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commenting that book, is sufficient to confirm." Here we have certainly a proof that no amount of sympathy which Milton may have felt with the Puritan dislike of stage-plays had affected his admiration of the dramatic form of poesy as practised by the ancient Greek tragedians and others. Indeed, in the same pamphlet, he recognises "the managing of our public sports and festival pastimes" as one of the duties of the Government in every well-constituted commonwealth, and distinctly recommends it as proper for the civil magistrate, in the interests of education and morality, to provide "eloquent and graceful" appeals to the intellect and imagination of the people, not only from pulpits, but also in the form of "set and solemn paneguries in theatres.” Accordingly, it was to the dramatic form, rather than to either the epic or the lyric, that Milton then inclined in his meditations of some great English poem to be written by himself. As we have already seen (Introduction to Paradise Lost, pp. 14-18), he threw aside his first notion of an epic on King Arthur, and began to collect possible subjects for dramas from Scriptural History, and from the early history of Britain. He collected and jotted down the titles of no fewer than sixty possible tragedies on subjects from the Old and New Testaments, and thirty-eight possible tragedies on subjects of English and Scottish History,-among which latter, curiously enough, was one on the subject of Macbeth. From this extraordinary collection of possible subjects Paradise Lost already stood out as that which most fascinated him; but even that subject was to be treated dramatically.
All this was before the year 1642. On the 2d of September in that year, the King having a few days before raised his standard at Nottingham, and given the signal for the Civil War, there was passed the famous ordinance of Parliament suppressing stage-plays "while the public troubles last," and shutting up the London theatres. From that date onwards to the Restoration, or for nearly eighteen years, the Drama, in the sense of the Acted Drama, was in abeyance in England. This fact may have co-operated with other reasons in determining Milton, when he did at length find leisure for returning to his scheme of a great English poem, to abandon the dramatic form he had formerly favoured. True, the mere discontinuance of stage-plays in England, as an amusement inconsistent with Puritan ideas, and intolerable
in the state of the times, cannot, even though Milton approved of such discontinuance (as he doubtless did), have altered his former convictions in favour of the dramatic form of poetry, according to its noblest ancient models,—especially as he could have had no thought, when meditating his Scriptural Tragedies, of adapting them for actual performance. Such a tragedy as he had meant to write would not have been the least in conflict with the real operative element in the contemporary Puritan antipathy to the Drama. Still the dramatic form itself had fallen into discredit; and there were weaker brethren with whom it would have been useless to reason on the distinction between the written Drama and the acted Drama, between the noblest tragedy on the ancient Greek model and the worst of those English stage-plays, of the reign of Charles, from which the nation had been compelled to desist. Milton does not seem to have been indifferent to this feeling. The tone of his reference to Shakespeare in his Eikonoklastes, published in 1649, suggests that, it he had not then really abated his allegiance to Shakespeare, he at least agreed so far with the ordinary Puritanism around him as not to think Shakespeare-worship the particular doctrine then required by the English mind.
For some such reason, among others, Milton, when he set himself at length, in 1658, to redeem his long-given pledge of a great English poem, and chose for his subject Paradise Lost, deliberately gave up his first intention of treating that subject in the dramatic form. When that poem was given to the world, in 1667, it was as an epic. Its companion, Paradise Regained, published in 1671, was also an epic.
But, though it was thus as an epic poet that Milton chose mainly and finally to appear before the world, he was so far faithful to his old affection for the Drama as to leave to the world one experiment of his mature art in that form. Samson Agonistes was an attestation that the poet who in his earlier years had written the beautiful pastoral drama of Comus had never ceased to like that form of poesy, but to the last believed it suitable, with modifications, for his severer and sterner purposes. At what time Samson was written is not definitely ascertained; but it was certainly after the Restoration, and probably after 1667. It was published in 1671, in the same volume with Paradise Regained
(see title of the volume, etc., in Introd. to Paradise Regained, p. 2). For a time the connexion thus established between Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes was kept up in subsequent editions; but since 1688 I know of no publication of these two poems together by themselves. There have been one or two editions of the Samson by itself; but it has generally appeared either in collective editions of all the poems, or in editions of the minor poems apart from Paradise Lost.
How came Milton to select such a subject as that of Samson Agonistes for one of his latest poems, if not the very latest?
To this question it is partly an answer to say that the exploits of the Hebrew Samson had long before struck him as capable of treatment in an English tragedy. Among his jottings, in 1640-41, of subjects for possible Scripture Tragedies, we find these two, occurring as the 19th and 20th in the total list : "Samson Pursophorus or Hybristes, or Samson Marrying, or Ramath-Lechi," Judges xv.; and Dagonalia," Judges xvi. That is to say, Milton, in 164041, thought there might be two sacred dramas founded on the accounts of Samson's life in the Book of Judges,—one on Samson's first marriage with a Philistian woman, and his feuds with the Philistines growing out of that incident, when he was Pursophorus (i.e. The Firebrand-bringer) or Hybristes (i.e. Violent); the other on the closing scene of his life, when he took his final vengeance on the Philistines in their feast to Dagon. These subjects, however, do not seem
then to have had such attractions for Milton as some of the others in the list; for they are merely jotted down as above, whereas to some of the others, such as "Dinah," ""Abram from Morea," and "Sodom," are appended sketches of the plot, or hints for the treatment. Why, then, did Milton, in his later life, neglect so many other subjects of which he had kept his early notes, and cling so tenaciously to the story of Samson ?
The reason is not far to seek; nor need we seek it in the fact that he had seen Italian, Latin, and even English, poems on the story of Samson, which may have reminded him of the theme. Todd and other commentators have dug up the titles of some such old poems, without being able to
prove that they suggested anything to Milton. The truth is that the capabilities of the theme, perceived by him through mere poetic tact as early as 1640-41, had been brought home to him, with singular force and intimacy, by the experience of his own subsequent life. The story of Samson must have seemed to Milton a metaphor or allegory of much of his own life in its later stages. He also, in his veteran days, after the Restoration, was a champion at bay, a prophet-warrior left alone among men of a different faith and different manners,-Philistines, who exulted in the ruin of his cause, and wreaked their wrath upon him for his past services to that cause by insults, calumnies, and jeers at his misfortunes and the cause itself. He also was blind, as Samson had been, - groping about among the malignant conditions that had befallen him, helplessly dependent on the guiding of others, and bereft of the external consolations and means of resistance to his scorners that might have come to him through sight. He also had to live mainly in the imagery of the past. In that past, too, there were similarities in his case to that of Samson. Like Samson, substantially, he had been a Nazarite,- -no drinker of wine or strong drink, but one who had always been an ascetic in his dedicated service to great designs. And the chief blunder in his life, that which had gone nearest to wreck it, and had left the most marring consequences and the most painful reflections, was the very blunder of which, twicerepeated, Samson had to accuse himself. Like Samson, he had married a Philistine woman, one not of his own tribe, and having no thoughts or interests in common with his own; and, like Samson, he had suffered indignities from this wife and her relations, till he had learnt to rue the match. The consequences of Milton's unhappy first marriage (1643) in his temper and opinions are traceable in his biography far beyond their apparent end in the publication of his Divorce Pamphlets, followed by his hasty reconciliation with his wife after her two years' desertion of him (1645). Although, from that time, he lived with his first wife, without further audible complaint, till her death about 1652, and although his two subsequent marriages were happier, the recollection of his first marriage (and it was only the wife of this first marriage that he had ever seen) seems always to have been a sore in Milton's mind,
and to have affected his thoughts of the marriage-institution itself, and of the ways and character of women. In this respect also he could find coincidences between his own life and that of Samson, which recommended the story of Samson with far more poignancy to him in his later life than when he had first looked at it in the inexperience of his early manhood. In short, there must have rushed upon Milton, contemplating in his later life the story of the blind Samson among the Philistines, so many similarities with his own case that there is little wonder that he then selected this subject for poetic treatment. While writing Samson Agonistes (i.e. Samson the Agonist, Athlete, or Wrestler) he must have been secretly conscious throughout that he was representing much of his own feelings and experience; and the reader of the poem that knows anything of Milton's life has this pressed upon him at every turn. Probably the best
introduction to the drama would be to read the Biblical history of Samson (Judges xiii. -xvi.) with the facts of Milton's life in one's mind.
The poem was put forth, however, with no intimation to this effect. That, indeed, might have been an obstacle to its passing the censorship. Readers were left to gather the fact for themselves, according to the degree of their information, and their quickness in interpreting. In the prose preface which Milton thought fit to prefix to the poem,entitled " Of that sort of Dramatic Poem which is called Tragedy," he concerns himself not at all with the matter of the poem, or his own meaning in it, but only with its literary form. He explains why, towards the grave close of his life, he has not thought it inconsistent to write what might be called a Tragedy, and defines the particular kind of Tragedy he has taken care to write. The preface ought to be carefully read, in connexion with the remarks already made on Milton's early taste for the dramatic form of poesy and the variations to which that taste had been subjected by circumstances. It will be noted that a large portion of the preface is apologetic. Although, after the Restoration, the Drama had revived in England, and men were once more familiar with stage-plays, Milton evidently felt that many of his countrymen still retained their Puritanic horror of the Drama, and of all related to it, and that this horror might well be increased by the spectacle of the sort of plays