« ForrigeFortsæt »
It is not necessary for me, in briefly and simply explaining the plan and object of this edition, to premise, with Bishop Newton, and other excellent critics on other authors, many remarks on the generally acknowledged advantage of good explanatory comments on celebrated works. Though all admire Paradise Lost as the greatest poem in our language, or of modern ages; while most of the eminent literati contend for its supremacy over any poem in any language, or age; though it is a work now more generally read and esteemed, than any other poetic work ever published; yet it is a fact to be regretted, that comparatively but a few fully understand it. This general ignorance results from the character of the poem, and of the commentaries upon it: such an abundance of profound erudition, and of all the embellishments of poetry, has been condensed in it, that even a sound scholar, if unaided, should expend in acquiring a correct knowledge of it the labour of years ; and those good editions are so voluminous and expensive, that many who could afford to purchase them, would not undergo the labour of their perusal; and many who would undergo it, could not well afford to purchase them. The editions by Bishop Newton and the Bev. Dr. Todd are the best—indeed the only editions that can be considered as at all treating the subject with any approach to fulness.
Of Newton's edition of Milton's poetic works, 2 vols, large 4to. are occupied with Paradise Lost; and of Todd's, 4 vols, large 8vo.; prefatory matter included. But though Newton, independently of his own extensive learning, drew largely from the commentaries of his predecessors, and obtained liberal contributions from many of his learned contemporaries; and though Todd freely used Newton's edition - received many subsidiary comments from other sources, and introduced with great industry much new matter, either as explanatory of the text, or by way of parallel illustration, from other authors, ancient and modern ; still it appeared to me, that in very many important passages there was a void of useful elucidation, while in others there was a tedious superabundance; and on others, again, opinions were asserted which were palpably wrong. I conceived, then, long since, the idea of giving an edition of this poem,
embodying, often the words, and sometimes the essence of whatever I could find practically instructive in all the previous editions, and commentaries, together with the subsidiary remarks that I have been compiling, during a careful examination of the book for many years; thus, by omitting what is really useless in these editions, and supplying wha| was necessary, fprnishing to the learned and unlearned reader, in a single and a cheap volume, a complete and easily understood commentary. Even a judicious condensation of the copious, critical, and explanatory remarks of antecedent annotators would be an acceptable ottering : but if I add to this explanations of many difficult passages overlooked, or misunderstood by my predecessors, and among these some of the most difficult, as to syntaxical structure; if I add explanations of many of his most idiomatic and classical phrases and expressions; and besides, give new illustrations from the best ancient authors, the offering of this edition must be more acceptable still. I shall beg leave to mention only one example of the new matter I have introduced. Milton's Catalogue of the Fallen Angels, Book I. is considered the most elaborately learned passage of the whole poem. Newton's explanations on it, which have been adopted by all succeeding commentators, are considered the best ; but, however, they are few, chiefly derived from scriptural history, and utterly inadequate to the importance of the subject in its various applications. I consulted many other antiquarian authorities which could best elucidate the subject, especially the learned Selden's "Syntagmata de Diis Syriis," and Calmet's Dictionary of the Bible, a work which is indispensable to every biblical scholar.
As I wished to consult not alone utility, but brevity, all through this commentary, I have often given the substance merely (faithfully however) of a note of a commentator, especially if a long one; and often when two or more commentators have given in different words the same explanation of a passage, or have severally expounded several parts of t passage, I have fused all these together, so as to give, for the sake of perspicuity, a consecutive and even exposition of the whole, affixing to the note the initials of their names. Whenever I found the commentator's words brief and explicit enough, I have given them. Whenever there have been many conflicting opinions, I have given the main points, and compared them, so as to enable the reader to form his own judgment, while I express my own. I often, too, intersperse in the notes ascribed to others, remarks of my own, in order to render the explanation more complete. Without swelling out the work by giving many objections, I have so shaped the answers, as to let the reader know what these objections are, while they are fully refuted. The following are the initials of the principal authorities referred to in the Notes.
The notes to which no initial letter is affixed, I hold myself responsible for; of these many have been derived from various sources, and many are exclusively my own. Of my own notes it is enough for me to say, that they have been only given to rectify the misinterpretations, or supply the omissions of former commentators; or to explain difficult passages which these commentators did not explain. My own notes can be easily distinguished, for I speak in the first person, so that I alone am entitled to blame or praise for them. In unravelling the structure of many of Millon's sentences, I have often found it necessary to analyse them on classical principles, differently from those who judge of them according to the rules of English composition. The fact is, his style is peculiar to himself, embodying all the graces and peculiarities of the ancient tongues.
This Edition I have not designed as a full exposition of Paradise Lost, merely for the general reader; but I have had a higher object in view to treat the book as a classical work (and it is in this view it ought chiefly to be examined) — on such a principle to expound it, and make it as familiar in the high schools and the colleges, as the works of Homer and Virgil. Some years ago I remarked in a note on the third Book of the first volume of my edition of Livy, when explaining some peculiarities of phrase and sentiment by quoting an illustrative passage from Milton, that the introduction of Paradise Lost, as a class book, would much promote the advancement of classical literature. This opinion, deliberately formed then, has been strengthened by my subsequent experience, and the judgment of the most judicious scholars I have known; and indeed this opinion seems now to be general.
One great cause of the distaste (not to enumerate many others) of boys at school, and even of students in the universities, towards classical literature is, that the classics exhibit to them structures of phrase, combinations of words, and their application ; uses of metaphor, illustration, and comparison ; turns of thought, and their manifold modes of allusion, so inconsistent with the common principles and rules of English composition, that they too often acquire a little knowledge of them mechanically, to pass examination, and for this purpose only. But if an English book, as a necessary subject of study, were introduced to them — a book that from their infancy they were taught to admire, even though they may not
have read it, or having read it, may not have well understood ita book that embraced all the peculiarities of the style and sentiment of the classics, and by softening down their old and rugged character, made them familiar and alluring, through the graces and the majesty of the most refined and the loftiest poetry ;—if such a book were used as a class book, accompanied with an ample (though briefly expressed) commentary, I am persuaded that the cause of classical and polite literature would be much advanced.
It is not alone as a subsidium to classical instruction that this book is useful; it is preeminently useful for an easy, a pleasing, and complete acquisition of a knowledge of all the great elementary truths and facts of the Bible. When Milton ventures on a comment, he follows the primitive, the most learned, and orthodox guides; he embraces and confines himself to the principles of Christianity, and these he enforces most convincingly. All his most eminent critics (no matter the complexion of their creed) declare that he is always perfectly orthodox — corrupt doctrine finds no sanction in his works. A learned German has assured me, that Paradise Lost is read in German families, not alone as the sublimest of all poems, but as one of the most religious of all books; and deservedly should it be so read in every family at home, for it is in truth a synopsis of all the elegances of ancient literature, and of the history and truths of the Bible. No poem was ever published from which the reader can, independently of pleasure, derive more solid, useful, and permanent instruction, and therefore more advantage. Besides the delight to be gained from his poetry, and the information to be gained from his learning, there are ulterior advantages to be gained from the pure fervour of his religion (and this religion thoroughly true), which far transcends the considerations of worldly pleasure or learning. The book regulates, while it warms devotion; and places religious faith on its safe, true, and simple basis.
Dissertations on Milton's taste, character, beauties, imperfections, etc. I have not thought it necessary to introduce. It is better the reader should form his own judgment of all this from an examination of the original passages and their explanations. I have also excluded an immense mass of quotations from obscure English and Italian authors, in which similitudes have been attempted to be shewn by men more ambitious of character for learning and research, than for useful and appropriate commentary; t.e. I have discarded what is called the treasures of the Gothic library, just because I have found them useless. Todd's edition is full of this curious though idle learning (yet he has some good original notes). All these references to such passages I have unscrupulously swept away. To no reader could they be instructive ; and most readers they would tire and disgust. My wish is to fill, not to overload, the mind of the reader. It would require a great stretch of credulity to believe that there was even a remote coincidence between the original