페이지 이미지

pose of discovering what those blemishes are, which he has found out by superior sagacity, and which others have so palpably overlooked, as to merit the disgraceful character of ignorance and bigotry.

The principal, and in effect the only objection, which he states, is; "that the poem wants a middle, since nothing passes between the first act and the last, that either hastens or delays the death of Samson." This demands examination; the death of Samson I need not describe; it is a sudden, momentary event. What can hasten or delay it, but the will of the person, who by an exertion of miraculous strength, was to bury himself under the ruins of a structure, in which his enemies were assembled ? To determine that, will depend upon the impulse of his own spirit, or it may be upon the inspiration of Heaven. If there are any incidents in the body of the drama, which lead to this determination, and indicate an impulse, either natural or preternatural, such must be called leading incidents, and those leading incidents will constitute a middle, or, in more diffusive terms, the middle business of the drama. Manoah, in his interview with Samson, which the author of The Rambler denominates the second act of the tragedy, tells him

This day the Philistines a popular feast
Here celebrate in Gaza, and proclaim
Great pomp and sacrifice and praises loud
To Dagon, as their god-

Here is information of a meeting of his enemies to celebrate their idolatrous triumphs; an incident of just provocation to the servant of the living God, an opportunity, perhaps, for vengeance, either human or divine; if it passes without notice from Samson, it is not to be styled an incident, if, on the contrary, he

remarks upon it, it must be one


but Samson re

Dagon must stoop, and shall ere long receive
Such a discomfit, as shall quite despoil him
Of all these boasted trophies won on me,
And with confusion blank his worshippers.

Who will say the expectation is not here prepared for some catastrophe, we know not what, but awful it must be, for it is Samson who denounces the 'downfall of the idol, it is God who inspires the denunciation; the crisis is important, for it is that which shall decide whether God or Dagon is to triumph, it is in the strongest sense of the expression-dignus vindice nodus and, therefore, we may boldly pronounce Deus intersit!

That this interposition meets the sense of the author is clear from the remark of Manoah, who is made to say that he receives these words as a prophecy. Prophetic they are, and were meant to be by the poet, who in this use of his sacred prophecy imitates the heathen oracles, on which several of their dramatic plots are constructed, as might be shown by obvious examples. The interview with Manoah, then, is conducive to the catastrophe, and the drama is not, in this scene, devoid of incident.

Delilah next appears, and if whatever tends to raise our interest in the leading character of the tragedy, cannot rightly be called episodical, the introduction of this person ought not to be accounted such, for who but this person is the cause and origin of all the pathos and distress of the story? The dialogue of this scene is moral, affecting, and sublime; it is also strictly characteristic.

The next scene exhibits the tremendous giant, Harapha, and the contrast thereby produced is amongst the beauties of the poem, and may, of itself, be

termed an important incident. That it leads to the catastrophe I think will not be disputed, and if it is asked in what manner, the Chorus will supply us with an answer

He will directly to the Lords I fear,

And with malicious counsel stir them up
Some way or other further to afflict thee.

Here is another prediction connected with the plot and verified by its catastrophe, for Samson is commanded to come to the festival and entertain the revellers with some feats of strength. These commands he resists, but obeys an impulse of his mind by going afterwards, and thereby fulfils the prophetic declaration he had made to his father in the second act. What incident can show more management and address in the poet, than this of Samson's refusing the summons of the idolaters, and obeying the visitation of God's spirit.

And now I may confidently appeal to the judicious reader, whether the Samson Agonistes is so void of incident between the opening and conclusion as fairly to be pronounced to want a middle. Simple it is from first to last, simple perhaps to a degree of coldness in some of its parts, but to say that nothing passes between the first act and the last, which hastens or delays the death of Samson, is not correct, because the very incidents are to be found, which conduce to the catastrophe, and but for which it could not have come to pass.

The author of The Rambler professes to examine the Samson Agonistes according to the rule laid down by Aristotle for the disposition and perfection of a tragedy, and this rule he informs us is, that it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And is this the mighty purpose for which the authority of Aris

totle is appealed to? If it be thus the author of The Rambler has read the Poetics, and this be the best rule he can collect from that treatise, I am afraid he will find it too short a measure for the poet he is examining, or the critic he is quoting. Aristotle had said: "That every whole hath not amplitude enough for the construction of a tragic fable; now by a whole," adds he in the way of illustration, "I mean that, which hath beginning, middle, and end." This, and no more, is what he says upon beginning, middle, and end; and this, which the author of The Rambler conceives to be a rule for tragedy, turns out to be merely an explanation of the word whole, which is only one term amongst many employed by the critic in his professed and complete definition of tragedy. I should add, that Aristotle gives a further explanation of the terms, beginning, middle, and end, which the author of The Rambler hath turned into English, but, in so doing, he hath inexcusably turned them out of their original sense as well as language; as any curious critic may be convinced of, who compares them with Aristotle's words, in the eighth chapter of the Poetics.

Of the poetic diction of the Samson Agonistes, I have already spoken in general; to particularize passages of striking beauty would draw me into too great length; at the same time, not to pass over so pleasing a part of my undertaking in absolute silence, I will give the following reply of Samson to the Chorus

Wherever fountain or fresh current flow'd
Against the eastern ray, translucent, pure
With touch ethereal of heaven's fiery rod,
I drank, from the clear milky juice allaying
Thirst, and refresh'd; nor envy'd them the grape,
Whose heads the turbulent liquor fills with fumes.

Of the character I may say, in few words, that

Samson possesses all the terrific majesty of Promemetheus chained, the mysterious distress of Edipus, and the pitiable wretchedness of Philoctetes. His properties, like those of the first, are something above human; his misfortunes, like those of the second, are derivable from the displeasure of Heaven, and involved in oracles; his condition, like that of the last, is the most abject, which human nature can be reduced to from a state of dignity and splendour.

Of the catastrophe, there remains only to remark, that it is of unparalleled majesty and terror.


DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, in his Life of Rowe, pronounces of "The Fair Penitent," that it is one of the most pleasing tragedies on the stage, where it still keeps its turns of appearing, and probably will long keep them, for that there is scarcely any work of any poet at once so interesting by the fable, and so delightful by the language. The story, he observes, is domestic, and, therefore, easily received by the imagination, and assimilated to common life; the diction is exquisitely harmonious, and soft or sprightly as occasion requires. Few people, I believe, will think this character of The Fair Penitent too lavish on the score of commendation; the high degree of public favour in which this tragedy has long stood, has ever attracted the best audiences to it, and engaged the talents of the best performers in its display.

« 이전계속 »