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literature without feelings of self-reproach. But as he increased in austerity with advancing years, he became unable to remain entirely superior to the prevalent narrow-mindedness. There is good reason, from the internal evidence afforded by his poems, to believe that his attitude towards human learning was gradually affected by the influence of Puritan surroundings, until in old age he himself came to regard Greek philosophy and profane literature generally as either unprofitable or even pernicious (see note on II., 147).

Milton was undoubtedly a sincere patriot, but in times of civil war patriotism is in danger of being confounded with party spirit. In Milton's case religious zeal and republican enthusiasm rather tend to throw into the shade his affection for his native country. We have seen that in his youth he conceived the project of writing on the Arthurian legend a patriotic poem which would have celebrated the glories of England as the Æneid celebrates the history of Rome. In this poem Arthur was to have visited the under-world, where, like Virgil's Æneas, he would have seen visions of the future triumphs in war and peace to be won by his descendants and successors in distant ages. But the carrying out of such a project was rendered impossible for Milton by the Great Rebellion. A republican poet could not celebrate the glories of his national history when all its past triumphs were indissolubly connected with the names of kings and great barons. Thus it became impossible for Milton to make the glorification of his native land the main subject of his epic poem. There was however one means left by which he could express his patriotism without appearing to be unfaithful to his political principles. At first he seems to have

contemplated writing his great poem in Latin, the language in which many of his earlier poems were composed. This he was tempted to do in order that his poems might be read not only in England, but also by the learned in every nation of the continent. Fortunately, two reasons induced him eventually to write in English. The first reason was the conviction that if he wrote in Latin he would have the greatest difficulty in even attaining the second rank among Latin writers; his other motive was the patriotic conviction that by the true poet "there ought no regard be sooner had than to God's glory, by the honour and instruction of his country." He therefore resolved to write in English, even if by so doing he should lose all hope of obtaining a continental reputation. But the event shows that by this choice he gained far more than he sacrificed. Had he written Paradise Lost in Latin, the poem might have gained him a greater amount of contemporary renown, but it could never have held its ground in competition with the popularity of the productions of modern literature, and instead of being to England what the Iliad, the Eneid, and the Divina Commedia are to Greece, Rome, and Italy, would have been consigned to comparative oblivion as a literary curiosity only known to the learned. However, though Milton did not actually write in Latin, clear traces of his admiration for that language may be discerned in the predominance of Latin over Anglo-Saxon words in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, and also in the excessive prevalence of Latin constructions, which makes those poems occasionally read like extremely literal translations of Latin.

Milton being debarred from choosing a patriotic sub

ject for his great poem naturally turned to religion for inspiration, and chose Paradise Lost as the subject best adapted to his genius of all the many scriptural stories, the comparative suitability of which for poetic treatment he had carefully estimated, as we learn from the MS. lists in his own handwriting in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. This immense subject, including as it does the fortunes of the angels and of the human race, and extending its scene of action over the whole universe, afforded wide scope for Milton's powerful imagination and for the display of his religious fervour. Such a lofty subject far surpassed in dignity the themes of his epic predecessors, and may almost be regarded as too vast for the greatest intellect successfully to grapple with. The partial success that Milton attained in his bold undertaking is the best proof of his extraordinary genius. In spite of Macaulay's enthusiastic eulogium it is impossible for any impartial critic to regard Paradise Lost as a flawless work. More faultless works have been accomplished by poets of inferior genius, who chose subjects more within the compass of the human intellect. Paradise Lost is rightly described by M. Taine as being a sublime imperfect poem. It is partly owing to its imperfections that it has never been very popular. The verdict of English taste places Milton on the same high pedestal as Shakespeare. But on the continent, while Shakespeare is almost unanimously recognized as one of the greatest, if not the greatest of the world's poets, Milton can hardly be said to have won for himself the same universal recognition. In fact, judging from the quotations and other references made to English writers in continental literature, it would almost appear

that in France and Germany the name of Milton is less familiar than that of Byron. Even in England, although verbal homage is universally paid to Milton's genius, it is to be feared that Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained are more praised than read. The general reading public in their heart of hearts is inclined to endorse Dr. Johnson's judgment, that Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down and forgets to take up again; that none ever wished it longer than it is; that its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure; that we read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation. This want of appreciation is no doubt partly due to want of intellect and imagination on the part of the ordinary reader. "The works of Milton," as Macaulay truly remarks, "cannot be comprehended or enjoyed unless the mind of the reader co-operate with that of the writer," and most readers of poetry are too indolent to take this trouble, or not sufficiently educated to enter the long vistas of imagination suggested by Milton's many allusions to the literature and history of the past. But even the most cultured minds do not find perfect satisfaction in Milton's poetry. Critics of true poetical taste have had no difficulty in discerning the blemishes that mar Paradise Lost, such as the tiresome theological discussions in the third book, the inconsistent account given of the angels, who are sometimes represented as material, at other times as immaterial, the want of interest in the main action of the poem, and the conventional characters ascribed to Adam and Eve, who seem to M. Taine uninteresting types of a Puritan husband and wife in the seventeenth century. In this introduction it is enough

cursorily to mention these blemishes, as in the first two books of the poem little can be found for the most fastidious critic to take exception to, unless it be the allegory of Sin and Death, which is rightly condemned as unnecessarily repulsive in its details. But even this episode can be defended as full of a kind of horrible grandeur, and the two books taken together may safely be regarded as the longest sustained flight of really sublime poetry to be found in the whole range of English literature. Had Milton's hand been checked by death, when he had brought Satan safely to the confines of the newly created world, what a magnificent fragment would have remained! If he could have preserved the same elevation to the end of his poem, the result would have been an epic that might almost have justified the exaggerated eulogy of Dryden's well-known epigram. But may be that to do so was beyond the power of human genius. At any rate in the third book, after the introductory lines, we cannot help being conscious of a fall, and through the rest of the poem it is only occasionally that the poet rises again to the grand style that is maintained almost uninterruptedly from the beginning of the first to the end of the second book.


The superiority of the first two books of Paradise Lost over the rest of the poem is partly due to the fact that what is described in them does not involve the poet in such insuperable difficulties as the subject matter of the later books. When we consider the poem as a whole, it is impossible for us to take any keen interest in the struggles of Satan and his followers, owing to Milton's insisting upon the omnipotence of God, which makes all those struggles perfectly hopeless. The utter inequality

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