« VorigeDoorgaan »
Samuel Simmons, who in this instance also was the purchaser, disposed of what was thus wholly transferred to him, for twenty-five pounds, to Brabazon Aylmer the bookseller; from whom it passed, at a considerable advance of price, to old Jacob Tonson. The thirteenth edition of this poem, in 1727, ought to be mentioned with distinction, as it was prefaced with a life of the author by the respectable Elijah Fenton, who was at once a scholar, a poet, and a man of worth.'
In 1670 Milton published his history of England, a work of which our notices have already been sufficiently ample. In the following year he sent into the world the Paradise Regained and the Samson. Agonistes," poems of unequal merit, which require us to pause in the narrative for the purpose of making them the subjects of our transient observation.
' Iu 1786 a gentleman, possessing the first edition of Paradise Lost, communicated to the public, through the channel of the Gentleman's Magazine, some lines on Day-break, written, as he said, in a female hand on the two first leaves attached to the title page of the volume, and subscribed—“ Dictated by J. M.”—This testimony, united with that which is supplied by the verses themselves, will not suffer us to doubt of their being a production of our author's. They may be found in Mr. Todd's Life of Milton, p. cxx. of the 1st ed. or p. 118 of the 2d.
They had been licensed in the preceding year on the 2d of July
That considerable disappointment was felt on the first appearance of the Paradise Regained, and that the author's sensibility was hurt by the very inferior rank assigned to this with reference to his former poem, are facts which are very generally known. The Paradise Regained possessed no charms for the multitude; and it seems to have fallen immediately into that state of disregard from which it has not had the power or the good fortune to emerge.
Struck indeed with the beauties which occur in it, with the weight of sentiment and the knowledge which it every where displays, some superior men have endeavoured to conciliate the public regard in its favour, and even to assert for it the higher honours of heroic song. Jortin, whose remarks uniformly bear testimony to the peculiar rectitude of his mind, speaks of it in terms of just and appropriate praise; and Warburton, who with all the science and the acuteness, wanted the fine and sensitive perception of an accomplished critic, extravagantly pronounces it to be “
it to be “ a charming n Milton certainly did not prefer the “ Paradise Regained," but “ he could not hear with patience" (these are Philips's words) the former “ censured to be much inferior" to the latter. This surely is sufficient proof of the incompetency of an author to decide on the relative merits of his own works; and requires no aggravation from any mistatement of the fact.
poem, nothing inferior in the poetry and the sentiments to the Paradise Lost.”
The opinion however of these great men seems to have been without influence on that of the public; and a very able and laboured attempt in the present day, to lift into popularity this second birth of Milton's epic muse, has terminated equally in failure.
In 1796 an edition of this poem was published by Mr. Dunster; in whom unquestionably are united the leading requisites of a critic, extensive reading with an acule and discriminating intellect. Combining the zeal of an editor with the ingenuity of an advocate, he has not only ascertained with precişion the genuine beauties of the Paradise Regained, but, having first persuaded himself, he is solicitous to persuade us to discover charms in its blemishes, and fecundity in its dearth. In the judgment of this critic, the absence of poetic imagery and of poetic numbers, in the Paradise Regained, results from the profundity of taste and the most refined artifice; is a chaste reserve of ornament, a learned style of writing, to be relished indeed only by the few, but by the favoured and initiated few to be acknowledged as the pride of composition and the last happy effect of consummate and victorious art.
If my plan, would admit of any particular discussion of this editor's opinions and remarks, it would be easy, as I conceive, to convict them of essential and radical error: but to account for their ill success with the public, no minule or subtle disquisition will be necessary.
The first purpose of poetry is to please, and that poem which does not obviously please, which does not flatter the ear.and make its immediate appeal to the imagination or the heart, bas imperfectly accomplished its design, and must not hope for any extensive controll over the popular mind. In a composition, in which the charm and fascination proper to poetry are generally prevalent, criticism may explain the causes of those effects which are delightful to us, and may establish or extend the fame of the author: but to a poem, of which the beauties are so coy and retreating as to require to be anxi. ously sought and forcibly dragged into light, the services which the friendliness of criticism can render are very unimportant. It is in vain to tell us that we ought to be, if we are not pleased; and, if our understandings can be brought into subjection by the critic, our fancies revolting from his authority will assert their freedom, and, turning from the object of subtle and laboured panegyric, will seek their peculiar luxuries wherever they may be found.
On the fate of the Paradise Regained the voice of the public, which on a question of poetic excellence cannot for any long time be erroneous, has irrevocably decided. Not to object to the impropriety of the title, which would certainly be more consistent with a work on the death and the resurrection of our blessed Lord, the extreme narrowness of the plan of the poem, the small proportion of it which is assigned to action and the large part which is given to disputations and didactic dialogue, its paucity of characters and of poetic imagery, and, lastly, its general deficiency in the charm of numbers must for ever preclude it from any extended
range of popularity. It may be liked and applauded by those who are resolute to like and are hardy to applaud: but to the great body of the readers of poetry, let the critics amuse themselves with their exertions as they please, it will always be “caviare."' It is embellished however with several exquisite passages, and it certainly shows, in some of its finer parts, the still existing author of the Paradise Lost.
Shakspeare, in Hamlet.