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life are we indebted for some of the most exquisite productions of his genius. The Comus, in 1634; and the Lycidas, in 1637; were unquestionably written at Horton; and there is the strongest internal evidence to prove that the Arcades, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso were also composed in this rural scene and this season of delightful leisure: It is probable, indeed, that the composition of the “ Arcades” preceded that of the “ Co: mnus,” as the countess dowager of Derby,' for whom it was written, seems, from her residence at Harefield in the vicinity of Horton and from her double alliance with the family of Egerton, to have been the connecting link between the author and the earl of Bridgewater,' the immediate patron of Comus.
These pieces have been so frequently niade the subjects of critical remark, that a long suspension of our narrative would not
Alice, countess dowager of Derby, was the sixth daughter of sir John Spencer of Althorpe in Northamptonshire, and married lord Strange, who by the death of his father in 1594 became earl of Derby, and died in the following year. She afterwards married the lord chancellor Egerton, who died in 1617: her daughter, Frances, married the chancellor's son, John earl of Bridgewater lord president of Wales. She was of the same family with Spepșer the poet; and had been his patroness and his theme of praise before she was celebrated by the Muse of Milton. The earl of Bridgewater was the proprietor also of Horton
be compensated by any novelty in the observations which could be offered on them. The Arcades" is evidently nothing more than the poelic part of an entertainment the bulk of which was formed of prose dialogue and machinery. But, whatever portion it constituted of the piece, it was of sufficient consequence to impart a value to the whole; and it discovers a kindred though inferior lustre to that richest produce of the mines of fancy, the dramatic poem of Comus.
" I am rather surprised that Mr. Warton, who with his brother commentators frequently detects imitation in a single and, sometimes not uncommon word, should omit to notice, in the speech of the Genius, an open trespass on the property of Shakspeare. The Genius says,
I see bright honour sparkle in your eyes :
and Helena, in “ All's well that ends well," addressing one of
* The readers of Milton's juvenile poetry are under considerable obligations to Mr. Warton: but this gentleman, like other commentators, sometimes employs much perverse ingenuity in making what is plain obscure, what is good bad. Accumulating passages, in a note on verse 81 of this piece
And so attend ye on her glittering state,
to prove that the word “ state" was used by our old poets to express that particular part of the royal apparatus, a canopy, (in
The Mask of Comus was acted before the earl of Bridgewater, the president of Wales, in 1634, at Ludlow Castle; and the characters of the Lady and the two Brothers were represented by the lady Alice Egerton, then about thirteen years of age, and her two brothers, lord Brackley and the Hon. Thomas Egerton; who were still younger. The story of this piece is said to have been suggested by the circumstance of the lady Alice having been separated from her company in the night and having wandered for some time by herself in the forest of Haywood, as she was
not one of which passages, by the býe, may "state" be considered as possessing any meaning different from what would be assigned to it by a modern poet,) he tells us that in this sense, (of canopy,) is state," to be understood in the description of the swan in the 7th book of Paradise Lost:
The swan with arched neck
Her state with oary feet. i.e. the swan with arched neck, between the mantling of her white wings, proudly rows her canopy, (her head and bent neck) with her feet for oars. Having established this sense of the passage, he very properly accuses the great poet of an affected and unnatural conceit!!! If this be 'not ingenuity become mad, mischievous, and dullI will appeal, from the black letter critics, to all the readers of taste,
• From old Bellerium to the northern main."
See Warton's note on Comus, said to be mentioned in a MS. by Oldys, 1.34.
returning from a distant visit to meet her father on his taking possession of his newly intrusted sceptre. On this small base of fact a most sumptuous and beautiful edifice of fancy has been constructed.
Comus, KOMO£, or revelry," had been personified, as Mr. Warton has remarked before me, in a dreadfully sublime passage of the Agamemnon of Æschylus; and the jolly God had been already introduced upon our stage in a mask by Ben Jonson: but it remained for Milton to develope his form and character, to give him a lineage and an empire, and to make him the hero of the most exquisite dramatic poem, which, perhaps, the genius of man has ever produced. Among the compositions of our own country it certainly stands unrivalled for its affluence in poetic imagery and diction; and, as an effort of the creative power, it can be parallelled only by the Muse of Shakspeare, by whom in this respect it is possibly exceeded.
1 Την γαρ στέγην τήνδ' έποτ' εκλέιπει χορός
The band of Furies, with their voices tuned
With Shakspeare the whole, excepting some rude outlines or suggestions of the story, is the immediate emanation of his own mind: but Milton's erudition precluded him from this extreme originality, and was perpetually supplying him with thoughts, which would sometimes obtain the preference from his judgment and would sometimes be mistaken for her own property by his invention. Original however he is; and of all the sons of song inferior in this requisite of genius to Shakspeare alone. Neither of these wonderful men was so far privileged above his
species as to possess other means of acquiring knowledge than through the inlets of the senses, and by the subsequent operations of the mind on this first mass of ideas. T'he most exalted of human intelligences cannot form one mental phantasm uncompounded of this visible world. Neither Shakspeare nor Milton could conceive a sixth corporeal sense, or a creature absolutely distinct from