Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of sight from accustomed pleasures, the scholar is shut out from knowledge. Shut out at forty-three, when his great work was not even begun!”

In Book III of Paradise Lost we have this touching reference to his affliction:

“ Thus with the year
Seasons return; but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of ev'n or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature's works to me expung'd and ras'd,

And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.” After the Restoration his fortune was reduced to about £1500, and he lived in more humble circumstances, yet it is wrong to imagine him as living in poverty at any time. His home life does not appear to have been pleasant, although there is an impression that his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, did much to minister to his comfort. "A genteel person, a peaceful and agreeable woman," is Aubrey's testimony. The saddest feature about his home life is the unpleasant relationship existing between him and his three daughters. The daughters are censured for their unfilial attitude toward the great man. "They made nothing of deserting him," he was heard to say. Of Deborah, who lived to be seventy-four, it is reported that in her old age she spoke of him with tenderness. Had he had sons instead of daughters, he doubtless would have expended much enthusiasm in their education, but with his narrow view of woman's place he did nothing to give them that education which would enable them to enter into sympathetic companionship with his great aims and work. While it is to be regretted that his daughters had so little regard for their blind father, one cannot help feeling that Milton himself must have been largely to blame.

Last Days. — Blind, disappointed in his political hopes for a republic, with diminished income, and with unfilial daughters,

Milton presents a sad spectacle. And yet this is but one side of the shield. The man who could produce Paradise Lost under such circumstances is not a man to be pitied. The richness of his inner life could compensate in part for the lack of ordinary comforts. There were many moments when with Emerson he might sing:

“If Thought unlock her mysteries,

If Friendship on me smile,
I walk in marble galleries,

I talk with kings the while." For he was not without friends, among whom were Andrew Marvell, Dr. Paget, who selected the poet's third wife, Cyriack Skinner, his nephew Edward Phillips, and the Quaker, Thomas Ellwood, who sometimes read to him. Among his recreations were walking in his garden, indulging in pleasant and satiric conversation with his friends, and playing the organ and bassviol.

“In his gray coat, at the door of his house in Bunhill Fields, he sits on clear afternoons; a proud, ruggedly genial old man, with sharp satiric touches in his talk, the untunable fibre in him to the last. Eminent foreigners come to see him; friends approach reverently, drawn by the splendor of his discourse. It would range, one can well imagine, in glittering freedom, like 'arabesques of lightning' over all ages and all literatures. He was the prince of scholars; a memory of superlative power waiting, as submissive handmaid, on the queenliest imagination. The whole spectacle of ancient civilization, its cities, its camps, its landscapes, was before him. There he sat in his gray coat, like a statue cut in granite. England had made a sordid failure, but he had not failed. His soul's fellowship was with the great Republicans of Greece and Rome, and with the Psalmist and Isaiah and Oliver Cromwell.”

[ocr errors]

Late at night, on November 8, 1674, he passed away “with so little pain that the time of his expiring was not perceived by those in the room.” Four days later he was buried in the chancel of St. Giles, Cripplegate.

His body was accompanied to its last resting place by “All the learned and great friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the vulgar."

PARADISE LOST

First Published. - Final arrangements for the publication of Paradise Lost were made on April 27, 1667. The publisher, Samuel Symmons, paid Milton five pounds for the poem and promised to pay the like sum of five pounds for each of the first three editions of thirteen hundred copies. Milton lived to receive ten pounds, and his widow in 1680 yielded her rights to Symmons for eight pounds. Much has been written about the paucity of compensation received by the author of Paradise Lost, but it is doubtful whether a similar poem today would yield either publisher or poet much more than the profit received then. The first edition was exhausted in eighteen months, and the second was in the market in 1674, the year of Milton's death. With Mr. Garnett we may feel, “As for Milton, we may almost rejoice that he should have reaped no meaner reward than immortality.”

A Long Meditated Upon Poem. — From his jotting on a MS. now in the library of the University of Cambridge we have proof that Milton had had in mind for many years the composition of a long poem. In the years between 1640-1642 he had thought of the theme which he many years afterwards wrought into epic form. His first intention was to compose a drama. We are told by Aubrey and Phillips that the invocation of Satan to the Sun, Paradise Lost, book iv, 13-41, was composed about 1642 and intended to be the introduction to the drama.

After the long period of his political activities, during which time the hope of doing some monumental work never died, he turned again to the subject with a mind deepened and enriched by the rugged contact with the world of actualities. Aubrey tells us that the poem was completed in 1663. Two years later he showed it to Ellwood. It is likely that the Plague and the Great Fire delayed the publication to 1667.

The Story. - The first edition consisted of ten books; the second appeared in twelve, the seventh and the tenth being each divided into two. In 1668 Milton prefaced the poem with an introductory paragraph entitled “The Verse," and each book was introduced by “The Argument," or outline of contents. In “The Verse" it is explained that “ The measure is English heroic verse without rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and Vergil in Latin; rime being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of age to set off wretched matter and lame meter."

The story is

[merged small][ocr errors]

But before we reach the downfall of man, we are introduced to the causes and incidents that led to the downfall. Satan and his followers have been cast from Heaven into Hell, and there on the burning lake the defiant Arch-fiend gathers his fallen peers together to sit in council. How shall they revenge themselves upon the Almighty? The Second Book contains the deliberations of the council which finally decides that to ruin God's fairest creation would be fitting revenge upon the Creator. The Third Book leads us into Heaven, where God, seeing Satan on his mission toward the world, points him out as he predicts to the Son the downfall of Man's lofty estate. The Son amid the hallelujahs of the heavenly hosts offers himself as a ransom. In the Fourth Book, considered by some the most varied in its beauty of all the twelve, Satan has found Paradise and seen Adam and Eve in their pristine innocence and beauty. He learns that they were forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Gabriel, the keeper of the gate of Paradise, is warned by Uriel of the presence of an evil spirit plotting the ruin of the happy pair. The Fifth opens with Eve's account of a dream, a premonition of trouble; then follows their morning worship, expressed by a wonderful Hymn of Praise; the angel Raphael warns Adam of the danger he is in, and gives an account of the fall of Satan. In the Sixth Book Raphael continues his account with the description of the war in Heaven. The Seventh Book opens with an invocation to Urania to sustain the poet in the remaining half of his celestial flight, and then continues with the

story of Creation. The Eighth Book presents the long-awaited catastrophe: Eve is flattered by the Serpent, she yields, and eats of the fruit of the forbidden Tree. Adam chooses “to incur divine displeasure for her sake.” Books Ten, Eleven, and Twelve have three aims: “to justify the ways of God to Man," to complete the story of the Fall, and to show that there shall at last appear a Redeemer of Mankind. When the story ends we see the first parents as they leave Paradise. The lines have a simplicity befitting the picture

"Some natural tears they dropp'd, but wip'd them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,

Through Eden took their solitary way.Some Characteristics of Paradise Lost.- 1. Its Theme. In selecting a theme widely known Milton chose wisely, for an epic must deal with an event of universal interest. The wisdom of his choice can be seen by comparing his theme with that of the Arthurian legend, a topic at one time engaging the thought of the Puritan poet. The Arthurian legend is widely known, but for every one who knows Arthur and the knights of his Table Round, there are ten who are familiar with the biblical story of the creation and the fall of man. While it is true that the biblical nature of the subject imposed some limitations upon the freedom of the poet, and equally true that the poet's theology has already become obsolete, yet it is to be observed that the plot of an epic must be simple and that Milton's theology need be no more of a hindrance to the grandeur of Paradise Lost than an antiquated mythology is to the Iliad.

2. Its Sublimity. - To describe Heaven, Hell, the Garden of Eden, to carry on dialogue in which the protagonists of the drama are God, Satan, angels, demons, and our first parents, is a task worthy of the most massive intellect and of the most brilliant imagination. English, Dutch, German, and Italian poets have attempted a work similar to Milton's. He alone has succeeded. To do so required a rare combination of intellect, taste, imagina

« AnteriorContinuar »