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the side of tyranny. They looked zealously for Scripture precedent for the observances which the bishops enforced with no gentle hand, demanding Bible warrant for every one of them, and rigidly examining every plea for their longer continuance. They laid stress on the texts which were best suited to their purpose, and imitated in this the action of their political opponents, who had endeavoured to terminate the traditional freedom of England by measures based upon isolated, if not obsolete statutes. And thus, recognising no ancient social organisation which could interpret and harmonise the Divine decrees, and acknowledging no bond of union but agreement in certain theological opinions, they prepared a way for that tyranny of texts under which a later generation writhed in spiritual agony. The operation of the torture may be seen in the pages of Ellwood's autobiography, and more notably still in that of Bunyan, whose soul was a very shuttlecock for his own moods to bandy to and fro by suggestion of haphazard fragments of Scripture.
The same scrupulous suspicion examined the details of daily life; and as it grew stronger it proscribed most things that made the life of that day pleasant as being either wrong in themselves, or capable of being turned to wrong account. Traditional usages met with as little mercy at the hands of Puritans as traditional liberties at the hands of courtiers. When L'Allegro and Il Penseroso were written, this jealous precision had not been pushed to the perilous extreme of a later period; but there was enough to indicate to an open and sensitive mind, as was Milton's then, that a crisis was not far distant. Was he to walk with those who cheerfully plodded on, and took what came of sunshine or of storm, using his superior culture as his solace and delight; or with those other spirits, more sombre and more stern, who 'scorned delights, and lived laborious days'?
There is nothing sour or fanatical in his mode of testing the opposing principles. They are weighed in the balance of Pleasure, the balance being held high enough, out of reach of mere animal instincts or coarse enjoyments. What 'de
lights' does each promise ? Milton has tried to be fair in his comparison, and with so much success as might lead us, after cursory examination, to suppose the poems to represent convertible phases of the same mind. But on a nearer view we shall find that the judge is not wholly impartial. Easily and without offence, had Milton so willed, might the cheerful spirit have been carried into those higher regions here reserved for the exclusive possession of her rival. The immortal mirth of Izaak Walton has a deeper foundation than mere sensuous pleasure ; it springs from healthy out-door piety and love of God and of his works.
The classical imagery of L'Allegro belongs only to the speaker Milton. It is the frame he gives to the picture, the comment he furnishes on the text. But the incidents of the poem are entirely English and commonplace, and of his own time. The past is represented only by its superstitions and traditional customs. The future is not represented at all.
The mirth of Milton is sportive and innocent, in unreproved pleasures free-free from all pressure of care or duty or consciousness. The delight in the common country sights and sounds recalls Raleigh's beautiful song, Parson Evans' ditty, that Izaak Walton heard the milkmaid sing to him at her mother's bidding-recalls the foresters of Arden and the carol of Amiens. The folk-lore too reminds us again of the wizard who set our English fairies to play their pranks in the Athenian greenwood, and extended Queen Mab's dominion as far as fair Verona. His woodnotes wild’ are (with one exception) the only pleasures in the whole L'Allegro catalogue which have a strictly mental origin; and they are not evoked by the imagination of the reader, but are enjoyed by a passive spectator at the theatre, contrasting in this particular with the gorgeous tragedy' of the Penseroso. The single exertion of the mind in its trance of luxury is the 'meeting' the Lydian airs with sufficient attention to follow the meaning of the immortal verse and the varied intricacies of the music.
In the Penseroso the past and the foreign are present and familiar. It is a fuller utterance of the poet to whom the
gods of ancient days, the ritual of the elder Church, still exist and co-exist. For his delight the Greek drama and the mediæval demonology, Plato and Chaucer and Spenser, are each and all laid under contribution. The homely simplicity of L'Allegro would be quite inadequate to the enjoyment of this dainty sweetness. Such a distinction is inherent in the generation of Euphrosyne and of the Goddess sage and holy. The one is the daughter of Zephyr and Aurora, born of the breeze and the morning in the prime of May, when the springtime stirs the youthful blood and buoyant fancy. Melancholy is the offspring of Saturn and of Vesta, of the hearth-goddess and of the ancient king of the golden age, long past, wherein
all things gain a glory by their being far;' she is born while yet there is no fear of Jove-before the power of the importunate Zeus, the irresistible rushing Life, is felt or known. It is usually 'young gentlemen' who are as sad as night only for the wantonness of pleasing melancholy.
The opening lines of each poem not only express the royal audacity of youth, banishing with an air of irrevocable decision the mood opposed to the inclination of the moment, but reflect with no great distortion the mutual intolerance between the living representatives of the two tendencies, of Ben Jonson who never misses an opportunity, and often makes one, to gird at the Puritans, and of Prynne who invokes 'Law, Gospel, Fathers, Philosophers, and Poets' to prove the iniquity of stage plays and the unlawfulness of academical interludes.'
By casting Thought into the scale of Melancholy, Milton sufficiently indicates the inclination which will guide his ultimate decision. His fixed mind' could not be filled with pleasures of which the exercise of its higher powers formed no part. And indeed the 'sad virgin' received the homage of many leading men of both parties in the sixteenth-century struggle. Her rule had been heralded by Shakespeare, when he drew the Prince whose' weakness' and whose melancholy' laid him open to the temptations of the Dark Spirit To the Anatomy of Melancholy Burton devoted his various learning. To the last days of his life, Charles I. was swayed by superstitions and presentiments, and Laud is shewn, in his Diary, to have enjoyed no immunity from their dominion. As the Puritan was coming into greater prominence, this influence of the time appears conspicuously in its effect on him. Cromwell, about 1623, suffered from hypochondriac ‘fancies about the town cross.' The crises in the Parliamentary struggle were marked by the stormy tears and sobs of the debaters.
Dr. Johnson has remarked that Mirth and Melancholy are both 'solitary and silent inhabitants of the breast. But L'Allegro sits a spectator of the rustic merry-making and of the well-trod stage, while Il Penseroso is independent of all external suggestions except those derived from books. His mind is its own place. By his midnight lamp he finds his pleasure in the abstruser studies ridiculed by Butler as the favourite mental exercises of the Puritans:
* Deep-sighted in intelligences,
Ideas, atoms, influences.' His mental, like his physical elevation, is high and lonely. Cathedral and cloister do not afford seclusion deep enough for his weary age. The hermit's cell is his fitting and final haven of rest. This termination has been thought to contrast strangely with the after-life of the author. But the incongruity is more apparent than real. In its ultimate development Puritanism was anti-social. All human organisation was to be swept away as an obstruction to the free communion of the spirit with its Creator. The appeal of Puritanism was to the individual conscience; and forms venerable by the assent of many generations were distrusted as tending to weaken the force of that appeal. In this aspect Puritanism was the antagonist of the Laudian version of Anglican discipline, the Nonconformist element passing through different phases till it appeared as Independency. But Puritanism had a wider range of influence than that exhibited in changes of Church government. It was a mighty flood submerging all England, and leaving traces of its passage even on what it could not utterly sweep away. The same narrowness of view, the same rigour of austerity, which are popularly associated with the Roundhead 'saints' are found in writers of different and even opposite schools. If Prynne declaim violently against the drama, the admirer of Crashaw looks down with contempt on Homer and on Horace. If Milton insist on the diabolic character of the divinities of the Pantheon, Cowley could write,
* And though Pan's death long since all or'cles broke,
Yet still in rhyme the fiend Apollo spoke.' There are passages in Jeremy Taylor's sermons which recall the exclusiveness of Bunyan. So that we need not be surprised to find in the Penseroso this indication of the agreement between the ideal of the Puritan and that of the anchorite. Refined men disgusted at the coarseness, passionate men disgusted at the sin of the world, have taken refuge in solitary studies, or in city conventicles and desert hermitages.
L’Allegro and Il Penseroso shew the opposing moods in play almost without let or furtherance from the outer world. But of that world Milton began to have some experience, and he has set forth in Comus the lessons he had learned.
In this Mask we have an allegoric treatment of two themes: the licence of the court, and the Romanising tendencies of the Laudian prelates. The two are connected in both poems, but in Comus the first is more insisted on, as in Lycidas the graver emphasis falls upon the second.
We are too apt to derive our notion of Charles I. solely from the grave face that looks out from the canvas of Vandyke, and to strengthen that impression by a tacit comparison of his demurer days with the open, shameless debauchery of his son. But we must remember that the licentious speech which disgraced the withdrawing-room of the palace had its sanction and example in the King's own practice. The Court poets (some of them the personal attendants of Charles), finding indecency and flattery equally acceptable, took care that there should be no lack of either. The deliberate putting of darkness for light and of bitter for sweet in the speeches of Comus will not seem overstrained to any one who may take the trouble to glance through the works of the poets most in vogue. He will find Honour stigmatized as a cheating voice, a juggling art, a vain idol, and