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Paradise Lost first occurred to his thoughts. During the five or six years occupied in the composition of the poem in these places Milton's condition had been that of a widower, his first wife having died in 1652 or 1653, in the house in Petty France, leaving him three daughters; the second, whom he had married in Nov. 1656, while residing in the same house, having survived the marriage little more than a year; and his marriage with his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, not having taken place till February, 1662-63, when, if Aubrey's account is correct, the poem was finished, or nearly so. It is probable, however, that, though Milton may have had the poem in some manner complete in Jewin Street, before his third marriage, there may have still been a good deal to do with the manuscript in the house in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, to which he and his wife removed shortly after their marriage (in 1663 or 1664), and which was the last of Milton's many London residences, and that in which he died. We have an interesting glimpse of this manuscript, at any rate, as in Milton's possession, in a satisfactory state, during the summer of 1665. As the Great Plague was then raging in London, Milton had removed from his house in Artillery Walk to a cottage at Chalfont-St.-Giles, in Buckinghamshire, which had been taken for him, at his request, by Thomas Ellwood, a young Quaker, whose acquaintance with him had begun

year or two before in Jewin Street. Visiting Milton here as soon as circumstances would permit, Ellwood was received in a manner of which he has left an account in his Autobiography.

After some common discourses,” he says, “had passed “ between us, he called for a manuscript of his; which, being

brought, he delivered to me, bidding me take it home with me and read it at my leisure, and, when I had so done,

return it to him with my judgment thereupon. When I came “ home, and had set myself to read it, I found it was that “excellent poem which he entituled Paradise Lost.

The anecdote proves the existence of at least one, and most probably of more than one, complete copy in the autumn of 1665—which may, accordingly, be taken as the date when the poem was considered ready for press. The delay of publication till two years after that date is easily accounted for. It was not, says Ellwood, till “the sickness was over, and the city well cleansed, and become safely habitable again,' that Milton returned to his house in Artillery Walk; then, still farther paralysing business of all sorts, came the Great Fire of Sept. 1666 ; and there were difficulties, as we have seen, about the licensing of a poem by a person of Milton's political antecedents and principles.

Whether the time spent by Milton in the composition of Paradise Lost was five years (1658–1663), or seven or eight years (1658–1665), it is certain that he bestowed on the work all that care and labour which, on his first contemplation of such a work in his earlier manhood, he had declared would be necessary.

The “industrious and select reading,” which he had then spoken of as one of the many requisites, had not been omitted. Whatever else Paradise. Lost may be, it is certainly one of the most learned poems in the world. In thinking of it in this character we are to remember, first of all, that, ere his blindness had befallen him (1652), Milton's mind was stored with an amount of various and exact learning such as few other men of his age possessed; so that, had he ceased then to acquire more, he would have still carried in his memory an enormous resource of material out of which to build up the body of his poem. But he did not, after his blindness, cease to add to his knowledge by reading. At the very time when he was engaged on his Paradise Lost, he had, as his nephew Phillips informs us, several other great undertakings in progress of a different character, for which daily reading and research were necessary, even if they could have been dispensed with for the poem-to wit, the construction of a Body of Divinity from the Scriptures, the completion of a History of England, and the collection of materials for a Thesaurus, or Dictionary, of the Latin tongue. Laboriously every day, with a due division of his time from early morning, he pursued these tasks, by a systematic use of assistants whom he kept about him. As at the time when the composition of Paradise Lost was begun the eldest daughter, Anne, was but twelve years of age, the second, Mary, but ten, and the youngest, Deborah, but six, and as when the poem was certainly finished their ages were about eighteen, sixteen, and twelve respectively, their services as readers during its composition can have been but partial. But, whether with them as his readers, or with young men and grown-up friends performing the part for hire or love, he was able to avail himself for his poem, as well as for the drier works on which he was

simultaneously engaged, of any help which books could give. He may, accordingly, at this time, if not before, have made himself acquainted with some of those poems and other works, Italian and Latin, in which his subject, or some portion of it, had been previously treated. He was very likely to do so, and to take any hint he could get.

It would not be difficult to prove, at any rate, that, among the “select readings” engaged in specially for the purposes of Paradise Lost while it was in progress, must have been readings in certain books of geography and Eastern travel, and in certain Rabbinical, early Christian, and mediæval commentators on the subjects of Paradise, the Angels, and the Fall. Nothing is more striking in the poem, nothing more touching, than the frequency, and, on the whole, wonderful accuracy, of its references to maps; and, whatever wealth of geographical information Milton may have carried with him into his blindness, there are evidences, I think, that he must have refreshed his recollections of this kind by the eyes of others, and perhaps by their guidance of his finger, after his sight was gone. In short, for the Paradise Lost, as well as for the prose labours carried on along with it, there must have been abundance of reading ; and, remembering to what a stock of prior learning, possessed before his blindness, all such increments were added, we need have no wonder at the appearance now presented by the poem. To say merely that it is a most learned poem—the poem of a mind full of miscellaneous lore wherewith its grand imagination might work--is not enough. Original as it is, original in its entire conception, and in every portion and passage, the poem is yet full of flakes—we can express it no otherwise-full of flakes from all that is greatest in preceding literature, ancient or modern. This is what all the commentators have observed, and what their labours in collecting parallel passages from other poets and prose-writers have served more and more to illustrate. As it is but here and there that we can exemplify this in our notes, let the observation be made once for all. In the first place, Paradise Lost is permeated from beginning to end with citations from the Bible. Milton must have almost had the Bible by heart; and, besides that some passages of his poem, where he is keeping close to the Bible as his authority, are avowedly coagulations of Scriptural texts, it is possible again and again, throughout the rest, to detect the flash, through his noblest language, of some suggestion from the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, or the Apocalypse. So, though in a less degree, with Homer, the Greek tragedians (Euripides was a special favourite of his), Plato, Demosthenes, and the Greek classics generally, and with Lucretius, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Persius, and the other Latins. So with the Italian writers whom he knew so well-Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, and others now less remembered. So with modern Latinists of various European countries, still less recoverable. Finally, so with the whole series of preceding English poets, particularly Spenser, Shakespeare, and some of the minor Spenserians of the reigns of James and Charles I., not forgetting that uncouth popular favourite of his boyhood, Sylvester's Du Bartas. In connexion with all which, or with any particularly striking instance of the use by Milton of a thought or a phrase from previous authors, let the reader remember his own Definition of Plagiarism, given in his Eικονοκλαστης. . “ Such kind of borrowing as this,” he there says, “ if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors is accounted plagiary. And again, of quotations from the Bible,—“It is not hard for any man who hath

a Bible in his hands to borrow good words and holy sayings in abundance; but to make them his own is a work of grace only from above.

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How was the poem, as it grew in Milton's mind, committed to paper? It was dictated by parcels of ten, twenty, thirty, or more lines at a time. Even before his blindness, Milton had made use of amanuenses; but, after his blindness, he scarcely wrote at all with his own hand. It would be difficult to produce a genuine autograph of his of later date than 1652. On this matter Phillips is again our most precise authority. “There is another very remarkable passage,” he says, “in the composure of this poem, which I

have a particular occasion to remember; for, whereas I had “the perusal of it from the very beginning, for some years as “ I went from time to time to visit him, in a parcel of ten,

twenty, or thirty verses at a time—which, being written by “ whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction as “ to the orthography and pointing--having, as the summer

came on, not been shewed any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his verse

never happily flowed but from the Autumnal Equinoctial to " the Vernal [i.e. from the end of September to the end of


March], and that whatever he attempted [at other times] was

never to his satisfaction, though he exerted his fancy never so “ much; so that, in all the years he was about this poem, he

may be said to have spent but half his time therein.” The reader ought to correct by this extract, taken in connexion with information already given as to Milton's domestic circumstances, the impressions he may have received from flummery pictures representing the blind poet in a rapt attitude dictating Paradise Lost to his attentive and revering daughters. His eldest daughter, Anne, could not write ; and though the other two could write, and may occasionally, when the poem was in progress, have acted as his amanuenses, their ages exclude the idea of their having been his chief assistants in this capacity–while we also know that the poor motherless girls had grown up in circumstances to make them regard the services they were required to perform for their father as less a duty than a trouble. On the whole, Phillips's words suggest what is probably the right notion—that Milton dictated his poem in small portions at a time, chiefly within-doors, and more in winter than in summer, to any one that chanced to be about him. Sometimes it may have been one of his daughters; sometimes, latterly, when the poem was nearly complete, it may have been his third wife ; frequently it may have been one of the friends or youths who statedly read to him. From Phillips's statement it is also clear that he assisted Milton in revising the gathered scraps of MS. from time to time. Finally, when all was completed, a clean copy, or clean copies, must have been made by some practised scribe. One such clean copy was that sent to the licenser, a portion of which, as has been mentioned, still exists. The hand in that manuscript has not been identified.


Paradise Lost is an Epic. But it is not, like the Iliad or the Æneid, a national Epic ; nor is it an epic after any other of the known types. It is an epic of the whole human species--an epic of our entire planet, or indeed of the entire astronomical universe. The title of the poem, though perhaps the best that could have been chosen, hardly indicates before. hand the full nature or extent of the theme ; nor are the

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