Page images
[blocks in formation]


THIS HIS being the first editition of the PARADISE LOST published in England with notes, it may be deemed incumbent on the Editor to give his reafons for the prefent publication, and for his choice of the notes fubjoined.

His principal motive for publifbing this poem with explanatory and critical Notes, was, to put it in the power of those who are not verfant in claffical learning, to understand and relifh the beauties of the nobleft and happiest effort of human genius that ever appeared; and, by this means, to render it, if possible, more univerfally known and admired.

Among innumerable beauties that shine in his Works, this prince of English poets has been charged with a few faults*; fuch as, an inordinate oftentation of learning, a ftudied obfcurity of diction, and a frequent use of foreign phrases and technical words. To remove the difficulties arifing to the reader from thefe defects, and to render this divine poem perfpicuous throughout, as well as to illuftrate and display its more evident and apparent beauties, is the intention of the prefent Editor in the notes fubjoined.

More fully to attain this end, the annexed notes are of three feveral kinds. Thofe of the learned French commentator are entirely explanatory of thofe frequent allufions to ancient history and fable, and of that extenfive variety of learning and Science which are met with in this poem. Thofe of the English gentlemen are moftly critical, tending to illuftrate the fenfe of dif ficult paffages, to remark the peculiarities of style, to dif

* See Addison's Criticism upon Paradise Lost.



play the beauties of language and sentiment, and to point out the Poet's imitations of other authors, ancient and modern. A third kind, not the leaft curious, employed in marking such paffages in his divine poem, as are thought to allude to anecdotes of MILTON's own life, or to circumftances of the times wherein he flourifbed.-Minute and verbal criticisms the publisher chofe altogether to omit.

The notes of the English commentators, among whom are names of the greatest eminence in the republick of letters, are here affigned to their particular authors : thofe of the French one are without that distinction.

The Editor fhall conclude with an extract from the fourth article of the prefent State of the Republick of Letters for 1735; the Writer of which apoftrophifes our Poet in the following spirited manner :

[ocr errors]

"O MILTON! thou hast employed all thy vaft treasure of ability, wit, and learning; all the propriety, beauty, and energy of words our language was capable of all the fweetness and harmony of numbers; all the fire, fublimity, and majefly of imagination peculiar to thyfelf, added to what could be fupplied by those who have most excelled in that angelical faculty: all the firmness, force, and dignity of mind thy piety and virtue excited in thee, or rewarded thee with; and together with all thefe, a genius perfectly poetical, and that regulated by a moft folid judgment: all these thou hast confecrated to produce a poem, more inftrumental than any other buman compofition, to calm and purify the mind, and exalt it to a fate of tranquillity and felicity the utmost mortality is capable of."

LONDON, Mar. 15. 177-5.









ROM a family and town of his name in Oxfordfhire our author derived his defcent; but he was born at London in the year 1508. The publisher * of his works in profe, (on whose veracity fome part of this narrative must entirely depend), dates his birth two years earlier than this: But contradicting himself afterwards in his own computation, I reduce it to the time. that Monfieur Bayle hath affigned; and for the fame reafon which prevailed with him to affign it. His father John Milton, by profeffion a fcrivener, lived in a reputable manner on a competent eftate, entirely his own acquifition, having been early difinherited by his parents for renouncing the communion of the church of Rome, to which they were zealously devoted. By his wife Sarah Cafton he had likewife one daughter, named Anna, and another fon Chriftopher, whoin he trained to the practice of the common law, who, in the great rebellion, adhered to the royal caufe; and in the reign of King James II. by too eafy a compliance. with the doctrines of the court, both religious and civil, he attained to the dignity of being made a judge of the common pleas; of which he died divested, not long after the Revolution.

But John, the fubject of the prefent effay, was the favourite of his father's hopes; who, to cultivate the great genius which early displayed itself, was at the expence of a domeftick tutor; whofe care and capacity

* Mr. Toland.

An. atat. 12. his pupil hath gratefully celebrated in arr excellent Latin elegy *. At his initiation, he is faid to have applied himself to letters with fuch indefatigable induftry, that he rarely was prevailed with to quit his ftudies before midnight; which not only made him frequently fubject to fevere pains in his head, but likewife occafioned that weakness in his eyes which terminated in a total privation of fight. From a domeftick education he was removed to St. Paul's fchool, to complete his acquaintance with the clafficks under An. atat. 15. the care of. Dr. Gill; and after a short ftay there, was tranfplanted to Chrift's College in Cambridge, where he diftinguished himself in all kinds of academical exercises. Of this fociety he continued a member till he commenced master of arts; and then, leaving the univerfity, he reAn. atat. 23. turned to his father, who had quitted the town, and lived at Horton in Buckinghamshire, where he pursued his ftudies with unparalleled affiduity and fuccefs.

After fome years fpent in this ftudious retirement, his mother died; and then he prevailed with his father to gratify an inclination he had long entertained of feeing foreign countries. Sir Henry An. atat. 30. Wotton, at that time provost of Eaton College, gave him a letter of advice for the direction of his travels; but, by not obferving an excellent maxim in it †, he incurred great danger, by difputing against the fuperftition of the church of Rome, within the verge of the Vatican. Having employed his curiofity about two years in France and Italy, on the news of a civil war breaking out in England, he returned, without taking a furvey of Greece and Sicily, as, at his fet

See the fourth in his collection of poems.

+ I penfieri ftretti, ed il vifo fciolto.

Et jam bis viridi furgebat culmus arifið,
Et totidem flavas numerabant horrea mees,-
Nec dum aderat Thyrfis: paftorem fcilicet illum
Dulcis amor mufe Thufcâ retinebat in urbe.

Epitaph. Dam.

« PreviousContinue »