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employ some friend in writing them, having, at least for part of the time, no regular attendant. This gave opportunity to observations and reports.
Mr. Philips observes, that there was a very remarkable circumstance in the composure of Para. dise Lost, ' which I have a particular reason,' says he,' to remember: for whereas I had the perusal
of it from the very beginning, for some years, as I I went from time to time to visit him, in parcels 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 vein never happily flowed but from the Au. tumnal Equinox to the Vernal; and that whatever he attempted at other times was never to his satisfactiou, though he courted his fancy never so • much; so that, in all the years he was about • this poem, he
may be said to have spent half his ' time therein.'
Upon this relation Toland remarks, that in his.. opinion Philips has mistaken the time of the year; for Milton, in his Elegies, declares that with the advance of the Spring he feels the increase of his poetical force, redeunt in carmina vires. To this it is answered, that Philips could hardly mistake time so well marked: and it may be added, trat Milton might find different times of the year favor
It may go
able to different parts of life. Mr. Richardson conceives it impossible that such a work should be suspended for six months, or for one. on faster or slower, but it must go on.
By what necessity it must continually go on, or why it might not be laid aside and resumed, it is not easy to discover.
This dependance of the soul upon the seasons, those temporary and periodical ebbs and flows of intellect, may, I suppose, justly be derided as the fumes of vain imagination. Sapiens dominabitur astris. The author that thinks himself weatherbound will find, with a little help from hellebore, that he is only idle or exhausted. But while this notion has possession of the head, it produces the inability which it supposes. Our powers owe much of their energy to our hopes; possunt quia posse videntur. When success seems attainable, diligence is enforced; but when it is admitted that the faculties are suppressed by a cross wind, or a cloudy sky, the day is given up without resistance ; for who can contend with the course of Nature ?
From such prepossessions Milton seems not to have been free. There prevailed in his time an opinion that the world was in its decay, and that we have had the misfortune to be produced in the decrepitude of Nature. It was suspected that the whole creation languished, that neither trees nor animals had the height or bulk of their predecessors, and that every thing was daily sinking by gradual diminution *.
Milton appears to suspect that souls partake of the general degeneracy, and is not without some fear that his book is to be written in an age too late for heroic poesy.
Another opinion wanders about the world, and sometimes finds reception among wise men; an opinion that restrains the operations of the mind to particular regions, and supposes that a Juckless mortal
may be born in a degree of latitude too high or too low for wisdom or for wit. From this fancy, wild as it is, he had not wholly cleared his head, when he feared lest the climate of his country might be too cold for flights of imagination.
Into a mind already occupied by such fancies, another not more reasonable might easily find its way. He that could fear lest his genius had fallen upon too old a world, or too chill a climate, might consistently magnify to himself the influence of the seasons, and believe his faculties to be vigosous only half the year.
His submission to the seasons was at least more reasonable than bis dread of decaying nature, or a
• This opinion is, with great learning and ingenuity, refuted in a book now very little known, An Apology or Declaration frigid zone ; for general causes must operate uniformly in a general abatement of mental power ; if less could be performed by the writer, less likewise would content the judges of his work. Among this lagging race of frosty grovellers he might still have risen into eminence by producing something which they should not willingly let die. However inferior to the heroes who were born in better ages, he might still be great among his contemporaries, with the hope of growing every day greater in the dwindle of posterity. He might still be a giant among the pygmies, the one-eyed mo. narch of the blind.
of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World,' by Dr. George Hakevill, London, folio, 1635. The first who ventured to propagate it in this country was Dr. Gabriel Goodman, bishop of Gloucester, a man of a versatile temper, and the author of a book, intituled, * The Fall of Man, or the Corruption of Nature proved by natural Reason." Lond. 1616 and 1624, quarto.
He was plundered in the Usurpation, turned Roman Catholic, and died in obscurity. Vide Athen. Oxon. vol. 1. 727. H.
Of his artifices of study, or particular hours of composition, we have little account, and there was perhaps little to be told. Richardson, who seems to have been very diligent in his enquiries, but discovers always a wish to find Milton discriminated from other mén, relates, that he would • sometimes lie awake whole nights, but not a verse could he make; and on a sudden his poetical faculty would rush upon him with an impetus or æstrum, and his daughter was immediately called ! to secure what came. At other times he would • dictate perhaps forty lines in a breath, and then • reduce them to half the number.'
These bursts of light, and involutions of darkness, these transient and involuntary excursions and retrocessions of invention, having some appearance of deviation from the common train of Nature, are teagerly caught by the lovers of a wonder. Yet something of this inequality happens to every man in every mode of exertion, manual or mental. The mechanic cannot handle his hammer and his file at all times with equal dexterity; there are hours, he knows not why, when his hand is out.
By Mr. Richardson's relation, casually conveyed, much regard cannot be claimed. That, in his intellectual hour Milton called for his daughter to secure what came, may be questioned; for unluckily it happens to be known that his daughters were never "taught to write; nor would he have been obliged, as is universally confessed, to have employed any casual visitor in disburthening his memory, if his daughter could have performed the office.
The story of reducing his exuberance has been told of other authors, and, though doubtless true of every fertile and copious mind, seems to have been gratuitously transferred to Milton.
What he has told us, and we cannot now know more, is, that he composed much of his the night and morning, I suppose before his mind was disturbed with common business; and that he poured out with great fluency his unpremeditated verse. Versification, free, like his, from the distresses of rhyme, must, by a work so long, bc made prompt and habitual ; and, when his thoughts were once adjusted, the words would come at his command.
At what particular times of life the parts of a