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ESSAY ON MILTON'S
USE AND IMITATION OF THE MODERNS
[First published in the year 1750.)
T 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 error of their first neglect, by lavish praises and boundless
*“It is to be hoped, nay, it is expected, that the elegant and nervous writer, whose judicious sentiments, and inimitable style, points 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."--Milton vindicated from the charge of plagiarism brought against him by Mr. Lauder, and Lauder himself convicted of several forgeries and gross impositions on the public. By John Douglas, M. A. Rector of Eton Constantine, Salop, Nyo. 1751, p. 77.
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 additions, others 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 fabric gradually rising, perhaps from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre, and its furrets 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 critics 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,
Essay upon the civil wars of France, and also upon the
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 shewn, by resistless evidence, to be better founded.
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 propery to be sought. In a manuscript, published from MALTon's own hand, among a great number of subjects for tragedy, is ADAM UNPARADISED, or ADAMIN SILE; and this, therefore, may be justly supposed the embryo of this great poem. As it is observable that áll 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 Pa. RADISE Lost. Nor was my expectation disappointed; for, having procured the ADAMUS Exul of GROTIUS: I found, or imagined myself to find, the first draft, 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
* New Memoirs of Mr. John Milton. By Francis Peck, 440. 1740, p. 52.
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 public; with full conviction that, in questions of this kind, the world cannot be MISTAKEN, at least, cannot long continue in error.
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 17th volume of this work, which I think suitable to my purpose. Το 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,
WHEN this essay was almost finished, the splendid Edition of PARADISE Lost, so long promised by the reverend Dr. Newton, fell into my hands; of which I had, however, so little use, that as it would be injustice to censure, it would be flattery to commend it: and I should have totally forborn the mention of a book that I have not read, had not one passage, at the conclusion of the life of Milton, excited in me too much pity and indignation to be suppressed in silence.
“ Deborah Milton's youngest daughter,” says the Editor, “ was married to Mr. Abraham Clarke, “a weaver, in Spitalfields, and died in August 1727, in the 76th year of her age. She had ten children. Elizabeth, the youngest, was married to Mr. Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spitalfields, and had seven children, who are all dead; and she herself is aged about sixty, and weak, and infirm. She seemeth to be a good plain sensible