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a set eulogium upon unchastity supported by every resource of fancy, wit, and imagery at the command of the writer. The breach of one moral law is adduced as an argument for the violation of a second, and almost in the words of Milton's unhallowed wizard it is laid down that we only sin when Love's rites are not done.'
The incense offered at the royal shrine had not the most delicate perfume. It was not thought ridiculous to compare the pimples of the small-pox in the King's face to small stars set in the Milky Way, any more than it was afterwards thought irreverent to compare his execution to the scene on Calvary, or to travesty the New Testament in his honour, as was done by some zealous Cavalier who considered it allowable to put Charles in the place of the Saviour in the narrative of the Temptation, and to say of him that the people brought unto him all that were diseased with the Evil, and he healed them.'
If we suppose that Milton had made certain discoveries of this kind :-that the courtesies of the Court (whence they had their name) were 'glozing lies;' that glistering apparel might cover nothing better than men who had lost the chief honour of their humanity, and who gloried in their shame; that the refinements so much in esteem were brought from Celtic and Iberian fields, from France and Italy, by the son of Bacchus and Circe (Wine and Sloth); that the delight in external nature had ended in sensuality ;--could he have made known the results of his experience more forcibly or less offensively than in this Mask ? If these were the perils to which the youth of high rank were then chiefly exposed, the thoughtless spirit of enjoyment, the spirit of L’Allegro, would lead them into the midst of the danger. We need not be surprised, therefore, to find that the invocation of Comus recalls the summons to Euphrosyne, as a caricature recalls a face, being an exaggeration and distortion of it. The “light fantastic' round is a feature common to both. Throughout, in the speeches of Comus, we have these suggestions of the former poem, stray notes from the mirthful song sounding for a moment among the wonted roar and dissonance; and in the parts assigned to the Spirit, the Lady, and the Brothers, the underlying idea of the Penseroso—most musical, most melancholy'-is dwelt upon and expanded. Its end is shewn to be not contemplation merely, but the knowledge of the hidden powers of moral as well as of physical nature, the possession of a charm bearing its owner safely through temptation, enabling him to assault the powers of darkness and to come off unscathed. There is no sour scorn of humble pleasures, no vulgar contempt for mere rusticity.
A nobler vindication of divine philosophy in its moral application was never penned. It ranks with Bacon's defence of wisdom against the commonplaces of men of the world, pedantic in their several pursuits, and stigmatizing as a pedant the man who can survey and give direction to their efforts.
The profligacy of the Court was supported and increased by its extravagance. In little more than eighteen months (in the interval, that is, from March 1626 to July 1627, when the system of forced loans was in full operation) Charles himself spent nearly 30,000l. in jewellery alone. And this appears to have been no exceptional outlay, as many of the items are but part payments of large debts on this account. The Court, with its lax morality and reckless luxury, was the natural ally of the gorgeous ritual and ecclesiastical tyranny which are associated with the name of Laud. The pomp of 'the stately palace set out with all manner of deliciousness' extended to the sanctuary, and was there called “the beauty of holiness.' The sorcerer's cup was commended by wile and threat to the Church's lips. When congregations were recalcitrant against Laudian innovations, their attendance was enforced by fine and imprisonment. The allegoric touches in this poem are here and there so rapidly given that we can only appreciate their definite application by following the history of the time into its minuter details. Thus the magic dust' of Comus acquires a new significance when we remember that it is the character of a shepherd which the deceiver wishes to assume, and that the chief pastor of England in the consecration of a church (on Jan. 16, 1630-1), 'cast dust into the air.'
Again, the 'wakes' had in 1633 been maintained by Laud against the remonstrance of the judges, and in the promulgation of the Book of Sports' the archbishop had shewn that his zeal for ceremonies did not prevent his attempting what was regarded as a deliberate desecration of a divinely appointed institution. Even the staunch royalist Fuller evidently wished that the luckless proclamation had been laid aside by Charles as by James, and inclined to the popular belief that the civil battles (notably Edgehill) fought on a Sunday were judgments specially connected with this act of the King's government. The divines who counselled it did so in the hope that the pastimes enjoined would hinder the people from talking critically of matters of Church and State, and from resorting to conventicles. They took for granted that the Church was established in fact as well as in name, and willingly followed the prevalent fashion of maintaining it by taking good care of themselves, by scrambling at the 'shearer's feast' for rich deaneries and bishoprics, for places in Council and in the court of High Commision. All strenuous endeavour, all vigorous individuality was suppressed as far as the relentless use of authority, short of actual bloodshed, could be effectual for that purpose.
It seemed that nothing remained to employ the abilities of statesmen, or to evoke the energies of the people, than the maintenance of existing institutions, subject to whatever modifications might suit the interest or caprice of the King and his advisers. The reports of Laud's last visitation gave him assurance that the tranquil immobility he desired was attainable, if not already attained. He had done his part to secure it. He had placed Churchmen in posts that since the Tudor days had been held by laymen. Thoroughly satisfied, he wrote in his Diary, “if the Church of England cannot now maintain itself under God, I can do no more.'
And so the Lady sits paralysed in the palace of Comus, ‘in stony fetters fixt and motionless.' The true nobility of England (with rare exceptions are not the courtiers. Twothirds of the English peerage could not date their honour farther back than the accession of James I. 'For the most
part,' says Mr. Bisset, 'the nobles were King's men, truly as well as lineally the representatives of the creatures of the Tudors, enriched by the plunder of the Church, and of the still baser minions of the Stuarts. With upstart insolence they looked down upon the gentry who were the real English aristocracy. But they were themselves a 'rabble,' as Milton has here depicted them.
Yet there were exceptions—some who might be supposed (in the words of the Spirit) to aspire
"To lay their just hands on that golden key
That opes the palace of eternity.' For these was Milton's song and Milton's warning. They could, if their resistance were wise as well as valiant, effect the overthrow of Comus so that he only should be overthrown. The Brothers should have seized the wand and bound the Enchanter fast. Then the power which had been wielded for evil would not have been weakened, but employed in the service of good. And so it proved. The rabble and their lord of misrule were driven forth, but the Lady, Milton's Una, was left enchanted. Only by calling in a new agent could the work be completed. And of this new force of Purity is Sabrina the type. She releases the Lady, and her mission being accomplished, she departs. But we are meant to observe that her intervention is a second-best expedient; and in the anxiety of the Spirit,
Lest the sorcerer entice
With some other new device,' we see that Milton was not without apprehensions as to its issue. But he passes quickly away to the realities on which his Mask is founded, the actual circumstances of its production, and its moral basis. Of the last he has no more doubt than of the visible presence of the noble Lord and Lady bright.' He is sure that virtue is the only guide to true liberty, and that the feebleness of virtue will be aided by Omnipotence.
Milton's early training eliminated all ‘harsh and crabbed' notes from his philosophy, rendering it musical as is Apollo's
lute.' His numbers are often as melodious as the verse of Shakespeare himself, whose cadences are sometimes exactly reproduced; e. g.
It were a journey like the path to Heaven
To help you find them.' (The speech of Comus, “I know each lane and every alley green,' is another example of many that might be given.) An allegory unrivalled for clearness of design, beauty of form, and precision of language is closed by an epilogue that recalls the exultant trill of Ariel's parting song, and the fays of whom were the visions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The myth of Venus and Adonis shadows forth the sluggishness and sadness of mere earthly passion, and the superior worth and dignity of the love which may have its beginning therein, but must await its development and joyful consummation in a higher and holier region, whence is the source of freedom and of power.
Milton did not think to sing again for a while. In the conclusion of Comus he was prepared to rest, until his life's mellowing year'should bring to him the inward ripeness he had so long watched for. 'Long choosing and beginning late' his lofty theme, he was anxious not to forestall the
season due' of his laurels by strains which to his purged ears would be 'harsh and crude,' though to others they might seem the resounding grace of Heaven's harmony. But though thus self-contained, he shrank from no obligation that human kindness and the custom of the time might lay upon him. His friend's memory claimed and received from his gentle muse the meed of a melodious tear. In Lycidas the event which gave occasion for the poem has the first place, and to it the various changes of theme are subordinate. As he recalls his life at Cambridge with his friend, and all the rich promise that Death had blighted, the thought presses on him that even for one dearer to the muse than Edward Kingfor one whom universal nature might lament—the same dark fate may be at hand. And then of what avail in his strict meditation and constant straining after lofty ideals, that he may leave something so written to after-times as they