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as I went from 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 shown any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his vein never happily flowed but from the Autumnal Equinox to the Vernal ; and that whatever he attempted at other times was never to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much; so that, in all the years he was about this poem, he may be said to have spent half his time therein.'
“Of his artifices of study, or particular hours of composition,” says Johnson, “we have little account.” Richardson, however, relates “ that he would sometimes lie awake whole nights, but not a verse could he make; and on a sudden his poetical faculty would rush upon him with an impetus, or æstrum, and his daughter was immediately called to secure what came. In dictating in the day, he was accustomed to sit leaning back, in an easy chair, with his leg flung over the elbow of it, and at such times he would dictate perhaps forty lines in a breath, and then reduce them to half the number.
Newton, in his Life of the poet, states that “Mrs. Milton, who survived her husband, in a state of widowhood, nearly fifty-five years, related that he composed principally in the winter ; and on his waking in the morning would make her write down sometimes twenty or thirty verses. On being asked whether he did not frequently read Homer and Virgil, she replied that he stole from nobody but the muse who inspired him.' To a lady inquiring who the muse was, she answered, “it was God's grace, and the Holy Spirit that visited him nightly.'
During Milton's residence at Chalfont, a report obtained currency that he had perished by the plague; which need occasion the less surprise as the parish registers show, that that village did not escape the ravages of this calamitous visitation. This report appears to have reached the Continent, and elicited from several eminent men letters of inquiry respecting the safety of so valuable a life. The last of the poet's familiar letters which we possess, is an answer to one of these. It is addressed, “ To the most accomplished Peter Heimbach, Counsellor of State to the Elector of Brandenburgh,” and having been written in Latin, is · presented by Mr. Todd in the following translation :
* Johnson's Lives of the Poets, vol. i. pp. 189, 190.
" That, in a year so pestilential and so fatal as the present, amidst the deaths of so many of my compatriots, you should have believed me likewise, as you write me word, in consequence too of some rumour or other, to have fallen a victim, excites in me no surprise : and if that rumour owed its currency among you, as it seems to have done, to an anxiety for my welfare, I feel flattered by it as an instance of your friendly regard. Through the goodness of God, however, who had provided me with a safe retreat in the country, I still live and am well; and would that I could add, not incompetent to any duty which it may be my further destiny to discharge.
“But that after so long an interval I should have recurred to your remembrance, is highly gratifying to me; though to judge from your eloquent embellishments of the matter, when you profess your admiration of so many different virtues united in my single person, you seem to furnish some ground for suspecting that I have, indeed, escaped from your recollection. From such a number of unions, in fact, I should have cause to dread a progeny too numerous, were it not admitted that in disgrace and adversity the virtues principally increase and flourish. One of them, however, has not made me any very grateful return for her entertainment; for she whom you call the political (though I would rather that you had termed her love of country), after seducing me with her fine name, has nearly, if I may so express myself, deprived me of a country. The rest,
indeed, harmonise more perfectly together. Our country is wherever we can live as we ought.
“ Before I conclude, I must prevail on you to impute whatever incorrectness of orthography or of punctuation you may discover in this epistle, to my young amanuensis ; whose total ignorance of Latin has imposed on me the disagreeable necessity of actually dictating to him every individual letter.
“That your deserts as a man, consistently with the high promise with which you raised my expectations in your youth, should have elevated you to so eminent a station in your sovereign's favour, gives me the most sincere pleasure ; and I fervently pray and trust that you may proceed and prosper. Farewell !—London, August 15, 1666."
In the year 1670, Milton published his fragment of the History of England, the earlier portion of which has been noticed already, and which his subsequent intervals of labour only brought down to the period at which the strictly national interest of our annals commences—that of the victory of William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings. In the following year he published the “ Paradise Regained,” and the dramatic poem entitled “Samson Agonistes."
Had Milton never written the “Paradise Lost," it is more than probable that the “Paradise Regained” would have been rewarded with the admiration of posterity, and secured for its author a high rank among epic poets. Some fond admirers of Milton have endeavoured to attract to it some portion of that voluntary tribute which is universally paid to its great predecessor. Jortin has eulogised it; Dunster has laboured to develop its previously unrecognized beauties; and Warburton has pronounced it a charming poem, nothing inferior in the poetry and the sentiments to the “ Paradise Lost.” But these panegyrics have never received that endorsement which, in the republic of letters, is the sole, and, indeed, the just, ratification of purely literary excellence. Perhaps the truth
is, that the “Paradise Lost” satiates every faculty to which it appeals,* and renders the revival of the zest impossible, except by a power analogous to that which was exerted in the miracle of Cana. Nevertheless, it contains passages of great beauty and grandeur ; and one which shows to what an extent he retained, irrepressible amidst the decay of nature, the principles which had governed his more active life, deserves on that account to be inserted in this place. The sentiment is put into the mouth of the Saviour :
“Extol not riches, then, the toil of fools,
The wise man's cumbrance, if not snare; more apt
* Omne supervacnum pleno de pectore manat.-HORACE.
Throughout the writings of Milton, we have seen his complete familiarity and intense sympathy with classical literature, producing two characteristic results :—the one, the infusion of beautiful, but exotic, and, in many cases, recondite illustration ; the other, the interpolation into his style of that which, in the view of mere nationality, must be regarded as a corrupt element. It has been remarked of the “Paradise Regained,” that its style “is much less encumbered with allusions to abstruse learning, than the * Paradise Lost.' Different critics assign different reasons for this. It is probable that the poet was influenced by regard to the simple language of the New Testament: in previous parts of the Bible, there is much more of poetical ornament and figurative richness.”
The defect of the “ Samson Agonistes” is not one of style, but of structure. It is framed on the model of the Greek drama, which, if not incompatible with our language, is certainly uncongenial with the national literature and the popular taste. The great masters of the British drama, both prior and subsequent to the days of Milton, do not admit to the vicinity of their imperial throne the rivalry of classic antiquity. As the “Paradise Regained” admitted of the development of some of Milton's political and religious opinions, so among the more individual delineations of the “Samson,” we find some passages in which it is impossible not to perceive a reference to the author's personal and domestic condition. Of this the following is an obvious example:
“I, dark in light, exposed