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“ Then to the well-trod stage anon,
Warble his native wood-notes wild. “ Then let me frequent the stage, if the learned plays of Ben Jonson are represented, or those of Shakspeare, the child of nature, whose poetry, like the wild notes of sweet birds, are unrestrained by rules of art."
Learned socko-The ancient actors, when they represented tragedies, wore buskins; when they appeared in comedies they wore a kind of sandal, or half shoe, buckled on with leathern straps, and called a sock : hence the sock ineans comedy, and the buskin tragedy.
Milton here pays a just compliment to Ben Jonson and Shakspeare. Jonson's, as well as Milton's poetry, abounds with allusions to the ancients, and is full of abstruse learning.
Shakspeare, though far from ignorant, followed nature, both in his descriptions of external objects, and in his delineations of human characters and passions. . .
Jonson was probably preferred by his contem' poraries ; but Shakspeare has deservedly become the favourite, though not the principal poet of the English nation. It is singular that Milton,
who, like Jonson, abounded in the learning of his age, was neglected by his contemporaries, and yet has since been placed at the head of English classic literature by Dryden :
“ Three poets, in three distant ages born, ..
“ And ever against eating cares,
" And, to prevent the effects of care, let me hear divine poetry, set to soft music, such as may sink into the soul in lengthened notes, connected by a secret corresponder.ce of sound, and, conducted by concealed skill, seem to wander in
inextricable mazes, fetting loose as it were the very soul of harmony; such music as might waken Orpheus from his slumbers on a bed of flowers in Elysium, and might delight him with such strains as would have charmed Pluto, to have given back to him entirely his Euridice, who had been but half restored to him."
Lydian airs.--The Lydians were a nation much addicted to pleasure, and particularly to the pleasure of music. It is said that a certain king of Lydia, during a famine, instituted public games to divert the calls of appetite.
Milton, to fill up the measure of innocent amusement and cheerfulness, celebrates the charms of music joined to poetry :
" Many a winding bout, ... Of linked sweetness long drawn out."
In these lines he alludes to the harmonic dependance of musical notes, which he compares to the links of a long and intricate chain, which, by the art of the composer, seems to be disentangled, to the ear of the skilful audience.
Heed. Attention, care.
Cunning---was formerly used for skill. Cunning workmen, in the Old Testament, means skilful workmen. Milton here means to describe music that ap
pears wild and artless, whilst, in reality, it is constructed with deep attention to the laws of harmony.
Goiden slumbers.--Golden is a strong metaphor; but it is frequently applied to things seemingly discordant, as golden rule, golden verses of Pythagoras, golden dreams, or to any thing valuable.
The story of Orpheus and Euridice is too well known to require an explanation. The poet means to give the preference to modern music when he says,
« Such strains as would have won the ear
« These delights if thou canst give,
Mirth, with thee I mean to live.” “ If, O goddess of mirth! thou canst give such delights as these, I mean to be thy votary, and to live with thee.”
The poet thus concludes, promising only a conditional worship to the goddess of cheerfulness.
In the next poem he decides that divine Melancholy really confers the pleasures which she promises, and to her he devotes himself.
IL PENSEROSO-(THE MELANCHOLY.)
The following account of the origin and design of this poem is taken from Newton's Notes on Milton :
« Il Penseroso is the thoughtful, melancholy man; and Mr. Thyer concurred with me in observing, that this poem, both in its model and principal circumstances, is taken from a song in praise of melancholy, in Fletcher's comedy, called “The Nice Valour, or Passionate Man.” The reader will not be displeased to see it here, as it is well worth transcribing :- .
.“ Hence, all you vain delights,
Wherein you spend your folly ;
But only melancholy,