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Changest thy countenance and thy hand, with no re
Warburton was the first, I believe, to remark how exactly these concluding lines describe the situation of the poet himself, afflicted by his loss of property, and “ his gout, not caused by intemperance." The same acute but very unequal critic is by no means so happy in his obfervation, that Milton seems to have chosen the subject of this sublime drama for the sake of the fatire on bad wives; it would be hardly less absurd to say, that he chose the subject of Paradise Lost for the sake of describing a connubial altercation.
The nephew of Milton has told us, that he could not ascertain the time
when his drama was written ; but it probably flowed from the heart of the indignant poet soon after his fpirit had been wounded by the calamitous destiny of his friends, to which he alludes with fo much energy and pathos. He did not design the drama for a theatre, nor has it the kind of action requisite for theatrical interest; but in one point of view the Sampson Agonistes is the most fingularly affecting composition, that was ever produced by sensibility of heart and vigour of imagination. To give it this peculiar effect, we must remember, that the lot of Milton had a marvellous coincidence with that of his hero, in three remarkable points; first (but we should regard this as the most inconsiderable article of resemblance) he had been tormented by a beautiful but difaffectionate and disobedient wife ; fecondly, he had been the great champion of his country, and as such the idol of public admiration ; lastly, he had fallen from that heighth of unrivalled glory, and had experienced the most hu. miliating reverse of fortune :
His foes' derision, captive, poor, and blind.
In delineating the greater part of Sampson's fensations under calamity, he had only to describe his
No dramatist can have ever conformed fo literally as Milton to the Horatian precept.
Si vis me flere, dolendum est Primum ipfi tibi. And if, in reading the Sampson Agonistes, we observe how many passages, expreffed with the most
energetic sensibility, exhibit to our fancy the suf. ferings and real sentiments of the poet, as well as those of his hero, we may derive from this extraordinary composition a kind of pathetic delight, that no other drama can afford; we may applaud the felicity of genius, that contrived, in this manner, to relieve a heart overburthened with anguish and indignation, and to pay a half concealed yet hallowed tribute to the memories of dear though disho, noured friends, whom the state of the times allowed not the afflicted poet more openly to deplore.
The concluding verses of the beautiful chorus (which I have already cited in part) appear to me particularly affecting, from the persuasion that Mil. ton, in composing them, addressed the two last im. mediately to Heaven, as a prayer for himself:
So deal not with this once thy glorious champion,
If the conjecture of this application be just, we may add, that never was the prevalence of a righteous prayer more happily conspicuous; and let me here remark, that however various the opinions of men may be concerning the merits or demerits of Milton's political character, the integrity of his heart appears to have secured to him the favour of
Providence; since it pleased the Giver of all good not only to turn his labours to a peaceful end, but to irradiate his declining life with the most abundant portion of thofe pure and sublime mental powers, for which he had constantly and fervently prayed, as the choicest bounty of Heaven.
At this period, his kind friend and physician, who had proved so serviceable to him in the recommendation of an attentive and affectionate wife, introduced to his notice a young reader of Latin, in that singular character, Thomas Ellwood, the quaker, who has writen a minute history of his own life; a book, which suggests the reflection, how strangely a writer may sometimes mistake his way
in his endeavours to engage the attention of porterity. Had the honest quaker bequeathed to the world as circumstantial an account of his great li. terary friend, as he has done of himself, his book would certainly have engrossed no common share of public regard: we are indebted to him, however, for his incidental mention of the great poet; and as there is a pleasing air of fimplicity and truth in his narrative, I shall gratify the reader by inserting it with very little abridgment :
" John Milton, a gentleman of great note for learning throughout the learned world, having filled a public station in former times, lived now a private and retired life in London; and having wholly lost his fight, kept always a man to read to him, which usually was the son of some gentleman of his acquaintance, whom in kindness he took to improve in his learning.
By the mediation of my friend, Isaac Penington, with Dr. Paget, and of Dr. Paget with John Milton, was I admitted to come to him, not as a servant to him, which at that time he needed not, nor to be in the house with him, but only to have the liberty of coming to his house at certain hours, when I would, and to read to him what books he should appoint me, which was all the fayour I desired."
Ellwood was at this time an ingenious but undisciplined young man, about three-and-twenty ;his father, a justice of Oxfordshire, had taken him, very unfeasonably, from school, with a view to lefsen his own expences, and this his younger son, after wafting fome years at home, attached himself, with great fervency, to the feet of quakers. His religious ardour involved him in a long and painful quarrel with his father, and in many fingular adventures he united with his pious zeal a lively regard for literature; and being grieved to find that his interrupted education had permitted him to acquire but a slender portion of classical learning, he anxioufly sought the acquaintance of Milton, in the hope of improving it.
“ I went, therefore (says the candid quaker) and took myself a lodging near to his house, which was then in Jewin-street, as conveniently as I could, and from thence forward went every day in the afternoon, except on the first days of the week, and fitting by him in his dining-room, read to him such books in the Latin tongue as he pleased to hear