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menu were added, we need have no wonder at the appearance now presented by the poem. | To say merely that it is a most learned poem — the poem of a mind full of miscellaneous lore wherewith its grand imagination might work — is not enough. Original as it is, original in its entire conception, and in every portion and passage, the poem is yet full of flakes — we can express it no otherwise — full of flakes from all that is greatest in preceding literature, ancient or modern. This is what all the commentators have observed, and what their labors in collecting parallel passages from other poets and prosewriters have served more and more to illustrate. Such labors have been overdone; but they have proved incontestably the tenacity of Milton's memory. In the first place, Paradise Lost is permeated from beginning to end with citations from the Bible. Milton must have almost had the Bible by heart; and, besides that some passages of his poem, where he is keeping close to the Bible as his authority, are avowedly coagulations of Scriptural texts, it is possible again and again, throughout the rest, to detect the flash, through his noblest language, of some suggestion from the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, or the Apocalypse. So, though in a less degree, with Homer, the Greek tragedians (Euripides was a special favorite of his), Plato, Demosthenes, and the Greek classics generally, and with Lucretius, Cicero,. Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Persius, and the other Latins. So with the Italian writers whom he knew so well — Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, and others now less remembered. So with modern Latinists of various European countries, still less recoverable. Finally, so with the whole series of preceding English poets, particularly Spenser, Shakespeare, and some of the minor Spenserians of the reigns of James and Charles I., not forgetting that uncouth popular favorite of his boyhood, Sylvester's Du Bartas. In connexion with all which, or with any particularly striking instance of the use by Milton of a thought or a phrase from previous authors, let the reader remember his own definition of plagiarism, given in his EtKoi/OKAaarijs. 'Such kind of borrowing as this,' he there says, 'if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors is accounted plagiary.' And again, of quotations from the Bible, —' It is not hard for any man who hath a Bible in his hands to borrow good words and holy sayings in abundance; but to make them his own is a work of grace only from above.'
How was the poem, as it grew in Milton's mind, committed to paper? It was dictated by parcels of ten, twenty, thirty, or more lines at a time. Even before his blindness, Milton had made use of amanuenses; but, after his blindness, he scarcely wrote at all with his own hand. It would be difficult to produce a genuine autograph of his of later date than 1652. On this matter Phillips is again our most precise authority. 'There is another very remarkable passage,' he says, 'in the composure of this poem, which I have a particular occasion to remember; for, whereas I had the perusal of it from the very beginning, for some years as I went from time to time to visit him, in a parcel of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time — which, being written by whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction as to the orthography and pointing — having, as the summer came on, not been shewed any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his verse never happily flowed but from the Autumnal Equinoctial to the Vernal [i.e. from the end of September to the end of March], and that whatever he attempted [at other times] was never to his satisfaction, though he exerted his fancy never so much; so that, in all the years he was about this poem, he may be said to have spent but half his time therein.' The reader ought to correct by this extract, taken in connexion with information already given as to Milton's domestic circumstances, the impressions he may have received from flummery pictures representing the blind poet in a rapt attitude dictating Paradise Lost to his attentive and revering daughters. His eldest daughter, Anne, could not write; and though the other two could write, and may occasionally, when the poem was in progress, have acted as his amanuenses, their ages exclude the idea of their having been his chief assistants in this capacity — while we also know that the poor motherless girls had grown up in circumstances to make them regard the services they were required to perform for their father as less a duty than a trouble. On the whole, Phillips's words suggest what is probably the right notion — that Milton dictated his poem in small portions at a time, chiefly within-doors, and more in winter than in summer, to any one that chanced to be about him. Sometimes it may have been one of his daughters; sometimes, latterly, when the poem was nearly complete, it may have been his third wife; frequently it may have been one of the friends or youths who statedly read to him. From Phillips's statement it is also clear that he assisted Milton in revising the gathered scraps of MS. from time to time. Finally, when all was completed, a clean copy, or clean copies, must have been made by some practised scribe. One such clean copy was that sent to the licensee, a portion of which, as has been mentioned, still exists. The hand in that manuscript has not been identified.
IV. MILTON AS VIEWED BY OTHER POETS.
SONNET ON MILTON.
I Pace the sounding sea-beach and behold
FROM THE ESSAY ON MILTON.
The truth is, that Milton was a harmonist rather than a melodist. There are, no doubt, some exquisite melodies (like the Sabrina Fair) among his earlier poems, as could hardly fail to be the case in an age which produced or trained the authors of our best English glees, as ravishing in their instinctive felicity as the songs of our dramatists, but he also showed from the first that larger style which was to be his peculiar distinction. The strain heard in the Nativity Ode, in the Solemn Music, and in Lycidas, is of a higher mood, as regards metrical construction, than anything that had thrilled the English ear before, giving no uncertain augury of him who was to show what sonorous metal lay silent till he touched the keys in the epical organ-pipes of our various languages, that have never since felt the strain of such prevailing breath. It was in the larger movements of metre that Milton was great and original. I have spoken elsewhere of Spenser's fondness for dilation as respects thoughts and images. In Milton it extends to the language also, and often to the single words of which a period is composed. He loved phrases of towering port, in which every member dilated stands like Teneriffe or Atlas. In those poems and passages that stamp him great, the verses do not dance interweaving to soft Lydian airs, but march rather with resounding tread and clang of martial music. . . .
In reading Paradise Lost one has a feeling of vastness. You float under an illimitable sky, brimmed with sunshine or hung with constellations; the abysses of space are about you: you hear the cadenced surges of an unseen ocean: thunders mutter round the horizon: and if the scene change, it is with an elemental movement like the shifting of mighty winds. His imagination seldom condenses, like Shakespeare's, in the kindling flash of a single epithet, but loves better to diffuse itself. Witness his descriptions, wherein he seems to circle like an eagle bathing in the blue streams of air, controlling with his eye broad sweeps of champaign or of sea, and rarely fulmining in the sudden swoop of intenser expression. He was fonder of the vague, perhaps I should rather say the indefinite, where more is meant than meets the ear, than any other of our poets. He loved epithets (like old and far) that suggest great reaches, whether of space or time. This bias shows itself already in his earlier poems, as where he hears
The far-off curfew sound