Слике страница
PDF
ePub

willingly let die. He had resolved that it should be an English poem ; he had resolved that it should be an epic; nay, he had all but resolved—as is proved by his Latin poem to Manso, and his Epitaphium Damonisthat his subject should be taken from the legendary history of Britain, and should include the romance of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Suddenly, however, this decision was shaken. He became uncertain whether the dramatic form might not be fitter for his purpose than the epic, and, letting go the subject of Arthur, he began to look about for other subjects. The proof exists in the form of a list—written by Milton's own hand in 1640-1, or certainly not later than 1642, and preserved among the Milton MSS. in Trinity College, Cambridge -of about one hundred subjects, many of them Scriptural, and the rest from British History, which he had jotted down, with the intention, apparently, of estimating their relative degrees of capability, and at last fixing on the one, or the one or two, that should appear best. Now at the head of this long list of subjects is PARADISE Lost. There are no fewer than four separate drafts of this subject as then meditated by Milton for dramatic treatment. The first draft consists merely of a list of dramatis persona, as follows :

The Persons :-Michael; Heavenly Love; Chorus of Angels; Lucifer; Adam, Eve, with the Serpent ; Conscience ; Death ; Labour,

Sickness, Discontent, Ignorance, with others, Mutes; Faith; Hope ; Charity."

This Draft having been cancelled, another is written parallel with it, as follows:

The Persons :-Moses [originally written 'Michael or Moses,' but “ the words “Michael or' deleted, so as to leave ‘Moses' as prefer

able for the drama]; Justice, Mercy, Wisdom ; Heavenly Love ; the “ Evening Star, Hesperus ; Lucifer ; Adam ; Eve; Conscience; Labour,

Sickness, Discontent, Ignorance, Fear, Death, [as] Mutes; Faith; Hope; Charity.”

This having also been scored out, there follows a third Draft, more complete, as follows:

“ Paradise Lost :-The Persons: Moses apologisel, recounting how “he assumed his true body; that it corrupts not, because of his [being] “ with God in the mount; declares the like of Enoch and Eliah, besides the purity of the place—that certain pure winds, dews, and clouds preserve it from corruption; whence exhorts to the sight of God; tells them they cannot see Adam in the state of innocence by reason of their sin. [Act I.]:Justice, Mercy, Wisdom, debating what should become of Man

46

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“ if he fall. Chorus of Angels sing a hymn of the Creation.-Act II. :

Heavenly Love ; Evening Star. Chorus sing the marriage song and

describe Paradise.-Act III.: Lucifer contriving Adam's ruin. Chorus “fears for Adain and relates Lucifer's rebellion and fall. --Act IV.: “ Adam, Eve, fallen; Conscience cites them to God's examination. Chorus bewails and tells the good Adam hath lost.-Act V.: Adam “ and Eve driven out of Paradise, presented by an Angel with Labour,

Grief, Hatred, Envy, War, Famine, Pestilence, Sickness, Discontent,

Ignorance, Fear, [as] Mutes—to whom he gives their names likewise “ Winter, Heat, Tempest, &c. ; Death entered into the world ; Faith,

Hope, Charity, comfort and instruct him. Chorus briefly concludes."

This is left standing; but in another part of the MS., as if written at some interval of time, is a fourth Draft, as follows:

“ADAM UNPARADIZED :—The Angel Gabriel, either descending or

entering-showing, since the globe is created, his frequency as much on “Earth as in Heaven-describes Paradise. Next the Chorus, showing the

reason of his coming--to keep his watch, after Lucifer's rebellion, by “ the command of God-and withal expressing his desire to see and “know more concerning this excellent and new creature, Man. The

Angel Gabriel, as by his name signifying a Prince of Power, passes by “the station of the Chorus, and, desired by them, relates what he knew of Man, as the creation of Eve, with their love and marriage. After

this, Lucifer appears, after his overthrow ; bemoans himself; seeks revenge upon Man. The Chorus prepares resistance at his first approach. At last, after discourse of enmity on either side, he departs; whereat the Chorus sing of the battle and victory in Heaven against him and his accomplices, as before, after the first Act, was sung a hymn of the Creation. Here again may appear Lucifer, relating and consulting on what he had done to the destruction of Man. Man next and Eve, having been by this time seduced by the Serpent, appear confusedly, covered with leaves. Conscience, in a shape,

accuses him ; Justice cites him to the place whither Jehovah called for “ him. In the meantime the Chorus entertains the stage and is informed “by some Angel of the manner of the Fall. Here the Chorus bewails

Adam's fall. Adam and Eve return and accuse one another ; but “especially Adam lays the blame to his wife-is stubborn in his offence.

Justice appears, reasons with him, convinces him. The Chorus "admonishes Adam, and bids him beware Lucifer's example of impeni

tence. — The Angel is sent to banish them out of Paradise ; but, before,

causes to pass before his eyes, in shapes, a masque of all the evils of this "life and world. He is humbled, relents, despairs. At last appears

Mercy, comforts him, promises him the Messiah ; then calls in Faith, Hope, Charity ; instructs him. He repents, gives God the glory, submits to his penalty. The Chorus briefly concludes.- - Compare this with the former Draft.”

These schemes of a possible drama on the subject of Paradise Lost were written out by Milton as early as between 1639 and 1642, or between his thirty-first and his thirty-fourth year, as a portion of a list of about a hundred subjects which occurred to him, in the course of his reading at that time, as

с

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

worth considering for the great English Poem which he hoped to give to the world. From the place and the proportion of space which they occupy in the list, it is apparent that the subject of Paradise Lost had then fascinated him more strongly than any of the others, and that, if his notion of an epic on Arthur was then given up, a drama on Paradise Lost had occurred to him as the most likely substitute. It is also more probable than not that he then knew of previous dramas that had been written on the subject, and that, in writing out his own schemes, he had the schemes of some of these dramas in his mind. Vondel's play was not then in existence ; but Andreini's was. Farther, there is evidence in Milton's prosepamphlets published about this time that, if he did ultimately fix on the subject he had so particularly been meditating, he was likely enough to make himself acquainted with any previous efforts on the same subject, and to turn them to account for whatever they might be worth. Thus, in his Reason of Church Government (1641), taking the public into his confidence in various matters relating to himself, and informing them particularly how his mind had been recently occupied with thoughts of a great English poem (whether an epic or a drama he had not, he hints, quite determined), and with what reluctance he felt himself drawn away from that design to engage in the political controversies of the time, he thus pledges himself that the design, though necessarily postponed, shall not be abandoned : “Neither do I “think it shame to covenant with any knowing reader that “for some few years yet I may go on trust with him toward “the payment of what I am now indebted, as being a work

not to be raised from the heat of youth, or the vapours of “wine, like that which flows at waste from the pen of some

vulgar amorist, or the trencher-fury of a riming parasite,

nor to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and “her Siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that Eternal “Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and “ sends out his Seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar “to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases. To this

must be added industrious and select reading, steady obser“vation, insight into all seemly and generous arts and affairs “—till which in some measure be compassed, at mine own “peril and cost I refuse not to sustain this expectation from “as many as are not loth to hazard so much credulity upon “he best pledges that I can give them.”

There is evidence that, about the time when Milton thus announced to the public his design of some great English poem, to be accomplished at leisure, and when he was privately considering with himself whether a tragedy on the subject of Paradise Lost might not best fulfil the conditions of such a design, he had actually gone so far as to write not only the foregoing drafts of the tragedy, but even some lines by way of opening. Speaking of Paradise Lost, and of the author's original intention that it should be a tragedy, Milton's nephew, Edward Phillips, tells us in his Memoir of his uncle (1694): “In the Fourth Book of the Poem there are six [ten ?] verses, “which, several years before the Poem was begun, were “shown to me, and some others, as designed for the very “ beginning of the said tragedy." ' The verses referred to by Phillips are those (P. L. IV. 32-41) that now form part of Satan's speech on first standing on the Earth, and beholding, among the glories of the newly-created World, the Sun in his full splendour in the Heavens:

“O thou, that, with surpassing glory crowned,

Look'st from thy sole dominion like the god
Of this new World—at whose sight all the stars
Hide their diminished heads ! to thee I call,
But with no friendly voice, and add thy name,
O Sun ! to tell thee how I hate thy beams,
That bring to me remembrance from what'state
I fell, how glorious above thy sphere,
Till pride and worse ambition threw me down,

Warring in Heaven against Heaven's matchless King !" Phillips's words “several years before the Poem was begun” would not, by themselves, fix the date at which he had seen these lines. But in Aubrey's earlier Memoir of Milton (1680), containing information which Aubrey had derived from Phillips, this passage occurs, “In the 4th book of Paradise “ Lost there are about verses of Satan's exclamation to the “Sun wch Mr. E. Phi. remembers, about 15 or 16 years before

poem was thought of; wch verses were intended “for the beginning of a tragedie, wch he had design'd, but “ was diverted from it by other besinesse.” Here we have indirectly Phillips's own authority that he had read the verses in question at a date which we shall presently see reason to fix at 1642. He was then a pupil of his uncle, and living with him in his house in Aldersgate Street. Alas! it was not "for some few years” only, as Milton had

ever his

thought in 1641, that the execution of the great work so solemnly then promised had to be postponed. For a longer time than he had expected England remained in a condition in which he did not think it right, even had it been possible, that men like him should be writing poems. Only towards the end of Cromwell's Protectorate, when Milton had reached his fiftieth year, and had been for five or six years totally blind, does he seem to have been in circumstances to resume effectually the design to which he had pledged himself seventeen years before. By that time, however, there was no longer any doubt as to the theme he would choose. All the other themes once entertained had faded more or less into the back. ground of memory, and PARADISE LOST stood out, bold, clear, and without competitor. Nay more, the dramatic form, for which, when the subject first occurred to him, Milton had felt a preference, had been now abandoned, and it had been resolved that the poem should be an epic. He began this epic in earnest almost certainly before Cromwell was dead—"about 2 yeares before the K[ing] came in,” says Aubrey on Phillips's authority; that is, in 1658, when, notwithstanding his blindness, he was still in official attendance on Cromwell at Whitehall as his Latin Secretary, and writing occasional letters, in Cromwell's name, to foreign states and princes.

The uncertain state of affairs after Cromwell's death, or, at all events, after the resignation of his son Richard, may have interfered with the progress of the poem ; and, when the Restoration came, there was danger for a time that not only the poem but the author's life might be cut short. That danger over, he was at liberty, "on evil days though fallen, and evil tongues,” to prosecute his labour in obscurity and compara

He had finished it, according to Aubrey, “about 3 years after the K.'s restauracion, i.e. about 1663. If so, he had been five or six years in all engaged on the poem, and the places in which he had successively pursued the task of meditating and dictating it had been mainly these—first, Petty France (now York Street), Westminster, till within a few weeks of the Restoration; next, some friend's house in Bartholomew Close, West Smithfield, where he lay concealed for a while after the Restoration ; then, a house in Holborn, near Red Lion Fields, whither he removed as soon as it was safe for him to do so; and, finally, from 1661 onwards, in Jewin Street, close to that part of Aldersgate Street where he had had his house soem eighteen or nineteen years before, when

tive peace.

>

« ПретходнаНастави »