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pauses fell with extraordinary regularity at the ends of the lines ; a short pause usually following the first and a longer the second line of each couplet. Such a style favored that pointed and epigrammatic manner, that clearness and correctness, in which the cleverness of the age delighted. “Paradise Lost” is difficult to read at the present time, when we are accustomed to the use of blank verse, and when we have utterly abandoned the poetic manner of Dryden and Pope; but to readers of poetry from 1667 to 1750, or thereabouts, it must have been a severer labor to disentangle the meaning of its involved and majestic periods than we are apt to realize. Doubtless it was looked upon by the majority of readers, bewildered, irritated, and derisive, much as “ Sordello" is viewed by the present generation of anti-Browningites. The evidence of this is to be found not only in those rhymed and other paraphrases of “ Paradise Lost," of which Dryden's “ State of Innocence” was the precursor, but in more than one contemporary allusion. Thus Waller, who as we know had a keen eye for the French fashion, and who provoked much admiration by the smoothness of his lines, is said to have characterized the poem of “ The Blind Old Schoolmaster” as “ tedious,” and to have declared “if its length be not considered a merit it hath no other.” In the “Country and City Mouse” (1689), Prior and Montague's famous burlesque on the “ Hind and the Panther,” Dryden, under the character of Bayes, is made to express his sense of Milton's ruggedness and difficulty:
“Here now to show you I am master of all stiles, I let myself down from the majesty of Virgil, to the sweetness of Ovid.
"Good Lord ! how she admires his heavenly hue. What can be more easy and familiar! I writ this line for the ladies . . . I hate such a rough unhewn fellow as Milton, that a man must sweat to read him ; I'gad you may run over this and be almost asleep.”
In their allusion to the ladies the authors may have had in mind the passage in the preface to Mr. Hopkins's version just quoted, - doubtless Milton's fair readers, if he had any, found - Paradise Lost” intolerably harsh and dull, — while the thrust at Milton, written, it must be remembered, after the appearance of the “ State of Innocence,” is apparently a parody on Dryden's views of Milton's verse.
“Thou badst a voice whose sound was like the sea,” Wordsworth magnificently exclaims in his sonnet on Milton, but
there is authority for believing that, to at least one of his contemporaries, Milton's verse sounded like “the rumble of a wheelbarrow.” So late as the middle of the eighteenth century, we find the author of an “improved” version of “Paradise Lost” giving in his preface the following reasons for his pious work :
“Milton, the greatest genius among our English Poets, and the admiration of every understanding reader, has unluckily chosen a sort of verse peculiar to himself and highly pleasing to many, but not to the universality. The readers of his time being used to smooth productions and shorter periods, disrelish his roughness, and the length of his sentences.” And the writer goes on to say that the poem presents difficulties not only to the “common reader," but to the man of learning.
Perhaps the most interesting comment on Milton's form of verse comes from the pen of Dryden. When it is taken into account that Dryden was the greatest living English critic, as well as an ardent admirer of Milton's, his explanation of the verse of the English epic is a singular commentary on the value of critical judgment when hampered by contemporary prejudice or twisted to conform to a theory. The passage occurs in his “Discourse on Satire,” which is prefixed to his translation of Juvenal, 1693 : “Neither will I justify Milton for his blank verse, though I may excuse him by the example of Hannibal Caro, and other Italians who have used it; for whatever causes he alleges for the abolishing of rhyme (which I have not now the reason to examine) his own particular reason is plainly this, — that rhyme was not his talent; he had neither the ease of doing it, nor the graces of it; which is manifest in his juvenilia,' or verses written in his youth, where the rhymne is always constrained and forced, and comes hardly from him at an age when the soul is most pliant, and the passion of love makes almost every man a rhymer, though not a poet.” This is to be paralleled only by a passage in his Dedication to the “Rival Ladies," in which he declares that Shakespeare “ was the first who, to shun the pains of continual rhyming, invented ... blank verse.”
It is, then, in this condition of the contemporary poetic taste that we find the explanation of those brilliant exploits of the Miltonic renovators.
In some eulogistic verses addressed to Dryden, that unfortunate playwright, Nat. Lee, indulges in some striking parallels between “ Paradise Lost” and the “ State of Innocence.” The one is a beautiful country girl; the other the same maiden brought to Court.
Milton : –
“ First beheld the rustic beauteous maid,
And to a place of strength the prize conveyed.”
“ Took her thence ; to Court the virgin brought,
Not to affright, but please our wondering eyes.” There were many ready to admit the real merits of “Paradise Lost," and to such it was a source of positive regret that these merits should be obscured or outweighed by the eccentric harshness of its form. That felicitous comparison of Lee's tells us the whole story. Any Muse who expected to succeed among the polite circles in that age of literary punctilio must observe the customs and regulations of the best society. Dressed in blank verse, no one of any social standing could possibly recognize her. But the discerning saw that something might be made of the beautiful but unconventional protégé of Milton's, if she were taught to express herself intelligibly, and properly clad in heroics. So, under the patronage of the great Mr. Dryden, of Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Howard, and Mr. Jackson, this willful young country girl was presented at Court. It would be hard to find a more unexpected or forcible illustration of the supremacy of the heroic verse during this period. For nearly a century after the age of Dryden, with the exception of such forerunners of a new order as Thomson's “Seasons,” or the fresh notes of Gray and Collins, the poets of England were limited to the heroic measure up to the time of Johnson's “ London,” and “ The Vanity of Human Wishes.” 1 Milton was not the only poet whose work was stretched on the Procrustean bed of this dominant metre; the “Faerie Queen,” with its matchless music of versification, was found unreadable, and in 1687 a “Spenser Redivivus " appeared, wherein the essential design of the poem was preserved, but its “obsolete language and manner of verse totally laid aside,” and the work “ delivered in heroic numbers by a person of quality.” Mr. Gosse reminds us, in illustration of this point, of Waller's rhymed
1 Blank verse was, however, not without advocates even during this period. Dryden himself used it in his drama of All for Love (1678), but still held that the couplet should be used in all serious non-dramatic poems. The only notable exception which occurs to me is Roscommon's translation of The Art of Poetry. See The Preface to The Second Part of Mr. Waller's Poems. 1690.
ter the patronatelligibly, and ston's, if she
verses inserted in the closing portion of Beaumont and Fletcher's blank verse play of the “ Maid's Tragedy.” To quote Mr. Gosse : “It was no longer tolerable to indite such a vulgar thing as blank verse, and so the adapter complacently says:
“« In this old play what's new we have expressed
In rhyming verse distinguished from the rest,
You may compare the former with the new.?” Before we take a hasty farewell of these rhymed versions, let us set against Lee's eulogy on “ The State of Innocence” this significant passage of Marvell's on Milton's “ Paradise Lost:" —
“ Well might thou scorn thy readers to allure
In number, weight and measure needs not rhyme.” Five years after the rustic Muse of Milton had appeared at Court for the last time, under the auspices of Mr. A. Jackson, she was made the victim of a more melancholy and yet more singular experience. It was decided that she should abjure finery and be dressed in plain homespun prose.
In 1745 a person styling himself on the title-page “ A Gentleman of Oxford,” published an edition of “Paradise Lost,” in English prose, and not content with merely paraphrasing the original, based his work, if we may accept his own statement, on the French version of one Raymond de St. Maur. It is clear that this singular performance, at first sight wholly inexplicable, raises an entirely new difficulty. The explanation which readily suggests itself in the case of the various rhymed versions of “ Paradise Lost” is entirely inapplicable to a paraphrase in prose. But this is not all. On looking into the matter, it appears that there is more than one prose version, and that some of these have apparently run through more than one edition. The book was, therefore, not the idle whim of some eccentric experimenter, published for his own glory or amusement, there was actually a demand for these prose versions, there was a public which bought and read them.
At the risk of being unpleasantly bibliographical, I will give the titles of such prose versions as I have so far been able to find, as they are too curious to be passed over:
“The State of Innocence and Fall of Man, Described in Milton's Paradise Lost, Rendered into Prose with Notes &c. from the French of Raymond de St. Maur, by a Gentleman of Oxford, London. 1745. 8vo.”
“ Milton's Paradise Lost, or The Fall of Man with historical, philosophical, critical and explanatory notes, from the learned Raymond de St. Maur, wherein the technical terms in the Arts and Sciences are explained; the original signification of the names of Men, Cities, Animals &c. and from what language derived, rendered easy and intelligible. Also the Mythological Tables of the Heathens, wherever referred to, historically related : difficult passages cleared of their obscurity: and the whole reduced to the standard of the English idiom. In twelve books embellished with a great number of copper-plates. London. Printed for H. Owen, White-Friars, Fleet Street: and C. Simpson at the Bible Warehouse, Chancery Lane, MDCCLV."
There is also the following, which is without a date, and which I believe differs slightly from either of the above versions, although as I have not had an opportunity to compare them at length I cannot speak positively on this point:
“ The Fall of Man, or Milton's Paradise Lost. In Prose with Critical, Philosophical, and Explanatory Notes, from several Authors : wherein the technical terms in the Arts and Sciences are explained, cities, towns and rivers faithfully described, and the mythological fables of the Heathens historically related. A new translation, from the French. The Second Edition. Adorned with Copper-plates. London. Sold by R. Thompson in the Strand.”
Besides these versions, which profess to be translations from the French, there is a prose paraphrase of “Paradise Regained.” The following is the exact title: –
“The Recovery of Man, or Milton's Paradise Regained, in Prose. After the manner of the Archbishop of Cambray, Author of Telemachus, to which is prefixed the Life of the Author. 12mo. 1771."
Finally, we must add:
“Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, with Notes, translated from the French of Raymond de St. Maur, and various critical remarques from Addison &c. Octavo, 1775.”