Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

ginals, whatever authors he wanted to consult, though they understood none but their mother-wongue.

We come now to take a survey of him in that point of view, in which he will be looked upon by all succeeding ages with equal delight and admiration. An interval of about twenty years had elapsed since he wrote the Mask of Comus, L'Allegro, 'li Penseroso, and Lycidas, all in such an exquisite strain, that, though he had left no other monuments of his genius behind him, his name had been immortal ; but neither the infirmities of age and constitution, nor the vicissitudes of fortune, could depress the vigour of his mind, or civert it from executing a design he had long conceived of writing a heroic poem.* The fall of man was a subject that he had some years before fixed on for a tragedy, which 'he intended to form by the models of 'antiquity, and some, not without probability, say, the play opened with that speech in the fourth book of Paradise Lost, line 32, which is addressed by Satan to the sun. Were it material, I believe I could produce other passages, which more plainly appear to have been originally intended for the scene: but whatever truth there may be in this report, it is certain that he did not begin to mouid his subject, in the form which it bears now, before he had concluded his controversy with Salmasius and More, when he had wholly lost the use of his eyes, and was forced to employ, in the office of an amanuensis, any friend who accidentally paid him a visit. Yet, under all these discouragements and various interruptions, in the year 1669 he published his Paradise Lost, the noblest poem (next to those of Homer and Virgil) that ever the wit of man produced in any age or nation. Need I mention any other evidence of its inestimable worth, than that the fipost geniuses who have succeeded him have

* Paradise Lost Book IX, hne 26.

[ocr errors]

ever esteemed it a merit to relish and illustrate its beauties?

And now perhaps it may pass for a fiction, what with great veracity I affirm to be fact, that Milton, after navirg with much difficulty prevailed to have chis divine prem licensed for the press, could sell the copy for no more than fifteen pounds; the payment of which valuable consideration, depended upon the sale of three numerous impressions. So unreasona. bly may personal prejudice affect the most excellent performances!

About two years after, hc published Paradise Regained; but Oh! what a falling off was there !-of which I will say no more, than that there is scarcely a more remarxavie instance of the frailty of human reason, than our author gave in preferring this poem to Paradise Lost.

And thus having attended him to the sixty-ninth year of his age, as closely as such imperfect lights as men of letters and retirement usually leave to guide our inquiry, would allow, it now only remains to be recorded, that in the year 1674, the gout put a period to his life, at Bunhill, near London ; from whence his body was conveyed to St. Giles' Church, by Cripplegate, where it lies interred in the chancel; and a neat monument has lately been crected to per. petuate his memory.

In his youth he is said to have been extremely handsome. The colour of his hair was a light brown, the symmetry of his features exact, enlivened with an agreeable air, and a beautiful mixture of fair and ruddy. His stature (as we find it measured by himself) did not exceed the middle size, his person neither too lean nor corpulent; his limbs well propor

tioned, nervous, and active, serviceable in all respects to his exercising the sword, in which he much delighted; and wanted neither skill nor courage to resent an affront from men of the most athletic constitutions. In his diet he was abstemious; not delicate in the choice of his dishes; and strong liquors of all kinds were his aversion. His deportment was erect, open, affable; his conversation easy, cheerful, instructive; his wit on all occasions at command, facetious, grave, or satirical, as the subject required. His judgment, when disengaged from religion and political speculations was just and penetrating, his apprehension quick, his niemory tenacious of what he read, his reading on.y not so extensive as his genius, fer that was universal. And having treasured up such an unmense store of science, perhaps the faculties of his soul grew more vigorous after he was deprived of sight; and his imagination (naturally sublime and enlarged by reading romances, of which he was much enamoured in his youth) when it was wholly abstracted from material objects, was more at liberty to make such amazing excursions into the ideal world, when, in composing his divine work, he was tempted

to range

“ Beyond the visible diurnal sphere."

With so many accomplishments, not to have had some fanlts and misfortunes to be laid in the balance with the fame and felicity of writing Paradise Lost uld been too great a portion for humanity.

ELIJAH FENTON

ON

PARADISE LOST,

Wuen I beheld the Poet blind, yet bold,
In slender book his vast design unfold;
Messiah crown'd, God's reconcil'd decree,
Rebelling angels, the forbidden tree,
Heaven, hell, earth, chaos, all! the argument
Held me a while misdoubting his intent,
That he would ruin (for: I saw him strong)
The sacred truths to fable, and old song ;
So Samson grop'd ne lempie's post in spite,
Che world o'erwhelming, to revenge his sight.

Yet, as I read, soon growing less severe,
I lik’d his project, the success did fear;
Through that wide field how he his way should find,
O'er which lame faith leads understanding blind
Lest he perplex'd the things he would explain,
And what was easy he should render vain.

Or, if a work so infinite he spannid,
Jcalous I was that some less skilful hand
(Such as disquiet always what is well,
And by ill imitating would excel)
Might hence presume the whole creation's day
To change in scenes, and show it in a play.

Pardon me, mighty Poet, nor despise,
My causeless, yet not impious surmise.
But I am now convinc'd, and none will dare
Within thy labours to pretend a share.
Thou hast not miss'd one thought that could be fit,
And all that was improper dost omit;
So that no room is here for writers Icing
But w detect their ignorance, or theft.

« PreviousContinue »