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PREFACE TO AN ESSAY d
ON MILTON'S USE AND IMITATION OF THE MODERNS
IN HIS PARADISE LOST.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE YEAR 1750.
Ir is now more than half a century since the Paradise Lost, having broke through the clouds with which the unpopularity of the author, for a time, obscured it, has attracted the general admiration of mankind; who have endeavoured to compensate the errour of their first neglect, by lavish praises and boundless veneration. There seems to have arisen a contest, among men of genius and literature, who should most advance its honour, or best distinguish its beauties. Some have revised editions, others
The history of Lauder's imposition is now almost forgotten, and is, certainly, not worth revival. It is fully detailed in Dr. Drake's Literary Life of Johnson, and in Boswell's Life, i. The conflicting inferences drawn from Johnson's connexion with Lauder, by Hayley, Dr. Symonds and Boswell, may easily be settled by those who have leisure for, or take interest in, such inquiries. In the very heat of the controversy, Johnson was never accused of 'intentional deception. Dr. Douglas, in the year 1750, published a letter to the earl of Bath, entitled, Milton vindicated from the charge of plagiarism brought against him by Mr. Lauder. In this masterly letter, after exposing the gross impositions and forgeries of Lauder, he thus adverts to the author of the preface and postscript. “It is to be hoped, nay, it is expected, that the elegant and nervous writer, whose judicious sentiments, and inimitable style, point out the author of Lauder's preface and postscript, will no longer allow one to plume himself with his feathers, who appears so little to have deserved his assistance; an assistance which, I am persuaded, would never have been communicated, had there been the least suspicion of those facts, which I have been the instrument of conveying to the world in these sheets." p. 77. 8vo. 1751.
In Boswell's Life, i. 209, ed. 1816, Mr. Boswell thus writes, in a note: "His lordship (Dr. Douglas, then bishop of Salisbury) has been pleased now to authorise me to say, in the strongest manner, that there is no ground whatever for any unfavourable reflection against Dr. Johnson, who expressed the strongest indignation against Lauder."-ED.
have published commentaries, and all have endeavoured to make their particular studies, in some degree, subservient to this general emulation.
Among the inquiries, to which this ardour of criticism has naturally given occasion, none is more obscure in itself, or more worthy of rational curiosity, than a retrospection of the progress of this mighty genius, in the construction of his work; a view of the fabrick gradually rising, perhaps, from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre, and its turrets sparkle in the skies; to trace back the structure, through all its varieties, to the simplicity of its first plan; to find what was first projected, whence the scheme was taken, how it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what stores the materials were collected, whether its founder dug them from the quarries of nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his own.
This inquiry has been, indeed, not wholly neglected, nor, perhaps, prosecuted with the care and diligence that it deserves. Several criticks have offered their conjectures; but none have much endeavoured to enforce or ascertain them. Mr. Voltaire tells us, without proof, that the first hint of Paradise Lost was taken from a farcè called Adamo, written by a player; Dr. Pearce, that it was derived from an Italian tragedy, called Il Paradiso Perso; and Mr. Peck, that it was borrowed from a wild romance. Any of these conjectures may possibly be true, but, as they stand without sufficient proof, it must be granted, likewise, that they may all possibly be false; at least, they cannot preclude any other opinion, which, without argument, has the same claim to credit, and may, perhaps, be shown, by resistless evidence, to be better founded.
e Essay upon the civil wars of France, and also upon the epick poetry of the European nations, from Homer down to Milton, 8vo. 1727, p. 103.
f Preface to a review of the text of the twelve books of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which the chief of Dr. Bentley's emendations are considered, 8vo. 1733.
8 New memoirs of Mr. John Milton, by Francis Peck. 4to. 1740. p. 52.
It is related, by steady and uncontroverted tradition, that the Paradise Lost was at first a tragedy, and, therefore, amongst tragedies the first hint is properly to be sought. In a manuscript, published from Milton's own hand, among a great number of subjects for tragedy, is Adam unparadised, or Adam in exile; and this, therefore, may be justly supposed the embryo of this great poem. As it is observable, that all these subjects had been treated by others, the manuscript can be supposed nothing more, than a memorial or catalogue of plays, which, for some reason, the writer thought worthy of his attention. When, therefore, I had observed, that Adam in exile was named amongst them, I doubted not but, in finding the original of that tragedy, I should disclose the genuine source of Paradise Lost. Nor was my expectation disappointed; for, having procured the Adamus exul of Grotius, I found, or imagined myself to find, the first draught, the prima stamina of this wonderful poem.
Having thus traced the original of this work, I was naturally induced to continue my search to the collateral relations, which it might be supposed to have contracted, in its progress to maturity: and having, at least, persuaded my own judgment that the search has not been entirely ineffectual, I now lay the result of my labours before the publick; with full conviction that, in questions of this kind, the world cannot be mistaken, at least, cannot long continue in errour.
I cannot avoid acknowledging the candour of the author of that excellent monthly book, the Gentleman's Magazine, in giving admission to the specimens in favour of this argument; and his impartiality in as freely inserting the several answers. I shall here subjoin some extracts from the seventeenth volume of this work, which I think suitable to my purpose. To which I have added, in order to obviate every pretence for cavil, a list of the authors quoted in the following essay, with their respective dates, in comparison with the date of Paradise Lost.
WHEN this Essay was almost finished, the splendid edition of Paradise Lost, so long promised by the reverend Dr. Newton, fell into my hands; of which I had, however, so little use, that, as it would be injustice to censure, it would be flattery to commend it: and I should have totally forborne the mention of a book that I have not read, had not one passage at the conclusion of the life of Milton, excited in me too much pity and indignation to be suppressed in silence.
"Deborah, Milton's youngest daughter," says the ediwas married to Mr. Abraham Clarke, a weaver, in Spitalfields, and died in August, 1727, in the 76th year of her age. She had ten children. Elizabeth, the youngest, was married to Mr. Thomas Foster, a weaver, in Spitalfields, and had seven children, who are all dead; and she, herself, is aged about sixty, and weak and infirm. She seemeth to be a good, plain, sensible woman, and has confirmed several particulars related above, and informed me of some others, which she had often heard from her mother." These the doctor enumerates, and then adds, " In all probability, Milton's whole family will be extinct with her, and he can live only in his writings. And such is the caprice of fortune, this granddaughter of a man, who will be an everlasting glory to the nation, has now for some years, with her husband, kept a little chandler's or grocer's shop, for their subsistence, lately at the lower Holloway, in the road between Highgate and London, and, at present, in Cocklane, not far from Shoreditch-church."
That this relation is true cannot be questioned: but, surely, the honour of letters, the dignity of sacred poetry, the spirit of the English nation, and the glory of human nature, require that it should be true no longer.-In an age, in which statues are erected to the honour of this great writer, in which his effigy has been diffused on medals, and his work propagated by translations, and illustrated by commentaries; in an age, which amidst all its
vices, and all its follies, has not become infamous for want of charity: it may be, surely, allowed to hope, that the living remains of Milton will be no longer suffered to languish in distress. It is yet in the power of a great people, to reward the poet whose name they boast, and from their alliance to whose genius, they claim some kind of superiority to every other nation of the earth; that poet, whose works may possibly be read when every other monument of British greatness shall be obliterated; to reward him—not with pictures, or with medals, which, if he sees, he sees with contempt, but-with tokens of gratitude, which he, perhaps, may even now consider as not unworthy the regard of an immortal spirit. And, surely, to those, who refuse their names to no other scheme of expense, it will not be unwelcome, that a subscription is proposed, for relieving, in the languor of age, the pains of disease, and the contempt of poverty, the granddaughter of the author of Paradise Lost. Nor can it be questioned, that if I, who have been marked out as the Zoilus of Milton, think this regard due to his posterity, the design will be warmly seconded by those, whose lives have been employed, in discovering his excellencies, and extending his reputation.
Subscriptions for the relief of Mrs. ELIZABETH FOSTER, granddaughter to JOHN MILTON, are taken in by Mr. Dodsley, in Pall-Mall; Messrs. Cox and Collings, under the Royal Exchange; Mr. Cave, at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell; and Messrs. Payne and Bouquet, in Paternoster-Row.