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which certain verbal substitutions are casually suggested. “This seems," writes Professor Jebb, “to have put Bentley on his mettle; at any rate, he is said to have meditated notes as early as 1726.” Bentley tells us in his preface that in this new edition “ the faults in orthography, distinction by points, and capital letters, all which swarm in the prior editions, are very carefully, and it is hoped judiciously, corrected.” But this is a mere trifle; the preface should be read entire as a charming example of editorial reasoning, exhibiting moreover an imagination little inferior to that of Milton himself. In order to account for the presence of those manifold errors which Bentley has set himself to detect, he conjures up a “friend or acquaintance to whom Milton committed his copy and the overseeing of the press," and declares that this shadowy personage “ did so vilely execute that trust, that Paradise, under his ignorance and audaciousness, may be said to be twice lost.” The bookseller and “ that acquaintance, who seems to have been the sole corrector of the press, brought forth their first edition polluted with such monstrous faults as are without example in any other printed book.” To complete the little drama thus suggested, Bentley, by a happy inspiration of genius, darkly hints to us that the phantom acquaintance erred not through negligence, but through design. A moving picture is drawn of Milton “halfdead, with threescore years' weight upon his shoulders," a prey to treachery under the mask of friendship. This perfidious acquaintance is made to “foist into ” the books several verses of his own without the poet's discovery. The ground being thus cleared, Bentley has a task which would warm the heart of any commentator, and the unfortunate friend and editor, overtaken by tardy justice, is pelted with sneers and abuses in note after note. Bentley's change of the famous line
“No light but only darkness visible,”
“No light but only a transpicuous gloom,”
is probably the best known of his emendations, but his vituperative notes are perhaps even more delightful reading.
In that wonderful description of the limbo of fools in the third book (pronounced by Bentley to be a wholesale interpolation), occur the following lines :
“There might ye see
This provokes the editorial scorn. “Great civility to his readers. How could any one see them, unless he himself is supposed to be a fool, and placed in this limbo, the fittest babitation for this Interpolator?” But Bentley does not confine his strictures to this convenient “ Persona of an Editor," as he styles him; he does not hesitate to sit in judgment on Milton himself with a sublime assurance of superiority comparable to Dr. Johnson's attitude towards Shakespeare. There are few more curious examples of shrewd perception and enormous learning led by the pride of critical astuteness into errors patent to ordinary good sense and poetic feeling.
Bentley was not without successors in the task of discovering the true text of “Paradise Lost” by the inner light. In 1884 an edition was published by one Matthias Mull, the title-page of which is worth giving entire:
“ Paradise Lost by John Milton, the numerous mutilations of the text amended, also the obnoxious punctuation entirely revised, and all collectively presented, with notes and preface, also a short essay on the intellectual value of Milton's works, and some remarks on the origin of mutilations, by Matthias Mull, late próprietor and sometimes Editor of the Times of India, Author of Some Emendations of Shakespeare. London. Kegan Paul & Co., 1884."
In his preface, the author, after proving to his great satisfaction the untrustworthiness of the text of "Paradise Lost,” thus warms into genuine eloquence :
“We have consequently a text, reproduced in edition after edition, which is in such admired disorder' that Milton's own words may be partially applied to it, — Where all life dies death lives,' and where perverse, monstrous, and prodigious things have crept in. Manifold proofs of my grievous statement I furnish, — grievous I repeat, for the discovery that much of the charm and splendor of the lofty epic of the English-speaking race has been buried under a farrago of unmeaning verbiage, is as though some great artistic production, the admiration of the world, had been bedaubed and defaced, or some fair creation of nature had been despoiled of its beauty.”
The task of restoration seems to have been too much even for Mr. Mull's devouring enthusiasm, as he stops at the end of the first six books, informing us in his preface that “considerations of health compel him to suspend” the revision of the remainder.
Notwithstanding these two remarkable instances of what can
very much Paradise Lost told him
be accomplished by commentators of exceptional energy and determination, it is clear that so correct a text as that of “Paradise Lost” can afford but little scope for the ordinary emendator. The flood of critical acumen, denied an outlet in this direction, has poured itself out in other channels of usefulness with redoubled vigor. Long before Fenton or Bentley had hit upon the idea of amending “ Paradise Lost,” no less a man than the greatest of Milton's English contemporaries in letters, the glorious Dryden, had become the first of the long line of its paraphrasers. Dryden's “State of Innocence,” a play founded upon and in places closely following Milton's epic, was produced by him in 1674, only eight years after the publication of its original. The following account of the matter is given in “ Aubrey's Lives :” “John Dryden, Esq., poet laureate, who very much admired him [Milton] went for him to have leave to put his · Paradise Lost' into a drama in rhyme. Mr. Milton received him civilly and told him (with what secret thoughts it is curious to conjecture] that he would give him leave to tagge his verses.” Dryden has left on record his enthusiastic admiration of Milton's genius, and there is nothing extraordinary in his dramatizing a poem be so much admired; the thing to be noted is, that in his hands the blank verse of Milton becomes “ tagged,” or rhymed. In 1699 Mr. John Hopkins enters the field with his Imitation in rhyme of the fourth, sixth, and ninth books of “Paradise Lost." Mr. Hopkins lets fall expressions in his preface which seem to indicate a modest distrust of his version quite unworthy of a thorough-paced emendator. He writes with the remembrance of the partner of Sternhold before him : “ It has been the misfortune of one of my name to affront the sacred prose of David with intolerable rhyme; and it is mine, I fear, to have abused almost as sacred verse.” He pleads, in justification, that he was partly influenced by the desire “ to oblige the ladies.” Another paraphrase, in verse, was published in 1738, by a certain W. Howard, and yet another by A. Jackson, in 1740.
The gods have made Mr. A. Jackson so poetical that in his version even the argument thus kindles into rhyme :
“Man's fall first touched the poet's wings
With speed into the midst of things ;
His speech and Beelzebub's reply,
And here the Muse her flight suspends." What kind of fight the Miltonic Muse adopts under the patronage of Mr. Jackson may be made more clear by a short extract:
“Fallen Cherub to be weak is wretchedness
Our labors must be to pervert that end." The explanation of this conversion of Milton into rhyme, whether in the drama of Dryden or in the paraphrases, lies on the surface of the literary history of the time. The year 1667, in which “Paradise Lost ” was first ushered into the world, found Dryden, despite his Puritan ancestry, conspicuous among the playwrights of the Restoration; purveyor like the rest to the taste of His Royal Highness, King Charles the Second. Prominent in that following of the literary standards of the French which was to characterize English literature for some years to come, Dryden was putting forth his powerful influence in behalf of the use of rhyme in the drama and in serious poetry. His “Essay on Dramatic Poetry,” in which he definitely advanced this doctrine, was published almost simultaneously with Milton's blank verse epic. The controversy in which this essay involved Dryden turned upon the propriety of the use of rhyme in “ serious" plays; that rhyme was indispensable in a long poem was apparently admitted on all sides without question. Thus Dryden writes: “Blank verse is acknowledged to be too low for a poem, nay more for a paper of verses; but if too low for an ordinary
1 It was in or about 1667 that Dryden entered into an engagement to furnish three plays a year to the players of the King's Theatre.
sonnet how much more for tragedy,” etc. Milton was fully aware that the verse of his epic was unauthorized by English usage or by the taste of the time. In his remarks on “ The Verse," prefixed to the poem, he recognizes that he is an innovator, and turns for justification to the Spanish and Italians. He declares that his poem is to be esteemed “ The first example set in English of ancient liberty recovered to an heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of riming.” Without venturing into the old controversy about the extent of Milton's popularity during the latter seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, or intending to question the position ably taken by Professor Masson, it seems probable that whatever the popularity of “ Paradise Lost” may have been, it was at first seriously lessened by its departure from the accepted poetic form. In Cunningham's edition of “ Johnson's Lives" there is a note on this point worth quoting.
He writes : “ There was no paucity of readers for particular books. The sale of Paradise Lost' was slow because it was not to the taste of the times; our very plays were in rhyme, and the public looked with wonder upon Shakespeare when improved by Shadwell, Ravenscroft, and Tate.” We have no lack of contemporary opinion to confirm us in this view; indeed, it is by the recollection of contemporary taste and poetic fashion that we are able to understand certain famous condemnations of Milton's greatest work. When Thomas Rymer wrote of it to Fleetwood Shepheard, in 1678, as “ That · Paradise Lost' of Milton which some are pleased to call a poem,” he probably meant that the absence of rhyme deprived it of all claim to be classed as poetry. Nor was it merely that rhyme was considered indispensable in compositions of such a character; the general adoption of the heroic metre increased in poetry those special qualities which were farthest removed from the characteristic manner of Milton, and thus tended to alienate his work still more from the poetic taste of his time. It is a matter of common remark that the heroic couplet repressed that overflow or enjambment, that absence of a pause at the end of a line, which Milton himself declares to be one of the elements of “ true musical delight.” In the heroic verse, the sentences were crisp, plain, and clipped to a comparatively even length. The
1 “With the remaining Tragedies I shall also send you some reflections on that Paradise Lost of Milton's, which some are pleased to call a poem, and assert Rime against the slender Sophistry wherewith he attacks it.” – Rymer's Tragedies of the Last Age considered, etc., in a Letter to Fleetwood Shepheard, p. 143. London, 1678.