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SAMSON AGONISTES*:

A Dramatick Poem.

Τραγωδία μίμησις πράξεως σπουδαίας, κ. τ. λ.

ARISTOT. "Poet.," cap. 6.

Tragedia est imitatio actionis seriæ, &c., per misericordiam et metum
perficiens talium affectuum lustrationem.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

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 human manners. It is not adapted to exhibition on the stage: it is too didactic; and has 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 his heart with regrets. Nothing can be more pathetic than the comparison of his present fallen state with his early hopes and past glories; 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!

Blind amongst enemies, O worse than chains,
Dungeon, or beggary, or decrepit age!

Light, the prime work of God, to me is extinct,

And all her various objects of delight

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,
Since man on earth unparallel'd,

The rarer thy example stands,

By how much from the top of wondrous glory,

Strongest of mortal men,

To lowest pitch of abject fortune thou art fallen.

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.

Samson Agonistes.

That is, Samson an actor; Samson, being represented in a play. Agonistes, ludio, histrio, actor, scenicus.-NEWTON.

Agonistes is here rather athleta. The subject of the drama is Samson brought forth to exhibit his athletic powers. See ver. 1314. That such was Milton's intended sense of " Agonistes," may farther be collected from his use of the word " Antagonist," ver. 1628.-DUNSTER,

Then bursts forth, at verse 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! what a contrast is Dalila to Eve, even when, like Eve to Adam, she affects to own her trangression! Samson exclaims, v. 748.

Out, out, hyæna! these are thy wonted arts,
And arts of every woman false like thee,
To break all faith, all vows, deceive, betray;
Then, as repentant, to submit, beseech,
And reconcilement move with feign'd remorse,
Confess, and promise wonders in her change;
Not truly penitent, but chief to try

Her husband, how far urged his patience bears,
His virtue or weakness which way to assail :
Then with more cautious and instructed skill
Again transgresses, and again submits;
That wisest and best men full oft beguiled,
With goodness principled not to reject
The penitent, but ever to forgive,

Are drawn to wear out miserable days,
Entangled with a poisonous bosom snake,
If not by quick destruction soon cut off,
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 faculties 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 sentiment 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, his sufferings, and his destiny: everything 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 relater 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 versification 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 highest 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 blindness, 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.

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OF THAT SORT OF DRAMATICK POEM WHICH IS CALLED

TRAGEDY.

(WRITTEN BY MILTON HIMSELF ]

TRAGEDY, as it was anciently composed, hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other poems: therefore said by Aristotle to be of power, by raising pity and fear, or terrour, to purge the mind of those and such like passions, that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, surred up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated. Nor is Nature wanting in ber evn effects to make good his assertion: for so, in physick, things of melancbcock hue and quality are used against melancholy, sour against sour, salt te remeve sui bemours: hence philosophers and other gravest writers, as Cieero, Plutarch, and others, frequently cite out of tragick poets, both to adorn and illustrase their discourse. The apostle Paul himself thought it not unworthy to insert a verse of Euripides into the text of Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. xv. 33; and Paræus, commenting on the Revelation, divides the whole book as a tragedy, into acts distinguished each by a chorus of heavenly harpings and song between. Heretofore men in

* Cf that sort of tramatick poem, called Tragedy.

Minen, who was inclined to puritanism, had good reason to think that the publication of bis * Samson Agonistes" would be very fensive to his brethren, who held poetry, and particularly that of the Trumatie kind, in the greatest abhorrence: and, upon this account, it is probable, that, in order to excuse himself from having engaged in this proscribed and forbidden species of writing, be thought is expedient to prefix to his play a formal defence of tragedy.-T. WARTON,

For so, in physick, &c.

These expressions of Miten may be supposed to refer to the doctrine of signatures then in vogue, which had been introduced by Paracelsus between the years 1530 and 1540, and which inferred the propriety of the use of any vegetable or mineral in medicine, from the similarity of colour, shape, or appearance, which these remedies might bear to the part affected. Thus yellow things, as sufren, turmeric, &e. were given in liver complaints, from their analogy of colour to the bile; and other remedies were given in nephritic disorders, because the seed or leaf of the plant resem died the kidney. See Paracelsus, "Labyrinth. Med." c. & and Dr. Pemberton's very elegant preface to the English edition of the "London Dispensary."-DUNSTER.

A verse of Euripides.

The verse, here quoted, is ↔ Evil communications corrupt good manners:" but I am inclined to think that Milton is mistaken in calling it a verse of Euripides; for Jerome and Grotius, who published the fragments of Menander and the best commentators, ancient and modern, say that it is taken from the Thais” of Menander, and it is extant among the fragments of Menander, p. 79. Le Clerc's edit. Such slips of memory may be found sometimes in the best writers- | NEWTON.

Mr. Glasse, the learned translator of this tragedy into Greek iambics, agrees with Dr. Newton. Dr. Macknight, in his excellent - Translation of the Epistles," is of opinion, that the sentiment is of elder date than the time of Menander; that it was one of the proverbial verses commonly received among the Greeks, the author of which cannot now be known. Clemens Alexandrinus calls it a tragic iambie, "Strom. lib. i. and Socrates the historian expressly assigns it to Euri pides, "Ecc. Hist. lib. iii. cap. 16. ed. Vales. p. 189. It is extant indeed in the fragicents of Euripides, as well as in those of the comic writer. Milton therefore is not to be charged with forgetfulness or mistake.-ToDD.

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highest dignity have laboured not a little to be thought able to compose a tragedy; of that honour Dionysius the elder was no less ambitious, than before of his attaining to the tyranny. Augustus Cæsar also had begun his Ajax ; but, unable to please his own judgement with what he had begun, left it unfinished. Seneca, the philosopher, is by some thought the author of those tragedies (at least the best of them) that go under that name. Gregory Nazianzen, a father of the church, thought it not unbeseeming the sanctity of his person to write a tragedy, which is entitled "Christ Suffering." This is mentioned to vindicate tragedy from the small esteem, or rather infamy, which in the account of many it undergoes at this day with other common interludes; happening through the poet's errour of intermixing comick stuff with tragick sadness and gravity; or introducing trivial and vulgar persons, which by all judicious hath been counted absurd; and brought in without discretion, corruptly to gratify the people. And though ancient tragedy use no prologue, yet using sometimes, in case of self-defence, or explanation, that which Martial calls an epistle; in behalf of this tragedy coming forth after the ancient manner, much different from what among us passes for best, thus much beforehand may be epistled; that Chorus is here introduced after the Greek manner, not ancient only but modern, and still in use among the Italians. In the modelling therefore of this poem, with good reason, the ancients and Italians are rather followed, as of much more authority and fame. The measure of verse used in the Chorus is of all sorts, called by the Greeks monostrophick, or rather apolelymenon', without regard had to strophe, antistrophe, or epode, which were a kind of stanzas framed only for the musick, then used with the Chorus that sung; not essential to the poem, and therefore not material; or, being divided into stanzas or pauses, they may be called allæostropha. Division into act and scene referring chiefly to the stage, (to which this work never was intended) is here omitted.

It suffices if the whole drama be found not produced beyond the fifth act. Of the style and uniformity, and that commonly called the plot, whether intricate or explicit, which is nothing indeed but such œconomy, or disposition of the fable, as may stand best with verisimilitude and decorum; they only will best judge who are not unacquainted with Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the three tragick poets unequalled yet by any, and the best rule to all who endeavour to write tragedy. The circumscription of time, wherein the whole drama begins and ends, is, according to ancient rule and best example, within the space of twenty-four hours.

d A tragedy, &c.

A very severe, but very just criticism, on this tragedy of Gregory, which has been too much applauded.-Jos. WARTON.

e Though ancient tragedy use no prologue.

That is, no prologue apologising for the poet, as we find the ancient comedy did. See Terence's prologues.-HURD.

Apolelymenon.

Free from the restraint of any particular measure, not from all measure whatsoever.-HURD.

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ARGUMENT.

Sasex made captive, blinds, and now in the prison at Gaza, there to labour as in a comman worth use, on a festival day, in the general cessation from labour, comes forth into the open air as a place nigh, somewhat retired, there to sit awhile and bemoan his condition; where be 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 Manosh, who enerous the like, and withal tells him his purpose to procure his liberty by rans ; insty, that this feast was proclaimed by the Philistines as a day of thanksgiving for their achverstice from the hands of Samson, which yet more troubles him. Manoah then de parts ar prosecute his endeavour with the Philistine lords for Samson's redemption; who # the mesa vhữ is visited by other persons, and lastly by a public officer to require his aving as the feast before the lords and people, to play or show his strength in their prewe he in first refuses, dismissing the public officer with absolute denial to come; at length, persuaded in wacky that this was from God, he yields to go along with him, who came now the send time with great threatenings to fetch him: the Chorus yet remaining on the Juser. Minah returns full of joyful hope, to procure ere long his son's deliverance: in the mit 7 vich Escarse a Hebrew comes in haste, confusedly at first, and afterwards more esomely relating the catastrophe, what Samson had done to the Philistines, and by accidet at himself; wherewith the tragedy ends.

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© Samson, made captive, blind, &c.

Der & the femte who has observed, what yet is obvious, that in this tragedy Samson hi à mà khì the captive state of Israel. livelily represent our blind poet with the see the Restrestre afflicted and persecuted." See his "Crit. Observ, on Izas sod, that Miton, who artfully envelops much of his o x tins #dis drama, had long before used the character and situation of SamMNOS LR ein- The Reason of Church Government," b. ii. conclusion. He e who being disciplined in temperance, grows perfect in strength, pas and sung” beks being the laws, while these are undiminished and unsborn, with CENA with the word of his meanest officer, he defeats thousands of his Ming is head on the lap of Eastering prelates, while he sleeps, they cut del mes y las laws and pregatires me his ornament and defence, delivering Ha avid ani peersÈve counselbes, wht. Lke the Philistines, extinguish the eyes of mus darume, fecing him to grind in the prison-house of their insidious designs ta: be in wing this prelitical razor to have bereft him of his wonted und gut has sur 2 the golden beams of law and right; and they, sternly i za mác vì nữ ing the heads of those his evil counsellors, but not without great

Nau CoM is mrscript bervations on this tragedy, has noticed the allu

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Amed sad of his own days. "The poem," he remarks, "was Nar de sink were presei ani in little appearance of ever seeing their own times Aværs WIZ A VIEW NO Ofurt them, as well as himself, by so great Ave watching her is saints with eye unseene,' as he writes on the baking ones tallade to in all his writings, and is the great b. Pope observal to mean i considering this point farther some days han man, have a view to himself in Samson."

'རཧཝེ, ནཀྑཱ ཁོ ན ལ ཉྙསམསྶཱ & MR

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