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gambols o' the country still, selling of fish, short service, shoeing “ the wild mare, or roasting of robin-redbreast ! These were better than, after all this time, no masque.
You look at me: I have “ recovered myself now for you.
I am the honest plain country spirit and harmless Robin Goodfellow : he that sweeps the hearth " and the house clean, riddles for the country maids, and does all “their drudgery.” If, after this, the reader will pass to the Puck of Midsummer Night's Dream, expressly introduced there (Act II. Sc. I) as identical with Robin Goodfellow and also called Hobgoblin, it will be seen how Shakespeare, keeping some of his lineaments, has refined and idealised him. Milton's "drudging goblin," however, is the genuine uncultured Robin Goodfellow of the rustics themselves, more Jonson's than Shakespeare's. He is the “lubber fiend” (lob, looby, an old word, both Celtic and Germanic, meaning a lout, though it must be in another sense that Shakespeare calls Puck “thou lob of spirits ); the cream-bowl tempts him to exert himself and do ten men's work with his flail in the night; and, this work done, and the cream in his crop, he lies basking his hairy strength at the kitchen fire till morning.
117. “ Towered cities please us then”: i.e. when the rustics, according to their early habits, are asleep, and the pall of darkness comes over the country fields, the mood of L'Allegro, the educated youth who would still prolong his waking hours with fit employment, transfers itself to cities and their objects of interest. Observe, it is the mood that is transferred; not the youth in person. The rest of the poem, from this point onward, may be taken as describing the evening reveries, readings, and other recreations, of the imaginary youth in his country-cottage, after his morning's walk and afternoon among the rustics. The word then in this line, as elsewhere in the poem, does important duty.
120. “In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold." The word weeds, now usually confined to the phrase “widow's weeds," was once far more general (A.-S. wed, clothing). Shakespeare has the phrase "weeds of peace” (Troil. and Cres. III. 3).—"triumphs,” in the
“ sense of lordly entertainments, is a common word in Elizabethan literature, and is perhaps best defined, as Mr. Browne has pointed out, in Bacon's Essay On Masques and Triumphs. After treating of Masques, he passes to Triumphs thus :-"For justs, and tourneys, “and barriers, the glories of them are chiefly in the chariots wherein " the challengers make their entry or in the devices of their
entrance, or in the bravery of their liveries, or in the goodly “ furniture of their horses and armour.”
“store of ladies.” So, in Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, as
quoted by Warton, "store of faire ladies," and in Spenser's F. Q. (V. iii. 2), as quoted by Todd, “Of lords and ladies infinite great store."
“ Rain influence.” A metaphor from Astrology. See Ode
I 25, 126.
" There let Hymen oft appear
In saffron robe, with taper clear.” Warton refers to Ben Jonson's Hymenæi, or the Solemnities of Masque and Barriers at a Marriage, where there is this introductory account of Hymen's appearance :“Entered Hymen, the God of Marriage, “in a saffron-coloured robe, his under-vestures white, his socks
yellow, a yellow veil of silk on his left arm, his head crowned with
roses and marjoram, in his right hand a torch of pine-tree.” This is Hymen at his gaudiest; but he and his saffron robe and torch are frequent in poetry. Milton substitutes a taper for the torch.
127. "pomp”: i.e. solemn procession (Greek, Toutń).
131. “ Then to the well-trod stage.” The reading and reverie hitherto have been among romances and tales of chivalry, such as Malory's Morte D'Arthur; but now there come readings in the dramatists. 132-134. If Jonson's learned sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild." It is the lighter kind of drama, the drama of the “sock” (Comedy, in performing which the actors wore low-heeled shoes), rather than that of the “buskin ” (Tragedy, in performing which the actors wore high-heeled boots), that suits the mood of L'Allegro. Jonson himself has the phrase “when thy socks were on” with reference to Shakespeare's comic dramas, as distinct from his tragedies, or the “tread” of his “buskin,”_hardly knowing which to praise most (Lines to the Memory of Shakespeare); and Milton probably borrowed the phrase from Jonson to increase his compliment to that stalwart writer. As Jonson did not die till 1637, the compliment was, probably, one to a living man. In speaking of "Jonson's learned sock,” Milton kept to the established epithet about Jonson, whose “learning ” was his chief quality with most critics. So in the epithets “sweetest ” and “Fancy's child,” applied to the dead Shakespeare, who was still remembered as "the gentle” and “the honey-tongued,” and whose prodigious natural genius critics contrasted with Jonson's learning and laboriousness. The two lines given to Shakespeare in L'Allegro have been thought under the mark of the subject; and the words
"warble his native wood-notes wild,” though perhaps a suitable mention of Shakespeare's lyrics, do strike one as not comprehensive enough for his Comedies. It is to be remembered, however, that Milton is touching things here but lightly and briefly, and that “Fancy" (Phantasy) had a larger meaning then than now. Fortunately, also, we can go back to Milton's lines On Shakespeare in 1630, and be fully satisfied. See Introd. and Notes to that piece. For variations in Milton's regard for Shakespeare and the Drama generally in his more advanced life, see Introd. to Samson Agonistes. With the references there given we may include, after Warton, a quotation from the Theatrum Poetarum of Milton's nephew Edward Phillips, published in 1675. Milton had then been dead a year; but he had trained Phillips and formed his tastes in poetry, and had probably helped him with hints for this very book. "In Tragedy," says Phillips of Shakespeare, “never any expressed a more lofty and “ tragic highth, never any represented nature more purely to the
life ; and, where the polishments of art are most wanting, as
probably his learning was not extraordinary, he pleases with a “ certain wild and native elegance.” 135, 136.
“And ever, against eating cares,
Lap me in soft Lydian airs.” In other words, readings are now exchanged for music. But, as it was the lighter and more luscious kind of reading that suited the lively mood, so it is the softer and sweeter kind of music,—the 'Lydian,” rather than the “Dorian” or the “Phrygian.” These were the three ancient kinds of music; and their differences are described technically by musicians.-—"eating cares” is a translation of Horace's mordaces sollicitudines (Ode I. xviii. 4), or rather of his curas edaces” (Od. II. xi. 18). 137.
" Married to immortal verse." There is the same metaphor in At a Solemn Music; and other poets have it.
139. “bout," a bend or turn, connected with the verb bow. Spenser, who uses the word several times, in the sense of the folds or wreathings of a serpent's body or a dragon's tail, spells it boughte” (F. Q. I. i. 15; and I. xi. 11, and Virgil's Gnat, 305).
144. “harmony," in its express musical sense, as more than melody
145—150. “ That Orpheus' self,” etc. Orpheus, in the Greek mythology, was the unparalleled singer and musician, the power of whose harp or lyre drew wild beasts, and even rocks and trees, to follow him. His wife Eurydice having died, he descended into Hades to recover her, if possible. His music, charming even the
damned, prevailed with Pluto, who granted his prayer on condition that he should not look on Eurydice till he had led her completely out of Hades and into the upper world. Unfortunately, on their way upwards, he turned to see if she was following him; and she was caught back. Hence the significance of lines 148–150.
1—30. “ Hence, vain deluding Joys,” etc. The studied antithesis of Il Penseroso and L'Allegro throughout declares itself in these opening thirty lines, which exactly match and counterpoise the first four-and-twenty lines of L'Allegro. So closely is the one poem framed on the model of the other that it would be impossible to say, on mere internal evidence, which was written first. Most probably the idea of two such companion pieces was in Milton's mind before he wrote either, and he fulfilled that idea by writing them in the order in which they now stand, and in which they were originally published by himself. This is a case in which a writer,
a describing two moods or doctrines, would place that one last which, on the whole, he favoured most, and to which he meant to lend his weight. So fairly is the question stated, however, and with such real liking for both sides, that, but for this matter of the arrangement, all signs of ultimate preference may be said to be removed. Perhaps comb nation was the lesson intended. Thinking of Milton's whole life, we identify him most naturally with Il Penseroso; but may we not have forgotten how much of L'Allegro there was in him potentially, at all events in his youth?
3. “bested": avail, advantage, stand in stead to, or stand by (by-stand). The same meaning of the verb is instanced in a passage from Sir Francis Drake's West India Voyage, quoted in Richardson's Dictionary. Speaking of a quantity of dried fish of which he had made a prize, and which he distributed among his fleet, he says, “The same [was] so new and good as it did very greatly bestead us in the whole course of our voyage." But another and perhaps more usual meaning of the word is "placed," "situated” (A.-S. stede, a place). Richardson quotes this instance from Barrow : “He who looks so deformedly and dismally, who in outward sight is so ill bestead, and so pitifully accoutred, hath latent in him much of admirable beauty and glory." So "hardly bestead and hungry," in Isaiah viii. 21. In this second sense the word seems to be a past participle passive of the former verb: thus, “to bestead” (perhaps originally pronounced bestede), “to stand by," " bested," "stood-by.”
6. “ fond,” in its old sense of "foolish.”
6—10. "gaudy shapes . . . as thick and numberless as the gay motes that people the sun-beams, or likest hovering dreams Morpheus' train.” In his notes on this passage, Warton, besides unnecessarily quoting Chaucer's “As thick as motes in the sunnebeams" (Wife of Bath's Tale, 868), and the like brief examples of the use of a phrase which is common property, ventures on the assertion that the imagery of the whole “is immediately from Sylvester's Cave of Sleep in Du Bartas.” It may be well to quote the passage :
“Confusedly about the silent bed
Fantastick swarms of dreams there hovered,
Sylv. Du Bartas, ed. 1613, p. 396 (The Vacation). In the fancy that Milton remembered this passage Warton may be right, more especially as "Morpheus" is named a few lines before, and the phrase “gaudy swarm of dreams” occurs a few lines after; but this single instance will show on what little results parallelpassage-hunting may plume itself as successful.
10. "pensioners": retinue, literally "paid dependents." So Shakespeare, “The cowslips tall her pensioners be" (Mids. Night's Dream, II. 1). Warton thinks this metaphorical use of the word originated in the fact of the establishment by Queen Elizabeth of a guard composed of handsome young 'noblemen and gentlemen, specially under the name of Pensioners; and he cites Dame Quickly's “Yet there had been Earls, nay, which is more, Pensioners," as proving the influence of the institution on the popular speech. But as Pensioners or Pensionaries, both word and thing, were certainly older than Elizabeth's time, so may have been the metaphorical application of the word. 14.
“ To hit the sense.” Mr. Browne cites “A strange invisible perfume hits the sense" (Ant. and Cleop. II. 2).
18. “ Prince Memnon's sister.” Memnon, in the legends of the Trojan War, is a prince of the Ethiopians who came to the aid of Priam, and was killed by Achilles. Though black or dark, he was of splendid beauty (Od. XI. 522), and the same might be presumed of any sister of his. Milton was supposed to have invented the “sister” for his purpose; but there are actual sisters in the