Page images

England; and had become so well acquainted with our language as to publish an English essay on epick poetry; in which are the following words :

“ Milton, as he was travelling through Italy in his youth, saw at Florence a comedy called Adamo, written by one Andreini, a player, and dedicated to Mary de Medicis, queen of France. The subject of the play was the Fall of Man; the actors, God, the Devils, the Angels, Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Death, and the seven mortal Sins : That topick, so improper for a drama, but so suitable to the absurd genius of the Italian stage (as it was at that time,) was handled in a manner entirely conformable to the extravagance of the design. The scene opens with a Chorus of Angels; and a Cherubim thus speaks for the rest : "Let the rainbow be the fiddlestick of the heavens! let the planets be the notes of our musick !· let time beat carefully the measure, and the winds make the sharps, &c. Thus the play begins, and every scene rises above the last in profusion of impertinence !

b« A la lira del Ciel Iri sia l'arco,

“ Corde le sfere sien, note le stelle,
“ Sien le pause e i sospir l'aure novelle,
“ E 'l tempo i tempi à misurar non parco !”

Choro d' Angeli, &c. Adamo, ed. 1617. The better judgement of the author, Mr. Walker observes, determined him to omit this chorus in a subsequent edition of his drama : accordingly it does not appear in that of Perugia, 1641. See the Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy, 1799, p. 169.

“ Milton pierced through the absurdity of that performance to the hidden majesty of the subject, which, being altogether unfit for the stage, yet might be (for the genius of Milton, and his only,) the foundation of an epick poem.

“ He took from that ridiculous trifle the first hint of the noblest work, which human imagination has ever attempted, and which he executed more than twenty years after.”

• That Milton had certainly read the sacred drama of Andreini, is the opinion both of Dr. Joseph Warton and of Mr. Hayley. Another elegant critick has observed, that Voltaire may have related a tradition perhaps current in England at the time it was visited by him ; “¢ a period at which, it may be presumed, some of the contemporaries of Milton were living, for he was then only about fifty years dead. Milton, with the candour which is usually united with true genius, probably acknowledged to his friends his obligations to the Italian dramatist, and the floating tradition met the ardent inquiries of the French poet.” It may be worth mentioning here, that Dante, according to the account of some Italian criticks ", took the hint of his Inferno from a nocturnal representation of Hell, exhibited in 1304 on the river Arno at Florence; and that Tasso is

• Hist. Mem. on Ital. Tragedy, p. 170.
d Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poetry, vol. iii. p. 241.

said to have o conceived the idea of writing his Aminta at the representation, in 1567, of Lo Sfortunato of Agostino Argenti in Ferrara.


From the Adamo of Andreini a poetical extract, as well as the summary of the arguments of each act and scene, were given by Dr. Warton, in an appendix to the second volume of his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, 1782. Mr. Hayley has cited other specimens of the poetry in this “ spirited, though irregular and fantastick, composition;" from which Milton's fancy is supposed to have caught fire. A few quotations also, from this rare and curious drama, have been long since given in Notes on the Paradise Lost. But, if the Adamo be examined with the utmost nicety, Milton will be found no servile copyist : He will be found, as in numberless instances of his extensive, his curious, and careful reading, to have improved the slightest hints into the finest descriptions. Milton indeed, with the skill and grace of an Apelles or a Phidias, has often animated the rude sketch and the shapeless block. I mean not to detract from the Italian

e Hist. Mem. ut supr.

f From the remarks of Prince Giacomo Giustiniani, (the accomplished governour of Perugia,) on the Adamo, which were transmitted to Mr. Walker, and by Mr. Walker obligingly communicated to me, it appears that the criticks of Italy consider Milton not a little indebted to their countryman. I will cite the opinion of the liberal and elegant Tiraboschi : “ Certo benche L'Adamo dell' Andreini sia in confronto del Paradiso Perduto

drama'; but let it be here remarked once for all, in Milton's own words, that “ 8 borrowing, if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors is accounted plagiarie.” Let the bitterest enemies of Milton prove, if they can, whether the author of this ingenuous remark may be exhibited in such a light; rather let them acknowledge that, in fully comparing him with those authors who have written on similar subjects, he must ever be considered as

- “ above the rest
“ In shape and gesture proudly eminent.”

The drama of Andreini was so little known when Dr. Birch was writing the Life of Milton, that Warburton, in a letter to that learned biographer, preserved in the British Museum, ridicules the relation of Voltaire. “ It is said that it appeared by a MS. in Trin. Coll. Camb. that Milton intended an opera of the Paradise Lost. Voltaire, on the credit of

ciò che è il Poema di Ennio in confronto a quel di Virgilio, nondimeno non può negarsi che le idee gigantesche, delle quali l' autore Inglese ha abbellito il suo Poema, di Satana, che entra nel Paradiso terrestre, e arde d'invidia al vedere la felicita dell’ Uomo, del congresso de Demonj, della battaglia degli Angioli contra Lucifero, e più altre sommiglianti immagini veggonsi nell' Adamo adombrate per modo, che'a me sembra molto credibile, che anche il Milton dalle immondezze, se così è lecito dire, dell' Andreini raccogliesse l'oro, di cui adorno il suo Poema. Per altro L'Adamo dell' Andreini, benche abbia alcuni tratti di pessimo gusto, ne hà altri ancora, che si posson proporre come modello di excellente


8 Iconoclastes, Prose-Works, edit. 1698, fol. vol. ii. p. 509.

[ocr errors]

this circumstance, amongst a heap of impertinency, pretends boldly that he took the hint from a comedy he saw at Florence, called Adamo. Others imagined too he conceived the idea in Italy; now I will give you good proof that all this is a vision. In 'one of his political pamphlets, written early by him, I forget which, he tells the world he had conceived a notion of an epick poem on the story of Adam or Arthur. What then will you say must we do with this circumstance of the Trin. Coll. MS ? I believe I can explain that matter. When the parliament got uppermost, they suppressed the playhouses; on which Sir John Denham, I think, and others, contrived to get operas performed. This took with the people, and was much in their taste; and religious ones being the favourites of that sanctified people, was, I believe, what inclined Milton at that time (and neither before nor after) to make an opera of it.”— Even at a much later period, the very existence of the Adamo was denied; for Mr. Mickle, an ardent admirer of Milton, and the very able translator of The Lusiad, calls it “ha Comedy which nobody ever saw;" and observes, “ that even some Italian literati declared that no such author Cas Andreini] was known in Italy.” Dr. Johnson also, in his Life of Milton, calls Voltaire's relation “ a wild, unauthorised, story.”

That Milton had conceived, in his younger days,

Dissertation prefixed to the Translation of the Lusiad, 2d edit. Ox. p. ccii.

« PreviousContinue »