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not heightened with many laboured scenes," it appears to have been acted with success.
After the production of the three preceding plays, which were all performed at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, occupied during these years by the King's Servants, Dryden appears for some time to have si rive his dramatick labours ; for The State of '2 ce,' which was published in 1674, could not be seen intended for a stageexhibition, thouge : "has entitled it an opera. Mr. Aubrey, who was "sonally acquainted with Dryden, informs us,s that on this occasion he waited on the blind' bard, with whom it may be presumed he was on friendly terms, and previous to entering on his task, asked his permission to put his great poem into rhyme. “Ay, said Milton, you may tag my verses, if you will.” Dennis, who
• A title somewhat different was originally intended for this piece also ; for it was thus registered at Stationers' Hall, April 17, 1674: “The Fall of ANGELS AND OF MAN IN INNOCENCE, written by John Dryden, Esq." It was not however published, as appears from the Preface, till after the death of Milion, which happened on Sunday the 8th of November, 1674. See the curious depositions concerning his Nuncupative Will, published by Mr. Warton, in one of which a servant-maid who had lived with Milton, deposes, that he died late at night on a Sunday, about a month preceding her giving evidence in that cause; which was Sunday the 15th of November. But Milton was buried on the 12th; she evidently there: forc miscook a week in her reckoning.
s Life of Milton, MS. VOL. I.
was an enthusiastick admirer of Milton's poem, mentions a circumstance relative to this piece, worth recording. “ Dryden," (he observes,) « in his Preface before The State or INNOCENCE, appears to have been the first, those gentlemen excepted whose verses are before Milton's poem, who discovered in so publick a manner an extraordinary opinion of Milton's extraordinary merit. And yet Mr. Dryden at that time know not half the extent of his excellence, as more than twenty years afterwards he confessed to me, and is pretty plain from his writing The State of Inxocence." Had he known the full extent of Milton's excel. lence, Dennis thought he would not have ventured on this undertaking, unless he designed to be a foil to him : “but they (he adds) who knew Mr. Drydren, know very well that he was not of a temper to design to be a foil to any one."6
So little at this time was Milton's great work known or admired, that Rymer, who proinised in 1678 to publish some strictures upon it, (a promise which he never fulfilled,) speaks of it with extreme contempt, as a worthless piece which some are pleased to call a poem; nor was it much at. tended to till about fourteen ycars after it had been converted into an opera. Our author, however, with equal candour, modesty, and good taste, thus highly extols it :-“ I cannot, without injury to the deceased author of PARADISE Lost, but acknow
o Dennis's Letters, vol. i. p. 75, 8vo. 1721. .
ledge that this poem (THE STATE OF INNOCENCE] has received its entire foundation, part of the design, and many of the ornaments, from him. What I have borrowed will be so easily discerned from my mean productions, that I shall not need to point the reader to the places. And truly I should be sorry for my own sake, that any one should take the pains to compare thein together, the original being undoubtedly one of the greatest, most noble, and sublimc poems, which either this age or nation has produced.”
In consequence of some manuscript copies of this opera having got abroad, it seems to have been attacked before it had yet appeared in print ; for he tells us that “ Milton had been taxed by some false criticks for choosing a supernatural argu. ment;" and he quotes four of his own lines, which, he says, had been “ sufficiently canvassed by his ill-natured censurers :".
“ Cherub and Scraph, careless of their charge,
“ And all dissolved in hallelujahs lic." The critical pamphlet which contains these remarks, I have never scen.
Before we quit the subject of Milton's poem, an anecdote concerning it, in which our author makes a considerable figure, may not improperly be noticed; though, like many other traditional stories, it will not bear a very rigid examination. The elder Krise Lost, tells us, Milton,) that he .com
elder Richardson, speaking of the tardy reputation of Paradise Lost, tells us, (and the tale has been repeated in various Lives of Milton,) that he was informed by Sir George Hungerford, an ancient member of parliament, (many years previous to 1734,) that Sir John Denham came into the House one morning with a sheet of PARADISE Lost wet from the press, in his hand ; and being asked what it was, he replied, “part of the noblesa poem that ever was written in any language or in any age." However, the book remained unknown till it was produced about two years afterwards by Lord Buckhurst on the following occasion. That nobleman, in company with Mr. Fleetwood Shephard, (who frequently told the story to Dr. Tancred Robinson, an eminent physician, and Mr. Richard. son's informer,) looking over some books in Little Britain, met with Paradise Lost; and being surprised with some passages in turning it over, bought it. The bookseller requested his Lordship to speak in its favour, if he liked it; for the impression lay on his hands as waste paper. Lord Buckhurst, (whom Richardson inaccurately calls the Earl of Dorset, for he did not succeed to that title till some years afterwards,) having read the poem, sent it to Dryden, who in a short time returned it with this answer : “ This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too."-" Much the same character (adds Mr. Richardson) he gave of it to a north-country gentleman, to whom I mentioned the book, he being a great reader, but not in a right train, coming to town seldom, and keeping little company. Dryden amazed him with speaking so loftily of it. “ Why, Mr. Dryden, says he, (Sir W. L. told me the thing himself,) 'tis not in rhyme." “ No; [replied Dryden,] nor would I have done my Virgil in rhyme, if I was to begin if again.". This conversation, which is said to have passed between the gentleman here alluded to under the initial letters W. L., and our author, while he was engaged in his translation of Virgil, will be more properly considered in another place : but the former anecdote requires some little observation.
How Sir John Denham should get into his hands one of the sheets of PARADISE Lost, while it was working off at the press, it is not very easy to conceive. The proof-sheets of every book, as well as the finished sheets when worked off, previous to publication are subject to the inspection of no person but the author, or the persons to whom he may confide them; and there is no evidence or probability that any intimacy subsisted between Sir John Denham and Milton. Here then is the first difficulty. The next is, that during a great part of the year 1667, when Milton's poem probably was passing through the press, the Knight was disordered in his understanding : but a stronger objection remains behind; for on examination, it
. “ Explanatory Nules and Remarks on Milton's Paw RADISE Lost," &c. 8vo. 1734 ; p. cxix.