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earlier-the poet had commenced the great work of his life, Paradise Lost. He had entertained a project of writing on the same theme a tragedy according to the antique model ; but this scheme was laid aside, and the narrative poem undertaken, and completed in or about 1665. It consisted originally of only ten Books (instead of twelve as now): the larger number was made up in 1674, in the second edition, by dividing the 7th and roth sections. The poem, after much difficulty in getting it licensed, was published by Mr. Simmons in 1667. The price paid down for it was £5; to be followed by £15, contingent upon the sale of a second and a third large impression. As it turned out, the first edition, 1500 copies, sold off in two years to the extent of 1300 : the remaining 200 took five years more to sell. Before Paradise Lost, blank verse in the English language had been almost confined to dramatic works : Milton adopted this measure as alon'e suitable to so august a theme, and, in his preliminary notice to the poem, went so far as to denounce rhyme as trivial and barbarous. In 1670, Michael Elwood, a well-meaning quaker admirer who acted from time to time as Milton's amanuensis, made a remark which set him upon the composition of Paradise Regained. This was published, along with Samson Agonistes, in 1671; the singular perversity of authorship which led Milton to prefer Paradise Regained to Paradise Lost has often been remarked upon.
There are not many more incidents to be noted in the closing years of this illustrious life. In 1665 the poet had quitted London, in which the great plague was then raging, and he lived awhile in the village of Chalfont St. Giles, in Buckinghamshire. When the epidemic was over, he returned : his last habitation was in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields. His daughters did not reside with him during the final four or five years of his life. He suffered from gout; and an attack of this malady carried him off on the 8th of November 1674. His will, which was afterwards disputed in the interest of his daughters, left everything to his wife'
—the total value being about £1500. His tomb is in the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate.
The principal writings of Milton not already mentioned were a Latin Grammar, published in 1661; a History of England, 1670, which he only brought down to the date of the Norman conquest ; a System of Logic after the Method of Ramus, 1672 ; a Treatise of True Religion, 1673, in the course of which he inveighed against popery, and propounded, as the limit which deserved political toleration. any phase of religious thought which should recognize the Scriptures as sufficient guide ; Familiar Epistles in Latin.
and some Academical Exercises, 1674. He had at one time projected writing a poem on the story of King Arthur. In 1823 was made the important discovery of a MS. work by Milton, De Doctrinâ Christianâ Libri duo: the copy was found in the state-paper office, and was published without delay. Milton, during his life, was classed in a general way among the Independents, the religious body to which Cromwell also belonged : but this MS. showed him to be a Christian differing considerably from the sects of Christians mostly recognized as within any pale of orthodoxy. He did not accept the ordinary dogmas of the Trinity, or of the divinity of Christ : on the latter subject, he might be considered an Arian rather than a Socinian. In various other respects also his opinions assumed a great latitude : he denied, for instance, that polygamy is unlawful, and joined in no public form of worship.
Milton was from childhood and all through the years of his less advanced manhood eminently handsome, and continued a fine old man to the last. His hair was light brown, and remained plenteous, his complexion fair and ruddy ; the features were symmetrical; the eyes, gray in hue, suffered no perceptible alteration from his blindness. He was rather below than above the middle height, neither fat nor thin, active in person, erect in deportment, and neat in dress. His courage was abundant, and he was a good swordsman. His voice was musical, as befitted a man one of whose chief relaxations consisted in music; he played on the organ and bass-viol. Another relaxation was conversation with friends, among whom he was cheerful, open, and an interesting talker. His temper was serene, and it is said that he made no enmities other than such as arose from public grounds : as a controversalist, indeed, he was sufficiently bitter, and even abusive, but he did not regard himself as naturally controversial-rather as summoned by a loftier Muse to a calmer, deeper, and more perennial utterance. He was abstemious, and eschewed strong liquors ; he had a fine memory, and much width of reading, and in youth a predilection for romance. Though never rich, he retained a sufficiency to free his declining years from any sordid discomfort. His morals were always pure—his religion deep-seated. Among Milton's personal habits, it is recorded that he smoked a pipe at the close of evening; and that he composed poetry chiefly in the winter-time, and not unfrequently while lying in bed.
If ever a man lived of whom an upright and intellectual nation may be proud, it is Milton. His elevation in every aspect-of person, of character, of mind, of acquirements, of conduct, of the field for the exercise of his powers, of
political environments, and (what is here the most important of all) of poetic purpose and performance—is almost fatiguingly conspicuous and uniform. An ordinary mind contemplating Milton can realize to itself the feeling of the Athenian who resented hearing Aristides for ever styled “the Just." Such a mind feels a little and excusably provoked at the serene and severe loftiness of a Milton, and casts about to find him blameworthy in his very superiority -an exacting husband and father, an over-learned writer, cumbrous or stilted in prose, and pedantically accoutred in verse, a political and religious extremist. There may be something in these objections, or the smaller kind of souls will please themselves by supposing there is something in them. Honour is the predominant emotion naturally felt towards Milton-hardly enthusiasm-certainly not sympathy. Perhaps a decided feeling of unsympathy would affect many of us, were it not for the one great misfortune of the poet. Nature had forbidden him to be infirm in himself, but gave him a crown of accidental or physical infirmity, and bowed him somewhat-a little lower than the angels_towards sympathy. This Aristides was blind.
Any one who has even a small inkling of self-knowledge must feel, two centuries after the death of Milton, that to pretend to say much about the quality of his poetry would be an impertinence. Admiration and eulogium are long ago discounted : objections sound insolent, and are at any rate supererogatory. One's portion is to read and reverence. Still, something remains to be defined by an independent appreciator, however deeply respectful. I shall reduce this something to a minimum : and have indeed, in the preceding general observations about Milton's personal and intellectual character, indicated most of the points which seem to deserve some sort of expression with regard to his poetry.
Among Milton's many great attributes, his mastery of the sublime is the one which has probably received the most frequent and most emphatic laudation. For my own part, I think it open to question whether, even in this preëminent possession of a most preëminent poetic gift, he shows so signal a superiority as he does in point of utterance (as it may be called), or sonority. His power over language, in its beauty and its majesty, his mastery of form and of verse, his dominance over all persuasion and all stress and sustainment of sound, its music and loveliness, its resources and charms, its dignity, austerity, and awe,—these form perhaps the most marked distinction of Milton, and his most genuinely and widely felt appeal. It seems conceivable that some readers, not strictly destitute of susceptibility to poetry, might remain cold and obtuse to the sublimity of Milton, or might acknowledge without truly admiring it : but anybody who has read Milton with some moderate degree of attention, and who yet fails to feel the noble delight of his diction and music-his “numbers," as an elder generation of critics used happily to phrase itmust be pronounced deficient in the primary sense of poetry.
From a certain point of view, there is no poet more diffi. cult to estimate than Milton-salient and unmistakeable as his leading characteristics are to the least expert student of poetry. To appraise Milton is to appraise Paradise Lost; or, conversely, to appraise Paradise Lost is in the main to appraise Milton. Now Paradise Lost is an enormously difficult book to give a fair account of even to one's own instincts or intuitions-much more to one's critical or reasoning faculties, or, through the medium of words, to the like faculties of the reader. The great difficulty consists in this : That Paradise Lost is so interwoven with the religion and religious associations of the people, and is written from a standard of conception so lofty and ideal in many respects, that one can hardly bring oneself to apply any different standard to it, and yet one feels that in numerous instances the product is not commensurate with that standard. Not so much that it falls below it (though this also is indisputably true in a sense) as that it deviates entirely. To measure some things in the poem by the ideal standard is like trying chemical substances by the wrong test : they yield no response to the demandant. Hence, I think, some disappointment to the prepossessed reader of Paradise Lost, or to the reader who, being unprepossessed, has the courage also to be candid : the poem ought, he fancies, to be as true as a divine oracle, unswerving from the severe and impeccable ideal line, and behold it is considerably otherwise. The fault, or part of the fault, lies with the reader. There is no final reason why the spiritual afflatus which wrapped Milton, the atmosphere of ideas and data in which he lived, should be closer to ultimate truth and right, to the sublime of a divine equity, than those of Homer or any other great poet. The inextinguishable laughter of Olympus is alien to us, but has a poetic value of its own not likely soon to perish: the scholastic harangues of Jehovah and Messiah, or the cannonades of Satan and Moloch, may also be alien to us, and it is only our prejudices which, perceiving them to be thus alien, refuse to allow the fair consequence that these things must be dismissed as having any connexion with supernal truth, and must henceforth be regarded as merely so much surplusage
for any save poetic ends. It remains to be judged whether they are good poetry or bad. To Milton they were as ideal and profound as to Homer the laughter of the gods, and Ares wounded by Diomed; perhaps not more :—to us, neither need be profound or ideal. Like all other products of human mind, how great soever—and clearly it ranks among the very great-Paradise Lost is local and temporary : it belongs to the puritan Milton, it belongs to the England of the seventeenth century, inspired by Hebrew religionists and poets, and fancying that it possessed a final criterion of truth, and almost a final interpretation of truth. Local and temporary it is in its constituent partsonly in its essence or outcome universal and undying : like the Iliad of Homer, the Commedia of Dante, the Proinetheus of Shelley, the Faust of Göthe.
“Thus at the rushing loom of Time I ply,