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938 1859 Vil
EXCEPTING the Divina Commedia, there is no modern poem which stands so much in need of a commentary as Paradise Lost. So early was this want felt, that in about a quarter of a century after its appearance, an edition was printed with notes by Patrick Hume, a native of North Britain. Nothing more was done till 1732, when the celebrated Dr. Bentley published an edition of the poem, with a comment, proceeding on the absurd hypothesis that Milton's amanuensis had taken advantage of his blindness to interpolate the poem largely, and these interpolations the critic affected to have discovered, and printed them in a different character. In a “Review of the Text of Paradise Lost,” Dr. (afterwards Bishop) Pearce amply refuted these absurd fancies of the great classical critic. Shortly after, the Richardsons, father and son, published "Explanatory Notes on the Paradise Lost;" Warburton also gave the world some of his views respecting it, as likewise did some anonymous critics.
In 1749 Dr. (afterwards Bishop) Newton published, in two volumes quarto, “Paradise Lost, with Notes of Various Authors," and in 1752 the remaining Poems of Milton, in one volume, of the same form. This was the earliest instance of vhat is called a Variorum edition, in the English language. Besides the works of his predecessors, including Addison, Newton had manuscript remarks on Paradise Lost of Dr.
Heylin, of Richardson, Jortin, and Warburton, and of a relative of his own, Dr. Greenwood, and, more valuable than any, those of the learned Mr. Thyer. In the other poems he had the additional aid of Peck, Sympson and Seward, and of two learned clergymen, Mr. Calton and Mr. Meadowcourt.
Newton was a sensible man, not without poetic feeling ; he was well versed in the Scriptures—though I doubt if he was a Hebrew scholar, and also well acquainted with the Classics. His Italian learning does not appear to have been extensive, and, excepting Spenser and Shakespeare, he does not seem to have had much familiarity with the elder English literature, and his acquisitions in science were probably slender.
On the whole however his edition is a very respectable one, and, in the case of Paradise Lost, little of much value was subsequently added to it. But at that time the knowledge of the language and literature of the days of Elizabeth and James was very imperfect, and criticism as a science had as yet made little progress.
In 1750 the First Book of Paradise Lost was published at Glasgow, with an elaborate comment, ascribed to Dr. Gillies or Mr. Callander. The former published, in 1788,"Paradise Lost, illustrated with Texts of Scripture.” Three years earlier, Thomas Warton had edited all the other poems, except Paradise Regained, in his peculiar manner, namely, that of heaping on every word and phrase quantities of passages from other poets in which it occurred, so as to give Milton the aspect of a centoist. Many however of Warton's notes are truly valuable, and many of the parallel passages highly apposite; he was also the first to comment on Milton's Latin and Italian poetry. Paradise Regained met with an able and a zealous editor in the Rev. Mr. Dunster, in 1795. Meantime scattered remarks occurred in the writings of Johnson, Lord Monboddo, Beattie, Blair, Hayley, the commentators on Shakespeare, and others.
At length, in the commencement of the present century (1802), came the Rev. J. H. Todd, and, like Milton's Time, drew, in his “huge drag-net, .. unpicked and unchosen," whatever his extensive reading found in commentators and others relating to the poetry of Milton. “Instead,” says Sir Walter Scott, in a review of his edition of Spenser (and the case is still stronger with respect to Milton) “instead of extracting from his predecessors' labours their spirit and essence, he has overlaid poor Spenser with the unselected mass of their commentaries, in addition to his own; and after all, we are much afraid the text is, in many instances, rather burdened than assisted.” In fact I am convinced that many persons have been repelled from the study of Milton by the formidable bulk of the notes in this edition, which has driven Newton's out of the field. And yet, in my opinion, Newton was superior to Todd in everything but extent of reading. This critic appears to have possessed a strong memory, and to have had Milton nearly by heart. He read incessantly, and whenever he met with anything resembling a passage in Milton, he secured it for his Notes; but I cannot recollect an instance of his having, from his own resources, removed the difficulty from any obscure passage. I am almost certain that he had no knowledge of Hebrew, and his acquaintance with science, if any, was very sliglit.
In addition to the sources of information above enumerated, Todd was possessed of a copy of Milton's Poems with manuscript notes by Mr. Bowle, the learned editor of Don Quixote, and of a copy of Paradise Lost, illustrated in the same manner by Mr. Benjamin Stillingfleet, an elegant scholar. He also received communications from some private friends. Thus he was enabled to actually overlay Milton with annotation, having neither the requisite taste nor judgement to make a selection among his materials. A striking example of this is his retention of the wild fancies of Bentley and the refutations of them by Pearce, which Newton had given with reason, because Bentley's edition had not been long published, and the reputation of that critic was high; but more than half a century had sufficed to explode those fancies, and good taste and right feeling would have prompted to let the weaknesses of a great man slumber in oblivion.
As very little has been since done, it is now, I think, apparent that a new edition of the Poems of Milton is not a work of supererogation. It only remains for me to state with brevity the distinguishing features of the present edition.
In the first place it will be seen that the poems are arranged chronologically, and divided into periods. By this arrangement, which is both natural and philosophical, the reader is enabled to trace with facility the changes in the ideas and the language of the poet; and I do not see why this advantage should be sacrificed to a slavish adherence to the capricious arrangement of booksellers or editors. Where the heading of a poem is Milton's own, I have placed his initial after it; and where the date is only conjectural, I have so indicated it. I may observe here that my present opinion is that L'Allegro and its pendent were written after Comus. I have not however departed from the order in which they are placed in my Life of Milton.
The orthography is in general modernized, with the exception of a few words, such as sovran, highth, which, as they are evidently Milton's own, have been retained out of respect. I have given shew throughout, and not show, for that was the invariable orthography and, as I think, pronunciationexcept for the sake of rime, when it was spelt show-of Milton's time. In like manner, in Paradise Lost I make the preposition always toward, for so it is in Milton's own edition of his Poems, and in the Bible, to which he closely adhered. Like Wordsworth and Coleridge, I have rejected the syncope in verbs and participles; and I have left to the reader's ear to determine the few cases where the final syllable is to be sounded. By the use of the syncope and apocope our forefathers did not always mean that the vowel was to be mute;
they often only indicated that it was to be very short, as in th' one, and suchlike. A difference of orthography will be observed in the words heaven and hell. When the former denotes the abode of the Deity, and the latter is used in opsition to it, they commence with a capital. A similar distinction is made in world.
To the punctuation I have devoted the closest attention. On this point Milton himself was perfectly heedless ; and though that of Paradise Lost is much better than that of the other poems, it is very far from perfect. Being no idolater of the old printers, I have submitted to no authority or guidance but those of Grammar and Logic; and under their auspices I have introduced many new readings, or, to speak more correctly, restored those intended by the poet. I have banished from the text in general the colon so familiar to our old printers, so little now in use; to express a pause or suspension in the sense I employ the dash (-), and as there is always such before and after a parenthesis, I have in this case substituted the dash for the crotchet, as more striking to the eye. When there is an actual break in the sense, an anacoluthon or aposiopesis, I use what the printers term the three dots (...), and thus there never can be any mistake, as is the case where, as in the dramatists, the dash is employed for both kinds of pause. The introduction of these notes is quite a new feature in an edition of Milton's poems; for the editors, so far from doing so, have actually effaced one given by Milton himself in Lycidas. They remove many appearances of bad grammar, and they tend greatly to prove the poet's dramatic talent, as it is chiefly in speeches that they occur.
I have thus, I believe, brought the punctuation of these poems to a degree of perfection such as it had never attained. I may not be always right in my changes, but I know of only two errors, each merely the misplacing of a
For this correctness I am mainly indebted to the