Comus "Praising The Lean And Sallow Abstinence"

John Milton

"Praising The Lean And Sallow Abstinence"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In the story of this masque, written for the installation of Lord Bridgewater as President of Wales and first acted by his three children, the children must pass through a "drear wood" inhabited by the enchanter Comus, son of Bacchus and Ceres. The daughter, called in the masque the Lady, is separated from her brothers and encounters Comus and his train. Comus tries to woo her from the paths of virtue. In his efforts to seduce the Lady, he sneers at the professors of morality decked out in robes trimmed with budge [lamb] fur. The Stoics, who believed that happiness consists in a life of virtue, and the Cynics, characterized by Diogenes, who lived in a tub because he scorned the ordinary amenities of civilization, preach an ascetic doctrine abhorrent to Comus. They praise an uncomfortable abstinence, but he holds that all the good things of the earth–odors, fruits, flocks–exist only to be enjoyed. Silkworms produce their smooth silk to deck out human beings; the earth contains gems and precious metals to ornament them. The passage delivered by Comus says:

O foolishness of men! that lend their ears
To those budge doctors of the Stoic fur,
And fetch their precepts from the Cynic tub,
Praising the lean and sallow abstinence.
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odors, fruits, and flocks,
Thronging the seas with spawn innumerable,
But all to please and sate the curious taste?