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beautiful lines, fanciful ideas, and plagiarisms."1 These pastorals I have not seen; but I have read the Sappho which William Mason began as a masque and in 1778 completed as a "lyrical drama." Sappho contains a character named Lycidas, and a scene in which "the Naiad Arethusa rises from the stream, seated in a shell," and sings the song,
See! from her translucent bed
ARETHUSA brings thee aid.
Lo! she sprinkles on thy breast
Thrice I lift my virgin hand,
Thrice I shed the vapors bland.2
That ardent sympathizer with the French Revolution and friend of the lake poets, John Thelwall, whom we have met before,3 published in 1801 a wild "dramatic romance," The Fairy of the Lake, in which, after he has let loose all the horrors of Scandinavian mythology, he makes the "Lady of the Lake" rise "on a Throne . . . in a car," by the "margent green," to speak and sing much as Sabrina does. As the fairy disappears at the end of the play, Taliessin addresses her thus:
May those fountains, Lady kind!
Much closer to Comus than Thelwall's extravagant work is The Genii, a Masque (1814), by Andrew Becket. In this piece, after the curtain has risen on "the Confine of a Wood" (which suggests Comus), the "Good Genius" enters and, as in Comus, delivers himself of a long speech explaining who he is and why he is there. His first words are,
1 xxxii. 233; enl. ed., xii. 341-2.
2 Works (1811), ii. 350. In the first of the "Letters" prefixed to the early editions of Elfrida, Mason says he has enlivened that drama "by various touches of pastoral description... a beauty so extremely striking in ... Comus . . . As You Like It... and ... Philoctetes" (ib. 178); and in his Caractacus he has the chorus sing, "Break off... I hear the sound Of steps profane" (ib. 100, cf. Comus, 91-2, 145-6.) Two of the choruses in E. B. Impey's Sylphs (1811) recall the octosyllabic passages in Comus. 3 See above, pp. 300–301.
• Poems chiefly written in Retirement (1801), 32, 31.
Ib. 91 (cf. Comus, 922–33, and in general 976 to the end).
Like Milton's attendant spirit, he contrasts life in the "ethereal space" with that in "the drear mazes of this nether world," breaks off with "But to my sacred duties," says he is waiting for a young nobleman, and refers to "these calm scenes of pure and simplest nature" which "meditative humour most affects"; then, after a lyric passage (which recalls the first speech of Comus) describing "Cynthias revels" and referring to a "violet-border'd stream," the spirit, upon the approach of his charge, explains that he must put on his "heavenly robe," his "sky-tinct vest," and for a time "remain unseen."1 Becket's masque, like Milton's, abounds in octosyllabic passages, one of which closes the piece after the fashion of Comus: O youth! thou nearly mayst compare,
With us, the denizens of air. . . .
Those ranks thou'lt join — when thy freed soul,
On earth acquir'd, presents the crown.
But for out-and-out, unblushing imitation of Milton's dramas we must turn to twentieth-century America, where, in 1905, Edwin T. Whiffen published a volume of dramatic poems, Samson Marrying, Samson at Timnah, Samson Hybristes, and Samson Blinded. These are all on the Greek model, with choruses that, like Milton's, are in lines of different length, without rimes (which are rare in the Agonistes), and "without regard had to Strophe, Antistrophe, or Epode." Two of the titles, furthermore, Samson Marrying and Samson Hybristes, seem clearly to have been taken from the list of dramas Milton drew up in 1642. Such borrowings are not surprising or objectionable; but what shall we say of these ?
A little onward lies the toilsome path
For these faint step[s] of age,
A little further on.2
O miserable hope! is this the man,
That mighty Samson far renowned? $
1 Cf. Comus, 1-17, 37, 18, 41-2, 4, 386; 93 ff., 233, 82–92.
2 Page 99; cf. Samson Agonistes, 1–2.
3 Page 182; cf. S. A., 340–41. Also cf. p. 57, “Can this indeed be he,” etc., with
S. A., 124-6.
Just are the ways of God,
His purposes, though darkened oft by doubt
Or of this conclusion of Samson at Timnah?
O glorious vengeance on our foes inflicted! . . .
All is best, though oft endured
Our grievous ills with questioned doubt....
His high intent his purpose serves,
With vindication full and fair event.?
Strangely enough, this appears to be the only influence worth mentioning that Samson Agonistes has exerted. Not a few plays on the Greek model have of course been written, but, aside from Whiffen's, none embody the distinctive features of Milton's work or seem indebted to it verbally, metrically, or structurally. The idea of writing such a drama, as well as inspiration and vague, general guidance in composing it, may sometimes have come from Milton; for no writer would attempt so unusual a form without considering the only great example of it in English. William Mason, who composed two works "on the model of the ancient Greek tragedy," said frankly that Samson was "more simple and severe than Athens herself would have demanded. . . . Perhaps," his letter continues, "in your closet, and that of a few more, who unaffectedly admire genuine nature and antient simplicity, the Agonistes may hold a distinguished rank. Yet... unless one would be content with a very late and very learned posterity, Milton's conduct in this point should not be followed." 4
1 Page 183; cf. S. A., 293-4, 1745-8.
2 Pages 94-5; cf. S. A., 1660, 1708-9, 1745-58. On page 100 Whiffen borrows from Milton's epic (iv. 32−7):
O thou, that, with surpassing splendor adorned ...
To thee we call, O sun!
3 Glover in his Medea (1761) tried regular unrimed lyrics that clearly owe nothing to Milton, and Dr. Frank Sayers employed unrimed choruses with lines of varying length in his Dramatic Sketches of Northern Mythology (1790); but the "Sketches" are otherwise very different from Samson Agonistes, "the Greek form of dramatic writing" being used merely because it afforded "in its choruses the most favourable opportunity for the display of mythological imagery" (introduction to Moina). His rejection of rime was part of a general theory (see p. 564 below) that presumably owed little to Samson, in which rime is used, though sparingly. Matthew Arnold also has unrimed lines of varying length in the choruses of his Merope and in many of the speeches of Empedocles on Etna. Of the English dramas that I have seen, the one most like Samson Agonistes is Andrew Becket's Socrates (1806).
* Letter ii, in Works (1811), ii. 181-2. Mason criticized Samson simply as a poor model for an acting play, but the cock-sure Southey showed his Midas ears in this com
As this is almost the only point in which Mason did not follow Milton's conduct, his opinion is the more impressive.
THE TRANSLATION FROM HORACE
Milton's famous version of Horace's ode to Pyrrha, "rendered almost word for word, without rhyme, according to the Latin measure, as near as the language will permit," is probably better known to-day among Latin students than among the writers or readers of English verse. At least, the meter in which it is composed is rarely employed in modern poetry. But in the mid-eighteenth century, when new lyric forms were being sought and when almost every one translated Horace and was familiar with Milton, men turned to the measure more naturally. From 1700 to 1837 no fewer than eighty-three poems, and probably many more, were written in Milton's Horatian stanza,' which thus had a vogue almost as great, in proportion to the length and importance of the poem, as any of his other verse-forms enjoyed. It may be thought that the authors of some of these pieces took the unrimed stanza of two pentameter and two trimeter lines directly from Horace; but this was not so natural a thing to do as it appears to be, for rimes seemed indispensable to lyrics, and whoever used Horace's measure - Marvell, for example, in his Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland-used rime. Then, too, before most of these writers could have derived the meter for themselves, it had been given some currency by several ardent admirers and consistent imitators of Milton's short pieces.
The credit for discovering the possibilities of the measure for lyric purposes does not belong to any one man. Milton in making his translation was trying, not to invent a new lyric form, but to see how closely he could follow Horace. Accordingly, he paid little heed to the unity of single lines and none to that of stanzas, printing and apparently conceiving his poem as sixteen continuous lines. The elder Thomas Warton was therefore something of a discoverer when, between 1744 and 1745, he employed the meter for an original poem.2 To be sure, his Ode to Taste, an uninspired tribute to the "beauteous Arts of fair antiquity," is likewise not divided into stanzas; but the
ment: "Unrhymed lyrical measures had been tried by Milton with unhappy success.... There are parts in the choruses of the Samson Agonistes, wherein it is difficult to discover any principle of rhythm" (review of Sayers's works, Quart. Rev., 1827, xxxv. 211).
1 See Bibl. III c. Four of them, it will be noticed, were among the poems written at Oxford, in 1761-2, to celebrate the death of George II, the accession and marriage of George III, and the birth of the prince of Wales.
• Warton died in 1745, and the ode refers to the death of Pope, which took place in May, 1744. For Warton's other imitations of Milton, see pp. 461-2 above.
stanza conception is certainly present, as may be seen in these, the best lines:
Or in some ruin'd Temple dost thou dwell
The shapely Column's Height.
Warton passed on his metrical discovery to his two sons, the elder of whom, Joseph, included among the odes that he published in 1746 two in the meter of Milton's translation, one of which is "imitated from Horace." Yet, as the poems are not attractive and are not printed with stanza divisions, they mark no advance over the father's work. Just when the younger Thomas Warton (the laureate and historian of English poetry) employed the measure in his renderings of two of Horace's odes is uncertain, but probably later than his brother, for in 1746 he was only eighteen years old. Both of his translations are divided into stanzas, and one is marked "after the manner of Milton," which indicates where the family got the
There is so little in any of these pieces to inspire imitation that the elder Warton's discovery would probably have interested few persons outside of the family if his elder son had not been a friend of William Collins. Writing to his brother Thomas sometime between May, 1745, and June, 1746, Joseph Warton remarked: "Collins met me in Surrey, at Guildford Races, when I wrote out for him my Odes, and he likewise communicated some of his to me: and being both in very high spirits, we took courage, resolved to join our forces, and to publish them immediately." Perhaps it was through these odes which his friend "wrote out for him" that Collins's attention was drawn to the unrimed stanza; possibly he had already seen the Ode to Taste by Warton's father; or it may be that all three Wartons influenced his choice of the measure. At any rate, among the odes that he published in December, 1746, is one, To Evening, in the meter of Milton's translation from Horace. In its own field, that of the meditative lyric, this poem is hardly surpassed in all English literature, and certainly it has no equal-unless it be Smart's Song to Davidamong the lyrics of the hundred years that followed the dying-down of Restoration song. Without ceasing to be natural and tender, it achieves the classic finish and restraint, the finality, which is all too rare in English literature. And its beauty, we should observe, is due largely to the meter and to Collins's marvellous handling of it. If
1 A third, To Content, is printed in Wooll's Memoirs of Joseph Warton (1806), 2 Ib. 14 n.