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graced with such language and such imagery. Cowley's Latinity, dictated by an irregular and unrestrained imagination, presents a mode of diction half Latin and half English. It is not so much that Cowley wanted a knowledge of the Latin style, but that he suffered that knowledge to be perverted and corrupted by false and extravagant thoughts. Milton was a more perfect scholar than Cowley, and his mind was more deeply tinctured with the excellencies of ancient literature. He was a more just thinker, and therefore a more just writer. In a word, he had more taste, and more poetry, and consequently more propriety. If a fondness for the Italian writers has sometimes infected his English poetry with false ornaments, his Latin verses, both in diction and sentiment, are at least free from those depravations.
Some of Milton's Latin Poems were written in his first year at Cambridge, when he was only seventeen : they must be allowed to be very correct and manly performances for a youth of that age. And considered in that view, they discover an extraordinary copiousness and command of ancient fable and history. I cannot but add, that Gray resembles Milton in many instances. Among others, in their youth they were both strongly attached to the cultivation of Latin poetry.
But I hasten to give the reader an account of my design and conduct, and of what he is to expect, in this edition.
This volume exhibits those poems of Milton, of which a second edition, with some slender additions, appeared in 1673, while the author was yet living, under the title, “ Poems upon several occasions, by Mr.
“ John Milton. Both English and Latin, &c. Com“ posed at several times.” In this collection our author did not include his Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, as some later editors have done. Those two pieces, forming a single volume by themselves, had just before been printed together, in 1671, for Milton here intended only an edition of his Juvenile Poems.
The chief purpose of the Notes is to explain our author's allusions, to illustrate or to vindicate his beauties, to point out his imitations both of others and of himself, to elucidate his obsolete diction, and by the adduction and juxtaposition of parallels universally gleaned both from his poetry and prose, to ascertain his favourite words, and to shew the peculiarities of his praseology. And thus some of the Notes, those I mean which relate to his imitations of himself, and to his language, have a more general effect, and are applicable to all Milton's writings.
Among the English poets, those readers who trust to the late commentators will be led to believe, that our author imitated Spenser and Shakespeare only. But his style, expression, and more extensive combinations of diction, together with many of his thoughts, are also to be traced in other English poets, who were either contemporaries or predecessors, and of whom many are now not commonly known. Of this it has been a part of my task to produce proofs. Nor have his imitations from Spenser and Shakespeare been hitherto sufficiently noted.
When Milton wrote these poems, many traditionary superstitions, not yet worn out in the popular belief, adhered to the poetry of the times. Romances and fabulous narratives were still in fashion, and not yet driven away by puritans and usurpers. To ideas of this sort, and they corresponded with the complexion of his genius, allusions often appear even in Milton's elder poetry: but it was natural that they should be found at least as largely in his early pieces, which were professedly written in a lighter strain, at a period when they more universally prevailed, and were more likely to be caught by a young poet. Much imagery in these poems is founded on this source of fiction. Hence arose obscurities, which have been overlooked or misinterpreted: and thus the force of many strikingly poetical passages has been weakened or unperceived, because their orgin was unknown, unexplored, or misunderstood. Coeval books, which might clear such references, were therefore to be consulted : and a new line of commentary was to be pursued. Comparatively, the classical annotator has here but little to do. Doctor Newton, an excellent scholar, was unacquainted with the treasures of the Gothic library. From his more solid and rational studies, he never deviated into this idle track of reading. Milton, at least in these poems, may be reckoned an old English poet; and therefore here requires that illustration, without which no old English poet can be well illustrated.
Hitherto I have been speaking of the Notes to the English poems. As to those on the Poemata Latina, of which something has already been incidentally said, they may have their use in unfolding many passages even to the learned reader. These pieces contain several curious circumstances of Milton's early life, situations, friendships, and connections; which are often so transiently or implicitly noticed, as to need examination and enlargement. It also seemed useful to show, which of the ancient Roman poets were here Milton's models, and how far and in what instances they have been copied. Here a new source of criticism on Milton, and which displays him in a new light and character, was opened. That English notes are joined with a Latin text, may be censured as an inconsistency, or as an arbitrary departure from the customary practice. But I know not any satisfactory reason, why books in a learned or unfamiliar language, should be always explained in a language equally difficult.
It was no part of my plan to add to my own the Notes of my predecessors. Perhaps it has happened, that some of my remarks have been anticipated by Dr. Newton and others. Such coincidences are accidental and undesigned. I have been favoured with a few Notes by the late Mr. Bowle, the learned and ingenious publisher of Don Quixotte, extracted from his interleaved copy of Milton's second edition of these poems. A few others have been communicated by my brother; and I am convinced that my reader will concur with me in wishing, that his indispensable engagements would have permitted him to communicate many more. These valuable contributions are constantly marked with the names of their respective authors: as are some observations of Bishop Warburton, and of Bishop Hurd, distinguished by the initial letters of their wames, W. and H. and which were kindly communicated to me by the latter of these two learned prelates.
I must add one or two more circumstances relating
to my revisal of this volume. I have found it expedient to alter or enlarge Milton's own titles, which seemed to want fulness and precision, yet preserving their form and substance. Nor have I scrupulously followed the order used in his own editions, which yet I have not greatly violated. In disturbing the series of the pieces, my meaning was, not to study capricious and useless novelty, but to accommodate the reader, and to introduce uniformity, by a more methodical but obvious arrangement. I have endeavoured to render the text as uncorrupt and perspicuous as possible, not only by examining and comparing the authentic copies published under the author's immediate inspection, but regulating the punctuation, of which Milton appears to have been habitually careless.