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the inhabitants of our earth. A Caliban or an Ariel, a demon or an angel are only several compositions and modifications of our animal creation; and heaven and hell can be built with nothing more than our terrestrial elements newly arranged and variously combined. The distinction therefore beIween one human intelligence and another must be occasioned solely by the different degrees of clearness force and quickness with which it perceives, retains, and combines. On the superiority in these mental facưlties it would be difficult to decide between those extraordinary men who are the immediate subjects of our remark: for if we are astonished at that power which, from a single spot as it were, could collect sufficient materials for the construction of a world of its own, we cannot gaze without wonder at that proud magnificence of intellect which, rushing like some mighty river through extended lakes and receiving into its bosom the contributory waters of a thousand regions, preserves its course its name and its character entire. With Milton, from whatever mine the ore may originally be derived, the coin issues from his mint with his own image and superscription; and passes into
currency with a value peculiar to itself. To speak accurately, the mind of Shakspeare could not create; and that of Milton invented with equal or with nearly equal power and effect. If we admit in the “Tempest,” or the “Midsummer's Night's Dream,” a higher flight of the inventive faculty, we must allow a less interrupted stretch of it in the Comus. In this poem there may be something which might have been corrected by the revising judgment of its author: but its errors, in thought or in language, are so few and trivial that they must be regarded as the inequality of the plumage, and not as the depression or the unsteadiness of the wing. The most splendid results of Shakspeare's poetry are still pressed and separated by some interposing defect: but the poetry of the Comus may be contemplated as a series of gems strung on golden wire, where the sparkle shoots along the line with scarcely the intervention of a single opake spot. This exquisite piece has been pronounced to be undramatic: the mode, in which its story is opened, has been censured as absurd; and its speeches have been condemned as too long, too nicely balanced, and too “ tediously” moral for the production of stageinterest. With reference to our theatre,
though even on our stage Comus' has been more than tolerated, these censures may be admitted as just. But Milton when he wrote his Mask had no view to the modern scene; and, writing for one specific object and in a peculiar walk of composition, he might feel himself to be liberated from many of those rules which adapt the regular drama to the attainment of its ends. He knew that a Mask was an entertainment addressed innmediately and solely to the imagination; that it was the appropriate organ of fancy, and, while it presented pleasing and striking images to the mind, that it affected no controll over the passions nor any rigid observance of poetic truth, With him it was made the vehicle of pure poetry carrying the most sublime morality in her embrace, and solicitous, not to agitate, but to amuse, exalt, and refine. He has observed however, with considerable fidelity, the practice of the Grecian dramatists; and, when he unfolds the story of his scene in a speech delivered in the solitude of a wild wood, (and this certainly is the most reprehensible circumstance in the conduct of his fable,) he is only guilty of the same trespass against common sense which his
* Comus was acted at Drury Lane, in March, 1738, with much applause for several successive nights.
favourite Euripides has frequently committed. The length and even poise of the speeches in Comus are also formed on the same model; and, when we recollect how often the dialogue on the Athenian stage is conducted through an entire scene in replies and retorts consisting each of a single line, we shall not be surprised at the same short and equally measured conversation when it occurs between Comus and the Lady.
It seems impossible for poetry to go beyond her excursions in “ this wilderness of sweets.” She treads sometimes on the very fearful and giddy edge of a precipice, and, while we admire her boldness, we are doubtful of her safety. In that exquisite passage
How sweetly did they ftoat upon the wings
Of darkness till it smiled, if our rapture would suffer us to be sufficiently composed to consult our reason, we might perhaps justly question the propriety of the length to which the poet's fancy has carried him. Darkness may aptly be represented by the blackness of the raven; and the stillness of that darkness may be parallelled by an image borrowed from the object of another sense--by the softness of
down; but it is surely a trangression which stands in need of pardon when, proceeding a step further and accumulating personificațions, we invest this raven-down with life and make it to smile." Another
which represents the effect of the Lady's singing with a different allusion, is not liable to any objection, and is altogether admirable:
At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound
the air. Henry Lawes the musician, who composed the music for this poem and who was himself no indifferent poet, acted the part of the
One of the least able and least specious of my public critics, in a periodical publication * which, after struggling for a short time in weak and doubtful existence, is now extinct, has dogmatically pronounced me to be guilty in this observation of a gross mistake, asserting that it is Darkness itself and not its raven-down which is here personified by the poet. I am willing to receive correction from any hand, however generally feeble and insufficient: but in the present instance I must be pardoned by the critic if I reject his correction, and adhere to my original remark. The thing which is smoothed, in this passage, is evidently the thing which is made to smile. If we alter the sentence, and, instead of using the auxiliary preposition, employ the inflected possessive of Darkness, which is of course grammatically the same, every doubt will be removed from the qnestion. To smooth Darkness's raven down till it smiled, must surely be to make the raven down smile, The critic was led to this unlucky opportunity of exhibiting his sagacity by the place which the word darkness occupies in the sentence.
* The Literary Journal, published by Baldwins.