Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

before it obtained its full and final dominion over the public taste from the patronage of Sommers, and, still more, from the criticism of Addison.

When the great epic was completely prepared for the press, its birth was on the point of being intercepted by the malignity, or rather perhaps by the perverse sagacity of the licenser;' whose quick nostril distinguished the scent of treason in that well known simile of the sun in the first book:

"As when the sun new risen
Looks through the horizontal misty air,
Shorn of his beams; or, from behind the moon,
In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs."

The press was certainly in safe hands when it was in those of the present licenser, Mr. Tomkyns; for an eye, which could dive so deeply and could discern so finely was

*The office of licenser, which had been abolished during the usurpation of Cromwell, had now been restored, for a limited time, by an act of Parliament passed in 1662. By this act, the press, with reference to its different productions, was placed under the dominion of the Judges, some of the Officers of State, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Poetry falling within the province of the latter, the fate of Paradise Lost was committed to the judgment of the reverend Thomas Tomkyns, one of the chaplains of Archbishop Sheldon.

not likely to be baffled by the most pro-
found, or to be eluded by the most subtle
and aerial mischief. In the present instance
there were many points on which the licenser's
suspicion would rest.
"The sun new risen,"
was an apt representative of Charles, lately
seated on his throne; "The horizontal misty
air," by which he was "shorn of his beams," was
the political atmosphere thickened with the
breaths of republicans and levellers, who did
what they could to diminish the king's glory:
"the moon," by whose intervention the sun
was eclipsed, might be the memory of Crom-
well which darkened the fame of Charles,
and, by bringing before the popular mind
the man who acquired Dunkirk, would natu-
rally place him in eclipsing opposition to the
man who sold it. In the "disastrous twi-
light" which was "shed over half the na-
tions," was clearly to be seen, the tyranny of
Charles, by which the Scots, the northern
half of the nation, were reduced to a most
calamitous condition; and, finally, Charles
was a monarch, and might perhaps be "per-
plexed with fear of change:" or, if the licenser's
acuteness should discover in this last appli-
cation of the simile, a confusion of the cause
with the effect and should consequently
scruple to admit it, the monarchs whom the

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

of his bes

thickened ri

levellers,

the kin terventions memorat

tame of

The time, during which this noble poem engaged the attention of its author, cannot be very accurately ascertained. We have althe pop ready remarked, on the authority of Philips, that it formed a part of Milton's intellectual occupation immediately after the termination of his controversy with Morus, about the end of the year 1655; and Richardson, from some expressions in a letter" of the author's to Henry Oldenburgh in 1654, is inclined to refer its commencement to an earlier date. As it was certainly finished in 1665, we may venture to assign the term of ten or of eleven years as that within the limits of which it was composed. If we now reflect on the poet's situation during one half of this time; if we consider that he was not only blind and

"P. W. v. vi. 127.

[ocr errors]

oppositiat ** disastros

[ocr errors]

a, the tra

b. the not

luced to at

finally, Cir

rhaps he p if the licas

sun in eclipse thus perplexes, might be the two archbishops, in gloomy and trembling apprehension on their metropolitan thrones, in consequence of their master's unpopular, and, of course, dangerous conduct. So far, therefore, are we from being surprised at the good licenser's hesitation in the case before us, that we are rather inclined to blame him for negligence of duty, when he permitted a passage, so pregnant with political rancour, to issue, under his imprimatur, into the world.

this last are n of the s conseque hs whom

advanced far towards old age, but was also the object of factious hostility and of popular neglect; that, deprived of part of his small fortune, he was saved from actual poverty only by the contraction of his wants; that he was" encompassed with dangers as well as with darkness;" and, though snatched, as it were by miracle, from the vengeance of the law, was still fearful of the assassin's ' dagger;

"The fact is recorded by Richardson, "He was in perpe tual terror of being assassinated; though he had escaped the talons of the law he knew he had made himself enemies in abundance. He was so dejected, he would lie awake whole nights, &c. This Dr. Tancred Robinson had from a relation of Milton's, Mrs. Walker of the Temple." Richard. Remarks, &c. P. xciv.

In his note on that line, “In darkness and with danger compass'd round," the same writer observes, "This is explained by a piece of secret history for which we have good authority. Paradise Lost was written after the restoration when Milton apprehended himself to be in danger of his life, first, from public vengeance, (having been very deeply engaged against the royal party,) and, when safe by pardon, from private malice and reHe was always in fear; much alone; and slept ill. When restless, he would ring for the person, who wrote for him, (which was his daughter commonly,) to write what he composed, which sometimes flowed with great ease." Richard. p. 291.

sentment.

These apprehensions were not those of a weak mind, or felt without sufficient cause. The murder of Doryslaus and of Ascham at the Hague and at Madrid, had shown to the world that Royalist vengeance could assassinate; and the fate of Ludlow, pursued with daggers into the heart of Switzerland, fully demonstrated that, at the time of which we are speaking, party rancour had resigned no portion of its revengeful and sanguinary atrocity.

LII

that he was un

in his literary la

of an occasiona to hold the pen

be otherwise tha which could u haustible energy

to its accompli

in its plan, and tion as the Para The origin the first spark

T

poet's mind, has rious, and, perha his visit to Engla

that the hint of supplied by the with bombast,

by

one Andrei This suggestio obtained little

offered; and it rejected by Dr however, by

some new im mined, it app tute of probal Paradise

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

that he was unprovided with any assistance in his literary labours, but that of a girl, or of an occasional friend to read to him, and to hold the pen as he dictated,-we cannot be otherwise than astonished at the boldness which could undertake, and at the inexhaustible energy of mind which could carry to its accomplishment a poem so extended in its plan, and so magnificent in its execution as the Paradise Lost.

The origin of this great production, or the first spark which kindled the idea in the poet's mind, has been made the subject of curious, and, perhaps, over-anxious enquiry. On his visit to England in 1727, Voltaire suggested that the hint of the Paradise Lost had been supplied by the Adamo, a poor drama, stuffed with bombast, conceit, and allegory, written by one Andreini a strolling player of Italy. This suggestion, by the lively Frenchman, obtained little regard at the time when it was offered; and it has since been contemptuously rejected by Dr. Johnson. From its adoption, however, by Mr. Hayley, it has acquired some new importance; and, when fully examined, it appears by no means to be destitute of probability.

Paradise Lost, as we know, not only

« PreviousContinue »