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THE

STATE OF INNOCENCE,

AND

FALL OF MAN.

AN

OPERA.

Utinam modò dicere possem
Carmina digna deâ: Certe est dea carmine digna.

OVID. MET.

THE "Paradise Lost" of Milton is a work so extraordinary in conception and execution, that it required a lapse of many years to reconcile the herd of readers, and of critics, to what was almost too sublime for ordinary understandings. The poets, in particular, seemed to have gazed on its excellencies, like the inferior animals on Dryden's immortal Hind; and, incapable of fully estimating a merit, which, in some degree, they could not help feeling, many were their absurd experiments to lower it to the standard of their own comprehension. One author, deeming the "Paradise Lost" deficient in harmony, was pleased painfully to turn it into rhyme; and more than one, conceiving the subject too serious to be treated in verse of any kind, employed their leisure in humbling it into prose. The names of these well-judging and considerate persons are preserved by Mr Todd in his edition of Milton's Poetical Works.

But we must not confound with these effusions of gratuitous folly, an alteration, or imitation, planned and executed by John Dryden; although we may be at a loss to guess the motives by which he was guided in hazarding such an attempt. His reverence for Milton, and his high estimation of his poetry, had already called forth the well-known verses, in which he attributes to him the joint excellencies of the two most celebrated poets of antiquity; and if other proofs of his veneration were wanting, they may be found in the preface to this very production. Had the subject been of a nature which admitted its being actually represented, we might conceive, that Dryden, who was under engagements to the theatre, with which it was not always easy to comply, might have been desirous to shorten his own labour, by adopting the story, sentiments, and language of a poem, which he so highly esteemed, and which might probably have been new to the generality of his audience. But the costume of our first parents, had there been no other objection, must have excluded the "State of Innocence" from the stage, and accordingly it was certainly never intended for representation. The probable motive, therefore, of this alteration, was the wish, so common to genius, to exert itself upon a subject in which another had already attained brilliant success, or, as Dryden has termed a similar attempt, the desire to shoot in the bow of Ulysses. Some circumstances in the history of Milton's immortal poem may have suggested to Dryden the precise form of the present attempt. It is reported by Voltaire, and seems at length to be admitted, that the original idea of the "Paradise Lost" was supplied by an Italian Mystery, or religious play, which Milton witnessed when abroad;* and it is certain, that he intended at first to mould his

*The Adamo of Andreini; for an account of which, see Todd's Milton, vol. I. the elegant Hayley's Conjectures on the Origin of Paradise Lost, and

poem into a dramatic form.* It seems, therefore, likely, that Dryden, conscious of his own powers, and enthusiastically admiring those of Milton, was induced to make an experiment upon the forsaken plan of the blind bard, which, with his usual rapidity of conception and execution, he completed in the short space of one month. The spurious copies which got abroad, and perhaps the desire of testifying his respect for his beautiful patroness, the Duchess of York, form his own apology for the publication. It is reported by Mr Aubrey, that the step was not taken without Dryden's reverence to Milton being testified by a personal application for his permission. The aged poet, conscious that the might of his versification could receive no addition even from the flowing numbers of Dryden, is stated to have answered with indifference" Ay, you may tag my verses, if you will."

The structure and diction of this opera, as it is somewhat improperly termed, being rather a dramatic poem, strongly indicate the taste of Charles the Second's reign, for what was ingenious, acute, and polished, in preference to the simplicity of the true sublime. The judgment of that age, as has been already noticed, is always to be referred rather to the head than to the heart; and a poem, written to please mere critics, requires an introduction and display of art, to the exclusion of natural beauty. This explains the extravagant panegyric of Lee on Dryden's play:

Milton did the wealthy mine disclose,
And rudely cast what you could well dispose;
He roughly drew, on an old-fashion'd ground,
A chaos; for no perfect world was found,
Till through the heap your mighty genius shined:
He was the golden ore, which you refined.
He first beheld the beauteous rustic maid,

And to a place of strength the prize convey'd :

You took her thence; to Court this virgin brought,

Dress'd her with gems, new-weaved her hard-spun thought,

And softest language, sweetest manners, taught;

Till from a comet she a star did rise,

Not to affright, but please, our wondering eyes.

f

Doubtless there were several critics of that period, who held the heretical opinion above expressed by Lee. And the imitation was such as to warrant that conclusion, considering the school in which it was formed. The scene of the consultation in Pandemonium, and of the soliloquy of Satan on his

Walker's Memoir on Italian Tragedy. The Drama of Andreini opens with a grand chorus of angels, who sing to this purpose:

Let the rainbow be the fiddle-stick to the fiddle of heaven,

Let the spheres be the strings, and the stars the musical notes;

Let the new-born breezes make the pauses and sharps,

And let time be careful to beat the measure.

+See a sketch of his plan in Johnson's Life of Milton, and in the authorities + above quoted.

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