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On the merits of the “ Samson Agonistes” there has fortunately been no important contrariety of opinion. By the universal suffrage it has been pronounced a manly, noble, and pathetic drama, the progeny of a mind equally exalted, sensitive and poetic. Its delineation of character, though not various, is discriminate and true; its sentiments are uniformly weighty and dignified; its diction is severe, exquisite, and sublime; and over the whole is thrown an awful and majestic gloom, which subdues at the same time that it elevates the imagination.
With reference however either to its conduct or to its execution, it cannot be considered as a faultless piece. On the subject of its conduct, I must concur with Dr. John
P AYWYLOT95 (Agonistes) Certator, Qui certat gymnica certamina, Athleta, Pugil. (Step. Thes.) A contender in those public games of Greece, which were peculiarly called Aywves (Agones); and given with adınirable propriety to Samson, as the hero of this drama, the catastrophe of which results from the cihibition of his strength in the public games of the Philistines. It is strange that this most obvious meaning of the title should have escaped Dr. Newton. “ Samson Agonistes-that is," he says, “ Samson an actor, Samson being represented in a play! !" Dr. N. has perversely adopted the second, and least strictly proper sense assigned by Stephens to Aywuoins- that of histrio, actor scenicus. This is admitted without any remark or correction by Mr. Todd into his first edition of Milton's Poet. Works : but in his second, (published more than two years after this note had appeared, he produces a note by Mr. Dunster, in which the error of Dr. N. is noticed and rectified.
son in thinking that it is destitute of a just poetic middle;—that the action of the drama is suspended during some of its intermediate scenes, which might be amputated without any injury to the fable. In the inferior department of execution, the author seems to have been betrayed into error by his desire of imitating the choral measures of ths Greeks. He perceived that the masters of the Grecian theatre united in their choruses verses of all descriptions, either without any rule, or without any which modern critics had been able to ascertain; and his fine ear could not be insensible to the harmonious consequence of this apparently capricious association. He was hence unwarily induced to imagine that a like arbitrary junction of verses in his own language would be productive of nearly a like effect; and, without perhaps reflecting on the rich variety of the Greek metres, or on the genius of the English language and the habits of the English ear, he threw together in the choral parts of his drama a disorderly rabble of lines of all lengths, some of which are destitute of rhythm, and the rest modifications only of the iambic. The result, as might be expected, has been far from happy; and the chorus, instead of giving to his piece the charm of
varied harmony, has injured and deformed it with jarring and broken numbers.
By the Grecian dramatists the chorus was admitted not on choice but from compulsion. It was the root from which the drama incidentally sprang; and, preceding the dialogue, continued for some time after the sprouting of that engrafted and alien branch to form the chief part of the piece. When the dialogue was advanced by Æschy-. lus to the prime honours of the scene, the chorus, which could not be wholly expelled from a stage of which it was the first occupant and proprietor, was skilfully employed to entertain with variety, to relieve the attention with musical modulation, and to serve as a vehicle of pure poetry on which the Muse might ascend to her most lofty and adventurous elevation. Though in some respects therefore an incumbrance on the dramatist, the chorus was thus compelled to yield him a compensation in that display of his own powers which it admitted, and in that diversity of pleasure with which it enabled him to gratify his audience. The Greek drama was certainly in a state of wide separation from nature; but no poetic reader would wish the intervening distance to be lessened by the abolition of its chorus, from which his fancy and his ear derive so much
exquisite delight. That the chorus is capable of effects almost equally advantageous upon the English stage, has been fully proved by the Caractacus of Mr. Mason: but in the Samson Agonistes, in consequence of the erroneous taste with which it has been constructed, it must be allowed egregiously to have failed.
The year, succeeding the publication of this grand and solemn poem, witnessed a second instance of the literary condescension of Milton. We have already noticed the Latin accidence which he published for the use of children; and he now, in 1672, supplied the young but more advanced student with a scheme of logic, digested on the plan of Ramus, or, in its Latin title, “ Artis logicæ plenior institutio ad Petri Rami methodum concinnata.”
In this book, it has been suggested as doubtful whether 9 “ he did not intend an act of hostility against the Universities: for Ramus was one of the first oppugners of the old philosophy, who disturbed with innovations the quiet of the schools.” It is probable indeed that, as he advanced in life, Milton did not contract more fondness than he had formerly entertained for the modes of education adopted by these venerable guar
9. Johnson's Life of Milton.
dians of literature: but the eye which can assume to trace this hostility in the work now before us must be at least as presumptuous as it is malignant.
Without any reference to the rebellion of his philosophy, there was much in the history of Ramus to conciliate the affection of Milton. De la Ramée, or Ramus, had emerged from a low station of life, (for his father was a peasant,) by the force of intellectual industry and the powerful efficiency of character. By the publication of some attacks' on the inviolable supremacy of Aristotle, he threw the university of Paris into disorder, and exposed himself, as a kind of confessor in the cause of philosophic freedom, to the persecuting enmity of the old zealots of the school. The consequences of their intolerance compelled bim to take refuge among the Huguenots; and he closed, in the memorable massacre at Paris on the fatal eve of St. Bartholomew, a life as remarkable for its learned labour as it was for the vicissitude of its forlunes. If any circumstances therefore in the personal history of Ramus can be supposed to have influenced Milton to select him for a guide in any province
" His Institutiones dialecticæ; and his Aristotelicæ animad