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elegant, but tedious. The song must owe much to the voice, if it ever can delight. At last the Brothers enter with too much tranquillity; and when they had feared lest their sister should be in danger, and hoped that she is not in danger, the Elder makes a speech in praise of chastity, and the Younger finds how fine it is to be a philosopher. Then descends the Spirit in form of a shepherd; and the Brother, instead of being in haste to ask his help, praises his singing, and inquires his business in that place. It is remarkable, that at this interview the Brother is taken with a short fit of rhyming. The Spirit relates that the Lady is in the power of Comus; the Brother moralises again ; and the Spirit makes a long narration, of no use because it is false, and therefore unsuitable to a good being. In all these parts the language is poetical, and the sentiments are generous; but there is something wanting to allure attention. The dispute between the Lady and Comus is the most animated and affecting scene of the drama, and wants nothing but a brisker reciprocation of objections and replies to invite attention and detain it. The songs are vigorous, and full of imagery ; but they are harsh in their diction, and not very musical in their numbers. Throughout the whole, the figures are too bold, and the language too luxuriant, for dialogue: it is a drama in the epic style, inelegantly splendid and tediously instructive.—Johnson.
Milton's Comus” is, I think, one of the finest productions of modern times; and I do not know whether to admire most the poetry of it, or the philosophy, which is of the noblest kind. The subject of it I like better than that of the "Paradise Lost,” which, I think is not human enough to touch the common feelings of humanity, as poetry ought to do ; the divine personages he has introduced are of too high a kind to act any part in poetry, and the scene of the action is, for the greater part, quite out of nature; but the subject of the “Comus” is a fine mythological tale, marvellous enough, as all poetical subjects should be, but at the same time human. He begins his piece in the manner of Euripides; and the descending Spirit that prologuises, makes the finest and grandest opening of any theatrical piece that I know, ancient or modern. The conduct of the piece is answerable to the beginning, and the versification of it is finely varied by short and long verses, blank and rhyming, and the sweetest songs that ever were composed ; nor do I know anything in English poetry comparable to it in this respect, except Dryden's “Ode on St. Cecilia ;” which, for the length of the piece, has all the variety of versification that can well be imagined. As to the style of “Comus,” it is more elevated, I think, than that of any of his writings, and so much above what is written at present, that I am inclined to make the same distinction in the English language, that Homer made of the Greek in his time ; and to say that Milton's language is the language of the gods ; whereas we of this age speak and write the language of mere mortal men. If the “Comus” was to be properly represented, with all the decorations which it requires, of machinery, scenery, dress, music, and dancing, it would be the finest exhibition that ever was seen upon any modern stage: but I am afraid, with all these, the principal part would be still wanting ;
mean, players that could wield the language of Milton, and pronounce those fine periods of his, by which he has contrived to give his poetry the beauty of the finest prose composition, and without which there can be nothing great or noble in composition of any kind. Or if we could find players who had breath and organs (for these, as well as other things, begin to fail in this generation), and sense and taste enough, properly to pronounce such periods, I doubt it would not be easy to find an audience that could relish them, or perhaps, they would not have attention and comprehension sufficient to connect the sense of them; being accustomed to that trim, spruce, short cut of style, which Tacitus, and his modern imitators, French and English, have made fashionable.—LORD Mon
In poetical and picturesque circumstances, in wildness of fancy and imagery, and in weight of sentiment and moral, how greatly does “Comus” excel the " Aminta ” of Tasso, and the “Pastor Fido" of Guarini ! which Milton, from his love of Italian poetry, must frequently have read. “Comus,” like these two, is a pastoral drama; and I have often wondered it is not mentioned as such.-Jos. WARTON,
We must not read “Comus ” with an eye to the stage, or with the expectation of dramatic propriety. Under this restriction the absurdity of the Spirit speaking to an audience in a solitary forest at midnight, and the want of reciprocation in the dialogue, are overlooked. “Comus” is a suite of speeches, not interesting by discrimination of character; not conveyinga variety of incidents, nor gradually exciting curiosity: but perpetually attracting
attention by sublime sentiment, by fanciful imagery of the richest vein, by an exuberance of picturesque description, poetical allusion, and ornamental expression. While it widely departs from the grotesque anomalies of the mask now in fashion, it does not nearly approach to the natural constitution of a regular play. There is a chastity in the application and conduct of the machinery; and Sabrina is introduced with much address after the Brothers had imprudently suffered the enchantment of Comus to take effect. This is the first time the old English mask was in some degree reduced to the principles and form of a rational composition ; yet still it could not but retain some of its arbitrary peculiarities. The poet had here properly no more to do with the pathos of tragedy, than the character of comedy ; nor do I know that he was confined to the usual modes of theatrical interlocution. A great critic observes, that the dispute between the Lady and Comus is the most animated and affecting scene of the piece, Perhaps some other scenes, either consisting only of a soliloquy, or of three or four speeches only, have afforded more true pleasure. The same critic thinks, that in all the moral dialogue, although the language is poetical, and the sentiments generous, something is still wanting to "allure attention.” But surely, in such passages, sentiments so generous, and language so poetical, are sufficient to rouse all our feelings. For this reason I cannot admit his position, that “Comus” is a drama “tediously instructive :” and if, as he says, to these ethical discussions “the auditor listens as to a lecture, without passion, without anxiety,” yet he listens with elevation and delight. The action is said to be improbable ; because the Brothers, when their sister sinks with fatigue in a pathless wilderness, wander both away together in search of berries, too far to find their way back; and leave a helpless lady to all the sadness and danger of solitude. But here is no desertion or neglect of the Lady : the Brothers leave their sister under a spreading pine in the forest, fainting for refreshment: they go to procure berries or some other fruit for her immediate relief; and, with great probability, lose their way in going or returning ; to say nothing of the poet's art, in making this very natural and simple accident to be productive of the distress, which forms the future business and complication of the fable. It is certainly a fault that the Brothers, although with some indications of anxiety, should enter with so much tranquillity, when their sister is lost, and at leisure pronounce philosophical panegyrics on the mysteries of virginity: but we must not too scrupulously attend to the exigencies of situation, nor suffer ourselves to suppose that we are reading a play, which Milton did not mean to write. These splendid insertions will please independently of the story, from which however they result; and their elegance and sublimity will overbalance their want of place. In a Greek tragedy, such sentimental harangues, arising from the subject, would have been given to a Chorus. On the whole, whether “Comus” be or be not deficient as a drama, whether it is considered as an epic drama, a series of lines, a mask, or a poem, I am of opinion, that our author is here only inferior to his own “Paradise Lost.”—T. Warton.
Milton's “ Comus” is, in my judgment, the most beautiful and perfect poem of that sublime genius.—WAKEFIELD.
Perhaps the conduct and conversation of the Brothers, which Mr. Warton blames in the preceding note, may not be altogether indefensible. They have lost their way in a forest at night, and are in “want of light and noise:” it would now be dangerous for them to run about an unknown wilderness; and, if they should separate, in order to seek their sister, they might lose each other: in the uncertainty of what was their best plan they therefore naturally wait, expecting to hear perhaps the cry of their lost sister, or some noise to which they would have directed their steps. The Younger Brother anxiously expresses his apprehensions for his sister: the Elder, in reply, trusts that she is not in danger; and, instead of giving way to those fears, which the Younger repeats, expatiates on the strength of chastity; by the illustration of which argument he confidently maintains the hope of their sister's safety, while he beguiles the perplexity of their own situation. It has been observed, that “Comus" is not calculated to shine in theatric exhibition for those very reasons which constitute its essential and specific merit. The “Pastor Fido" of Guarini, which also ravishes the reader, and “The Faithful Shepherdess” of Fletcher, could not succeed upon the stage. However, it is sufficient, that “Comus" displays the true sources of poetical delight and moral instruction, in its charming imagery, in its original conceptions, in its sublime diction, in its virtuous sentiments, Its few inaccuracies weigh but as dust in the balance against its general merit: and, in short, if I may be allowed respectfully to differ from the high authority of a preceding note, I am of opinion, that this enchanting poem, or pastoral drama, is both gracefully splendid, and delightfully instructive--TODD.
Dr. Johnson is more inclined to be favourable to “Comus” than to any other poem of Milton: he begins fairly enough, and gives it some of the praises which justly belong to it; but he gradually returns to his captious ill-humour, and ends with saying that it is “inelegantly splendid and tediously instructive.” After this close, what is the value of his praise ? If it is truly poetical, it cannot be inelegantly splendid! Milton's decorations are never out of place in this Mask : it contains not a single image or epithet which does not fill the reader of taste with delight: it contains no passion, but he did not intend it. Masks were always designed to play with the fancy;and from beginning to end, without the abatement of a single line, Milton has effected this. Such a series of rural and pastoral picturesqueness was never before brought together. It is worthy of remark with what admirable skillthe poet gathered from all his predecessors, Spenser, Shakspeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Drayton, and twenty more, every happy adjective of description and imaginative force, and combined them into the texture of his own fiction. As his power of creation was great, so was his memory both exact and abundant; whatever he borrowed, he made new by the fervid power of amalgamation.
The flowing strains of the whole poem are eloquent and beautiful, enriched with philosophic moral learning, and exalted by pure, generous, and lofty sentiment.
To testify his hidden residence !
How charming is divine philosophy!
Where no crude surfeit reigns. This poem is stated to have been the congenial prelude to “Paradise Lost.” In that opinion I do not concur : the fable is too gay ; the images are too full of delight : all the topics lie too much upon the surface. There is a rich invention, but it has not the depth, or strength, or sublimity of “Paradise Lost.' This is playful; that is full of solemnity and awe.
More than that, though the combination gives originality to “Comus,” yet it has nothing like the degree of originality of the great epic ; of which a large portion of the invention has no prototype. Nor do I admit that even the language is of the same structure ; it is, for the most part, more fluent and soft; it is, in short, pastoral, while the other is heroic.
The sort of spiritual beings, which is introduced into “Comus," is of a much more humble degree than those of the latter poems. These invisible inhabitants of the earth gratify the gay freaks of our imagination ; they do not excite the profounder movements of the soul, and fill us with a sublime terror, like Satan and his crews of fallen angels.
In the long interval between the composition of the Mask, and of “Paradise Lost,” the wings of Milton's genius had expanded, and strengthened an hundred-fold : he was no longer a shepherd, of whose enchanting pipe the beautiful echoes resounded through the woods ; but a sage, an oracle, and a prophet, with the inspired tongue of a divinity.
I have observed, from the words of several of the critics here cited, that they have an opinion of poetry which I cannot believe to be quite correct. They seem to assume that picturesque imagery, drawn from the surface of natural scenery, combined with a sort of wild fiction of story which goes beyond the bounds of reality, constitutes the primary and most unmixed essence of poetry._I admit that it does constitute very pure and beautiful poetry; but not the highest. The highest must go beyond sublunary objects, there must be an invention of character, not only ideal, but sublime : there must be intermingled intellectual and argumentative greatness; there must be a fable, which embodies abstract truths of severe and mighty import; there must be distinct characters, elevated by grand passions, each acting according to his own appropriate impulses, and all going forward in regular progression, according to the rules of probability, to the accomplishment of the end proposed.
This has been effected by Milton's epics; but there certainly is an implication on the part of these critics that these compositions have not as much unmixed and positive poetry
as the “Comus;” and this, because of the greater variety of their ingredients, and the introduction of other matter besides imagery and description. Such a reason shows the narrowness of their conception of this divine art. All the finest passages of poetry are complex, in which the heartand understanding have essential co-operation : the bard must imagine what the heart must colour, or perhaps instigate, and the understanding enlighten. Imagery is material, and will not do alone; there must be the union of spirituality with it. The fault of a great part of Pope is, that there is nothing but reasoning, without either imagination or sentiment.
But, to return to “Comus:" let it not be inferred that I mean in the smallest degree to detract from its merits. I only wish to protest against rules and definitions injurious to still greater poems of the same inimitable author ! “Comus” is perfect in its kind; but a pastoral Mask cannot be put upon a footing with a grand heroic poem.
Milton, when he wrote these strains, was in the very opening of early youth, not more than twenty-four years old.
The purple light of love, and bloom of young desires. The woods and the rivers and all nature then seemed to his eyes to smile with delight; but as years passed along, and he saw the obliquities of mankind and the sorrows of life, his lays took a deeper tone, and his music was more magnificent and soul-moving. The Lady and the two Brothers in “Comus” are all calm philosophy, and tender, hopefulconfidence : to them the dawn is joy; the night-fall, peaceful slumbers : the demons of darkness dare not hurt them : the Lady has faith, even when left alone amid the dangers of a haunted forest. O fond imagination ! O beamy visionariness of innocent inexperience !
Then all was,
Part of a Mask.
PRESENTED AT HAREFIELD,
ALICE, COUNTESS DOWAGER OF DERBY.
same character may be given of the style, sentiments, imagery, and tone of these Fragments, as far as they go, as of “Comus.” Warton observes—
“ Unquestionably this Mask was a much longer performance. Milton seems only to have written the poetical part, consisting of these three songs, and the recitative soliloquy of the Genius : the rest was probably prose and machinery. In many of Jonson's Masques, the poet but rarely appears, amidst a cumbersome exhibition of heathen gods and mythology. ‘Arcades' was acted by persons of Lady Derby's own family. The Genius says, v. 26 :
Stay, gentle swains; for, though in this disguise,
I see bright honour sparkle through your eyes : that is, although ye are disguised like rustics, I perceive that ye are of honourable birth ; your nobility cannot be concealed.'”
Many parts of the soliloquy of the Genius are very highly poetical, as the passage beginning at y. 56 :
And early, ere the odorous breath of morn
PRELIMINARY NOTES ON ARCADES.
HAREFIELD. We are told by Norden, an accurate topographer, who wrote about the year 1590, in his “Speculum Britanniæ,” under Harefield in Middlesex, “There sir Edmond Anderson, knight, lord chief justice of the common pleas, hath à faire house standing on the edge of the hill; the riuer Colne passing neare the same, through the pleasant meddowes and sweet pastures, yealding both delight and profit.” “Spec. Brit.” p. i. page 21. I viewed this house a few years ago, when it was for the most part remaining in its original state: it has since been pulled down : the porters' lodges on each side of the gateway are converted into a commodious dwelling-house : it is near Uxbridge: and Milton, when he wrote “Arcades," was still living with his father at Horton near Colnebrook in the same neighbourhood. He mentions the singular felicity he had in vain anticipated in the society of his friend Deodate, on the shady banks of the river Colne. “Epitaph. Damon.” v. 149.
Imus, et arguta paulum recubamus in umbrâ,
Aut ad aquas Colni, &c. Amidst the fruitful and delightful scenes of this river, the nymphs and shepherds had no reason to regret, as in the third Song, the Arcadian“ Ladon’s lilied banks." -T. WARTON.