related to him,' as that Paradise Regained was pronounced inferior to Paradise Lost.† Mr. Todd adds another testimony. 'In a manuscript note,' says he, at the end of Toland's Life of Milton, communicated to me by Mr. F. G. Waldron, it is related, that Paradise Regained was, in the poet's own opinion, the better poem; and that Milton gave this reason for the general dislike, 'that people had a general sense of the loss of paradise, but not an equal gust for the regaining of it.' As Mr. Todd is one of those, who treat the 'popular tale' with contempt, he should not have adduced an anecdote, which proves, at once, that Milton could not only entertain a silly preference himself,-but give a silly
*Todd, vol. i. p. 120, note.
Ph. ap. Godw. p. 379. Elw. Life.
reason for the preference of others. That the saying contains a play upon words, is no disproof of its authenticity; for the works of Milton too frequently show, that he could pun, upon occasion, as well as less divine mortals.
Sampson Agonistes was published at the same time, and in the same volume, with Paradise Regained. The biographers are now puzzled, once more, to detect the source of Milton's original idea; but Mr. Hayley is happy enough to discover a Representatione de Sansone, per Alesandir Roselli, published at Seina, in 1616.* There seems to be little doubt, that such a work exists; and, though Mr. Hayley himself could never procure a copy, we do not yet despair of seeing it brought to light, and demonstrated to have been the ground-work of Milton's tragedy. Mr. Godwin has a very different theory of its origin. It was a subject,' he says, 'no doubt purposely chosen by the author to give vent to the anguish of his heart; a blind servant of God, held captive among the enemies of all true religion, seemed to him an apt type of his own situation.'t This is supposing Milton to have paid a sufficient compliment to himself. But, by whom was he held" captive? Where was his prison? And when did he embrace the pillars of the edifice, and pull down equal ruin upon his enemies and himself? Did Sampson quit himself like Sampson,' when he submitted to a mock-funeral? Or, when he hid in Bartholomew-close ?
But Milton was not always engaged in matters of high argument. From describing the combats of angels on the plains of heaven,' he descended to detail the bickerings of the Saxon heptarchy, which he likened to the battles of hawks and kites; and he, who had taught mankind the 'ready and easy way to establish free governments,' did not think it
*Hayl. p. 257, note.
+ Godw. p. 94.