Page images

lar superstitions and romances, with which Milton was familiar, but many of which are now forgotten. As this was a new line of criticism, and was first struck out, if I mistake not, by Warton himself in his Observations upon Spenser, his own account of it is extracted from his preface, and subjoined to those of Dr. Newton. Another part also of his preface is given, containing his observations on Milton's Latin poetry, which he was the first to illustrate with notes, and most of these notes are adopted in this edition. His arrangement too of the Latin poems has been followed instead of Dr. Newton's; and the Epigrams ix. x. and xi. are inserted from Warton's edition, Dr. Newton having only given the last of them, which he introduced into the Life. The portion of Mr. Warton's preface which has not been reprinted contains a lively attempt to sketch the gradual progress of Milton's juvenile poems to celebrity, till" the school of Milton rose in emula"tion of the school of Pope:" but so many inaccuracies have been pointed out in his account by Mr. Todd and Mr. Godwin, that it did not appear deserving of republication. It appears upon the whole that these poems rose into repute at an earlier period than Mr. Warton supposed.

To the proofs which Warton has adduced of Milton's familiarity with the works of Joshua Sylvester, the translator of Du Bartas, a few more might perhaps have been added, had I procured a copy of Dunster's Considerations on Milton's early reading, before the notes were printed. There was much more need of retrenchment, however, than of additional matter, in this part of the work; for although in many of his illus

trations Warton is extremely successful, he is occasionally seduced into a somewhat ludicrous display of antiquarian learning, fancying resemblances where none are visible, and filling whole pages with obsolete au. thorities for words, some of which were no doubt at that time, and are even now, in common use and circulation. His notes of this kind are considerably abridged in the present edition; but I retain enough or more than enough of them to gratify the literary antiquary, and to direct the reader to the favourite authors of

Milton's earlier years. Where a parallelism appeared striking or satisfactory, and might be supposed to interest the general reader, the passage has been given at length; in other cases references are supplied for the sake of the few who possess abundance both of curiosity and of leisure. A similar principle, indeed, has been usually observed throughout this publication, except in the case of references to Milton's poetical works, for every reader might be conceived to have these at hand. Many of Warton's notes, however, are critical and explanatory, and they are frequently just and happy; but he also runs out into a variety of remarks, upon Milton's sentiments and character, which are too often partial and splenetic. His regard for the Poet has a continual struggle to maintain with his acrimonious dislike of the Puritan and Republican. Warton's name however ranks sufficiently high to excite some curiosity about his criticisms and opinions, even when they are unjust or erroneous. Hence, notwithstanding the rejection of many of his notes, and the abridgment of most of them in this edition, it has been intended that the spirit of his work, as a work, should still be

retained. Many of the faults of his first edition were animadverted upon with severity, but with justice, in an anonymous letter addressed to the Editor in 1785; but he did not avail himself of these remarks, so much as he might have done, in his second edition of the Minor Poems, which he left at his death completely prepared for publication, and which appeared in 1791 with considerable alterations and additions.

Warton had projected an edition of the Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in a separate volume: in the second impression of his original notes, accordingly, all those were omitted which he had occasionally introduced on various passages of these poems. Both these editions were made use of for the present work, and such of these occasional remarks, as were judged worthy to be retained, have been inserted in their proper places. The same plan has of course been observed with respect to those remarks upon the Paradise Lost also with which both Warton's and Dunster's commentaries were interspersed.

Very few notes have been introduced into this edition from other quarters. The work could scarcely fail to be too voluminous as it was. Now and then, however, I inserted a parallel passage which occurred to my recollection, or adopted an occasional remark from some writer of distinction. Dr. Symmons's Life of Milton supplied a few notes upon the Sonnets, and Latin poems; and it might have furnished me with two or three more upon other parts of the work, had not these been printed before I read his remarks. Sometimes also translations have been introduced of parallel passages from authors which had not appeared in a good

English dress in the time of Bishop Newton. The excellent translation of Persius, for instance, by the Rev. F. Howes, has been made use of for this purpose. It was no part of my design to introduce any original remarks of my own. If I have hazarded a few observations, they were inserted very sparingly, not only because the edition was already swelling to an inconvenient bulk, but because it was originally intended to be anonymous; and that idea was not abandoned till the greater part of the notes had been printed. For the same reason, and because I desired to combine in this publication all that would probably have been regarded by the three principal editors of Milton's poems as most valuable in their respective editions, it will of course be understood, that I do not always consider every illustration important, or assent to every criticism, which nevertheless I have retained, without expressing any objection to them. Valeant quantum valere debent. And the reader will surely desire to exercise his judgment as well as the Editor. In general indeed it was a sufficient reason for retaining any notes that they would be acceptable to some classes of the readers of Milton. And after all it should not be overlooked, that no edition upon the plan of Bishop Newton's can, from the nature of the case, be universally approved. It is professedly addressed to the wants and tastes of various classes of readers; the same notes cannot be needed and relished equally by the uneducated and the scholar, the critic and the antiquary. And the more popular the subject of a commentary of this kind, the more unavoidable is this fault, if it is to be called a fault, in an edition designed for the public at large.

But besides selection and compression in the employment of Warton's and Dunster's commentaries, and the omission of many of their notes upon Shakespeare and other writers, with whom we were not at present concerned, Bishop Newton's commentary has not been printed without several omissions, and a few alterations.

Some of the notes in his edition have been altogether. discarded; and in particular the greater part of Dr. Bentley's. I need add nothing to the impartial account which Bishop Newton has given of Bentley's edition of the Paradise Lost. But it is almost time that the errors of so great a critic should be forgotten. Yet, not to disappoint altogether the curiosity of the reader, a few of Bentley's earlier notes have been retained; too many, perhaps, in an age whose morbid appetite for ridicule and severity needs no additional gratification. Some of Dr. Pearce's notes are given, where those objections of the critic, which they were originally designed to answer, are omitted; but they appeared useful as well as ingenious, and others might be misled by one cause or other, where Bentley was drawn into mistakes by a perverse principle of criticism. I have had pleasure in preserving some of Dr. Bentley's remarks which were really just and valuable. Several of Mr. Sympson's proposed emendations in the notes on the Paradise Regained have been discarded, because they were of much the same stamp with Dr. Bentley's. I have also omitted some of Bishop Warburton's notes in praise of Pope's imitations of Milton, as they seemed irrelevant, and not very impartial; and occasionally, but very rarely, a note of Dr. Newton's which appeared puerile or incorrect. And a later editor has always the

« PreviousContinue »