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The first object of poetry is to please, and da that poem which does not obviously please, apres which does not flatter the ear and make its
immediate appeal to the imagination or the heart, has imperfectly accomplished its object, and must not hope for any extensive
controll over the popular mind. In a comen position, in which the charm and fascination
proper to poetry are generally prevalent, zilele criticism may explain the causes of those
effects which are delightful to us; and may
establish or extend the fame of the author: ce poate but to a poem, of which the beauties are so
coy and retreating as to require to be anxiwie di pro
ously sought and forcibly dragged into light, the services which the friendliness of criticism can render are very unimportant. It is in vain to tell us that we ought to be, if we are not pleased; and, if our understandings can be brought into subjection by the critic, our fancies, revolting from his authority, will assert their freedom, and, turning from the praised work, will seek their peculiar luxuries wherever they may be found.
On the fate of the Paradise Regained the voice of the public, which on a question of poetic excellence cannot for any long time be 'erroneous, has irrevocably decided. Not to object to the impropriety of the title, which would certainly be more consistent
OPINIOS I concente radicale
with a work on the death and the resurrec there has fortuna tion of our blessed Lord, the extreme nar-trariety of opini rowness of the plan of the poem, the small frage it has been proportion of it which is assigned to action and pathetic dra and the large part which is given to disputa- equally exalted, tions and didactic dialogue, its paucity of delineation of ch characters and of poetic imagery, and, lastly,
is discriminate a its general deficiency in the charm of num
uniformly weigh bers inust for ever preclude it from any ex is severe, exquis tended range of popularity. It may be liked
the whole is the and applauded by those who are resolute to like and are hardy to applaud: but to the great body of the readers of poetry, let the critics amuse themselves with their exertions as they please, it will always be " caviare.” It is embellished, however, with several exquisite passages, and it certainly shows, in some of its finer parts, the still existing author of the Paradise Lost.
On the merits of the “Samson Agonistes”
gloom, which su
3 Shakespere, in Hamlet. AyWviotrs. (Agonistes) Certator; Qui certat gympica certamina. Athleta-Pugil. (Step. Thes.)-A contender in those public games of Greece, which were peculiarly called Aywves (Agones); and given with admirable propriety to Samson, as the hero of this drama, the catastrophe of which results from the exhibition 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 Aywwolnem-that of histrio,
to have been sire of imitati Greeks. He the Greciant verses of all rule, or with
actor scenicus. T tion into the last
E sh and the use there has fortunately been no important conLind, the enters trariety of opinion. By the universal sufi tre poem, the frage it has been pronounced a manly, noble, 2 is akadtr. and pathetic drama, the progeny of a mind
is equally exalted, sensitive and poetic. Its ue
, ils pour delineation of character, though not various, Lupy, als is discriminate and true; its sentiments are the camera uniformly weighty and dignified; its diction Wie eithere 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. of poeta.
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. Jolinson 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 the 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
actor scenicus. This is admitted without any remark or correction into the last edition of Milton's works by Mr. Todd.
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 Æschylus to the prime honours of the scene, the chorus, which could not be wholly expelled from a stage of which it was the first occu
his own powe that diversity abled him to gr drama was cer ration from would wish th lessened by th which his fand
ble of effects, upon the Eng by the Carac
Samson Agon Toneous taste structed, it have failed.
this grand ar cond instanc of Milton
LIFE OF MILTON.
493 pant 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 loftiest and most adventurous elevation. Though in some respects, therefore, an incumbrance on the dramatist, the chorus was thus compelled to yield him a compensation in the 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 draina 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. Thè
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