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Much I have heard
Of thy prodigious might, and feats perform'd
That I was never prefent in the place
Of those encounters, where we might have tried
Samfon challenges him to the combat; and, after an interchange of reproaches, elevated by repeated defiance on one fide, and imbittered by contemptuous infults on the other, Harapha retires; we then hear it determined, by Samfon and the chorus, that no confequence good or bad will proceed from their
Chorus. He will directly to the lords, I fear,
And with malicious counsel stir them up
Some way or other farther to afflict thee.
Samf. He must allege some cause, and offer'd fight
At laft, in the fifth act, appears a meffenger from the lords affembled at the festival of Dagon, with a fummons by which Samfon is required to come and entertain them with fome proof of his ftrength. Samfon, after a fhort expoftulation, difmiffes him with a firm and refolute refufal; but, during the absence of the meffenger, having a while defended the propriety of his conduct, he at last de
clares himself moved by a fecret impulfe to comply, and utters fome dark prefages of a great event to be brought to pafs by his agency, under the direction of Providence:
Samf. Be of good courage; I begin to feel
While Samfon is conducted off by the messenger, his father returns with hopes of fuccefs in his folicitation, upon which he confers with the chorus till their dialogue is interrupted, first by a fhout of triumph, and afterwards by fcreams of horrour and agony. As they stand deliberating where they fhall be fecure, a man who had been prefent at the fhow enters, and relates how Samfon, having prevailed on his guide to fuffer him to lean against the main pillars of the theatrical edifice, tore down the roof upon the spectators and himself:
Thofe two maffy pillars,
With horrible confufion, to and fro
He tugg'd, he shook, till down they came, and drew
-Samfon, with these immixt, inevitably
This is undoubtedly a juft and regular catastrophe, and the poem, therefore, has a beginning and an end which Ariftotle himself could not have difapproved; but it must be allowed to want a middle, fince nothing paffes between the first act and the laft, that either haftens or delays the death of Samfon. The whole drama, if its fuperfluities were cut off, would scarcely fill a fingle act; yet this is the tragedy which ignorance has admired, and bigotry applauded.
NUMB. 140. SATURDAY, July 20, 1751.
Quis tam Lucili fautor inepte eft,
What doating bigot, to his faults fo blind,
IT is common, fays Bacon, to defire the end without enduring the means. Every member of fociety feels and acknowledges the neceffity of detecting crimes, yet fcarce any degree of virtue or reputation is able to fecure an informer from publick hatred. The learned world has always admitted the usefulness of critical difquifitions, yet he that attempts to fhew, however modeftly, the failures of a celebrated writer, fhall furely irritate his admirers, and incur the imputation of envy, captiousness, and malignity.
With this danger full in my view, I fhall proceed to examine the fentiments of Milton's tragedy, which,
though much less liable to cenfure than the difpofi tion of his plan, are, like those of other writers, fometimes exposed to juft exceptions for want of care, or want of discernment.
Sentiments are proper and improper as they confift more or less with the character and circumftances of the perfon to whom they are attributed, with the rules of the compofition in which they are found, or with the settled and unalterable nature of things.
It is common among the tragick poets to introduce their persons alluding to events or opinions, of which they could not poffibly have any knowledge. The barbarians of remote or newly discovered regions often difplay their skill in European learning. The god of love is mentioned in Tamerlane with all the familiarity of a Roman epigrammatift; and a late writer has put Harvey's doctrine of the circulation of the blood into the mouth of a Turkish states man, who lived near two centuries before it was known even to philofophers or anatomists.
Milton's learning, which acquainted him with the manners of the ancient eastern nations, and his invention, which required no affistance from the common cant 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 fhould 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 affuage,
Nor breath of cooling air from fnowy Alp.
He has taught Samfon the tales of Circe, and the Syrens, at which he apparently hints in his colloquy with Delilah:
I know thy trains,
Tho' dearly to my coft, thy gins and toils ;
But the groffeft error of this kind is the folemn introduction of the Phoenix in the laft fcene; which is faulty, not only as it is incongruous to the per fonage to whom it is afcribed, but as it is fo evidently contrary to reafon and nature, that it ought never to be mentioned but as a fable in any serious poem:
Virtue giv'n for lost,
In the Arabian woods embost
That no fecond knows, nor third,
And tho? her body die, her fame survives,
Another fpecies of impropriety is the unfuitableness of thoughts to the general character of the poem. The seriousness and folemnity of tragedy neceffarily reject all pointed or epigrammatical expreffions, all remote conceits and oppofition of ideas. Samfon's complaint is therefore too elaborate to be natural :