« PreviousContinue »
The Dances ended, the SPIRIT epiloguizes.
SPIR. To the ocean now I fly,
Of Hesperus, and his daughters three
Along the crisped shades and bowers
Revels the spruce and jocund Spring;
The Graces, and the rosy-bosom'd Hours,
There eternal Summer dwells,
And west winds, with musky wing,
Nard and cassia's balmy smells.
Waters the odorous banks, that blow
In slumber soft, and on the ground
Sadly sits the Assyrian queen:
But far above in spangled sheen
Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced,
Holds his dear Psyche sweet entranced,
After her wandering labours long,
Till free consent the gods among
993. Blow is used actively, that is, that make the flowers blow.
995. Purfled, is fringed or embroidered. 1002. Assyrian queen. Venus is called Assyrian queen because she was first worshipped by the Assyrians.
976. To the ocean, &c. Pindar in his second Olympick, and Homer in his fourth Odyssey, describe a happy island at the extremity of the ocean, or rather earth, where the sun has his abode, the sky is perpetually serene and bright, the west wind always blows, and the flowers 1010. Undoubtedly Milton's allusion are of gold. This luxuriant imagery at large, is here to Spenser's allegorical Milton has dressed anew from the clas-garden of Adonis, (Faer. Qu. iii, vi. 46:) sical gardens of antiquity, and from Ariosto and Spenser: but the Garden of Eden is absolutely his own creation.-T. WARTON,
984. Crisped shades. By this metaphorical epithet. I presume the poet had in his eye the crisped or curled vines and tendrils that form the shades and bowers.
but at the same time his mythology has a reference to Spenser's "Hymne of Love," where Love is feigned to dwell "in a paradise of all delight" with Hebe or Youth, and the rest of the dealings of Venus, who sport with his daughter Pleasure.-T. WARTON.
But now my task is smoothly done,
I can fly, or I can run,
Quickly to the green earth's end,
Where the bow'd welkin slow doth bend;
To the corners of the moon.
Mortals, that would follow me,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.
1015. Bow'd welkin. A curve which | 1021. Sphery chime, that is, the music bends, or descends slowly from its great of the spheres. sweep.
THE moral of this poem is, indeed, very finely summed up in the six concluding lines; in which, to wind up one of the most elegant productions of his genius, "the poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling," threw up its last glance to Heaven, in rapt contemplation of that stupendous mystery, whereby He, the lofty theme of "Paradise Regained," stooping from above all height, "bowed the heavens, and came down" on earth, to atone as man for the sins of men, to strengthen feeble virtue by the influence of his grace, and to teach her to ascend his throne.-FRANCIS HENRY EGERTON, afterwards Earl of Bridgewater.
In the peculiar disposition of the story, the sweetness of the numbers, the justness of the expression, and the moral it teaches, there is nothing extant in any language like the "Mask of Comus."-TOLAND.
Milton's "Juvenile Poems" are so no otherwise, than as they were written in his younger years; for their dignity and excellence, they are sufficient to have set him among the most celebrated of the poets, even of the ancients themselves: his "Mask" and "Lycidas" are perhaps superior to all in their several kinds.-RICHARDSON.
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 prologuizes, 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. As to the style of "Comus,"
it is more elevated, I think, than that of any of his writings, and se 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; I 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 a style, which Tacitus, and his modern imitators, French and English, have made fashionable.LORD MONBODDO.
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 conveying a 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 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 lec
ture, 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 "the 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 Dr. Johnson, 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 skill the 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 fervent 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. Thus:
Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould
Again, line 476:
How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
And a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets,
This poem is stated to have been the congenial prelude to "Paradiso 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