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gems strung on golden wire, where the sparkle shoots along the line with scarcely the interyention of one opake spot.
This exquisite piece has been pronounced to be undramatic; the mode in which its story is opened, las been censured as absurd, and its speeches as too long, too nicely balanced, and too “ tediously” moral for the production of stage-interest. With reference to our theatre, (though even on this 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 stage; and writing for one specific object, and in a peculiar walk of composition, he might conceive 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 immediately 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 mo
4 Comus was acted at Drury Lane on march 4, 1738, and was represented with much applause for several successive nights.
rality 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 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 passayem
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
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 paralleled by an image borrowed from the object of another sense - by the softness of down; but it is surely a transgression, which stands in need of pardon, when, proceeding a step further, and accumulating personifications, we invest this raven-down with life and make it to smile. Another passage, 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
Henry Lawes the musician, who composed the music for this poem, and who was himself no indifferent poet, acted the part of the attendant Spirit, and was designed, in that piece, under the character of Thyrsis
Whose ar:ful strains have oft delay'd
He was retained as a domestic in the earl of
Bridgewater's family, where he was the musical instructor of the lady Alice. He was the friend of Waller, and the theme of his muse: but his most distinguishing honours are derived from his connexion with Comus, and its author. Of the former of these he was the first publisher;' and by the latter he was made an object of particular regard, of high and specific panegyric. In his dedication of this first edition of Comus, to the lord Brackley who had represented the elder brother, Lawes speaks of the work as not openly acknowledged by its author; and the motto, undoubtedly prefixed to it by Milton himself,
Eheu! quid volui misero mihi! foribus Austrum
Ah me! what phrenzy of my fever'd mind
elegantly and happily intimates the sensibility of a young writer trembling on the edge of the press, and fearful lest the tenderness of his blossoms should be blighted by the breath of the public.'
. In 1637.
s See Milton's xiii Sonnet. From a letter of our author's to his friend, Alex. Gill, dated dec. 4, 1634, we find that in the same year in which the poet finished Comus, he made that version of the 114th l'salm into
The Lycidas was written, as there is reason to believe, at the solicitation of the author's oldcollege, to commemorate the death of Mr. Edward King, one of its fellows, and a son of sir John King, Knt. secretary for Ireland in the reigns of Elizabeth, James and Charles. This young man, whose vessel "foundered, as she was sailing from Chester to Ireland, in a calm sea and not far from land, was so highly esteemed by the whole University for his learning, piety, and talents, that his death was deplored as a public loss, and Cambridge invited her muses to celebrate and lament him. In the collection of poems, which was published on this occasion in 1638, Milton's Lycidas occupies the last, and, as it was no doubt intended to be, the most honourable place. Every honour which could be paid to its poetic excellence was inferior to its just demand: but we may reasonably wonder that a poem, breathing such hostility to the
Greek hexameters; which he afterwards published with his other poems. It was thrown off, as he tells his correspondent, without any thought, or intension of mind, and, as it were, with some sudden and strange impulse before day-light in his bed. “ Nullo certè animi proposito, sed subito nescio quo
impetu, ante lucis exortum, ad Græci carminis heroici legem, in lectulo ferè concinpabam.” Epis. fam. 5.
On August 10, 1637.