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The “ Paradise Lost" of Milton is a work so extraordinary in conception and execution, that it required a lapse of many years to reconcile the herd of readers, and of critics, to what was almost too sublime for ordinary understandings. The poets, in particular, seemed to have gazed on its excellencies, like the inferior animals on Dryden's immortal Hind ; and, incapable of fully estimating a merit, which, in some degree, they could not help feeling, many were their absurd experiments to lower it to the standard of their own comprehension. One author, deeming the “ Paradise Lost" deficient in harmony, was pleased painfully to turn it into rhyme; and more than one, conceiving the subject too serious to be treated in vèrse of any kind, employed their leisure in humbling it into prose. The names of these well-judging and considerate persons are preserved by Mr Todd in his edition of Milton's Poetical Works..
But we must not confound with these effusions of gratuitous folly, an alteration, or imitation, planned and executed by John Dryden ; although we may be at a loss to guess the motives by which he was guided in hazarding such an attempt. His reverence for Milton, and his high estimation of his poetry, had already called forth the well-known verses, in which he attributes to him the joint excellencies of the two most celebrated poets of antiquity; and if other proofs of his veneration were wanting, they may be found in the preface to this very production. Had the subject been of a nature which admitted its being actually represented, we might conceive, that Dryden, who was under engagements to the theatre, with which it was not always easy to comply, might have been desirous to shorten his own labour, by adopting the story, sentiments, and language of a poem, which he so highly esteemed, and which might probably have been new to the generality of his audience. But the costume of our first parents, had there been no other objection, must have excluded the “State of Innocence" from the stage, and accordingly it was certainly never intended for representation. The probable motive, therefore, of this alteration, was the wish, so common to genius, to exert itself upon a subject in which another had already attained brilliant success, or, as Dryden has termed a similar attempt, the desire to shoot in the bow of Ulysses. Some circumstances in the history of Milton's immortal poem may
have suggested to Dryden the precise form of the present attempt. It is reported by Voltaire, and seems at length to be admitted, that the original idea of the “ Paradise Lost" was supplied by an Italian Mystery, or religious play, which Milton witnessed when abroad;* and it is certain, that he intended at first to mould his
* The Adamo of Andreini; for an account of which, see Todd's Milton, vol. 1. the elegant Hayley's Conjectures the Origin of Paradise Lost, and
poem into a dramatic form.* It seems, therefore, likely, that Dryden, conscious of his own powers, and enthusiastically admiring those of Milton, was induced to make an experiment upon the forsaken plan of the blind bard, which, with his usual rapidity of conception and execution, he completed in the short space of one month. The spurious copies which got abroad, and perhaps the desire of testifying his respect for his beautiful patroness, the Duchess of York, form his own apology for the publication. It is reported by Mr Aubrey, that the step was not taken without Dryden's reverence to Milton being testified by a personal application for his permission. The aged poet, conscious that the might of his versification could receive no addition even from the flowing numbers of Dryden, is stated to have answered with indifference—“Ay, you may tag my verses, if you will."
The structure and diction of this opera, as it is somewhat improperly termed, being rather a dramatic poem, strongly indicate the taste of Charles the Second's reign, for what was ingenious, acute, and polished, in preference to the simplicity of the true sublime. The judgment of that age, as has been already noticed, is always to be referred rather to the head than to the heart; and a poem, written to please mere critics, requires an introduction and display of art, to the exclusion of natural beauty. This explains the extravagant panegyric of Lee on Dryden's play:
Milton did the wealthy mine disclose,
Not to affright, but please, our wondering eyes. Doubtless there were several critics of that period, who held the heretical opinion above expressed by Lee. And the imitation was such as to warrant that conclusion, considering the school in which it was formed. The scene of the consultation in Pandemonium, and of the soliloquy of Satan on his
Walker's Memoir on Italian Tragedy. The Drama of Andreini opens with a grand chorus of angels, who sing to this purpose :
Let the rainbow be the fiddle-stick to the fiddle of heaven,
And let time be careful to beat the measure. + See a sketch his plan in Johnson's Life of Milton, and in the authorities above quoted.
arrival in the newly-created universe, would possess great merit, did they not unfortunately remind us of the majestic simplicity of Milton. But there is often a sort of Ovidian point in the diction, which seems misplaced. Thus, Asmodeus tells us, that the devils, ascending from the lake of fire,
Shake off their slumber first, and next their fear. And, with Dryden's usual hate to the poor Dutchmen, the council of Pandemonium are termed,
Most High and Mighty Lords, who better fell
From heaven, to rise States General of hell. There is one inconvenience, which, as this poem was intende ed for perusal only, the author, one would have thought, might have easily avoided. This arises from the stage directions, which supply the place of the terrific and beautiful descriptions of Milton. What idea, except burlesque, can we form of the expulsion of the fallen angels from heaven, literally represented by their tumbling down upon the stage ? or what feelings of terror can be excited by the idea of an opera hell, composed of pasteboard and flaming rosin ? If these follies were not actually to be produced before our eyes, it could serve no good purpose to excite the image of them in our imaginations. They are circumstances by which we feel that-scenic deception must be rendered ridiculous, and ought to be avoided, even in a drama intended for perusal only, since they cannot be mentioned without exciting ludicrous combinations. Even in describing the primitive state of our first parents, Dryden has displayed some of the false and corrupted taste of the court of Charles. Eve does not consent to her union with Adam without coquettish apprehensions of his infidelity, which circumstances rendered rather improbable; and even in the state of innocence, she avows the love of sway and of self, which, in a loose age, is thought the principal attribute of her daughters. It may be remembered, that the Adam of Milton, when first experiencing the powers of slumber, thought,
I then was passing to my former state
Insensible, and forth with to dissolve. The Eve of Dryden expresses the same apprehensions of annihilation upon a very different occasion. These passages form a contrast highly favourable to the simplicity and chastity of Milton's taste. The school logic, employed by Adam and the angels in the first scene of the fourth act, however misplaced, may be paralleled, if not justified, by similar instances in the “ Paradise Lost.”
On the other hand, the “ State of Innocence” contains many passages of varied and happy expression peculiar to our great poet; and the speech of Lucifer in Paradise (Act third, scene first,) approaches in sublimity to his prototype in Milton. Indeed, altered as this poem was from the original, in order to accommodate it to the taste of a frivolous age, it still retained too much
fancy to escape the raillery of the men of wit and fashion, more disposed to laugh at extravagance than to sympathise with feel ings of grandeur.” The “ Companion to the Theatre” mentions an objection, started by the more nice and delicate critics, against the anachronism and absurdity of Lucifer conversing about the world, its form and vicissitudes, at a time previous to its crea. tion, or, at least, to the possibility of his knowing any thing of it. But to this objection, which applies to the “ Paradise Lost" also, it is sufficient to reply, that the measure of intelligence, competent to supernatural beings, being altogether unknown to us, leaves the poet at liberty to accommodate its extent to the purposes in which he employs them, without which poetic li. cence it would be in vain to introduce them.Dryden, moved by this, and similar objections, has prefixed to the drama, “An Apology for Heroic Poetry," and the use of what is technically called the machinery” employed in it.
Upon the whole, it may be justly questioned, whether Dryden shewed his judgment in the choice of a subject which compelled an immediate parallel betwixt Milton and himself, upon a subject so exclusively favourable to the powers of the former. Indeed, according to Dennis, notwithstanding Dryden's admiration of Milton, he evinced sufficiently by this undertaking, what he himself confessed twenty years afterwards, that he was not sen: sible of half the extent of his excellence. In the “ Town and Country Mouse," Mr Bayes is made to term Milton “a rough uphewn fellow;" and Dryden himself, even in the dedication to the Translation from Juvenal, a work of his advanced life, alleges, that, though he found in that poet a true sublimity and lofty thoughts, clothed with admirable Grecisms, he did not find the elegant turn of words and expression proper to the Italian poets and to Spenser. In the same treatise, he undertakes to excuse, but not to justify Milton, for his choice of blank verse, affirming that he possessed neither grace nor facility in rhyming. A consciousness of the harmony of his own numbers, and a predilec, tion for that kind of verse, in which he excelled, seemed to have encouraged him to think he could improve the “ Paradise Lost.” Baker observes but too truly, that the “ State of Innocence” recals the idea reprobated by Marvell in his Address to Milton :
Or if a work so infinite be spann'd,
To change in scenes, and shew it in a play. The “ State of Innocence" seems to have been undertaken by Dryden during a cessation of his theatrical labours, and was first published in 1674, shortly after the death of Milton, which took place on the 8th of November in the same year,
HER ROYAL HIGHNESS,
MADAM, AMBITION is so far from being a vice in poets, that it is almost impossible for them to succeed without it. Imagination must be raised, by a desire of
* Mary of Este, daughter of the Duke of Modena, and second wife to James Duke of York, afterwards James II. She was married to him by proxy in 1673, and came over in the year following. Notwithstanding her husband's unpopularity, and her own attachment to the Roman Catholic religion, her youth, beauty, and innocence, secured her from insult and slander during all the stormy period which preceded her accession to the crown. Even Burnet, reluctantly, admits the force of her charms, and the inoffensiveness of her conduct. But her beauty produced a more lasting effect on the young and gallant, than on that austere and stubborn partizan; and its force must be allowed, since it was extolled even when Mary was dethroned and exiled. Granville, Lord Lansdowne, has praised her in “ The Progress of Beauty;" and I cannot forbear transscribing some of the verses, on account of the gallant spirit of the