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“quoted; the parallel places and imitations of the most excellent Homer and “Virgil cited and compared; all the obscure parts rendered in phrases more “familiar; the old and obsolete words, with their originals, explain’d and “made easy to the English reader. By P. H., Pilotoinins.” The “P. H." who thus led the way, so largely, carefully, and laboriously, in the work of commentating Milton, was Patrick Hume, a Scotsman, of whom nothing more has been ascertained than that he was then settled as a schoolmaster somewhere near London.
A common statement is that it was Addison's celebrated series of criticisms on Paradise Lost in the Spectator, during the years 1711 and 1712, that first awoke people to Milton's greatness as a poet, and that till then he had been neglected. The statement will not bear investigation. Not only had six editions of the Paradise Lost been published before the close of the seventeenth century – three of them splendid folio editions, and one of them with a commentary which was in itself a tribute to the extraordinary renown of the poem; and not only before or shortly after Milton's death had there been such public expressions of admiration for the poem by Dryden and others as were equivalent to its recognition as one of the sublimest works of English genius; but since the year 1688 these emphatic, if not very discriminating lines, of Dryden, printed by way of motto under Milton's portrait in Tonson's edition of that year, had been a familiar quotation in all men's mouths :
“ Three Poets in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.
Even before these lines were written the habit of comparing Milton with Homer and Virgil, and of wondering whether the highest greatness might not be claimed for the Englishman, had been fully formed. Addison's criticisms, therefore, were only a contribution to a reputation already become traditional. Three new editions of the Paradise Lost, by itself or otherwise, had been published by Tonson before the appearance of these criticisms
-- to wit, in 1705, 1707, and 1711; after which Addison's criticisms may have given an impulse to the sale, visible in the rapid multiplication of subsequent editions.
The Tonson family had an undisturbed monopoly of these editions, and indeed of all Milton's poetry, till as late as the year 1750. Every one of the numerous editions, in different sizes and forms, published in Great Britain down to that year, bears the name of the Tonson firm on the title-page. This was owing to the state of opinion as to copyright in books. In Great Britain the understanding in the book-trade was that a publisher who had once acquired a book had a perpetual property in it. The understanding did not extend to Ireland; and accordingly there had been three Dublin editions of Paradise Lost in 1724, 1747, and 1748 respectively. But about 1750 the understanding broke down in Great Britain as well — being found inconsistent with the Copyright Act of Queen Anne, passed in 1709; and, accordingly, from 1750 onwards we find London and Edinburgh publishers venturing to put forth editions of Milton to compete with those of the Tonsons. Not, however, till the death,
in 1767, of Jacob Tonson tertius, the grand-nephew of the original Tonson, and the last of the famous firm, was the long connexion of the name of Tonson with Milton's poetry broken, and the traffic in Milton's poems really thrown open. From that date to the present the number of editions of Paradise Lost
, and of Milton's other poems, by different publishers, and in different fashions, is all but past reckoning.
II, ORIGIN OF THE POEM AND HISTORY OF ITS COMPOSITION,
A great deal has been written concerning “ the origin” of Paradise Lost.
Voltaire, in 1727, suggested that Milton had, while in Italy in 1638-9, seen performed there a Scriptural drama, entitled Adamo, written by a certain Giovanni Battista Andreini, and that, “piercing through the absurdity of the performance to the hidden majesty of the subject,” he “ took from that ridiculous trifle the first hint of the noblest work which the human imagination has ever attempted.” The Andreini thus recalled to notice was the son of an Italian actress, and was known in Italy and also in France as a writer of comedies and religious poems, and also of some defences of the drama. He was born in 1578, and, as he did not die till 1652, he may have been of some reputation in Italy as a living author at the time of Milton's visit. His Adamo, of which special mention is made, was published at Milan in 1613, again at Milan in 1617; and there was a third edition of it at Perugia in 1641. It is a drama in Italian verse, in five Acts, representing the Fall of Man. Among the characters, besides Adam and Eve, are God the Father, the Archangel Michael, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, the Serpent, and various allegoric personages, such as the Seven Mortal Sins, the World, the Flesh, Famine, Despair, Death; and there are also choruses of Seraphim, Cherubim, Angels, Phantoms, and Infernal Spirits. From specimens which have been given, it appears that the play, though absurd enough on the whole to justify the way in which Voltaire speaks of it, is not destitute of vivacity and other merits, and that, if Milton did read it, or see it performed, he may have retained a pretty strong recollection of it.
The hint that Milton might have been indebted for the first idea of his poem to Andreini opened up one of those literary questions in which ferrets among old books and critics of more ingenuity than judgment delight to lose themselves. In various quarters hypotheses were started as to particular authors to whom, in addition to Andreini, Milton might have been indebted for this or that in his Paradise Lost. The notorious William Lauder gave an impulse to the question by his publications, from 1746 to 1755, openly accusing Milton of plagiarism; and, though the controversy in the form in which Lauder had raised it ended with the exposure of his forgeries, the so-called “Inquiry into the Origin of Paradise Lost” has continued to occupy to this day critics of a very different stamp from Lauder, and writing in a very different spirit. The result has been that some thirty authors have been cited, as entitled, along with Andreini or apart from him, to the credit of having probably or possibly contributed something to the conception, the plan, or the execution of Milton's great poem. Quite recently, for example, a claim has been advanced for the Dutch poet, Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679), one of whose productions
tragedy called “ Lucifer,” acted at Amsterdam, and published in 1654 – describes the rebellion of the Angels, and otherwise goes over much of the ground of Paradise Lost. Milton, it is argued, must have heard of this tragedy before he began his own Epic, and may have known Dutch sufficiently to read it. Then there was the somewhat older Dutch poet, Jacob Cats (1577-1660), one of whose poems, describing Adam and Eve in Paradise, might have been known to Milton, even though he could not read Dutch, as it had been translated into Latin by Caspar Barlæus, and published at Dordrecht in 1643. Nor, if Vondel and Cats remained unknown to Milton, was it possible that he should not be familiar with Adamus Exul, a Latin tragedy by the famous Hugo Grotius, the most learned Dutchman of his age, and whom Milton himself had met in Paris. This poem of Grotius, the work of his youth, had been before the world since 1601. But not from Dutch sources only is Milton supposed to have derived hints. May he not have seen the following Latin works by German authors -- the Bellum Angelicum of Frederic Taubmann, of which two books and a fragment appeared in 1604; the Demonomachia of Odoric Valmarana, published in Vienna in 1627; and the Sarcotis of the Jesuit Jacobus Masenius, three books of which were published at Cologne in 1644?. Among possible Italian sources of help, better known or less known than Andreini's Adamo, there have been picked out the following — Antonio Cornozano, Discorso in Versi della Creazione del Mondo sino alla Venuta di Gesù Cristo, 1472; Antonio Alfani, La Battaglia Celeste tra Michele e Lucifero, 1568; Erasmo di Valvasone, Angelada, 1590; Giovanni Soranzo, Dell'Adamo, 1604; Amico Anguifilo, Il Caso di Lucifero; Tasso, Le Sette Giornate del Mondo Creato, 1607; Gasparo Murtola, Della Creazione del Mondo : Poema Sacro, 1608; Felice Passero, Epamerone; overo, L'Opere de sei Giorni, 1609; Marini, Strage degli Innocenti, 1633, and also his Gerusalemme Distrutta; Troilo Lancetta, La Scena Țragica d'Adamo ed Eva, 1644; Serafino della Salandra, Adamo Caduto : Trag. Sacra, 1647. A Spanish poet has been procured for the list in Alonzo de Azevedo, the author of a Creacion del Mundo, published in 1615; and a similar poem of the Portuguese Camoens, published in the same year, has also been referred to. Finally, reference has been made to the Locusta of the Englishman Phineas Fletcher, a poem in Latin Hexameters published at Cambridge in 1627, and to certain Poemata Sacra of the Scottish Latinist, Andrew Ramsay, published at Edinburgh in 1633; as well as, more in detail, to Joshua Sylvester’s English translation of the Divine Weeks and Works of Du Bartas, originally published in 1605, and thenceforward for nearly half a century one of the most popular books in England, and to the Scriptural Paraphrases of the old Anglo-Saxon poet Cædmon, first edited and made accessible in 1655.
What is to be said of all this? For the most part it is laborious nonsense. That Milton knew most of the books mentioned, and, indeed, a great many more of the same sort, is extremely likely; that Sylvester's Du Bartas had been familiar to him from his childhood is quite certain; that recollections of this book and some of the others are to be traced in the Paradise Lost seems distinctly to have been proved; but that in any of the books, or in all of them together, there is to be found “the origin of Paradise Lost,” in any intelligible sense of the phrase, is utterly preposterous. Indeed, some of the books have been cited less from any knowledge of their contents than from confidence in their titles as casually seen in book-catalogues.
One conclusion, pertinent to the subject, which might have been suggested by the mere titles of so many books, appears to have been missed. The subject of Paradise Lost, it would seem, if only on the bibliographical evidence so collected, was one of those which already possessed in a marked degree that quality of hereditary and widely diffused interest which fits subjects for the purposes of great poets. Milton, it may be said, inherited it as a subject with which the imagination of Christendom had long been fascinated, and which had been nibbled at again and again by poets in and out of England, though by none managed to its complete capabilities. There are traces in his juvenile poems -as, for example, in his Latin poem In Quintum Novembris - of his very early familiarity, in particular, with some of those conceptions of the personality and agency of Satan, and the physical connexion between Hell and Man's World, which may be said to motive his great epic. Nothing is more certain, however, than that, though thus signalled in the direction of his great subject by early presentiments and experiments, he came to the actual choice of it at last through considerable deliberation. The story of the first conception of Paradise Lost, and of the long-deferred execution of the project, is one of the most interesting in the life of Milton.
It was in 1639, after his return from his Italian tour, in his thirty-first year, that Milton, as he tells us, first bethought himself seriously of some great literary work, on a scale commensurate with his powers, and which posterity should . not willingly let die. He had resolved that it should be an English poem; he had resolved that it should be an epic; nay, he had all but resolved — as is proved by his Latin poem to Manso, and his Epitaphium Damonis -- that his subject should be taken from the legendary history of Britain, and should include the romance of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Suddenly, however, this decision was shaken. He became uncertain whether the dramatic form might not be fitter for his purpose than the epic, and, letting go the subject of Arthur, he began to look about for other subjects. The proof exists in the form of a list — written by Milton's own hand in 1640-1, or certainly not later than 1642, and preserved among the Milton MSS. in Trinity College, Cambridge — of about one hundred subjects, many of them Scriptural, and the rest from British History, which he had jotted down, with the intention, apparently, of estimating their relative degrees of capability, and at last fixing on the one, or the one or two, that should appear best. Now at the head of this long list of subjects is PARADISE Lost. There are no fewer than four separate drafts of this subject as then meditated by Milton for dramatic
The first draft consists merely of a list of dramatis persona, as follows:
“ The Persons: – Michael; Heavenly Love; Chorus of Angels; Lucifer; Adam, Eve, “with the Serpent; Conscience; Death; Labour, Sickness, Discontent, Ignorance, with
others, Mutes; Faith; Hope; Charity.”
This Draft having been cancelled, another is written parallel with it, as follows:
“ The Persons: - Moses [originally written · Michael or Moses, but the words Michael or’ “ deleted, so as to leave 'Moses' as preferable for the drama]; Justice, Mercy, Wisdom; “Heavenly Love; the Evening Star, Hesperus; Lucifer; Adam; Eve; Conscience; Labour, “Sickness, Discontent, Ignorance, Fear, Death, [as] Mutes; Faith; Hope; Charity.”
This having also been scored out, there follows a third Draft, more complete, thus:
“ PARADISE LOST: -- The Persons: Moses apodoyisel, recounting how he assumed his true "body; that it corrupts not, because of his [being] with God in the mount; declares the like "of Enoch and Eliah, besides the purity of the place - that certain pure winds, dews, and “clouds preserve it from corruption; whence exhorts to the sight of God; tells them they can
not see Adam in the state of innocence by reason of their sin. --- [Act 1.); Justice, Mercy, “Wisdom, debating what should become of Man if he fall. Chorus of Angels sing a hymn of “the Creation. – Act II.: Heavenly Love; Evening Sta. Chorus sing the marriage song "and describe Paradise. - Act III.: Lucifer contriving Adam's ruin. Chorus fears for Adam “and relates Lucifer's rebellion and fall. — Act IV.: Adam, Eve, fallen; Conscience cites “ them to God's examination. Chorus bewails and tells the good Adam hath lost. — Act V.: “ Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, presented by an Angel with Labour, Grief, Hatred, “Envy, War, Famine, Pestilence, Sickness, Discontent, Ignorance, Fear, [as] Mutes - to “whom he gives their names - likewise Winter, Heat, Tempest, &c.; Death entered into the “world; Faith, Hope, Charity, comfort and instruct him. Chorus briefly concludes."
This is left standing; but in another part of the MS., as if written at some interval of time, is a fourth Draft, as follows:
“ADAM UNPARADIZED: – The Angel Gabriel, either descending or entering -- showing, “since the globe is created, his frequency as much on Earth as in Heaven - describes Para
dise. Next the Chorus, showing the reason of his coming - to keep his watch, after Luci“fer's rebellion, by the command of God - and withal expressing his desire to see and know more concerning this excellent and new creature, Man. The Angel Gabriel, as by his name
signifying a Prince of Power, passes by the station of the Chorus, and, desired by them, “relates what he knew of Man, as the creation of Eve, with their love and marriage. “After this, Lucifer appears, after his overthrow; beinoans himself; seeks revenge upon Man. “The Chorus prepares resistance at his first approach. At last, after discourse of enmity on
either side, he departs; whereat the Chorus sing of the battle and victory in Heaven against “him and his accomplices, as before, after the first Act, was sung a hymn of the Creation.
Here again may appear Lucifer, relating and consulting on what he had done to the “ destruction of Man. Man next and Eve, having been by this time seduced by the Serpent,
appear confusedly, covered with leaves. Conscience, in a shape, accuses him; Justice cites him to the place whither Jehovah called for him. In the meantime the Chorus enter
tains the stage and is informed by some Angel of the manner of the Fall. Here the Chorus “bewails Adam's fall. —Adam and Eve return and accuse one another; but especially “ Adam lays the blame to his wife - is stubborn in his offence. Justice appears, reasons with “him, convinces him. The Chorus admonishes Adam, and bids him beware Lucifer's
example of impenitence. -The Angel is sent to banish them out of Paradise; but, before, causes to pass before lais eyes, in shapes, a masque of all the evils of this life and world. He “is humbled, relents, despairs. At last appears Mercy, comforts him, promises him the “Messiah; then calls in Faith, Hope, Charity; instructs him. He repents, gives God
the glory, submits to his penalty. The Chorus briefly concludes. Compare this with “ the former Draft."
These schemes of a possible drama on the subject of Paradise Lost were written out by Milton as early as between 1639 and 1642, or between his thirty-first and his thirty-fourth year, as a portion of a list of about a hundred subjects which occurred to him, in the course of his reading at that time, as worth considering for the great English Poem which he hoped to give to the world. From the place and the proportion of space which they occupy in the list, it is apparent that the subject of Paradise Lost had then fascinated him more strongly than any of the others, and that, if his notion of an epic on Arthur was then given up, a drama on Paradise Lost had occurred to him as the most likely substitute. It is also more probable than not that he then knew of previous dramas that had been written on the subject, and that, in writing out his own schemes, he had the schemes of some of these dramas in his mind. Vondel's play was not then in existence; but Andreini's was. Farther, there