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sign is not, what Theobald has remarked, merely to show how objects derive their colours from the mind, by representing the operation of the same things upon the gay and the melancholy temper, or upon the same man, as he is differently disposed; but rather how, among the successive variety of appearances, every disposition of mind takes hold on those by which it may be gratified. The cheerful man hears the lark in the morning; the pensive man hears the nightingale in the evening. The cheerful man sees the cock strut, and hears the horn and hounds echo in the wood; then walks, “not unseen,” to observe the glory of the rising sun, or listen to the singing milkmaid, and view the labours of the ploughman and the mower: then casts his eyes about him over scenes of smiling plenty, and looks up to the distant tower, the residence of some fair inhabitant; thus he pursues rural gaiety through a day of labour or of play, and delights himself at night with the fanciful narratives of superstitious ignorance. The pensive man, at one time, walks “unseen ‘’ to muse at midnight; and, at another, hears the sullen curfew. If the weather drives him home, he sits in a room lighted only by “glowing embers;” or, by a lonely lamp, outwatches the north star, to discover the habitation of separate souls, and varies the shades of meditation, by contemplating the magnificent or pathetick scenes of tragick or epick poetry. When the morning comes, a morning gloomy with rain and wind, he walks into the dark,
trackless woods”, falls asleep by some murmuring water, and with melancholy enthusiasm expects some dream of prognostication, or some musick played by aerial performers.
Both mirth and melancholy are solitary, silent inhabitants of the breast, that neither receive nor transmit communication; no mention is, therefore, made of a philosophical friend, or a pleasant companion. The seriousness does not arise from any participation of calamity, nor the gaiety from the pleasures of the bottle.
The man of cheerfulness, having exhausted the country, tries what “towered cities” will afford, and mingles with scenes of splendour, gay assemblies, and nuptial festivities; but he mingles a mere spectator, as, when the learned comedies of Jonson, or the wild dramas of Shakespeare, are exhibited, he attends the theatre.
The pensive man never loses himself in crowds, but walks the cloister, or frequents the cathedral. Milton probably had not yet forsaken the church.
Both his characters delight in musick; but he seems to think, that cheerful notes would have obtained, from Pluto, a complete dismission of Eurydice, of whom solemn sounds only procured a conditional release.
For the old age of cheerfulness he makes no provision; but melancholy he conducts with great dignity to the close of life. His cheerfulness is without levity, and his pensiveness without asperity. Through these two poems the images are properly selected, and nicely distinguished; but the colours of the diction seem not sufficiently discriminated. I know not whether the characters are kept sufficiently apart. No mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but I am afraid that I always meet some melancholy in his mirth. They are two noble efforts of imagination'. * * The greatest of his juvenile performances is the Masque of Comus, in which may very plainly be discovered the dawn or twilight of Paradise Lost. Milton appears to haveformed very early that system of diction, and mode of verse, which his maturer judgment approved, and from which he never endeavoured nor desired to deviate. Nor does Comus afford only a specimen of his language; it exhibits, likewise, his power of description and his vigour of sentiment, employed in the praise and defence of virtue. A work more truly poetical is rarely found; allusions, images, and descriptive epithets,embellish almost every period with lavish decoration. As a series of lines, therefore, it may be considered as worthy of all the admiration with which the votaries have received it.
* Here, as Warton justly observes, “Johnson has confounded two descriptions!” The melancholy man does not go out while it rains, but waits, till —the sun begins to fling His flaring beams. J. B.
1 Mr. Warton intimates, and there can be little doubt of the truth of his conjecture, that Milton borrowed many of the images in these two fine poems from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, a book published in 1621, and, at sundry times since, abounding in learning, curious information, and pleasantry. Mr. Warton says, that Milton appears to have been an attentive reader thereof; and to this assertion I add, of my own knowledge, that it was a book that Dr. Johnson frequently resorted to, as many others have done, for amusement after the fatigue of study. H.Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, Johnson said, was the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise. Boswell’s Life, ii. 120.
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As a drama it is deficient. The action is not probable. A mask, in those parts where supernatural intervention is admitted, must, indeed, be given up to all the freaks of imagination; but, so far as the action is merely human, it ought to be reasonable, which can hardly be said of the conduct of the two brothers; who, when their sister sinks with fatigue in a pathless wilderness, wander both away together,in search of berries, too far to find their way back, and leave a helpless lady to all the sadness and danger of solitude. This, however, is a defect overbalanced by its convenience.
What deserves more reprehension is, that the prologue spoken in the wild wood, by the attendant spirit, is addressed to the audience; a mode of communication so contrary to the nature of dramatick representation, that no precedents can support it'.
The discourse of the spirit is too long; an objection that may be made to almost all the following speeches; they have not the sprightliness of a dialogue animated by reciprocal contention, but seem rather declamations deliberately composed, and formally repeated, on a moral question. The auditor, therefore, listens as to a lecture, without passion, without anxiety.
* Surely there are precedents enough for the practice, though pessimi exempli, in Milton's favourite tragedian Euripides. ED.
The song of Comus has airiness and jollity; but, what may recommend Milton's morals, as well as his poetry, the invitations to pleasure are so general, that they excite no distinct images of corrupt enjoyment, and take no dangerous hold on the fancy. The following soliloquies of Comus and the Lady are elegant, but tedious. The song must owe much to the voice, if it ever can delight. At last, the brothers enter with too much tranquillity; and, when they have feared, lest their sister should bein danger, and hoped that she is not in danger, the elder makes a speech in praise of chastity, and the younger finds how fine it is to be a philosopher. Then descends the spirit, in form of a shepherd; and the brother, instead of being in haste to ask his help, praises his singing, and inquires his business in that place. It is remarkable, that, at this interview, the brother, is taken with a short fit of rhyming. The spirit relates that the lady is in the power of Comus; the brother moralizes again; and the spirit makes a long narration, of no use, because it is false, and, therefore, unsuitable to a good being. In all these parts the language is poetical, and the sentiments are generous; but there is something wanting to allure attention. The dispute between the lady and Comus is the most animated and affecting scene of the drama, and wants nothing but a brisker reciprocation of objections and replies to invite attention and detain it.