Citizen Milton
'Iris with her plumed bow' by Arthur Rackham (1921)

Bodleian Library Bodleian Library, Oxford
Dec 2007 - Apr 2008

Text by Sharon Achinstein

Site designed by Richard Rowley

7. Temptations: 'And What is Faith, Love, Virtue unassay'd?'

Mortals that would follow me,
Love virtue, she alone is free,
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the Sphery chime;
Or if Virtue feeble were,
Heav'n itself would stoop to her.
--Comus

Milton's poetry focuses on moments of temptation and choice. His early work, A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle (commonly called Comus) tells the story of a young girl, who is separated from her brothers and becomes lost in the forest wilderness on her way home to Ludlow Castle. When captured by the magician Comus, master of festivity and riot, she must rely on her own moral compass. Performed before the Lord President of Wales and the Marches in 1634, with music by the composer Henry Lawes, Comus was an early literary triumph for the rising poet. The masque shows the vulnerability of virtue in a dangerous world, and it foreshadows the temptation of Eve in Paradise Lost. While in Comus, the Lady could resist temptation, in Paradise Lost, Eve is less successful.

Comus, with woodcut engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton
(Gregynog Press, 1931)

Printed by Idris Jones for the Gregynog Press, this narrow format shows Hughes-Stanton's costume engravings, printed on Japanese vellum. The unpolished morocco cover was Hugh-Stanton's first bookbinding design, and it was selected by the First Edition club for inclusion in its Fifty Best Books of 1931 competition. Gregynog Press also produced Four Poems by John Milton (1933) and a special Christmas Card, On the Morning of Christs Nativity (1937).
With thanks to the Gregynog Press.
M. adds. 45 d.19

Comus, illustrated by Arthur Rackham (W. Heinemann, 1921)

The Lady, lost in the wood, is unaware of the dangers that will confound her. She will emerge victorious against danger, but in the mean time is bereft, lost in 'dim darkness and leavy Labyrinth.' The prolific illustrator Rackham (1867-1939), well known for his work in fairy tales and Alice in Wonderland, captures the dark mystery and fairy-tale quality of the work.
Arthur Rackham, 'Iris with her plumed bow'.
'Iris with her plumèd bow' by Arthur Rackham (1921).
[Full size image]
Ms. Adds. 45 d.10

Comus: A Masque, illustrated by the Dalziel brothers (Routledge, 1858)

This woodcut by the brothers Edward (1817-1905) and George (1815-1902) Dalziel depicts the Lady as a tiny figure in cavernous space, a solitary figurre silhouetted by light. Viewing her from behind we see her vulnerability, as the image captures the fragility of virtue in the world.
J. 280 e.44

Comus, illustrated by Nicholas Parry (Tern Press, 2003)

This stone lithograph by Nicholas Parry captures one central question of the work: does the Lady's temptationóComus's magical cupócome from without, or does the impulsion to sensuality and pleasure, comes from within? For this Tern Press (founded 1973) edition of 25 copies, Mary Perry designed a binding of brocade red fabric.
Rec b.17

Paradise Lost, with photogravures by William Strang (Routledge, 1905)

William Strang's lone figure of Eve, massy as the rocks in the background, offers a deep sensuality linking human and earth. William Strang, a lowland Scot, with strong socialist leanings, was a member of the Art Workers' Guild, Strang made portraits of leading socialists and in his etchings often depicted rural subjects, class conflict, sometimes with a grim and mysterious element.
2799 e.199

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Top image: 'Iris with her plumed bow' by Arthur Rackham (1921).