Comus: Wherefore did nature pour her bounties forth
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odours, fruits, and
Thronging the seas with spawn innumberable,
But all to please and sate the curious taste. . . .
Lady: Impostor! do not charge most innocent Na-
As if she would her children should be riotous
With her abundance. She, good Catress,
Means her provision only to the good,
That live according to her sober laws,
And holy dictate of spare Temperance.276
-- Milton, Comus
WHEN the poets attempted to apply the doctrine of vivere secundum naturam to man's life itself, they entered into the age-old debate over reason and passion as guides to human life. Nor did they confine themselves to discussions of man's intelligence and emotions: their efforts to settle on "Nature" as a norm for human conduct led them into the allied problems of the relative merits of man and beast, the innate benevolence of mankind, and the need for humane treatment of all living creatures.
The fundamental quarrel underlying the debate of Comus and the Lady reached back at least to the ancient days of the Stoics and Epicureans. Eighteenth-century gentlemen interested in the time-honored conflict could ponder Milton's classic expression of the dispute: they could recall Shakespeare's Troilus with his scornful, "Nay, if we talk of reason, Let's shut our gates and sleep . . ."