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represented by the lady Alice Egerton, then about thirteen years of age, and her two brothers, lord Brackley and Thomas Egerton, who were still younger. The story of this piece is said to have been suggested by the circumstance of the lady Alice having been separated from her company in the night, and having wandered for some time by herself in the forest of Haywood, as she was returning from a distant visit to meet her father, on his taking possession of his newly intrusted scepter. On this small base of fact a most sumptuous and beautiful edifice of fancy has been constructed.
Comus, KOMOL, or revelry, liad been
" See Warton's note on Comus, said to be mentioned in a MS. by Oldys, 1.34.
P Την γαρ στέγην την δ' έποτ' εκλέιπει χορός
Σύμφθογλος, εκ ευφωνος και γαρ ε λίγει.
Πρύταρχος α' την:
personified, as Mr. Warton has remarked ben fore me, in a dreadfully sublime passage of the Agamemnon of Æschylus; and the jolly god had been already introduced upon our stage in a mask by Ben Jonson: but it remained for Milton to develope his form and character, to give him a lineage and an empire, and to make him the hero of the most exquisite dramatic
poem, which, perhaps, the genius of man has ever produced. Among the compositions of our own country it certainly stands unrivalled for its affluence in poetic imagery and diction; and, as an effort of the creative
power, it can be paralleled only by the muse of Shakspeare, by whom, in this respect, it is possibly exceeded.
With Shakspeare the whole, with exception to some rude outlines or suggestions of the story, is the immediate emanation of his own mind: but Milton's erudition prohibited him from this extreme originality, and was perpetually supplying him with thoughts, which would sometimes obtain the preference from his judginent, and would sometimes be mistaken for her own property by his invention. Original, however, he is; and of all the song inferior in this requisite of
genius only to Shakspeare. Neither of these wonderful men was so far privileged above
his species as to possess other means of acquiring kņowledge than through the inlets of the senses, and the subsequent operations of the mind on this first mass of ideas. The most exalted of human intelligences cannot forin one mental phantasm uncompounded of this visible world. Neither Shakspeare nor Milton could conceive a sixth corporeal sense, or a creature absolutely distinct from the inhabiters of this world. A Caliban or an Ariel; a devil, or an angel are only several compositions and modifications of our animal creation; and heaven and hell can be built with nothing more than our terrestrial elements newly arranged and variously combined. The distinction, therefore, between one human intelligence and another must be occasioned solely by the different degrees of clearness, force, and quickness with which it perceives, retains and combines. On the superiority in these mental faculties it would be difficult to decide between those extraordinary men, who are the immediate subjects of our remark: for if we are astonished at that power, which, from a single spot, as it were, could collect sufficient materials for the construction of a world of its own, we cannot gaze without wonder
at that proud magnificence of intellect, which
be something, which might have been corrected by the revising judgment of its author; but its errors, in thought and in language, are so few and trivial that they must be regarded as the inequality of the plumage, and not as the depression or the unsteadiness of the wing. The most splendid results of Shakspeare's poetry are still urged and separated by some interposing defect: but the poetry of the Comus may be contemplated as a series of
gems strungon golden wire, where the sparkle shoots along the line with scarcely the intervention of one opake spot.
This exquisite piece has been pronounced to be undramatic; the mode in which its story is opened, has been censured as absurd, and its speeches as too long, too nicely balanced, and too “ tediously” moral for the production of stage-interest. With reference to our theatre, (though even on this Comus ' has been more than tolerated,) these censures may be admitted as just. But Milton when he wrote his Mask had no view to the modern stage; and writing for one specific object, and in a peculiar walk of composition, he might conceive himself to be liberated from many of those rules, which adapt the regular drama to the attainment of its ends. He knew that a Mask was an entertainment addressed immediately and solely to the imagination; that it was the appropriate organ of fancy, and, while it presented pleasing and striking images to the mind, that it affected no controll over the passious, nor any rigid observance of poetic truth. With him it was made the vehicle of pure poetry, carrying the most 'sublime mo
9 Comus was acted at Drury Lane on march 4, 1738, and was represented with much applause for several successive nights.