Page images

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 heart and 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. Then all was,

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, hopeful confidence 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!-SIR EGERTON BRYDGES,

In "Comus," Milton has given us the most perfect and exquisite specimen of a masque, or rather he has given us a kind of ennobled and glorified masque. The refinement, the elegance, the courtly grace and chivalry-all is there; but there is something in "Comus" better, loftier, and grander than all this-something which no other masques, with all their refined, and scholarlike, and airy elegance, have ever approacheda high and philosophic vein of morality::

Divine philosophy,

Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute;-

deep and grand thoughts fetched from the exhaustless fountains of the great minds of old-his beloved Plato and the Stagyrite-thoughts fresh with the immortality of their birthplace.-SHAW.

[ocr errors]






Part of an Entertainment presented to the Countess Dowager of Derby,† at Harefield, by some noble persons of her family; who appear on the scene in pastoral habit, moving toward the seat of state, with this song:

[blocks in formation]

The 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, and the whole was acted by persons of Lady Derby's own family."

Milton is not the only great English poet who has celebrated this Countess Dowager of Derby. She was the sixth daughter of Sir John Spenser. with whose family Spenser the poet claimed an alliance. In his "Colin Clout's come Home again," (written about 1595,) he mentions her under the appellation of Amaryllis, with her sister Phyllis or Elizabeth, and Charillis or Anne: and in the dedication to her, of his "Tears of the Muses," he acknowledges the particular bounties le had conferred upon himself and other poets. Thus the lady who presided at the representation of Milton's Arcades, was not only the theme, but the a rones of Spenser,

« PreviousContinue »