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BIOGRAPHER TO THE WORLD.
It may be necessary exactly to stale what are the pretensions specifically of the brief Biography prefixed to these Volumes:—that expectation may not be disappointed, and that blame may not be imputed to him for omissions of what were by no means comprehended in his plan.
Ml that is here to be sought, Is a concise characteristic Sketch of the Author, to whose play it is prefixed. Anecdotes that are entirely new, can scarcely be hoped at this period. Most of these Lives have been narrated in various forms, with minuteness of research, and length of detail. The confined space that can here be allotted, rather prescribes selection from what is known already, than research after novelties to swell the amount.
If, multum in parvo, much in a narrow compass be found; if the philosophising spirit of Biography render character more perspicuous, and peculiarities prominent; if, exemplifying upon habits and manners, a lesson neither inelegant nor tedious be offered to leisure and curiosity; if the errors of the mind be in any degree corrected and reformed, and the social propensities of manhind strengthened and extended; I have my wish.
THE BIOGRAPHER. JOHN MILTON.
To write at this time the life of an Author like the Poet abovementioned, would be superfluous and impertinent.—Every circumstance that attended him is so generally known; his admirers have so minutely recorded his excellencies, and his enemies have taken the same kind care of bh failings, that little more is left for us than to consider him in the particular province of a Dramatic Poet.
Milton appears to have been but slenderly gifted for the effects of Tragedy—His powers inclined little to the pathetic, though Euripides was his favourite author. The other grand principle of tragic effort seemed as little within his attainment.—The terror that his conception would excite is rendered less vivid by the solemn prolongation of his period, and the concatenation of
his lines The nervous brevity of Shakspere he
admired, but he did not imitate. His two dramatic poems, exquisite as they are, considered as the vehicles of florid imagination and elegant expression, are nevertheless utterly remote from modern sentiment and modern language. There is little to regret"that, Following the obvious bias of his mind, he soared into the epic field of unbounded invention, and permitted the Drama of his country, gothic and barbarous as he deemed it, to remain without a contest in those hands to which Nature seemed to have consigned the portraiture of Manners and of Man.
Fortune is frequently favourable in the arrangement of events: an escape from the enthusiasm of his politics might have rendered the great Milton an uncouth Historian, and an unsuccessful Dramatist. The extent of his attainments made him little doubtf ul of their capabilities. It was the most felicitous circumstance of his life, that abandoning the Drama religiously, and History from calamity, he fixed upon a Theme of such exquisite beauty as enabled him to bear the evils of blindness and adversity, soothed by the nightly harmonies of heaven, and sustained unfalteringly by the holy fervourof inspired Poesy. COMUS.
This beautiful Mask has given rise to much Criticism, respecting circumstances of the scene to which objections are applied:—we shall briefly consider them with all possible respect—as the authorities are of high eminence.
First—It is objected, that there is a considerable impropriety in the Spirit addressing the Audience to acquaint them with his nature and mission, in a monologue of extreme length, in the First Scene.— The remark is, however, attempted to be repelled by a reference to the continued Chorus of the Greeh drama never vacating the stage.—This palliation will, notwithstanding its tone of triumph, be of little avail, until it is shewn that there is in Comus any Chorus whatever. The Greek audiences were not Choroides; that constant occupant of their Theatres, denominated the Chorus, was relevant to the Drama, and as expedience demanded, either of Virgins or Senators, Soldiers Oi.priests. The Address is, in truth, an elegant absurdity—and intended to the audience.
To the Second—Dr. Johnson. has hinted at the ridiculous expedient to celebrate the beauty of Philosophy, and the sanctity of Virginity, in the disputation of the Brothers overtaken by night; and by darkness divided from-their Sister. From this charge the Bard may be more easily vindicated—Why they were so long absent is another question—I have-to account for the disputation: we find them in the double obscurity of night and a thick shade formed by innumerous boughs. To dissipate the fear of the Younger Brother for his Sister's safety, the Elder descants upon the unassailable nature of virgin purity. In the uncertainty of their situation, to move was dangerous; to expatiate, therefore, while it fortified their minds against alarming apprehension, deceived the weariness of time, combined with the aking privations of silence and darhness.
Comus, as it is here given, is an adaptation to the modern stage—by the retrenchment of much Dialogue, and the addition of many Airs^—That the Poetry of this beautiful piece suffers by a modern hand can be little doubted. Veneration for the Author might wish it in the original state; but a dramatic exhibition must please to be repeated ;—the aim should be to venture as little innovation as possible. The Music of Arne, in the modern Comus, is well known; it is as intelligent as modern music can be.
Let not this article be closed without paying to deceased merits the praise so deservedly their due:— From the late Mr. Henderson's performance of Comus was derived one of the most luxuriant feasts