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After his diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, he says, is the English heroic verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The earl of Surrey is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme: and, beside our tragedies, . a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one tending to recon. cile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trissino's Italia Liberata ; and, finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is better.
“Rhyme,” he says, and says truly,“ is no necessary adjunct of true poetry.” But, perhaps, of poetry, as a mental operation, metrc or music is no necessary adjunct : it is however by the music of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all lan. guages; and, in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot communicate its rules to another; where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary, The music of the English heroic lines strikes the ear so faintly, that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together; this co-operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skilful and happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. « Blank verse," said an ingenious critic, “ seems to be verse only to the eye.”
Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the lapidary style; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alledges as precedents, not one is popular ; what reason could urge in its defence has been confuted by the ear.
But, whatever be the advantages of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is ; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing may write blank verse; but those that hope only to please must condescend to rhyme.
The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said to have contrived the structure of an epic poem, and therefore owes reverence to that vigour and amplitude of mind to which all generations must be indebted for the art of pottical narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents, the interpo. sition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He waa 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 predeces
sors, but he did not seek them. From his cotemporaries he neither courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained; no exchange of praise, nor solici. tation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness; but difficulties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroic poems, only because it is not the first.
INQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN
BY MR. TODD.
“The petty circumstances, by which great minds are led to the first conception of great designs, are
so various and volatile, that nothing can be more difficult to discover : Fancy in particular is of a nature so airy, that the traces of her step are hardly to be discerned ; ideas are so fugitive, that if poets, in their life time, were questioned concerning the manner in which the seeds of considerable productions first arose in their mind, they might not always be able to answer the inquiry; can it then be possible to succeed in such an inquiry concerning a mighty genius, who has been consigned more than a century to the tomb, especially when in the records of his life, we can find no positive evidence on the point in question? However trifling the chances it may afford of success, the investigation is assuredly worthy our pursuit; for, as an accomplished critic has said, in speaking of another poet, with his usual felicity of discernment and expression, the inquiry cannot be void of entertainment whilst Milton is our constant theme : whatever may be the fortune of the chace, we are sure it will lead us through pleasant prospects and a fine country.'" Hayley's Conjectures on the Origin of Paradise Loste
THE earliest observation respecting the Origin of Paradise Lost appears to have been made by Voltaire, in the year 1727. He was then studying in England; and had become so well acquainted with our language as to publish an English essay on epic poetry; in which are the following words:
“ Milton, as he was travelling through Italy in his youth, saw at Florence a comedy called Adamo, written by one Andreini, a player, and dedicated to Mary de Medicis, queen of France. The subject of the play was the fall of man; the actors, God, the Devils, the Angels, Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Death, and the seven mortal Sins: that topic, so improper for a drama, but so suitable to the absurd genius of the Italian stage (as it was at that time), was handled in a manner entirely conformable to the extravagance of the design. The scene opens with a Chorus of Angels; and a Cherubim thus speaks for the rest :1
Let the rainbow be the fiddlestick of the fiddle of the heavens ! let the planets
L A la lira del Ciel Iri sia l'arco,
Corde le sfere sien, note le stelle,
Choro d’Angeli, &c. Adamo, ed. 1617.
be the notes of our music! let time beat carefully the measure, and the winds make the sharps,' &c. Thus the play begins, and every scene rises above the last in profusion of impertinence !
66 Milton pierced through the absurdity of that performance to the hidden majesty of the subject, which, being altogether unfit for the stage, yet might be (for the genius of Milton, and his only) the foundation of an epic poem.
" He took from that ridiculous trifle the first hiot of the noblest work, which human imagination has ever attempted, and which he executed more than twenty years after.”
That Milton had certainly read the sacred drama of Andreini, is the opini. on both of Dr. Joseph Warton and of Mr. Hayley. Another elegant critic has observed, that Voltaire may have related a tradition perhaps current in England at the time it was visited by him; " a period at which, it may be presumed, some of the contemporarie, of Milton were living, for he was then only about fifty years dead. Milton, with the candour which is usually united with true genius, probably acknowledged to his friends his obligations to the Italian dramatist, and the floating tradition met the ardent inquiries of the French poet?." It may be worth mentioning here, that Dante, according to the account of some Italian critics 3, took the hint of his Inferno from a nocturnal representation of Hell, exhibited in 1304, on the river Aroo at Florence“; and that Tasso is said to have conceived the idea of writing his Aminta at the representation, in 1567, of Lo Sfortunato of Agostino Argenti in Ferrara.
From the Adamo of Andreini a poetical extract, as well as the summary of the arguments of each act and scene, were given by Dr. Warton, in an appen. dix to the second volume of his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, 1782. Mr. Hayley has cited other specimens of the poetry in this " spirited, though irregular and fantastic, composition ;" from which Milton's fancy is supposed to have caught fire. The reader will find a few quotations also, from this rare and curious drama, in the Notes on Paradise Lost. But, if the Adamo be examined with the utmost niccty, Milton will be found no servile copyist : he will be found, as in namberless instances of his extensive, his curious, and careful reading, to have improved the slightest hints into the finest descriptions. Miltun indeed, with the skill and grace of an Apelles or a Phidias, has often animated the rude sketch and the shapeless block. I mcan not to detract from the Italian drama s; but let it here be remarked once for all, in Milton's own words, that “ borrowing, if it be not bettered by the þorrower, among good authors is accounted plagiarie.” Let the bitterest enemies of Milton prove, if they can, whether the author of this ingenuous remark may be exhibited in such a light; rather let them acknowledge that, in fully comparing him with those authors who have written on similar subjects, he must ever be considered as
2 Hist. Mem. on Ital. Tragedy, p. 170.
5 From the remarks of prince Giacomo Giustiniani, (the accomplished governour of Perugia) on the Adamo, which were transmitted to Mr. Walker, and by Mr. Walker obligingly communicated to me, it appears that the critics of Italy consider Milton not a little indebted to their countryman. I will cite the opinion of the liberal and elegant Tiraboschi : Certo benche L'Adamo delPAndreini sia in confronto del Paradiso Perduto ciò che è il Poema di Ennio in confronto a quel di Virgilio, nonclimeno non può negarsi che le idee gigantesche, delle quali l'autore Inglese ha abbellito il suo Poema, di Satana, che entra nel Faradiso terrestre, e arde d'invidia al vedere la felicita dell' l'omo, del congresso de Demonj, della battaglia degli Angioli contra Lucifero, e più altre sommiglianti immagini veggonsi nell' Adamo adombrate per modo, che a me sembra molto credibile, che anche il Milton dalle immondezze, se così è lecito dire, dell' Andreini raccogliesse l'oro, di cui adorno il suo Poema. Per altro L'Adamo dell'Andreini, benche abbia alcuni tratti di pessimo gusto, ne bà altri ancora, che si posson proporre come modello di eccellente poesia.
- above the rest
The drama of Andreini was so little known when Dr. Birch was writing the life of Milton, that Warburton, in a letter to that learned biographer, pre. served in the British Museum, ridicules the relation of Voltaire. “ It is said that it appeared by a MS. in Trin. Coll. Camb. that Milton intended an opera of the Paradise Lost. Voltaire, on the credit of this circumstance, amongst a heap of impertinency, pretends boldly that he took the hint from a comedy he saw at Florence, called Adamo. Others imagined too he conceived the idea in Italy; now I will give you good proof that all this is a vision. In one of his political pamphlets, written early by him, I forget which, he tells the world he had conceived a notion of an epic poem on the story of Adam or Arthur. What then will you say must we do with this circumstance of the Trin, Coll. MS.? I believe I can explain that matter. When the parliament got uppermost, they suppressed the playhouses; on which sir John Denham, I think, and others, contrived to get operas performed. This took with the people, and was much in their taste; and religious ones being the favourites of that sancti.
fied people, was, I believe, what inclined Milton at that time (and neither before nor after) to make an opera of it.”—Even at a much later period, the very existence of the Adamo was denied; for Mr. Mickle, an ardent' admirer of Milton, and the very able translator of the Lusiad, calls it “a comedy which nobody ever saw ?;" and observes, “ that even some Italian literati declared that no such author (as Andreini] was know in Italy.” Dr Johnson also, in his Life of Milton, calls Voltaire's relation “a wild, unauthorised story.”
That Milton had conceived, in his younger days, as Dr. Warburton has observed, the notion of an epic poem on the story of Arthur, is evident from his own words in the Mansus, v. 80, &c. and the Epitaphium Damonis, v. 155, &c. Where see the notes, vol. vi. p. 357, and p. 373. Mr. Ilayley, with his usual acuteness and elegance of language, remarks that "it seems very probable that Milton, in his collection of Italian books, had brought the Adamo of Andreinito England; and that the perusal of an author, wild indeed, and abounding in grotesque extravagance; yet now and then shining with pure and united rays of fancy and devotion, first gave a new bias to the imagination of the English poet, or, to use the expressive phrase of Voltaire, first revealed to him the hidden ma. jesty of the subject. The apostate angels of Andreini, though sometimes hide. ously and absurdly disgusting, yet occasionally sparkle with such fire as might awaken the cmulation of Milton."
The English reader is indebted to Mr. Ilayley for the following analysis of the arguments of each act and scene in the Adamo.
6 E conoclastes, Prose-Works, edit. 1698, fol. vol. ii. p. 509. 7 Lissertation prefixed to the Translation of the Lusiad, 2d edit. Ox. p. ccii,