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are strangers; for example, there was archery, and falconry, and tilts, and tournaments, and Maypole dancing, and morris dancing; and there was wrestling, and singlestick, and quarter-staff, and many other such sports. Then we are all aware that our admirable Elizabeth—whose name I hope never to hear mentioned except with affection and reverence-our great and glorious Elizabeth condescended to employ some portion of her leisure time in baiting the bear, and the boar, and the badger, and the bull. The very religion of those days was a continued source of amusement. You could hardly turn in any direction without seeing a pilgrimage, or a procession; or, if such were your taste, you would meet with those singular kind of exhibitions, which went by the name of mummeries, mysteries, and moralities, a sort of religious plays, which were enacted in all directions; so that the country not being very densely peopled, and the inhabitants having abundance of food, abundance of leisure, and a hearty taste for this sort of amusement, the whole land had a kind of jovial, festive appearance, which induced our forefathers, and I think with very considerable reason, to call it Merry England.
King James I. brought with him from Scotland a sort of rigid Protestanism, which would not put up with this kind of religious theatricals, as well as a degree of refinement, mental culture, and good taste, which made him shrink from the robust and rather unfeminine amusements of his great predecessor. King James finding this merry England, and wishing it to be so, what was he to do? Why, not liking these bull-baits, &c., he set himself to work to introduce to his court and retainers at Whitehall, the entertainment called “ masques," which were of Italian invention, Tasso, and other great authors, having condescended to write masques. The writing of masques was taken up by Ben JonAon—the "rare Ben Jonson" of Westminster Abbey. Now a masque was not, as the word seems to imply, a drama ; there were not any successive events all converging towards a catastrophe, which was the essence of a drama. The masque was, in fact, a poem, consisting of dialogue and of song; and the very beauty and essence of a masque consisted in this, that the writer of the masqne should erect a most splendid edifice of imagination and fancy upon the very slightest possible basis of fact. It was not a theatrical representation, because it was entirely performed in private houses, chiefly in palaces; and not by hired actors, but by the young people of the house; and it was a very princely entertainment. Now when Lord Bridgewater was appointed by Charles I. to be president of the Welsh Marshes, and wanted to have a good house-warming, his lordship thought he would have a masque. Ben Jonson, the only man of any note for that kind of literature at that day, being very near to his end, Lord Bridgewater looked about for somebody who could perform for him what Ben Jonson had been performing for James I. It happened that Lord Bridgewater addressed himself to some of the mortals of that day who chanced to be acquainted with one of the immortals of the day, and they told Lord Bridgewater that there was a very ingenious young gentleman, Mr. John Milton the younger, a student of Christ College, Cambridge, a very pleasant young gentleman, who had written some very pretty copies of verses, Greek, Latin, Italian, and English, and they had not the slightest doubt he would make a very pretty masque for the entertainment of Ludlow Castle. Whereupon Lord Bridgewater addressed him. self to Mr. John Milton the younger, and he accepting the overture, appeared in the month of October, 1634, at Ludlow Castle, with his manuscript in his pocket, prepared to superintend the recitation of it.
Three children of Lord Bridgewater took a walk, some say were engaged in a journey, in the forest of Hainault, and they lost their way; and one of his lordship's cottagers brought the children home :Dow there is the history of Comus. Milton applied his gigantic intellect to that incident, well remembering and exemplifying the lesson of his greater predecessor, for yet greater he was in regard to genius-remembering those everlastingly quoted words, but yet so beautiful, though it be the fifty thousandth repetition, they will bear a fifty thousandth and one--I mean that noble
in Midsummer Night's Dream
*The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
Now the “local habitation and a name” is what Milton imparted to this trifling story, foolish you might consider it, of these children. The story in the hands of Milton is this :—There dwelt in ancient times, in one of the islands of the Ægean sea, a great sorceress named Circe, and she
melo. dious music, by which she attracted to her island all the passers by, and induced them to land. When they had landed, she presented to them a cup of sorcery, of which they drank, and assumed a bestial form, wallowing in a certain sensual sty for the rest of their existence. So far is the tale of Homer, to which Milton makes this addition. Circe gave birth to a son named Comus, of whom the wild god Bacchus was the father, and Comus inherited the qualities of both his parents, the lasciviousness of the mother, and the intemperance of the father, together with his prodigious fondness for travelling So it
to pass that in the year 1634 this son of Bacchus found his way to Hainault forest, where, like his mother, he presented
one of these cups to every person passing through the forest. Those who drank of the cup did not fall into quite such a wretched plight as in Circe's island, but they lived in happy ignorance of their fate. Well, it so happened that one day the three child. ren of Lord Bridgewater were wandering in this forest. The lady being fatigued, reposed herself on a mossy bank. Her brothers went to seek straw. berries for her, and they could not find their way back; whereupon she sang a very charming song that they might hear it and return to her. Comus hears this song, and presents himself in the shape of a shepherd, which he had assumed for the purposes of the delusion. He tells the lady that he has an old mother, an estimable personage, living in a cottage in the neighbourhood, and if the lady will have the kindness to follow him, that the old woman will conduct her home to her father's house. In her strong courage of innocence she follows him. Then appears on the scene a good spirit, whose earthly name is Thirsis, who, having ascertained that Čomus is in the wood, has provided himself with an antidote to his charms, as far as regarded this lady. The brothers are in great distress, and Thirsis offers to conduct them to their sister, "only,” he says, "when you get to Comus, mind you take his wand, if you do not, the lady will not be disenchanted." They find the lady in a magnificent palace, seated on a throne, from whence she
She is ably debating with Comus against his proposal that she should taste of his cup. The brothers rush on in such a great hurry that unfortunately the direction about the wand is forgotten, and though Comus is driven away, the lady remains absolutely motionless on the throne. Whereupon Thirsis raises a most beautiful song, by which he summons to his aid Sabrina, the water nymph, who gives name to the Severn,-and she delivers the lady. Then Thirsis, and the brothers, and the lady, all repair to the castle; and when the children are under the care of their parents, Thirsis lays aside the appearance of humanity he had assumed, and floats away into his native sphere with the most charming carol of delight and joy imaginable.
That is something like an outline of the story. You will say—“All this is very fanciful, but it is not the least in the world dramatic.” You may read the same objection in Dr. Johnson's “Life of Milton." Most assuredly I am not going to obtrude upon you a dissertation on Milton's poetry, it is vastly too large a subject. I will only touch upon this one point, “What is the essential characteristic of Milton's poetry?” The Greeks, who we know were, of all people upon earth, the most fastidious, refined, and delicate in their use of words, called a bard, that is, a poet, a “creator;" and they called his song a
poem," that is, a "creation, without the slightest consciousness that they were making use of any expressions which were in their nature audacious or profane. Why not? Because the Greeks had not our notions at all touching the creative power. When they conceived of the Supreme Mind giving existence to subordinate minds, they considered him as detaching from himself a part of his own essence. The Greek notion was that the Divine Mind was a sort of fathomless abyss of what they called ideas, images, forms, shapes, of all things existing, or which by possibility could exist, in the universe ; and the subordinate minds thrown off by the Divine Mind were also depositories of ideas and images, but very often lying dormant, to be awakened by the force of events, and the progress of life. The essence of a great poem in the Greek mind was, that it should be replete, thickly sown with ideas; that the poet throwing off from his mind the poem, he was to engender into that poem a sort of treasury of ideas, the great mass of them latent and dormant, to be disinterred. Now I