Page images
PDF
EPUB

Dryden's epigram upon Milton is too well known to be repeated; and those Latin verses by Dr. Barrow the physician, and the English ones by Andrew Marvel, Esq. usually prefixed to the Paradise Lost, were written before the second edition, and were published with it. But still the poem was not generally known and esteemed, nor met with the deserved applause, till after the edition in folio, which was published in 1688 by subscription. The Duke of Buckingham in his Essay on poetry prefers Tasso and Spenser to Milton: and it is related in the life of the witty Earl of Rochester, that he had no notion of a better poet than Cowley. In 1686, or thereabout, Sir William Temple published the second part of his Miscellanies, and it may surprise any reader, that in his Essay on poetry he taketh no notice at all of Milton; nay he saith expressly, that after Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser, he knoweth none of the moderns who have made any achievements in heroic poetry worth recording. And what can we think, that he had not read or heard of the Paradise Lost, or that the author's politics had prejudiced him against his poetry? It was happy that all great men were not of his mind. The bookseller was advised and encouraged to undertake the folio edition by Mr. Sommers, afterwards Lord Sommers, who not only subscribed himself, but was zealous in promoting the subscription: and in the list of subscribers we find some of the most eminent names of that time, as the Earl of Dorset, Waller, Dryden, Dr. Aldrich, Mr.

Little Britain was proprietor of the whole impression; he might only have engaged to dispose of a part of it. But it is at all events

certain that almost the whole of the first impression was sold within two years from the time of publication. E.

Atterbury, and among the rest Sir Roger Lestrange, though he had formerly written a piece entitled No blind Guides, &c. against Milton's Notes upon Dr. Griffith's sermon P. There were two editions more in

[ocr errors]

Later biographers have very successfully shewn that the complaints of the original unpopularity of the Paradise Lost have been without foundation, or, at the least, have been greatly exaggerated. Dr. Johnson has several judicious observations on the proof of the early estimation of the poem arising from the sale itself. "The sale, if it be con"sidered, will justify the public. "... The call for books was not "in Milton's age what it is at present....To prove the paucity of readers, it may be suffi"cient to remark, that the na❝tion had been satisfied from "1623 to 1664, that is, forty-one years, with only two editions "of the works of Shakespeare, "which probably did not to"gether make one thousand copies. The sale of thirteen hundred copies of the Paradise "Lost in two years, in opposition "to so much recent enmity, and "to a style of versification new "to all and disgusting to many,

66

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

was an uncommon example of "the prevalence of genius. The "demand did not immediately increase; for many more readers "than were supplied at first the "nation did not afford." Life of Milton. Hence it may be presumed that E. Philips had grounds for his assertion, when in an article on his Brother in his Theatrum Poetarum, printed the year after Milton's death, he declares (as Mr. Hayley remarks) that "many

"both learned and judicious per"sons" are of opinion that Milton was "the exactest of heroic "poets, either of the ancients or moderns, either of our own or "whatever nation else."

Mr. Todd observes, that Dryden's Preface to his State of Innocence appeared almost immediately after the death of Milton, and in this the Paradise Lost is described as "undoubtedly one " of the greatest, most noble, and "most sublime poems, which "either this age or nation has "produced." Among other early notices and commendations of Paradise Lost, Mr. Todd points out a Translation of the first Book into Latin, which appeared in 1685. And before this time, Mr. Godwin observes, it had been commended by the Duke of Buckinghamshire, and in Lord Roscommon's Essay on translated verse.

In the space indeed of little more than eleven years, as Dr. Symmons calculates, 4500 copies were purchased by different individuals; and before the expiration of twenty years the poem passed through six editions, " a "circumstance," he continues, "which abundantly proves that "it was not destitute of popula

rity before it obtained its full "and final dominion over the

[ocr errors][merged small]

folio, one I think in 1699, the other in 1695, which was the sixth edition; for the poem was now so well received, that notwithstanding the price of it was four times greater than before, the sale increased double the number every year; as the bookseller, who should best know, has informed us in his dedication of the smaller editions to Lord Sommers. Since that time not only various editions have been printed, but also various notes and translations. The first person who wrote annotations upon Paradise Lost was P. H. or Patrick Hume, of whom we know nothing, unless his name may lead us to some knowledge of his country, but he has the merit of being the first (as I say) who wrote notes upon Paradise Lost, and his notes were printed at the end of the folio edition in 1695. Mr. Addison's Spectators upon the subject contributed not a little to establishing the character, and illustrating the beauties, of the poem. In 1732 appeared Dr. Bentley's new edition with notes: and the year following Dr. Pearce published his Review of the text, in which the chief of Dr. Bentley's emendations are considered, and several other emendations and observations are offered to the public. And the year after that Messieurs Richardson, father and son, published their Explanatory notes and remarks. The poem has been also translated into several languages, Latin, Italian, French, and Dutch; and proposals have been made for translating it into Greek. The Dutch translation is in blank verse, and printed at Haerlem. The French have a translation by Mons. Dupré de St. Maur; but nothing showeth the weakness and imperfection of their language more, than that they have few or no good poetical versions of the

greatest poets; they are forced to translate Homer, Virgil, and Milton into prose: blank verse their language has not harmony and dignity enough to support; their tragedies, and many of their comedies, are in rhyme. Rolli, the famous Italian master here in England, made an Italian translation; and Mr. Richardson the son saw another at Florence in manuscript by the learned Abbé Salvini, the same who translated Addison's Cato into Italian. One William Hog or Hogæus translated Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes into Latin verse in 1690; but this version is very unworthy of the originals. There is a better translation of the Paradise Lost by Mr. Thomas Power, Fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge, the first book of which was printed in 1691, and the rest in manuscript is in the library of that College. The learned Dr. Trapp has also published a translation into Latin verse; and the world is in expectation of another, that will surpass all the rest, by Mr. William Dobson, of New College in Oxford'. So

↑ M. Monneron, a member of the Legislative Body, has published a version of the Paradise Lost; and, what is of more consequence, a translation of our great epic has just been given to the world by L'Abbé Delille. Symmons.

According to Oldys it had also been translated by M. de Bocage and by M. Durand. There are now numerous translations of the Paradise Lost into most of the languages of Europe. See a list of them annexed to Mr. Todd's Life of Milton. E.

The first six books were published at Oxford in 4to. in 1750,

and the rest in 1753. This being reputed the best translation, Mr. Dobson received a thousand pounds, which had been proposed for this undertaking in 1735 by Mr. Benson, Auditor of the Imprest. Biogr. Brit. Art. Milton.

In 1736, the celebrated Richard Dawes published proposals for printing by subscription a Greek version of the first book of Par. Lost. He gave a specimen of his translation of B. i. from v. 249 to 263, which Dr. Birch has preserved in his Life of Milton, p. lxi. ed. 1753; but the work was never completed. E.

that by one means or other Milton is now considered as an English classic; and the Paradise Lost is generally esteemed the noblest and most sublime of modern poems, and equal at least to the best of the ancient; the honour of this country, and the envy and admiration of all others!

In 1670 he published his History of Britain, that part especially now called England. He began it above twenty years before, but was frequently interrupted by other avocations; and he designed to have brought it down to his own times, but stopped at the Norman conquest; for indeed he was not well able to pursue it any farther by reason of his blindness, and he was engaged in other more delightful studies; having a genius turned for poetry rather than history. When his History was printed, it was not printed perfect and entire; for the licenser expunged several passages, which reflecting upon the pride and superstition of the Monks in the Saxon times, were understood as a concealed satire upon the Bishops in Charles the Second's reign. But the author himself gave a copy of his unlicensed papers to the Earl of Anglesea, who, as well as several of the nobility and gentry, constantly visited him: and in 1681 a considerable passage which had been suppressed at the beginning of the third book was published, containing a character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines in 1641, which was inserted in its proper place in the last edition of 1738. Bishop Kennet begins his Complete History of England with this work of Milton, as being the best draught, the clearest and most authentic account of those early times: and his style is freer and easier than

« PreviousContinue »