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Voltaire, to vindicate both Tasso and Milton from certain
" Andreini (says the critic of Italy) was a stroller (un istrione) of the worst age of the Italian letters.” Notwithstanding these terms of contempt, which one of his countrymen has bestowed upon Andreini, he appears to me highly worthy of our notice; for (although in uniting, like Shakespeare and Moliere, the two different arts of writing and of acting plays, he discovered not such extraordinary powers as have justly immortalized those idols of the theatre) he was yet endowed
with one quality, not only uncommon, but such as might render him, if I may hazard the expression, the poetical parent of Milton. The quality I mean is, enthusiasın in the highest degree, not only poetical but religious. Even the preface that Andreini prefixed to his Adamo may be thought sufficient to have acted like lightning on the inflammable ideas of the English poet, and to have kindled in his mind the blaze of celestial imagination.
I am aware, that in researches like the present, every conjecture may abound in illusion; the petty circumstances, by which great minds are led to the first conception of great designs, are so various and volatile, that nothing can be more difficult to discover : fancy in particular is of a nature fo airy, that the traces of her step are hardly to be discerned ; ideas are so fugitive, that if poets, in their life-time, were questioned concerning the manner in which the seeds of considerable productions first arose in their mind, they might not always be able, to answer the enquiry ; can it then be possible to succeed in such an enquiry concerning a mighty genius, who has been consigned more than a century to the tomb, especially when, in the records of his life, we can find no positive evidence on the point in question? However trilling the chances it may afford of success, the investigation is assuredly worthy our pursuit; for, as an accomplished critic has said, in speaking of another poet, with his usual felicity of discernment and expression, " the enquiry " cannot be void of entertainment whilft Milton is our
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“ constant theme : whatever may be the fortune of the “ chace, we are sure it will lead us through pleasant pro
fpects and a fine country.” : 'It has been frequently remarked, that accident and genius generally conspire in the origin of great performances; and the accidents that give an impulse to fancy are often such as are hardly within the reach of conjec
Had Ellwood himself not recorded the occurrence, who would have supposed that a few words, which fell from a simple youth in conversation, were the real source of Paradise Regained? Yet the offsprings of imagination, in this point of view, have a striking analogy to the productions of nature. The noble poem just mentioned resembles a rare and valuable tree, not planted with care and forecast, but arising vigorously from a kernel drop by a rambling bird on a spot of peculiar fertility. We are perfectly assured that Milton owed one of his great poems to the ingenuous question of a young quaker ; and Voltaire, as we have seen, has afferted, that he was indebted for the other to the fantastic drama: of an Italian stroller. It does not appear that Voltaire had any higher authority for his assertion than his own conjecture from a slight inspection of the drama, which he haftily describes; yet it is mere justice to this rapid entertaining writer to declare, that in his conjecture there is great probability, which the English rcader, I believe, will be inclined to admit, in proportion as he becomes acquainted with Andreini and his Adamo;
but before we examine their merit, and the degree of influence that we may suppose them to have had on the fancy of Milton, let us contemplate, in one view, all the scattered hints which the great poet has given us concerning the grand project of his life, his design of writing an epic poem.
His first mention of this design occurs in the following verses of his poetical compliment to Manso:
O mihi fic mea fors talem concedat amicum,
O might so true a friend to me belong,
hero for a poem.
Mr. Warton says, in his comment on this passage, “ It “ is possible that the advice of Manso, the friend of Tasso, "might determine our poet to a design of this kind.” The conjecture of this respectable critic may appear confirmed by the following circumstance:- In the discourses on Epic Poetry, which are included in the prose works of Tasso, Arthur is repeatedly recommended as a proper
Thus we find that Italy most probably suggested to Milton his first epic idea, which he relinquished ; nor is it less probable that his second and more arduous enterprize, which he accomplished, was suggested to him by his perusal of Italian authors. If he saw the Adamo of Andreini represented at Milan, we have reason to believe that performance did not immediately inspire him with the project of writing an epic poem on our First Parents ; because we find that Arthur kept possession of his fancy after his return to England.
In the following verses of his Epitaphium Damonis, composed at that period, he still shews himself attached to romantic heroes, and to British story :
Dicam et Pandrasidos regnum vetus Inogeniæ,