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me no answer, but sate 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 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 shewed 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
It will be seen from the account given by Ellwood, that he had finished his incomparable poem, “Paradise Lost,” in 1665. It does not appear at what period he commenced writing it, but it is most likely the world is indebted for it, at least for its completion, to his having been removed from his office of Latin Secretary, or he would never have secured the requisite and uninterrupted leisure which such a composition necessarily required. It was happy for the admirers of exquisite poetry too, that he did not accept, as it is said he had an opportunity, the offer of being restored to his former station as Latin Secretary to the government.
* Ellwood's Life, 132, 135, and 234.
It was on this occasion, when urged to accept the office by his wife, that he replied, “Ah! my dear, you are like most other females, you would like to be a lady and ride in a coach; but my ambition is to live and die an honest man.
His immortal poem, “ Paradise Lost, ” was begun, it is said, about 1655. I conjecture that the two first books only were written while he was employed as Latin Secretary. Admitting this supposition to be right, then the work was recommenced at the third chapter, after his being delivered from his state of
66 obscure sojourn,” and with a reference to that awful obscurity into which he was plunged, as into the
* Dr. Johnson, who is always malignant towards MILTON, intimates his doubts as to the truth of this statement. It rests however upon good grounds.
Richardson says, p. 100, “My authority is Henry Bendish, Esq. a descendant by his mother's side from the Protector, Oliver Cromwell. Their family and Milton's were in great intimacy before and after his death, and the thing was known among them. Mr. Bendish has heard the widow, or daughter, or both say it, that soon after the Restoration, the king offered to employ this pardoned man as his Latin Secretary, the post in which he served Cromwell with so much integrity and ability. (That a like offer was made to Thurlow has never been disputed, as ever I heard.). MilTON withstood the offer; the wife pressed his compliance: • Thou art in the right,' said he, 'you, as other women, would ride in your coach; for me, my aim is to live and to die an honest man.'
Stygian pool.” It was published in ten books; but it was afterwards, under his direction, arranged into twelve books. I shall not attempt any description of its unrivalled excellencies; this has repeatedly been done by writers who were more equal to such criticisms than to which I can have any pretensions. As to the correctness of its theological sentiments, I speak without any hesitation; and as to the sublimity of the sentiments, I profess myself to be lost in wonder and admiration! The first paragraph explains fully the cause which enabled him to produce this almost super-human poem : “The meek will HE guide in judgment; the meek will HE teach his way !"
“Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
song, That with no middle flight attempts to soar Above th’ Aonian mount, while it pursues Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit; that dost prefer,
Book i. 1-25.
The few other extracts which I make from this most extraordinary poem, will be for eliciting his religious sentiments on some important points of theology.*
* Toland says, p. 129, “I must not forget that we had like to be eternally deprived of this treasure, by the ignorance or malice of the licenser; who among other frivolous exceptions, would needs suppress the whole poem for imaginary treason in the following lines :
“ As when the sun new risen,
The licenser was the Rev. Thomas Tomkyns, one of the chaplains of Archbishop Sheldon. This office, I find, had been abolished during the Protectorate, but was restored, with other corruptions, at the Restoration.
“Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heav'n first born!
* Richardson, in his note on the line, “In darkness and with dangers compass'd round,” says: “ This is explained by a piece of secret history, for which we have good authority. Paradise Lost was written after the Restoration, when MILTON apprehended himself to be in danger of his life, first from royal vengeance, (having been very deeply engaged against the royal party,) and when safe by pardon, from private malice and resentment. He was always in fear, much alone, and slept ill. When restless, he would ring for the person who wrote for him, (which was his daughter commonly,) to write what he composed, which would sometimes flow with great ease.”