« AnteriorContinuar »
out a breach of honesty, have resumed it under the king; but his return to it, though not absolutely dishonourable, would have ill accorded with that refined purity and elevation of character, which, from his earliest youth, it was the noblest ambition of Milton to acquire and support. He would have lost much of his title to the reverence of mankind for his magnanimity, had he accepted his former office under Charles the Second, whom he must have particularly despised as a profligate and servile tyrant, as ready to betray the honour of the nation as he was careless of his own; a personage whom Milton could never have beheld without horror, on reflecting on his fingular barbarity to his celebrated friend, that eccentric but interesting character, Sir Henry Vane. The king, fo extolled for his mercy, had granted the life of Sir Henry to the joint petition of the Lords and Commons; but, after promising to preserve him, signed a warrant for his execution-one of the most inhuman and detestable acts of duplicity that was ever practised against a subject by his sovereign. It is to the fate of Vane, with others of that party, and to his own personal sufferings, that the great poet alludes in the following admirable reAections, assigned to the chorus in his Sampson Agonistes :
Many are the sayings of the wise
With studied argument, and much persuasion sought,
up and perish as the summer fly,
Nor only dost degrade them, or remit
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 observation, that Milton seems to have chosen the subject of this sublime drama for the sake of the satire 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 this drama' was written ; but it probably flowed from the heart of the in
dignant dignant poet soon after his spirit had been wounded by the calamitous destiny of his friends, to which he alludes with so 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 moft 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 ; secondly, 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 humiliating reverse of fortune :
His foes' derision, captive, poor, and blind.
In delineating the greater part of Sampson's sensations under calamity, he had only to describe his own. No dramatist can have ever conformed fo literally as Milton to the
Si vis me flere, dolendum eft
And if, in reading the Sampson Agonistes, we observe how many passages, expressed with the most energetic fenfibility, exhibit to our fancy the sufferings 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 dishonoured 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 Milton, in composing them, addressed the two last immediately 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 z