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And our sudden coming there
Will double all their mirth and cheer.
But Night sits monarch yet in the mid sky."
Thyrsis, the Lady, and the two Brothers, here leave the stage, and are supposed to be gradually wending their way, through the wood, while it is still night, or very early morning, towards Ludlow Castle. While the spectators are imagining this, the journey of some furlongs is actually achieved; for straightway scene changes, presenting Ludlow Town and the President's Castle: then come in country-dancers; after them the Attendant Spirit, with the two Brothers and the Lady. In this stage-direction it seems to be implied that the spectators now looked on some canvas at the back of the stage, representing Ludlow Town, and the exterior of the very Castle they were sitting in, all bright on a sunshiny morning, and that, as they looked, there came in first/a bevy of rustic lads and lasses, or representatives of such, dancing and making merry, till their clodhopping rounds were interrupted by the appearance among them of the guardian Thyrsis and the three graceful young ones. This is confirmed by what Thyrsis says to the dancers in the song which stands fourth in the printed masque, but must have been the fifth in the actual performance :—
"Back, shepherds, back! Enough your play
So dismissed,' the clodhoppers vanish'; and there remain on the stage, facing the Earl and Countess and the audience, only (we may drop the disguise now, as doubtless the audience did in their cheering) the musician Lawes, the Lady Alice, and her brothers Viscount Brackley and Master Thomas Egerton. Advancing towards the Earl and Countess, Lawes presents to them his charge with this continuation of his last song:
"Noble Lord and Lady bright,
I have brought ye new delight.
Three fair branches of your own," &c.
There seems still to have been a dance at this point, to show off the courtly grace of the young people after the thumping energy of the clodhoppers; for at the end of Lawes's song there comes this last stage-direction, "The dances ended, the Spirit epiloguizes." That is to say, Lawes, relapsing into his character of the Attendant Spirit who had descended from Heaven at the beginning of the piece, and had acted so beneficially through it in the guise of the shepherd Thyrsis, winds up the whole by a final speech or song as he slowly recedes or reascends. In our printed copies the Epilogue is a longish speech; but part of that speech, as we have seen, had been transferred, in the actual performance, to the beginning of the masque, as the Spirit's opening song. Therefore in the actual performance the closing lines of the Epilogue as we now have it served as the Spirit's song of reascent or departure, in two stanzas :
"Now my task is smoothly done:
Quickly to the green Earth's end,
Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend,
To the corners of the moon.
"Mortals that would follow me,
Heaven itself would stoop to her."
And so, "with these sounds left on the ear, and a final glow of angelic light on the eye, the performance ends, and the audience rises and disperses through "the Castle. The Castle is now a crumbling ruin, along the ivy-clad walls "and through the dark passages of which the visitor clambers or gropes his 'way, disturbing the crows and the martlets in their recesses: but one can "stand yet in the doorway through which the parting guests of that night "descended into the inner court; and one can see where the stage was, on "which the sister was lost by her brothers, and Comus revelled with his crew, "and the lady was fixed as marble by enchantment, and the swains danced in "welcome of the Earl, and the Spirit ascended gloriously to his native heaven. "More mystic still it is to leave the ruins, and, descending one of the winding 66 streets of Ludlow that lead from the Castle to the valley of the Teme, to look "upwards to Castle and Town seen as one picture, and, marking more expressly "the three long pointed windows that gracefully slit the chief face of the wall "towards the north, to realize that it was from that ruin and from those windows "in the ruin that the verse of Comus was first shook into the air of England."
--So I wrote a good few years ago, when the impressions of a visit I had made to Ludlow were fresh and vivid; and, as I copy the words now, they bring back, as it were in a dream, the pleasant memory of one bygone day. I remember my first sight of the hilly town as I walked into it early on a summer's morning, when not a soul was astir, and the clean streets were all silent and shuttered; then my ramble at my own will for an hour or so over the Castle ruins and the green knoll they crown, undisturbed by guide or any figure of fellow-tourist; then my descent again, past and round the great church and its tombs, into the steep town streets, now beginning their bustle for a marketday; and, finally, the lazy circuit I made round the green outskirts of the town, through I know not what glens and up their sloping sides, the ruined Castle always finely distinct close at hand, and in the distance, wherever the eye could range unopposed, a fairy horizon of dim blue mountains.
There is no evidence that Milton himself had taken the journey of 150 miles from London or Horton in order to be present at the performance. It is possible that he had done so; but it is just as possible that he had not, and even that the authorship of the masque was kept a secret at the time of its performance, known only to Lawes, or to Lawes and the Earl's family. But the Earl of Bridgewater's masque began to be talked of beyond Ludlow; as time passed, and the rumour of it spread, and perhaps the songs in it were carried vocally into London society by Lawes and his pupils of the Bridgewater family, it was still more talked of; and there came to be inquiries respecting its authorship, and requests for copies of it, and especially of the songs. All this we learn from Lawes. His loyalty to his friend Milton in the whole affair was admirable; and he appears to have been more proud, in his own heart, of his concern with the comparatively quiet Bridgewater masque than with his more blazoned and well-paid co-operation in the London masques of the same year. There were many friends of his, it appears, who were not satisfied with copies of the songs and their music only, but wanted complete copies of the masque. To relieve himself from the trouble so occasioned, Lawes resolved at length to print the
He did so in 1637 in a small, and now very rare, quarto of 40 pages, with this title-page :
"A Maske presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, on Michaelmasse Night, before the Right Honourable John, Earle of Bridgewater, Viscount Brackley, Lord President of Wales, and one of his Majesties' most honourable Privy Counsell.
"Eheu quid volui misero mihi! floribus Austrum
London: Printed for Humphrey Robinson, at the signe of the Three Pidgeons in Paul's Churchyard, 1637."
The volume was dedicated by Lawes to the Earl's son and heir, young Viscount Brackley, who had acted the part of Elder Brother in the masque. The Dedication complete will be found prefixed to Comus in the present edition. We learn from it that the proposal of publication was Lawes's own, and that Milton still preferred the shelter of the anonymous. That Lawes had Milton's consent, however, is proved by the motto on the title-page. It is from Virgil's Second Eclogue, and must certainly have been supplied by Milton. "Alas! "what have I chosen for my wretched self; thus on my flowers, infatuated that "I am, letting in the rude wind!" So says the shepherd in Virgil's Eclogue; and Milton, in borrowing the words, hints his fear that he may have done ill in letting his Comus be published. Though he was now twenty-eight years of age, it was actually, with hardly an exception, his first public venture in print. He had no reason to regret the venture. Comus," says Hallam, "sufficient to convince any one of taste and feeling that a great poet had "arisen in England, and one partly formed in a different school from his contemporaries.' Such a strong judgment is easily formed now; but there may have been some in England capable of forming it when it was a merit to form it, i.e. in 1637 (the year of Ben Jonson's death), when modest copies of Lawes's edition, without the author's name, were first in circulation. We know of one Englishman, at all events, who did form it and express it. This was Milton's near neighbour at Horton, Sir Henry Wotton, Provost of Eton College. Born in 1568, mixed up with political affairs in Elizabeth's reign, and in the height of his active career through that of James-when he had been English Ambassador to various foreign Courts, but had resided, in that capacity, most continuously at Venice-Sir Henry, since Charles came to the throne, had been in veteran retirement in the quiet post of the Eton provostship, respected by all England for his past diplomatic services, but living chiefly on his memories of those services, his Italian experiences in particular, and in the delights of pictures, books, and scholarly society. Some chance introduction had brought Milton and the aged Knight together for the first time early in 1638, when Milton was preparing for his journey to Italy; and on the 6th of April in that year Milton, by way of parting acknowledgment of Sir Henry's courtesy, sent him a letter with a copy of Lawes's edition of his Comus. Sir Henry, it appears, had read the poem in a previous copy, without knowing who was the author and, writing in reply to Milton on the 13th of April, just in time to overtake him before he left England, he mentioned this fact, and expressed his pleasure at finding that a poem that he had liked so singularly was by his neighbour and new acquaintance. "A dainty piece of entertainment," he calls it, "wherein I should much commend the tragical part [i.e. the dialogue] if the "lyrical did not ravish me with a certain Doric delicacy in your songs and "odes; whereunto I must plainly confess to have seen yet nothing parallel in
Here was praise worth having, and which did, as we know, He was actually on the move towards Italy when he read Sir
our language." gratify Milton. Henry Wotton's letter.
When, in 1645, six years after his return from Italy, Milton, then in the very midst of his pamphleteering activity, and of the ill-will which it had brought him, consented to the publication by Moseley of the first collective edition of his Poems, Comus was still, in respect of length and merit, his chief poetical achievement. Accordingly, he not only reprinted it in that edition, but gave it the place of honour there. It came last of the English Poems, with a separate title-page, thus :—' A Mask of the same Author, presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, before the Earl of Bridgewater, then President of Wales: Anno Dom. 1645." The title-page of Lawes's edition of 1637 was, of course, cancelled by this new one; but Lawes's Dedication of that edition to young Viscount Brackley was retained, and there was inserted also, by way of pendant to that Dedication, Sir Henry Wotton's courteous letter of April 13, 1638. The courteous old Sir Henry was then dead; but Milton rightly considered that his word from the grave might be important in the circumstances. And so this Second Edition of the Comus, thus distinguished and set off as part of the First collective Edition of the Poems, served all the demand till 1673, when the Second collective Edition of the Poems appeared. Comus was, of course, retained in that edition, as still the largest and chief of Milton's minor Poems; but it was made less mechanically conspicuous than in the earlier edition. It did not come last among the English Poems, being followed by the translations of some Psalms; and it had no separate title-page, but only the heading, A Mask presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634," &c. Lawes's Dedication of the edition of 1637 and Sir Henry Wotton's letter were likewise omitted.
In none of the three first printed editions, it will be observed (Lawes's of 1637, Milton's of 1645, and Milton's of 1673), is the poem entitled COMUS. Nor is there any such title in Milton's original draft among the Cambridge MSS., nor in that Bridgewater transcript which is supposed to have been the stage-copy. "A Mask presented," &c.: such, with slight variations in the phrasing, was the somewhat vague name of the piece while Milton lived. It was really inconvenient, however, that such a poem should be without a briefer and more specific name. Accordingly, that of COMUS, from one of the chief persons of the drama, has been unanimously and very properly adopted.
Although the word comus, or к@uos, signifying “revel" or 'carousal," or sometimes a band of revellers," is an old Greek common noun, with various cognate terms (such as kwμáłw, “ to revel,” and êwμwdla, comedy), the personification or proper name COMUS appears to have been an invention of the later classic mythology. In the Eikóves, or Descriptions of Pictures," by Philostratus, a Greek author of the third century of our era, COMUS is represented as a winged god, seen in one picture "drunk and languid after a repast, his head sunk on his breast, slumbering in a standing attitude, and his legs crossed" (Smith's Dict. of Greek and Roman Biog. and Myth.). But, in fact, poets were left at liberty to fancy Comus, or the god Revel, very much as their own notions of what constitutes mirth or revel directed them; and the use of this liberty might perhaps be traced in the tradition of Comus, and the allusions to him in the poetry of different modern nations, down to Milton's time.
Comus is an occasional personage among the English Elizabethan poets;
and he figures especially in Ben Jonson's masque of "Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, presented at Court before King James, 1619." There he appears riding in triumph, as "the god of Good Cheer or the Belly, his head covered "with roses and other flowers, his hair curled;" and his attendants, crowned with ivy, and bearing a large bowl before him, salute him thus :
"Hail, hail, plump paunch! O the founder of taste
An emptier of cups, be they even or odd;
All which have now made thee so wide in the waist
As scarce with no pudding thou art to be laced;
But, eating and drinking until thou dost nod,
Thou break'st all thy girdles, and break'st forth a god."
Clearly Milton did not take his idea of the character of Comus from Ben Jonson's masque. A work to which it is more likely that he was in some small degree indebted is a Latin extravaganza, called Comus, sive Phagesiposia Cimmeria: Somnium, by the Dutchman Erycius Puteanus. This writer, whose real name was Hendrik van der Putten, was born at Venlo in Holland in 1574, and, after having been for some time in Italy, became Professor of Eloquence and Classical Literature at Louvain, where he died in 1646. He was the author of an infinity of books," says Bayle (Dict.: Art. Puteanus); among which was the one whose title we have given. It was first published in 1608; but there were subsequent editions, including one brought out at Oxford in 1634, the very year of Milton's masque. The subject of the piece of Erycius Puteanus, which is written mostly in prose, with a mixture of verse, is the description of a dream in which the author visits the palace of Comus, the genius of Love and Cheerfulness, beholds him and his disguised guests at a banquet and subsequent torch-lit orgies, and listens to various dialogues on the voluptuous theory of life. In this dream Comus is a decidedly more graceful being than the lumbering god of good cheer in Ben Jonson's masque. He also, like Ben Jonson's Comus, is represented with curled and rose-crowned hair, but he is "soft-gestured and youthful," and personates a more subtle notion of Revel.
After all, however, Milton's Comus is a creation of his own, for which he was as little indebted intrinsically to Puteanus as to Ben Jonson. For the purpose of his masque at Ludlow Castle he was bold enough to add a bran-new god, no less, to the classic Pantheon, and to import him into Britain, and particularly into Shropshire. Observe his parentage. Comus, the god of Sensual Pleasure, is not, with Milton, mere Gluttony, as he is in Jonson's masque; nor is he the mere modification of Feast and the Wine-god pictured by Philostratus and adopted by Puteanus. He is a son of the Winegod certainly, but it is by the sorceress Circe; and, though he has much of his father's nature, he has more of the thrilling mercilessness and magical subtlety of his mother's. It is not for nothing that Milton, in his account of him, almost cites the description of Circe and her enchanted Island in the 10th Book of the Odyssey. There will be found throughout the masque more of real borrowing from Homer's picture of the experience of Ulysses and his companions on Circe's Island than from the extravaganza of Puteanus. Thus, to give but one instance, the magical root Hæmony, by whose powers, explained to the two Brothers by the Attendant Spirit (lines 617-656), they are enabled to defy the spells of Comus and attempt the rescue of their sister,