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His cloudless thunder bolted on their heads.
So Virtue, given for lost,
Depress'd and overthrown, as seem'd,
Like that self-begotten bird

In the Arabian woods embost,

That no second knows nor third,
And lay erewhile a holocaust,
From out her ashy womb now teem'd,
Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most

When most unactive deem'd;

And, though her body die, her fame survives
A secular bird ages of lives.

MAN. Come, come; no time for lamentation now,
Nor much more cause; Samson hath quit himself
Like Samson, and heroickly hath finish'd
A life heroick; on his enemies

Fully revenged, hath left them years of mourning,
And lamentation to the sons of Caphtor
Through all Philistian bounds: to Israel
Honour hath left, and freedom, let but them
Find courage to lay hold on this occasion;
To himself and father's house eternal fame;
And, which is best and happiest yet, all this
With God not parted from him as was fear'd,
But favouring and assisting to the end.
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
Let us go find the body where it lies
Soak'd in his enemies' blood; and from the stream,
With lavers pure and cleansing herbs, wash off
The clotted gore. I, with what speed the while,
(Gaza is not in plight to say us nay,)
Will send for all my kindred, all my friends,
To fetch him hence, and solemnly attend
With silent obsequy, and funeral train,
Home to his father's house; there will I build him
A monument, and plant it round with shade
Of laurel ever green, and branching palm,
With all his trophies hung, and acts inroll'd
In copious legend, or sweet lyrick song.

1699. Self-begotten bird: The Phoenix. 1700. Embost: Enclosed in a wood. 1706. Her fame, &c. The construction is this: Virtue, given for lost, like the Phoenix consumed and now teemed from out her ashy womb, revives, reflourishes; and, though her body die, which was the case of Samson, yet her fame survives a Phoenix many ages: that is, the fame of virtue survives, outlives, this secular bird many ages.-NEWTON.


1713. Sons of Cuphtor: The Philis-poet has finely improved.








tines, originally of the island Caphtor or Crete.

1721. Nothing is here for tears. The whole of this speech of Manoah is in a high degree pleasing and interesting. From this place to the conclusion it gradually rises in beauty, so as to form one of the most captivating parts of this admirable tragedy.-DUNSTER.

1730. Will send, &c. This is founded on what is said in Judges xvi. 31, which the

Thither shall all the valiant youth resort,
And from his memory inflame their breasts
To matchless valour, and adventures high:
The virgins also shall, on feastful days,
Visit his tomb with flowers; only bewailing
His lot unfortunate in nuptial choice,
From whence captivity and loss of eyes.
CHO. All is best, though we oft doubt
What the unsearchable dispose
Of Highest Wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close.
Oft he seems to hide his face,

But unexpectedly returns,

And to his faithful champion hath in place
Bore witness gloriously; whence Gaza mourns,

And all that band them to resist

His uncontroulable intent:

His servants he, with new acquist

Of true experience, from this great event,
With peace and consolation hath dismiss'd,
And calm of mind, all passion spent.

1757. With peace, &c. This moral lesson in the conclusion is very fine, and excellently suited to the beginning. For Milton had chosen for the motto to this picce a passage out of Aristotle, which may show what was his design in writing this tragedy, and the sense of which he hath expressed in the preface, that





"Tragedy is of power, by raising pity and fear or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions," &c. This he exemplifies here in Manoah and the Chorus, after their various agitations of passion, acquiescing in the Divine dispensations, and thereby inculcating a most instructive 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 I 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 having it acted at Westminster; but his commitmen to the Tower put an end to that design. It has since been brought upon 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 "Il 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 had 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 a Greek tragedy) produces upon us, Christians, an effect infinitely 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.


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