« AnteriorContinuar »
other productions of the same class, which are the supposed prototypes of Milton's poem.
Mr. Todd's exemplary diligence, his various information, and his extensive acquaintance with rare and curious books, has enabled him to throw light on some particulars of Milton's history that were previously obscure: the second edition of his work is also enriched with valuable documents lately brought to light. His narrative is for the most part copied from that of Dr. Johnson; and when he ventures to stray from his illustrious model, and alter his language, it is seldom with advantage.
The latest biography which I have perused is that written by Dr. Symmons. This biographer was a violent whig, a most warm and zealous partizan, and, I must add, an intemperate and incautious writer. The language which he uses towards those opposed to him in opinion, as to Johnson, and T. Warton, is far too violent and vituperative ; and Hayley's name is seldom mentioned but to be coupled with contempt. His work is too much expanded with conjectures that cannot satisfy the mind, nor lead to the discovery of truth; and it has added but little to our knowledge of facts. Yet his metrical criticisms on the Latin poems of Milton, though they have not quite exhausted the subject, are more accurate and learned than ever
whose names Mr. Hayley, Dr. J. Warton, and others subsequently have mentioned, but many of which they themselves have never seen. Whether, as Hayley supposes, Milton was familiar with the Angeleida of Erasmo de Valvasone, Venet. 1590, or not, it certainly is worthy of remark, that the Italian poet assigns to the infernal powers the invention of artillery; but on this subject consult a note by Todd in vol. ii. 465, on the Adamo. See Walker, on Italian Tragedy, p. 172, App. xxxii. on passages in the Paradiso Lost, taken from the Setti giorni of Tasso. See Black's Life of Tasso, vol. ii. p. 469.
before appeared : and some translations are given which are spirited and elegant.
The notes which Bentley published on Paradise Lost appear to have been selected from that copy of Tonson's Milton, once belonging to him, which I now possess; and much as his violence and rashness of conjecture has been blamed, the public has yet to learn, that his alterations, numerous as they were, form only a selection from a much larger mass that still remains upon the margin of the edition which he used. But if the wild attempt to unite his own lifeless and prosaic passages with the living spirit of Milton's poetry, were an act of presumption in the aged critic; yet, I must confess, there is something less of arrogance in the manner in which they are proposed, than might have been expected, when the boldness of his system was so openly avowed. He had the humanity to leave the established text untouched : and to confine the troubled spirit of his emendations within the lower circle of his notes. * His changes (he says) are only suggested to the reader, and not obtruded on him ; and if any person will substitute better, he will deserve every reader's thanks ; though it is to be hoped even these will not be found absurd, or disagreeing from the Miltonian char
Sunt et mihi Carmina, me quoque dicunt
The few notes which are now for the first time published, are partly designed to prove, that Bentley did not generally attempt to substitute the actual and genuine words of Milton in the place of the fictitious and adulterated text (v. Book viji. 653); but only to restore what he conceived to be the sense and meaning of the passage. The conjectures which, in his own printed edition, I find waiting in the margin, and eager for admittance into the verse, in his MS. copy are attended with a numerous train, as little plausible or satisfactory as themselves. He had a large store of arrows in his quiver, besides that which he had shot: nor can a reason be readily assigned for his preference of the one selected. The hypothesis which he formed, is, I presume, generally known, and known only to be repudiated. Our celebrated author, being obnoxious to the gout, poor, friendless, and, what is worst of all, blind with a gutta serena, could only dictate his verses to be writ by another : when it necessarily follows that any errors in pointing, spelling, nay, even in whole words, of a like or near sound, are not to be charged upon the poet, but the amanuensis. The friend or acquaintance to whom Milton committed his copy, and the overseers of the press, did so vilely execute that trust, that Paradise, under his ignorance and audaciousness, may be said to
7 Dr. Newton's observations on Bentley's Milton are temperate and judicious. See his Pref. p. 32. It appears that Dr. Heylin gave the notes which he had made on Milton, with the intention of publishing an edition, to Bentley, who has printed them as his oron, without any acknowledgment, p. 34.
be twice lost. But these typographical faults, occasioned by • the negligence of his acquaintance, if all may be imputed to
that, and not several wilfully made,8 were not the least blemishes brought upon our poem. For this supposed friend, knowing Milton's bad circumstances, thought that he had a fit opportunity to foist into the work several of his own verses, without the blind poet's discovery. This trick has too frequently been
8 See note on P. L. i. 197. Knowing by the passages, that our poet blind, and then poor and friendless, had frequently foul play.'
played, but especially in works published after the author's death; and poor Milton, in that condition, with sixty years' weight upon his shoulders, might be reckoned half dead.' The whole of this visionary fabric seems to have been built by Bentley on the slender foundation that, owing to Milton's blindness, some mistakes in the text of the poem certainly did occur; and that such a one, as is found in P. L. x. 260, should pervade both editions (being an error which Milton himself had no means of detecting), certainly betrays the negligence or ignorance of those to whose care his edition was entrusted.
Feeling as truly as others the absurdity of Bentley's system, the flatness of his prosaic alterations, and his great want of poetic feeling, I must still in justice say, that his remarks display the shrewdness of a person accustomed to read with curious and scrutinizing attention, to pay regard to the proper force and meaning of words, and the construction of sentences; that his observations are often ingenious, and his emendations some times acute : but that which strikes me as peculiarly offensive, is the apparent carelessness and indifference with which he proceeds on his work of criticism. So far from approaching his author's text with a timid or reluctant hand, his boldest conjectures are proposed either with a confidence meant to overawe
9 Warburton lent Dr. Newton Pope's copy of Bentley's Milton, wherein Pope had all along with his own hand set some mark of approbation, rectè, benè, pulchrè, in the margin over against such emendations of the Doctor's as seemed to him just and reasonable. It was a satisfaction to see what so great a genius thought particularly of that edition, and he appears throughout the whole to have been a very candid reader, and to have approved of more than really merits approbation. Newton's Preface, p. 35.
T. Warton says, “ Many of Bentley's emendations are acute, but he did not understand Milton's manner, nor the genius of the language of English poetry.' v. Todd's Milton, vol. vi. p. 307; see Hollis's Memoirs, p. 478. 522.
the reader, and compel conviction; or, what is worse, with an apparentio disregard as to whether they are accepted or not. In P. L. ii. 1021, he strikes out the whole passage of Sin and Death following Satan, amounting to ten entire lines, and then says, 'Perhaps I shall have some votes to accompany mine, that this too is an interpolation. As he approached the last pages of his work, and looked back on the deformities he had left behind him in his ruthless path, and when he saw the ragged and meagre branches of the Critic's ivy eating into the noble and finished column, round which it had been trained, he seemed to entertain some misgivings of the soundness and success of his plan. He says, ' If one small alteration appeared to be so presumptuous, what censure must I expect to receive, who have presumed to make so many! but jacta est alea, non injussa cecini.
–πάρ εμοίγε κ’ άλλοι, Οι κε με τιμήσουσι, μάλιστα δε μητιέτα 'Ζευς. Bentley's ungrounded hypothesis, and the alterations which he built upon it, called forth a volume of remarks from Dr. Zachary Pearce; which may be recommended as a model of sound and temperate reasoning in criticism. Bentley's inno
10 See the indifference shown in notes, iii. 597, iv 769, vii. 406. One of the most objectionable notes is v. 415, one ludicrously ingenious, vi. 513; those at vii. 463, ix. 592, and xi. 387, are flippant and trifling. The conjecture, at xi. 187, is confirmed by Milton's own editions, which Bentley did not know. In one note he appears designedly unjust, (i. 717,) where he accuses Miltor of a false quantity in the use of the word "Serapis.' Bentley of course knew that the word was used with the middle syllable long: and Milton had a right to select the quantity most agreeable to his ear. Akenside uses the word . Hyperion' with the penultimate syllable long, and Gray with it short ; the former adhering to the true quantity, the latter adopting the more agreeable or con. venient pronunciation ; but Milton had authority, though inferior, on his side.