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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 dramatic 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, withoutanxiety.
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 be in 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 moralises 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.
The songs are vigorous, and full of imagery; but they are harsh in their diction, and not very musical in their numbers.
Throughout the whole, the figures are too bold, and the language too luxuriant for dialogue. It is a drama in the epic style, inelegantly splendid, and tediously instructive. Johnson.
Milton's Comus is, I think, one of the finest productions of modern times; and I don't know whether to admire most the poetry of it, or the philosophy, which is of the noblest kind. The subject of it 1 like better than that of the Paradise Lost, which, I think, is not human enough to touch the common feelings of humanity, as poetry ought to do; the Divine Personages he has introduced are of too high a kind to act any part in poetry, and the scene of the action is, for the greater part, quite out of nature. But the subject of the Comus is a fine mythological tale, marvellous enough, as all poetical subjects should be, but at the Same time human. He begins his piece in the manner of Euripides, and the descending Spirit that prologises, makes the finest and grandest opening of any theatrical piece that I know, ancient or modern. The conduct of the piece is answerable to the beginning, and the versification of it is finely varied by short and long verses, blank and rhyming, and the sweetest songs that ever were composed; nor do I know any thing in English poetry comparable to it in this respect, except Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia, which, for the length of the piece, has all the variety of versification that can well be imagined. As to the style of Comus, it is more elevated, I think, than that of any of his writings, and so much above what is written at present, that I am inclined to make the same distinction in the English language, that Homer made of the Greek in his time; and to say, that Milton's language is the language of the gods; whereas we of this age speak and write the language of mere mortal men.
If the Comus was to be properly represented, with all the decorations which it requires, of machinery, scenery, dress, music, and dancing, it would be the finest exhibition that ever was seen. upon any modern stage. But I am afraid, with all these, the principal part would be still wanting; I mean, players that could wield the language of Milton, and pronounce those fine periods of his, by which he has contrived to give his poetry the beauty of the finest prose composition, and without which there can be nothing great or noble in composition of any kind. Or if we could find players who had breath and organs (for these, as well as other things, begin to fail in this generation), and sense and taste enough, properly to pronounce such periods, I doubt it would not be easy to find an audience that could relish them, or perhaps they would not have attention and comprehension sufficient to connect the sense of them, being accustomed to that trim, spruce, short cut of a style, which Tacitus, and his modern imitators, French and English, have made fashionable.
» I will gratify the reader with additional observations by the same learned pen, with which I was honoured, on my intention of publishing the Mask being made known to his lordship. They increase the value and importance of the criticism, which 1 have adduced above from the preface to the third volume of Ancient Metaphysics. "The Comus "is a most pleasureable poem, and at the same time mot "philosophical and instructive. From the Comus, and "other rhyming poems which Milton has written, I hold "him to be the bed rhyming poet in English, as well as "the best writer of blank verse: and, in short, I think he "was a man of such genius and learning, that he was not "only a great honour to the English nation, by what he "has written in verse and prose, but to modem times; for "I do not think that there has been any writer in Europe, "since the days of Augustus Caesar, that can be compared