« PreviousContinue »
after his morning's walk and afternoon among the rustics. The word then in this line, as elsewhere in the poem, does important duty.
120. “ In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold." The word weeds, now usually confined to the phrase "widow's weeds," was once far more general (A.-S. wæd, clothing). Shakespeare has the phrase "weeds of peace” (Troil. and Cres. III. 3). —" triumphs,” in the sense of lordly entertainments, is a common word in Elizabethan literature, and is perhaps best defined, as Mr. Browne has pointed out, in Bacon's Essay On Masques and Triumphs. After treating of Masques, he passes to Triumphs thus :-“For justs, and tourneys, and barriers, the glories “ of them are chiefly in the chariots wherein the challengers make their
entry . . . or in the devices of their entrance, or in the bravery of their “liveries, or in the goodly furniture of their horses and armour.”
121. “store of ladies.” So, in Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, as quoted by Warton, "store of faire ladies,” and in Spenser's F. Q. (v. iii. 2), as quoted by Todd, “ Of lords and ladies infinite great store."
122. “ Rain influence." A metaphor from Astrology. See Ode
“ There let Hymen oft appear
In saffron robe, with taper dear." Warton refers to Ben Jonson's Hymenæi, or the Solemnities of Masque and Barriers at a Marriage, where there is this introductory account of Hymen's appearance :-“Entered Hymen, the God of Marriage, in a "saffron-coloured robe, his under-vestures white, his socks yellow, a "yellow veil of silk on his left arm, his head crowned with roses and
marjoram, in his right hand a torch of pine-tree.” This is Hymen at his gaudiest ; but he and his saffron robe and torch are frequent in poetry. Milton substitutes a taper for the torch.
127. "pomp," i.e. solemn procession (Greek, rouan).
131. “ Then to the well-trod stage.” The reading and reverie hitherto have been among romances and tales of chivalry, such as Malory's Morte D'Arthur; but now there come readings in the dramatists. 132-134 "If Jonson's learned sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild.” It is the lighter kind of drama, the drama of the “sock” (Comedy, in performing which the actors wore low-heeled shoes), rather than that of the “buskin” (Tragedy, in performing which the actors wore high-heeled boots), that suits the mood of L'Allegro. Jonson himself has the phrase " when thy socks were on ” with reference to Shakespeare's comic dramas, as distinct from his tragedies, or the “ tread" of his “buskin ”-hardly knowing which to praise most (Lines to the Memory of Shakespeare);
and Milton probably borrowed the phrase from Jonson to increase his compliment to that stalwart writer. As Jonson did not die till 1637, the compliment was, probably, one to a living man. In speaking of “ Jonson's learned sock,” Milton kept to the established epithet about Jonson, whose “ learning” was his chief quality with most critics. So in the epithets "sweetest” and “Fancy's child," applied to the dead Shakespeare, who was still remembered as “the gentle ” and “the honey-tongued," and whose prodigious natural genius critics contrasted with Jonson's learning and laboriousness. The two lines given to Shakespeare in L'Allegro have been thought under the mark of the subject; and the words “warble his native wood-notes wild,” though perhaps a suitable mention of Shakespeare's lyrics, do strike one as not comprehensive enough for his Comedies. It is to be remembered, however, that Milton is touching things here but lightly and briefly, and that “Fancy" (Phantasy) had a larger meaning then than now. Fortunately, also, we can go back to Milton's lines On Shakespeare in 1630, and be fully satisfied. See Introd. and Notes to that piece. For variations in Milton's regard for Shakespeare and the Drama generally in his more advanced life, see Introd. to Samson Agonistes. To the references there given we may now add, after Warton, a quotation from the Theatrum Poetarum of Milton's nephew Edward Phillips, published in 1675. Milton had then been dead a year ; but he had trained Phillips and formed his tastes in poetry, and had probably helped him with hints for this very book. ' In Tragedy,” says Phillips of Shakespeare, “never any expressed a more lofty and tragic highth, “never any represented nature more purely to the life ; and, where the “polishments of art are most wanting, as probably his learning was not “extraordinary, he pleases with a certain wild and native elegance.” 135, 136.
“And ever, against eating cares,
Lap me in soft Lydian airs." In other words, readings are now exchanged for music. But, as it was the lighter and more luscious kind of reading that suited the lively mood, so it is the softer and sweeter kind of music—the “ Lydian," rather than the “Dorian " or the “ Phrygian.” These were the three ancient kinds of music; and their differences are described technically by musicians.—“ eating cares" is a translation of Horace's mordaces sollicitudines (Ode 1. xviii. 4), or rather of his “curas edaces.” (Od. 11. xi. 18). 137.
“ Married to immortal verse." There is the same metaphor in At a Solemn Music, and other poets have it.
139. “ bout," a bend or turn, connected with the verb bow. Spenser, who uses the word several times, in the sense of the folds or wreathings of a serpent's body or a dragon's tail, spells it “ boughte” (F. Q. 1. i. 15, and 1. xi. 11, and Virgil's Gnat, 305).
144. “harmony," in its express musical sense, as more than melody.
145-150.“ That Orpheus' self,” &c. Orpheus, in the Greek mythology, was the unparalleled singer and musician, the power of whose harp or lyre drew wild beasts, and even rocks and trees, to follow him. His wife Eurydice having died, he descended into Hades to recover her, if possible. His music, charming even the damned, prevailed with Pluto, who granted his prayer on condition that he should not look on Eurydice till he had led her completely out of Hades and into the upper world. Unfortunately, on their way upwards, he turned to see if she was following him; and she was caught back. Hence the significance of lines 148-150.
1-30. “Hence, vain deluding Joys," &c. The studied antithesis of Il Penseroso and L'Allegro throughout declares itself in these opening thirty lines, which exactly match and counterpoise the first four-andtwenty lines of L'Allegro. So closely is the one poem framed on the model of the other, that it would be impossible to say, on mere internal evidence, which was written first. Most probably the idea of two such companion pieces was in Milton's mind before he wrote either, and he fulfilled that idea by writing them in the order in which they now stand, and in which they were originally published by himself. This is a case in which a writer, describing two moods or doctrines, would place that one last which, on the whole, he favoured most, and to which he meant to lend his weight. So fairly is the question stated, however, and with such real liking for both sides, that, but for this matter of the arrangement, all signs of ultimate preference may be said to be removed. Perhaps combination was the lesson intended. Thinking of Milton's whole life, we identify him most naturally with Il Penseroso; but may we not have forgotten how much of L'Allegro there was in him potentially, at all events in his youth?
3. "bested”: avail, advantage, stand in stead to, or stand by (bystand). The same meaning of the verb is instanced in a passage from Sir Francis Drake's West India Voyage, quoted in Richardson's Dictionary. Speaking of a quantity of dried fish of which he had made a prize, and which he distributed among his fleet, he says, “ The same (was] so new and good as it did very greatly bestead us in the whole course of our voyage.” But another and perhaps more usual meaning of the word is "placed," “ situated " (A.-S. stede, a place). Richardson quotes this instance from Barrow : “He who looks so deformedly and dismally, who in outward sight is so ill bestead, and so pitifully accoutred, hath latent in him much of admirable beauty and glory.” So “hardly bestead
and hungry," in Isaiah viii. 21. In this second sense the word seems to be a past participle passive of the former verb : thus, “ to bestead" (perhaps originally pronounced bestede), “to stand by,” “ bested;" ** stood-by."
6. " fond," in its old sense of “foolish.”
6-10. "gaudy shapes . . . as thick and numberless as the that people the sun-beams, or likest hovering dreams ... Morpheus' train.” In his notes on this passage, Warton, besides unnecessarily quoting Chaucer's “As thick as motes in the sunne-beams” (Wife of Bath's Tale, 868), and the like brief examples of the use of a phrase which is common property, ventures on the assertion that the imagery of the whole "is immediately from Sylvester's Cave of Sleep in Du Bartas.” It may be well to quote the passage :
“ Confusedly about the silent bed
Fantastick swarms of dreams there hovered,
Sylv. Du Bartas, ed. 1613, p. 396 (The Vacation). In the fancy that Milton remembered this passage Warton may be right, more especially as “ Morpheus" is named a few lines before, and the phrase "gaudy swarm of dreams” occurs a few lines after ; but this single instance will show on what little results parallel-passage-hunting may plume itself as successful.
10. "pensioners”: retinue, literally “paid dependents.” So Shakespeare, “The cowslips tall her pensioners be" (Mids. Night's Dream, 11. 1). Warton thinks this metaphorical use of the word originated in the fact of the establishment by Queen Elizabeth of a guard composed of handsome young noblemen and gentlemen, specially under the name of Pensioners; and he cites Dame Quickly's “ Yet there had been Earls, nay, which is more, Pensioners," as proving the influence of the institution on the popular speech. But as Pensioners or Pensionaries, both word and thing, were certainly older than Elizabeth's time, so may have been the metaphorical application of the word. 14.
“ To hit the sense.". Mr. Browne cites “A strange invisible perfume hits the sense” (Ant. and Cleop. II. 2).
18. “ Prince Memnon's sister." Memnon, in the legends of the Trojan war, is a prince of the Ethiopians who came to the aid of Priam, and was killed by Achilles. Though black or dark, he was of splendid beauty (Odyss. XI. 522), and the same might be presumed of
any sister of his. Milton was supposed to have invented the “sister" for his purpose ; but there are actual sisters in the legends. Tithonus, the brother of Priam, and Eos or Aurora, were the parents of these dark beauties.
19—21. “ that starred Ethiop queen that stroke,” &c. Cassiope, wife of Cepheus, King of the Ethiopians, and mother of Andromeda, challenged the Nereids for the superiority of beauty. In revenge, they got Poseidon to send a ravaging monster into Ethiopia ; and Andromeda was about to be sacrificed to this monster, when she was saved by her lover Perseus. Cassiope was raised to heaven and turned into the constellation Cassiopeia: hence Milton's epithet of "starred." Her daughter Andromeda had afterwards the same honour.—Warton had seen, in books, an old Gothic astronomical print in which Cassiope was represented as a black female figure marked with white stars. He suggests that Milton must have seen the same, and that “starred”
may thus more easily have come into his mind. Warton, Mr. Bowle, and others, also found in the whole description of Melancholy in the Penseroso, from line 12 onwards, traces of Milton's acquaintance with Albert Dürer's print of Melancholia.
23-30.“ Thee bright-haired Vesta . . . to solitary Saturn,” &c.: As Milton had invented a genealogy for Mirth (L'Allegro, 14–24), so now, with even more subtlety of significance, he invents one for Melancholy. She is the daughter of the solitary Saturn (from whose name and disposition our word saturnine) by his own child Vesta or Hestia, the goddess of the domestic hearth; and she was born in the far primeval time, while Saturn still reigned as the supreme God and had not been dispossessed by his son Zeus. That Milton here implied that Melancholy comes from Solitude or Retirement cannot be doubted; the question is as to the meaning of the other form of the parentage. Is Vesta to be taken simply as the Hearth-affection, or pure Domesticity? Perhaps so; and to say that Melancholy comes of solitary musings at the fireside, or at one's own “ingle-nook,” would be no bad derivation. But the epithet “bright-haired” applied to Vesta, and the subsequent imagination of her meetings with Saturn in the glimmering glades of Mount Ida, seem to require a more bold and mystic view of the nature of this goddess. Warton identifies her with Genius, and supposes Milton to mean therefore that Melancholy is the daughter of Solitude and Genius. One remembers, however, that Vesta was the goddess of the sacred eternal fire that could be tended only by vowed virginity; and here one is on the track of a peculiarly Miltonic idea. See Comus, 783—789, Elegia Sexta, 55–66, and a famous autobiographic passage in the prose Apology for Smectymnuus.
31. “pensive Nun." Does not the immediate occurrence in Milton's mind of this epithet for Melancholy give an additional likelihood to the suggestion in the end of last note?