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THE MARTYR OF ANTIOCH*. This poem possesses the characteristics of fine talents ; whether it can be said to shew those of positive genius appears to us to be much more questionable. The whole of Mr. Milian's writings are calculated to afford interesting and instructive examples of cultivated intellect and taste, producing high effects of beauty without original powers of invention.
Higher poems of this author than the present, we conceive, would illustrate this position ; but this production, we think, is remarkably calculated to prove it. The Martyr of Antioch belongs to that class of poetry which, perhaps, may be regarded as more valuable than any other that is not highly inventive, namely, that which places before us actual historical truth, rendered fresh and radiant to our perceptions by being clothed in a garb of imaginative beauty, which displays and sets off the form it covers, rather than conceals or gives it a false and deceitful appearance—a class which may in one sense of the words be called “ Truth severe in fairy fiction dress’d."
The Martyr of Antioch is founded on the history of Saint Margaret; but Mr. Milman has merely availed himself of that portion of the history which relates, that she was the daughter of a heathen priest, and beloved by Olybius, the prefect of the East under the Emperor Probus. The rest of the legend has been discarded, and the outline filled up as the author's own imagination suggested.
The scene is laid at Antioch, and the poem opens before the celebrated temple of Apollo in the grove of Daphne ; of which temple Margarita, the heroine, is at the outset of the poem supposed to be the chief priestess, and the especial favourite of the God. The scene is ushered in by a hymn, sung by the youths and maidens of Antioch, in the presence of the assembled priests, nobles, and people. This hymn is intended to indicate the close of the solemn rites which have just been paid to Apollo; and nothing is wanting to complete the splendid spectacle of the day, but
“ The crown and palm-like grace of all,
The servant rather than the God.:) The assembly wait for her for some time in breathless and admiring expectation; when at length a priest enters from the holy sanctuary, to announce that Margarita is not to be found, and that
• Trampled in the dust we found the laurel crown,
The lyre unstrung cast down upon the pavement,
Scatter'd unseemly here and there.”In the midst of the general consternation occasioned by this unlookedfor absence, messengers arrive from Rome, bringing the Emperor's
• “ The Martyr of Antioch, a dramatic poem, by the Rev. H. H. Milman, Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford.”
commands to Olybiųs for renewed severities against the Christians, who are known to have taken refuge in the neighbourhood of Antioch. While Olybius, who loves Margarita and is beloved by her, is, in pursuance of the new edict, denouncing the Christians and devoting them to death, she enters, clad in sackcloth and with ashes strewn upon her head. The multitude hail her with enthusiasm; but she, regardless of the scene before her, is rapt in her own thoughts“ She hath fall’n down
her knees; her hair
And her lips move, yet make no sound.” This we take to be as lovely and perfect a picture as was ever copied by the pen from the pencil. It is, without exception, the most finished passage in the poem: indeed it is one of the best that was ever executed in its way; but we do not attach any very high value to such pictures, as it relates to the talent required to produce them. The reader will
, of course, recognize its original in several of the Magdalenes of Guido, Carlo Dolce, &c. The priests attribute the few incoherent words and the distracted manner of Margarita to a special visitation from the God; and they lead her away amid the shouts of the people in honour of Olybius, "the Christian's scourge."--We now meet with Margarita passing alone at night through the grove of Daphne, where she is joined by Olybius, who declares his love for her.
“ On the Parthians' fiery sands
For thy long silent lyre." She seeks to disengage herself from him, and by her ambiguous words and manner, raises his suspicions of her faith and purity; but she dares not at present explain herself, or avow her new creed, because, as it appears afterwards, she is on her way to warn the Christians of their impending danger from the new edict of the Emperor. She therefore abruptly quits Olybius, and, arriving at the spot where the persecuted sect meet at night, relates the purport of her errand. At the close of this conference the Roman soldiers are heard approaching.
“ They come:
Thou’lt find me still.” At day-break Margarita returns to the Temple, where she meets her doting father, who finds her hanging over her accustomed lyre, and hails her with delighted pride.
Writhe and espire." This brings about an avowal of her falling off from his faith—(he is the chief priest of the temple)—and her determined adherence to that of the proscribed and condemned Galileans. When he can no longer doubt the truth of what he hears, he exclaims
Lightnings blast--not thee,
Have wrought upon thy innocent soul! Look there !" directing her attention to the image of the God, and asking
“ Dar'st thou see
On his arch'd brow?"
“ I see a silent shape of stone,
Ha! look again, then,
Or mock?” Still, however, she looks, unmoved; acknowledging the glories of the imagery before her, but acknowledging them only as the work of her God; and this best scene in the poem is closed by a high and solemn hymn in praise and adoration of the Saviour. We are now introduced to the Hall of Justice, where the Christians are brought before Olybius,-who prepares himself for the task of justice by swearing to discard from his breast all partial affection, and condemn to torture and death all who shall be found“ guilty of the Galilean faith.” Here ensues a lengthened and somewhat dull colloquy between Olybius and the chiefs of the Christians, in the midst of which some shepherds bring in a veiled maiden, whose robes and fillet indicate her to be a priestess of Apollo, but whom they have found in a cave by the Orontes,
“ Pouring upon the still and shudd'ring air
Her hymn to Christ.” It is Margarita.
Great Judge! great Prefect!
To swear away her life.” She now avows her faith-the rest of the Christians exult in their's and the whole are led out to prison.
We have now a scene in the prison, which is long, and we cannot help thinking, somewhat dreary and inefficient. But it contains one very pleasing passage, in which Margarita relates what she conceives to have been the occasion of her conversion to the new creed :
“ Dost thou not remember
gare me grace to weep. In after time
And wonder'd then no more.” This arbitrary blending together of the present feelings excited in her by the new faith, with the thoughts and images impressed upon her memory in early youth, and her afterwards dwelling upon this association till she comes to regard her present sentiments as the result of it, is very natural and poetical. Callias in vain urges her to return to her own worship ; and he quits her to beg for mercy from the Prefect. Margarita is now privately led to the sumptuous palace of Olybius,—who, after pointing her attention to the horrors that await the condemned Christians on the morrow, and contrasting it with the rich and voluptuous delights that surround her, offers to make her his bride, and Queen of the East, if she will renounce her faith. But she is not to be moved, and returns to her prison ; while Olybius debates with himself on the means of saving her.-We now come to the last and longest scene; which takes place before the Temple of Apollo, and in sight of the Amphitheatre, within and around which the multitudes of Antioch are assembled to witness the sacrifice of the Christians.
They come ! they come ! the universal yell
Till o'er our heads it bursts." They enter, and among them Margarita,-though it appears that Olybius has determined she shall not die, and has devised a means or saving her, in case she does not herself relent on seeing the sufferings of the rest. After again urging them in vain to renounce their faith, and live, Olybius dismisses them to their respective places and modes of execution ;-some to be cast to wild beasts, some to the stake, and others to the block. Among the latter Margarita is placed, attired in the bridal robes which had been placed in her prison by order of Olybius with far other views. She
goes forth chaunting a wild and impassioned strain, depicting the visions that at this awful moment rush on her enraptured imagination. This lyrical effusion is undoubtedly the most poetical passage in the work. The catastrophe of the poem is now related-not witnessed on the scene. Different messengers enter, relating the various deaths of the sufferers ; and the renouncement of his faith by one of them, whose vain-glorious boastings had prepared us to expect this want of steady resolution. At last an officer enters, announcing the death of Margarita.—It appears that Macer, an officer of Olybius, had received orders to watch the execution, and to save Margarita in case she did not herself falter at the sight of the surrounding horrors-her execution being decreed as the last; but that, on hearing, from the cries of the people, that her father was approaching, she had frustrated this intention by rushing to the executioner, and prevailing on him to perform his office on her without delay. The poem ends by Olybius renouncing the sceptre and purple, and the whole of the citizens of Antioch being converted to Christianity as by a miracle, at the sight of Margarita's death. The catastrophe, and indeed this last scene altogether, is very indifferently and inefficiently managed. In particular, the sudden and simultaneous conversion of the whole multitude, who had the instant before been rending the air with shouts of exultation at the scene before them, is most unnatural and misplaced.
We have considered it due to the talents and reputation of Mr. Milman to give this somewhat detailed abstract of his new work; and have made it the vehicle for bringing before the reader some of the most poetical passages to be met with in the volume. Having done this, with great regard for the general character of Mr. Milman, as a poet, we have the following objections to offer to his present poem, which we cannot help considering as inferior both to his Fall of Jerusalem, and to Fazio. In the first place, the story of this poem is most unfortunately chosen--supposing it to be offered merely as a poem. The highest possible poetical powers could not have rendered such a story capable of exciting general sympathy; and the best that Mr. Milman has done for it, is to make it engender a confused and fatiguing feeling of painful and reluctant pity towards all the characters engaged in it. It includes scarcely a touch of real pathos, because it excites no spark of either genuine sympathy or genuine anti