Obrazy na stronie


proximity is so strikingly marked-to" the busy hum of men"? Does not such a description instantly suggest the noontide buzz of populous cities-the indefatigable murmur of Cheapside and the Change; and can such an image possibly comport with the stillness and solitude of night? Certainly, not with stillness and solitude: but are these the necessary accompaniments of the close of day? Are they such accompaniments as the inhabitants of crowded Capitals are accustomed to witness? Are they the accompaniments of such an evening as, I contend, the Poet is about to introduce? To secluded peasantry, indeed, the objected image might well appear unsuited to the evening; but a frequenter of the parties of gaiety and fashion, will surely attest its admirable adaptation to express the first effect upon the ear, of a scene, however late the hour,

"Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold;

With store of Ladies"-.

The busy bee may close his labours with the day: but Man, intent on pleasure, holds another language

Rigour now is gone to bed,
And Advice, with scrupulous head:
Strict Age, and sour Severity,

With their grave saws in slumber lie.
We that are of purer fire,

Imitate the starry quire;

Who in their nightly, watchful spheres,
Lead, in swift round, the months and years.

What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove→→
Venus now wakes, and wakens Love.
-Come! Let us now our rites begin.

Comus, 107, &c. III. The last objection, appears at first view by far the most formidable of the three; and, could it be substantiated, would undoubtedly be decisive of the question. If tilts and tournaments are really introduced as parts of the entertainment in the Townscene, the time is irrevocably fixed to day. Let us view the passage, then:

Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold;

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


With store of Ladies, whose bright eyes
Rain influence, and judge the prize
Of wit or arms, while all contend

To win her praise whom all commend.

Here is a manifest and direct allusion, indeed, to jousts and tournaments; but surely nothing which determines them to be passing at the time. On the contrary, there are three expressions which seem purposely introduced to obviate such an interpretation:-the knights and barons are emphatically stated to be clad "in weeds of peace"; whereas a tournament was, in all respects, and particularly in dress and accoutrements, the express image of war:-the occasion of assembling, is denominated a" triumph"; which Steevens, in a note on Shakespear's expression (1st. P. of King Henry the 4th., Act 3, scene 3.) "O, thou art a perpetual triumph, an everlasting bonfire-light", defines to be " a general term for any public exhibition, such as a royal marriage, a grand procession, &c, which commonly being at night, were attended by a multitude of torch-bearers" :-and the prize of wit is adjudged on the occasion, as well as arms. Whatever interpretation explained, in an easy way, these apparent inconsistencies, would merit attention, if not reception, on that consideration alone. Now it appears from M. De St. Palaye's Memoirs of Chivalry, that it was customary to close these martial exhibitions of our ancestors, with a solemn banquet-a supper-called the Feast of Tournaments; that at this high festival, this "triumph", all the guests, the dames, the barons, knights, and squires, appeared in their robes of state and ceremony; that, in the course of it, the prize of arms was frequently adjudged; that the parties afterwards engaged in contentions of wit and games of skill; and that the splendour of the evening was often still farther heightened by the introduction of masques and pageants, after the taste and fashion of the times:

"There let Hymen oft appear,

In saffron robe, with taper clear;
And pomp, and feast, and revelry,

With masque, and antique pageantry".

We have only to conceive ourselves transported to a festival of this nature, and every circumstance of Milton's description will correspond exactly with the scene into which we are ushered:-there can be little difficulty, therefore, in conceding, that this is the scene which the Poet designed to exhibit.

That Warton's construction, then, is at least admissible, I trust, may safely be assumed; and that, if admissible, it is incomparably the most poetical, is surely past all dispute.-Milton's design in the Allegro and Penseroso, has perhaps been regarded with too much refinement by Johnson, when he considers it as being-not what Theo


bald, with still more refinement, supposed, "to shew how objects derived 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 "to illustrate, how, among the successive variety of appearances, every disposition of mind takes hold on those by which it may be gratified". To me, the Poet's aim appears simply, to exhibit a succession of such appearances as are best adapted to interest and cherish a cheerful or pensive disposition. But however this may be, his conduct, in the pursuit of what must be regarded as his leading object, under any supposition, is clear and admirable. He personates, in turn, both characters; and conducts himself through a series of scenes and images congenial to each. These scenes and images are not promiscuously thrown together: they are exhibited in the order in which they naturally occur in the succession in which they might actually have been witnessed and enjoyed; and thus essentially contribute to the vivacity and dramatic effect of the piece. In the Penseroso, the scene commences in the evening, and is pursued through the next day in the Allegro, it opens in the morning, when first "✶✶✶ the lark begins his flight,


"And singing startles the dull night";

and is continued, through periods marked by the most characteristic imagery, true to nature and exquisitely touched,

"Till the live-long day-light fails":

But the recreations of a country life are not yet exhausted: the spicy, nut-brown ale is introduced; and the rustic beverage is accompanied with appropriate tales of village superstition, till the hour of rest (an early hour) arrives, the whispering winds lull all to slumber, and universal stillness closes up the evening. Then-at this pause-if Warton's interpretation be received, the Poet shifts the scene; and from the sequestered hamlet, hushed in silence and repose, transports us suddenly, and by an unexpected and awakening contrast, into the midst of luxurious cities, now revelling in the height of their festivities; where he mingles with whatever is most crowded, and brilliant, and exhilirating-the sumptuous feast, the gorgeous pageant, the splendid drama, and the inspiring concert. A transition more truly animating and delightful, never was conceived: it has the same effect, as when, in some entrancing Symphony, after a Minor-movement gradually softened by a lentando and diminuendo to a close that dies away upon the ear, the whole force of the orchestra abruptly breaks forth in the original key and to brisk measure. The transition it not only exquisite in itself, but its introduction is infinitely happy. It possesses perfectly both the re quisites of that "curiosa felicitas" which constitutes the fondest wish of the aspirer to elegance of composition;-it has all the ease which seems the gift of fortune, with


all the justness which forms the triumph of art. After having chased the delights of the country through the day, the Poet is naturally led to resort in the evening to cities; and cities, at this juncture, readily furnish those glittering spectacles which contrast so admirably with the tranquil pleasures of the day. Destroy this continuity-suppose a total break in the scene-conceive that the Poet, after having left us to slumber through the night, goes over again the next day, in the town, the same circuit which he had, the evening before, completed in the country, and-I will not say that the spirit of the piece is gone-but I am sure it is miserably impaired. Every reader of taste, must forcibly feel the difference: he will abandon, if he be compelled to abandon, the illusion arising from the obvious interpretation of the contested passage, with sincere regret and will be tempted to exclaim, with the enthusiast in Horace, to the sturdy disciplinarians who should compel him to such a measure—

* Pol, me occidistis amici,

Non servâstis, ait; cui sic extorta voluptas,

Et demptus, per vim, mentis gratissimus error.

L. 2, Epis. 2, v. 138, &c.

[ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »