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This Mask was first represented at Ludlow-Castle on Michaelmas-day 1634, before the Right Hon. the Earl of BRIDGEWATER, Lord President of Wales; the principal Performers were the Lord Brackley, Mr. omas Egerton, and the Lady Alice Egerton*. In the year 1774 it was abridged, and has ever since been performed as an Afterpiece at the Theatre-Royal in Covent-Garden. The following were the reasons offered to the Public in favour of the Abridgment, and were prefixed to an edition of the piece then published in its curtailed state,
" Pure Poetry, unmixt with passion, however admired " in the closet, has scarce ever been able to sustain itself on “ the stage. In this Abridgment of Milton's Comus no cir" cumstance of the drama contained in the original Mask is si omitted. The divine arguments on temperance and
chastity, together with many descriptive passages, are " indeed expunged or contracted : but, divine as they are, " the most accomplished declaimers have been embarrassed “ in the recitation of them : the speaker vainly laboured to
prevent a coldness and languor in the audience : and it " cannot be dissembled that The Mask of Comus, with all " its poetical beauties, not only maintained its place on the " theatre chiefly by the assistance of music, but the musie
• The Music was originally composed by Sir Henry Lawes, who also represented Axendant Spirit, The present Music is the composition of Dr. Arne,
" itself, as if overwhelmed by the weight of the drama, al" most sunk with it, and became in a manner lost to the
stage. That music, formerly heard and applauded with
rapture is now restored, and the Mask, on the above con“ siderations, is curtailed.
“ As a further argument in favour of the drama in its present form, it might perhaps be urged, that the festivity of the character of Comus is heightened by his as
sisting in the vocal parts as well as in the dialogue, and “ that theatrical propriety is no longer violated in the cha"racter of the Lady, who now invokes the Echo in her own
person, without absurdly leaving the scene vacant as “ heretofore, while another voice warbled out the song " which the Lady was supposed to execute.
“ To conclude, it may not be impertinent to observe, " that The Faithful Shepherdess of Beaumont and Fletcher, “ which is esteemed one of the most beautiful compositions « in our language, not only afforded our Author the first “ hint of this Mask, but that several brilliant passages of 6 Comus are imitated from that excellent performance ; yet 6 it is remarkable that the play of The Faithful Shepherdess, “ being merely poetical, was condemned on its first repre“sentation; for which hard fate, though succeeding critics “ have reprehended the barbarism of that age, yet no at. « tempt has ever been hazarded to restore the hapless drama " to the stage.”
OUR stedfast Bard, to his own genius true, Still bade his Muse* "fit audience find, tho' few;" Scorning the judgment of a trifling age To choicer spirits be bequeath'd bis page. He 100 was scorn'd, and to Britannia's shame She scarce for half an age knew Milton's name: But now, his fame by ev'ry trumpet blown, We on his deathless trophies raise our own. Nor art nor nature did his genius bound; Heav'n, hell, earth, chaos, he survey'd around: All things his eye, thro' wit's bright empire thrown, Bebeld, and made what it beheld his own.
Such Milton was: 'tis ours to bring him forth,
mazy error's dark perplexing wood
Paradise Lost, Book VII. ver. 31,
Attend the strains; and should some meaner phrase. Hang on the style and clog ihe nobler lays, Excuse what we with trembling hand supply, To give bis beauties to the public eye : His the pure essence, ours the grosser mean Thro' which his spirit is in action seen. Observe the force, observe the flame divine That glows, breathes, acts, in each harmonious lines Great obje&ts only strike the gen'rous beart ; Praise the sublime, o'erlook the mortal part : Be there your judgment, here your candour shewn; Small is our portion—and we wish 'twere none.