Nothing can less display knowledge, or less exercise invention, than to tell how a shepherd has lost his companion, and must now feed his flocks alone, without any judge of his skill in piping; and how one god asks another god what is become of Lycidas, and how neither god can tell. The action is not probable. The basis of Paradise Regained is narrow; a dialogue without action can never please, like an union of the narrative and dramatick powers. His praises are too far-sought, and too hyperbolical, either to express love, or to excite it; every stanza is crowded with darts and flames, with wounds and death, with mingled souls, and with broken hearts. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities and disdainful of help or hindrance; he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them. Simmons had already agreed to transfer the whole right to Brabazon Aylmer for twenty-five pounds; and Aylmer sold to Jacob Tonson half, August 17, 1683, and half, March 24, 1690, at a price considerably enlarged. She told of his harshness to his daughters, and his refusal to have them taught to write; and, in opposition to other accounts, represented him as delicate, though temperate in his diet.
Milton had soon afterwards the gratification of a visit from this liberal Athenian, who took so tender an interest in the blindness of his friend, that, on his return to Paris, he wrote to him on the subject. A character so highly and tenderly esteemed by the poet has a claim to the attention of his biographer. Betterton's narration can be traced no higher; it is not known that he had it from Davenant. They were active royalists, and fell into great distress by the ruin of their party: these were the persons who had not only treated Milton with contemptuous pride, but had imbittered his existence for four years, by instigating his wife to persist in deserting him. Benson, who has in the inscription bestowed more words upon himself than upon Milton. History must supply the writer with the rudiments of narration, which he must improve and exalt by a nobler art, must animate by dramatic energy, and diversify by retrospection and anticipation; morality must teach him the exact bounds and different shades of vice and virtue; from policy and the practice of life he has to learn the discriminations of character and the tendency of the passions, either single or combined; and physiology must supply him with illustrations and images. The good and evil of eternity are too ponderous for the wings of wit; the mind sinks under them, in passive helplessness, content with calm belief and humble adoration.
This he did not from a sour delight in detecting and exposing the frailties of his fellow men, but from a belief that, in so doing, he was promoting the good of mankind. Nec duri libet usque minas perferre magistri, Caeteraque ingenio non subeunda meo. He also wore his hair, which was straight and stiff, and separated behind: and he often had, seemingly, convulsive starts and odd gesticulations, which tended to excite at once surprize and ridicule. Cowley, who had more means than Milton of knowing what was wanting to the embellishments of life, formed the same plan of education in his imaginary College. Cowley says of the stone with which Cain slew his brother, I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant At once his murther and his monument. Among the angels the virtue of Raphael is mild and placid, of easy condescension and free communication; that of Michael is regal and lofty, and, as may seem, attentive to the dignity of his own nature.
He taught only the stale doctrine of authority and the unpleasing duty of submission; and he had been so long not only the monarch but the tyrant of literature that almost all mankind were delighted to find him defied and insulted by a new name, not yet considered as any one's rival. Of the verses on Oliver's death, in which Wood's narrative seems to imply something encomiastick, there has been no appearance. Being therefore not new, they raise no unaccustomed emotion in the mind; what we knew before, we cannot learn; what is not unexpected, cannot surprise. He married Catherine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock, a rigid sectarist, says Mr. Not long after August 19 the flutter of innumerable bosoms was stilled by an act, which the King, that his mercy might want no recommendation of elegance, rather called an act of oblivion than of grace. The danger of such unbounded liberty, and the danger of bounding it, have produced a problem in the science of government, which human understanding seems, hitherto, unable to solve. In those which are intended to exalt the human faculties, reason has its proper task assigned it; that of judging, not of things revealed, but of the reality of revelation.
That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education. The young poet, who thus expressed his ambition, was then in his nineteenth year. Then, amidst the hymns and hallelujahs of saints, some one may, perhaps, be heard offering at high strains, in new and lofty measures, to sing and celebrate thy divine mercies and marvellous judgments in this land throughout all ages. It was not to be supposed that the writer of Paradise Lost could ever write without great effusions of fancy and exalted precepts of wisdom. As a series of lines, therefore, it may be considered as worthy of all the admiration with which the votaries have received it. In Boswell's life, however, there are some recorded instances of his own subjection to this common infirmity. The characteristick quality of his poem is sublimity.
Bacon remarks, that some falsehoods are continued by tradition, because they supply commodious allusions. Lastly, I should not chuse this manner of writing, wherein, knowing myself inferior to myself, led by the genial power of nature to another task, I have the use, as I may account, but of my left hand. He was not of the church of Rome; he was not of the church of England. When the title is added, there will still remain a defect; for every piece ought to contain, in itself, whatever is necessary to make it intelligible. Betterton's narration can be traced no higher; it is not known that he had it from Davenant. But the main fabrick is immovably supported.
Thou subtle thief, from whom nought safe can be! The Scotch will moderate something of the rigour of their demands; the mutual necessity of an accord is visible, the king is persuaded of it. A state of innocence we can only conceive, if, indeed, in our present misery, it be possible to conceive it; but the sentiments and worship proper to a fallen and offending being, we have all to learn, as we have all to practise. Overton is commended by the frank ingenuous Ludlow as a brave and faithful officer; he is also ridiculed in a ballad of the royalists as a religious enthusiast. The remedy against these evils is to punish the authors; for it is yet allowed that every society may punish, though not prevent, the publication of opinions which that society shall think pernicious: but this punishment, though it may crush the author, promotes the book; and it seems not more reasonable to leave the right of printing unrestrained, because writers may be afterwards censured, than it would be to sleep with doors unbolted, because by our laws we can hang a thief. He was skilful in many languages, and had by reading and composition attained the full mastery of his own. To the low ribaldry, with which they were attacked, he alludes in the sonnet, celebrated for the following admirable lines on the hypocritical or intemperate assertors of liberty, For who loves that, must first be wise and good. His Defensio regio pro Carolo I appeared in 1649.
Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation. Some hardy champions undertook to rescue them from neglect, and in a short time many were content to be showed beauties which they could not see. Yet more abstruse and profound is Donne's reflection upon man as a microcosm: If men be worlds, there is in every one Something to answer in some proportion All the world's riches: and in good men, this Virtue, our form's form, and our soul's soul, is. About this time 1645 appeared, in which the Allegro and Penseroso, with some others, were first published. To compile a history from various authors, when they can only be consulted by other eyes, is not easy, nor possible, but with more skilful and attentive help than can be commonly obtained; and it was probably the difficulty of consulting and comparing that stopped Milton's narrative at the conquest; a period at which affairs were not yet very intricate, nor authors very numerous. The course of his day was best known after he was blind. I have transcribed this title to shew, by his contemptuous mention of Usher, that he had now adopted the puritanical savageness of manners.
Thou with strange adultery Dost in each breast a brothel keep; Awake, all men do lust for thee, And some enjoy thee when they sleep. Milton would hardly have contended, but that he knew himself to have right on his side. Epick poetry undertakes to teach the most important truths by the most pleasing precepts, and therefore relates some great event in the most affecting manner. Why he was excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guess; had he thought himself injured, he knew how to complain. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself.
To the accidental or adventitious parts, as to every thing human, some slight exceptions may be made; but the main fabrick is immovably supported. This however is a defect over-balanced by its convenience. Their wish was only to say what they hoped had never been said before. The Spirit relates that the Lady is in the power of Comus, the Brother moralizes again, and the Spirit makes a long narration, of no use because it is false, and therefore unsuitable to a good Being. And palsy-smitten shake her starry brows! Here he received more boys, to be boarded and instructed. Next, the chorus, showing the reason of his coming to keep his watch in Paradise, after Lucifer's rebellion, by command from God; and withal expressing his desire to see and know more concerning this excellent new creature, man. Uriel when he rides on a sunbeam is material; Satan is material when he is afraid of the prowess of Adam.