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Shakespeare's Sonnets. Johnson was more in his element when criticising 'Paradise Lost' than when dealing with Milton's minor poems. Those little pieces, he said, might be dispatched without much anxiety, a greater work called for greater care. For the most part his criticism is based on the rules laid down by Aristotle in his 'Poetics, but he follows them without servility. Of English critics he cites Bentley and Dryden, but only to differ from them. Addison he frequently quotes with approval, and in his life of that author defends him against the existing generation, which had begun to dispute his claims to be considered as a critic at all. They condemned his criticism as tentative or experimental rather than scientific,' 'deciding by taste rather than principles.' Against these attacks Johnson justifies Addison : 'Had he presented Paradise Lost to the public with all the pomp of system and severity of science, the criticism would perhaps have been admired, and the poem still have been neglected ; but by the blandishments of gentleness and facility he has made Milton an universal favourite with whom readers of every class think it necessary to be pleased.' (Lives of the Poets, ii. 406; ed. 1794.) In his own criticism of 'Paradise Lost' he is very often in agreement with Addison. Instances of this, and cases in which their opinions differ, are pointed out in the notes to the present edition. Johnson also refers to Voltaire's criticisms of Paradise Lost,' contained in a dissertation on epic poetry attached to the ' Henriade,' and had perhaps read the article 'Epopée' in the Dictionnaire Philosophique, where Voltaire again discusses Milton's epic. He was in agreement with Voltaire when he censured the allegory of Sin and Death, and condemned the materialism of the war in Heaven, and included both in his catalogue of the defects of 'Paradise Lost.' These lists of faults and defects are an essential part of Johnson's system of criticism. He did not seek to appreciate but simply to judge. He held it to be the business of the critic to point out impartially the faults of a great work, just as it was the business of the biographer
to point out the faults of a great author. But in his criticism of Milton's poetry there is no sign of the prejudices which prevented him from doing justice to Milton's life and character. Where that criticism is defective the cause is, to use one of Johnson's own phrases, not lack of candour, but lack of sensibility.
For the Biographical notes to this edition I must acknowledge the great assistance derived from Masson's Life of Milton. For some of the critical notes I am indebted to Peter Cunningham's edition of the 'Lives of the Poets,' 1854; and for some others I have to express my thanks to Dr. Hill. I am also obliged to Mr. N. M. Billimoria of Bombay for · pointing out several errors and misprints in the first edition.
OXFORD, October, 1891,
LIVES OF THE POETS.
The life of Milton has been already written in so many forms, and with such minute inquiry, that I might perhaps more properly have contented myself with the addition of a few notes on Mr. Fenton's elegant abridgment, but that a new narrative was thought necessary to the uniformity 5 of this edition.
John Milton was by birth a gentleman, descended from the proprietors of Milton, near Thame, in Oxfordshire, one of whom forfeited his estate in the times of York and Lancaster. Which side he took I know not; his descend- 10 ant inherited no veneration for the White Rose.
His grandfather, John, was keeper of the forest of Shotover, a zealous Papist, who disinherited his son because he had forsaken the religion of his ancestors.
His father, John, who was the son disinherited, had re- 15 course for his support to the profession of a scrivener. He was a man eminent for his skill in music, many of his compositions being still to be found; and his reputation in his profession was such, that he grew rich, and retired to an estate. He had probably more than common liter- 20 ature, as his son addresses him in one of his most elaborate
He married a gentlewoman of the name
of Caston, a Welsh family, by whom he had two sons, John, the poet, and Christopher, who studied the law, and adhered, as the law taught him, to the king's party, for which he was awhile persecuted; but having, by his 5 brother's interest, obtained permission to live in quiet, he supported himself so honourably by chamber-practice, that, soon after the accession of King James, he was knighted and made a judge; but, his constitution being too weak
for business, he retired before any disreputable compliances 10 became necessary.
He had likewise a daughter Anne, whom he married with a considerable fortune to Edward Phillips, who came from Shrewsbury, and rose in the Crown-office to be
secondary: by him she had two sons, John and Edward, 15 who were educated by the poet, and from whom is derived the only authentic account of his domestic manners.
John the poet, was born in his father's house, at the Spread Eagle, in Bread Street, Dec. 9, 1608, between six
and seven in the morning. His father appears to have 20 been very solicitous about his education; for he was in
structed at first by private tuition under the care of Thomas Young, who was afterwards chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh, and of whom we have
reason to think well, since his scholar considered him as 25 worthy of an epistolary elegy.
He was then sent to St. Paul's school, under the care of Mr. Gill; and removed, in the beginning of his sixteenth year, to Christ's College, in Cambridge, where he entered
a sizar, Feb. 12, 1624. 30
He was at this time eminently skilled in the Latin tongue ; and he himself, by annexing the dates to his first compositions, a boast of which Politian had given him an example, seems to commend the earliness of his own
proficiency to the notice of posterity. But the products of his veřnal fertility have been surpassed by many, and particularly by his contemporary Cowley. Of the powers of the mind it is difficult to form an estimate : many have excelled Milton in their first essays, who never rose to works 5 like · Paradise Lost.'
At fifteen, a date which he uses till he is sixteen, he translated or versified two Psalms, 114 and 136, which he thought worthy of the public eye; but they raise no great expectations: they would in any numerous school have 10 obtained praise, but not excited wonder,
Many of his elegies appear to have been written in his eighteenth year, by which it appears that he had then read the Roman authors with very nice discernment. I once heard Mr. Hampton, the translator of Polybius, 15 remark, what I think is true, that Milton was the first Englishman who, after the revival of letters, wrote Latin verses with classic elegance. If any exceptions can be made, they are very few: Haddon and Ascham, the pride of Elizabeth's reign, however they have succeeded 20 in prose, no sooner attempt verses than they provoke derision. If we produced anything worthy of notice before the elegies of Milton, it was perhaps Alabaster's • Roxana.'
Of these exercises, which the rules of the University 25 required, some were published by him in his maturer years. They had been undoubtedly applauded; for they were such as few can form : yet there is reason to suspect that he was regarded in his college with no great fondness. That he obtained no fellowship is certain; but 30 the unkindness with which he was treated was not merely negative. I am ashamed to relate what I fear is true, that Milton was one of the last students in either Uni