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musical requisites of the masque, if not the person who suggested it originally and entirely superintended it, was Henry Lawes, gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and one of his Majesty's private musicians. Farther particulars respecting this interesting man, one of the most celebrated musical composers of his day, will be given in the Introduction to that one of Milton's Sonnets which is addressed to him (Sonnet XIII.) What we have to attend to here is that, though Lawes had professional connexions with not a few aristocratic families, by far the most lasting and intimate of these was with the Bridgewater branch of the Countess-Dowager of Derby's family. As early as our present date, the proof tends to show, Lawes, then about thirty years of age, and already of distinction in the English musical world, though with much of his reputation still to make, reckoned among his chief patrons and employers the Earl and Countess of Bridgewater; and among his most hopeful pupils at that time were several of the children of the Earl and Countess. Others of the Countess of Derby's grandchildren may have been pupils of Lawes; but those of the Bridgewater branch were the most musical in their tastes, and it was to them, in their town-house in the Barbican, or in their country-seat at Ashridge, that Lawes's visits were most frequent. Quite possibly, therefore, it was they that originated the notion of a masque in honour of the Countess. But, even if some of her relatives of the other groups were concerned in the plan, or admitted into it, the singing parts would fall to the Bridgewaters, and the arrangement of the music, and the general management, to their instructor, Lawes. Business of this kind was part of the profession of musical composers in those days, and Lawes was an expert in it.
An additional argument in favour of the idea that Lawes was the manager of the entertainment and arranged its music is found in the fact that the poetry for it was furnished by Milton. For Milton's intimacy with Lawes is a known fact. The friendship between the two, of which many interesting proofs remain, may have begun even in Milton's boyhood. Noted in the musical world as was Milton's own father, there can have been few musical artists in London that were not occasional visitors in his house in Bread Street; and there were many things in Lawes, when once he and the younger Milton were brought together, to rivet an attachment to him.
On the other hand, Milton's poetical powers must have been well known to Lawes. Accordingly, when the notion of the masque at Harefield had been started, and Lawes and his Bridgewater pupils were busy over the project, it was to Milton that Lawes applied for the necessary words or libretto. Horton, where Milton was then probably residing, is within about ten miles, cross country, from Harefield. Wherever it was that the two met to consult, Lawes about thirty-three years of age and Milton eight years younger, we can see what happened. Lawes explained to Milton the circumstances of the proposed entertainment and the kind of thing that was wanted; and Milton, meditating the affair for a few days, produced Arcades or The Arcadians.
Let the reader now go back in imagination to Harefield, on a spring or summer evening two hundred and fifty years ago. Certain revels or pageants in the grounds have perhaps preceded, and the time, we say, seems now to be evening. Harefield House is lit up; and in front of it, on a throne of state arranged so as to glitter in the light, is seated the aged Countess, with the seniors of the assembled party around her as spectators. Suddenly torches are seen flickering among the trees in the park, and out from among those trees, towards where the Countess is sitting, there bursts a band of nymphs and shepherds. They are, in fact, some noble persons of her family who appear on the scene in pastoral habit, moving toward the seat of state." When they have approached near enough, they pause, as if overcome by the splendour of the vision before them; and then one voice breaks out from the rest in recognition of the Countess. This is the first Song:
"Look, Nymphs and Shepherds, look!
This song ended, the nymphs and shepherds renew their approach to the object of their wonder; but, "as they come forward, the Genius of the Wood [Lawes?] appears, and turning toward them speaks." The speech of this Genius of the Wood is in eighty-three lines of blank verse. In it the Genius first addresses the shepherds, or male performers in the masque, and tells them he recognises them, through their disguise, as noble Arcadians; then he addresses the nymphs
in a similar strain; then, after introducing himself as the Genius of the Wood, describing his occupations in that capacity, and descanting on his particular affection for music, and his desire to do his best in that art in praise of her whom he had often admired in secret as the Queen of the place, and whom his auditory have come to gaze upon, he offers to lead them to her. Accordingly, lute or other instrument in hand, he advances, with this song, sung probably in solo :—
"O'er the smooth enamelled green,
Following him, accordingly, the masquers do obeisance to the Lady, and range themselves round her; whereupon there is a third and concluding song, sung probably by many voices, madrigal-wise, and ending with a repetition of the final words of the previous song:
"Such a rural Queen
All Arcadia hath not seen."
The entertainment was probably not yet over: but whatever more of it there was, out-of-doors or indoors, was not of Milton's composition.
The Countess-Dowager of Derby survived the entertainment only a few years. She died at Harefield, January 26, 1636-7. Her estate of Harefield descended to Lady Chandos, then her only remaining daughter, and so came to her grandson, Lord Chandos, and his heirs; but in 1675 it was purchased back by Sir Richard Newdegate, Bart., of Arbury, Warwickshire, whose family had been the original possessors of the property, but had parted with it in 1585. Accordingly, Harefield is now in possession of the Newdegates. The place is worth visiting, not only as the scene of the Arcades, but for other reasons. Harefield House indeed has disappeared. It was burnt down by accident in 1660. But the pedestrian on the road from Uxbridge to Rickmansworth may still identify the site of the house by one or two mounds and hollows, and a large cedar of Lebanon, on the quiet slopes behind Harefield Church; and in the church itself he may see, besides other antiquities of interest, the tomb of the heroine of the Arcades. It is a richly-sculptured and heraldically emblazoned marble monument, exhibiting the
effigy of the Countess, in a crimson robe and gilt coronet, recumbent under a canopy of pale green and gold, and, on the side, effigies of her three daughters in relief and also painted. The Countess is represented as in her youth, beautiful, and with long fair hair. The three daughters have the same long fair hair and like features.
AT A SOLEMN MUSIC.
This piece must have been written after the Arcades, for the original draft of it in Milton's own hand follows the original draft of the Arcades in the Cambridge volume of preserved Milton MSS. There are, indeed, in that volume no fewer than four drafts of the piece, exhibiting, in perhaps a more extraordinary manner than any other extant specimen of Milton's autograph, his extreme fastidiousness in composition, his habit of altering, correcting, rejecting, erasing, and enlarging, till he had brought a piece to some satisfactory perfection of form. The title, "At a Solemn Music," may be translated "At a Concert of Sacred Music." Milton, as we know, had been a musician from his childhood, accustomed to the society of musicians, and with opportunities of access to the best musical performances in London or Westminster. The present seems to be his testimony to the effects of one such performance. The metrical structure of the piece is peculiar, and without precedent in the Minor Poems hitherto. It is not in mere couplets, or in stanzas, but is a single continuous burst of twenty-eight lines of Iambics of varying length, interlinked irregularly in rhyming pairs. It seems to have been a new metrical experiment of the author.
This piece looks like a continuation of Milton's mood of new metrical experimentation. Like the last piece, it is a single continuous burst of Iambic lines of different lengths, rhyming irregularly in pairs. This fact, with the fact that the copy of the piece in Milton's hand in the Cambridge volume follows the drafts of the last piece, seems to certify that the date of the composition was the end of 1633 or the beginning of 1634. The copy in the Cambridge volume
bears the title, "On Time: to be set on a Clock-case"; and in the beginning of the piece itself the poet seems to be thinking of the mechanism of a clock, and watching the slow swing of the pendulum.
UPON THE CIRCUMCISION.
This follows the last piece in the Cambridge volume of drafts, and is therefore assignable, perhaps, to Circumcision Day, or January 1, 1634. The mood of metrical experimentation visible in the two preceding pieces seems still continued; for, though the piece breaks itself into two symmetrical stanzas, each stanza is a complex combination of fourteen Iambic lines of varying lengths, rhymed capriciously.
"A Masque, presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, before the Earl of Bridgewater, Lord President of Wales."
The history of this, the most important of all the minor poems of Milton, is closely connected with that of the Arcades, and our introduction to the Arcades is partly also an introduction to the Comus. What of more specific introduction is necessary remains to be given here.
One branch of the relatives of the venerable CountessDowager of Derby, the heroine of the Arcades, consisted, as we have seen, of the members of the noble family of Bridge. water to wit, John, 1st Earl of Bridgewater, the Countess's stepson, being the son of her second husband, Lord Chancellor Ellesmere; this nobleman's wife, Lady Frances Stanley, the Countess's second daughter by her first husband, Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby; and the numerous children born to this pair,-two of them daughters already married and with houses of their own, but other daughters still unmarried, and residing, together with their two boy-brothers, Viscount Brackley and Mr. Thomas Egerton, sometimes at their father's town-house in the Barbican, and sometimes at his country-seat of Ashridge in Hertfordshire. It is with these members of the Bridgewater family that we have chiefly to do in the Comus.