[Milton-L] light fantastic

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Fri Oct 19 12:05:33 EDT 2012


What's beginning to seem interesting to me is that at some point the pair of adjectives "light" and "fantastic," used in all of these examples to describe something (an "ayre," a maid, a "round," or the toe of a dancing goddess), at some point became a noun phrase all on its own.  The root of this is perhaps Milton's use of the definite article in the line from "L'Allegro" ("On the light fantastic toe"), but how we got from that to the phrase "the light fantastic" (used as a term for dance itself), cutting off the toe as I joked yesterday, is unclear to me.  The first instance of this noun phrase reported by the OED comes from the 19th Century (note that the second example includes Milton's "trip:"

light fantastic n. (see fantastic adj. 6b), as noun phr., the movements of dancing.

c1843   J. S. Coyne Binks the Bagman (1852) i. 10   Then you're fond of sporting on the light fantastic?
1892   A. C. Gunter Miss Dividends ix. 128   'You dance very nicely,' she murmurs. 'Yes, for a man who has not tripped the light fantastic for years.'
1913   J. Galsworthy Dark Flower i. vii. 34   When I was your age I twirled the light fantastic with the best.
1953   K. Amis Lucky Jim x. 114,   I thought you'd all be on the floor by now... I'm not going to permit any more of this skulking about in here. It's the light fantastic for you.
1974   L. Deighton Spy Story vi. 57   The inlaid sprung floor would still have supported a light fantastic or two.

It seems to me that this usage is actually more poetic than Milton's.  As if something about the light, fantastic tone of his poem made the phrase come loose from the noun at some point in someone's imagination.

Louis

===========================
Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
English Department
University of Richmond
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>




From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Richard A. Strier
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2012 11:39 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] light fantastic

It's starting to sound like a stock phrase in a musical or dance context.  That would make perfect sense.

RS
________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Schwartz, Louis [lschwart at richmond.edu]
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2012 8:41 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton and popular culture, a distant echo

I've been poking around a bit more about this and found another earlier instance in a stage direction from a masque by Thomas Middleton. It's A Courtly Masque:  The Deuice called, The World tost at Tennis, (London, 1620).  The stage direction reads:



"Musicke striking up a light fanstasticke Ayre...."



Don't know if Milton would have come across this, but Drayton might have.



Does anyone know of any other earlier instances?



Louis



======================
Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>

________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of John Leonard [jleonard at uwo.ca]
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2012 8:32 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton and popular culture, a distant echo
O darn, there goes another Milton 'first'.
----- Original Message -----
From: Schwartz, Louis<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>
To: 'John Milton Discussion List'<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Thursday, October 18, 2012 7:49 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton and popular culture, a distant echo


John's right, of course.  Milton echoes himself closely here.  It looks like he was fond of this (itself) fantastic bit of phrasing, but even though the OED cites the lines from "L'Allegro" as the first instance in the language, Milton might have gotten it from Michael Drayton's "Nimphidia, the Court of Fayrie," first published (I believe), along with The Battaile of Agincourt, in 1627, which puts it (I also believe) before the earliest estimates we've come up with for the date of the companion poems.



Drayton's poet/speaker uses the phrase, "pretty light fantastick mayde" to describe the fairy Nimphidia:



And thou NIMPHIDIA gentle Fay,

Which meeting me vpon the way,

These secrets didst to me bewray,

   Which now I am in telling.
My pretty light fantastick mayde,
I here invoke thee to my ayde,

That I may speake what thou hast sayd,
   In numbers smoothly swelling.



That's lines 25-32 of the poem (p. 118 of the 1627 volume).



Milton's lines, not Drayton's, are the source of the later instances of the phrase, but it's interesting that he himself might have been borrowing or echoing.



I argue in chapter 5 of Milton and Maternal Mortality that Milton was interested in the Drayton volume for a couple of other reasons, but he might also have tripped over this phrase, and it stuck to his toe, although he did end up doing his own dance with it stuck there.  And that's not the only bit he echoes, I think.  It's a very "allegro" poem, and itself full of echoes (not suprisingly of A Midsummer Night's Dream).  Native wood-notes wild all over the place.



The "trip it...on" part is Milton's, though.  But is it the best part of the trip?



I wonder how the toe got cut off by the time it got to Mamie?



Louis



===========================

Louis Schwartz

Professor of English

English Department

University of Richmond

28 Westhampton Way

Richmond, VA  23173

(804) 289-8315

lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>











-----Original Message-----
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu]<mailto:[mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu]> On Behalf Of John Leonard
Sent: Thursday, October 18, 2012 4:38 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton and popular culture, a distant echo



The couplet Steve quoted is from "L'Allegro", but Michael is also right

to hear an echo of the masque. Comus might not "trip" the light

fantastic, but he does "beat the ground / In a light fantastic round" (144).



On 18/10/2012 4:16 PM, Jameela Lares wrote:

> The line is from "L'Allegro," of course, not the masque.

>

> Jameela Lares

> Professor of English

> The University of Southern Mississippi

> 118 College Drive, #5037

> Hattiesburg, MS  39406-0001

> 601 266-4319 ofc

> 601 266-5757 fax

> ________________________________________

> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Michael Gillum [mgillum at unca.edu]

> Sent: Thursday, October 18, 2012 3:04 PM

> To: John Milton Discussion List

> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton and popular culture, a distant echo

>

> Then of course there's

>

> Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke

> Tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York.

>

> I had no idea what that line meant until I read "Comus."

>

> Michael

>

> On Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 10:55 AM, Steve Fallon <sfallon at nd.edu<mailto:sfallon at nd.edu<mailto:sfallon at nd.edu%3cmailto:sfallon at nd.edu>>> wrote:

> Come, and trip it as ye go

> On the light fantastic toe.

>

> http://bit.ly/3fqoy4

>

> Click play

>

> Steve Fallon

>

>

>

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