« IndietroContinua »
understood; and why should Milton wish or want to hear them so often? These lines were at the beginning of the poems. Of a book written in a language not understood, the beginning raises no more attention than the end; and as those that understand it know commonly the beginning best, its rehearsal will seldom be necessary It is not likely that Milton required any passage to be so much repeated, as that his daughter could learn it; nor likely that he desired the initial lines to be read at all; nor that the daughter, weary of the drudgery of pronouncing unideal sounds, would voluntarily commit them to memory.
To this gentlewoman Addison made a present, and promised some establishment, but died soon after. Queen Caroline sent her fifty guineas. She had seven sons and three daughters; but none of them had any children, except her son Caleb and her daughter Elizabeth. Caleb went to Fort St. George, in the East Indies, and had two sons, of whom nothing is now known. Elizabeth married Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spital fields; and had seven children, who all died. She kept a petty grocer's or chandler's shop, first at Holloway, and afterwards in Cock lane, near Shoreditch church. She knew little of her grandfather, and that little was not good. She told of his harshness to his daughters, and his refusal to have them taught to write; and, in opposition to other accounts, represented him as delicate, though temperate, in his diet.
In 1750, April 5, Comus was played for her benefit. She had so little acquaintance with diversion or
gaiety, that she did not know what was intended, when a benefit was offered her. The profits of the night were only one hundred and thirty pounds, though Dr. Newton brought a large contribution; and twenty pounds were given by Tonson, a man who is to be praised as often as he is named. Of this sum one hundred pounds were placed in the stocks, after some debate between her and her husband, in whose name it should be entered; and the rest augmented their little stock, with which they removed to Islington. This was the greatest benefaction that Paradise Lost ever procured the author's descendants; and to this he, who has now attempted to relate his life, had the honour of contributing a prologue
In the examination of Milton's poetical works, I shall pay so much regard to time as to begin with his juvenile productions. For his early pieces he seems to have had a degree of fondness not very laudable; what he has once written he resolves to preserve, and gives to the publick an unfinished poem, which he broke off, because he was "nothing satisfied with what he had done,” supposing his readers less nice than himself. These preludes to his future labours are in Italian, Latin, and English. Of the Italian I cannot pretend to speak as a critick; but I have heard them commended by a man well qualified to decide their merit. The Latin pieces are lusciously elegant; but the delight which they afford
* Printed in the first volume of this collection.
is rather by the exquisite imitation of the ancient writers, by the purity of
the diction, and the harmony of the numbers, than by any power of invention, or vigour of sentiment. They are not all of equal value; the elegies excel the odes; and some of the exercises on Gunpowder Treason might have been spared.
The English poems, though they make no promises of Paradise Lost, have this evidence of genius, that they have a cast original and unborrowed. But their peculiarity is not excellence; if they differ from the verses of others, they differ for the worse; for they are too often distinguished by repulsive harshness; the combinations of words are new, but they are not pleasing; the rhymes and epithets seem to be laboriously sought, and violently applied.
That, in the early part of his life, he wrote with much care appears from his manuscripts, happily preserved at Cambridge, in which many of his smaller works are found, as they were first written, with the subsequent corrections. Such relicks show how excellence is acquired; what we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.
Those who admire the beauties of this great poet sometimes force their own judgment into false approbation of his little pieces, and prevail upon themselves to think that admirable which is only singular. All that short compositions can commonly attain, is neatness and elegance, Milton never learned the
8 With the exception of Comus, in which, Dr. J. afterwards says, may very plainly be discovered the dawn or twilight of Paradise Lost. C.
art of doing little things with grace; he overlooked the milder excellence of suavity and softness: he was a lion, that had no skill "in dandling the kid.”
One of the poems on which much praise has been bestowed is Lycidas; of which the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is, we must, therefore, seek in the sentiments and images. It is not to be considered as the effusion of real passion; for passion runs not after remote allusions and obscure opinions. Passion plucks no berries from the myrtle and ivy, nor calls upon Arethuse and Mincius, nor tells of rough
satyrs and fauns with cloven heel.” Where there is leisure for fiction, there is little grief
In this poem there is no nature, for there is no truth; there is no art, for there is nothing new. Its form is that of a pastoral: easy, vulgar, and, therefore, disgusting; whatever images it can supply are long ago exhausted; and its inherent improbability always forces dissatisfaction on the mind. When Cowley tells of Hervey, that they studied together, it is easy to suppose how much he must miss the companion of his labours, and the partner of his discoveries; but what image of tenderness can be excited by these lines?
We drove afield, and both together heard,
Batt’ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night. We know that they never drove afield, and that they had no flocks to batten; and, though it be allowed that the representation may be allegorical, the true
meaning is so uncertain and remote, that it is never sought, because it cannot be known when it is found.
Among the flocks, and copses, and flowers, appear the heathen deities; Jove and Phoebus, Neptune and Æolus, with a long train of mythological imagery, such as a college easily supplies. Nothing can less display knowledge, or less exercise invention, than to tell how a shepherd has lost his companion, and must now feed his flocks alone, without any judge of his skill in piping; and how one god asks another god what is become of Lycidas, and how neither god can tell. He who thus grieves will excite no sympathy; he who thus praises will confer no honour.
This poem has yet a grosser fault. With these trifling fictions are mingled the most awful and sacred truths, such as ought never to be polluted with such irreverend combinations. The shepherd, likewise, is now a feeder of sheep, and afterwards an ecclesiastical pastor, a superintendent of a christian flock. Such equivocations are always unskilful; but here they are indecent, and, at least, approach to impiety, of which, however, I believe the writer not to have been conscious.
Such is the power of reputation justly acquired, that its blaze drives away the eye from nice examination. Surely no man could have fancied that he read Lycidas with pleasure, had he not known the author.
Of the two pieces, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, I believe, opinion is uniform; every man that reads them, reads them with pleasure. The author's de