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reading populace, no book-clubs, provincial libraries, or facilities for circulating literary works through the mass of the public; intelligence was in general confined to the small portion of the community who were possessed of fortune and talents, and the productions of taste had, consequently, to wait for the slow succession of those select readers before they could obtain a decided establishment in the list of classical works. There were, it is true, literary productions in the reign of Charles the Second, which acquired a reputation that might be called popular, but they were such as appealed, by their ribaldry and loose sentiments, to the lowest of men’s passions, and were, therefore, equally sure of vulgar, as of fashionable attention. The poetry of Milton, on the contrary, touched upon no topic which the lewd spirit of the age could relish; it fed no unhallowed desire, perverted no principle of morality, and gave splendour to no character which was not rendered illustrious by holiness. The comedies of the most popular authors of the period, and the licentious verses of the wits of Charles's court, were greedily devoured by all classes, but no purity of taste was required to enjoy then, and no depth of thought to fathom their meaning. Milton's verse was a magic stream that had music for but few ears, and the levity and vicious abandonment of the times had degraded king, courtiers, and people, to the lowest character of vulgarity. Hence the comparative neglect which attended the original publication of Paradise Lost; hence the fear of the bookseller to give more than five pounds for the copyright, and the slowness of its sale, compared with that of works infinitely inferior in merit. When, however, these circumstances are considered, there was no particular bad fortune attending the publication of this poem. It was sold, in the first instance, to one Simmons, a printer, and the real wonder is, that it was disposed of for no more than five pounds, with the agreement that five more should be paid after the sale of thirteen hundred of the first edition, and the same sum after the sale of as many of the second ; which stipulation was also A 2
to extend to the third edition. All that Milton lived to receive was ten pounds, as he died the same year the second edition was published. It is impossible not to be forcibly struck with this remarkable circumstance, but when the period in which the work was published, and its particular character, are considered, its reaching to three editions in ten years is a sufficient proof that it suffered no greater neglect than may be accounted for by obvious causes. In the history of literature there is more than a single instance of failure which the un. fortunate author could attribute only to his own bad luck, which resulted from his want of means to make his work known, or the neglect which a production of the greatest merit will often suffer, when a writer has not the advantages of a previously acquired reputation. Many are the works of genius which have been permitted to pass at once into oblivion from some such causes as these, and the authors of which have pined in broken-heartedness after a reputation which they only wanted some favourable accident to receive, possessing the golden ore, but wanting the amalgam that should make it valuable in the world. But Milton lost not a particle of success in this manner; the times were against him, not fortune; and his labours were as amply rewarded by public fame as any author of such a work as Paradise Lost could have expected.
About three years after the publication of Paradise Lost, the History of England, which had been written many years before, was printed, and in the following year, 1671, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. The former of these poems was owing to the advice of Elwood, a Quaker, who had been a pupil of Milton's, and to whom he had shewn his larger work in manuscript. On returning it the former observed, • Thou hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found ? • He made no answer,' continues Elwood, in his account of this conversation, but sat some time in a muse ; then broke off that discourse, and fell upon another subject.'
The temperate mode of living which Milton had
early adopted, was such as is generally rewarded by a long and healthy life; but he suffered under an hereditary gout, and his sedentary habits and unceasing application, all contributed to weaken a constitution which had never been robust. Few men of letters either have ever suffered so greatly from the wear and tear of public life. From what we know of Milton's character there is reason to think that the ordinary passions of our nature were, from the first dawn of manhood, subdued in his bosom. There was a calmness and tranquillity, amounting to sternness, in his conduct and demeanour. He was sincere and constant in his friendships, but he wrote to and of his friends with classical precision, and seemed to find a greater relish in the intercourse when the learned spirit of antiquity assisted it. Love of woman never warmed him sufficiently to make him for a moment forget the severe assertion of authority, and in his character of child and father no melting tenderness, no irresistible flow of domestic toy, entered into its composition. It would, perhaps be refining too much, but I am inclined to think that this austerity of nature may be observed in the coldness with which he seems to have regarded the objects to which private memory gives a sanctity and beauty. His poems are singularly devoid of any occasional interest derived from this source. There are no signs of that deep rich stream of inner feeling which memory calls up in gentler breasts. We hear him uttering no lament over things which have passed away, because they were associated with some home-thought, or old familiar object. Whenever he leaves the present for the past, it is to hasten far beyond the bounds where history ceases to have a daily interest; it was not with the generation of his fathers, but with the patriarchs of the world he held communion, and when his heart warmed at any recollection of the past, it was his admiration, not his sympathy, that was awakened. The ordinary passions of our nature had, therefore, not much influence over Milton. Those which fever the heart had little, those which contract it had less. But there was one grand and mighty feeling
which kept him in a state of strong excitement
further study, and the evening's conversation with his friends, the remainder of the day was concluded, and having eaten a few olives, smoked his pipe, and drunk a glass of water, he retired to rest.
Milton had five children; four by his first and one by his second wife; of these, the three daughters whom he had by the former survived him, the uthers died in infancy. The last surviving of the daughters died in August, 1727. She was married to a Spitalfields' weaver of the name of Clarke, by whom she had seven sons and three daughters. Of these only two had children; and there is at present 20 lineal descendant of the poet living.
But I turn from this brief review of the poet's life to as brief a consideration of the magnificent talents by which his immortality is established. The genius of Milton has not yet, perhaps, met with its proper observer. His great fame has made him too sacred an object in the eyes of general readers to let them think of any thing but implicit veneration; and the men of letters who have been professedly his critics, have been more intent on correcting or illustrating the text by their learning than on unfolding the veil which partially hides the grandeur and uncomprehended beauty of all true poetry. Almost the only one among then who has written with the express purpose of employing a more general and philosophical species of criticism is Addison, a man of elegant taste and accomplished mind, but possessing little of that depth of thought, or vigour of intellect, which is necessary to the character of a critic. Johnson, again, strong as was his mind, was as little fitted for the office he had assumed; for he was as deficient in depth of perception and feeling as Addison was in intellectual power. Much, therefore, as has been done towards illustrating the works of Milton, the praise or blame he has received has not proceeded from any very elevated principles of criticism.
Milton is the most learned of our English poets. There is no work of either this or any other country on which so much profound erudition has been expended as on Paradise Lost. The learning of all