Графични страници
PDF файл

faying, "J' ai repare ma hontc, & j'expire cn vamqfleur." And yet this was the man that dared to deride (he irregularities of Shakspeare. Jos. Wakton.

Of the style of this poem, it is to be observed that it ii often inexact and almost ungrammatical; and of the metre, that it is very licentious: Both with design and the most consummate judgement. An irregular construction carries with it an air of negligence, well suited to this drama; and yet prevents the expression from falling into vulgarity: and a looseness of measure gives grace and ease to the tragick dialogue. But this apology docs not extend to such inaccuracies in the Malk of Comus; which, as a work of delight and ostentation, should have been every *hcre laboured, as indeed for the most part it is, into the utmost polish of style and metre. Milton learnt the secret he has here so successfully practised from his strict attention to the Greek tragedians, especially Euripides. The modern criticks of this poet arc perpetually tampering with his careless expression, careless numbers, &c. unconscious that both were the effect of art. It is on these occasions we may apply the observation,

"It is not Homer nods, but we that dream." The Samson Agonijks is, in every view, the most artificial, and highly tinilhcd, of all Milton's poetical works. Hi; no.

Dr. Warton, in a concluding note on Lycidas, assigns to Samson Agonijlcs the third place of rank among the poet's works. Lord Monboddo, still more enamoured of its excellencies, fays, that it is "the last and the most faultless, in my judgment, of all Milton's poetical works, if not the finest." Orig. and Prog, of Language, 2d edit. vol. iii. p. 71. It is certainly, as Mr. Mason long since observed, an excellent piece, to which Posterity has not yet given its full measure of popular and universal fame. "Perhaps," fays this judicious writer in a letter to a friend concerning his own impressive tragedy of Elfrida, " in your closet, and that of a sew more, who unaffectedly admire genuine nature and ancient simplicity, the Agonijhs may hold a distinguished rank. Yet, surely, we cannot say, in Hamlet's phrase, that it phases the million; it is still caviare to the general." Elfrida,. edit. 1752. Lett. ii. p. vi, vii.

Mr. Penn has printed, in the second volumo os his valuable M Critical, Poetical, and Dramatick Works, 1798," an abridge* ment of Milton's Samson; in nearly which form he thinks it might be acted as an interlude, without danger of being ill received. The abridgement is formed with much ingenuity. Yet the classical reader will not perhaps accede to the absence of some splendid, and some affecting, passages. Mr. Penn also remarks, that Dr. Johnson's criticism on this tragedy is severe only in supposing, that it contained no more than the substance of one act; and that, though still one of Milton's valuable works, Samson is inferiour both to Lycidas, and the Allegro and Penserqfo. I agree in preferring the earlier poems of Milton to his tragedy: But I may be permitted not to subscribe to the assertion in Dr. Johnson's criticism that "nothing passes between the first act and the last, that either hastens or delays the death of Samson;" which, Mr. Cumberland observes, is not correct. See before, p. 336". On the contrary, I admire the art and judgement with which the poet has delineated the various circumstances that, from the first entrance of Manoah to the last appearance of Samson, progressively affect the mind of the hero, and finally produce the resolution which hastens the catastrophe. Samson, as an oratorio, is divided into three acts: Mr. Penn's abridgement exhibits the length of two.

It has been observed by Goldsmith, that Samson is a tragedy without a love-intrigue, as the Athalie of Racine also is, which appeared not many years after Samson; and that Maffei, instructed by these examples, has formed his Merope without any amorous plot.

The history of Samson has often employed the pen of poetry. Mr. Hayley thinks that Milton's Samson might perhaps be founded on a sacred drama of that country, to the poets of which Milton was confessedly partial; La Rappresentariont di Sansanc, per Aluffandro Rofelli; of which there is an edition printed at Florence in 1554, another at the fame place in 1588, and a third at Siena in l6l6: but I have not been more fortunate than Mr. Hayley, in endeavouring to procure a copy of this Samson. The accomplished author of the Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy, 1799, has suggested to me that Milton might have met with more than one Italian drama on this subject; for, among the Rappresentazioni enumerated by Cionacci, he had observed a S«i» sonet from the prologue to which an extract is given: "A gloria adunche dell' Altitonante, «« E di colui che piu che '1 sol risplende; &c.'*

und this he conceives to be not the Sansone of Roselli; but a Rappresentazione of the fifteenth century. I am informed by the same gentleman, that, in or about the year 1622, appeared the following French drama, which might also have influenced the Englilh poet in the choice of Samson: "Tragedie noiivelle de Samson le fort; contentant ses vidloires, & fa prise par la trahison de son epoufe Dalila, qui lui coupa ses cheveux, & le livra aux Philiftins, desquels il occit trois milk- a son trefpas: En quatre actes. 8vo. fans date." I must not omit to mention the Sansone of Fcrrante Pallavicino, in three books, published at Venice in 1655, into which Milton might perhaps have looked. Probably, among the Autos Sacramcntales or religious tragedies of the Spanish, a Samson may exist. His history is particularly noticed, and part of it described in a Sonnet, in the celebrated Spanish pastoral. La Constants Amarillis, edit. Lyon. l6l4, p. 166. "Sanson se mira y duda, &c." Among a variety of sacred poems in different Latin metres, the acts of Samson are described in nearly four hundred elegant hexameters in the Judices Popnli Jsraelitici, Autore Pantaleone Candido, Austriaco, printed at Basil in 1570, p. 301—315. Phillips, Milton's nephew, calls Candidus " the chief of those that are fam'd for an elegant style in Latin verse." Tkeat. Poet. 145. Phillips also, in his list of modern Poets, notices " Hieronymus Zieglerus, a writer of divers tragicomedies, and other dramatick pieces out of the Old and New Testament; as his Protoplast us, Immolation of Isaac, Nomothrfia, Samson, Hcli, &c." Theat. Poet. p. 73. The drama of Samson was published, as I have already noticed, August*, 1547, 8vo. But Milton is not to be traced in it. In our own language likewise, an elaborate Hijlorie of Samson was publiihed, in 1632, by Quarles; in which, among several extravagances indeed of imagery and expression, are some spirited passages: 1 will cite the description os' Samson enraged, when he found that his bride had discovered his riddle, edit. lu'32, p. 327

"When the next Day had heav'd his golden head

"From the soft pillow of his sea-greene bed;

"And, with his rising glory, had possest

"The spatious borders of the enlighten'd East;

"Samson arose; and, in a rage, went downe

"(By Heaven directed) to a neighbouring towne:

"His choller was inflam'd, and from his eye

"The sudden flasties ot' his wrath did stye;

'* Palencsse was in his cheefces; and, from his breath,

"There flew the fierce embassadours of death;

"lie heav'd his hand, and where it fell, it flew, &c."

Tods. APPENDIX TO SAMSON AGONISTES, containing plans of other subjects, intended for TRAGEDIES by Milton: From his own MS, in Trinity College, Cambridge.


i. The Flood. [See No. iii. below.]

ii. Abram in Ægypt.

iii. Tie Deluge.

iv. Sodom.

r. Dinah. Vide Euscb. Præparat. Evangel, lib. ix. cap. xxii.

a Many of these subjects in Milton's hands would have made glorious Tragedies. And one cannot enough lament that the prejudices of his age should have discouraged him from giving us more of these dramas; for the execution of which he was, both by nature and art, supremely acoomplislied. There is, in the specimen he has given us, a simplicity and dignity united, of which we have no example in modern Tragedy. His Samson is at once the disgrace of his own age and of ours. H v as.

These numerous Scripture subjects justify a remark made by Mr. Warton, that Milton early leaned towards religious subjects for plays, and wished to turn the drama into the scriptural channel: He accordingly, in his Reason os Ch. Gov. again/I Prelacy, written in 1641, tempers his praise of Sophocles and Euripides with recommending Solomon's Song; and adds, that * the Apocalypse of Saint John is the majestick image of a high and stately tragedy, Ihutting np and intermingling her solemn scenes and acts with a seven-fold chorut os bal> lalujahsaad harping symphonies." Pnsc-Worh, edit. 1698, vol. i. 61.


> So (h«y arc termed in Milton's MS Those, which relate to Paniise Lost, bave been given at the end of that poem. Tom.

« ПредишнаНапред »