« IndietroContinua »
a proof by publishing, the next year, 1661, Accidence commenced Grammar; a little book, which has nothing remarkable, but that its author, who had been lately defending the supreme powers of his country, and was then writing Paradise Lost, could descend from his elevation to rescue children from the perplexity of grammatical confusion, and the trouble of lessons unnecessarily repeated’. About this time Elwood, the quaker, being recommended to him, as one who would read Latin to him for the advantage of his conversation, attended him every afternoon, except on Sundays. Milton, who, in his letter to Hartlib, had declared, that “to read Latin with an English mouth is as ill a hearing as law French,” required that Elwood should learn and practise the Italian pronunciation, which, he said, was necessary, if he would talk with foreigners. This seems to have been a task troublesome without use. There is little reason for preferring the Italian pronunciation to our own, except that it is more general; and to teach it to an Englishman is only to make him a foreigner at home. He who travels, if he speaks Latin, may so soon learn the sounds which every native gives it, that he need make no provision before his journey; and if strangers visit us, it is their business to practise such conformity to our modes as they expect from us in their own countries. Elwood complied with the directions, and improved himself by his attendance; for he relates, that Milton, having a curious ear, knew, by his voice, when he read what he did not understand, and would stop him, and “open the most difficult passages.” In a short time he took a house in the Artillery walk, leading to Bunhill fields; the mention of which concludes the register of Milton’s removals and habitations. He lived longer in this place than in any other. He was now busied by Paradise Lost. Whence he drew the original design has been variously conjectured, by men who cannot bear to think themselves ignorant of that which, at last, neither diligence nor sagacity can discover. Some find the hint in an Italian tragedy. Voltaire tells a wild and unauthorized story of a farce seen by Milton, in Italy, which opened thus: “Let the rainbow be the fiddlestick of the fiddle of heaven”. “It has been already shown, that the first conception was of a tragedy or mystery, not of a narrative, but a dramatick work, which he is supposed to have begun to reduce to its presentform about the time (1655) when he finished his dispute with the defenders of the king. He, long before, had promised to adorn his native country by some great performance, while he had yet, perhaps, no settled design, and was stimulated only by such expectations as naturally arose from the survey of his attainments, and the consciousness of his powers. What he should undertake, it was difficult to determine. He was “long choosing, and began late.”
WGildon, in his continuation of Langbaine's account of the dramatick
poets, 8vo. 1693, says, that he had been told that Milton, after the res
toration, kept a school at or near Greenwich. The publication of an Ac
cidence at that period gives some countenance to this tradition. MALONE, Vol. 8 57
*It is scarcely necessary to inform the reader, that this relation of Voltaire's was perfectly true, as far as relates to the existence of the play which he speaks of, namely, the Adamo of Andreini; but it is still a question whether Milton ever saw it. J. B.
While he was obliged to divide his time between his private studies and affairs of state, his poetical labour must have been often interrupted; and, perhaps, he did little more in that busy time than construct the narrative, adjust the episodes, proportion the parts, accumulate images and sentiments, and treasure in his memory, or preserve in writing, such hints as books or meditation would supply. Nothing particular is known of his intellectual operations while he was a statesman; for, having every help and accommodation at hand, he had no need of umcommon expedients.
Being driven from all publick stations, he is yet too great not to be traced by curiosity to his retirement; where he has been found, by Mr. Richardson, the fondest of his admirers, sitting “before his door in a grey coat of coarse cloth, in warm sultry weather, to enjoy the fresh air; and so, as well as in his own room, receiving the visits of the people of distinguished parts, as well as quality.” His visiters of high quality must now be imagined to be few; but men of parts might reasonably court the conversation of a man so generally illustrious, that foreigners are reported, by Wood, to have visited the house in Bread street, where he was born.
According to another account, he was seen in a smallhouse, “neatly enough dressed in blackclothes, sitting in a room hung with rusty green; pale but not cadaverous, with chalkstones in his hand. He said, that, if it were not for the gout, his blindness would be tolerable.” In the intervals of his pain, being made unable to use the common exercises, he used to swing in a chair, and sometimes played upon an organ. He was now confessedly and visibly employed upon his poem, of which the progress might be noted by those with whom he was familiar; for he was obliged, when he had composed as many lines as his memory would conveniently retain, to employ some friend in writing them, having, at least for part of the time, no regular attendant. This gave opportunity to observations and reports. Mr. Philips observes, that there was avery remarkable circumstance in the composure of Paradise Lost, “which I have a particular reason,” says he, “to remember; for whereas I had the perusal of it from the very beginning, for some years, as I went from time to time to visit him, in parcels of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time, which, being written by whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction, as to the orthography and pointing; having, as the summer came on, not been showed any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal; and that whatever he attempted at other times was
never to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much; so that, in all the years he was about this poem, he may be said to have spent half his time therein.” Upon this relation Toland remarks, that in his opinion, Philips has mistaken the time of the year; for Milton, in his elegies, declares, that with the advance of the spring he feels the increase of his poetical force, “redeunt in carmina vires.” To this it is answered, that Philips could hardly mistake time so well marked; and it may beadded, that Milton might find different times of the year favourable to different parts of life. Mr. Richardson conceives it impossible that “such a work should be suspended for six months, or for one. It may go on faster or slower, but it must go on.” By what necessity it must continually go on, or why it might not be laid aside and resumed, it is not easy to discover. This dependance of the soul upon the seasons, those temporary and periodical ebbs and flows of intellect, may, I suppose, justly be derided, as the fumes of vain imagination: “Sapiens dominabitur astris.” The author that thinks himself weatherbound will find, with a little help from hellebore, that he is only idle or exhausted. But while this notion has possession of the head, it produces the inability which it supposes. Our powers owe much of their energy to our hopes: “possunt quia posse videntur.” When success seems attainable, diligence is enforced; but when it is admitted that the faculties are suppressed by a cross wind, or a cloudy sky, the