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ON MILTON'S USE AND IMITATION OF THE
MODERNS IN HIS PARADISE LOST.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE YEAR 1750.
It is now more than half a century since the -“ Paradise Lost,” having broke through the cloud 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 errour of their first neglect, by lavish praises and boundless 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 editions, others have published commentaries, and all have endeavoured to make their particular studies, in some degree, subservient to this general emulation.
* 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 publick. By John Douglas, M. A. Rector of Euton Constantine, Salop. 8vo. 1751, p. 77.
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 fabrick gradually rising, perhaps from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre, and its turrets 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 criticks 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, that it was derived
Essay upon the Civil Wars of France, and also upon the Epick Poetry of the European Nations, from Homer down to Milton, 8vo. 1727, p. 103. E.
+ Preface to a Review of the Text of the Twelve Books of Milton's Para lise Lost, in which the chief of Dr. Bentley's Emendations are considered. 8vo. 1733. E.
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 shown, 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 properly to be sought. In a manuscript, published from Milton's own hand, among a great number of subjects for tragedy, is “ Adam unparadised,”
“ Adam in Exile;” and this, therefore, may be justly supposed the embryo of this great poem. it is observable, that all 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 “ Paradise Lost.” Nor was my expectation disappointed; for, having procured the Adamus exul of Grotius, I found, or imagined myself to find, the first draught, the prima stamina of this wonderful poem.
Having thus traced the original of this work, I
* New Memoirs of Mr. John Milton. By Francis Peck. 4to. 1740. p. 52.
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 having, at least, persuaded my own judgment that the search has not been intirely ineffectual, I now lay the result of my labours before the publick; with full cony
ion, that in questions of this kind, the world cannot be mistaken, at least cannot long continue in
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 xviith volume of this work, which I think suitable to my purpose. To 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 woman, and has confirmed several particulars related above, and informed me of some others, which she had often heard from her mother.” These the doctor enumerates, and then adds, “ In all probability Milton's whole family will be extinct with her, and he can live only in his writings. And such is the caprice of fortune, this grand-daughter of a man, who will be an everlasting glory to the nation, has now for some years, with her husband, kept a little chandler's or grocer's shop, for their subsistence, lately at the lower Holloway, in the road between Highgate and London, and at present in Cocklane, not far from Shoreditch church.”
That this relation is true cannot be questioned : but, surely, the honour of letters, the dignity of sacred poetry, the spirit of the English nation, and the glory of human nature, require-that it should be true no longer.— In an age, in which statues are erected to the honour of this great writer, in which his effigy has been diffused on medals, and his work propagated by translations, and illustrated by commentaries; in an age, which amidst all its vices, and all its follies, has not become infamous for want of charity: it may be, surely, allowed to hope, that the living remains of Milton will be no longer suffered to