« PreviousContinue »
which required no assistance from the common çant of poetry, have preserved him from frequent outrages of local or chronological propriety. Yet he has mentioned chalybean steel, of which it is not very likely that his chorus should have heard, and has made Alp the general name of a mountain, in a region where the Alps could scarcely be known:
No medicinal liquor can assuage,
He has taught Samson the tales of Circe and the Syrens, at which he apparently hints in his colloquy with Delilah:
-I know thy trains,
No more on me have pow'r. But the grossest errour of this kind is the solemn introduction of the Phænix in the last scene; which is faulty, not only as it is incongruous to the personage to whom it is ascribed, but as it is so evidently contrary to reason and nature, that it ought never to be mentioned but as a fable in
- Virtue giv'n for lost,
A secular bird, ages of lives. Another species of impropriety is the unsuitableness of thoughts to the general character of the poem. The seriousness and solemnity of tragedy necessarily reject all pointed or epigrammatical expressions, all remote conceits and opposition of ideas. Samson's complaint is therefore too elaborate to be natural:
As in the land of darkness, yet in light,
Myself my sepulchre, a moving grave!
From worst of other evils, pains and wrongs.
Manoah. A little stay will bring some notice hither
Chor. Of good or bad' so great, of bad the sooner;
Chor. But had we best retire? I see a storm.
Chor. Look now for no enchanting voice, nor fear
The giant Harapha.
Fathers are wont to lay up for their sons,
Thou for thy son are bent to lay out all; Samson's complaint of the inconveniencies of imprisonment is not wholly without verbal quaintness :
-I, a prisoner chain'd, scarce freely draw
The air, imprison'd also, close and damp.
How could I once look up, or heave the head,
My vessel, trusted to me from above,
To a deceitful woman!
He's gone, and who knows how he may report
Thy words, by adding fuel to the flame? The versification is in the dialogue much more smooth and harmonious, than in the parts allotted to the chorus, which are often so harsh and dissonant, as scarce to preserve, whether the lines end with or without rhymes, any appearance of metrical regularity:
Or do my eyes misrepresent? Can this be he,
Who tore the lion, as the lion tears the kid ? Since I have thus pointed out the faults of Milton, critical integrity requires that I should endeavour to display his excellencies, though they will not easily be discovered in short quotations, because they consist in the justness of diffuse reasonings, or in the contexture and method of continued dialogues; this play having none of those descriptions, similies, or splendid sentences, with which other tragedies are so lavishly adorned.
Yet some passages may be selected which seem to deserve particular notice, either as containing sentiments of passion, representations of life, precepts of conduct, or sallies of imagination. It is not easy to give a stronger representation of the weariness of despondency, than in the words of Samson to his father:
I feel my genial spirits droop,
And I shall shortly be with them that rest. The reply of Samson to the flattering Delilah affords a a just and striking description of the stratagems and allurements of feminine hypocrisy:
T. --- are thy wonted arts,
To break all faith, all vows, deceive, betray,
Again transgresses, and again submits. When Samson has refused to make himself a spectacle at the feast of Dagon, he first justifies his behaviour to the chorus, who charge him with having served the Philistines, by a very just distinction: and then destroys the common excuse of cowardice and servility, which always confound temptation with compulsion:
Chor. Yet with thy strength thou serv'st the Philistines.
Sams. Not in their idle worship, but by labour
Chor. Where the heart joins not, outward acts defile not.
Sams. Where outward force constrains, the sentence holds ;
Set God behind. The complaint of blindness which Samson pours out at the beginning of the tragedy is equally addressed to the passions and the fancy. The enumeration of his miseries is succeeded by a very pleasing train of poetical images, and concluded by such expostulations and wishes, as reason too often submits to learn from despair:
O first created beam, and thou, great word,
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave. \co Since light so necessary is to life,
And almost life itself; if it be true, vit)
That light is in the soul, mot
She all in every part; why was the sight
To such a tender ball as th' eye confin'd, aga
So obvious and so easy to be quench’d, beg And not, as feeling, thro' all parta diffing'd,
Such are the faults and such the beauties of Samson Agonistes, which I have shown with no other
purpose than to promote the knowledge of true criticism. The everlasting verdure of Milton's laurels has nothing to fear from the blasts of malignity; nor can my attempt produce any other effect, than to stengthen their shoots by lopping their luxuriance.
No 141. TUESDAY, July 23, 1751.
Hilarisque, lemen cum pondere, virtus.--Srat.
TO THE RAMBLER.
SIR, Politicians have long observed, that the greatest events may be often traced back to slender causes. Petty competition or casual friendship, the prudence of a slave, or the garrulity of a woman, have hindered or promoted the most important schemes, and hastened or retarded the revolutions of empire.
Whoever shall review his life will generally find, that the whole tenour of his conduct has been deterruined by some accident of no apparent moment, or by a combination of inconsiderable circumstances, acting when his imagination was unoccupied, and his judgment unsettled ; and that his principles and actions have taken their colour from some secret infusion, mingled without design inthe current of his ideas. The desires that predominate in our hearts, are instilled by imperceptible communications at the time when we look upon the various scenes of the world, and the different employments of men, with the neutrality of inexperience; and we come forth from the nursery or dse school, invariably destined to the pursuit of great acqansitions, or petty accomplishments.
Such was the impulse by which I have been kept