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who understands raillery, but must resolve to sin no more; nay, you may behold him sometimes in prayer for a proper delivery of the great trurns he is to utter, humble himself with fo very well-turned phrale, and mer.tion his own unworthiness in a way so very becoming, that the air of the pretty gentleman is preserved, under the lowliness of the preacher.
I shall end this with a thort letter I writ the other day to a witty man, over-run with the fault I am speaking of, iDear Sir, I
SPENT some time with you the other day, and
must take the liberty of a friend to tell you of the 4 unsufferable affectation you are guilty of in all you say 6 and do. When I gave you an hint of it, you asked me us whether a man is to be cold to what his friends thinks " of him? No: but praise is not to be the entertainment • of every moment; he that hopes for it must be able to s fufpend the poffcffion of it till proper periods of ! of life, or death itself. If you would not rather be "commended than be praise-worthy, contemn little
merits; and allow no man to be lo free with you, as to praise you to your face. Your vanity by this means will want its food. At the same time your passion for
esteem avill be more fully gratified; inen will praise yoy s in their actions: where you now receive one compli. ' ment, you will then receive twenty civilities. Till then you will never have of either, further than,
— Sir, B
Your humble servant,
No. XXXIX. SATURDAY, APRIL 14.
Multa fero, ut placem genus irritabile vatum,
A Sa perfect tragedy is the noblest production of human
nature, so it is capable of giving the mind one of the most delightful and most improving entertainments. A virtuous man, says Seneca, struggling with misfortunes, is such a spectacle as gods might look upon with pleasure; and such a pleasure it is which one meets with in the representation of a well-written tragedy. Diversions of this kind wear out of our thoughts every thing that is mean and little. They cherish and cultivate that humanity which is the ornament of our nature. They soften insolence, footh affliction, and subdue the mind to the dispensations of providence.
It is no wonder therefore that in all the polite nations of the world, this part of the Drama has met with public encouragement.
The modern tragedy excels that of Greece and Rome in the intricacy and disposition of the fable; but, what a christian writer would be ashamed to own, falls infinitely short of it in the moral part of the performance.
This I may shew more at large hereafter; and in the mcan time, that I may contribute something towards the improvement of the English tragedy, I shall take notice in this and in other following papers, of some particular parts in it that seem liable to exception.
Aristotle observes, that the Iambic verse in the Greek tongue was the most proper for tragedy; because at the same time that it lifted up the discourse from profe, it was that which approached nearer to it than any other kind of verse. For, says he, we may observe that men in
ordinary discourse very often speak Iambics, without taking notice of it. We make the same observation of our English blank verse, which often enters into our common discourse, though we do not attend to it, and is such a due medium between rhime and proíe, that it feems wonderfully adapted i tragedy: I am therefore very much offended when I see a play in rhyme; which is as absurd in English, as a tragedy of Hexameters would have been in Greek or Latin. The solæcism is, I think, still greater in those plays that have some scenes in rhime and some in blank verle, which are to be looked
upon as two several languages; or where we see some particular fimilities dignified with rhyme, at the same time that every thing about them lies in blank verse. I would not however debar the poet from concluding his tragedy, or, if he pleafes every act of it, with two or three couplets, which may have the same effects as an air in the Italian opera after a long Recitativo, and give the actor a graceful Exit. Belides, that we see a diversity of numbers in some parts of the old tragedy, in order to hinder the ear from being tired with the same continued modulation of voice. For the same reafon I do not dislike the speeches in our English tragedy that close with an Hemistic, or half verse, notwithstanding the person who speaks after it begins a new verse, without filling up the preceding one : nor with abrupt pauses and breakings-off in the middle of a verse, when they humour any passion that is expressed by it.
Since I am upon this subject, I must observe that our English poets have succeeded much better in the stile, than in the sentiments of their tragedies. Their language is very often noble and sonorous, but the sense either very trifling or very common. On the contrary, in the ancient tragedies, and indeed in those of Corneille and Racine, though the expresions are very great, it is the thought that bears them up and swells them. For my own part, I prefer a nuble sentiment that is depressed with homely language, infinitely before a vulgar one that is blown up with all the found and energy of expreffion. Whether this defect in our tragedies may arise from
want of genius, knowledge, or experience in the writers, or from their compliance with the vicious taste of their readers, who are better judges of the language than of the sentiments, and confequently relish the one more than the other, I cannot determine. But I believe it might rectify the conduct both of the one and of the other, if the writer laid down the whole contexture of his dialogue in plain English, before he turned it into blank verse; and if the reader, after the perusał of a scene, would consider the naked thought of every speech in it, when divested of all its tragic ornaments. By this means, without being imposed upon by words, we may judge impartially of the thought, and consider whether it be natural or great enough for the person that utters it, whether it deserves to ihine in such a blaze of eloquence, or shew itself in such a variety of lights as are generally made use of by the writers of our English tragedy.
I must in next place observe, that when our thoughts are great and just, they are often obscured by the founding phrases, hard metaphors, and forced expressions in which they are clothes, Shakespear is often very faulty in this particular. There is a fine obfervation in Aristotle to this purpose, which I have never seen quoted. The expression, lays he, ought to be very much laboured in the unactive
of the fable, as in descriptions, fimilitudes, narrations, and the like; in which the opinions, manners, and passions of men are not represented; for these, namely the opinions, manners, and passions, are apt to be obscured by pompous phrases and elaborate expressions. Horace, who copied most of his criticisins after Aristotle, seems to have had his eye on the foregoing rule, in the following verses:
Et Tragicus plerumque dolet fermone pedestri:
Ars Poet, ver. 95
Tragedians too lay by their state to grieve:
Among our modern English poets, there is none who was better turned for tragedy than Lee; if, instead of favouring the impetuosity of his genius he had restrained it, and kept it within its proper bounds. His thoughts are wonderfully suited to tragedy, but frequently lost in such a cloud of words, that it is hard to see the beauty of them; there is an infinite fire in his works, but fo involved in smoke, that it does not appear in half its lustre. He frequently succeeds in the passionate parts of the tragedy, but more particularly where he slackens his efforts, and eases the stile of those epithets and metaphors, in which he so much abounds. What can be more natural, more soft, or more passionate, than that line in Statira's speech, where the describes the charms of Alexander's conversation?
Then he would talk-Good Gods! how he would talk !
That unexpected break in the line, and turning the description of his manner of talking into an admiration of it, is inexpressibly beautiful, and wonderfully suited to the fond character of the person that speaks it. There is a fimplicity in the words that outshines the utmost pride of expression. Otway has followed nature in the language of his
tragedy, and therefore thines in the passionate parts more than any of our English poets. As there is something familiar and domestic in the fable of his tragedy, more than in those of any other poet, he has little pomp, but great force in his expressions. For which realon, though he has admirably succeeeded in the tender and melting part of his tragedies, he sometimes falls into too great a familiarity of phrase in those parts, which, by Aristotle's rule, ought to have been raised and supported by the dignity of expreffion.