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Secretaryship, under the Government of Charles II., which he had filled with so much distinction in the time of the Commonwealth. His wife, dazzled by the prospect which this proposal opened before her, earnestly urged him to accede to it. This Milton peremptorily refused, adding, • You, as other women, would ride in your coach: my aim is to live and die an honest man."
The events of Milton's personal history for the few'next years have been related without any material variation by all his biographers, and modern years have brought no accession of information respecting them. The statements of the best of these authors will therefore be collated in this place, with no other acknowledgment than a marginal reference. During his residence in Jewin Street, Ellwood the quaker was recommended to him as a person who, for the advantage of his conversation, would read to him such Latin books as he thought proper; an employment to which he attended every afternoon, except on Sundays. “ At my first sitting to him,” this ingenious writer informs us in his Life of himself, "observing that I used the English pronunciation, he told me, if I would have the benefit of the Latin tongue, not only to read and understand Latin authors, but to converse with foreigners, either abroad or at home, I must learn the foreign pronunciation; to this I consenting, he instructed me how to sound the vowels: this change of pronunciation proved a new difficulty to me; but labor omnia vincit improbus ;' and so did I; which made my reading the more acceptable to my master. He, on the other hand, perceiving with what earnest desire I pursued learning, gave me not only all the encouragement, but all the help, he could; for, having a curious ear, he understood by my tone when I understood what I read, and when I did not; and accordingly he would stop me, and examine me, and open the most difficult passages to me.” The kind care bestowed by Milton upon the improvement of this young man, was repaid by every mark of personal
regard. The courtesy of the preceptor, and the gratitude of the disciple, are indeed alike conspicuous. After several adventures, which were no slight trials of patience, Ellwood found an asylum in the house of an affluent quaker at Chalfont, in Buckinghamshire, whose children he was to instruct. This situation afforded him an opportunity of being serviceable to Milton : for, when the plague began to rage in London in 1665, Ellwood took a house for him at Chalfont, St. Giles; to which the poet retired with his family. He had not long before removed from Jewin Street to a house in Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields; but he is also said, by Richardson, on the authority of a person who was acquainted with Milton, and who had often met him with his host conducting him, to have lodged awhile before this last removal, with Millington, the famous auctioneer of books; a man whose occupation and whose talents would render his company very acceptable to Mil
for he has been described by a contemporary pen as “a man of remarkable elocution, wit, sense, and modesty."*
On his arrival at Chalfont, Milton found that Ellwood, in consequence of a persecution of the quakers, was confined in the gaol of Aylesbury. But, being soon released, this affectionate friend made a visit to him, to welcome him into the country. “ After some common discourses," says Ellwood, “ 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, and set myself to read it, I found it was that excellent poem, which he entitled · Paradise Lost.''
“ After I had with the best attention read it through,” says the respectable Ellwood, “I made him another visit, and returned him his book, with due acknowledgment of the favour he had done me in communicating it to me. He
* Todd's Life of Milton, pp. 186 and 190.
asked me how I liked it, and what I thought of it: which I modestly and freely told him; and, after some further discourse, I pleasantly said to him, Thou hast said much here of Paradise lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise found? He made me no answer, but sat some time in a muse: then broke off that discourse, and fell upon another subject. After the sickness was over, and the city well cleansed, and become safely habitable again, he returned thither; and when afterwards I went to wait upon him, (which I seldom failed of doing when my occasions led me to London), he showed me his second poem, called • Paradise Regained, and in a pleasant tone said to me, “This is owing to you, for you put it into my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of.'"
The term of Milton's residence at Chalfont has not been precisely specified; but from the circumstances to which it was accommodated, the prevalence and the extirpation of the plague in the capital, we may infer that extended from the June or the July of 1665 to the March or April of the following year.
It is not exactly ascertained when the “Paradise Lost" was commenced; but there is every reason to believe that it was completed during this brief sojourn at Chalfont. On the 26th of April, 1667,* he sold the manuscript of the " Paradise Lost” to Samuel Simmons, the bookseller, for the insignificant sum of £5. But the agreement with the bookseller entitled him to a conditional payment of five pounds more when thirteen hundred copies should be sold of the first edition ; of the like sum after the same number of the second edition; and of another five pounds after the same sale of the third. The number of each edition was not to exceed fifteen hundred copies. It first appeared in 1667, in ten books. The poem, in a small quarto form, and plainly but neatly bound, was advertised at the price of
* Symmons' Life of Milton, pp. 381, 382.
three shillings. The titles were varied, in order to circulate the edition, in 1667, 1668, and 1669. Of these there were no less than five. In two years the sale gave the poet a right to his second payment, for which the receipt was signed April 26, 1669. The second edition was not given till 1674; it was printed in small octavo; and, by a judicious division of the seventh and tenth, contained twelve books. He lived not to receive the payment stipulated for this impression. The third edition was published in 1678; and his widow, to whom the copy was then to devolve, agreed with Simmons, the printer, to receive eight pounds for her right, according to her receipt, dated December 21, 1680; and gave him a general release, dated April 29, 1681. Simmons covenanted to transfer the right, for twenty-five pounds, to Brabazon Aylmer, a bookseller; and Aylmer sold to Jacob Tonson half of it, August 17, 1683, and the other half, March 24, 1690, at a price very considerably advanced.*
An anecdote has been related by Richardson, one of his earlier biographers, “ that Sir John Denham came into the House one morning with a sheet of Paradise Lost,' wet from the press, in his hand; and, being asked what it was, he replied, “ Part of the noblest poem that ever was written in any language or in any age.' However, the book remained unknown till it was produced about two years afterwards by Lord Buckhurst on the following occasion. That nobleman, in company with Mr. Fleetwood Shephard, (who frequently told the story to Dr. Tancred Robinson, an eminent physician, and Mr. Richardson's informer), looking over some books in Little Britain, met with · Paradise Lost;' and, being surprised with some passages in turning it over, bought it. The bookseller requested his lordship to speak in its favour, if he liked it: for the impression lay on his hands as waste paper. Lord Buckhurst, (whom Richardson inaccurately calls the Earl of Dorset, for he did
* Todd's Life of Milton, pp. 194, 195.
not succeed to that title till some years afterwards), having read the poem, sent it to Dryden, who in a short time returned it with this answer: • This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too.""*
Although there is, doubtless, a foundation of truth in the former anecdote, the association of Sir John Denham's name with the fact is certainly erroneous, as that gentleman never was in Parliament. Shortly afterwards, however, Dryden called upon the author, and obtained his permission to construct a drama, or rather an opera, upon the great epic. This did not appear during Milton's life ; but, in the preface, a due homage is paid to his genius. Although the poem passed tbrough six editions within twenty years of its publication, it cannot be said to have obtained the attention it deserved, until it was popularized by the criticisms of Addison.
It would be a waste of time to descant on the innumerable merits of a poem which has been made the theme of almost every critic of eminence for upwards of a century, and which now enjoys an undisputed supremacy. That it should not have been popular in the days of the two last Stuarts, is not matter of surprise. The age of tyranny was, not likely to favour the writings of the apostle of freedom. The age of sensuality was incapable of relishing the moral beauties and intellectual charms of Milton's muse. reserved to a brighter and a better age to render justice to the memory of the Patriot-Bard; and, perhaps, it is safe to predict that the estimation of Milton's poetry will afford the measure of the literary refinement, and that of his prose writings will gauge the political elevation or decline, of every succeeding age in this country.
Mr. Philips has mentioned one singular circumstance with respect to the composition of the “Paradise Lost,” “which," he says, “I have a particular reason to remember; for whereas I had the perusal of it from the very beginning, for some years,
* Todd's Life of Milton, pp. 204, 205.