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Lords, ladies, captains, counsellors, or priests,
Their choice nobility and flower, not only
Of this, but each Philistian city round,
Met from all parts to solemnize this feast.
Samson, with these inmix'd, inevitably
Pull'd down the same destruction on himself;
The vulgar only 'scaped who stood without.

Cho. O dearly-bought revenge, yet glorious!
Living or dying thou hast fulfill'd

The work for which thou wast foretold
To Israel, and now liest victorious
Among thy slain self-kill'd,


Not willingly, but tangled in the fold

Of dire necessity, whose law in death conjoin'd




Thee with thy slaughter'd foes in number more

Than all thy life had slain before."

1 Semi. While their hearts were jocund and sublime,

Drunk with idolatry, drunk with wine,


And fat regorged of bulls and goats,

Chanting their idol, and preferring

Before our Living Dread who dwells
In Silo, his bright sanctuary;

Among them he a spirit of phrenzy sent,
Who hurt their minds,

And urged them on with mad desire,
To call in haste for their destroyer:
They, only set on sport and play,
Unweetingly importuned

bO dearly-bought revenge, &c.



It is judicious to make the Chorus and Semi-Chorus speak after this dreadful account of Samson's death, and not his father Manoah, who makes no answer till after a considerable pause; as he may be supposed to be struck dumb with the unexpected event. -Jos. WARTON.

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"This suicide of Samson," says a learned author, "was of that nature, which respects not self immediately, or primarily seeks to compass its own death. Had Samson only sought his own death, he would probably have found means of destroying himself in prison, before he was brought forth to be made a show and a spectacle: but a renewal of the glory of God in the destruction of the Philistines was his principal object; which glory had been apparently violated by their general usage of his servant Samson, and the particular indignity they had made him suffer in the loss of his eyes. His own death was an accidental circumstance connected with his point in view, but not the first and direct aim of the action. It was necessary indeed for him to put his own life into the utmost hazard, with scarce a possibility of escape; but he cheerfully submitted to fall with his enemies, rather than not accomplish his great design." Moore's "Full Inquiry into the subject of Suicide," vol. i. p. 89.-TODD.

d In number more Than all thy life had slain before.

"So the dead which he slew at his death, were more than they which he slew in his life," Judges xvi. 30.-NEWTON.

• Drunk with idolatry, drunk with wine.

This distinction of drunkenness is scriptural. See Isaiah xxix. 9.-DUNSTER.

f In Silo.

Where the tabernacle and ark were at that time.-NEWTON.

Their own destruction to come speedy upon them.

So fond are mortal men,

Fallen into wrath divine,

As their own ruin on themselves to invite,
Insensate left, or to sense reprobate,
And with blindness internal struck.

2 Semi. But he though blind of sight,
Despised, and though extinguish'd quite,
With inward eyes illuminated,

His fiery virtue roused

From under ashes into sudden flame,
And as an evening dragon came,h

Assailant on the perched roosts

And nests in order ranged

Of tame villatick fowl: but as an eagle

His cloudless thunder bolted on their heads.

So Virtue, given for lost,

Depress'd and overthrown, as seem'd,

Like that self-begotten bird

So fond are mortal men, &c.




Agreeable to the common maxim, "Quos Deus vult perdere, dementat prius."THYER.

h And as an evening dragon came, &c.

Mr. Calton says that Milton certainly dictated

And not as an evening dragon came.

Samson did not set upon them like an evening dragon, but darted ruin on their heads, like the thunder-bearing engle. Mr. Sympson, to the same purpose, proposes to read, And not as an evening dragon came,

-but as an eagle, &c.

Mr. Thyer understands it otherwise, and explains it without any alteration of the text, to which I rather incline. One might produce, says he, authorities enough from the naturalists, to show that serpents devour fowls: that of Aldrovandus is sufficient, and serves fully to justify this simile. Speaking of the food of serpent, she says, "Etenim aves, et potissimum avium pullos in nidis adhuc degentes libenter furantur." Aldrov. "de Serp. et Drac." lib. i. c. 3. It is common enough among the ancient poets, to meet with several similes brought in to illustrate one aetion, when one cannot be found that will hold in every circumstance. Milton does the same here; introducing the simile of the dragon merely in allusion to the order in which the Philistines were placed in the amphitheatre; and the subsequent one of the eagle, to express the rapidity of that vengeance which Samson took of his enemies.-NEWTON.

i Villatick fowl.

"Villaticas alites," Plin. lib. xxiii. sect. 17.-RICHARDSON.

But as an eagle, &c.

In the "Ajax" of Sophocles, it is said, that his enemies, if they saw him appear, would be terrified like birds at the appearance of the vulture or the eagle, v. 167.JORTIN.

Apuleius describes an eagle, "in prædam superne sese ruere, fulminis vice," Florid. lib. i. ad init. The ancients described heroes of great prowess and activity in war as thunderbolts. See Spanheim "De Usu et Præstantia Numismatum," Dissert. v., where he treats of the epithets bestowed on the successors of Alexander, and among others that of "thunderer."-DUNSTER.

Like that self-begotten bird.

The introduction of the phoenix is particularly censured by Dr. Johnson. Tertullian, Ambrose, and others of the Fathers, have however cited the phoenix as a rational argument of a resurrection.-DUNSTER.

In the Arabian woods embost,1

That no second knows nor third,


And lay erewhile a holocaust,m

From out her ashy womb now teem'd,

Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most
When most unactive deem'd;

And, though her body die, her fame survives

A secular bird ages of lives."

Man. Come, come, no time for lamentation now,"
Nor much more cause; Samson hath quit himself
Like Samson, and heroickly hath finish'd

A life heroick; on his enemies

Fully revenged, hath left them years of mourning,
And lamentation to the sons of Caphtor?
Through all Philistian bounds; to Israel
Honour hath left, and freedom, let but them
Find courage to lay hold on this occasion;
To himself and father's house eternal fame;
And, which is best and happiest yet, all this
With God not parted from him, as was fear'd,
But favouring and assisting to the end.
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail

Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,

1 Embost.





Probably from the Italian "emboscare," to enclose in a thicket, as Dr. Johnson observes. It appears to have been used by our old poets as a term of hunting, applied more particularly to the hart.-TODD.

m A holocaust.

An entire burnt-offering. Else, generally, only part of the beast was burnt.-RICH


n Her fame survives

A secular bird ages of lives.

The construction and meaning of the whole period I conceive to be this :-Virtue, given for lost, like the phoenix consumed and now teemed from out her ashy womb, revives, reflourishes; and though her body die, which was the case of Samson, yet her fame survives a phoenix many ages: for the comma after "survives" in all the editions should be omitted, as Mr. Calton has observed as well as myself. The phoenix, says he, lived a thousand years according to some, and hence it is called here "a secular bird."-"Ergo quoniam sex diebus cuncta Dei opera perfecta sunt; per secula sex, id est, annorum sex millia, manere hoc statu mundum necesse est." Lactantius, "Div. Inst." lib. vii. c. 14. The fame of virtue, the Semi-Chorus saith, "survives," outlives, this "secular bird" many ages. The comma, which is in all the editions after "survives," breaks the construction.-NEWTON.

• No time for lamentation now, &c.

In the "Hecuba" of Euripides, Hecuba, when she is informed of the heroical death of her daughter Polyxena, after expressing her grief, corrects it with similar reflections, ver. 591.-DUNSTER.

P To the sons of Caphtor.

Caphtor it should be, and not Chaptor, as in several editions: and the sons of Caphtor are Philistines, originally of the island Caphtor or Crete. The people were called Caphtorim, Cheretim, Ceretim, and afterwards Cretians. A colony of them settled in Palestine, and there went by the name of Philistim.-MEADOWCOURT.

a Nothing is here for tears, &c.

The whole of this speech of Manoah is in a high degree pleasing and interesting: from this place to the conclusion it gradually rises in beauty, so as to form one of the most captivating parts of this admirable tragedy.-DUNSTter.

Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
Let us go find the body where it lies


Soak'd in his enemies' blood; and from the stream,
With lavers pure and cleansing herbs, wash off

The clotted gore. I, with what speed the while,
(Gaza is not in plight to say us nay)

Will send for all my kindred, all my friends,"

To fetch him hence, and solemnly attend

With silent obsequy, and funeral train,

Home to his father's house; there will I build him

A monument, and plant it round with shade
Of laurel ever green, and branching palm,
With all his trophies hung,t and acts inroll'd
In copious legend, or sweet lyric song.
Thither shall all the valiant youth resort,"
And from his memory inflame their breasts
To matchless valour, and adventures high:
The virgins also shall, on feastful days,
Visit his tomb with flowers; only bewailing
His lot unfortunate in nuptial choice,
From whence captivity and loss of eyes.

Cho. All is best, though we oft doubt▾
What the unsearchable dispose

Of Highest Wisdom brings about,

Let us go find the body, &c.






When Sarpedon is slain in the Iliad, Jupiter gives Phoebus a commission to find the body, and have all due obsequies and funeral rites paid it. See "Il." xvi. 667, &c. Compare also the rites paid to the corpses of Patrocles and Hector, "Il." xviii. xxiv. -DUNSTER.

Will send for all my kindred, all my friends, &c.

This is founded upon what the Scripture saith, Judges xvi. 31, which the poet has finely improved:-"Then his brethren, and all the house of his father, came down and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Ashtaol, in the burying-place of Manoah his father."-NEWTON.

The poet, by "silent obsequy," in this description of the last respect intended to be paid to Samson, alludes to the custom observed at the Jewish funerals; at which all the near relations of the deceased came to the house in their mourning dress, and sat down upon the ground in silence: whilst in another part of the house were heard the voices of mourners, and the sound of instruments, hired for the purpose: these exclamations continued till the rites were performed, when the nearest relations resumed their melancholy posture.-TODD.

t With all his trophies hung.

Chivalry was now again in Milton's mind. He might here allude to the custom of hanging the sword, helmet, and armorial ensigns over the tombs of eminent persons.— TODD.

u Thither shall all the valiant youth resort.

Mason, who was a great admirer of this tragedy, introduces Caractacus thus consoling himself over the body of his son Arviragus:

Here in high Mona shall thy noble limbs

Rest in a noble grave; posterity

Shall to thy tomb with annual reverence bring

Sepulchral stones, and pile them to the clouds.-TODD.

All is best, though we oft doubt, &c.

There is a great resemblance betwixt this speech of Milton's Chorus, and that of the Chorus in Eschylus's "Supplices," beginning at ver. 90, to ver. 109.-THYER.

And ever best found in the close.

Oft he seems to hide his face,

But unexpectedly returns,

And to his faithful champion hath in place

Bore witness gloriously; whence Gaza mourns,

And all that band them to resist

His uncontroulable intent:

His servants he, with new acquist

Of true experience from this great event,
With peace and consolation hath dismiss'd,
And calm of mind, all passion spent."

With peace and consolation hath dismiss'd,
And calm of mind, all passion spent.



This moral lesson in the conclusion is very fine, and excellently suited to the beginning: for Milton had chosen for the motto to this piece a passage out of Aristotle, which may show what was his design in writing this tragedy, and the sense of which he hath expressed in the preface, that "tragedy is of power, by raising pity and fear, or terrour, to purge the mind of those and such like passions," &c., and he exemplifies it here in Manoah and the Chorus, after their various agitations of passion, acquiescing in the divine dispensations, and thereby inculcating a most instructive lesson to the reader.-NEWTON.

Or the general character of this poem it may be proper to cite the opinions of my predecessors.

"Samson Agonistes" is the only tragedy that Milton finished, though he sketched out the plans of several, and proposed the subjects of more, in his manuscript preserved in Trinity College, Cambridge: and we may suppose that he was determined to the choice of this particular subject by the similitude of his own circumstances to those of Samson blind and among the Philistines. This I conceive to be the last of his poetical pieces; and it is written in the very spirit of the ancients, and equals, if not exceeds, any of the most perfect tragedies which were ever exhibited on the Athenian stage, when Greece was in its glory. As this work was never intended for the stage, the division into acts and scenes is omitted. Bishop Atterbury had an intention of getting Pope to divide it into acts and scenes, and of having it acted at Westminster; but his commitment to the Tower put an end to that design. It has since been brought upon the stage in the form of an Oratorio; and Handel's music is never employed to greater advantage, than when it is adapted to Milton's words. That great artist has done equal justice to our author's "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," as if the same spirit possessed both masters, and as if the god of music and of verse was still one and the same.-NEWTON.

"Samson Agonistes" is but a very indifferent subject for a dramatic fable: however, Milton has made the best of it. He seems to have chosen it for the sake of the satire on bad wives.-WARBURTON.

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 indignant 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, in the Chorus, v. 652, &c. 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 "Samson Agonistes" is the most singularly affecting composition that was ever produced by sensibility of heart and vigour of imagination. To give it this particular 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 disaffectionate 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 height of unrivalled glory, and had experienced the most humiliating reverse of fortune. In delineating the greater part of Samson's sensations under calamity, he had only to describe his own. No dramatist can have ever conformed so literally as Milton to the Horatian precept, Si vis me flere, &c., and if, in reading the "Samson Agonistes," we observe how many passages, expressed with the most energetic sensibility, exhibit

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