Imatges de pÓgina
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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: every thing 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 relator 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 versifiction 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. SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.

SAMSON AGONISTES.

THE ARGUMENT.

SAMSON, made captive, blind, and now in prison at Gaza, there to labour as in a common workhouse, on a festival day, in the general cessation from labour, comes forth into the open air, to a place nigh, somewhat retired, there to sit awhile and bemoan his condition; where he 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 Manoah, who endeavours the like, and withal tells him his purpose to procure his liberty by ransom; lastly, that this feast was proclaimed by the Philistines as a day of thanksgiving for their deliverance from the hands of Samson, which yet more troubles him. Manoah then departs to prosecute his endeavour with the Philistine lords for Samson's redemption; who in the mean while is visited by other persons, and lastly by a public officer to require his coming to the feast before the lords and people, to play or show his strength in their presence: he at first refuses, dismissing the public officer with absolute denial to come; at length, persuaded inwardly that this was from God, he yields to go along with him, who came now the second time with great threatenings to fetch him: the Chorus yet remaining on the place, Manoah returns full of joyful hope, to procure ere long his son's deliverance in the midst of which discourse a Hebrew comes in haste, confusedly at first, and afterwards more distinctly, relating the catastrophe, what Samson had done to the Philistines, and by accident to himself; wherewith the tragedy ends.

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SAMSON, (Attendant leading him.)

A LITTLE onward lend thy guiding hand
To these dark steps, a little further on;
For yonder bank hath choice of sun or shade;
There I am wont to sit, when any chance
Relieves me from my task of servile toil,
Daily in the common prison else enjoin'd me,

Samson Agonistes, that is, Samson the he professes to imitate, opens his drama Champion, the combatant, from the with introducing one of its principal per Greek Ayovtorns, (agonistes) a comba-sonages explaining the story upon which tant or athlete at the Public Games. it is founded.-THYER. The words of this

1. A little onward. Milton, after the opening are very poetical, beautiful, and example of the Greek tragedians, whom affecting.-BRYDGES.

Where I, a prisoner, chain'd, scarce freely draw
The air imprison'd also, close and damp,
Unwholesome draught: but here I feel amends,
The breath of heaven fresh blowing, pure and sweet,
With day-spring born; here leave me to respire.-
This day a solemn feast the people hold

To Dagon their sea-idol, and forbid
Laborious works; unwillingly this rest
Their superstition yields me; hence with leave
Retiring from the popular noise, I seek
This unfrequented place to find some ease,
Ease to the body some, none to the mind

From restless thoughts, that, like a deadly swarm
Of hornets arm'd, no sooner found alone,
But rush upon me thronging, and present
Times past, what once I was, and what am now.
O, wherefore was my birth from Heaven foretold
Twice by an angel, who at last in sight
Of both my parents all in flames ascended
From off the altar, where an offering burn'd,
As in a fiery column charioting

His godlike presence, and from some great act
Or benefit reveal'd to Abraham's race?
Why was my breeding order'd and prescribed
As of a person separate to God,

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Design'd for great exploits; if I must die

Betray'd, captiv'd, and both my eyes put out,

Made of my enemies the scorn and gaze;

To grind in brazen fetters under task

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With this heaven-gifted strength? O glorious strength,

Put to the labour of a beast, debased

Lower than bond-slave! Promise was, that I

Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver:

Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke:
Yet stay; let me not rashly call in doubt
Divine prediction: what if all foretold

Had been fulfill'd but through mine own default,
Whom have I to complain of but myself?
Who this high gift of strength committed to me,
In what part lodged, how easily bereft me,
Under the seal of silence could not keep,
But weakly to a woman must reveal it,
O'ercome with importunity and tears.
O impotence of mind, in body strong!

10. The breath of heaven. This line and the next are exquisite.-BRYDGES.

21. But rush upon me thronging. The whole of this passage is pathetic, moral, and full of force.-BRYDGES.

24. Twice by an angel. Once to his mother, and again to his father Manoah

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and his mother both. Of all the wonderful acquirements of Milton, not the least is his astonishingly critical reading and retentive memory of the Scriptures, making every portion of them subservient to his grand and holy designs.

28. And from, that is, and as from.

But what is strength without a double share
Of wisdom? vast, unwieldy, burdensome,
Proudly secure, yet liable to fall

By weakest subtleties; not made to rule,
But to subserve where wisdom bears command!
God, when he gave me strength, to show withal
How slight the gift was, hung it in my hair.
But peace, I must not quarrel with the will
Of highest dispensation, which herein.
Haply had ends above my reach to know:
Suffices that to me strength is my bane,
And proves the source of all my miseries;
So many, and so huge, that each apart
Would ask a life to wail; but chief of all,
O loss of sight, of thee I most complain!
Blind among 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,
Inferiour to the vilest now become

Of man or worm; the vilest here excel me:
They creep, yet see; I, dark in light, exposed
To daily fraud, contempt, abuse, and wrong,
Within doors or without, still as a fool,
In power of others, never in my own;

Scarce half I seem to live, dead more than half.
O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!

O first-created Beam, and thou great Word,
"Let there be light, and light was over all;"
Why am I thus bereaved thy prime decree?
The sun to me is dark

And silent as the moon,

When she deserts the night,

Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
Since light so necessary is to life,
And almost life itself, if it be true
That light is in the soul,

75. I, dark in light, &c. In these lines the poet seems to paint himself. The litigation of his will produced a collection of evidence relating to the testator, which renders the discovery of those long-forgotten papers peculiarly interesting: they show very forcibly, and in new points of view, his domestic infelicity, and his amiable disposition. The tender and sublime poet, whose sensibility and sufferings were so great, appears to have been almost as unfortunate in his daughters as the Lear of Shakspeare. A servant declares in evidence, that her deceased master, a little before his last marriage, had lamented to her the ingrati

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tude and cruelty of his children. He complained that they combined to defraud him in the economy of his house, and sold several of his books in the basest manner. His feelings on such an outrage, both as a parent and a scholar, must have been singularly painful: perhaps they suggested to him these very pathetic lines.-HAYLEY.

80. O dark, dark, dark, &c. Few pas sages in poetry are so affecting as this, and the tone of expression is peculiarly Miltonic.-BRYDGES. Indeed there is very extraordinary power of poetry in the whole passage, down to line 109

She all in every part; why was the sight
To such a tender ball as the eye confined,
So obvious and so easy to be quench'd?
And not, as feeling, through all parts diffused,
That she might look at will through every pore?
Then had I not been thus exil'd from light,
As in the land of darkness, yet in light,
To live a life half dead, a living death,
And buried; but, O yet more miserable!

My self my sepulchre, a moving grave;
Buried, yet not exempt,

By privilege of death and burial,

From worst of other evils, pains and wrongs;

But made hereby obnoxious more

To all the miseries of life,

Life in captivity

Among inhuman foes.

But who are these? for with joint pace I hear

The tread of many feet steering this way;
Perhaps my enemies, who come to stare
At my affliction, and perhaps to insult,
Their daily practice to afflict me more.

Enter CHORUS.

CHO. This, this is he; softly awhile;
Let us not break in upon him:

O change beyond report, thought, or belief!

See how he lies at random, carelessly diffused,

With languish'd head unpropp'd,

As one past hope, abandon'd,

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And by himself given over;

In slavish habit, il-fitted weeds

That heroick, that renown'd,

O'erworn and soil'd;

Or do my eyes misrepresent? Can this be he,

Irresistible Samson? whom unarm'd

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No strength of man, or fiercest wild beast, could withstand;

Who tore the lion, as the lion tears the kid;

Ran on embattel'd armies clad in iron;

And, weaponless himself,

Made arms ridiculous useless the forgery

Of brazen shield and spear, the hammer'd cuirass,
Chalybean temper'd steel, and frock of mail

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There he him found all carelessly displaid. So Akenside

118. Diffused. This beautiful applica- | And again, tion of diffused, Milton has taken from the Latin, fusus, and diffusus. No one English word, and hardly any combination of words, can express its full, peculiar, and luscious meaning, which is, as near as I can define it, stretched upon the ground with relaxed and careless limbs. Spenser says

Pour'd out in looseness on the grassy ground.

But Waller longs To spread his careless limbs amid the cool Of plantane shades, &c.

133. Chalybean. The Chalybes were a people of Pontus, famous for their iron

works

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