1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Milton

William Seward, in Biographiana (1799) 2:505-06.



In spite of the virulence of party, Echard thus describes this great writer: "He was the wonder of his age! Though always affecting uncommon and heterodox opinions; Latin secretary first to the parliament, and afterwards to Oliver Cromwell; and a most inveterate enemy to King Charles. But what did most, and most justly, distinguish him, was his poetry, particularly his Paradise Lost, in which he manifests such a wonderful and sublime genius as was never exceeded in any age or nation, and of which it appears impossible to give foreign nations any idea." It seems indeed reserved to our times to break through the spell, and to give to every country in the world an adequate notion, not only of the sublimity but the beauty of Milton's genius. Mr. Fuseli's pencil, equally successful in expressing ideas of amenity as of grandeur, is the only true translator this great poet has ever possessed. The languages of other countries indeed sink under the grand and beautiful images of Milton; but, like Michael Angelo's, the commentator of the terrible and gigantic ideas of Dante in the Sestine Chapel, Fuseli's pencil will pourtray the evanescent images of our divine bard, and give an habitation and a shape to his ideal forms, which the prints to be made from his paintings will display wherever there shall be eyes to behold them.

It has been reported, that James the Second, when Duke of York, said, "That the blindness of Milton was a judgment of heaven upon him for his daring impiety in writing against his father Charles the first." — "Be it so, then," replied Milton; "but what was the execution of the Duke's father upon a public scaffold?"