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Home to his father's house; there will I build him
+ 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
AU is best, though we oft doubt, &c.
w 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.
Of 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 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 overburdened 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.—HAYLEY.
Dr. Johnson thought differently about this tragedy, written evidently and happily in the style and manner of Æschylus ; and said, “that it was deficient in both requisites of a true Aristotelic middle. Its intermediate parts have neither cause nor consequence, neither hasten nor retard the catastrophe.” To which opinion the judicious Mr. Twining accedes. What Dr. Warburton said of it is wonderfully ridiculous, that Milton “chose the subject for the sake of the satire on bad wives ;” and that the subjects of “Samson Agonistes” and “Paradise Lost” were not very different, "the fall of two heroes by a woman.” Milton, in this drama, has given an example of every species of measure which the English language is capable of exhibiting, not only in the choruses, but in the dialogue part. The chief parts of the dialogue (though there is a great variety of measure in the choruses of the Greek tragedy) are in iambic verse. I recollect but three places in which hexameter verses are introduced in the Greek tragedies; once in the “Trachiniæ," once in the “Philoctetes” of Sophocles, and once in the “Troades" of Euripides. Voltaire wrote an opera on this subject of Samson, 1732, which was set to music by Rameau, but was never performed : he has inserted choruses to Venus and Adonis; and the piece finishes by introducing Samson actually pulling down the temple, on the stage, and crushing all the assembly, which Milton has flung into so fine a narration ; and the opera is ended by Samson's saying, “ J'ai réparé ma honte, et j'expire en vainqueur." And yet this was the man that dared to deride the irregularities of Shakspeare.—Jos. WARTON.
Of the style of this poem, it is to be observed that it is often inexact and almost ungrammatical ; and of the metre, that it is very licentious : both with design and the most consummate judgment. An irregular construction carries with it an air of negligence, well suited to this drama, and yet prevents the expression from falling into vulgarity; and a looseness of measure gives grace and ease to the tragic dialogue : but this apology does not extend to such inaccuracies in the mask of “Comus ;” which, as a work of delight and ostentation, should have been everywhere laboured, as indeed for the most part it is, into the utmost polish of style and metre. Milton learned the secret he has here so successfully practised from his strict attention to the Greek tragedians, especially Euripides. The modern critics of this poet are perpetually tampering with his careless expression, careless numbers, &c. unconscious that both were the effect of art. It is on these occasions we may apply the observation,
It is not Homer nods, but we that dream. The “Samson Agonistes” is, in every view, the most artificial and highly-finished of all Milton's poetical works.- HURD.
Dr. Warton, in a concluding note on “Lycidas," assigns to "Samson Agonistes” the third place of rank among the poet's works. Lord Monboddo, still more enamoured of its excellencies, says, that it is the “last and the most faultless, in my judgment, of all Milton's poetical works, if not the finest.”—“Orig. and Prog. of Language,” 2d edit. vol. iii. p. 71. It is certainly, as Mr. Mason long since observed, an excellent piece, to which posterity has not yet given its full measure of popular and universal fame. “Perhaps,” says this judicious writer in a letter to a friend concerning his own impressive tragedy of “Elfrida," " in your closet, and that of a few more, who unaffectedly admire genuine nature and ancient simplicity, the 'Agonistes' may hold a distinguished rank : yet surely, we cannot say, in Hamlet's phrase, 'that it pleases the million; it is still caviare to the general.'"""Elfrida,” edit. 1752. Lett. ii. p. vi. vii.-TODD.
Dr. Johnson has criticised in the “Rambler,” No. 139, 140, “Samson Agonistes” as wanting a middle, though he allows it a beginning and an end. He says, “The tragedy of Samson Agonistes' has been celebrated as the second work of the great author of "Paradise Lost,' and opposed with all the confidence of triumph to the dramatic performances of other nations. It contains indeed just sentiments, maxims of wisdom, and oracles of piety, and many passages written with the ancient spirit of choral poetry, in which there is a just and pleasing mixture of Seneca's moral declamation with the wild enthusiasm of the Greek writers : it is therefore worthy of examination, whether a performance thus illuminated with genius and enriched with learning, is composed according to the indispensable laws of Aristotelian criticism ; and, omitting at present all other considerations, whether it exhibits a beginning, a middle, and an end.
“The poem has a beginning and an end which Aristotle himself could not have disapproved ; but it must be allowed to want a middle, since nothing passes between the first act and the last, that either hastens or delays the death of Samson. The whole drama, if its superfluities were cut off, would scarcely fill a single act; yet this is the tragedy which ignorance has admired, and bigotry applauded.
“Such are the faults, and such the beauties of 'Samson Agonistes ;' which I have shown with no other purpose than to promote the knowledge of true criticism. The everlasting verdure of Milton's laurels has nothing to fear from the blasts of malignity ; nor can such attempt produce any other effect than to strengthen their shoots by lopping their luxuriance.”
Cumberland, in his “Observer,” vol. iv. No. 111, very properly defends the middle of this drama against Johnson's attack. He contends that the captious critic has misunderstood Aristotle's rule ; and concludes thus :
“Of the character, I may say in few words, that “Samson' possesses all the terrific majesty of ‘Prometheus 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 pleasure 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.”
PRESENTED AT LUDLOW CASTLE, 1634.
JOHN, EARL OF BRIDGEWATER.
THEN PRESIDENT OF WALES.
LUDLOW CASTLE. TODD has given a copious historical account of this castle, which I shall omit. It had long been the palace of the princes of Wales, and was inhabited by Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII. ; it was built by Roger de Montgomery, about 1112. Sir Henry Sidney, when lord president of Wales, expended large sums upon this building. The castle was delivered to the parliament in 1646; the court of marches was afterwards abolished, and the lords presidents discontinued in 1688: from that time the castle fell into decay.
JOHN, EARL OF BRIDGEWATER. The family of Egerton is of the most undoubted antiquity, and was one of the first of the rank of commoners in Cheshire, being among the barons of the earl palatine of the county at the Conquest. The Cholmondeleys are from the same male stock: the male line of the eldest branch of the family still survives in Sir Philip de Malpas Egerton, bart, but the founder of the nobility of the Bridgewater branch was lord chancellor Egerton, born about 1540. He was a natural son of Sir Richard Egerton of Ridley, who died 1579, son of Sir Ralph Egerton of Ridley in Cheshire, standard-bearer of England, by an heiress of one of the Bassets of Blore, in the county of Stafford*. Sir Thomas Egerton was made solicitor-general, 2nd June, 1581; attorney-general, 2nd June, 1592; master of the rolls, 10th Ápril, 36 Eliz. ; lord keeper, 6th May, 1596; created baron of Ellesmere, 21st July, 1603, by king James, and three days afterwards constituted lord high chancellor of England; advanced to the dignity of Viscount Brackley, 7th November, 1616; and died full of years and honours, at the age of seventy-seven, on the 15th of March, 1617, and was buried at Doddleston, in the county of Cheshire t.
This is not the place to enter into a long examination of this celebrated man's public character. The late Francis Henry Egerton, the last Earl of Bridgewater,
* The last heiress of the elder branch of the Bassets of Blore married William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, whose daughter by her married John Egerton, second Earl of Bridgewater.
The ancestor of these Bassets married the heiress of the elder branch of the Byrons. In the church of Blore was the brass-plate recording this marriage, when I visited that church in autumn 1789.
+ By some extraordinary neglect, no memorial was erected over this great man's remains, till the present learned, accomplished, and amiable archdeacon Wrangham, the rector of the parish, placed an epitaph at his own expense.
who died in 1829, printed in folio a large collection of materials for his life, of which a great part have been introduced into the last edition of the “Biographia Britannica.” He was a man remarkable for discretion, sagacity, and wisdom in perilous times.
He was the founder of the present system of equity in chancery; and his contest with chief justice Coke, and triumph over the great learning and abilities of that bad-tempered man, is alone matter of high fame. In all the pages of history which have gained any credit, his reputation stands bright and clear: he accumulated a large fortune for his posterity, which was vastly augmented by the illustrious marriage which his son made with Lady Frances Stanley, daughter and coheir of Ferdinando, Earl of Derby, and the Lady Alice, before whom Milton's Arcades" was acted.
This son John, second Viscount Brackley, was created Earl of Bridgewater 27th May, 1617, two months after his father's death. From this time, this earl was by his marriage lifted at once to the very first and most illustrious rank of nobility. The blood of the Stanleys, Cliffords, Brandons, Wodevilles, Tudors, and Plantagenets, all centred in his children.
In 1631 he was appointed lord president of Wales. “I have been informed from a manuscript of Oldys,” says Mr. Warton," that Lord Bridgewater, being appointed lord president of Wales, entered upon his official residence at Ludlow castle with great solemnity: on this occasion he was attended by a large concourse of the neighbouring nobility and gentry. Among the rest came his children; in particular, Lord Brackley, Mr. Thomas Egerton, and Lady Alice,
To attend their father's state
And new-entrusted sceptre. They had been on a visit at a house of their relations, the Egerton family in Herefordshire; and in passing through Haywood forest were benighted, and the Lady Alice was even lost fora short time. This accident, which in the endwas attended with no bad consequences, furnished the subject of a mask for a Michaelmas festivity, and produced Comus.' Lord Bridgewater was appointed (rather, as I apprehend, installed) lord president, May 12, 1633. When the perilous adventure in Haywood forest happened, if true, cannot now be told; it must have been soon after. The mask was acted at Michaelmas, 1634.” Sir John Hawkins has also observed, that this elegant poem is founded on a real story; his account of which, though less particular, agrees with that of Oldys. “Hist. of Music,” vol. iv. p. 52. Lawes, in his dedication to Lord Brackley, perhaps alludes to the accident, in stating that the “poem received its first occasion of birth from himself, and others of his noble family."
This first Earl of Bridgewater died 4th December, 1649, aged seventy : his countess died 11th March, 1635-6, aged fifty-two*.
Of Lady Alice Egerton, the youngest daughter, Warton has given an account.
John Egerton, second Earl of Bridgewater, was the Elder Brother in “ Comus," under the name of Lord Brackley : he was a man of literature, very studious, very accomplished, and very amiable. Sir Henry Chauncey, in his “ History of Hertfordshire,” has given a very interesting and attractive character, and a lively description of his person.
He died 26th October, 1686, aged sixty-four; he was consequently born in 1622. He married Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, a lady of incomparable beauty, talents, and virtue; of whose “Prayers and Meditations,” a manuscript copy has descended to me t. She died 14th June, 1663, aged thirty-seven.
In the epitaphs of these two generations, at little Gadsden, near Ashridge, there is a singular strain of plaintive eloquence.
* His daughter, Lady Catharine, married William Courteen, Esq., son and heir of Sir William Courteen, knight, a merchant of London. See the curious and elaborate lives of the Courteens, in the last edition of the “Biographia Britannica." The last of them took the name of Charlton, and was a man of scientific fame.
| It is particularised in Todd, p. 208, from my communication.