Monday, 1 July 2002

Jeptha and its Sources

The following is a draft for an article finally published as 

Artful Anthology: The Use of Literary Sources for Handel’s Jephtha’ in The Musical Quarterly, Summer 2002 Volume 86, Number 2 (OUP, 2004) pp.349-62.

Artful Anthology: The Literary Sources for Handel's Jephtha

Winton Dean argues that the language of the text for Handel's Jephtha "is more concrete than that of Morell's earlier librettos, and provided a much stronger stimulus to the musician". He then qualifies the sense of praise that might be due to Thomas Morell, who if he "deserves credit for this" does so as "an anthologist".1 This seems a reasonable comment, in the light of the numerous borrowings and quotations from a range of literary and other sources which have been noted in the text. But there are different kinds of anthologist. To think of Morell as merely a collector of others' words might well suggest an uncritical anthologist - someone who (perhaps unimaginatively) throws together a range of sources to form a single work. The sense that Morell's role was not a particularly creative one led Dean to conjecture that other, more able, writers were involved in the composition. But a closer examination of the use of sources suggests that Morell himself was an able, astute, and creative compiler, whose borrowings have a logic perfectly suited to the subject of the oratorio. If Jephtha is a literary anthology it is an extremely knowing one, with its passages and echoes chosen to bring a thematic and artistic unity to the subject. The creation of the libretto suggests, beyond the limitations of a mere collection of sources, an intentional complex interplay of intertextual ideas.

Handel was certainly inspired by the text for his last major composition, as his contemporaries noted. In January 1753, for instance, William Hayes, Professor of Music at Oxford, used the oratorio to rebuff a criticism that Handel, being so "voluminous" a composer, was not always a correct one. He saw Jephtha as indisputable proof of Handel's continued and consistent creative vigour:

Perhaps, as I have been so particular in delivering my sentiments concerning the Hero of th[is] Essay, You may expect me to give you a Detail of the various Excellencies, which still remain unmentioned in HANDEL; and to point out wherein he excels all others of his Profession: The Man [...] Who hath maintained his Ground against all Opposers: - Who at the Age of Seventy, with a broken Constitution, produced such a Composition which no Man [...] is, or ever was [...] equal to, in his highest Vigour.2

Though Handel wasn't actually seventy when he wrote Jephtha he was in his mid-sixties. And though his constitution wasn't exactly broken it was certainly breaking. He had had to stop work on the piece in 1751, scribbling in the margin of the manuscript (in German): "got as far as this on [...] 13th February 1751, unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye".3 Handel's response to illness was always proactive, but, despite dangerous and unpleasant surgery (involving the piercing of the cornea with a needle) and visits to spa waters (which had previously proved helpful when he was partly paralysed) his sight was not fully to recover and he was to end his years in increasing blindness. Handel's contemporary biographer, John Mainwaring, suggested that this loss of sight, in 1751, brought with it a natural depression:

This misfortune sunk him for a time into the deepest despondency. He could not rest until he had undergone some operations as fruitless as they were painful. Finding it no longer possible for him to manage alone, he sent to Mr. SMITH to desire that he would play for him, and assist him in conducting the Oratorios.4

In these circumstances the text of Jephtha must have had a special private significance for Handel, surely understood by his librettist. How movingly apt that Handel's last great work, composed despite intermittent bouts of blindness, should have darkness as one of its central unifying motifs. Jephtha's visions are "set in darksome Night"; his wife fears "Scenes of Horror, Scenes of Woe,/ Rising from the Shades below". His daughter rejects the "black Illusions", but no sooner has she welcomed "the chearful Light,/ Driving darkest Shades of Night", than Jephtha sees her, and therefore, by his vow, sees her doomed: "Open thy marble Jaws, O Tomb,/ And hide me, Earth, in thy dark Womb".5  It is a system of images which finds its emotional climax in one of Handel's greatest choruses – 'How dark, O Lord, are thy Decrees'. And it was at this point in the manuscript that Handel wrote his note about his worsening sight. How dark indeed.

But Handel's librettist would naturally find ideas of blindness and insight suitable for the material. Central to the original biblical source of Jephtha - Chapter XI of the Book of Judges - is the oath which binds sight with doom:

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he smote them [...] with a very great slaughter [...] And Jephthah came [...] unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child [...] And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas my daughter! 6

But Thomas Morell, fellow of King's College, Cambridge - clergyman, classicist and, previously, librettist for Handel's Judas Maccabaeus and Alexander Balus - turned not only to the Bible for his text of Jephtha, but also to a wide range of other sources. Jephtha had already been the subject of a Latin play by the Renaissance scholar George Buchanan, which gave Morell the characters of Zebul, and Jephtha's wife Storgè, neither of whom appear in the Biblical source. It also gave the name Iphis to the Bible's unnamed daughter, encouraging an obvious parallel with the story of Iphigenia, another drama of female sacrifice. Jephtha had also been the subject of other musical compositions, notably an oratorio by Maurice Greene, Professor of Music at Cambridge, to a text by John Hoadly, which had been produced at the King's Theatre in 1737. This work was certainly used by Morell, but was also known to Handel.7              

The influence of these and other sources means that Morell's libretto is significantly removed from the biblical original. But the most important change by far is apparently Morell's own. His libretto rescues Jephtha's daughter from death. At the moment of impending sacrifice Morell introduces a deus (or rather an angelus) ex machina. The Angel turns out to be a textual critic:

                Rise, Jephtha, -- And, ye reverend Priests, withhold
The slaughtrous Hand. --- No Vow can disannul
The Law of God. --- Nor such was its Intent
When rightly scann'd; --- (p.17, my italics in the last line.)

Iphis instead of being burnt is devoted to a virgin life. On the one hand, this ending might seem to satisfy the kind of eighteenth-century sentiment that preferred to avoid tragic female sacrifice. On the other hand, it offers an answer to the unacceptable face of an implacable Old Testament God, a subject which certainly preoccupies other eighteenth-century meditations on the biblical story. Written some thirty years after Handel's oratorio, for instance, Ann Yearsley's poem on Jephtha's vow expresses a typical humane response; she describes the moment of sacrifice:

Bright Cynthia twice had fill'd her wasted horn:
When the sad hour approach'd, she quits the hills,
And Israel's priests lead on the charming maid.

   The fillet, censer, frankincense, and myrrh,
Are all prepar'd; the altar's blaze ascends
In curling flame; while bigots dare pronounce
The sacrifice acceptable to Heaven.

   Hence, dupes! nor make a Moloch of your God.
Tear not your Infants from the tender breast,
Nor throw your Virgins to consuming fires.
He asks it not [...] 8

Yearsley's poem is entitled 'On Jephtha's Vow, taken in a Literal Sense', but the 'literal sense' of the Bible's oath and its resolution is itself an issue, and Morell was no 'dupe'.  Ruth Smith, in her book on Handel's Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought, draws attention to the crucial ambiguity of the biblical passages (indeed any well-annotated version of the Bible will give the hint).9 Where the Book of Judges has Jephtha's vow as "whatsoever cometh forth [...] to meet me [...] shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering" the Hebrew allows the and to be or  ('Judges', XI, 31). It is possible, then, that the vow allows the daughter to be 'made' the Lord's - as a virgin forever - rather than being burnt. Further, after Jephtha has apparently fulfilled his vow, where the Bible has "the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah" ('Judges', XI, 40), 'lament' can also be translated 'condole with' - in which case she is still clearly alive, and the condolences would refer to her enforced virginity. Morell's libretto, for Handel's oratorio, shows a clear awareness of the exegetical problem - hence the Angel's insistence on 'rightly scanning' the vow. Hence also the details of Jephtha's vow:

    If, Lord, sustain'd by thy almighty Pow'r,
Ammon I drive, and his insulting Bands,
From these our long-uncultivated Lands,
And safe return a glorious Conqueror; ---
What, or who-e'er shall first salute mine Eyes,
Shall be for ever thine, or fall a Sacrifice. --- (p.5, my italics in the last line.)

The critics, then, who have often suggested that Morell's libretto, in saving the daughter's life, does great violence to the original, may have missed a biblical footnote or two. But Morell, naturally, realises that the drama of the narrative depends on the possible sentence of death, not virginity - so though the textual ambiguity will allow a happier denouement it is not allowed to compromise the earlier anticipation of a darker end. True, the libretto is not finally faithful to the spirit of the biblical original - there, whether burnt or sworn to holy but barren chastity, the daughter's fate is tragic and treated as such. Morell, writing in an age when 'virtue' was substitutable for 'virginity', doesn't exactly lament the fate of Iphis:

Happy, Iphis, shalt thou live;
    While to thee the Virgin Choir
    Tune their Harps of golden Wire,
And their yearly Tribute give.

Happy, Iphis, all thy Days,
    (Pure, angelic, Virgin-state,)
    Shalt thou live […] (p.17)

Hamor, the lover invented for the libretto, has to accept Iphis's fate with a strange combination of relief and disappointment, having recently imagined a rather different consummation! But the combination of emotions created by the theme of tragedy averted perfectly suits the oratorio, allowing Handel more dynamic variation. There's nothing strange in the formula - most of Handel's operas, for instance, anticipate darker ends than are actually delivered.

It can still be acknowledged, of course, that the darker side of Morell's text was more compelling to Handel than its comforting conclusion. The composer's treatment of the great chorus, 'How dark, O Lord, are thy Decrees', for instance, gives a clear sense that Handel, touched perhaps by the personal relevance of its message, and impressed by its sense of doom and fatalism, conjured a profoundly moving and tragic utterance.
The words of this chorus also reveal the extent of the librettist's borrowings:

How dark, O Lord, are thy Decrees!
     All hid from mortal Sight!
All our Joys to Sorrow turning,
And our Triumphs into Mourning,
    As the Night succeeds the Day.
         No certain Bliss,
         No solid Peace,
         We Mortals know,
         On Earth below;
Yet on this Maxim still obey;
    Whatever is, is right. (p.15)

Two of these lines are taken almost verbatim from Hoadly's libretto for Greene's 1737 Jephtha, and others were probably suggested by the Buchanan play on the same story. The crucial last line, though, does not derive from one of these main sources, or indeed any Jephtha source. It is, of course, from Pope's Essay on Man. Originally, in fact, Morell had written "What God ordains is right" but Handel preferred a direct quotation and inserted his correction throughout the manuscript.  Handel, following Morell's hint, has also changed completely the effect of the words. Morell's echo of Pope is not, in its emphasis on misery, exactly in keeping with the spirit of Pope's passage which the words conclude. Pope is urging the status quo. His God is the God of oxymorons, uniting the opposites with perfect art. We should submit to God's most complex order: we are safe and secure in his often unfathomed pattern:

Cease then, nor ORDER Imperfection name:
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heav'n bestows on thee.
Submit - In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:
Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spite,
One truth is clear, 'Whatever IS, is RIGHT.' 10

Applied to the oratorio, on one level these lines are prophetic. Iphis will be relatively "Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow'r" as the Angel will finally reveal the commuting of her sentence. But this end is in the next Part, and Handel's chorus represents the height of despair at the end of Part II. How different, then, is the tone of Pope's passage from Handel's dark and imposing expression of our helplessness - we are not happy to accept our destiny: we have no choice. The thought that God might have a plan for us which includes the sacrifice of our only child, makes right a matter of power not justice. Our 'due degree' of blindness leads us to anything but happy complacency.

Pope's lines are part of his scheme to "vindicate the ways of God to Man", in his own version of Milton's great agenda for Paradise Lost, which aims to "justify the ways of God to men". And it's not only Pope who echoes Milton. Here are the words of another Chorus from Jephtha:

Theme sublime of endless Praise,
Just and righteous are thy Ways;
And thy Mercies still endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure. (pp.17-18)

The direct quotation from Milton, here, is taken from the refrain to his version of the 136th Psalm, which begins:

Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord, for he is kind
            For his mercies aye endure,
            Ever faithful, ever sure.11

This seems to imply a rather different God from the one whose decrees are dark and awful. This seems to be the merciful God who triumphs at the end of Jephtha. But the full message of this Miltonic Psalm actually concerns the delivery of the Israelites. Celebrated, then, as a sign of God's enduring mercies is his "thunder-clasping hand" which smites "the first-born of Egypt land", and the "bloody battle" where he "brought down/Kings of prowess and renown". Morell understood the full significance of his own Miltonic borrowing. It perfectly suits the ambiguity of the libretto, torn as it is between a God of violence and mercy. And included in the 'Psalm', perhaps the thematic link which first suggested the borrowing to Morell, is a direct reference to the biblical history which precedes the subject of the oratorio:

He foiled bold Seon and his host,
That ruled the Amorrean coast [...] 12

Before vowing his vow in the Book of Judges, Jephtha reminds the Amorites that previously God has already given over the disputed land to the Israelites, destroying their King: "And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them" ('Judges', XI, 21). In moving beyond the Jephtha sources and weaving his libretto from miscellaneous poetic fragments, Morell manages to convey echoes of the broader biblical context. Two chapters further in the Book of Judges, of course, we will encounter another great war-hero, God's scourge, and deliverer of Israel, himself the subject of a great Handel oratorio - Samson. And we can find him in Jephtha too, if we return to that chorus which first suggested the reference to Milton, where "Just and righteous are thy Ways". There is perhaps another textual echo, here, though rather less explicit. Here are the words of Newburgh Hamilton’s libretto for Handel's Samson, the source being Milton's Samson Agonistes:

Just are the Ways of God to Man,
Let none his secret Actions scan;
For all is best, tho' oft' we doubt
Of what his Wisdom brings about:
Still his unsearchable Dispose
Blesses the Righteous in the close.13

It would be difficult to get closer to the spirit and message of Pope's celebration of God's unquestionable purpose than this. Again we find the central idea of trusting to God's benign, if unfathomable, plan, the important thing being not to presume, not to over-reach. But this gives an eighteenth-century slant to the re-writing of the Milton. Samson Agonistes does dare to question God's purposes for us, and does so not with such neat eighteenth-century couplets, but with tortuous and irregular blank verse: here is the chorus addressing Milton's Samson, ultimately the source of our line from Jephtha:

Just are the ways of God,
And justifiable to men;
Unless there be who think not God at all,
If any be, they walk obscure [...] 14

This is quintessentially Miltonic in its elliptical complexity - the ways of God may be straightforwardly 'just', but not inasmuch as they are to be understood by men, some of who might "think not God at all". It's almost as if there isn't a natural grammar for atheism. Those who "think not God" must "walk obscure". But the appalling irony, here, is that the lines are spoken to Samson, who is "eyeless in Gaza". Samson, as deliverer of the Israelites, struggles to understand that the ways of God are just - as he is at this moment blinded and enslaved.

Once again, then, to follow one of Morell's echoes is to return to the problem of Jephtha. If God's ways are just their justice is not always obvious. Jephtha's family is supposed to learn the lesson, the same lesson of Pope's "whatever is is right", but in the midst of suffering they cry out against this message. We walk obscure if we walk without God, but apparently we also walk obscure when we walk with him. It's a message that could hardly be missed by Handel, trying to compose what will be his last great work, marking his blindness in the margin of a manuscript whose subject is the darkness of the Lord's decrees.

Blindness, at least partial, has also clouded our understanding of the composition of the libretto for Jephtha. The main problem, here, is that though Morell had identified passages as 'borrowings' he had not indicated the exact sources, which remained obscure, and allowed Dean his conjecture about collaboration:

When visiting his old college at Cambridge Morell had only to walk the few yards from King's to Peterhouse to find a very respectable poet in Thomas Gray, with whom he may have been acquainted. Gray published his Elegy, his fourth poem to appear in print, on 15 February 1751, while Handel was composing Jephtha, and was then at work on his Odes.15

Scholarship has now taken us further in our knowledge of the true sources, since Dean first put this suggestion forward in 1959. Ruth Smith has cleared up Dean's mistake in attributing the earlier Jephtha libretto to Burnet rather than Hoadly, and notes a direct borrowing from that source, as well as detailing the general indebtedness to George Buchanan's play (Jephthes, sive Votum, 1554).16 But many of the literary borrowings have remained obscure. Of course Morell's reluctance explicitly to acknowledge his sources has never been a problem with well-known passages from Milton and Pope, but lesser-known borrowings have been a problem.  For Dean only "one line" had been identified from the passages noted by the librettist as 'quotations' . But even confident attributions are subject to uncertainty. Dean confirms Addison as the source of the Chorus line: "They ride on Whirlwinds, and direct the Storms" (p.9). This apparent certainty is not quite as secure as it seems, as the line itself is the subject of an intertextual process. Addison's line in The Campaign (1705) describes Marlborough's victory; the hero, like an angel commanded by God:

 ... pleas'd th'Almighty's Orders to perform,
Rides in the Whirl-wind, and directs the Storm.17

This seems the unequivocal source. But it might have been more logical, as he was certainly reading Pope, for Morell to take the prompt for the line from The Dunciad, where it was used verbatim (with due attribution from Pope) in a satirical attack on the theatre director Rich:

Immortal Rich! how calm he sits at ease
Mid snows of paper, and fierce hail of pease;
And proud his mistress' orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm.18

To reconstruct the processes that went into the creation of the libretto it makes sense to think of the patterns of reading that would constitute the necessary research for a project like Jephtha. As we know Morell had been reading Pope and Milton, it's not surprising to find complex echoes from each. But Morell was doing more than finding fine lines for his text from the acknowledged literary greats. He was also researching the subject of the biblical story - the sacrifice of a child; the death of a daughter - in poetic and classical analogues (in fact the project was perfectly suited to his combination of skills as classicist, literary scholar, and biblical exegete). Dean had believed that the air
'Open thy marble Jaws, O Tomb' was a possible example of privately contributed lines. But the original source is much more interesting. Here is Morell's passage:

Open thy marble Jaws, O Tomb,
And hide me, Earth, in thy dark Womb:
Ere I the Name of Father stain,
And deepest Woe from Conquest gain. (p.12)

And here is the possibly direct source:

Open thy marble Jaws, O Tomb,
Thou Earth conceal me in thy Womb! 19

These lines are found in William Broome's Poems on Several Occasions (1727). But the exact source is more interesting than the mere fact of the borrowing. The poem that Morell went to in that volume was entitled 'Melancholy: An Ode, Occasion'd by the Death of a beloved Daughter, 1723'. There is clearly a thematic method behind the borrowings. Just as Morell had used the symbolic theme of 'blindness' to provide the kind of textual links we have observed above, so he also looked for materials in keeping with the concern of the biblical story - a story about the possible sacrifice of a child, as lamented by the parent. It must have been this theme, with the added aptness of the sense of parental responsibility, which sent him to the period's favourite translation of Virgil's Aeneid. Again the relevant passage from Morell was thought by Dean to have been provided privately; here are Morell's words:

         Some dire Event hangs o'er our Heads,
Some woful Song we have to sing
In Misery extreme. --- O, never, never
Was my foreboding Mind distress’d before
With such incessant Pangs. --- (p.6)

The lines faintly recall the opening of The Rape of the Lock ("What dire Offence from am'rous Causes springs") and even the fateful mock-epic anticipations of Pope's sylphs, but this is because Pope himself is encouraging intertextual echoes. Here is a better candidate for the real source, from the tenth book of Virgil's Aeneid, in Dryden's translation:

Far off he heard their cries, far off divined
The dire event with a foreboding mind.20

That this echo should have occurred to Morell confirms our sense of his method. The context is the death of Lausus, whose father, Mezentius, has braved Aeneas in battle,  finally suffering a crippling blow. As he has been trying to retire from the field his son Lausus sees his plight and, rash with filial honour, has rushed to face the Trojan Prince in an unequal battle, ready to die to protect his father. Aeneas is provoked and deals Lausus a fatal blow, but then immediately honours the vanquished son for his nobility and bravery. Meanwhile Mezentius ("his father (now no father)") has reached the Tiber for relief, only to have the corpse of his son brought to him, which, as it approaches, prompts the lines that Morell echoes. He continues:

To see my son, and such a son, resign
His life a ransom for preserving mine?
And am I then preserved, and art thou lost?
How much too dear had that redemption cost! 21

The situation has obvious and ironic correspondences with the story of Jephtha, where the warrior is preserved in battle only to find that his oath must mean the doom of his daughter.

We can begin then, in examining possible sources for Jephtha, to construct the practice of its librettist - in the imaginative knitting together of quotations from sources which thematically or symbolically have some affinity.

We know that Morell wasn't engaged in simple plagiarism, because of the textual acknowledgement that a number of marked passages were borrowed (as is true of both the passage from Broome and the echo of Dryden's Virgil, though inconveniently the source is, of course, not named). It is, though, possible to go further and conjecture on the possibility of learned and subtle acknowledgement.

From the discussion of some of the Miltonic borrowings (and there are others - he provides more source passages than any other author, including, as Dean noted, imagery and verbatim reference to the Nativity Ode ('On the morning of Christ's Nativity')22, it is clear that our librettist certainly knows his Milton. Why, then, does he apparently misquote Milton?

Happy, Iphis, shalt thou live;
    While to thee the Virgin Choir
    Tune their Harps of golden Wire,
And their yearly Tribute give. (p. 17)

The echo, here, aptly for a work of music, is from Milton's 'At A Solemn Music':

And the cherubic host in thousand choirs
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires 23

Why substitute the mundane "tune" for the magnificent "touch"? Is this just evidence of low level literary theft, with a hint of disguise? It is more plausibly a kind of literary joke. The Milton echo had already been followed for another Handel libretto - none other than Samson, written by Hamilton. Here is the passage from Samson:

Let the Cherubick Host, in tuneful Choirs,
Touch their immortal Harps with golden wires.  (p.32)

It certainly seems possible, then, that Morell is echoing Handel/Hamilton echoing Milton, and picking up the aptness of  'tuneful' for an oratorio. And, perhaps not surprisingly, Morell may have reserved one of his subtlest acknowledgements for his borrowings from Milton. We have already quoted the intense Miltonic echoes in the chorus 'Theme sublime'- finding an indirect reference in the second line ("Just and righteous are thy Ways") and direct quotation in the third and fourth lines, but the "theme sublime" itself certainly sounds like a Miltonic inversion. It is possible, though, that the source is not Milton himself, but a certain 'commendatory poem' 'On Paradise Lost'.  This poem ends:

Thy verse created like thy theme sublime,
In number, weight, and measure, needs not rhyme.24

The poem is by Andrew Marvell, and as it was prefaced to the second and subsequent editions of Paradise Lost, the lover of Milton would have it always to hand. How apt that in a network of references to Milton, Morell should quote one of the earliest poetical tributes to Paradise Lost. To look at the opening of Marvell's poem itself is additionally to find the direct connection between light and sight so important to Milton, Morell, Jephtha, and Handel:

   When I beheld the poet blind, yet bold,
In slender book, his vast design unfold,
Messiah crowned [...] 25

Is it too fanciful to imagine Morell, reading these lines, noting the aptness which links a sightless Milton creating his Messiah to a Handel, whose sight was failing, famous for his Messiah?

Or is it fanciful, again, to suggest there is a subtle acknowledgement in this source for the learned. Marvell has been momentarily concerned that Milton's success is such that some "less skilful hand" might turn creation into a facile play; but he has retracted this fear with the lines:

But I am now convinced, and none will dare
Within thy labours to pretend a share.
Thou hast not missed one thought that could be fit,
And all that was improper dost omit:
So that no room is here for writers left,
But to detect their ignorance or theft.26

It seems more than coincidental that the libretto should echo a source which explicitly considers literary theft, and concludes, with a kind of seventeenth-century anxiety of influence, that all other writers on themes sublime can do is to steal from Milton.

Not only, then, was Morell working to a clear method in gathering his materials and piecing them together to form a libretto, but he was doing so with wit and intelligence - creating a work which drew on the range of his knowledge and making allusive virtue of the symbolic combination of circumstances which found, in blindness and darkness, insight and light. It's fitting that the central reference for this overarching theme -  "How dark, O Lord, are thy Decrees!/ All hid from mortal Sight!" - should find its anticipation in a passage from one of the eighteenth-century's most important classical sources - Horace, as paraphrased by one of Morell's favoured interpreters of the ancients - Dryden:

But God has wisely hid from human sight
   The dark decrees of future fate,
   And sown their seeds in depth of night [...] 27

As classical, biblical and literary scholar, Morell would have delighted in the intertextual coincidences that allowed his several themes to merge in echoes linking the heathen with the Christian age.

1. Winton Dean, Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 592.
2. Otto Erich Deutsch, Handel: A Documentary Biography (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1955), 734.
3. Deutsch, 701.
4. John Mainwaring, Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel (London: R. and J. Dodsley,1760), 138.
5. All quotations from Jephtha are taken from Jephtha, An Oratorio. Or, Sacred Drama. As it is Perform’d at the Theatre-Royal in Covent-Garden. Set to Musick by Mr. Handel. (London: J. Watts and B. Dod, 1752). Here the passages quoted are found on pages 5, 6, 7, 11, and 12, respectively. Further page references to this edition are given in brackets after quotations.
6. All quotations from the Bible are taken from the Authorized King James Version, edited by Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Here the quotation is from 'Judges', XI, 30-35.
7. For a full discussion, see Ruth Smith, Handel's Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 338-40.
8. Ann Yearsley, 'On Jephtha's Vow, taken in a Literal Sense', lines 87-97, in Poems, on Various Subjects. By Ann Yearsley, A Milkwoman of Clifton, Near Bristol; Being Her Second Work (London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1787), 137-38.
9. Smith, 343.
10. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle I, lines 281-94, edited by Maynard Mack (London and New Haven: Methuen and Yale University Press, 1950), 49-51.
11. John Milton, 'Psalm cxxxvi', lines 1-4 in The Poems of John Milton, edited by John Carey and Alastair Fowler (London and Harlow: Longman's, 1968), 7.
12. John Milton, 'Psalm cxxxvi', lines 65-68 in The Poems of John Milton, 9.
13. All quotations from Samson are taken from Samson. An Oratorio. As it is Perform’d at the Theatre-Royal in Covent-Garden. Alter’d and adapted to the Stage from the Samson Agonistes of John Milton. Set to Musick by George Frederick Handel. (London: J. and R. Tonson, 1743). Here the passage quoted is found on page 14. Further page references to this edition are given in brackets after quotations.
14. John Milton, 'Samson Agonistes', lines 293-96 in The Poems of John Milton, 357.
15. Dean, 593.
16. Smith, 340.
17. Joseph Addison, The Campaign, A Poem, To His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, second edition (London: Jacob Tonson, 1705), lines 291-92, 14.
18. Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, Book III, lines 257-60, edited by James Sutherland (London and New Haven: Methuen and Yale University Press, 1963), 179.
19. William Broome, 'Melancholy: An Ode, Occasion'd by the Death of a beloved Daughter, 1723', lines 17-18, in Poems on Several Occasions (London: Bernard Lintot,  1727), 45.
20. The Aeneid of Virgil, translated by John Dryden, Book X, lines 1201-02, edited by Robert Fitzgerald (New York and London: Macmillan, 1964), 338.
21. The Aeneid of Virgil, translated by John Dryden, Book X, lines 1208-11, 339.
22. Dean, 593.
23. John Milton, 'At A Solemn Music', lines 12-13, in The Poems of John Milton, 163.
24. Andrew Marvell, 'On Paradise Lost', lines 53-54, in The Poems of John Milton, 456.
25. Andrew Marvell, 'On Paradise Lost', lines 1-3, in The Poems of John Milton, 455.
26. Andrew Marvell, 'On Paradise Lost', lines 25-30, in The Poems of John Milton, 456.
27. John Dryden, 'The Twenty-ninth Ode of the Third Book of Horace', lines 45-47, in The Oxford Authors: John Dryden, edited by Keith Walker (Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1987), 303.