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encouragement but all the help he could. “For, having a curious ear, he understood by my tone,” says Ellwood, “ when I understood what I read, and when I did not; and accordingly would stop me, examine me, and open the most difficult passages.”
In 1665, when all who could hastened to escape from the plague-stricken city, young Ellwood, at Milton's request, hired for him “a pretty box”-a plain, halftimbered, gable-fronted cottage*—at Chalfont St. Giles. When the poet took up his residence there, Ellwood, under a new and stringent law against the Quakers and their meetings, had been thrown into Aylesbury prison; but as soon as he was released, he paid Milton a visit. “ After some common discourses had passed between us," writes Ellwood," 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 done so return it to him with my judgment thereupon. When I came home and had 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, I made him another visit, and returned him his book, with the acknowledgment of the favour he had done me in communicating it to me. He asked me how I liked it, and what I thought of it, which I modestly but freely told him; and, after some further discourse about it, 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
* The cottage is still in excellent preservation. It stands on the right, near the end of the village ; and its little low parlour is said to be the room in which Milton dictated his “ Paradise Regained.”
become safely habitable again, he returned thither. And when afterwards I went to wait on him there (which I seldom failed of doing whenever my occasions drew 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.'” Milton, however, probably felt that a sequel was needed in order to emphasize and define more precisely the plan of Christ in the Divine scheme of redemption.
“Paradise Lost” was completed before the end of 1665; “ Paradise Regained” (though not published until 1671) probably in the course of the following year, or early in the spring of 1667. Milton's first great epic found a publisher in Samuel Simmons, who bought the copyright for £15; £5 paid down, £5 to be paid on the sale of 1,300 copies out of a first edition of 1,500, and £5 more on the sale of 1,300 out of a second edition of 1,500 copies. Milton lived to receive a second five pounds, and to his widow were paid £8 for her remaining interest in the copyright. The poem, divided at first into only ten books, was handsomely printed in a small quarto volume, which was sold for 3s. It had neither preface, notes, nor “arguments” prefixed to the different books (1667). A license for publication was not obtained without some difficulty, the licencer (the Rev. Thomas Tomkyns, chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury) stumbling at a supposed political allusion in the following well-known passage:
“ As when the sun, new risen,
At length, however, it was published, and the English people soon showed their sense of the inestimable value of this new addition to their literature. Thirteen hundred copies were sold in two years, and in eleven years the sale reached three thousand copies; not a bad sale for a religious epic at a time when readers were limited to the affluent classes, and the popular taste had been corrupted by the introduction of French models and the influence of a dissolute and luxurious Court.
To criticise “ Paradise Lost” would be work as supererogatory as analysing the sun. It is universally accepted as the great English epic, which no other has yet threatened in its pride of place. It is part of the inheritance of every Englishman, like Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights. No doubt it has its defects; it is prolix and even wearisome in some of its passages ; its theology is narrow; its conceptions of Heaven and Hell are necessarily materialistic; * but what are these when compared with those essential qualities of grandeur of thought and diction of loftiness of purpose, to which it owes its immortality? But in Mr. Mark Pattison's monograph (in the “English Men of Letters " series), and in Professor Masson's comprehensive biography, the reader will find elaborate estimates which answer almost every question that can arise in connection with its study; and he may advantageously compare Macaulay's and Dr. Channing's well-known essays. His attention will of course be directed to such matters as the extent of Milton's obligations to Cadmon and Vondel, which scarcely affect more than the framework of the poem; the obvious traces of Spenser, and in a less degree of Marlowe, in the versification and treatment; the characteristics of Milton's blank verse, its processional pomp, its complex harmonies, its majestic rhythm; the rich variety of the allusions and images; the effect of his Calvinistic theology on the development of his subject; his felicitous choice of epithets ; his incidental descriptions of natural scenery; and, finally, the relation of the poem to the religious thought of the age. It is specially interesting to compare it with Spenser's “ Faery Queen,”* which presents one side or aspect of the difficult problem of which “Paradise Lost” presents the other. Thus, if we take it to be Spenser's primary object to indicate the aspiration of man's soul towards its God, it is not less the purpose of Milton to
* Milton was conscious of this defect, which was forced upon him by the structure of his poem, and endeavours to explain it away, or apologise for it, in the words he puts into the mouth of Raphael :
“What surmounts the reach
“ Assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to man;" while the minds of both are fascinated by the constant struggle which prevails in the soul and in the world between the antagonistic principles of Good and Evil.
“Paradise Lost” and “ Paradise Regained ” should be taken together as one great continuous allegorical epic, which divides naturally into four parts, and each part into four books. The first part, Books i. to iv., describes the origin and progress of the war between Good and Evil, the fall of Evil into Hell, and the renewal of the struggle upon
* In the preface to his “ Fables," Dryden remarks that Milton is the poetical son of Spenser. “Milton has confessed to me," he adds, “ that Spenser was his original."
earth with Man's soul as the prize of the victor. The second part, Books v. to viii., forms an intermezzo, in which, through the narrative of the Archangel Raphael, we learn the order of the events that preceded the creation of Man. In the third part, Books ix. to xii., the story of the great conflict is resumed, with Man's fall, its immediate consequences, and the Archangel Michael's forecast of the way in which they will eventually be retrieved. Lastly, the fourth part (“Paradise Regained ”) brings us to the realisation of the grand Archangelic vision in Christ's victory over the Power of Evil. On “the highest pinnacle” of the glorious Temple of Jerusalem, which shone afar
“Like a mount
Of alabaster top't with golden spires," Divine Good, in the person of Jesus Christ, wins the last battle in that tremendous war which, ages agone, had begun in “heaven's wide champaign.” Celestial choirs break forth into strains of victory :
“Now Thou hast avenged Supplanted Adam, and, by vanquishing Temptation, hast regained lost Paradise,
And frustrated the conquest fraudulent.” “Samson Agonistes " * was published in the same year (1671) as “Paradise Regained.” It is a choral drama, after the Greek model, but in a severe style, and is instinct with the poet's strong individuality. In its stately verse the main aim and work of his life found their final expression. For twenty years he had championed the sacred cause of civil and religious freedom, and to the superficial observer the battle had gone against him; the banner was torn down, and the hands which had held it
* Samson is taken by the poet as the type of Puritanism, which, though fallen, had nevertheless defeated the enemies of God.