« ForrigeFortsæt »
ensis. The friend or acquaintance to whom Milton committed his copy, and the overseers of the press, did so vilely execute that trust, that Paradise, under his ignorance and audaciousness, may be said to be twice lost. But these typographical faults, occasioned by the negligence of his acquaintance, if all may be imputed to that, and not several wilfully made,8 were not the least blemishes brought upon our poem.
For this supposed friend, knowing Milton's bad circumstances, thought that he had a fit opportunity to foist into the work several of his own verses, without the blind poet's discovery. This trick has too frequently been played, but especially in works published after the author's death; and poor Milton, in that condition, with sixty years' weight upon his shoulders, might be reckoned half dead.'— The whole of this visionary fabric seems to have been built by Bentley on the slender foundation that, owing to Milton's blindness, some mistakes in the text of the poem certainly did occur; and that such a one, as is found in P. L. X. 260, should pervade both editions (being an error which Milton himself had no means of detecting), certainly betrays the negligence or ignorance of those to whose care his edition was entrusted.
Feeling, as truly as others, the absurdity of Bentley's system, the flatness of his prosaic alterations, and his great want of poetic feeling, I must still in justice say, that his remarks display the shrewdness of a person accustomed to read with curious and scrutinizing attention, to pay regard to the proper force and meaning of words, and the construction of sentences : that his observations are often ingenious, and his emendations sometimes acute; but that which strikes me as peculiarly offensive, is the apparent carelessness, and indifference with which he proceeds on his work of criticism. So far from approaching his author's text with a timid or reluctant hand, his boldest conjectures are proposed either with a confidence meant to overawe the reader, and compel conviction; or, what is worse, with an apparentlo disregard as to whether they are accepted or not. In P. L. ii. 1021, he strikes out the whole passage of Sin and Death following Satan, amounting to ten entire lines, and then says, “Perhaps I shall have some votes to accompany mine, that this too is an interpolation.' As he approached the last pages of his work, and looked back on the deformities he had left behind him in his ruthless path, and when he saw the ragged and meagre branches of the Critic's
8 See Note on P. L. i. 197. Knowing by the passages, that our poet blind, and then poor and friendless, had frequently foul play.'
9 Warburton lent Dr. Newton Pope's copy of Bentley's Milton, wherein Pope had all along, with his own hand, set some mark of approbation, rectè, benè, pulchrè, in the margin over against such emendations of the Doctor's as seemed to him just and reasonable. It was a satisfaction to see what so great a genius thought particularly of that edition, and he appears throughout the whole to have been a very candid reader, and to have approved of more than really merits approbation. Newton's Preface, p. 35.
T. Warton says, “Many of Bentley's emendations are acute, but he did not understand Milton's manner, nor the genius of the language of English poetry.' v. Todd's Milton, vol. vi. p. 307; see Hollis's Memoirs, p. 478. 522.
10 See the indifference shown in notes, iii. 597, iv. 769, vii. 406; one of the most objectionable notes is v. 415; one ludicrously ingenious, vi. 513; those at vii. 463, ix. 592, and xi. 387, are flippant and trifling. The conjecture, at xi. 187, is confirmed by Milton's own editions, which Bentley did not know. In one note he appears designedly unjust, (i. 717,) where he accuses Milton of a false quantity in the use of the word ' Serapis.' Bentley of course knew that the word was used with the middle syllable long: and Milton had a right to select the quantity most agreeable to his ear. Akenside uses the word 'Hyperion,' with the penultimate syllable long, and Gray with it short; the former adhering to the true quantity, the latter adopting the more agreeable or convenient pronunciation; but Milton had authority, though inferior, on his side.
vy eating into the noble and finished column, round which it had been trained; he seemed to entertain some misgivings of the soundness and success of his plan. He says, “If one small alteration appeared to be so presumptuous, what censure must I expect to receive who have presumed to make so many, but jacta est alea, non injussa cecini.
-παρ εμοίγε κ’ άλλοι, , Οι κε με τιμήσουσι, μάλιστα δε μητιέτα Ζεύς. Bentley's ungrounded hypothesis, and the alterations which he built upon it, called forth a
volume of remarks from Dr. Zachary Pearce : which may be recommended as a model of sound and temperate reasoning in criticism. Bentley's innovations are for the most part refuted, but in a manner never wanting in respect to the fame or the age of that illustrious scholar.
Since writing the above, I have had an opportunity of perusing Newton's Life of Milton; it is not written with any spirit or elegance of style, but it contains an impartial and accurate account of what is known of the Poet's history; and there is a temperance and propriety in its language, that might put some later biographers to the blush. Occasionally a smile may be excited, when he speaks of Milton's never having hunted (Milton hunting !!), or when he laments that the sale of Paradise Lost produced only ten pounds to the author, while Mr. Hoyle gained two hundred by the copyright of his Game at Whist. Some useful notes and illustrations have been added by Mr. Hawkins to the latest edition ; but in one,
he has unaccountably attributed the famous attack on Milton by Bishop Horsley, to a Prelate of very different opinions, talents, and character.11
Every successive volume of the biography of Milton is rapidly increasing in size. The elegant Memoir by Fenton is included in fifteen small pages; the narrative of Dr. Symmons has extended to nearly seven hundred; while the increase of bulk is not compensated by a propor
11 See Newton's Milton, ed. Hawkins, p. xlii.
tionate accession of information. and ingenious speculation, and much curious erudition not always bearing on the subject, have been called in by later writers to supply the place of authentic materials ; and that which has reasonably been doubted, or directly refuted, still maintains its ground, as an arena, in which the writer may unfold the charms of his eloquence; or the critics may display their controversial skill. It is however to be hoped, that in all future biographies, what is neither pertinent nor true will be omitted. That we shall not again read long disputations on the nature of Milton's punishment at College; that the foolish and romantic story of the sleeping boy and the Italian lady will be forgotten, or be found only among the reveries of Miss Seward ; that the supposed residence at Forest Hill (a day-dream of Sir William Jones) will be given up;—that we shall not hear of Milton's keeping school at Greenwich :13 That the insertion of the prayer into the Eikon Basilike from the Arcadia will be considered as set at rest: That the story of Sir John Denham (the account of a person, not a member, being permitted to instruct and entertain the House of Commons with the history of a new poem wet from the press,) may be heard
12 T. Warton first brought Milton's Nuncupative Will' to light, and printed it in his edition of the Minor Poems; this was a valuable and authentic addition to our previous information.
13 See Newton's Life, p. Lxii.