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REMARKS ON SAMSON AGONISTES.
The excellence of this drama, which strictly follows the Greek model, lies principally in its majestic moral strength : the two preceding poems are divine epics; this deals entirely in topics of human nature and hu. man manners. It is not adapted to exhibition on the stage: it is too didactic; and bas too few actors and too few incidents. The fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language are all admirably preserved : the story does not linger, as some have pretended; but goes forward with intense interest to the end. The opening is in the chastest style of poetical beauty. “The breath of heaven fresh-blowing” gives ease to Samson's body, but not to his mind, which, when in solitude and at leisure, agonises bis heart with regrets. Nothing can be more pathetic than the comparison of his present fallen state with his early hopes and past glo. ries; and then the reflection that for this change he had no one to blame but himself :
O loss of sight, of thee I most complain!
Annull'd, which might in part my grief have eased, &c. The observations of the Chorus, descriptive of Samson's dejected appearance in this situation, are very fine, contrasted with the recollection of his former mighty actions and triumphs :
O mirrour of our fickle state,
To lowest pitch of abject fortune thou art falleri. The dialogues between Samson and his father are everywhere supported with force, elevation, and moral wisdom; and the unexampled simplicity of the language in which they are conveyed augments the deep impression which they everywhere make.
Perhaps, as a summary of divine dispensations, nothing even in Milton can be found so awful and comprehensive.
Then bursts forth, at line 667, that complaint of most deep and stupendous eloquence, beginning,
God of our fathers, what is man! Then enters Dalila, with the renewal of all her arts, and coquetries, and false smiles. With what a proud and overwhelming scorn does the hero treat her insidious advances ! wbat a contrast is Dalila to Eve, even when, like Eve to Adam, she affects to own her transgression ! Samson exclaims, line 748.
Out, out, hyæna! these are thy wonted arts,
Then with more cautious and instructed skill
As I by thee, to ages an example. As the dialogue goes on, each party speaks in that natural train which leads to the consummation of the tragedy; and with poetic force and plenitude of rich sentiment, which belong to Milton alone.
All poetry of a high order is produced by a union of all the best facul. ties of the mind, and all the noblest emotions of the heart. What is called the understanding, or reason, alone, will produce no poetry at all: even the imagination added to it will not be sufficient, unless there be senti. ment and pathos raised by what that imagination presents. To supply the materials of that imagination, there must be observation, knowledge, learning, and memory. In the amalgamation of all these Milton's drama excels.
The character of Samson Agonistes is magnificently supported: he speaks always in a tone becoming his circumstances, his position, bis sufferings, and his destiny: every thing is grand, animated, natural, and soul-elating
It is a minor sort of poetry to relate things as a stander-by: the author must throw himself into the character of the person represented, and speak in his name. Pope, in his characters of men and women, tells us their several opinions and passions; but these opinions and passions should be uttered by themselves. There is a sympathy we feel with the eloquent relator of his own sorrows, which cannot be raised by the relation of a third person.
The character of Manoah, Samson's father, is full of nature and parental affection.
The Chorus is everywhere attractive by poetry, moral wisdom, and eloquent pathos. I will not disguise my opinion, that the versifiction of these lyrical parts is occasionally, and only occasionally, inharmonious, abrupt, and harsh; and such as my ear can scarcely reconcile to any sort of metre.
The sudden presage which prompted Samson to consent to exhibit himself in the theatre, after the stern reluctance he had previously expressed, is very sublime.
The tone of the whole drama is in the bighest degree of elevation: the thoughts, sentiments, and words are those of a mental giant.
Added to the mighty interest which these create, is the conviction that through the whole the poet has a relation to his own case ;-his blind. ness, his proscription, his poverty,
With darkness, and with danger compass'd round; his fortitude, his defiance, his unimpaired strength, his loftiness of soul, his conscious power from the vastness of his intellect, and the firmness of his principles.
SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.
Samson, made captive, blind, and now in prison at Gaza, there to labour
as in a common workhouse, on a festival day, in the general cessation from labour, comes forth into the open air, to a place nigh, somewhat retired, there to sit awhile and bemoan his condition; where he happens at length to be visited by certain friends and equals of his tribe, which make the Chorus, who seek to comfort him what they can; then by his old father Manoah, who endeavours the like, and withal tells bim his purpose to procure his liberty hy ransom; lastly, that this feast was proclaimed by the Philistines as a day of thanksgiving for their deliverance from the hands of Samson, which yet more troubles him. Manoah then departs to prosecute his endeavour with the Philistine lords for Samson's redemption ; who in the mean while is visited by other persons, and Jastly by a public officer to require his coming to the feast before the lords and people, to play or show his strength in their presence: he at first refuses, dismissing the public officer with absolute denial to come; at length, persuaded inwardly that this was from God, he yields to go along with him, who came now the second time with great threatenings to fetch him : the Chorus yet remaining on the place, Manoah returns full of joyful hope, to procure ere long his son's deliverance : in the midst of which discourse a Hebrew comes in haste, confusedly at first, and afterwards more distinctly, relating the catastropbe, what Samson had done to the Philistines, and by accident to himself; wherewith the tragedy ends.
HARAPHA, of Gath.
Samson, (Attendant leading him.)
Samson Agonistes, that is, Samson the he professes to imitate, opens his drama Champion, the combatant, from the with introducing one of its principal per Greek® AyoviotNS, (agonistes) a comba- sonages explaining the story upon which tant or athlete at the Public Games. it is founded.-Tuyer. The words of this
1. A little onward. Milton, after the opening are very poetical, beautiful, and example of the Greek tragedians, whom I affecting.-BRYDGES.
Where I, a prisoner, chain'd, scarce freely draw
10. The breath of heaven. This line and and his mother both. Of all the wonder. the next are exquisite.-BRYDGES. ful acquirements of Milton, not the least
21. But rush upon me thronging. The is his astonishingly critical reading and whole of this passage is pathetic, moral, retentive memory of the Scriptures, makand full of force.-BRYDGES.
ing every portion of them subservient 24. Twice by an angel. Once to his to his grand and holy designs. mother, and again to his father Manoah 28. And from, that is, and as from.
But what is strength without a double share
peace, I must not quarrel with the will
75. I, dark in light, &c. In these lines / tude and cruelty of his children. Не the poet seems to paint himself. The complained that they combined to delitigation of his will produced a collec- sraud him in the econoiny of his house, tion of evidence relating to the testator, and sold several of his books in the which renders the discovery of thore basest manner. His feelings on such an long-forgotten papers peculiarly interests outrage, both as a parent and a scholar, ing: they show very forcibly, and in new must have been singularly painful: perpoints of view, his domestic infelicity, haps they suggestel to him these very and his amiable disposition. The tender pathetic lines.-HAYLEY. and sublime poet, whose sensibility and 80. O durk, dark, dark, &c. Few pas. sufferings were so great, appears to have sages in poetry are so affecting as this, been almost as unfortunate in his daugh- and the tone of expression is peculiarly ters as the Lear of Shakspeare. A ser- Miitonic.- BRYDGES. Indeed there is very vant declares in evidence, that her des extraordinary power of poetry in the ceared master, a little before his last mar- whole passage, down to line 109. riage, had lamented to her the ingrati