Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

bridge, some miles from Horton; and the poet's musical friend, Henry Lawes, was in the service, as it was termed, of her and her family. On Shrove-Tuesday night, in 1633-34, the splendid mask of Cælum Britannicum, the machinery by Inigo Jones, the poetry by Thomas Carew, and the music by Henry Lawes, was presented in the Banqueting-House, at Whitehall, the King himself being one of the maskers. Among the “young lords and nóblemen's sons” attending on them, were Lord Brackley and Mr. Thomas Egerton, the grandsons of the Countess of Derby. These boys, and some of their relations, or more probably Lawes himself, may then have conceived the idea of giving an entertainment of a similar kind to the venerable Countess herself; and for the requisite dramatic narrative and lyric poetry, Lawes had recourse to his gifted friend at Horton.* We have already shown the utter absurdity of the supposition of Milton's being a visitor at Harefield.

The poetry is splendid, perhaps too good for the occasion, and probably there were few present who fully comprehended the poet's sublime language respecting the music of the spheres ; but as Lawes probably recited with taste and expression, the effect must have been highly agreeable. We do not see the necessity of assuming, with Warton, that “unquestionably this Mask was a much longer performance," or that, as he says, there was also prose and machinery. As the entertainment was given to the Countess at her own house, the machinery would have most probably been at her own expense, while the terms "presented

* That Arcades and Comus were written for Lawes, and not for the Countess of Derby or the Egertons, appears from Lawes' Dedication of Comus, in which he says, “ the often copying of it hath tired my pen to give my several friends satisfaction, and brought me to a nece

ecessity of producing it to the public view,” etc. He surely would not express himself in such terms if he did not regard it as his property. Professor E. Taylor, in an Essay presently to be quoted, expresses the very same opinion as that which we have given.

presented . . by some noble persons of her family,” would lead us to suppose that it was entirely gratuitous. The whole seems complete as it is. The maskers enter singing, the Genius of the Wood appears

and addresses them; he then, with a song, leads them up to where the Countess was sitting ; they dance before her, and the Genius then perhaps concludes with the other song.

It appears to us that the entertainment, like Ben Jonson's Satyr, was presented in the open air, in Harefield Park, and that therefore it took place in the summer-time. The place where the Countess was stationed was probably hung round with lamps, which will explain the various allusions made in the songs to the radiance with which she was invested.

COMUS.

The success of the Arcades probably inspired Lawes and the Egerton family with ideas of a bolder cast. The Earl of Bridgewater, head of that family, and son-in-law of the Countess of Derby, had been appointed, in 1631, Lord President of Wales and the Marches; but, from some cause or other he did not take up his official residence at Ludlow castle, in Salop, till the autumn of 1634,--the year, as we have seen, in which the Arcades was presented. Warton tells us (from a MS., he says, of Oldys'), that “on this occasion he was attended by a large concourse of the neighbouring nobility and gentry. Among the rest came his children, in particular, Lord Brackley, Mr. Thomas Egerton, and Lady Alice. They had been on a visit at a house of their relations, the

a

.

Egerton family, in Herefordshire ; and in passing through Haywood forest were benighted, and the Lady Alice was even lost for a short time. This accident, which in the end was attended with no bad consequences, furnished the subject of a Mask for a Michaelmas festivity, and produced Comus. Lord Bridgewater was appointed Lord President, May 12, 1633. When the perilous adventure in Haywood forest happened, if true, cannot now be told; it must have been soon after. The Mask was acted at Michaelmas, 1634.” We must confess, that we certainly feel inclined to regard this tale of the Children in the Wood, as somewhat apocryphal, and as being founded on Comus. At all events, it must have occurred, not in 1633, but a short time before the representation of the Mask, in the prologue to which it is said --

. . His fair offspring, nursed in princely lore, Are coming to attend their father's state

And new-entrusted sceptre. This would seem to prove that it was their first visit to Ludlow, and it is most probable that the Mask had been prepared and learned by the young actors at Harefield, and was presented by them on their arrival at Ludlow castle.

The origin of Comus would appear to have been as follows:- There was a "pleasant conceited comedy,” by the unfortunate George Peele, named The Old Wives Tale, which Lawes probably had read; and it may have struck him that some of the incidents in it might be employed in the construction of the Mask, to be written by Milton, at his request, and to be presented by himself and his young pupils at Ludlow. All perhaps that he proposed was, that, as the lady and her brothers were passing through a wood, on their way, she should be lost, and fall into the power of an enchanter, from which

, she should be delivered by her brothers, and it may be by himself in the character of an attendant spirit. For all the rest, he trusted to the genius of his poetic friend, and well he might trust to it; for the noble poem that thence arose must have amazed himself and every one that heard or read it. As Hallam most justly observes, it "was sufficient to convince any one of taste and feeling, that a great poet had arisen in England, and one partly formed in a different school from his contemporaries.”

If we allow ourselves to be guided by Warton and Todd, we shall detract considerably from Milton's powers of invention, for we shall find nearly all the incidents of Comus in the Old Wives Tale. But, on reading the Play itself, we shall be surprised to see how trifling and how unconnected these incidents are which he is accused of adopting. In fact, we almost doubt if Milton had read the Play at all, or knew any more of its contents than what Lawes told him, who may not even have mentioned it.

“This very scarce and curious piece,” says Warton, " exhibits, among other parallel incidents, two Brothers wandering in quest of their Sister, whom an Enchanter had imprisoned. This magician had learned his art from his mother Meroe, as Comus had been instructed by his mother Circe. The Brothers call out on the lady's name, and Echo replies. The Enchanter had given her a potion, which suspends the powers of reason and superinduces oblivion of herself. The Brothers afterwards meet with an Old Man, who is also skilled in magic, and by listening to his soothsaying, they recover their lost Sister. But not till the Enchanter's wreath had been torn from his head, his sword wrested from his hand, a glass broken, and a light extinguished.” Warton, in addition, notices that in the Old Wives Tale, three adventurers are lost in a wood, where they sing a song, hear a dog, and fancy themselves to be near some village. They meet a peasant with a lantern, who invites them to his cottage. His old wife then tells a tale, to pass the time. The personages of the tale appear, of whom the first are two brothers, who are just landed in Albion in search of the Princess their sister, whom an Enchanter in the shape of a dragon had stolen away. A soothsayer enters, with whom they converse about her, and in their search Echo replies to their call. “ They find, too late, that their Sister is under the captivity of a wicked magician, and that she has tasted his cup of oblivion. In the close, after the wreath is torn from the Magician's head, and he is disarmed and killed by a Spirit, in the shape and character of a beautiful page of fifteen years old, she still remains subject to the Magician's enchantment. But in a subsequent scene, the Spirit enters, and declares that the Sister cannot be delivered but by a lady, who is neither maid, wife, nor widow. The Spirit blows a magical horn, and the Lady appears; she dissolves the charm, by breaking a glass and extinguishing a light, as I have before recited. A curtain is withdrawn, and the Sister is seen seated and asleep. She is disenchanted, and restored to her senses, having been spoken to thrice. She then rejoins her two Brothers, with whom she returns home; and the Boy-spirit vanishes under the earth. The magician is here called, "enchanter vile,' as in Comus, v. 907." These resemblances, when thus stated, appear no doubt very close, but still we say, Read the Old Wives Tale, and you will see how really faint they

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »