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Shis Simmons had covenanted to assign the whole right of copy to Brabazon Aylmer, the bookseller for twenty-five pounds; and Alymer afterwards cold it to old Jacob Tonson at two di fit-rent times one half on the 17th of August, 1683, and the other half on the 24th of March, 1690, with a considerable advance of the price: and except one fourth of it which has been assigned to several persons, his family have enjoyed the right of copy ever since. By the last assignment it appears that the book was growing into repute and rising in valuation; and to what perverseness could it be owing that it was not better received at first? We conceive there were principally two reasons; the prejudices against the author on aceount of his principles and party; and many, no doubt, were offended with the novelty of a poem that was not in rhyme. Rymer, who was a redoubted critic in those days, would not so much as allow it to be a poem on this aceount; and declared war against Milton as well as against Shakspeare; and threatened that he would write reflections upon the Paradise Lost, which some (says he*) are pleased to call a poem, and would assert against the slender sophistry wherewith the author attacks it. And such a man as Bishop Burnet makes it a sort of objection to Milton, that he aflected to write in blank verse without rhyme. And the same reason induced Dryden to turn the principal parts of Paradise Lost into rhyme in his Opera called the State of Innocence and Fall of Man; to tag his lines, as Milton himself expressed it, alluding to the fashion then of wearing tags of metal at the end of their ribbons.
We are told indeed by Mr. Richardson, that Sir George Hungerford, an ancient member of Parliament, told him, that Sir John Denham came into the House one morning with a sheet of Paradise Lost wet from the press in his hand; and being asked what he had there, said that he had part of the noblest poem that ever was written in any language or in any age. However it is certain that the book was unknown till about two years after, when the Earl of Dorset produced it, as Mr. Richardson was informed by Dr. Tanered Rohinson, the physician, who had heard the story often from Flectwood Shepherd himself, that the Earl, in company with Mr. Shepherd, looking about for books in Little Britain, aceidentally met with Paradise Lost; and being surprised at some passages in dipping here and there, he bought it. The bookseller begged his Lordship to speak in its favour if he liked it, for the impression lay on his hands as waste paper. The Earl having road it sent it to Dryden, who in a short time returned it
is too weil knuwn to be repeated , and those
verses by Dr. Burrow the physician, and the English ones by Andrew Marvel, Esq. usually prefixed to the Paradise Lost, were written before tha second edition, and were published with it. But still the poem was not generally known and esteemed, nor met with the d, served applause, till after the edition in folio, which was published in 1688 by subseription. The Duke of Buckingham in his Essay on poetry prefers Tasso and Spencer te Milton: and it is related in the life of the witty Earl of Rochester, that he had no notion of a better poet than Cowley. In 1686 or thereabout Sir William Temple published the second part of his Miscellanies, and it may surprise any reader, that in his Essay on Poetry he takes no notice at all of Milton; nay he says expressly that after Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser, he knows none of the Moderns who have made any achievements in heroic poetry worth recording. And what can we think, that he had not read or heard of the Paradise Lost, or that the author's polities had prejudiced him against his poetry? It was happy that all great men were not of his mind. The bookseller was advised and encouraged to undertake the folio edition by Mr. Sommers, afterwards Lord Sommers, who not only subscribed himself, but was zca'ous in promoting the subseription: and in the list of subseribers we find some of the most eminent names of that time, as the Earl of Dorset, Waller, Dryden, Dr. Aldrich, Mr. Atterbury* and among the rest Sir Roger Lestrange, though he had formerly written a piece entitled No blind ;uides, &c. against Milton's Notes upon Dr. Griff,th's sermon. There were two editions more iis folio, one I think in 1692, the other in 1695, which was the sixth edition; for the poem was now so well received, that notwithstanding the price of it was four times greater than before, the sale inereased double the number every yoar; as the wokseller, who should best know, has informed us in his dedication of the smaller editions to Lord Sommers. Since that time not only various ediions have been printed, but also various notes and ranslations. The first person who wrote anncuaioru upon Paradise Lost was P. H. or Patrick rlmne, of whom we know nothing, unless his name may lead us to some knowledge jf his counry, but he has the merit of being the first (as I say} vho wrote notes upon Paradise Lost, and his notes verc printed at the end of the folio edition in 1695. VI r. Addison's Spectators upon the subject conriUuted not a little to establishing the character, and illustrating the beauties of the poem. In 1'^J apprnred Dr. Bentley's new edition with notes
This man cuts us all out and and the year following Dr. Pearce published hi>
with this answer, U,e ancients too."
. and several other °8eeRYmer'a"Trala!iesofthe last age co1sitlered." 5'. 143. 'emendations and observations ore offered to
Dryden's epigram upon MiltonI Review of the text, in which the J,ief of Dr. Benl- , i lev's emendations are considered and
public. And the year after that Messieurs Richardson, father and son, published their Explanatory notes and remarks. The poem has also been translated into several languages, Latin, Italian, French, and Duteh; and proposals have been made for translating it into Greek. The Duteh translation is in blank verse, and printed at Harlem. The French have a translation by Mons. Dupre de St. M.'nr; but nothing shows the weakness and imperfection of their language more, than that they have few or no good poetical versions of the greatest poets; they are forced to translate Homer, Virgil, and Milton into prose: and blank verse their language has not harmony and dignity enough to support; their tragedies, and many of their comedies are in rhyme. Rolli, the famous Italian master here in England, made an Italian translation; and Mr. Richardson the son, saw another at Florence in manuseript by the learned Abbe Salvim, the same who translated Addison's Cato into Italian.. One William Hog or Hogaeus translated Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes into Latin verse in 1690; but this version is very unworthy of the originals. There is a better translation of the Paradise Lost by Mr. Thomas Power, Fellow of Trinity College, in Cambridge, the first book of which was printed in 1691, and the rest in manuscript is in the library of that College. The learned Dr. Trap has also published a translation into Latin verse; and the world is in expectation of another, that will surpass all the rest, by Mr. William Dobson, of New CJlege, in Oxford. So that by one means or other Milton is now considered as an English classie; ano*the Paradise Lost is generally esteemed the noblest and most sublime of modern poems, and equal at least to the best of the ancient; the honour of this country, and the envy and admiration of all others!
In 16.70 he published his History of Britain, that part especially now called England. He began it above twenty years before, but was frequently interrupted by other avocations; and he designed to have brought it down to his own times, but stopped at the Norman conquest; for indeed he was not well able to pursue it any farther by reason of his Middness. and he was engaged in oiher more delightful studies; having a genius turned for poetry rather than history. When his History wus printed, it was not printed perfect and entire; for the licenser expunged st-veral passages, which reflecting u|xIn the pride and superstition of the Monks hl the Saxon times, were understood as a conicaled s,uire upon the Bishops in Charles the senmd's n-ign. But the author himself gave a copy nf his unlicensed papers to ti,e F.arl ol An^lr,wa, who, as well as sc\vr>d of the nobility and gentry, ronsUntly visited him: and in 1681 a considerate passage, which had been suppressed at the be
ginning of the third book, was published, containing a character ot the Long Parliament an 1 Assembly of Divines tn 1641, which was inserted in iu proper place in the last edition of 1738. Bishop Kennet logins his Complete History of England with this work of Milton, as being the best draught, the clearest and most authentic account of those early times: and his style is freer and easier than in most of his other works, more plain and simple, less figurative and metaphorical, and better suited to the nature of history, has enough of the Latin turn and idiom to give it an air of antiquity, and sometimes rises to a surprising dignity and majesty.
In 1670 likewise his Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes were licensed together, but were not published till the year following. It is somewhat remarkable, that these two poems were not printed by Simmons, the same who printed the Paradise Lost, hut by J. M. for one Starkey, in Fleet street: and what could induce Milton to have recourse to another printer? was it because the former was not enough encouraged by the sale of Paradise Lost to become a purchaser of thr other copies 1 The first thought of Paradise Regained was owing to Eiwood the Quaker, as hs himself relates the oceasion in the history of his life. When Milton had lent him the manuseript of Paradise Lost at St. Giles Chalfont, as we said before, and he returned it, Milton asked him how he liked it, and what he thought of it: "Which I modestly, but freely told him, says Eiwood; and after some further discourse about it, I pleasantly said to him, Thou hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found? He made me no answer, but sat some time in a muse; then broke offthat discourse, and fell upon another subject." When Eiwood afterwards waited upon him in London, Milton showed him his Paradise Regained, and in a pleasant tone said to him, "This is owing to you, for you put it in my head by the question you put me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of."
It is commonly reported, that Milton himself preferred this poem to the Paradise Lost; but all that we can assert upon good authority is, that he could not endure to hear this poem eried down so much as it was, in comparison with the other. For certainly it is very worthy of the author, and contrary to what Mr. Tohuul relutes, Milton may he seen in Paradise Regained as well as in Paradise Lost; if it is inferior in poetry, I know nol whether it is not superior in sentiment; if it is lew deseriptive, it is more argumentative; if it does not sometimes rise so high, neither diec it ever sink so low; and it has not met with the approbation it deserves, only because it has not been more read and considered. His subject indeed ia confined, and he has a narrow t' Undation to build upon; but he has raised as noble a superstructure as such little room and such scanty materials would allow. The great beauty of it is the contrast between the two characters of the Tempter and our Saviour, the artful sophistry and specious insinuations of the one refuted by the strong sense and manly eloquence of the other. This poem has also been translated into French, together with some other pieces of Milton, Lyeidas, L'Allegro, 11 Penseroso, and the Ode on Christ's Nativity: and in 1732, was printed a Critical Dissertation, with Notes upon Paradise Regained, pointing out the beauties of it, and written by Mr. Mcadaweourt, Canon of Worcester: and theI very learned and ingenious Mr. Jortin has added come obnervations upon this work at the end of his excellent Remarks upon Spenser, published in 1734; and indeed this poem of Milton, to be more admired, needs only to be better known. His Samson Agonistes is the only tragedy that he has finished, though he has sketehed out the plans of •everal, and proposed the subjects of more, in his manuseript preserved in Trinity College library: and we may suppose that he was determined to the choice of this particular subject by the similitude of his own circumstances to those of Samson blind and among the Philistines. This I conceive to be the last of his poetical pieces; and it is written in the very spirit of the ancients, and equals, if not exceeds, any of the most perfect tragedies, which were ever exhibited on the Athenian stage, when Greece was in its glory. As this work was never intended for the stage, the division into acts and scenes is omitted. Bishop Atterbury had an intention of getting Mr. Pope to divide it into acts and scenes, and of having it acted by the king's scholars at Westminster: but his commitment to the tower put an end to that design. It has since been brought upon the stage in the form of an oratorio; and Mr. Handel's music is never employed to greater advantage, than when it is adapted to Milton's words. The great artist has done equal justice to our author's L'Allegro and II Penseroso, as if the same spirit possessed both p,asters, and as if the god of music and of verse was still one and the same.
There are also some other pieces of Milton, for he continued publishing to the last. In 1673, he published Artis Logics plenior Institutio ad Petri K.,mi inethodum concinnata, an Institution of Logic after the method of Petrus Ramus: and
the year following, a Treatise of True Religion and the best means to Prevent the Growth of Popery, which had greatly inereased through the connivance of the King, and the more open encouragement of the Duke of York; and the same year his poems, which had been printed in 16-iri, were re-' printed with the addition of several others. His F.pistles and some Academical Exercises, j
Epistolarum Familiarium, Lib. 1., ct Prol"jHones quaxlam Oratorie in Collegio Christi hahitae, were printed in 1674; as was also his translation ou. of Latin into English of the Poles Declaration concerning the election of their King John III.. setting forth the virtues and merits of that prince He wrote also a brief History of Muscovy, ;oilected from the relations of several travellers; but it was not printed till after his death in !s-.' He had likewise his state-letters transcribed at the request of the Danish resident, but neither were they printed till nfter his death in 1676, and wen translated into English in 1604; and to that translation a life of Milton was prefixed by his nephew Mr. Edward Philips, and at the end of that life his excellent sonnets to Fairfax, Cromwell, Sir Henry Vane, and Cyriac Skinner, on his blindness, were first printed. Besides these works which were published, he wrote his System ot Divinity, which Mr. Toland says was in the hands of his friend Cyriac Skinner, but where at present is uncertain. And Mr. Philips says, that he had prepared for the press an answer to some little seribbling quack in London, who bad written a scurrilous libel against him; but whether oy the dissuasion of friends, as thinking him a fellow not worth his notice, or for what other cause, Mr. Philips knew not, this answer was never published. And indeed the best vindicator of him and his writings has been time; posterity has universally paid that honour to his merits, which was denied him by great part of his contemporaries.
After a life thus spent in study and labours for the publie, he died of the gout at his house in Bunhill Row, on or about the 10th of November, 1674, when he had within a month completed the sixty-sixth year of his age. It is not known when he was first attacked by the gout, but he was grievously afflicted with it several of the last yean of his life, and was weakened to such a degree, that he died without a groan, and those in the room perceived not when he expired. His body was decently interred near that of his father, (who had died very aged about the year 1647,) in the chancrl of the church of St. Giles's, Cripplegate; and all his great and learned friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the common people, paid their last respects in attending it to the grave. Mr. Fenton, in his short hut I'legant aceount of the Life of Milton, speaking of our author's having no monument, says that 'he desired a friend to inquire at St. Ciiles's church; where the sexton showed him a small monument, which he said was supposed to be Milton's; but the inscription had never K1-n legible since he wns employed in that office, which In> has possessed ahont forty years. This sure could never have happened in so short a space of time, unleM the epitaph had been industriously erased; and tli&t supposition, says Mr. Fenton, carries with it so much inhumanity, that I think we ought to believe it was not erected to his memory." It is evident that it was not erected to his memory, Mid that the sexton was mistaken. Fur Mr. Tolutd. in his aceount of the Life of Milton, says, that he was buried in the chancel of St. Giles's church, "where the piety of his admirers will shortly erect a monument becoming his worth and the encouragement of letters in King William's reign." This plainly implies that no monument was erected to him at that time, and this was written in 1698: and Mr. Fenton's aceount was first published, I think, in 1725; Bo that not above twenty-seven years intervened from the one account to the other; and consequently the sexton, who it is said had been possessed of his office about forty years, must have been mistaken, and the monument must have been designed for some other person, and not for Milton. A monument indeed has been erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey by Auditor Benson, in the year 1737; but the best monument of him is his writings.
In his youth he was esteemed extremely handsome, so that while he was a student at Cambridge, he was called the Lady of Christ's College. He had a very fine skin and fresh complexion; his hair was of a light brown, and parted on the foretop hung down in curls waving upon his f boulders; his features were exact and regular; his voice agreeable and musical; his habit clean and neat; his deportment erect and manly. He was middlesized and well proportioned, neither tall nor short, neither too lean nor too corpulent, strong and active in his younger years, and though afflicted with frequent headache, blindness, and gout, was yet a comely and well-looking man to the last. His eyes were of a light blue colour, and from the first are said to have been none of the brightest; but after he lost the sight of them (which happened about the 43d year of his age) they still appeared without spot or blemish, and at first view nftd a little distance it was not easy to know that he was blind. Mr. Richardson had an aceount of him from au nncient clergyman in Dorsetshire, Dr. Wright, who found him in a small house, which had (he thinks) but one room on a floor; in that, up one pair of stairs, which was hung with a rusty green, he saw John Milton sitting in an elbow chair, with black clothes, and neat enough, pale but not cadaverous, his hands and fingers gouty, and with rhalk stones; among other discourse he expressed himself to this purpose, that was he free from the Imih of the gout, his blindness would be tolerable. But there u the less need to be particular in tho description of his person, as the idea of his face und countenance is pretty well known from the ttdme,oua prints. eictures, busts, medals, and other
representations which have been made of him. There are two pictures of greater value than the rest, as they are undoubted originals, and were in the possession'of Milton's widow: the first was drawn when he was about twenty-one, and is as present in the collection of the Right Honourable Arthur Onslow,.Esq , Speaker of the House of Commons; the other in erayons was drawn when he was about sixty-two, and was in the collection of Mr. Richardson, but has since been purchased by Mr. Tonson. Several prints hare been made from both these pictures; and there is a print, done when he was about sixty-two or sixty-three, after the life by Faithom, which though not so handsome, may yet perhaps be as true a resemblance as any of them. It is pref,xed to some of our author's pieces, and to the folio edition of his prose works in three volumes, printed in 1698.
In his way of living he was an example of sobriety and temperance. He was very sparing in the use of wine or strong liquors of any kind. Lei meaner poets make use of such expedients to raise their fancy and kindle their imagination; he wanted not any artificial spirits; he had a natural firc, :.t,'l poetic warmth enough of his own. He was likewise very abstemious in his diet, not fastidiously nice or delicate in the choice of his dishes, but content mth any thing that was most in season, or easiest to be procured, eating and drinking (according to the distinction of the philosopher) that he might live, and not living that he might fat and drink. So that probably his gout descended by inheritance from one or other of his parents; or if it was of his own acquiring, it must have been owing to his studious and sedentary life. And yet he delighted sometimes in walking and using exercise, btll we hear nothing of his riding or hunting; and having early learned to fence, hi waa such a master of his sword, that he was not afraid of resenting an affront from any man; and before he lost his sight, his principal recreation was the exercise of his arms; but after he was conf,ned by age and blindness, he had a machine to swing in for the preservation of his health. In His youth he was aceustomed to sit up late at his studies, and seldom went to hed before midnight; Imt afterwards, finding it to be the ruin of his eyes, and looking on this custom as very pernicious to health at any time, he used to go to rest early, seldom later than nine, and would be stirring in the summer at four, and in the winter at five in the mornina; but if he was not disposed to rise at his usual hours, he still did not lie sleeping, but had some body or other by his bed side to read to him. At his first rising he had usually a chapter read to him out of the Hebrew Bible. and he commonly studied all the morning till twelve, then used some exercise for an hour, afterwards dined, ami alter dinner played on the organ, and cither aiing ;.unsclf ot made his wile sing, who (he said) had a good voice but no ear; and then ho went up to study again till six, when his friends came to visit him and sai with him perhaps till eight; then he*went down to nipper, which was usually olives or some light thing; and after supper he smoked his pipe, and drank a glass of water, and went to bed. lie loved .be country, and commends it, as poets usually do; tat after his return from his travels, he was very tittle there, except during the time of the plague in London. The civil war might at first detain him in town; and the pleasures of the country were in a great measure lost to him, as they depend mostly upon sight, whereas a blind man wants company and conversation, which is to be had better in populous cities. But he was led out sometimes for the benefit of the fresh air, and in warm sunny weather he used to sit at the door of hi* house near Bunhill Fields, and there as well u in the house received the visits of persons of qualitv and distinction; for he was no less visited to the last both by his own countrymen and foreigwws, than he had been in his flourishing condition before the Restoration.
Some objections, indeed, have been made to his temper; and I remember there was a tradition in the university of Cambridge, that he and Mr. King (whose death he laments in his Lyeidav) were competitors for a fellowship, and when they were both equal in point of learning, Mr. King was prefer>ed by the college for his character of good nature, which was wanting in the other; and this was by Milton grievously resented. But the difference of their ages, Milton being at least four years older, tenders this story not very probable; and besides, Mr. King was not elected by the college, but was mule fellow by a royal mandate, so that there can 5e no truth in the tradition; but if there was any, U u no sign of Milton's resentment, but a proof af his generosity, that he could live in such friendship with a suecessful rival, and afterwards so passionately lament his decease. His method of writing controversy is urged as another argument of his want of temper: but some allowance must he made for the customs and manners of the times. Controversy, as well as war, was rougher and more barbarous in those days, than it is in these. And it is to be considered, too, that his adversaries first began the attack; they loaded him with much more personal abuse, only they had not .the advantage of so much wit to season it. If he had engaged with more candid and ingenuous dispu'ants, he would have preferred civility and fair argument to wit and satire: "to do so was my choice, and to have done thus was my chance," as he expresses himself in the conclusion of one of his rontroversial pieces. All who have written any Aecounts of his life agree, that he was affable and instructive in conversation, of an equal and cheer
ful temper; and yet I can easily believe, that he had a sufficient sense of h's own merits, and contempt enough for his adversaries.
His merits indeed were singular; for he was man not only of wonderful genius, but of unmense learning and erudition; not only an incomparable poet, but a great mathematician, logician, historian, and divine. He was a master not only of the Greek and Latin, but likewise of the Hebrew, Choldee, and Syriae, as well as of the modern languages, Italian, French, and Spanish. He was particularly skilled in the Italian, which he always preferred to the French language, as all the men of letters did at that time in England; and he not only wrote elegantly in it, but is highly commended for his writings by the most learned of the Italians themselves, and especially by the members of that celebrated academy called della Crusca, which was established at Florence, for the refining and perfecting of the Tuscan language. He had read almost all authors, and improved by all, even by romances, of which he had been fond in his younger years; and as the bee can extract honey out of weeds, so (to use his own words in his Apology for Smectymnuus) "those books, which to many others have been the fuel of wantonness and loose living, proved to him so many incitements to the love and observation of virtue." His favourite author after the Holy Scriptures, was Homer. Homer he could repeat almost all without book; and he was advised to undertake a translation of liis works, which no doubt he would have executed to admiration. But (as he says of himself in hie postscript to the Judgment of Martin Bucer) "he never could delight in long citations, much less in whole traductions." And aecordingly there are few things', and those of no great length, which he has ever translated. He was possessed too much of an original genius to be a mere copyer. "Whether it be natural disposition," says he, " or education in me, or that my mother bore me a speaker of what God made my own, and not a translator." And it is somewhat remarkable, that there is scaree any author, who has written so much, and uponsuch various subjects, and yet quotes so little from his contemporary authors, or so seldom mention! any of them. He praises Selden, indeed, in more places than one, but for the rest he appears disposed to censure rather than commend. After his severer studies, and after dinner, as we observed before, he used to divert and unbend hu rnind with playing upon the organ or bass-viol, whieh was a great relief to him after he had lost his sight; for he was a master of musie, as was his father, and he could perform both vocally and instrumentally, and it is said that he composed very well, though nothing of this kind is handed down to us. It is also said, that he had some skill in painting as well ;an in musie, and that somewhere omthrr there a