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rhyme, the success will appear striking; especially when it is likewise remembered that it's author, though he had escaped the talons of the law, was in perpetual danger of assassination from the inveteracy of royalist malignity. Under these circumstances, the sale of the first impression (the number": of which must have exceeded 1300) within two years, is a strong proof that it's merit was fully appreciated by every man of taste and learning, though their unqualified applause was withheld by the fear of giving offence to government.
Mr. Richardson informs us, that Sir John Denham came into the House of Commons one morning with a sheet of the Paradise Lost, wet from the press, in his hand; affirming, that it was a part of the noblest poem that ever was written in any language, or in any age.' No precise date is assigned by him to this incident; but, as Denham died in 1668, it must have happened while the first edition was in the press. It has been said, however, that the book was not known till about two years afterward, when the Earl of Dorset recommended it to more general notice. He opened it accidentally, it appears, while with Sir Fleetwood Shephard on the search for old books in Little Britain, and being struck with some of it's passages made a purchase of it. The bookseller then desired his Lordship if he liked the work, to speak in it's favour, as the copies of it lay on his hands as waste paper. Having read the poem, the Earl transmitted it to Dryden, who quickly returned it, remarking; “ This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too." This story was related by Sir Fleetwood Shephard to Dr. Tancred Robinson, an emi
nent physician in London, by whom it was communicated to it's publisher, Mr. Richardson.
The fourth edition, with · Paradise Regained' and • Samson Agonistes' annexed, was published in folio in 1688, under the patronage of John (afterward the celebrated Lord) Somers, who advised the bookseller to undertake it by subscription: and in the list of subscribers we find the names most distinguished, at that time, by their civil and literary eminence. The fifth edition made it's appearance in 1692, and the sixth in 1695; and henceforward the sale largely increased every year,* though the price was four times greater than before. Foreign nations have, likewise, been sensible of the merit of this performance. It was translated into blank verse in Low Dutch, in 1728; into French prose, in 1729; and into Italian verse, in 1736. There are also three Latin versions: one by Mr. Hogg, a Scotchman, in 1690; a second by Dr. Trapp, and a third by Mr. Dobson, Fellow of New College, Oxford: the two latter undertaken in consequence of a prize of 1000l. offered by Mr. Benson, Auditor of the Imprest, for the best Latin translation, which was adjudged to Mr. Dobson. Thus was justice, at length, done to the merits of this illustrious bard. Milton, says Dr. Newton, is now considered as an English classic, and the Paradise Lost' generally esteemed the noblest and most sublime of modern poems, and equal at least to the
* It has since gone through numberless editions, particularly one in 1727, by Elijah Fenton; and another, by Dr. Bentley, in 1732. But the most elegant was published in 1749, in two volumes quarto with notes and the Life of the Author, by Dr. Thomas Newton, afterward Bishop of Bristol.
best of the ancient; the honour of this country, and the envy and admiration of all others !
Before we take our leave of Paradise Lost,' it may be proper to observe, that various criticisms have been published upon it, and different conjectures suggested by men of learning respecting the source from which Milton derived the first idea of his subject : but no opinion on this topic has been so certainly established, as to fix and satisfy the public mind. It is indeed most probable, that he had seen in Italy the “ Adamo,' a drama written by an indifferent poet of the name of Andreini, and that from this small spark his imagination caught the flame, which afterward blazed so brightly This however is merely a conjecture, which may be received or rejected by the reader at his option; and the question is of too little consequence, to be agitated with any warmth. In 1750, an impotent attempt to blast his fame was made by one Lauder a Scotchman; who in an Essay entitled, Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns,' charges the author of the · Paradise Lost' not only with the stealing of his plan from the * Adamus Exul, a juvenile production of Grotius, but also with having culled the flowers of other modern Latin poems of less celebrity with so unsparing a hand, as almost wholly to form with them the wreath which had constituted the ornament of his own brows. This charge, however, advanced with unparallelled impudence and supported with shameless forgery, was fully refuted by Dr. Douglas, who was subsequently raised to the mitre; and Lauder who had received but too much countenance and assistance from the protection and the pen of Dr. Johnson, was consigned to public and universal contempt.
But the extraordinary merit of this All-but-divine work must not render us inattentive to the other labours of it's author. In 1670, he published in quarto his · History of Britain, that part especially now called England, from the first traditional beginnings to the Norman Conquest, collected out of the ancientest, and best authors thereof.' * This history Toland, in his Life of Milton, observes we have not as it came out of his hands; for the licensers, those sworn enemies to learning, liberty, and good sense, expunged several passages † of it, which though intended only to expose the superstition and arrogance of the Popish monks in the Saxon times, they sagaciously applied to the Bishops under Charles II.
In 1671, he published in octavo his · Paradise Regained,' a poem in four books, to which was added, “Samson Agonistes. The former of these poems Milton is said to have preferred to · Paradise Lost :' but surely the Messiah in the · Paradise Regained' with all his meekness, his dignity, and his reasoning makes a less splendid figure than when, in the earlier epic, he is introduced clothed with the terrors of Almighty vengeance, wielding the thunder of heaven, and riding along the sky in
* This is reprinted in the first volume of Dr. Kennet's Complete History of England.'
+ In 1681, one of these suppressed passages was published in quarto, under the title of Mr. John Milton's Character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines in 1651, omitted in his other Works, and never before printed.'
his chariot of power; hurling the apostate spirits headlong into the gulf
Of bottomless perdition, there to dwell
The · Paradise Regained,' observes Dr. Newton, is very worthy of the author; and, contrary to what Mr. Toland relates, Milton may be seen in it, as well as in Paradise Lost.' If it is inferior in poetry, I know not whether it is inferior in sentiment; if it is less descriptive, it is more argumentative; if it does not sometimes rise so high, neither does it ever sink so low; and it has not met with the approbation it deserves, only because it has not been more read and considered. His subject indeed is confined, and he has a narrow foundation to build upon : but he has raised as noble a superstructure, as such little room and such scanty materials would allow. The great beauty of it is, the contrast between the two characters of the Tempter and our Saviour; the artful sophistry and specious insinuations of the one, refuted by the strong sense and manly eloquence of the other.”
The first thought of • Paradise Regained' was owing to Ellwood the Quaker, as he himself relates the circumstances in the · History of his own Life.' Milton had lent him the manuscript of · Paradise Lost,' at St. Giles Chalfont, and on his returning it, asked him · how he liked it, and what he thought of it;' “ which I modestly and freely told him (says Ellwood) and after some farther discourse about it, I pleasantly said to hini, - Thou hast said much of