Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

setting to music the words “He was despised and rejected of men,” he found the composer dissolved in tears, absolutely sobbing.

It is, as your chairman has remarked, with feel. ings solemn such as these, that you will, I feel sure, listen to the divine strains in which the grand, the tender, the majestic, are adapted to words of unequalled sublimity and pathos. The oratorio commences by alluding to the predicted advent of the Messiah. We are brought by degrees nearer and nearer to the great event, until in the chorus “ Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given," we are brought to the eve of the nativity. The second portion of this first part, commencing with the “Pastoral Symphony,'' announces the actual advent of the Messiah-" Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Sion," -and the character of his ministry—“Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened," "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd;" concluding with the invitation to “Come unto him all ye that labour, and he will give you rest.

T'he second part commencing with the chorus “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” reminds us that the Messiah came not only to teach, but to offer Himself a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Then is described his triumph over death and the grave, his resurrection, his ascension, his session at the right hand of power, concluding with that Hallelujah Chorus to which I have already called your attention. The third part relates to our own resurrection from the dead; and in the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain," we are as it were transported from this nether sphere, and permitted to obtain a glimpse of heaven itself.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, having just alluded to the order of this performance, I make way for the music of one

Whose heaven-born strains the coldest hearts inspire ;
Whose chorus-thunder sets the soul on fire.

MILTON'S “COMUS."

BY THE

RIGHT HON. SIR JAMES STEPHEN, K.C.B.

(Tass familiar and delightful historically-descriptive lecture

on Milton's masque of “Comus," was delivered by the late Right Hon. Sir James Stephen, to the members of the Manchester_Young Men's Christian Association; Robert Gladstone, Esq., presiding: Sir James Stephen was Pro. fessor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge. He died recently at Coblentz, in the 71st year of his age. The honour of knighthood was conferred upon him in 1848, in acknowledgment of his services, under the Melbourne Ministry, as Onder-Secretary for the Colonies. His able articles in the “Edinburgh Review," on Ecclesiastical History, have been published in two volumes; and he is also the author of lectures on the “History of France."]

I HOPE that most of you are occasionally able to escape from the turmoil and smoke of this great city, for a summer's ramble into some of those beautiful parts of the country which the railway has brought within your immediate neighbourhood. On that supposition, permit me to suggest to you the plan for such a holiday. Year after year there go forth a large body of pilgrims to those northern mountains, where the genius of the great enchanter, Sir Walter Scott, enables them to trace the wanderings of James Fitz James, and the Lady of the

I would direct your steps to that picturesque valley which stretches many miles from the junction of the little Welsh rivers, the Teme and the Corve, both of them tributaries of the Severn, to the point where the Severn itself reaches, and nearly encircles the ancient city of Shrewsbury. There a yet greater enchanter, John Milton, will reveal to you the precise scene where Comus and his monstrous rout held their revels, and where was effected the almost miraculous deliverance of the Lady of Lndlow Castle.

When pursuing that track some years ago, I found myself ascending that steep but spacious, and even yet handsome street which rises from Ludlow Bridge to the summit of the hill on which the venerable town of Shrewsbury is built. The whitewashed walls of those now desolate mansions, and half-deserted shops, said to me as plainly as walls could say anything, “ When we were built, the windings you see beneath us of the Teme and the Corve were fringed by the then famous forest of Hainault; and out of it were hewn those massive cross-beams upon which you see our second and third storeys are resting the edges of their overlapping rooms, making for me a sheltered walk where one may escape not only the rain of this humid climate, but also that thick carpet of wet grass which stretches from one side of the street to the other, with a luxuriance unknown even in the much boasted pleasure grounds of many a city. I forced myself through that remarkable specimen of street architecture, till I reached the Abbey Church; one of those magnificent cathedral edifices of which our forefathers have left us the possession, rather than the enjoy. ment or the use; and urging my way along the crest of the hill, I stood at length on the smooth top of a vast mass of rock which had plunged its giant feet into the bed of the united rivers below. And being a holiday-making, I stood there to amuse myself with observing how the stream eddied, foamed, and fretted round the obstacle opposed to its progress, reminding one that there was a sort of analogy between the hot temperament of the two

[ocr errors]

Welsh rivers and the warm blood of our friends of the Principality who live upon their borders. The weather itself was very hot, and I sighed for some genius to come and lift just one quarter of a century's load off my shoulders, and then, as in your time of life, what a plunge would I not have had into the flashing waters below! But as that was im. possible, I turned my eyes upwards to gaze on the ruined walls and towers which I saw reflected in their bosom; and I wanted no guide to tell me that I was looking upon what remained of Ludlow Castle, formerly at once the fortress and palace of the Lords Presidents of the Welsh Marshes; nor did I want any guide to inform me that that now roofless hall, through which the soft blue of an autumnal sky was looking down so smilingly upon me, was the very council chamber where in the month of October, 1634, the “Comus” of Milton was first made known to the world, through the recitation of it by the children of John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater. A noble association! an incident amply sufficient to impart dignity to any edificel and yet if

you

shall condescend to take my advice, and to follow me in that pilgrimage, even the “Comus” of Milton, and the recitation of it there, will not be the most impressive of the incidents of which Ludlow Castle' will remind you. From that castle went forth the writs by which, in the name of Henry III., Simon de Montford, Earl of Leicester, first brought together the knights and burgesses of England to sit in parliament, and so laid the basis of our present constitution. It was from these walls that issued the proclamation by which Richard, Duke of York, claimed against Richard II. the crown of England, and so opened the long series of the wars of York and Lancaster. Within those walls was living the duke's grandson, the yomg Edward V., when he inherited that much disputed crown, and expiated his inheritance so

any of

shortly afterwards by a cruel and violent death. There died Arthur, Prince of Wales, on whose death succeeded to that crown Henry VIII., the unblest author of the ever-blessed Reformation. Hither came James I., bringing with him his unhappy son Charles, there to exercise the presidency over the whole of Wales; and there Charles, in his turn, sent John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater, to discharge the same high office. If you should visit Ludlow Castle, you will bear in reverential remembrance John, Earl of Bridgewater, for he was the fifth lineal ancestor of that Duke of Bridgewater who united your city with the Mersey and with the Thames, and with the oceans and the continents that lie beyond them; he was the eighth lineal ancestor of your later Francis Egerton, Earl of Ellesmere, the blessing of every neighbourhood in which he lived, and the grace of every society into which he entered.

The lecturer, before describing the masque of

Comus," and m:1sques in general, asked—Why were our forefathers so fond of calling this blessed land of ours

“Merry England ?” I am afraid it is not an epithet either ourselves or our neighbours would be very much disposed to apply to the Eng. land of the present hour. Our best and most famed amusements demand a good deal of solitude, seclusion, and silence; the amusements of our forefathers throve best under the broad light of the sun, and amidst the shouts of an applauding multitude. They could not bury themselves in libraries, picture galle. ries, or in scientific institutes; they had no books, they had no newspapers, they had no literary society; and unhappily, they had no Rowland Hill to circulate letters among them. But although our forefathers had not these pleasures of seclusion, they enjoyed racing and chasing, and hunting and shooting, and fishing and boating; and though—unhappy men !-they knew nothing of our royal game of cricket, yet they had very many games of which we

« НазадПродовжити »