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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, etc." Lawes's Dedication of the edition of 1637 and Sir Henry Wotton's letter were 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," etc.: 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 кŵμos, signifying "revel" or "carousal," or sometimes "a band of revellers," is an old Greek common noun, with various cognate terms (such as kwμáš, "to revel,” and kwμwdla, comedy), the personification or proper name COмUS appears to have been an invention of the latter 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
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 in 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 Wine-god 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 Hamony, 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, is an avowed adaptation of the divine herb Moly given by Hermes to Ulysses (Odyss. X., 286 et seq.) to enable him to withstand those drugs of Circe that had wrought such woe on his companions. Commentators, however, have found traces in the masque of Milton's acquaintance also with George Peele's comedy of The Old Wives' Tale (1595), and with Fletcher's pastoral of The Faithful Shepherdess, originally produced before 1625, and revived as a Court play and acted in the London theatres in 1633-4. In neither of these pieces is COMUS a character;
but in the first there is a story of two brothers wandering in search of their lost sister and releasing her from the spell of an Enchanter, and in both there are passages in which one may descry or fancy some slight resemblance to some in Comus.
On the 9th of June 1626, when Milton had been for about sixteen months a student at Christ's College, Cambridge, there were admitted into that college, as appears from its records, two brothers, named King, sons of Sir John King, knight, then living in Dublin, as Privy Councillor for Ireland and Secretary to the Irish Government. The family was English; but various members of it, in addition to Sir John, held offices in Ireland. Edward King, for example, Sir John's brother, was bishop of the Irish see of Elphin. Both the young men had been born in Ireland,— the elder, named Roger, near Dublin, and the younger, named Edward after his uncle, at Boyle in Connaught. At the date of their admission into Christ's College, Roger was sixteen years of age, and Edward fourteen. They had previously been pupils of Mr. Thomas Farnaby, one of the most noted schoolmasters of the time, whose school then was in Goldsmith's Rents, Cripplegate, London. The tutor under whose care they were put at Christ's College was Mr. William Chappell, who was also Milton's first tutor there, and who became afterwards Provost of Trinity College, Dublin and Dean of Cashel, and finally a bishop in the Irish Church.
Edward King, the younger of the two brothers, seems to have been one of the most popular young men in Christ's College during Milton's residence there. He and Milton must have seen much of each other. They must have had frequent meetings in hall, at lecture, and in each other's rooms, and frequent walks about Cambridge together. Milton, as we know, was indubitably the chief ornament of the little community, its ablest and noblest youth, supreme in everything; and, before he left college as M.A. in July 1632, aged twenty-three, this had come to be recognised. But, among those who had been his fellow-students in college, and whom he left behind him there, there were
several of whom high things were expected. John Cleveland, afterwards known as a metrical satirist, was one; and the future celebrated "Platonist," Henry More, who had joined the college just as Milton was about to leave it, was another. Probably, however, no one was more liked in the college, both by dons and by students, than Edward King. Indeed, before Milton left the college, King, by what looks now like a promotion over Milton's head, had become himself one of the dons. On June 10, 1630, a Fellowship in Christ's College being then about to fall vacant, a royal mandate was addressed to the Master and Fellows of the college in behalf of Edward King, B.A., willing and requiring them, when the Fellowship should be vacant, to "admit the said Edward King into the same, notwithstanding any statute, ordinance, or constitution to the contrary." Had such college honours then gone by merit, Milton, then a B.A. of two years' standing, would have had a far superior claim. As it was, however, King, though his junior by three years, and only just out of his undergraduateship, received the Fellowship, and thus took nominal precedence of Milton during Milton's last two years at Christ's. The royal mandate in King's favour was clearly owing to his family connexions and influence; but to so popular a young scholar the preferment does not appear to have been grudged. Not only was he a favourite on account of his amiable character; he really was, as the royal mandate represented him, a youth of "hopeful parts." This we learn, however, rather from tradition than from any specimens of his ability that have come down to us. The earliest of such specimens that I have found are in a volume put forth by the Cambridge University press late in 1631 under the title of Genethliacum illustrissimorum principum, Caroli et Maria, a Musis Cantabrigiensibus celebratum. It consists of complimentary Latin pieces by some scores of Cambridge men, of different colleges, on the recent birth of the Princess Mary, the third child of Charles I., but with retrospective reference to the birth in the previous year (May 29, 1630) of the Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles II. Among the contributors is Edward King, Fellow of Christ's College. He contributes four short Latin pieces,-one in hexameters, one in Horatian verse, and two in elegiacs. They are not very poetical or elegant, and indeed are rather prosaic. But