XXI. MILTON IN CALABRIA
Certain parts of 'Paradise Lost' are drawn, as we all know, from other Italian sources, from Sannazario, Ariosto, Guarini, Bojardo, and others. Zicari who, it must be said, has made the best of his case, will have it that the musterings and battles of the good and evil angels are copied from the 'Angeleide' of Valvasone published at Milan in 1590. But G. Polidori, who has reprinted the 'Angeleide' in his Italian version of Milton (London, 1840), has gone into this matter and thinks otherwise. These devil-and-angel combats were a popular theme at the time, and there is no reason why the English poet should copy continental writers in such descriptions, which necessarily have a common resemblance. The Marquis Manso was very friendly with the poets Tasso and Marino, and it is also to be remarked that entire passages in 'Paradise Lost' are copied, totidem verbis, from the writings of these two, Manso having no doubt drawn Milton's attention to their beauties. In fact, I am inclined to think that Manso's notorious enthusiasm for the warlike epic of Tasso may first of all have diverted Milton from purely pastoral ideals and inflamed him with the desire of accomplishing a similar feat, whence the well-known lines in Milton's Latin verses to this friend, which contain the first indication of such a design on his part. Even the familiar invocation, 'Hail, wedded Love,' is bodily drawn from one of Tasso's letters (see Newton's 'Milton,' 1773, vol. i, pp. 312, 313).
It has been customary to speak of these literary appropriations as 'imitations '; but whoever compares them with the originals will find that many of them are more correctly termed translations. The case, from a literary-moral point of view, is different as regards ancient writers, and it is surely idle to accuse Milton, as has been done, of pilferings from Aeschylus or Ovid. There is no such thing as robbing the classics. They are our literary fathers, and what they have left behind them is our common heritage; we may adapt, borrow, or steal from them as much as will suit our purpose; to acknowledge such 'thefts' is sheer pedantry and ostentation. But Salandra and the rest of them were Milton's contemporaries. It is certainly an astonishing fact that no scholar of the stamp of Thyer was acquainted with the 'Adamo Caduto'; and it says much for the isolation of England that, at a period when poems on the subject of paradise lost were being scattered broadcast in Italy and elsewhere - when, in short, all Europe was ringing with the doleful history of Adam and Eve - Milton could have ventured to speak of his work as 'Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyma' - an amazing verse which, by the way, is literally transcribed out of Ariosto ('Cosa, non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima'). But even now the acquaintance of the British public with the productions of continental writers is superficial and spasmodic, and such was the ignorance of English scholars of this earlier period, that Birch maintained that Milton's drafts, to be referred to presently, indicated his intention of writing an opera (!); while as late as 1776 the poet Mickle, notwithstanding Voltaire's authority, questioned the very existence of Andreini, who has written thirty different pieces.
Some idea of the time when Salandra's tragedy reached Milton might be gained if we knew the date of his manuscript projects for 'Paradise Lost' and other writings which are preserved at Cambridge. R. Garnett ('Life of Milton,' 1890, p. 129) supposes these drafts to date from about 1640 to 1642, and I am not sufficiently learned in Miltonian lore to controvert or corroborate in a general way this assertion. But the date must presumably be pushed further forward in the case of the skeletons for 'Paradise Lost,' which are modelled to a great extent upon Salandra's 'Adamo' of 1647, though other compositions may also have been present before Milton's mind, such as that mentioned on page 234 of the second volume of Todd's 'Milton,' from which he seems to have drawn the hint of a 'prologue spoken by Moses.'
Without going into the matter exhaustively, I will only say that from these pieces it is clear that Milton's primary idea was to write, like Salandra, a sacred tragedy upon this theme, and not an epic. These drafts also contain a chorus, such as Salandra has placed in his drama, and a great number of mutes, who do not figure in the English epic, but who reappear in the 'Adamo Caduto' and all similar works. Even Satan is here designated as Lucifer, in accordance with the Italian Lucifero; and at the end of one of Milton's drafts we read 'at last appears Mercy, comforts him, promises the Messiah, etc.,' which is exactly what Salandra's Misericordia (Mercy) does in the same place.
Milton no doubt kept on hand many loose passages of poetry, both original and borrowed, ready to be worked up into larger pieces; all poets are smothered in odd scraps of verse and lore which they 'fit in' as occasion requires; and it is therefore quite possible that some fragments now included in 'Paradise Lost' may have been complete before the 'Adamo Caduto' was printed. I am referring, more especially, to Satan's address to the sun, which Philips says was written before the commencement of the epic.
Admitting Philips to be correct, I still question whether this invocation was composed before Milton's visit to Naples; and if it was, the poet may well have intended it for some other of the multitudinous works which these drafts show him to have been revolving in his mind, or for none of them in particular.