صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

ulterior. The arguments of Comus are intended to make the world one wide saloon of enjoyment. Comus can see no other reason in all this creation than that its whole variety and furniture should be bestowed for eating, or drinking; for gluttony, or intemperance. Comus is perpetually asking what we shall do with things. Nothing is reserved for beauty, nothing for the glory of the universe or the entertainment of the soul. All things are valued just as they have the stamp of utility or sensuality upon them. Some Comuses would find too many superadditions in the world. The magic enchantments of colour and the tones of singing birds, and the variegated livery of clouds and flowers, would be all too much for these epicureans. Comus is quite afraid that if all be not gathered for luxury or vanity, that the air would be darkened with plumes, the sea, overfraught, would swell with diamonds, "emblazing the forehead of the deep;" the earth be cumbered, and Nature strangled with her waste fertility; and it may be noticed in the poem, that this gorgeous inflation of language is most appropriately used by the genius of sensuality, and contrasts well with the chaste simplicity of language used by the lady I am sometimes disposed to look at man universally as a sort of Brobdignagian Comus, to whoso appetite and whim everything is compelled to yield. A bird sweeps by gracefully on the wing,—" Bring me that bird, I'll eat him;" a beast stalks gracefully through the field— "I'll eat him;" a silkworm spins in its cocoon —" Seize it, I'll wear it;" a poor bee constructs its hive,—Comus makes a grip at it—" Honey! my friend, honey!" And I do not so much in every instance condemn this; I quarrel not with that Providence to whom we owe such bounties; but I do quarrel with Comus, because he sees no beauty in anything that does not minister immediately to his appetite, his passions, and his pride. It may indeed be true that man is the principal personage on this little theatre of things. It may indeed be true that all are a kind of drapery and preparation for him; but that mode of speech is not to be admired by which we describe all things as ministering to our enjoyment: we should see a hidden beauty, a spiritual compensation in all things, and reason through the rough curtain to reach the Holy of Holies.

By the side of, and in opposition to, Comus, is that of the lady, who may be already understood by the extract we have introduced. She illustrates the self-reliant and instinctive force of virtue; she is self-illumined; she is introduced to us by her brother, before, indeed, we see her beset by the tempter; in the discourse they hold together, and which excited a sneer from Dr. Johnson, the elder brother does not fear for his sister; because she has that sacred and sure defence—a light within—inner purity; therefore—

"Virtue could see to do what Virtue would
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat aea sunk. And Wisdom's self
Oft seeks to sweet retired Solitude,
Where with her best nurse, Contemplation,
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings.
That in the various bustle of resort
Were all too ruffled, and sometimes impair'd.
He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i' th' centre, and enjoy bright day:
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun:
Himself is his own dungeon.''

And, again—

"This I hold firm,
Virtue may be assail'd, but never hurt;
Surpris'd by unjust force, but not enthrall'd;
Yea, even that which Mischief meant most harm,
Shall in the happy trial prove most glory:
But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last

Gather" d like scum, and settl'd to itself,
It shall be in eternal restless change
Self-fed, and self-consumed: if this fail,
The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble."

"Comus" is a dissertation upon virtue ; upon that sure and steady guide, which, in all circumstances, conducts the humble and teachable wanderer. Thus says the Lady:—

"What might this be? A thousand fantasies
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire,
And airy tongues, that syllable men's names
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound
The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion, Conscience.—
Oh, welcome pure-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hovering angel, girt with golden wings.
And thou unblemish'd form of Chastity;
I see ye visibly, and now believe
That he, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glist'ring guardian if need were
To keep my life and honour unassail'd.
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove."

"Comus" is a fine poem on which to hang homilies ; and we much more readily hang our homilies than our criticisms. All virtue is developed in conflict, in fighting. In every character it may be said, where there is no difficulty there is no virtue. Surely Milton himself was a noble instance of this. This princely genius, this great moral instructor, was not less consistent as a man than great as a poet; and, therefore, of all men the man to write "Comus." We cannot understand "Comus;" we cannot see its worth and high moral glory unless we translate ourselves to the times during which it was written. They were the times when first began the long warfare between Puritan and Cavalier. They were times of all but universal intemperance; and nowhere was the intemperance of a more disgusting and universal character than at the courts of James I. and Charles I. The moral purity claimed for the latter is simply ridiculous; it abounded with all the follies and all the grossness of the time. The literature and the history of the period teem with evidences of astonishing vice. "Comus" was written as a Masque; it rises before us with a chastity truly solemn. After a perusal of the performances bearing that name, during the same period, in almost every instance they were

« السابقةمتابعة »