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n of the son brings up unsoni true poet.
condary poets attempt this by a false gloss: they are full of ornament; but the ornament is a glare, or a set of artificial flowers : there is no fragrance,-no vivifying spirit. In a true poet, like Milton, all springs up unsought from the fountain of the soul or the heart: it is an enthusiasm; but an enthusiasm not unapproved by the sober judgment and the conscience. Nothing is good, which there is not some susceptibility within us ready instantly to recognize : nothing can be forced upon us by artful effort: no factitious gilding will avail. The poet's difficulty is to find expressions for what he really feels.
Now and then there may be a momentary blaze in inferior authors; but, in bards like Milton, all is one texture of light.
Just before Milton's return from Italy in 1639, his friend Charles Deodate died, and the news met him on his arrival: he then wrote a Latin elegy on him, entitled “Epitaphium Damonis,' which has some similitude to · Lycidas.' Warton says that there are in it some new and natural country images, and the common topics are often recommended by a novelty of elegant expression : it contains some passages which wander far beyond the bounds of bucolic song, and are in his own original style of the more sublime poetry. Milton cannot be a shepherd long : his own native powers break forth, and cannot bear the assumed disguise.
At line 155 of this elegy, he hints his design of writing an epic poem on some part of the ancient British story. So, in his poem entitled Mansus,' he says,
Si quando indigenas revocabo in carmina reges,
Arturumque etiam sub terris bella moventem. These are the ancient kings of Britain : this was the subject for an epic poem that first occupied his mind. King Arthur, at his death, was supposed to be carried into the subterraneous land of fairy or of spirits, where he still reigned as a king; and whence he was to return into Britain, to renew the round table, conquer all his enemies, and re-establish his throne : he was therefore " etiam movens bella sub terris,” still meditating wars under the earth. The impulse of Milton's attachment to this subject was not entirely suppressed: it produced his History of Britain.' By the expression, “revocabo in carmina,” the poet means, that these ancient kings, which were once the themes of the British bards, should now again be celebrated in verse. Milton, in his • Church Government,' written in 1641, says that, after the example of Tasso, “ it haply would be no rashness, from an equal diligence and inclination, to present the like offer in one of our own ancient stories !” It is possible that the advice of Manso, the friend of Tasso, might determine the poet to a design of this kind.
IN 1634, Milton wrote his immortal • Mask of Comus,' for John Egerton, first Earl of Bridgewater, then Lord president of Wales, to be presented at Ludlow-castle, wliich was his Lordship’s residence.
The poet's father held his house under the Earls of Bridgewater, at Horton, near Harefield, and not far from Ashridge: thus, perhaps, was the poet introduced to that noble family : he certainly had not yet become a decided puritan and republican. The Countess of Derby, (Alice Spencer) mother-in-law of the Earl of Bridgewater, and also widow of Lord Chancellor Egerton, was a generous patroness of poets, and, among the rest, of her relation, the author of the “Faëry Queene.' Such a patroness would be, above all others, grateful to Milton.
Comus' was acted by the Earl's children, the Lord Brackley, Mr. Thomas Egerton, and the Lady Alice Egerton.
The Egertons were among the most powerful of
the nobility, and lived in the most state. By a marriage with a co-heiress of the great feudal family of Stanley, who were co-heirs to the royal races of Tudor and Plantagenet; they held a sort of demi-regal respect. Their domains were large, and their character for hospitality and accomplishments stood high. This historical house have a century afterwards rendered themselves again immortal by designing and patronizing national works of another class.*
Masks had been common in the time of Ben Jonson. I leave to antiquaries to trace the origin of the subject and design of "Comus.' The merit lies not in the hint but in the superstructure. The story is said to have been occasioned by a domestic incident of the Egerton family.
When we open this poem, we seem to enter on the beings and language of another world. Every word is poetry.
The first of the dramatis personæ is the Spirit, whose speech runs to ninety-two lines. It is of the deepest interest to the piece, and opens to us the sovereignty of Neptune—the quartering of our island to his blue-haired deities—the parentage of Comus—his dangerous arts, and the Spirit's own protecting intervention.
* The canal navigation of the last Duke of Bridgewater, who died in 1803, is celebrated all over the world. The last two Earls, who succeeded him, were indeed less eminent, and dimmed- the former by his mediocrity, the latter by his eccentricities—some of the lustre of the name. The last died in 1829. Such are the chances and changes of time.
Next comes Comus attended by his monstrous rout, whom he thus addresses :
The star that bids the shepherd fold
Now the top of heaven doth hold, &c. The noise of their revelry calls the attention of the Lady, who now enters :
This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,
My best guide now. “. By laying the scene of this Mask,” Warton observes, “in a wild forest, Milton secured to himself a perpetual fund of picturesque description, which, resulting from situation, was always at hand. He was not obliged to go out of his way for this striking embellishment: it was suggested of necessity by present circumstances. The same happy choice of scene supplied Sophocles in ‘Philoctetes,' Shakspeare in “ As You Like It,' and Fletcher in the “Faithful Shepherdess,' with frequent and even unavoidable opportunities of rural delineation; and that of the most romantic kind. But Milton has had additional advantages : his forest is not only the residence of a magician, but is exhibited under the gloom of midnight. Fletcher, however, to whom Milton is confessedly indebted, avails himself of the latter circumstance." The lady exclaims,
A thousand phantasies
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses. Warton says, “ I remember these superstitions,