Page images
PDF
EPUB

matical confusion, and the trouble of lessons unnecessarily repeated.

About this time Elwood the quaker, being recommended to him as one who would read Latin to him, for the advantage of his conversation, attended him every afternoon, except on Sundays. Milton, who, in his letter to Hartlib, had declared, that to read Latin with an English mouth is as ill a bearing as Low French, required that Elwood should learn and practise the Italian pronunciation, which, he said, was necessary, if he would talk with foreigners. This seems to have been a talk troublesome without use. There is little reason for preferring the Italian pronunciation to our own, except that it is more general; and to teach it to an Englishman is only to make him a foreigner at home. He who travels, if he speaks Latin, may so foon learn the sounds which every native gives it, that he need make no provision before his journey; and if strangers visit us, it is their business to practise such conformity to our modes as they expect from us in their own countries. Elwood complied with the directions, and iinproved himself by his atten

dance,

dance, for he relates, that Milton, having a curious ear, knew by his voice when he read what he did not understand, and would stop him, and open the most difficult passages.

In a short time he took a house in the Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields; the mention of which concludes the register of Milton's removals and habitations. He lived longer in this place than any

other.

He was now busied by Paradise Lost. Whence he drew the original design has been variously conjectured by men who cannot bear to think themselves ignorant of that which, at last, neither diligence nor sagacity can discover.

Some find the hint in an Italian tragedy.

Voltaire tells a wild and unauthorised story of a farce seen by Milton in Italy, which opened thus: Let the Rainbow be the Fiddlestick of the Fiddle of Heaven, It has been already shewni, that the first conception was a tragedy or mystery, not of a narrative, but a dramatick work, which he is supposed to have begun to reduce to its present form about the time (1655) when he

finished

finished his dispute with the defenders of

the king.

He long had promised to adorn his native country by some great performance, while he had yet perhaps no settled design, and was stimulated only by such expectations as naturally arose from the lurvey of his attainments, and the consciousness of his

powers.

What he should undertake, it was difficult to determinc. He was long chuling, tiid began late,

While he was obliged to divide his time bea tween his private studies and affairs of state, his poetical labour must have been often interrupted; and perhaps he did little more in that busy time than construct the narrative, adjust the episodes, proportion the parts, accumulate images and sentiments, and trea. fure in his memory, or preserve in writing, such hints as books or meditation would supply. Nothing particular is known of his ilàtellectual operations while he was a statesman; for, having every help and accommodation at hand, he had no need of uncommon expedients.

Being driven from all publick stations, he is yet too great not to be traced by curiosity to his retirement; where he has been found by Mr. Richardson, the fondest of his admirers, sitting before his door in a grey coat of coarse cloth, in warm sultry weather, to enjoy the fresh air; and so, as in his own room, receiving the visits of people of distinguished parts as well as quality. His visitors of high quality must now be imagined to be few; but men of parts might reasonably court the conversation of a man so generally illustrious, that foreigners are reported, by Wood, to have visited the house in Bread-ftreet where he was born.

According to another account, he was seen in a small house, neatly enough dressed in black cloaths, sitting in a room hung with ruffy green; pale but not cadaverous, with chalkstones in his bands. He said, that if it were not for the gout, bis blindness would be tolerable.

In the intervals of his pain, being made unable to use the common exercises, be used

to living in a chair, and sometimes played upon an organ.

He was now confeffedly and visibly employed upon his poem, of which the progress might be noted by those with whom he was familiar; for he was obliged, when he had compofed as many lines as his

memory would conveniently retain, to employ some friend in writing them, having, at least for part

of the time, no regular attendant. This gave opportunity to observations and reports.

Mr. Philips observes, that there was a very remarkable circumstance in the composure of Paradise Lost, 56 which I have a particular “ reason,” says he, " to remember; for " whereas I had the perusal of it from the

very beginning, for some years, as I went " from time to time to visit him, in parcels “ of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time

(which, being written by whatever hand “ came next, might possibly want correction

as to the orthography and pointing), having, " as the summer came on, not been shewed

any for a considerable while, and defiring " the reason thereof, was antwered, that his

66 yein 3

« PreviousContinue »