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the Paradise Lost, when he composed and dictated in the day, was accustomed “ to sit, leaning backward, in an easy chair, with his leg flung over the elbow of it:” that he frequently composed in the night, when his unpremeditated verse would sometimes flow in a torrent, under the impulse as it were of some strange poetical fury; and that in these peculiar moments of imagination his amanuensis, who was generally his daughter, was summoned by the bell to arrest the verses as they came and to commit them to the security of writing
f The account given by his widow (see note p. 506) agrees with this of Richardson's, respecting the circumstance of Milton's composing in the night, and dictating a number of lines in continuity.
Observing on what is here related by Richardson, Dr. Johnson says,
“ That in this intellectual hour Milton called for his daughter to secure what came, may be questioned; for unluckily it happens to be known that his daughters were never taught to write."
It is unfortunate for Dr. J. that we have Aubrey's authority in opposition to his. Aubrey, who possessed in this instance every mean of the most authentic information, expressly tells us that Milton's youngest daughter was his amanuensis. This Dr. J. must have known: but, though truth was dear to him, the depreciation of Milton was still dearer. When he passed without notice the information given on this subject by Aubrey, the Doctor availed himself of the very doubtful testimony of Mrs. Foster.
8" With a certain Impetus and stro" are the words of Richardson; whose language is too quaint, and frequently too in. correct to be admitted without some modification into any neat page. Of the two Latin words, which in this passage he has rather inaccurately connected with “ flowed," one is mispelt: Estrum being written by him Æstrum,
During the supposed inattention of the public to the merits of his poem, Milton has been represented as reposing in the conscious dignity of worth, and appealing without emotion from the injustice of his contemporaries to the impartial award of posterity. The magnanimity of Milton, which had been ascertained on a variety of occasions, would not, as we are confident, have deserted him under this species of trial. In this instance however its exertion was not demanded; for the fortune of his work was such as to preserve him from the shock of disappointment, if not to elevate him with the transport of success. The applauses of the few, whose judgment he most valued, seem to have been sufficiently warm and unanimous to assure him that he had fully accomplished his object; and might patiently await that louder plaudit which could not finally be withheld.
We are ignorant of the precise time when the celebrated epigram of Dryden was written: but the encomiastic verses of Andrew Marvell, and of Barrow the physician were prefixed to the second edition of the Paradise Lost, and were probably composed soon after its first publication. To Lord Buckhurst, who subsequently became Earl of Dorset, is ascribed the honour of introducing it to general notice; for accidentally meeting with it in Little Britain, where he was in the pursuit of rare books, and being struck with some of its passages, he immediately purchased and sent it to Dryden, with a request for his opinion. Dryden's answer discovered the strong feeling of one great poetic mind excited by the exhibition of another. “ This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too:”” and soon afterward, as Aubrey informs us, the Laureat called upon Milton, and solicited his permission to construct a drama upon his epic; a permission which the old bard readily gave, declaring that he had no objection to the scheme “ of tagging his lines.” In the preface to this drama, or, to speak with more precision, to this opera, called “ The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man,” which was not published during Milton's life, Dryden is sufficiently liberal in his acknowledgments to the majestic and venerable poet, with whose materials he had
h This anecdote, which is related by Richardson on authority not easily to be questioned, bas lately been discredited by Mr. Malone, in his Life of Dryden, [p. 113, 114.] But the arguments, adduced on this topic by Mr. M. are in themselves very weak, and of no power against the testimony which they are brought to overthrow. From the reply of Dryden in this instance no inference can be drawn against his previous acquaint
ance with the Paradise Lost and its author. Dryden might have been intimate with this great Epic from its first embryon existence, or with Milton from his cradle, and yet have said, “ This man cuts us all out, and the ancients 100;" and what is imputed to the bookseller, as spoken by him on this occasion to the noble peer, is by no means inconsistent with the fact as it is established, of the general sale of the Paradise Lost: for the bookseller only tells Lord Buckhurst that they," the copies of the poem which were in his shop, “ lay on his hands as waste paper." There happened, as it seems, to be no sale for the Paradise Lost in the neighbourhood of Little Britain, and the twenty or thirty or fifty copies perhaps which this bookseller had purchased, (and these copies by the bye would be reckoned by the publisher among the thirteen hundred which had passed off his hands, though not, as this account demonstrates, into circulation,) still remained unsold, I am sorry to remark that in the present instance Mr. Malone bas not observed his usual accuracy of statement; for in bis citation from Richardson he has been guilty, inadvertently as I make no doubt, of a very egregious mistake. The words of Richardson are, “ for they lay on his hands as waste paper:" but Mr. Malone has changed “they" for a word of more specific import, and made the bookseller say “ the impression lay on his hands as waste paper." On this misquotation, corrected, or rather still more perverted into “almost the whole impression," Mr. Malone founds the whole strength of his pretended refutation. The other anec. dote recorded by Richardson, of Sir John Denham's having brought into the House of Commons a leaf of the Paradise Lost from the press and made it the subject of his high eulogy, I have forborne to insert in my page. But, though the arguments advanced, in the first instance by Dr. Johnson and since by Mr. Malone, against the probability of this asserted fact are rather more specious than those which I have been considering, still are they far from being convincing or of a nature to be opposed to the evidence of Sir George Hungerford, who reports what he saw and what he heard.
constructed his own beautiful, but very unequal edifice.
Minutely to trace all the subsequent fortunes of the Paradise Lost, through its various editions and translations, till it became fully established in its proper rank as a British classic and the pride of modern Europe,' would probably rather fatigue than be amusing to my readers. I will only therefore observe that Milton lived to obtain the whole fifteen pounds for which he had conditionally stipulated, that his widow soldk for eight pounds the copy-right of the work which he had bequeathed to her; and that
Notwithstanding the strange specimen of French criticism which we have lately noticed, (p. 535 in the note), the fame of the Paradise Lost seems to be extending in France. A version of it, with a life of its author, abridged principally from that by Mr. Hayley, has been published at Paris by a M. Monneron, a member of the Legislative Body: and, what is of more consequence, a translation of our great epic has just been given to the world by L'Abbè Delille. Though this translation be much inferior to that of Virgil by the same elegant and spirited pen, and may not be altogether equal to the high fame of Delille, it contains many beautiful passages; and, though made, as it would appear, without a sufficient intimacy with the language of the original, it exhibits on the whole to the French reader a very fine poem. But of all the great poets Milton is perhaps the most difficult to be brought under the yoke of French prosody; and, happily adapted as it is to the common intercourse of society, the French must be allowed by its greatest admirers not to be the language of the more sublime Muse.
* On the 21st of December, 1680, as appears. by her receipt.