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The Masque of Comus is one of the most constantly read and referred to of all the poems of Milton; it was written in 1634, when the poet was twenty-six years of age; and through every line it presents gleam after gleam of extraordinary beauty. As soon as we open the poem, we are introduced to a fairy world, peopled by beings who move across its pages with all the dignity and majesty of humanised philosophy. The poem is affluent in sentiment, images, and diction, yet founded upon a most simple circumstance. It was written for presentation at Ludlow Castle, where the Earl of Bridgewater kept his court as Lord President of Wales.— The earl's two sons, and his daughter, Lady Alice, were benighted, and lost their way in Haywood Forest, and the two brothers, to explore their path, left their sister alone in a tract

of country inhabited by boors and savage peasants.

On these simple facts, the poet raised a superstructure of fairy spells and poetical delight.* The poem abounds in allegory; it is ethical and didactic: it discourses of the nature of virtue, of the true character of temperance, of the method of the seductions of vice. Nor less does it abound in figures delineative of country life, with its scenes and occupations. Let the reader linger over the rich fullness of descriptions that bring before us

"The grey-hooded Even,
Like a sad votarist, in palmer's weeds;"

or those hints so suggestive of evening life in the country.

"Might we but hear
The folded flocks penn'd in their wattled cotes,
Or sound of pastoral reed with oaten stops,
Or whistle from the lodge, or village cock
Count the night-watches to his feathery dames.
'Twould be some solace yet, some little cheering,
In this close dungeon of innumerous boughs."

Comus is the great arch-reveller, the tempter of the poem; he is impersonated Sensuality.

• Sir Egerton Brydges.

To him everything that is exists only for enjoyment and lust. He is fabled to hold his reign in the woods, with his rude Bacchic rout of fellow-revellers; there they quaff the cups which transform the express resemblance of the gods to brutish forms of wolves, or bears; of ounce, or tiger; of hog, or bearded goat; while the victims of the enchantment, (so perfect in their misery) not once perceive their foul disfigurement: and, as Comus is impersonated Sensuality, so the lost Lady of the masque is impersonated Virtue. No better description can be given of the general idea of the poem than the discussion between Comus and the Lady who has fallen into his power. In reply to the invitation of Comus to taste of his charmed cup, she says :—

"None

But such as are good men can give good things,
And that which is not good is not delicious
To a well-govern'd and wise appetite.

Ouiius.—Oh foolishness of men ! that lend their ears
To those budge* doctors of the Stoic fur,
And fetch their precepts from the Cynic tub,
Praising the lean and sallow abstinence.
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,

• "Budge," furred.

Covering the earth with odours, fruits, and flocks,

Thronging the seas with spawn innumerable,

But all to please, and sate the curious taste?

And set to work millions of spinning worms.

That in their green shops weave the smooth-hair'd silk

To deck her sons; and that no corner might

Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins

She hutcht+ th' all-worshipp'd ore, and precious gems

To store her children with: if all the world

Should in a pet of temp'rance feed on pulse,

Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,

Th' All-giver would be unthank'd, would be unpraised,

Not half his riches known, and yet despised,

And we should serve him as a grudging master,

As a penurious niggard of his wealth,

And live like Nature's bastards, not her sons,

Who would be quite surcharged with her own weight,

And strangled with her waste fertility,

Th' earth cumber'd, and the wing'd air dark'd with plumes,

The sea o'erfraught would swell, and th' unsought

diamonds
Would so emblaze the forehead of the deep,
And so bestud with stars, that they below
Would grow inured to light, and come at last
To gaze upon the sun with shameless brows.

Ladt.—I had not thought to have unlock'd my lips
In this unhallow'd air, but that this juggler
Would think to charm my judgment, as mine eyea
Obtruding false rules prank'd in Reason's garb.
I hate when Vice can bolt her arguments,
And Virtue has no tongue to check her pride.
Impostor, do not charge most innocent Nature
As if she would her children should be riotous

\ "Hutcht," concealed, or kept at in a coffer.

With her abundance; she, good catereas,
Means her provision only to the good,
That lire according to her sober laws,
And holy dictate of spare temperance:
If every just man, that now pines with want,
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly-pamper'd Luxury
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Nature's full blessings would be well dispensed
In unsuperfluous even proportion,
And she no whit encumber'd with her store:
And then the Giver would be better thank'd,
His praise due paid; for swinish Gluttony
Ne'er looks to Heaven amidst his gorgeous feast,
But with besotted, base ingratitude
Crams—and blasphemes his Feeder."

Comus may stand as the god of all those who make enjoyment the great leading and central principle of life; to whom nothing lives, and brightens, and blooms, but it has a sensual meaning, and intention, and application, Man is subject to the temptation of two devils —the devil of sensuality and sense, the devil of intellectuality and spirit. The delineation of the first is in Comus, of the other in Satan. The latter is a rare subtle, abstracting spirit; the other is a universal, visible, and materialising one. The reasonings of Comus lie on the surface,—they are their own end; the reasonings of Satan lie deeper, and all things are

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