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TUESDAY, July 16, 1751.
·Sit quod vis fimplex duntaxat et unum.
Let every piece be fimple and be one.
IT is required by Ariftotle to the perfection of a tragedy, and is equally neceffary to every other fpecies of regular compofition, that it fhould have a beginning, a middle, and an end. "The begin"ning," fays he, "is that which hath nothing ne"ceffarily previous, but to which that which fol
lows is naturally confequent; the end, on the contrary, is that which by neceffity, or at least ac¿cording to the common courfe of things, fucceeds "fomething else, but which implies nothing confequent to itself; the middle is connected on one fide to fomething that naturally goes before, and on the "other to fomething that naturally follows it."
Such is the rule laid down by this great critick, for the difpofition of the different parts of a well conftituted fable. It must begin, where it may be made intelligible without introduction; and end, where the mind is left in repofe, without expectation of any farther event. The intermediate paffages muft join the last effect to the firft caufe, by a regular and unbroken concatenation; nothing must be therefore inferted which does not apparently arife from fomething foregoing, and properly make way for fomething that fucceeds it.
This precept is to be understood in its rigour only with respect to great and effential events, and cannot be extended in the fame force to minuter circumftances and arbitrary decorations, which yet are more happy, as they contribute more to the main defign; for it is always a proof of extenfive thought and accurate circumfpection, to promote various purposes by the fame act; and the idea of an ornament admits use, though it seems to exclude neceffity.
Whoever purposes, as it is expreffed by Milton, to build the lofty rhyme, muft acquaint himself with this law of poetical architecture, and take care that his edifice be folid as well as beautiful; that nothing stand single or independent, fo as that it may be taken away without injuring the reft; but that, from the foundation to the pinnacles, one part reft firm upon another.
This regular and confequential diftribution is, among common authors, frequently neglected; but the failures of those, whofe example can have no in. uence, may be fafely overlooked, nor is it of much ufe to recal obfcure and unregarded names to memory for the fake of sporting with their infamy. But if there be any writer whofe genius can embellish impropriety, and whofe authority can make error venerable, his works are the proper objects of critical inquifition. To expunge faults where there are no excellencies, is a tafk equally useless with that of the chemist, who employs the arts of feparation and refinement upon ore in which no precious metal is contained to reward his operations.
The tragedy of Samfon Agonistes has been celebrated as the second work of the great author of Paradife Loft, and oppofed, with all the confidence of triumph, to the dramatick performances of other nations. It contains indeed just fentiments, maxims of wisdom, and oracles of piety, and many paffages written with the ancient fpirit of choral poetry, in which there is a juft and pleafing mixture of Seneca's moral declamation, with the wild enthusiasm of the Greek writers. It is therefore worthy of examination, whether a performance thus illuminated with genius, and enriched with learning, is compofed according to the indifpenfable laws of Ariftotelian criticifm: and, omitting at prefent all other confiderations, whether it exhibits a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The beginning is undoubtedly beautiful and proper, opening with a graceful abruptnefs, and proceeding naturally to a mournful recital of facts necef fary to be known:
Samfon. A little onward lend thy guiding hand
-Why was my breeding order'd and prescrib'd,
As of a person separate to God,
Defign'd for great exploits; if I must die
Betray'd, captiv'd, and both my eyes put out?
-Whom have I to complain of but myself?
Who this high gift of ftrength, committed to me,
In what part lodg'd, how easily bereft me,
But weakly to a woman must reveal it.
His foliloquy is interrupted by a chorus or company of men of his own tribe, who condole his miferies, extenuate his fault, and conclude with a folemn vindication of divine juftice. So that at the conclufion of the first act there is no defign laid, no difcovery made, nor any difpofition formed towards the fubfequent event.
In the second act, Manoah, the father of Samfon, comes to seek his fon, and, being fhewn him by the chorus, breaks out into lamentations of his misery, and comparisons of his prefent with his former ftate, representing to him the ignominy which his religion fuffers, by the festival this day celebrated in honour of Dagon, to whom the idolaters afcribed his overthrow:
Enough, and more, the burthen of that fault;
Samfon, touched with this reproach, makes a reply equally penitential and pious, which his father confiders as the effufion of prophetick confidence:
-God, be fure,
Manoah. With caufe this hope relieves thee, and thefe words
I as a prophecy receive; for God,
Nothing more certain, will not long defer
This part of the dialogue, as it might tend to animate or exafperate Samfon, cannot, I think, be cenfured as wholly fuperfluous; but the fucceeding difpute, in which Samfon contends to die, and which his father breaks off, that he may go to folicit his release, is only valuable for its own beauties, and has no tendency to introduce any thing that fol lows it.
The next event of the drama is the arrival of De lilah, with all her graces, artifices, and allurements. This produces a dialogue, in a very high degree elegant and inftructive, from which she retires, after she has exhausted her perfuafions, and is no more seen nor heard of; nor has her vifit any effect but that of raising the character of Samfon.
In the fourth act enters Harapha, the giant of Gath, whofe name had never been mentioned before, and who has now no other motive of coming, than to see the man whose strength and actions are fo loudly celebrated :