Abbildungen der Seite

tenderness, declared that he was "delightful company, the soul of conversation," by reason. of "a flow of subject, and an unaffected cheerfulness and civility." It is perhaps a little surprising to learn that a vein of humour often lightened his talk. At eight he took his supper- "of olives or some light thing," for in eating and drinking he was exceedingly abstemious-and, having smoked a pipe of tobacco and drunk a glass of water, he went to bed at nine. Such was his simple and quiet way of life. As to his mode of work, we know that the poetic inspiration visited him very fitfully. Sometimes he would lie awake the whole night, vainly labouring to make a single line; at other times, the verses came unsought and flowed fast and freely-the "easy" and "unpremeditated " verses of which he speaks. Night was often a favourite time with him for composition; but often, too, he would think out a passage, perhaps of twenty, or thirty, or forty lines, while walking up and down in the garden; and then he would return to the house that it might be put on paper by any one that was near and could write." We have a memorable picture of the great poet dictating-" leaning backward obliquely in an easy chair, with his leg flung over the elbow of it." Another picture we are equally glad to remember has been left us by a Dr. Wright, a Dorsetshire clergyman. "He found John Milton, then growing old, in a small chamber, hung with rusty green, sitting in an elbow chair, and dressed neatly in black; pale,

[ocr errors]

but not cadaverous; his hands and fingers gouty and with chalk-stones. He used also to sit in a gray coarse cloth coat, at the door of his house near Bunhill Fields, in warm sunny weather to enjoy the fresh air. And so, as well as in his room, he received the visits of people of distinguished parts, as well as quality." Despite age, physical infirmities, and the mental sufferings which had left their mark upon him, he was still a strikingly handsome man, with his white hair falling over his shoulders and his sightless eyes shining with undiminished lustre. Nor, as Mr. Stopford Brooke has well reminded us, must we think of him in these last years as an object of our pity. "None can read Paradise Lost' without wonder at the fulness of creative power which must have made him happy”; while dwelling as he so largely did in the highest regions of thought and imagination, he had consolations which the petty miseries of private life and the evils rampant in the world outside were alike powerless to destroy.

For at length he had leisure and opportunity to carry out his long-cherished purpose, and to realise the noble ambition which the enforced occupations of so many years had compelled him to lay aside. The great epic, projected in all the freshness and vigour of youth, was in this period of failing health and bitter disappointment to become an accomplished fact.

Something must now be said about the history of Milton's design, for this will be found to throw much light for us not only upon the

development of his character, but even upon, the significance of "Paradise Lost" itself.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

As early as 1637, it will be remembered, he had confided to his friend Charles Diodati that he had already fixed his mind upon a great poetic task and was silently but sedulously preparing himself for its accomplishment. The journey to Italy was for him only one more stage in this necessary preparation; even amid the distractions of travel the "inward promptings "of which he was conscious grew daily upon him; he held steadily to his proud belief "that by labour and intense study (which I take to be my portion in this life) joined with the strong propensity of nature, I might perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die." But meanwhile he was casting about for a theme. At first, as was inevitable with one of his enormous reading, the range of possibilities seemed almost bewilderingly wide. In a manuscript notebook preserved among the Milton relics in Trinity College, Cambridge, there is a list, dating probably from 1640 or 1641, which contains the titles of-in some cases, jottings for-ninety-nine different subjects, set down evidently as they occurred to him and for further consideration. Of these sixty-one are Scriptural, the remaining thirty-eight being taken from the legendary history of Britain. At the moment it would appear that his interest was gravitating strongly in the latter direction,

1 "Apology for Smectymnuus."

and especially toward the romantic subject of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. This is shown in a hint in a Latin poem addressed in 1638 or 1639 to his Italian friend Manso, and even more in a passage in the elegy on Diodati (" Epitaphium Damonis "):

I too for strangely my pipe for some time past had been sounding

Strains of an unknown strength

I have a theme of the Trojans cruising our southern headlands

Shaping to song, and the realm of Imogen, daughter

of Pandras,

Brennus and Arvirach, dukes, and Bren's bold brother,

Then the Armorican settlers under the laws of the

Ay, and the womb of Ingraine fatally pregnant with

Uther's son.1

But however favourably he may for a time have thought of the Arthurian legends as a theme for an English heroic poem, it was not long before he set them definitely aside and fixed his choice upon the Fall of Man. Four drafts, evidently written out before 1642, remain to testify to the prominence which this subject had already assumed in his thought. I here reproduce the last and fullest of them :

ADAM UNPARADISED 2 :-The Angel Gabriel, either descending or entering-showing, since the

1 I quote from Masson's translation of the elegy.

2 It may be noted that the title which heads the third draft is "Paradise Lost." The first two drafts are without titles.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

globe is created, his frequency as much on Earth as in Heaven-describes Paradise. Next the Chorus, showing the reason of his coming-to keep his watch, after Lucifer's rebellion, by the command of God-and withal expressing his desire to see and know more concerning this excellent and new creature, Man. The Angel Gabriel, as by his name signifying a Prince of Power, passes by the station of the Chorus, and desired by them, relates what he knew of Man, as the creation of Eve, with their love and marriage.—After this, Lucifer appears, after his overthrow; bemoans himself; seeks revenge upon Man. The Chorus prepares resistance at his first approach. At last, after discourse of enmity on either side, he departs; whereat the Chorus sing of the battle and victory in Heaven against him and his accomplices, as before, after the first Act, was sung a hymn of the Creation. Here again may appear Lucifer, relating and consulting on what he had done to the destruction of Man. Man next and Eve, having been by this time seduced by the Serpent, appear confusedly, covered with leaves. Conscience, in a shape, accuses him; Justice cites him to the place whither Jehovah called for him. In the meantime the Chorus entertains the stage and is informed by some Angel of the manner of the Fall. Here the Chorus bewails Adam's fall-Adam and Eve return and accuse one another; but especially Adam lays the blame to his wife-is stubborn in his offence. Justice appears, reasons with him, convinces him. The Chorus admonishes Adam, and bids him beware Lucifer's example of impenitence.-The Angel is sent to banish them out of Paradise; but, before, causes to pass before his eyes, in shapes, a masque of all the evils of this life and world. He is humbled, relents, despairs. At last appears Mercy, comforts him, promises him the Messiah; then calls in Faith, Hope,

« ZurückWeiter »