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To him inat dares

Arm his profane tongue with contemptuous words
Against the sun-clad power of chastity,

Fain would I something say, yet to what end?
Thou hast nor ear nor soul to apprehend

The sublime notion, and high mystery,

That must be uttered to unfold the sage

And serious doctrine of virginity;

And thou art worthy that thou shouldst not know

More happiness than this thy present lot.

Upon this passage, also, Warton has the following curious note:

"By studying the reveries of the Platonic writers, Milton contracted a theory con. cerning chastity and the purity of love, in the contemplation of which, like other visionaries, he indulged his imagination with ideal refinements, and with pleasing but unmeaning notions of excellence and perfection. Plato's sentimental or metaphysical love, he seems to have applied to the natural love between the sexes. The very philosophical dialogue of the Angel and Adam, in the eighth book of 'Paradise Lost,' altogether proceeds on this doctrine. In the 'Smectymnus' he declares his initiation into the mysteries of this immaterial love. Thus from the laureate fraternity of poets, riper years, and the ceaseless round of study and reading, led me to the shady spaces of philosophy; but chiefly to the divine volume of Plato, and his equal Xenophon; where, if I should tell ye what I learned of chastity and love, I mean that which is truly so,' &c. But in the dialogue just mentioned, where Adam asks his celestial guest, 'Whether angels are susceptible of love, whether they express their passion by looks only, or by a mixture of irradiation, by virtual or immediate contact?' our author seems to have overleaped the Platonic pale, and to have lost his way among the solemn conceits of Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas. It is no wonder that the angel blushed, as well as smiled, at some of these questions." The incomparable poem of "Comus" thus ends :-

Mortals, that would follow me,
Love Virtue; she alone is free;
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the sphery chime;

Or if Virtue feeble were,

Heaven itself would stoop to her.

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Thyer says, that "the moral of this poem is very finely summed up in the six concluding lines. The thought contained in the last two might probably be suggested to our author by a passage in the Table of Cebes,' where Patience and Perseverance are represented stooping and stretching out their hands to help up those who are endeavouring to climb the craggy hill of Virtue, and yet are too feeble to ascend themselves:" Mr. Francis Egerton (afterwards the last Earl of Bridgewater) has observed upon this, that, had this ingenious critic duly reflected on the lofty mind of Milton,

Smit with the love of sacred song,


and so often and so sublimely employed on topics of religion, he might readily have found a subject, to which the poet obviously and divinely alludes in these concluding lines, without fetching the thought from the Table of Cebes.' In the preceding attack I am convinced Mr. Thyer had no ill intention; but by overlooking so clear and pointed an allusion to a subject calculated to kindle that lively glow in the bosom of every Christian, which the poet intended to excite, and by referring it to an image in a profane author, he may, beside stifling the sublime effect so happily produced, afford a handle to some in these 'evil days,' who are willing to make the religion of Socrates and Cebes (or that of Nature) supersede the religion of Christ. The moral of this poem is, indeed, very finely summed up in the six concluding lines, in which, to wind up one of the most elegant productions of his genius,

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

threw up his last glance to Heaven, in rapt contemplation of that stupendous mystery whereby He, the lofty theme of Paradise Regained, stooped from above all height, 'bowed the Heavens, and came down on Earth,' to atone as man for the sins of men,

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to strengthen feeble Virtue by the influence of his grace, and to teach her to ascend his throne."

Numerous critics, from Toland to Todd, have given the character of this poem ; but Thomas Warton's is by far the best: Johnson, with some good passages, has intermixed much captious objection, and not a little vulgarity. He cannot refrain from a sort of coarse sneer, which affects to be humour.


"We must not," says Warton, "read Comus with an eye to the stage, or with the expectation of dramatic propriety. Under this restriction the absurdity of the Spirit speaking to an audience in a solitary forest at midnight, and the want of reeiprocation in the dialogue, are overlooked. Comus' is a suite of speeches, not interesting by discrimination of character; not conveying a variety of incidents, nor gradually exciting curiosity; but perpetually attracting attention by sublime sentiment, by fanciful imagery of the richest vein, by an exuberance of picturesque description, poetical allusion, and ornamental expression." To this the critic adds many other excellent observations.

A Mask, written for a private theatre, and to be performed by highly-educated actors, is not like a play to be exhibited to a mixed and common audience: long speeches, therefore, of a tone too lofty for vulgar ears, are not here objectionable. Of the texture of the present composition every word is eminently poetical. Passages of similar beauty may be found in Shakspeare, and even in Fletcher, but not a uniform and unbroken web. It is true that there is little passion in this dramatic poem; but none is pretended to: while it is enchantingly descriptive, it is at the same time philosophically calm. We are carried into a fairy region of good spirits and bad: and everything of rural scenery that is delightful, associated with wild and picturesque beliefs of an invisible world in mountains, valleys, forests, and rivers, is introduced to keep up the magic. Were it a mere description of inanimate nature, it would be comparatively dull. Here, too, a beautiful girl, of high rank, richly accomplished in mind, is introduced, to pour out, under alarming circumstances, a divine eloquence of exalted and affecting sentiment. Virtue and truth, and purity of intellect and heart, break out at every word. To these strains who can deny poetical invention! What definition of poetry can be given, by which this Mask can be excluded from a very high place? Is it not everywhere either brilliant and picturesque or lofty fiction? It is said that the characters have no passion; but how is passion a necessary ingredient of poetry? Poetry must create; but it may create beings of tranquil beauty, and calm exaltation. Cavillers say, that the Brothers ought not to philosophize, while the Sister is left alone in the dangers of a solitary forest: but their faith in a protecting Providence will not allow them to think her in great danger. It may be replied that this is an improbable degree of faith. Is it a poetical improbability? It seems as if such censors think that nothing must be represented which does not occur in every-day life. Poetry is literally, and to all extent, the reverse of this.

Minor bards may give occasional touches of outward poetry by illustrations of imagery and description; but the whole structure and soul of Milton's "Comus" is poetry: not the dress, but the intrinsic spirit, and the essence. The characters of the Attendant Spirit, and of Comus, are exquisite inventions. What is copied from observation, is not always poetry; therefore Dryden and Pope were very often not poets.

There are numerous ideas implanted in our nature, which are not bodily truths, but imaginative truths: even single epithets convey these, as is shown by every part of "Comus," while picturesque words point out the leading features of every rural object. No such words ever appear in Dryden or Pope, unless they are borrowed. Their descriptions are general and vague: they convey fine sounds, but no precise ideas. The true poet cannot avoid seeing: images haunt him; he cannot get rid of them: he does not call up his memory to produce empty words, but he draws from the visionary shapes before him.

While Milton was framing the "Comus," he, no doubt, lived in the midst of his own creation: he only clothed the tongues of his characters with what it appeared to him in his vision they actually spoke.



THE "Arcades" was a Mask, which was part of an entertainment presented to Alice Spencer, Countess Dowager of Derby, and afterwards widow of Lord Chancellor Egerton, at Harefield in Middlesex, and acted by some noble persons of her family.

This celebrated lady was daughter of Sir John Spencer of Althorp, who was then one of the richest commoners of England. Her first husband, Earl Ferdinando, was a most accomplished nobleman, who died in the flower of his age;-it is supposed by poison, because he would not enter into the plots of the Jesuits to claim the crown from Queen Elizabeth, on account of his royal descent; for which see the famous volume, called "Dolman's Conference," written by Parsons the Jesuit, and see also Hallam, and Hargrave.

Norden, in his "Speculum Britanniæ," about 1590, speaking of Harefield, says, "There Sir Edmond Anderson, Knight, Lord-Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas, hath a fair house, standing on the edge of the hill; the river Colne passing near the same, through the pleasant meadows and sweet pastures, yielding both delight and profit." "I viewed this house," says Warton, "a few years ago, when it was for the most part remaining in its original state. It has since been pulled down; the porters' lodges on each side of the gateway are converted into a commodious dwelling-house. It is near Uxbridge; and Milton, when he wrote 'Arcades,' was still living with his father at Horton, near Colnebrook, in the same neighbourhood. He mentions the singular felicity he had in vain anticipated in the society of his friend Deodate, on the shady banks of the river Colne :

Imus, et arguta paulum recubamus in umbrâ,

Aut ad aquas Colni, &c.-Epit. Damon. 1. 149.

Amidst the fruitful and delightful scenes of this river the nymphs and shepherds had no reason to regret, as in the third song, the Arcadian 'Ladon's lilied banks.' Unquestionably this Mask was a much longer performance. Milton seems only to have written the poetical part, consisting of these three songs and the recitative soliloquy of the Genius: the rest was probably prose and machinery. In many of Jonson's Masques the poet but rarely appears, amid a cumbersome exhibition of heathen gods and mythology."

The Countess of Derby died 26th January, 1635-6, and was buried at Harefield. (See "Lyson's Environs of London.")

Harrington has an epigram on this lady, B. iii. 47.


This noble Countess lived many years

With Derby, one of England's greatest peers:
Fruitful and fair, and of so clear a name,
That all this region marvell'd at her fame.
But this brave peer extinct by hasten'd fate,
She stay'd, ha, too, too long in widow's state;
And in that state took so sweet state upon her,

All ears, eyes, tongues, heard, saw, and told her honour, &c.

But Milton is not the only great English poet who has celebrated the Countess Dowager of Derby. She was the sixth daughter, as we have seen, of Sir John Spencer, with whose family Spenser the poet claimed an alliance. In his "Colin Clout's come home again," written about 1595, he mentions her under the appellation of Amaryllis, with her sisters Phyllis or Elizabeth, and Charyllis or Anne; these three of Sir John Spencer's daughters being best known at Court. See 1. 536.

No less praiseworthy are the sisters three,
The honour of the noble family,

Of which I meanest boast myself to be,

And most that unto them I am so nigh.

After a panegyric on the first two, he next comes to Amaryllis, or Alice, our lady, the dowager of Earl Ferdinando, lately deceased:

But Amaryllis, whether fortunate,
Or else unfortunate may I aread,

That freed is from Cupid's yoke by fate,

Since which she doth new bands adventure dread,
Shepherd, whatever thou hast heard to be

In this or that praised diversely apart,

In her thou mayest them assembled see,

And seal'd up in the treasure of her heart

And in the same poem he thus apostrophizes to her late husband, under the name of Amyntas: see 1. 434.

Amyntas quite is gone, and lies full low,
Having his Amaryllis left to moan!
Help, O ye shepherds! help ye all in this,-
Her loss is yours; your loss Amyntas is!
Amyntas, flower of shepherds' pride forlorn;
He, whilst he lived, was the noblest swain
That ever piped on an oaten quill;
Both did he other, which could pipe, maintain,
And eke could pipe himself with passing skill.

And to the same Lady Alice, when Lady Strange, before her husband Ferdinando's succession to the earldom, Spenser addressed his "Tears of the Muses," published in 1591, in a dedication of the highest regard; where he speaks of "your excellent beauty, your virtuous behaviour, and your noble match with that most honourable lord, the very pattern of right nobility." He then acknowledges the particular bounties which she had conferred upon the poets. Thus the lady who presided at the representation of Milton's "Arcades" was not only the theme but the patroness of Spenser. The peerage-book of this most respectable countess is the poetry of her times.



In 1837, æet. twenty-nine, Milton, on the death of his mother, obtained his father's leave to visit Italy. I have already mentioned the course of his travels. The accomplished and amiable Sir Henry Wotton, whose admiration and heart had been won by the poet's "Comus," gave him his advice and recommendations. At Florence, Rome, and Naples, he was received with applause and kindness by all the most eminent literati. He, who had been little noticed in his own country, was received with the most distinguished honours abroad, in the country of Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso.

How happened this? Yet such is the perversity of human nature!

It is a subject of deep regret that Milton has not left a written account of his travels, with details such as modern visiters of the same and other countries give; or even such short notes as Gray sent in his letters. It is impossible to conceive any other so qualified to receive delight from these visits as Milton. Above all other men, his mind was full of the richest and most profound classical recollections. Not only his fancy held a mirror to all the beautiful and golden scenery, and all the exquisite and grand displays of the arts of painting and sculpture, but he had a creative imagination, beyond all other men, which must have fired into a blaze at them. All with which his mind had been stored from boyhood, drawn from distant sources, must now have seemed to be realized. He saw the very identical relics of classical times embodied before his eyes: he saw clear skies, and beautiful scenes, of which we have no idea in a northern climate. The Alps and the Apennines, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, and above all the bay of Naples, gave him landscapes and sea-views such as an Englishman, who has never quitted his own country, can have no conception of.

He visited Galileo, which, however, was supposed to have raised some dangerous prejudices against him: but his great friend was the Marquis Manso of Naples, who had been the friend of Tasso, and who was himself a poet. "Ad Mansum" is one of the best of his Latin poems. With what enthusiasm must Milton have entered into

Tasso's character, as well as that of Dante, Petrarch, and Ariosto! Dante's genius was, no doubt, the nearest to his own: but in addition to the epic imagination, there is in his personal history something so striking, so melancholy, and so full of deep interest, that it adds twofold to the attraction with which we read his poetry.

Three, at least, of these four mighty poets suffered great misfortunes: but the history of their lives is well known, and this is not the place for treating of them. We have nothing English of the same sort as their respective geniuses, unless, perhaps, Spenser. The sombreness and mystical sublimity of Dante, is peculiar to himself: he has been admirably translated by Cary: he lived in a glorious time for poetry, when superstition fostered and coloured all its noblest creations; and when the chilling and false artifices of the cold critic had not yet paralyzed exertion;—when all was hope and adventure, both of mind and body.

Had Milton's mind at this epoch been so strongly infected with puritanism as his enemies averred, he could not have enjoyed Italian manners and Italian genius. There he saw all the pomp and warmth of religion: puritanism had all its acidity and rigidness, and all its freezing bareness. Coming fresh from these things, of which he has expressed his delight, I know not how he could so at once plunge into principles, which would destroy them all to the very root; but such are the inconsistencies of frail humanity! Gray saw all these things with equal sensibility and taste, if not with equal genius; and he remained fixed in the love of them through life.

But it is worthy of remark, that as soon as Milton actively took the side of this cause of destruction, the Muses left him for twenty years. Coming fresh from the living fountains of all imaginative creation, the happy delirium of glorious genius subsided into a cold and harsh stagnation of all that was eloquent and generous. The blight was more violent and effective in proportion as the bloom had been strong. Milton did not stay long enough at any of the great Italian cities: instead of eighteen months among them all, his stay ought to have been four or five years. I give in this place Cowper's translation of the Latin epistle to Manso.



["Giovanni Battista Manso, Marquis of Villa, is an Italian nobleman of the highest estima. tion among his countrymen for genius, literature, and military accomplishments. To him Torquato Tasso addressed his Dialogues on Friendship;' for he was much the friend of Tasso, who has also celebrated him among the other princes of his country in his poem entitled Gerusalemme Conquistata,' book xx.

Fra cavalier magnanimi, e cortesi,
Risplende il Manso.

During the author's stay at Naples, he received at the hands of the Marquis a thousand kind offices and civilities; and, desirous not to appear ungrateful, sent him this poem a short time before his departure from that city."]

These verses also to thy praise the Nine,
O Manso happy in that theme, design;

For, Gallus and Maecenas gone, they see

None such besides, or whom they love, as thee;
And, if my verse may give the meed of fame,
Thine too shall prove an everlasting name.
Already such it shines in Tasso's page,

For thou wast Tasso's friend, from age to age;
And next, the Muse consign'd, not unaware
How high the charge, Marino to thy care;
Who, singing to the nymphs Adonis' praise,
Boasts thee the patron of his copious lays.
To thee alone the poet would intrust
His latest vows; to thee alone his dust:
And thou with punctual piety hast paid,

In labour'd brass, thy tribute to his shade.

Nor this contented thee-but, lest the grave

Should aught absorb of theirs, which thou couldst save,

All future ages thou hast deign'd to teach

The life, lot, genius, character of each,
Eloquent as the Carian sage, who true

To his great theme, the life of Homer drew.

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