Page images

famous bookseller, Jacob Tonson, who had begun business in 1677, and was already introducing a new era in the booktrade by his dealings with Dryden and others; and in March 1690 Tonson bought the other half of the copyright. What are called the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions, accordingly, were all issued by Tonson. The fourth was issued in 1688, in folio, with a portrait by White, and other illustrations, and a list of more than 500 subscribers, including the most eminent persons of the day,-some copies including Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, and having the general title of Milton's Poetical Works. The fifth appeared in 1692, also in folio, and with Paradise Regained appended. The sixth was published in 1695, also in large folio and with illustrations, both separately, and also bound up with all the rest of the poems under the general title of "The Poetical Works of Mr. John Milton." This edition was accompanied by what is in reality the first commentary on the poem, and one of the best. It consists of no fewer than 321 folio pages of Annotations, under this title, "Annotations on Milton's Paradise Lost: wherein the texts of Sacred Writ relating to the Poem are quoted; the parallel places and imitations of the most excellent Homer and Virgil cited and compared; all the obscure parts rendered in phrases more familiar; the old and obsolete words, with their originals, explain'd and made easy to the English reader. By P. H., φιλοποιήτης.” The "P. H." who thus led the way, so largely, carefully, and laboriously, in the work of commentating Milton, was Patrick Hume, a Scotsman, of whom nothing more has been ascertained than that he was then settled as a schoolmaster somewhere near London.

A common statement is that it was Addison's celebrated series of criticisms on Paradise Lost in the Spectator, during the years 1711 and 1712, that first awoke people to Milton's greatness as a poet, and that till then he had been neglected. The statement will not bear investigation. Not only had six editions of the Paradise Lost been published before the close of the seventeenth century,-three of them splendid folio editions, and one of them with a commentary which was in itself a tribute to the extraordinary renown of the poem; and not only, before or shortly after Milton's death,

had there been such public expressions of admiration for the poem by Dryden and others as were equivalent to its recognition as one of the sublimest works of English genius; but since the year 1688 these emphatic, if not very discriminating, lines of Dryden, printed by way of motto under Milton's portrait in Tonson's edition of that year, had been a familiar quotation in all men's mouths :

"Three Poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.
The first in loftiness of thought surpassed;
The next in majesty; in both the last.
The force of Nature could no farther go;
To make a third she joined the former two."

Even before these lines were written the habit of comparing Milton with Homer and Virgil, and of wondering whether the highest greatness might not be claimed for the Englishman, had been fully formed. Addison's criticisms, therefore, were only a contribution to a reputation already become traditional. Three new editions of the Paradise Lost, by itself or otherwise, had been published by Tonson before the appearance of those criticisms,-to wit, in 1705, 1707, and 1711; after which Addison's criticisms may have given an impulse to the sale, visible in the rapid multiplication of subsequent editions. It is observable, however, that the next edition after those mentioned, i.e. the tenth edition of the poem, did not appear till 1719.

The Tonson family had an undisturbed monopoly of Paradise Lost, and indeed of all Milton's poetry, till as late as the year 1750. Every one of the numerous editions, in different sizes and forms, published in Great Britain down to that year, bears the name of the Tonson firm on the title-page. This was owing to the state of opinion as to copyright in books. In Great Britain the understanding in the book-trade was that a publisher who had once acquired a book had a perpetual property in it. The understanding did not extend to Ireland; and, accordingly, there had been three Dublin editions of Paradise Lost,-in 1724, 1747, and 1748, respectively. But about 1750 the understanding broke down in Great Britain as well,-having been found inconsistent with the Copyright Act of Queen Anne, passed in 1709; and, accordingly, from 1750 onwards we find

London and Edinburgh publishers venturing to put forth editions of Milton to compete with those of the Tonsons. Not, however, till the death, in 1767, of Jacob Tonson tertius, the grand-nephew of the original Tonson, and the last of the famous firm, was the long connection of the name of Tonson with Milton's poetry broken, and the traffic in Milton's poems really thrown open. From that date to the present the number of editions of Paradise Lost, and of Milton's other poems, by different publishers, and in different fashions, is all but past reckoning.



A great deal has been written concerning of Paradise Lost.

"the origin"

Voltaire, in 1727, suggested that Milton had, while in Italy in 1638-9, seen performed there a Scriptural drama, entitled Adamo, written by a certain Giovanni Battista Andreini, and that, "piercing through the absurdity of the performance to the hidden majesty of the subject," he "took from that ridiculous trifle the first hint of the noblest work which the human imagination has ever attempted." The Andreini thus recalled to notice was the son of an Italian actress, and was known in Italy and also in France as a writer of comedies and religious poems, and also of some defences of the drama. He was born in 1578, and, as he did not die till 1652, he may have been of some reputation in Italy as a living author at the time of Milton's visit. His Adamo, of which special mention is made, was published at Milan in 1613, again at Milan in 1617; and there was a third edition of it at Perugia in 1641. It is a drama in Italian verse, in five Acts, representing the Fall of Man. Among the characters, besides Adam and Eve, are God the Father, the Archangel Michael, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, the Serpent, and various allegoric personages, such as the Seven Mortal Sins, the World, the Flesh, Famine, Despair, Death; and there are also choruses of Seraphim, Cherubim, Angels, Phantoms, and Infernal Spirits. From specimens which have been given, it appears that the play, though absurd enough on the whole to justify the way in which Voltaire speaks of it, is not destitute of vivacity and

other merits, and that, if Milton did read it, or see it per formed, he may have retained a pretty strong recollection of it.

The hint that Milton might have been indebted for the first idea of his poem to Andreini opened up one of those literary questions in which ferrets among old books and critics of more ingenuity than judgment delight to lose themselves. In various quarters hypotheses were started as to particular authors to whom, in addition to Andreini, Milton might have been indebted for this or that in his Paradise Lost. The notorious William Lauder gave an impulse to the question by his publications, from 1746 to 1755, openly accusing Milton of plagiarism; and, though the controversy in the form in which Lauder had raised it ended with the exposure of his forgeries, the so-called "Inquiry into the Origin of Paradise Lost" has continued to occupy to this day critics of a very different stamp from Lauder, and writing in a very different spirit. The result has been that some thirty authors have been cited, as entitled, along with Andreini or apart from him, to the credit of having probably or possibly contributed something to the conception, the plan, or the execution of Milton's great poem. Quite recently, for example, a claim has been advanced for the Dutch poet, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), one of whose productions- -a tragedy called


Lucifer," acted at Amsterdam, and published in 1654-describes the rebellion of the Angels, and otherwise goes over much of the ground of Paradise Lost. Milton, it is argued, must have heard of this tragedy before he began his own Epic, and may have known Dutch sufficiently to read it. Then there was the somewhat older Dutch poet, Jacob Cats (1577-1660), one of whose poems, describing Adam and Eve in Paradise, might have been known to Milton, even if he could not read Dutch, as it had been translated into Latin by Caspar Barlæus, and published at Dordrecht in 1643. Nor, if Vondel and Cats remained unknown to Milton, was it possible that he should not be familiar with Adamus Exul, a Latin tragedy by the famous Hugo Grotius, the most learned Dutchman of his age, and whom Milton himself had met in Paris. This poem of Grotius, the work of his youth, had been before the world since 1601. But not from Dutch sources only is Milton supposed to have derived hints.

May he not have seen the following Latin works by


German authors,--the Bellum Angelicum of Frederic Taubmann, of which two books and a fragment appeared in 1604; the Dæmonomachia of Odoric Valmarana, published in Vienna in 1627; and the Sarcotis of the Jesuit Jacobus Masenius, three books of which were published at Cologne in 1644? Among possible Italian sources of help, better known or less known than Andreini's Adamo, there have been picked out the following - Antonio Cornozano, Discorso in Versi della Creazione del Mondo sino alla Venuta di Gesù Cristo, 1472; Antonio Alfani, La Battaglia Celeste tra Michele e Lucifero, 1568; Erasmo di Valvasone, Angelada, 1590; Giovanni Soranzo, Dell' Adamo, 1604; Amico Anguifilo, Il Caso di Lucifero; Tasso, Le Sette Giornate del Mondo Creato, 1607; Gasparo Murtola, Della Creazione del Mondo: Poema Sacro, 1608; Felice Passero, Epamerone; overo, L'Opere de sei Giorni, 1609; Marini, Strage degli Innocenti, 1633, and also his Gerusalemme Distrutta; Troilo Lancetta, La Scena Tragica d'Adamo ed Eva, 1644; Serafino della Salandra, Adamo Caduto: Trag. Sacra, 1647. A Spanish poet has been procured for the list in Alonzo de Azevedo, the author of a Creacion del Mundo, published in 1615; and a similar poem of the Portuguese Camoens, published in the same year, has also been referred to. Finally, reference has been made to the Locusta of the Englishman Phineas Fletcher, a poem in Latin Hexameters published at Cambridge in 1627, and to certain Poemata Sacra of the Scottish Latinist, Andrew Ramsay, published at Edinburgh in 1633; as well as, more in detail, to Joshua Sylvester's English translation of the Divine Weeks and Works of Du Bartas, originally published in 1605, and thenceforward for nearly half a century one of the most popular books in England, and to the Scriptural Paraphrases of the old Anglo-Saxon poet Cadmon, first edited and made accessible in 1655.

What is to be said of all this? For the most part it is laborious nonsense. That Milton knew some of the books mentioned, and, indeed, many more of the same sort, is extremely likely; that Sylvester's Du Bartas had been familiar to him from his childhood is quite certain; that recollections of this book and some of the others are to be traced in the Paradise Lost seems distinctly to have been proved; but that in any of the books, or in all of them together, there is to be found the origin of Paradise Lost," in any intelligible

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »