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sors, but he did not seek them. From his cotemporaries he neither courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained; no exchange of praise, nor solici. tation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness; but difficulties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroic poems, only because it is not the first.
INQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN
P A R A D IS E LOST.
*Tar petty circumstances, by which great minds are led to the first conception of great designs, are so variousand volatile, that nothing can be more difficult to discover: Fancy in particular is of a nature so airy, that the traces of her step are hardly to be discerned; ideas are so fugitive, that if poets, in their life time, were questioned concerning the manner in which the seeds of considerable productions first arose in their mind, they might not always be able to answer the inquiry; can it then be possible to succeed in such an inquiry concerning a mighty genius, who has been consignedmore than a century to the tomb, especially when in the records of his life, we can find no positive evidence on the point in question? However trifling the chances it may afford of success, the investigation is assuredly worthy our pursuit; for, as an accomplished critic has said, in speaking of another poet, with his usual felicity of discernment and expression, “the inquiry cannot be void of entertainment whilst Milton is our constant theme: whatever may be the fortune of the chace, we are sure it will lead us through pleasant prospects and a fine country.’” Hayley's Conjectures on the Origin of Paradise Lost.
THE earliest observation respecting the Origin of Paradise Lost appears to have been made by Woltaire, in the year 1727. He was then studying in England; and had become so well acquainted with our language as to publish an English essay on epic poetry; in which are the following words:
“Milton, as he was travelling through Italy in his youth, saw at Florence a comedy called Adamo, written by one Andreini, a player, and dedicated to Mary de Medicis, queen of France. The subject of the play was the fall of man; the actors, God, the Devils, the Angels, Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Death, and the seven mortal Sins: that topic, so improper for a drama, but so suitable to the absurd genius of the Italian stage (as it was at that time), was handled in a manner entirely conformable to the extravagance of the design. The scene opens with a Chorus of Angels; and a Cherubim thus speaks for the rest: 1 “Let the rainbow be the fiddlestick of the fiddle of the heavens! let the planets
1 A la lira del Ciel Irisia l'arco, Corde lesfere sien, note le stelle, Sien le pause e isospir Paure novelle, E’l tempo itempi a misurar non parco: Choro d'Angeli, &c. Adamo, ed. 1617. The better judgment of the author, Mr. Walker observes, determined him to omit this chorus in a subsequent edition of his drama: accordingly it does not appear in that of Perugia, 1641. See the Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy, 1799, p. 169,
be the notes of our music let time beat carefully the measure, and the winds make the sharps,’ &c. Thus the play begins, and every scene rises above the last in profusion of impertinence 1 “ Milton pierced through the absurdity of that performance to the hidden majesty of the subject, which, being altogether unfit for the stage, yet might be (for the genius of Milton, and his only) the foundation of an epic poem. “He took from that ridiculous trifle the first hint of the noblest work, which human imagination has ever attempted, and which he executed more than twenty years after.” That Milton had certainly read the sacred drama of Andreini, is the opini.
on both of Dr. Joseph Warton and of Mr. Hayley. Another elegant critic has
observed, that Voltaire may have related a tradition perhaps current in England at the time it was visited by him; “ a period at which, it may be presumed, some of the contemporaries of Milton were living, for he was then only about fifty years dead. Milton, with the candour which is usually united with true ge. nius, probably acknowledged to his friends his obligations to the Italian drama. tist, and the floating tradition met the ardent inquiries of the French poet’.” It may be worth mentioning here, that Dante, according to the account of some Italian critics s, took the hint of his Inferno from a nocturnal representation of Hell, exhibited in 1304, on the river Arno at Florence"; and that Tasso is said to have conceived the idea of writing his Aminta at the representation, in 1567, of Lo Sfortunato of Agostino Argenti in Ferrara. From the Adamo of Andreini a poetical extract, as well as the summary of the arguments of each act and scene, were given by Dr. Warton, in an appendix to the second volume of his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, 1782. Mr. Hayley has cited other specimens of the poetry in this “spirited, though irregular and fantastic, composition;” from which Milton's fancy is supposed to have caught fire. The reader will find a few quotations also, from this rare and curious drama, in the Notes on Paradise Lost. But, if the Adamo be examined with the utmost nicety, Milton will be found no servile copyist: he will be found, as in numberless instances of his extensive, his curious, and careful reading, to have improved the slightest hints into the finest descriptions. Milton indeed, with the skill and grace of an Apelles or a Phidias, has often animated the rude sketch and the shapeless block. I mean not to detract from the Italian drama"; but let it here be remarked once for all, in Milton's own
* Hist. Mem. on Ital. Tragedy, p. 170.
3 Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poetry, vol. iii. p. 241.
4 Hist. Mem. ut supr.
s From the remarks of prince Giacomo Giustiniani, (the accomplished governour of Perugia) on the Adamo, which were transmitted to Mr. Walker, and by Mr. Walker obligingly communicated to me, it appears that the critics of Italy consider Milton not a little indebted to their countryman. I will cite the opinion of the liberal and elegant Tiraboschi: Certo benche L'Adamo dell’Andreini sia in confronto del Paradiso Perduto cio che e il Poema di Ennio in confronto a quel di Virgilio, nonclimeno nonpuo negarsichele idee gigantesche, delle quali l’autore Inglese ha abbellito il suo Poema, di Satana, che entra nel Paradiso terrestre, e arde d'invidia alvedere la felicitadell’Uomo, del congresso de Demonj, della battaglia degli Angioli contra Lucifero, e più altre sommiglianti immagini veggonsi nell'Adamo adombrate per modo, che ame sembra molto credibile, che anche il Milton dalle immondezze, se così è lecito dire, dell’Andreini raccogliesse l'oro, di cui adorno il suo Poema. Per altro L'Adamo dell'Andreini, benche abbia alcunitratti di pessimo gusto, mehā altri ancora, che si posson proporre come modello dieccellente poesia.
words, that “borrowing, if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors is accounted plagiarie“.” Let the bitterest enemies of Milton prove, if they can, whether the author of this ingenuous remark may be exhibited in such a light; rather let them acknowledge that, in fully comparing him with those authors who have written on similar subjects, he must ever be considered as
above the rest
The drama of Andreini was so little known when Dr. Birch was writing the life of Milton, that Warburton, in a letter to that learned biographer, preserved in the British Museum, ridicules the relation of Voltaire. “It is said that it appeared by a MS. in Trin. Coll. Camb. that Milton intended an opera of the Paradise Lost. Voltaire, on the credit of this circumstance, amongst a heap of impertinency, pretends boldly that he took the hint from a comedy he saw at Florence, called Adamo. Others imagined too he conceived the idea in Italy; now I will give you good proof that all this is a vision. In one of his political pamphlets, written early by him, I forget which, he tells the world he had conceived a notion of an epic poem on the story of Adam or Arthur. What then will you say must we do with this circumstance of the Trin. Coll. MS.: I believe I can explain that matter. When the parliament got uppermost, they suppressed the playhouses; on which sir John Denham, I think, and others, contrived to get operas performed. This took with the people, and was much in their taste; and religious ones being the favourites of that sanctified people, was, I believe, what inclined Milton at that time (and neither before nor after) to make an opera of it.”—Even at a much later period, the very existence of the Adamo was denied; for Mr. Mickle, an ardent admirer of Milton, and the very able translator of the Lusiad, calls it “a comedy which nobody ever saw 1;” and observes, “that even some Italian literati declared that no such author [as Andreini] was know in Italy.” Dr Johnson also, in his Life of Milton, calls Voltaire's relation “a wild, unauthorised story.”
That Milton had conceived, in his younger days, as Dr. Warburton has observed, the notion of an epic poem on the story of Arthur, is evident from his own words in the Mansus, v. 80, &c. and the Epitaphium Damonis, v. 155, &c. Where see the notes, vol. vi. p. 357, and p. 373. Mr. Hayley, with his usual acuteness and elegance of language, remarks that “it seems very probable that Milton, in his collection of Italian books, had brought the Adamo of Andreini to England; and that the perusal of an author, wild indeed, and abounding in grotesque extravagance; yet now and then shining with pure and united rays of fancy and devotion, first gave a new bias to the imagination of the English poet, or, to use the expressive phrase of Voltaire, first revealed to him the hidden majesty of the subject. The apostate angels of Andreini, though sometimes hideously and absurdly disgusting, yet occasionally sparkle with such fire as might awaken the emulation of Milton.”
The English reader is indebted to Mr. Hayley for the following analysis of . the arguments of each act and scene in the Adamo.
* Econoclastes, Prose-Works, edit. 1698, fol. vol. ii. p. 509.
* THE chAn Acrers.
* God the Father.
Act I. Scene 1. “Chorus of Angels, singing the glory of God.—After their hymn, which serves as a prologue, God the Father, Angels, Adam and Eve.—God calls to Lucifer, and bids him survey with confusion the wonders of his power.—He creates Adam and Eve—their delight and gratitude.
Scene 2. “ Lucifer, arising from Hell—he expresses his enmity against God, the good Angels, and Man.
Scene 3. “Lucifer, Satan, and Beelzebub.-Lucifer excites his associates to the destruction of Man, and calls other demons from the abyss to conspire for that purpose.
Scenes 4, 5, and 6. “Lucifer, summoning seven distinct Spirits, commissions them to act under the character of the seven mortal Sins, with the following Islatules :
Melecano — Pride.
Lurcone — Envy.
Guliar — Gluttony.
Act II. Scene I. “The Angels, to the number of fifteen, separately sing the grandeur of God, and his munificence to Man.