« ZurückWeiter »
much surprise that he had never heard Pope speak of them, went home and immediately gave them an attentive reading, and asked Pope if he knew any thing of this hidden treasure. Pope availed himself of the question : and accordingly, we find him soon afterwards sprinkling his ELOISA TO ABELARD with epithets and phrases of a new form and sound, pilfered from comus and the peNSERoso. It is a phenomenon in the history of English poetry, that Pope, a poet not of Milton's pedigree, should be their first copier. He was however conscious, that he might borrow from a book then scarcely remembered, without the hazard of a discovery, or the imputation of plagiarism. Yet the theft was so light, as hardly to deserve the name : and it must be allowed, that the experiment was happily and judicioully applied, in delineating the sombrous scenes of the pensive Eloisa's convent, the solitary Paraclete.
At length, we perceive these poems emerging in the criticism of the times,
In 1733, doctor Pearce published his Review of the Text of PARADISE LOST, where they frequently furnish collateral evidence in favour of the established state of that text, and in refutation of Bently's chimerical corrections. In the following year, the joint labour of the two Richardsons produced Explanatory Notes on the PARADISE LOST, where they repeatedly lend their assistance, and are treated in such a style of criticism, as fhews that their beauties were
FACE truly felt. Soon afterwards, such respectable names as Jortin, Warburton, and Hurd, conspired in examining their excellencies, in adjusting their claims to praise, and extending their reputation. They were yet further recommended to the public regard. In 1738, COMus was presented on the stage at Drury-Lane, with musical accompaniments, and the application of additional songs, selected and adapted from L'ALLEGRO, and other pieces of this volume: and although not calculated to shine in theatric exhibition for those
reasons which constitute its effential and specific merit, from this introduction to notice it grew popular as a poem. L'ALLEGRO and IL PENSEROSO were set to music by Handel; and his expressive harmonies here received the honour which they have so seldom found, but which they so justly deserve, of being married to immortal verse. Not long afterwards, LYCIDAS was imitated by Mr. Mason. In the mean time, the PARADISE LOST was acquiring more numerous readers: the manly melodies of blank-verse, which after its revival by Philips had been long neglected, caught the public ear : and the whole of Milton's poetical works, associating their respective powers as in one common interest, jointly and reciprocally cooperated in diffusing and forming just ideas of a more perfect species of poetry. A visible revolution succeeded in the general cast and character of the national composition. Our versification contracted a new colouring, a new structure and phraseology ;
and the school of Milton rose in emulation of the school of Pope.
An editor of Milton's juvenile poems cannot but express his concern, in which however he
may have been anticipated by his reader, that their number is so inconsiderable. With Milton's mellow bangings, delicious as they are, we reasonably rest contented ; but we are justified in regretting that he has left so few of his early blossoms, not only because they are so exquisitely sweet, but because so many more might have naturally been expected. And this regret is yet aggravated, when we consider the cause which prevented the produc, tion of more, and intercepted the progress of so promising a spring : when we recollect, that the vigorous portion of his life, that those years in which imagination is on the wing, were unworthily and unprofitably wasted on temporary topics, on elaborate but perishable dissertations in defence of innovation and anarchy. To this employment he sacrificed his eyes, his health, his repose, his native propensities, his elegant studies. Smit with the deplorable polemics of puritanism, he suddenly ceased to gaze on such fights as youthful poets dream. The numerous and noble plans of tragedy which he had deliberately formed with the difcernment and selection of a great poetical mind, were at once interrupted and abandoned; and have now left to a disappointed posterity only a few naked outlines, and confused sketches. Instead of
embellishing original tales of chivalry, of cloathing the fabulous atchievements of the early British kings and champions in the gorgeous trappings of epic attire, he wrote smeCTYMNUUS and TETRACHORDON, apologies for fanatical preachers and the doctrine of divorce. In his travels, he had intended to visit Sicily and Athens, countries connected with his finer feelings, interwoven with his poetical ideas, and impressed upon his imagination by his habits of reading, and by long and intimate converse with the Grecian literature. But so prevalent were his patriotic attachments, that hearing in Italy of the commencement of the national quarrel, instead of proceeding forward to feast his fancy with the contemplation of scenes familiar to Theocritus and Homer, the pines of Etna and the pastures of Peneus, he abruptly changed his course, and hastily returned home to plead the cause of ideal liberty. Yet in this chaos of controversy, amidst endless disputes concerning religious and political reformation, independency, prelacy, tythes, toleration, and tyranny, he sometimes seems to have heaved a sigh for the peaceable enjoyments of lettered solitude, for his congenial pursuits, and the more mild and ingenuous exercises of the muse. In one of his prose-tracts he says, “I may one day
hope to have ye again in a still time, when there “ shall be no Chiding. Not in these Noises.” And in another, having mentioned some of his schemes for epic poetry and tragedy, “ of highest
a APOL. SMECTYMN. Sce PROSE-WORKS, vol. i. p. 103.
" hope hope and hardest attempting” he adds, “ With “ what small willingness I endure to interrupt the
pursuit of no less hopes than these, and leave a “.calm and pleasing solitarinesse, fed with chear“ full and confident thoughts, to imbark in a “ troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes, from
beholding the bright countenance of truth in “ the quiet and still air of delightfull studies, “ &c." He still, however, obstinately persisted in what he thought his duty. But surely these fpeculations should have been consigned to the enthusiasts of the age, to such restless and wayward spirits as Prynne, Hugh Peters, Goodwyn, and Baxter. Minds lefs refined, and faculties less elegantly cultivated, would have been better employed in this task.
Coarse complexions, And cheeks of sorry grain, will serve to ply The sampler, and to tease the huswife's wool: What need a vermeil-tinctur'd lip for that, Love-darting eyes, and tresses like the morno?
For obvious reasons, the Latin poems of this volume can never acquire the popularity of the English. But as it is my wish that they may be better known than before, and as they are in this edition, partly on that account, and for the first time, accompanied with a series of Notes of proportionably equal extent with those attached to the English
* Ch. Governm. B. ii, ut fupr. vol. i. p. 61. • Comus, V. 750.