« IndietroContinua »
blind: but such was his vigour of intellect, that neither his office of secretary nor his private studies were interrupted by a calamity which would have rendered other men useless. On one occasion a treaty with Sweden was suspended owing to his indisposition, when the Swedish agent expressed his wonder that only one man in England could write Latin, and that man blind.
When in his forty-seventh year, he projected three works on which he had long meditated; an epic poem, the history of England, and a dictionary of the Latin tongue. What he collected for his dictionary is supposed to have been added to the Cambridge dictionary, published in 1693. With his history he proceeded no further than the Conquest, probably from the difficulty of consulting authori. ties, which he could not always perform with the help of other eyes. But in his epic poem he evinced himself independent of all aid but the pure inspiration of genius. After much deliberation, he fixed upon the subject of Paradise Lost,' and employed his leisure hours upon it from time to time. the Restoration, whether from compassion for his distresses, or respect for his talents, or from some powerful interest which cannot now be traced, he was included in the act of oblivion, and secured in his person and property, in common with his fellow. subjects. Soon after this event, he removed to a house in Jewin-street, and married a third wife, who added very little to his happiness.
The Paradise Lost appears to have been written at various times, and being at length completed, was sold, in 1667, to Samuel Simmons, for an immediate payment of five pounds; with a stipulation to receive five pounds more when thirteen hundred should be sold of the first edition; and again, five pounds after the sale of the same number of the second edition; and another five pounds after the same sale of the third. None of the three editions were to be executed beyond fifteen hundred copies.
There is nothing in the whole history of literature more wonderful than the price of this copyright. Milton could only receive twenty pounds in all, and he lived to receive only fifteen, for writing a poem'which has immortalized his name, and bestowed one of its greatest honours upon his country.
In 1671, he published his · Paradise Regained' and · Samson Agonistes.' • Paradise Regained,' was his favourite, probably because his last, poetical offspring ; but the opinion of the world has not sanctioned this preference.
In the last year of his life he sent to the press a collection of. Familiar Epistles,' in Latin, with some academical exercises.' As he had now gained a poetic name, his friends were probably desirous that he should profit by it; for these compositions add nothing to the author of Paradise Lost,' by which he will be known to distant ages and distant nations, when the rest of his works are forgotten. When he had attained his sixty-fourth year, his constitution was undermined by frequent attacks of the gout; and he died at his house in Bunhill-fields, on the 10th of November, 1674. His funeral, which was numerously and splendidly honoured, took place in the parish-church of St. Giles, Cripplegate.
Of his moral, or purpose, in the Paradise Lost,' Dr. Johnson has remarked, that it was at once the most useful and the most arduous; to vindicate the ways of God to man; to show the reasonableness of religion, and the necessity of obedience to the divine law. To convey this moral, there must be a fable, a narration artfully constructed, so as to excite curiosity, and surprise expectation. In this part of his work, Milton must be confessed to have equalled every other poet.' « Great events,' says
the same judicious critic, can be hastened or retarded only by persons of elevated dignity. Before the greatness displayed in Milton's poem, all other greatness shrinks away; and of the other agents, the chief are such as it is irreverence to name on slight
occasions. To display the motives and actions of beings thus superior, so far as human reason can examine them, or human imagination represent them, is the task which this mighty poet has undertaken and performed.' But criticism on the • Paradise Lost' has been exhausted in a number of books that are familiar to the reader; and praise, if it were to be bestowed in proportion to merit, would perhaps require a new language, or an imagination as fertile as that of the author. Of the four names which universal opinion has placed at the head of poetic excellence, Homer, Virgil, Shakspeare, and Milton, it is a proud consolation that England can claim two. The multiplied and multiplying editions of the poem now before the reader sufficiently attest the improvement of public taste. It has indeed been remarked by Addison, that, by the nature of its subject, it has the advantage of every other, in being universally and perpetually interesting. All mankind will, through all ages, bear the same relation to Adam and to Eve, and must partake of that good and evil which extend to themselves.
On his being arrived at the Age of Twenty-three ib.
When the Assault was intended to the City 488
On the Detraction which followed upon my