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His cloudless thunder bolted on their heads.
Man. Come, come; no time for lamentation now,
find the body where it lies
Let us go
1699. Self-hegotten bird: The Phoenix. tines, originally of the island Caphtor or 1700. Embost: Enclosed in a wood. Crete.
1706. Her fame, &c. The construction 1721. Nothing is here for tears. The is this: Virtue, given for lost, like the whole of this speech of Manoah is in a Phenix consumed and now teemed from high degree pleasing and interesting. out her ashy womb, revives, reflourishes; From this place to the conclusion it and, though her body die, which was the gradually rises in beauty, so as to form case of Samson, yet her fame survives a one of the most captivating parts of this Phoenix many ages: that is, the fame of admirable tragedy-DUNSTER. virtue survires, outlives, this secular bird 1730. Will send, &c. This is founded on many ages.-NEWTON.
wbat is said in Judges xvi. 31, which the 1713. Sons of Cuphtor : The Philis- | poet has finely improved.
Thither shall all the valiant youth resort,
Cho. All is best, though we oft doubt
1757. With peace, &c. This moral les- . “Tragedy is of power, by raising pity son in the conclusion is very fine, and and fear or terror, to purge the mind of excellently suited to the beginning. For those and such like passions," &c. This Milton had chosen for the motto to this he exemplifies here in Manoah and the piere a passage out of Aristotle, which Chorus, after their various agitations of may show what was his design in writing passion, acquiescing in the Divine dispenthis tragedy, and the sense of which he sations, and thereby inculcating a most inhath expressed in the preface, that structive lesson to the reader.-NEWTON.
“Samson AGONISTES” is the only tragedy that Milton finished, though he sketched out the plans of several, and proposed the subjects of more, in his manuscript preserved in Trinity College, Cambridge: and we may suppose that he was determined to the choice of this particular subject by the similitude of his own circumstances to those of Samson blind and among the Philistines. This conceive to be the last of his poetical pieces; and it is written in the very spirit of the ancients, and equals, if not exceeds, any of the most perfect tragedies which were ever exhibited on the Athenian stage, when Greece was in its glory. As this work was never intended for the stage, the division into acts and scenes is omitted, Bishop Atterbury had an intention of getting Pope to divide it into acts and scenes, and of having it acted at Westminster; but his commitmen to the Tower put an end to that design. It bas since been brought upor the stage in the form of an Oratorio; and Handel's music is never employed to greater advantage, than when it is adapted to Milton's words. That great artist has done equal justice to our author's “L'Allegro" and "11 Penseroso;" as if the same spirit possessed both masters, and as if the god of music and of verse was still one and the same.--Newton.
The nephew of Milton has told us, that he could not ascertain the time when this drama was written; but it probably flowed from the heart of the indignant poet soon after his spirit had been wounded by the calamitous destiny of his friends, to which he alludes with so much energy and pathos, in the chorus, line 652, &c. He did not design the drama for a theatre, nor has it the kind of action requisite for theatrical interest: but in one point of view the “Samson Agonistes” is the most singularly affecting composition that was ever produced by sensibility of heart and vigour of imagination. To give it this particular effect, we must remember, that the lot of Milton had a marvellous coincidence with that of his hero in three remarkable points: first, (but we should regard this as the most inconsiderable article of resemblance) he had been tormented by a beautiful, but disaffectionate and disobedient wife ; secondly, he had been the great champion of his country, and as such the idol of public admiration; lastly, he had fallen from that height of unrivalled glory, and bad experienced the most humiliating reverse of fortune. In delineating the greater part of Samson's sensations under calamity, he had only to describe his own. No dramatist can have ever conformed so literally as Milton to the Horatian precept, Si vis me flere, &c., “If you wish me to weep, you must first weep yourself;" and if, in reading the “Samson Agonistes," we observe how many passages, expressed with the most energetic sensibility, exhibit to our fancy the sufferings and real sentiments of the poet, as well as those of his hero, we may derive from this extraordinary composition a kind of pathetic delight, that no other drama can afford; we may applaud the felicity of genius, that contrived, in this manner, to relieve a heart overburdened with anguish and indignation, and to pay a half-concealed, yet hallowed tribute, to the memories of dear though dishonoured friends, whom the state of the times allowed not the afflicted poet more openly to deplore.—HAYLEY.
In “Samson Agonistes” Milton has given us, in English, a perfect Sophoclean tragedy, in which every minutest peculiarity of the Attic scene is so faithfully and exactly reproduced, that a reader unacquainted with the Greek language will form a much more just and correct notion of classical tragedy from reading “Samson," than from studying even the finest and most accurate translations of the great dramas of the Athenian theatre. This may appear extravagant, nay, even paradoxical; but we speak advisedly. The Greek tragedies were grand historical compositions, founded upon the traditional or mythologic legends of the people for whom they were written, and whose religious and patriotic feelings were in the highest degree appealed to by what they considered as a sacred and affecting representation : exactly as the rude audience of the Middle Ages had their sensibilities powerfully excited by the mysteries. Now the legends of classical mythology necessarily affect no less than the stories of the Scripture history; and consequently the “Samson" (being in all points of structure and arrangement an exact fac-simile of å Greek tragedy) produces upon us, Christians, an effect intinitely more analogous to that made upon an Athenian by a tragedy of Sophocles, than could be produced by our reading the best mere translation of a tragedy of Sophocles that the skill of man ever executed.-Shaw.