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derived from Phillips, this passage occurs : “In the 4th book of Paradise Lost *there are about 6 verses of Satan's exclamation to the Sun wch Mr. E. Phi. “remembers, about 15 or 16 years before ever his poem was thought of; wch
verses were intended for the beginning of a tragedie, web he had design'd, “but was diverted from it by other besinesse. Here we have indirectly Phillips's own authority that he had read the verses in question at a date which we shall presently see reason to fix at 1642. He was then a pupil of his uncle, and living with him in his house in Aldersgate Street.
Alas! it was not “for some few years” only, as Milton had thought in 1641, that the execution of the great work so solemnly then promised had to be postponed. For a longer time than he had expected England remained in a condition in which he did not think it right, even had it been possible, that men like him should be writing poems. Only towards the end of Cromwell's Protectorate, when Milton had reached his fiftieth year, and had been for five or six years totally blind, does he seem to have been in circumstances to resume effectually the design to which he had pledged himself seventeen years before. By that time, however, there was no longer any doubt as to the theme he would choose. All the other themes once entertained had faded more or less into the background of memory, and PARADISE LOST stood out, bold, clear, and without competitor. Nay more, the dramatic form, for which, when the subject first occurred to him, Milton had felt a preference, had been now abandoned, and it had been resolved that the poem should be an epic. He began this epic in earnest almost certainly before Cromwell was dead --" about 2 yeares before the “K[ing] came in,” says Aubrey on Phillips's authority; that is, in 1658, when, notwithstanding his blindness, he was still in official attendance on Cromwell at Whitehall as his Latin Secretary, and writing occasional letters, in Cromwell's name, to foreign states and princes.
The uncertain state of affairs after Cromwell's death, or, at all events, after the resignation of his son Richard, may have interfered with the progress of the poem; and, when the Restoration came, there was danger for a time that not only the poem but the author's life might be cut short. That danger over, he was at liberty, “on evil days though fallen, and evil ongues to prosecute his labour in obscurity and comparative peace.
He had finished it, according to Aubrey, “about 3 years after the K.'s restauracion," i.e. about 1663. if so, he had been five or six years in all engaged on the poem, and the places in which he had successively pursued the task of meditating and dictating it had been mainly these—first, Petty France (now York Street), Westminster, till within a few weeks of the Restoration ; next, some friend's house in Bartho. lomew Close, West Smithfield, where he lay concealed for a while after the Restoration ; then, a house in Holborn, near Red Lion Fields, whither he removed as soon as it was safe for him to do so; and, finally, from 1661 onwards, in Jewin Street, close to that part of Aldersgate Street where he had had his house some eighteen or nineteen years before, when Paradise Lost first occurred to his thoughts. During the five or six years occupied in the composition of the poem in these places Milton's condition had been that of a widower,-his first wife having died in 1652 or 1653, in the house in Petty France, leaving him three daughters; the second, whom he had married in Nov. 1656, while residing in the same house, having survived the marriage little more than a year; and his marriage with his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, not having taken place till February, 1662-63, when, if Aubrey's account
is correct, the poem was finished, or nearly so. It is probable, however, that, though Milton may have had the poem in some manner complete in Jewin Street, before his third marriage, there may have still been a good deal to do with the manuscript in the house in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, to which he and his wife removed shortly after their marriage (in 1663 or 1664), and which was the last of Milton's many London residences, and that in which he died. We have an interesting glimpse of this manuscript, at any rate, as in Milton's possession, in a satisfactory state, during the summer of 1665. As the Great Plague was then raging in London, Milton had removed from his house in Artillery Walk to a cottage at Chalfont-St.-Giles, in Buckinghamshire, which had been taken for him, at his request, by Thomas Ellwood, a young Quaker, whose acquaintance with him had begun a year or two before in Jewin Street. Visiting Milton here as soon as circumstances would permit, Ellwood was received in a manner of which he has left an account in his Autobiography, “ After some common discourses,” he says, “had passed between us, he called [“ for a manuscript of his; which, being brought, he delivered to me, bidding
me take it home with me and read it at my leisure, and, when I had so done, return it to him with my judgment thereupon. When I came home, ani had
set myself to read it, I found it was that excellent poem which he entituied [“ Paradise Lost."
The anecdote proves the existence of at least one, and most probably of more than one, complete copy in the autumn of 1665—which may, accordingly, be taken as the date when the poem was considered ready for press. The delay of publication till two years after that date is easily' accounted for. not, says Ellwood, till “ the sickness was over, and the city well cleansed, and
become safely habitable again,” that Milton returned to his house in Artillery : Walk; then, still farther paralysing business of all sorts, came the Great Fire
of Sept. 1666 ; and there were difficulties, as we have seen, about the licensing of a poem by a person of Milton's political antecedents and principles.
Whether the time spent by Milton in the composition of Paradise Lost was five years (1658-1663), or seven or eight years (1658–1665), it is certain that ¿ he bestowed on the work all that care and labour which, on his first contem
plation of such a work in his earlier manhood, he had declared would be necessary. The “industrious and select reading,” which he had then spoken of as one of the many requisites, had not been omitted. Whatever else Paradise Lost may be, it is certainly one of the most learned poems in the world. In thinking of it in this character we are to remember, first of all, that, ere his - blindness had befallen him (1652), Milton's mind was stored with an amount e of various and exact learning such as few other men of his age possessed; so
that, had he ceased then to acquire more, he would have still carried in his memory an enormous resource of material out of which to build up the body
But he did not, after his blindness, cease to add to his knowledge by reading. At the very time when he was engaged on his Paradise Lost, he had, as his nephew Phillips informs us, several other great undertakings in progress of a different character, for which daily reading and research were necessary, even if they could have been dispensed with for the poem--to wit, the construction of a Body of Divinity from the Scriptures, the completion of a History of England, and the collection of materials for a Thesaurus, or Dictionary, of the Latin tongue. Laboriously every day, with a due division of his time from early morning, he pursued these tasks, by a systematic use of
of his poem.
assistants whom he kept about him. As at the time when the composition i Paradise Lost was begun the eldest daughter, Anne, was but twelve years age, the second, Mary, but ten, and the youngest, Deborah, but six, and when the poem was certainly finished their ages were about eighteen, sixteei and twelve respectively, their services as readers during its composition ca have been but partial. But, whether with them as his readers, or with youn men and grown-up friends performing the part for hire or love, he was able t avail himself for his poem, as well as for the drier works on which he wa simultaneously engaged, of any help which books could give. He may, as cordingly, at this time, if not before, have made himself acquainted with som of those poems and other works, Italian and Latin, in which his subject, o some portion of it, had been previously treated. He was very likely to do so and to take any hint he could get.
It would not be difficult to prove, at any rate, that, among the “select read ings” engaged in specially for the purposes of Paradise Lost while it was it progress, must have been readings in certain books of geography and Eastern travel, and in certain Rabbinical, early Christian, and mediæval commentator on the subjects of Paradise, the Angels, and the Fall. Nothing is more striking in the poem, nothing more touching, than the frequency, and, on the whole, wonderful accuracy, of its references to maps; and, whatever wealth of geographical information Milton may have carried with him into his blindness, there are evidences, I think, that he must have refreshed his recollections of this kind by the eyes of others, and perhaps by their guidance of his finger, after his sight was gone.
In short, for the Paradise Lost, as well as for the prose labours carried on along with it, there must have been abundance of reading ; and, remembering to what a stock of prior learning, possessed before his blindness, all such increments were added, we need have no wonder at the appearance now presented by the poem. To say merely that it is a most learned poem—the poem of a mind full of miscellaneous lore wherewith its grand imagination might work- is not enough. Original as it is, original in its entire conception, and in every portion and passage, the poem is yet full of flakes—we can express it no otherwise—full of flakes from all that is greatest in preceding literature, ancient or modern. This is what all the commentators have observed, and what their labours in collecting parallel passages from other poets and prose-writers have served more and more to illustrate. Such labours have been overdone ; but they have proved incontestably the tenacity of Milton's memory. In the first place, Paradise Lost is permeated from beginning to end with citations from the Bible. Milton must have almost had the Bible by heart ; and, besides that some passages of his poem, where he is keeping close to the Bible as his authority, are avowedly coagulations of Scriptural texts, it is possible again and again, throughout the rest, to detect the flash, through his noblest language, of some suggestion from the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, or the Apocalypse. So, though in a less degree, with Homer, the Greek tragedians (Euripides was a special favourite of his), Plato, Demosthenes, and the Greek classics generally, and with Lucretius, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Persius, and the other Latins. So with the Italian writers whom he knew so well—Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, and others now less remembered. So with modern Latinists of various European countries, still less recoverable. Finally, so with the whole series of preceding English poets, particularly Spenser, Shakespeare, and some of the minor Spenserians of the reigns of James and Charles I., not forgetting that uncouth
rea Fas este taic
ition popular favourite of his boyhood, Sylvester's Du Bartas. In connexion with
all which, or with any particularly striking instance of the use by Milton of a thought or a phrase from previous authors, let the reader remember his own Definition of Plagiarism, given in his Eikovokaotus. “ Such kind of borrowon ing as this,” he there says, “ if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good
authors is accounted plagiary. And again, of quotations from the Bible, " It is not hard for any man who hath a Bible in his hands to borrow good " words and holy sayings in abundance; but to make them his own is a work
of grace only from above.”
How was the poem, as it grew in Milton's mind, committed to paper? It ct,
was dictated by parcels of ten, twenty, thirty, or more lines at a time. Even before his blindness, Milton had made use of amanuenses; but, after his blindness, he scarcely wrote at all with his own hand. It would be difficult to produce a genuine autograph of his of later date than 1652. On this matter Phillips is again our most precise authority. “There is another very remark
able passage,” he says, “in the composure of this poem, which I have a
particular occasion to remember; for, whereas I had the perusal of it from ho
the very beginning, for some years as I went from time to time to visit him, th “ in a parcel 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 desiring the reason thereof, was answered, " that his verse never happily 'Alowed but from the Autumnal Equinoctial to the
“ Vernal [i.e. from the end of September to the end of March], and that efe
“ whatever he attempted [at other times] was never to his satisfaction, though “ he exerted his fancy never so much; so that, in all the years he was about “this poem, he may be said to have spent but half his time therein.” The reader ought to correct by this extract, taken in connexion with information
already given as to Milton's domestic circumstances, the impressions he may ]]
have received from fummery pictures representing the blind poet in a rapt attitude dictating Paradise Lost to his attentive and revering daughters. His eldest daughter, Anne, could not write ; and though the other two could write, and may occasionally, when the poem was in progress, have acted as his amanuenses, their ages exclude the idea of their having been his chief assistants in this capacity—while we also know that the poor motherless girls had grown up in circumstances to make them regard the services they were required to perform for their father as less a duty than a trouble. On the whole, Phillips's words suggest what is probably the right notion—that Milton dictated his poem in small portions at a time, chiefly within-doors, and more in winter than in summer, to any one that chanced to be about him. Sometimes it
have the been one of his daughters; sometimes, latterly, when the poem was nearly the
complete, it may have been his third wife ; frequently it may have been one of it the friends or youths who statedly read to him. From Phillips's statement it
is also clear that he assisted Milton in revising the gathered scraps of MS. from
time tim Finally, when all was completed, a lean copy, or clean copies, he
must have been made by some practised scribe. One such clean copy was that sent to the licenser, a portion of which, as has been mentioned, still exists. The hand in that manuscript has not been identified.
III. SCHEME AND MEANING OF THE POEM.
Paradise Lost is an Epic. But it is not, like the Iliad or the Æneid, a national Epic ; nor is it an epic after any other of the known types. It is an epic of the whole human species-an epic of our entire planet, or indeed of the entire astronomical universe. The title of the poem, though perhaps the best that could have been chosen, hardly indicates beforehand the full nature or extent of the theme ; nor are the opening lines, by themselves, sufficiently descriptive of what is to follow. According to them, the song is to be
“Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
This is a true enough description, inasmuch as the whole story bears on this point. But it is the vast comprehension of the story, both in space and time, as leading to this point, that makes it unique among epics, and entitles Milton to speak of it as involving
“ Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme." It is, in short, a poetical representation, on the authority of hints from the Book of Genesis, of the historical connexion between Human Time and Aboriginal or Eternal Inñnity, or between our created World and the immeasurable and inconceivable Universe of Pre-human Existence. So far as our World is concerned, the poem starts from that moment when our newly.created Earth, with all the newly-created starry depths about it, had as yet but two human beings upon it ; and these consequently are, on this side of the presupposed Infinite Eternity, the main persons of the epic. But we are carried back into this pre-supposed Infinite Eternity, and the grand purpose of the poem is to connect, by a stupendous imagination, certain events or courses of the inconceivable history that had been unfolding itself there with the first fortunes of that new azure World which is familiar to us, and more particularly with the first fortunes of that favoured ball at the centre whereon those two huinan creatures walked. Now the person of the epic through the narration of whose acts this connexion is established is Satan. He, as all critics have perceived, and in a wider sense than most of them have perceived, is the real hero of the poem.
He and his actions are the link between that new World of Man the infancy of which we behold in the poem and that boundless antecedent Universe of Pre-human Existence which the poem assumes. For he was a native of that Pre-human Universe—one of its greatest and most conspicuous natives; and what we follow in the poem, when its story is taken chronologically, is the life of this great being, from the time of his yet unimpaired primacy or archangelship among the Celestials, on to that time when, in pursuit of a scheme of revenge, he fings himself into the new experimental World, tries the strength of the new race at its fountain-head, and, by success in his attempt, vitiates Man's portion of space to his own nature, and wins possession of it for a season. The attention of the reader is particularly requested to the following remarks and diagrams. The diagrams are not mere illustrations of what Milton may have conceived in his scheme of his poem.