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Charity; instructs him. He repents; gives God the glory, submits to his penalty. The Chorus briefly


From this sketch it will be seen that at the outset Milton conceived his subject in the form of a drama-one might say, of a gigantic mystery-play, were it not that the scheme was modelled on the strict lines of Greek tragedy, after adopted in "Samson Agonistes." Parts

at least of Satan's address to the sun in the fourth book of "Paradise Lost" (lines 32 ff.) survive as a fragment of this projected dramatic version. His abandonment of it was only in consonance with his original intention to write a great English epic poem.

In the ninth book of "Paradise Lost "there is a long digression (lines 13-47), in which Milton pauses in his narrative to speak of his hesitation in regard to his subject-matter, of his tardiness in beginning his poem, and of his reasons for selecting a sacred instead of a romantic theme. The whole passage is full of autobiographical interest, and may here fittingly be reproduced. It will be seen that he boldly pits his own argument against those of the


"" Iliad and the " Æneid," and that he refers his ultimate choice to the ingrained qualities of his nature. Explaining that he has now to enter upon the tragic part of his action, he proceeds:

Sad task! yet argument

Not less but more heroic than the wrath
Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued

Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage
Of Turnus for Lavinia disespoused;
Or Neptune's ire, or Juno's, that so long
Perplexed the Greek and Cytherea's son ;
If answerable style I can obtain

Of my celestial Patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,

And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse :

Since first this subject for heroic song
Pleased me, long choosing and beginning late,
Not sedulous by nature to indite

Wars, hitherto the only argument

Heroic deemed; chief mast❜ry to dissect
With long and tedious havoc fabled knights,
In battles feigned: the better fortitude
Of patience and heroic martyrdom
Unsung; or to describe races and games,
Or tilting furniture, imblazon'd shields,
Impresses quaint, caparisons and steeds,
Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights
At joust and tournament; then marshalled feast
Served up in hall with sewers and seneshals:
The skill of artifice or office mean,
Not that which justly gives heroic name
To person or to poem. Me, of these
Nor skilled nor studious, higher argument
Remains; sufficient of itself to raise

That name, unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp my intended wing
Depressed; and much they may, if all be mine,
Nor hers who brings it nightly to my ear.

The full description of the romantic machinery and detail which would have entered into the

texture of the poem which he had long since determined not to write is a capital illustration of Milton's digressive habit and delight in drawing upon his stores of learning, while perhaps at the same time it suggests that he looked back with some regret upon his abandoned theme. Possibly he even now recalled with pleasure his early readings in romantic literature the "throngs of knights and barons bold" who had passed across the pages of many a well-loved book-the mighty battles they had fought the gorgeous tournaments in which they had taken part beneath the bright eyes of ladies who had rained influence and judged the prize. But such regret, if indeed he felt any, was only transitory. If the mere fact that while still a young man he had turned away from the seductions of chivalrous love and adventure to matters of infinitely more serious import was sure proof of his fast-growing earnestness, still more certain is it that, whatever might have been the case with him in earlier years, any theme having less moral and religious significance than the one chosen would have been, at the date when he actually addressed himself to his task, an absolute impossibility. The struggles and disappointments of the intervening period, its noble efforts and its bitter regrets, had necessarily exercised a profound influence upon his mind; and to one of his temper, who had fought for the cause of God and righteousness and had seen that cause overwhelmed with disaster, it would have

seemed rank impiety to waste the few remaining years of his life and the little strength which was still left to him in spinning pretty verses about the amours and adventures of the fabled heroes of King Arthur's court. There was, indeed, only one subject which appeared to fit the critical hour and the mood in which he now surveyed the course of history and looked far forward across the confusions of the present into the ages to come. That was the subject upon which years before he had fixed his mind, but which had now unfolded to him depths of meaning then unsuspected. Human sin, of which he had the terrible evidences everywhere about him-God's redeeming grace, in which he still trusted to bring good out of evil,

And evil turn to good-more wonderful

Than that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of Darkness-1

here indeed was matter which might well engage his thought and call out all his creative "of powers. And so he undertook to sing man's first disobedience" and its far-reaching consequences, and even while doing so, to

justify the ways of God" and the divine ordering of the world. It was a daring enterprise an enterprise to be undertaken only by such a poet and at such a time.

Let me insist that the experiences of that long interval during which his poetic vein had seemed to be exhausted counted enormously in

"Paradise Lost," XII. 471-473.

This is a

the making of "Paradise Lost."
fact which must never be overlooked. I have
myself spoken of Milton's activities in middle
life as a deplorable waste of time; but in so
doing I was thinking only of actual production
and immediate results. The same facts may,
however, be regarded from quite a different
point of view. There are critics who regret
that the Milton of "Paradise Lost" is no
longer the Milton of "Il Penseroso," of
"Comus," of "Lycidas"; who hold that his
passionate preoccupation with prose and con-
troversy and public affairs did much to destroy
his spontaneity and to injure the pure artist in
him. Well, we may admit that the freshness
and bloom of his earlier work are to some extent
lacking in that of his later period. But mean-
while the poet has gained immensely by his
contact with life has gained in depth, range,
moral grasp, and the peculiar power which was
to enable him to soar to the heights of his
"great argument." Had Milton never passed
through the stress and turmoil, the conflicts and
sorrows, of his long years of struggle and dis-
appointment, "Paradise Lost" might indeed
have been written; but we may be sure that,
better or worse, it would not have been the
"Paradise Lost" that we possess to-day.

We now understand the circumstances in which Milton addressed himself to the composition of his great heroic poem. Just when he actually began it is doubtful. It is thought that a start was made as early as the year of

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