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the press; and being questioned concerning the paper in his hand, he said, it was “ part of the “ noblest poem that ever was written in any lan :
ĝuage or in any age.” Richardson, whose active and liberal affection for the poet led him to search with intelligent alacrity and success for every occurrence that could redound to his honour, has retorded another incident, which must be particularly interesting to every lover of literary anecdote, as it discovers how the Paradise Lost was first introduced to Dryden, and with what fervency of admiration he immediately spoke of it. The Earl of Dorset and Fleetwood Shepard, the friend of Prior, found. the poem, according to this story, at a bookseller's in Little Britain, who, lamenting its want of circulation, entreated the Earl to recommend it ; Dorset, after reading it himself, sent it to Dryden, who faid, in returning the book, “ This man cuts
us all out, and the ancients too.". These were probably the real sentiments of Dryden on his first perufal of the poem ; but as that unhappy genius was not bleft with the independent magnanimity of Milton, his opinions were apt to fluctuate according to his interest, and we find him occasionally dispofed to exalt or degrade the transcendent performance, which he could not but admire. As the fix celebrated verses, in which he has complimented the English Homer, fo much resemble what he faid of him to Lord Dorset, it is probable that those verses were written while his mind was glowing with admiration from his first survey of the Paradise Lost; and as long as Milton lived, Dryden
seems to have paid him the deference fo justly due
very animated but injudicious verses by poor Nat. Lee, who has lavished the most exaggerated praise on his friend Dryden, at the expence of the superior poet.
It is highly pleasing to refle&t, that Milton, who had so many evils to futtain in the course of his chequered life, had yet the high gratification of being afsured, by very competent judges, that he had gloriously fucceeded in the prime object of his literary ambition, the great poetical atchievement; which he projected in youth, and accomplished in old age. He probably received such animating al. surances from many of his friends, whofe applause, being intended for his private satisfaction, has not descended to our time; but when we recollect the honours already mentioned, that were paid to the living poet by Denham, Dryden, and Marvel, we may rest satisfied in the persuafion, that he enjoyed a grateful earnest of his future renown, and, aca cording to the petition he addressed to Urania,
« Fit audience found tho few."
If the spirit of a departed bard can be gratified by any circumstances of posthumous renown, it might gratify Milton to perceive, that his divine poem was first indebted for general celebrity to the admiration of Sommers and of Addison, two of the most accomplished and most amiable of English names. Sommers promoted the first ornamented edition of Paradise Lost in 1688; and Addison wrote his celebrated papers on Milton in 1712.
But to return to the living author ; in the year 1670, the great poet aspired to new distinction, by appearing in the character of an historian.-He had long meditated a work, which in his time, was para
ticularly wanted in our language, and which the greater cultivation bestowed by the present age on
this branch of literature has not yet produced in V perfection—an eloquent and impartial history of
England. Milton executed only six books, beginning with the most early fabulous period, and clofing with the Norman conquest. “Why he should have given the first part (says Johnson) which he seems not to believe, and which is universally rejected, it is difficult to conjecture.” Had the critic taken the trouble to peruse a few pages of the work in question his difficulty would have vanished; he would at least have found the motive of the author, if he had not esteemed it satisfactory:
“ I have determined (says Milton) in speaking of the ancient and rejected British fables, to bestow the telling over even of these reputed tales, be it for nothing else but in favour of our English poets and rhetoricians, who by their art will know how to use them judiciously.” This sentiment implies a striking fondness for works of imagination, and a good natured disposition to promote them.
The historian discovers higher aims as he advances in his work, and expresses a moral and patriotic desire to make the lessons suggested by the early calamities of this nation a fource of wisdom and virtue to his improving countrymen. The very paffage, which was most likely to produce such an effect, was ftruck out of the publication by the Gothic hand of the licenser, an incident that seems to new energy to all the noble arguments, which
the injured author had formerly adduced in vindicating the liberty of the press.
The passage in question contained a very malterly sketch of the long parliament and assembly of divinés, contrasting their situation and their misconduct, after the death of Charles the First, with those of the ancient Britons, when, by the departure of the Roman power, “ they were left (according to the expression of the historian) to the fway of their own councils.” The author gave a copy of this unlicenced parallel to the celebrated Earl of Anglesey, a man distinguished by erudition, with a liberal respect for genius, and though a minister of Charles the Second, a frequent visitor of Milton. This curious fragment was published in 1681, with a short preface, declaring, that it originally belonged to the third book of Milton's History; and in the edition of his profe works, in 1738, it was properly replaced. The poet would have succeeded more eminently as an historian, had his talents been exercised on a period more favourable to their ex. ertion. We have reason to regret his not having executed the latter part of his original intention, instead of dwelling on the meagre and dark annals of Saxon barbarity. In his early history, however, there are passages of great force and beauty; his character of Alfred in particular is worthy that engaging model of an accomplished monarch, and verifies a sentiment, which Milton profeffed, even while he was defending the commonwealth, that although a resolute enemy to tyrants, he was a fin