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See an account of Harefield, in Lysons' “Environs of London," with a print of the Countess of Derby's monument there.
It is probable, that these “persons of Lady Derby's own family" were the children of the Earl of Bridgewater, who had married a daughter of the Countess : and " Arcades” perhaps was acted the year before “Comus.” In 1632 Milton went to reside with his father at Horton, in the neighbourhood of Harefield; and might have been soon afterwards desired to compose this dramatic entertainment. Lord Brackley, Mr. Thomas Egerton, and Lady Alice Egerton, the performers in “Comus," appeared upon the stage at court in 1633, in Carew's Mask of Colum Britannicum;" and “Arcades” might be a domestic exhibition somewhat prior to that of Carew's Mask; as being intended perhaps to try, and encourage, their confidence and skill, before they performed more publicly. Among the manuscripts that once belonged to Lord Chancellor Egerton, and which are now in the possession of the Marquis of Stafford, there is a curious illustration of domestic manners, on three folio sheets, in an “Account of disbursements for Harefield, where the Lord Keeper Egerton and the Countess of Derby resided in 1602.”—TODD.
COUNTESS DOWAGER OF DERBY.
ALICE, Countess Dowager of Derby, married Ferdinando Lord Strange; who, on the death of his father Henry, in 1594, became Earl of Derby, but died the next year. She was the sixth daughter of Sir John Spenser of Althorp in Northamptonshire: she was afterwards married [in 1600] to Lord Chancellor Egerton, who died in 1617. See Dugd. Baron. iii. 251, 414. She died Jan. 26, 1635-6, and was buried at Harefield: “Arcades” could not therefore have been acted after 1636.
Milton is not the only great English poet who has celebrated this Countess Dowager of Derby. She was the sixth daughter, as we have seen, of Sir John Spenser, with whose family Spenser the poet claimed an alliance. In his “ Colin Clout's come home again," written about 1595, he mentions herunder the appellation of Amaryllis, with her sisters Phyllis, or Elizabeth; and Charillis, or Anne; these three of Sir John Spenser's daughters being best known at court. See v. 546.
Ne less praise-worthie are the sisters three,
Phyllis, Charillis, and sweet Amaryllis. After a panegyric on the first two, he next comes to Amaryllis, or Alice, our Lady, the Dowager of the above-mentioned Ferdinando Lord Derby, lately dead :
But Amaryllis, whether fortunate
And seald vp in the threasure of her heart. And in the same poem, he thus apostrophises to her late husband earl Ferdinand, under the name Amyntas. See v. 434,
Amyntas quite is gone, and lies full low,
And eke could pipe himselfe with passing skill.
succession to the earldom, Spenser addresses his “ Tears of the Muses," published in 1591, in a dedication of the highest regard; where he speaks of “your excellent beautie, your virtuous behauiour, and your noble match with that most honourable lorde, the verie patterne of right nobilitie.” He then acknowledges the particular bounties which she had conferred upon the poets. Thus the lady who presided at the representation of Milton's “Arcades," was not only the theme, but the patroness of Spenser. The peerage book of this most respectable countess is the poetry of her times.-T. WARTON.
Alice, Countess of Derby, was the youngest of six daughters of Sir John Spenser of Althorp in Northamptonshire, who died 8th November 1586, by Katharine, daughter of Sir Thomas Kitson, of Hengrave in Suffolk, knight *, which Sir John was son of Sir William Spenser, of Althorp, who died 22nd of June, 1532, by Susan, daughter of Sir Richard Knightley, of Fawsly, in Northamptonshire. Sir William was son of another Sir John Spenser, of Althorp, who died 14th April, 1532, only two months before his son, by Isabel, daughter and coheir of Walter Graunt, of Snitterfield, in Warwickshire, Esq.; he was son of William Spenser, esq., of Redbourne, in Warwickshire, who lived in the reign of Henry VII., by Elizabeth, sister of Sir Richard Empson, knight.
The Countess of Derby's five sisters were all honourably married; and her father was a man of a great estate.
Of her three daughters and coheirs by the Earl of Derby, Anne married Grey Brydges, fifth Lord Chandos; Frances married John Egerton, first Earl of Bridge. water; and Elizabeth married Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon.
Todd mentions that Marston wrote a mask, intitled, “The Lord and Lady of Huntingdon's Entertaininent of their right noble mother, Alice, Countess Dowager of Derby, the first night of her Honour's arrival at the house of Ashby.” This Todd found still remaining in manuscript in the Bridgewater Library; and has given a long account of it not necessary to be repeated here.
Lord Falkland wrote a poetical epitaph on this Countess of Huntingdon. Sir John Spenser, of Althorp, the brother of Alice, Countess of Derby, died 9th, January, 1599. His only son, Sir Robert Spenser, was created Lord Spenser of Wormleighton, by King James I., on 21st July, 1603, and died 25th October, 1627.
Camden, in his “Britannia," speaks thus of Althorp :-“Althorp, the seat of the noble family of Spenser, knights, allied to very many houses of great worth and honour, out of which Sir Robert Spenser, the fifth knight in a continual succession, a worthy encourager of virtue and learning, was by his most serene majesty, King James, lately advanced to the honour of Baron Spenser of Wormleighton.”
William, who succeeded his father Robert, as second Lord Spenser, died 1636, aged forty-five, and was succeeded by his son Henry, third Baron, who was created Earl of Sunderland, 8th June, 1643, and slain at the battle of Newbury, on 20th September following, at the age of twenty-three: he married Lady Dorothy Sidney, daughter of Robert, Earl of Leicester (Waller's Saccharissa). See Lord Clarendon's character of him.
Part of an Entertainment presented to the Countess Dowager of Derby at Harefield,
by some noble persons of her family; who appear on the scene in pastoral habit, moving toward the seat of state, with this song:
* See Mr. Gage's splendid “History of Hengrave.”
a Look, nymphs and shepherds, look, &c. See the ninth division of Spenser's “Epithalamion;" and Fletcher's “Faithful Shepherdess,” a. i. s. 1.-T. WARTON.
This, this is she b
Less than half we find express'd;
Envy bid conceal the rest.
Sitting like a goddess bright,
In the centre of her light.
Who had thought this clime had held
toward them, speaks :-
• This, this is she. Our curiosity is gratified in discovering, even from slight and almost imperceptible traits, that Milton had here been looking back to Jonson, the most eminent mask-writer that had yet appeared, and that he had fallen upon some of his formularies and modes of address. For thus Jonson, in an “Entertaynment at Altrop," 1603, Works, 1616,
This is shee,
This is shee,
c Shooting her beams like silver threads. See “Par. Lost," b. iv. 555. But here Milton seems to bear in mind the cloth of state under which queen Elizabeth is seated, and which is represented, “Faer. Qu." v. ix. 28.-TODD.
d Give her odds. Too lightly expressed for the occasion.—HURD.
e Divine Alpheus, &c. Virgil, “Æn.” üï. 694:
Alpheum, fama est, huc Elidis amnem
To the great mistress of yon princely shrine,
And curl the grove.
& And from the boughs brush off the evil dew. The expression and idea are Shakspearian, but in a different sense and application. Caliban says, “ Tempest,” a. i. s. 4:
As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd,
With raven's feather, from unwholesome fen, &c.
Brushing with hasty steps the dew away.-T. WARTON.
h And heal the harms of thwarting thunder blue,
Or what the cross dire-looking planet smites. Compare Shakspeare, “Julius Cæsar,” a. i. s. 3. “King Lear,” a. iv. 8. 7.--T. WARTON.
i The slumbering leaves. Ovid, “Met.” xi. 600. "Non moti flamine rami."-TODD.
į Tasseld horn. Spenser, “Faer. Queene.” I. vii. 3 :
a horn of bugle small,
k Haste I all about,
Number my ranks, and visit every sprout. So the magician Ismeno, when he consigns the enchanted forest to his demons, “Gier. Lib.” c. xiii. st. 8. Poets are magicians: what they create they command. The business of one imaginary being is easily transferred to another ; from a bad to a good demon.T. WARTON.
With puissant words, and murmurs made to bless :
inferiour hand or voice could hit
I Then listen I
That sit upon the nine infolded spheres. This is Plato's system. Fate, or Necessity, holds a spindle of adamant; and, with her three daughters, Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos, who handle the vital web wound about the spindle, she conducts or turns the heavenly bodies: nine Muses, or sirens, sit on the summit of the spheres, which, in their revolutions, produce the most ravishing musical harmony: to this harmony, the three daughters of Necessity perpetually sing in correspondent tones: in the meantime, the adamantine spindle, which is placed in the lap or on the knees of Necessity, and on which “the fate of men and gods is wound,” is also revolved.-T. WARTON.
m The adamantine spindle. In a fragment of Sophocles’ “Phædra," preserved in Stobæus, the Parcæhave adamantine shuttles, with which they weave the appointed fates of mortals.-DUNSTER.
* Such sweet compulsion, &c. See “Par. Lost,” ix. 474.-TODD.
After the heavenly tune, which none can hear
Of human mould, with gross unpurged ear. I do not recollect this reason in Plato, the “Somnium Scipionis,” or Macrobius: but our author, in an academic Prolusion on the “Musick of the Spheres," having explained Plato's theory, assigns a similar reason : Quod autem nos hanc minime audiamus harmoniam, sane in causa videtur esse furacis Promethei audacia, quæ tot mala hominibus invexit, et simul hanc felicitatem nobis abstulit, qua nee unquam frui licebit, dum sceleribus cooperti belluinis, cupiditatibus obrutescimus: at si pura, si nivea gestaremus pectora, tum quidem suavissima illa stellarum circumeuntium musica personarent aures nostræ et opplerentur.”—T. WARTON. Compare Shakspeare, “Midsummer Night's Dream,” a. iii. s. 1:
And I will purge thy mortal grossness so,
That thou shalt like an airy spirit go. “Comus,” v. 997.-T. WARTON. See also his “Prose Works,” edit. 1698, vol. i. 153.—“God purged also our deaf ears, and prepared them to attend his second warning trumpet,” &c. -TODD.