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Or that starr'd Ethiop queen e that strove
Come, pensive Nun, devout and pure,
Forget thyself to marble i, till according to Hesiod, had by Aurora only two sons, Memnon and Emathion, “Theog." 984. This lady is a creation of the poet. —DUNSTER.
e Or that starrid Ethiop queen. Cassiope, as we learn from Apollodorus, was the wife of Cepheus, king of Ethiopia: she boasted herself to be more beautiful than the Nereids, and challenged them to a trial: who in revenge, persuaded Neptune to send a prodigious whale into Ethiopia. To appease them, she was directed to expose her daughter Andromeda to the monster: but Perseus delivered Andromeda, of whom he was enamoured, and transported Cassiope into heaven, where she became a constellation. Hence she is called “that starr'd Ethiop queen.” See Aratus, “Phænom.” v. 189, seq. But Milton seems to have been struck with an old Gothic print of the constellations, which I have seen in early editions of the astronomers, where this queen is represented with a black body marked with white stars.-T. WARTON.
His daughter she. The meaning of Milton's allegory is, that Melancholy is the daughter of Genius, which is typified by the “bright-hair'd” goddess of the eternal fire. Saturn, the father, is the god of saturnine dispositions, of pensive and gloomy minds.-T. WARTON.
& And sable stole of cypress lawn. Here is a character and propriety in the use of the stole, which in the poetical phraseology of the present day, is not only perpetually misapplied, but misrepresented. It was a veil which covered the head and shoulders; and, as Mr. Bowle observes, was worn only by such of the Roman matrons as were distinguished for the strictness of their modesty. Cypress is a thin transparent texture.—T. WARTON.
h Decent shoulders. Not exposed, therefore decent; more especially, as so covered.--T. WARTON.
i Forget thyself to marble. It is the same sort of petrifaction in our author's epitaph on Shakspeare:
There thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble by too much conceiving. In both instances excess of thought is the cause. -T. WARTON.
With a sad leaden downward cast i
i With a sad leaden downward cast. Hence, says Mr. Warton, Gray's expressive phraseology, of the same personage, in his “Hymn to Adversity :"
With leaden eye that loves the ground. --TODD.
k Trim gardens. Mr. Warton here observes, that affectation and false elegance were now carried to the most elaborate and absurd excess in gardening; and he notices, among similar monuments of extravagance in other countries, “the garden at Hampton-court, where in privet are figured various animals, the royal arms of England, and many other things." The architecture du jardinage, he thinks, may be also discovered in the “spruce-spring,” the “cedarn alleys,” the "crisped shades and bowers,” in “Comus:” and the “ trim garden” in “ Arcades,” v. 46.-TODD.
| Him that yon soars on golden wing
The cherub Contemplation. By contemplation, is here meant that stretch of thought, by which the mind ascends to the first good, first perfect, and first fair ; and is therefore very properly said to “soar on golden wing, guiding the fiery-wheeled throne :” that is, to take a high and glorious flight, carrying bright ideas of Deity along with it. But the whole imagery alludes to the cherubic forms that conveyed the fiery-wheeled car in Ezekiel, x. 2, seq. See also Milton himself, “Par. Lost,” b, vi. 750 : so that nothing can be greater or juster than this idea of “divine Contemplation.” Contemplation, of a more sedate turn, and intent only on human things, is more fitly described, as by Spenser, under the figure of an old man ; time and experience qualifying men best for this office. Spenser might then be right in his imagery, and yet Milton might be right in his, without being supposed to ramble after some fanciful Italian.--HURD.
m And the mute Silence hist along. I always admired this and the seventeen following lines with excessive delight. There is a spell in it, which goes far beyond mere description : it is the very perfection of ideal, and picturesque, and contemplative poetry.
Most musical, most melancholy. “L’Allegro" began with the morning of the day, and the lively salutations of the lark: “Il Penseroso,” with equal propriety, after a general exordium, opens with the night : with moonshine, and the melancholy music of the nightingale. –T. WARTON.
Thee, chauntress, oft, the woods among,
• And oft, &c. Here follows a description at once poetically picturesque, and strictly natural ; the moon having that appearance of positive descent, as the kind of clouds here described break and disperse around her.-DUNSTER.
p With sullen roar. This finely descriptive epithet is adopted from the "sullen bell” in Shakspeare's “King Henry IV,” P. 11. or “the surly sullen bell” in his seventy-first Sonnet. - TODD.
Observe that the toll of bells always comes across a spreading water with extraordinary melancholy. Thus I have been long accustomed to listen to it across the lake of Geneva with deep emotion. This mention of the curfeu is much finer even than the noble line which opens Gray's “Elegy,” though that has always been so justly admired.
9 Some still removed place will fit. That is,“
some quiet, remote, or unfrequented place will suit my purpose.” “Removed” is the ancient English participle passive for the Latin remote.-—T. WARTON.
r Or the bellman's drowsy charm,
To bless the doors from nightly harm.
* Be seen in some high lonely tower.
This is one of those happy observations so characteristic of Thomas Warton. When the midnight wanderer sees through the dark a distant light in a high tower, it much engages his eye, and moves his imagination, if he has any mind and sensitiveness : and this application of mind to the description of scenery is what alone gives it the force of a high order of poetry.
The spirit of Plato t, to unfold
But, O, sad Virgin, that thy power
• The spirit of Plato. This shows what sort of contemplation he was most fond of. Milton's imagination made him as much a mystic as his good sense would give leave.—HURD.
u And of those demons, &c. Undoubtedly these notionsare from Plato's “Timæus" and "Phædon,” and the reveries of his old commentators; yet with some reference to the Gothic system of demons, which is a mixture of Platonism, school-divinity, and Christian superstition.—T. WARTON.
Sometimes let gorgeous Tragedy
In sceptred pall come sweeping by. By “sceptred pall,” Dr. Newton understands the palla honesta of Horace, Poet.” v. 278. But Horace, I humbly apprehend, only means that Æschylus introduced masks and better dresses. Palla honesta is simply a “decent robe.” Milton means something more: by clothing Tragedy in her “sceptred pall,” he intended specifically to point out regal stories as the proper arguments of the higher drama : and this more expressly appears, from the subjects immediately mentioned in the subsequent couplet. -T. WARTON.
Though rare. Just glancing at Shakspeare.—HURD.
· Might raise Muscus from his bower!
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing, &c. Musæus and Orpheus are mentioned together in Plato's “Republic,” as two of the genuine Greek poets. To Orpheus or his harp our author has frequent allusions.T. WARTON.
y Or call up him that left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold, &c. Hence it appears, that Milton, among Chaucer's pieces, was most struck with his
Squire's Tale :” it best suited our author's predilection for romantic poetry. Chaucer is here ranked with the sublime poets : his comic vein is forgotten and overlooked.T. WARTON.
That own'd the virtuous ring and glass ;
Thus, Night, oft see me in thy pale career b,
* And if aught else great bards beside, &c. From Chaucer, the father of English poetry, and who is here distinguished by a story remarkable for the wildness of its invention, our author seems to make a very pertinent and natural transition to Spenser ; whose “Faery Queene," although it externally professes to treat of tournaments and the trophies of knightly valour, of fictitious forests and terrific enchantments, is yet allegorical, and contains a remote meaning concealed under the veil of a fabulous action, and of a typical narrative, which is not immediately perceived. Spenser sings in "sage and solemn tunes,” with respect to his morality, and the dignity of his stanza. In the mean time, it is to be remembered, that there were other “great bards,” and of the romantic class, who sung in such tunes, and who “mean more than meets the ear. Both Tasso and Ariosto pretend to an allegorical and mysterious meaning: and Tasso's enchanted forest, the most conspicuous fiction of the kind, might have been here intended. One is surprised that Milton should have delighted in romances : the images of feudal and royal life which those books afford, agreed not at all with his system.-T. WARTON.
. Where more is meant than meets the ear. Seneca, Epist. 114. “In quibus plus intelligendum est quam audiendum."BOWLE.
b Thus, Night, oft see me in thy pale career. Hitherto we have seen the night of the melancholy man: here his day commences : accordingly, this second part or division of the poem is ushered in with a long verse. -T. WARTON.
e Till civil-suited Morn appear. Plainly from Shakspeare, as Dr. Newton and Mr. Bowle have separately observed, “Romeo and Juliet,” a. iii. s. 4:
Come, civil Night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black. Where “civil” is grave, decent, solemn.-T. WARTON.
d Not trick'd and frounced. The meaning of “frounced seems most commonly to signify an excessive or affected dressing of the hair : it is from the French froncer, to curl.-T. WARTON. “Trick'd” also should be explained, which means dressed out.-TODD.
• Kercheft. Wrapped up as with a handkerchief.—DUNSTER.
f Or usher'd, &c. Dr. Johnson, from this to the 154th verse inclusively, thus abridges our author's ideas :—“When the morning comes, a morning gloomy with rain and wind, he walks into the dark trackless woods, falls asleep by some murmuring water, and, with melancholy enthusiasm, expects some dream of prognostication, or some music played