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their reception. It was late in the present century, before they attained their juft measure of esteem and popularity. Wit and rhyme, sentiment and satire, polished numbers, sparkling couplets, and pointed periods, having so long kept undisturbed possession in our poetry, would not easily give way to fiction and fancy, to picturesque description, and romantic imagery,
When fir Henry Wootton, 1637, had received from Milton the compliment of a present of comus, at first separately printed by the care of Henry Lawes, he returned a panegyric on the performance, in which real approbation undoubtedly concurred with the partiality of private friendship, and a grateful sense of this kind testimony of Milton's regard. But Woutton, a scholar and a poet, did not perceive the genuine graces of this exquisite masque, which yet he professes to have viewed with fingular delight. His conceptions did not reach to the higher poetry of comus. He was rather struck with the pastoral mellifluence of its lyric measures, which he styles a certain Doric delicacy in the songs and odes, than with its graver and more majestic tones, with the solemnity and variety of its peculiar vein of original invention. This drama was not to be generally characterised by its songs and odes : nor do I know that softness and sweetness, although they want nei
ther, are particularly characteristical of those passages, which are most commonly rough with strong and crouded images, and rich in personification. However, the Song to Echo, and the initial strains of Comus's invocation, are much in the style which Wootton describes.
The first edition of these poems, comprehending comus already printed, and LYCIDAS, of which there was also a previous impression, is dated in 1645. But I do not recollect, that for seventy years afterwards, they are once mentioned in the whole succession of English literature. Perhaps almost the only instance on record, in that period of time, of their having received any, even a slight, mark of attention or notice, is to be found in archbishop Sancroft's papers at Oxford. In these papers is contained a very considerable collection of poetry, but chiefly religious, exactly and elegantly transcribed with his own hand, while he was a fellow of Emanuel college, and about the year 1648, from Crashaw, Cowley, Herbert, Alabaster, Wootton, and other poets then in fashion. And
among these extracts is Milton's ODE ON THE NATIVITY, faid by Sancroft to be selected from “ the cs first
page of John Milton's poems.” Also our author's version of the fifty-third Pfalm, noted by the transcriber, I suppose as an example of uncommon exertion of genius, to have been
done in the fifteenth year of the translator's age.” Sancroft, even to his maturer years, retained his strong early predilection to polite literature, which he still continued to cultivate ; and from these and other remains of his studies in that pursuit, now preserved in the Bodleian library, it
appears, that he was a diligent reader of the poetry of his times, both in English and Latin. In an old Miscellany, quaintly called NAPS ON PARNASSUS, and printed in 1658, there is a ecital of the most excellent English poets; who, according to this author's enumeration, are Chaucer, Lydgate, Hardyng, Spenser, Drayton, Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Beaumont and Fletcher, Sandys, Cowley, and Clieveland, with some others then living and perhaps in fashion, but now forgotten. But there is not a syllable of the writer of L'ALLEGRO, IL PENSEROSO, and coMUS. Langbaine, who wrote his dramatic biography in 1691, a scholar and a student in English poetry, having enumerated Milton's
greater English poems, coldly adds, “ he published some “ other poems in Latin and English, printed at “ London, 1645.” Nor is there the qurantity of an hemistich quoted from any in the Collections of those who have digested the Beauties or Phrases of the English Poets from 1655 to 1738, inclusively. The first of
of these poems,
· MSS. Coll. Tanx. Num. 465. See f. 34. 60.
Lond. 1 2mo. See Signat. B. 4.
these, 'is the English Treasury of Wit and Language, by John Cotgrave, 1655. The second, the English Parnasus, or an Help to English Poély, by Joshua Poole of Clare-Hall, 1657:* And not to omit the intermediate labours of Bysshe and Gildon, the latter of whom promises “ to give the reader the great images that are to “ be found in our poets who are truly great, as “ well as their topics and moral reflections," the last, and by far the most copious and judicious compilation of the kind extant, is the BRITISH Muse in three volumes, by Thomas Hayward, with a good Preface by Oldys, published in 1738. Yet this author professes chiefly to confider, “ neglected and expiring merit, and to re“ vive and preserve the excellencies which time ^ and oblivion were upon the point of cancel
ling, rather than to repeat what others had os extracted before.""
Patrick Hume, a Scotchman, in 1695, published a large and very learned commentary on the PARADISE LOST, to which some of his fucceffors in the same province, apprehending no danger of detection from a work rarely inspected, and too pedantic and cumbersome to attract many readers, have been often amply in
• Reprinted, 1677. 8vo,
o Pref. p, xx. We are surprised to find Dennis, in his Let. TERS, published 1721, quoting a few verses from Milton's Latin Poems, relating to his Travels. See p. 78. 79. But Dennis had them from Toland's Life of Milton.
debted, without even the most diftant hint of acknowledgment. But Hume, in comparing Milton with himself, perhaps conscious of his importance as a commentator on the fublimities of the epic muse, not once condescends to draw a single illustration from this volume of his author. In 1732, Bentley, mistaking his object, and to the disgrace of his critical abilities, gave a new and splendid edition of the PARADISE LOST. The principal design of the Notes is to prove, that the poet's native text was vitiated by an infinite variety of licentious interpolations and factitious readings, which, as he pretends, proceeded from the artifice, the ignorance, or the misapprehension, of an amanuensis, to whom Milton, being blind, had been compelled to dictate his verses. To ascertain his criticisms in detecting or reforming these imaginary forgeries, he often appeals to words and phrases in the same
poem. But he never attempts to confirm his conjectures from the smaller poems, written before the poet was blind : and from which, in the prosecution of the same arbitrary mode of emendation, his analogies in many instances might have consequently derived a much stronger degree of authority and credibility. The truth is, Bentley was here a stranger. I must however except, that he once quotes a line from the beginning of comus
a PARAD. L. B. i. 16.