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noble knight that I drew the plan of an epic poem on King Arthur, in my preface to the translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of kingdoms were machines too ponderous for him to manage ; and therefore he rejected them, as Dares did the whirlbats of Eryx, when they were thrown before him by Entellus : yet from that preface, he plainly
which is inserted by Mr Malone as illustrative of the passage
in the text.
“ Some of these poets, to excuse their guilt, allege for themselves, that the degeneracy of the age makes their lewd way of writing necessary. They pretend, the auditors will not be pleased, unless they are thus entertained from the stage; and to please, they say, is the chief business of the poet. But this is by no means a just apology. It is not true, as was said before, that the poet's chief business is to please : his chief business is to instruct, to make mankind wiser and better ; and, in order to this, his care should be to please and entertain the audience, with all the wit and art he is master of. Aristotle and Horace, and all their critics and commentators, all men of wit and sense, agree, that this is the end of poetry. But they say, it is their profession to write for the stage: and that poets must starve, if they will not, in this way, humour the audience ; the theatre will be as unfrequented as the churches, and the poet and the parson equally neglected. Let the poet, then, abandon his profession, and take up some honest, lawful, calling; where, joining industry to his great wit, he may soon get above the complaints of poverty, so common among.
these ingenious men, and lie under no necessity of prostituting his wit, to any such vile purposes as are here censured. This will be a course of life more profitable and honourable to himself, and more useful to others. And there are, among these writers, some, who think they might have risen to the highest dignities, in other professions, had they employed their wit in those ways. It is a mighty dishonour and reproach to any man that is capable of being useful to the world, in any liberal and virtuous profession, to lavish out his life and wit, in propagating vice and corruption of manners, and in battering, from the stage, the strongest entrenchments, and best works, of religion and
virtue. Whoever makes this his choice, when the other was in his power, may
off the stage unpitied, complaining of neglect and poverly, the just punishments of his irreligion and folly.”
took his hint; for he began immediately upon the story, though he had the baseness not to acknowledge his benefactor, but, instead of it, to traduce me in a libel.
I shall say the less of Mr Collier, because in many things he has taxed me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and expressions of mine, which can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness, or immorality, and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph ; if he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw my pen in the defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for good one. Yet it were not difficult to prove, that, in many places, he has perverted my meaning by his glosses, and interpreted my words into blasphemy and bawdry, of which they were not guilty ; besides, that he is too much given to horse-play in his raillery, and comes to battle like a dictator from the plough. I will not say, 66 the zeal of God's house has eaten him up;” but I am sure it has devoured some part of his good manners and civility. It might also be doubted, whether it were altogether zeal which prompted him to this rough manner of proceeding; perhaps, it became not one of his function to rake into the rubbish of ancient and modern plays : a divine might have employed his pains to better purpose, than in the nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes, whose examples, as they excuse not me, so it might be possibly supposed, that he read them not without some pleasure. They, who have written commentaries on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have explained some vices, which, without their interpretation, had been unknown to modern times. Neither has he judged impartially betwixt the former age
There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, called “ The Custom of the Country,” than in all ours together. * Yet this has been often acted on the stage, in my remembrance. Are the times so much more reformed now, than they were five-and-twenty years ago ? If they are, I congratulate the amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice the cause of my fellow poets, though I abandon my own defence: they have some of them answered for themselves; and neither they nor I can think Mr Collier so formidable an enemy, that we should shun him. He has lost ground, at the latter end of the day, by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of Condé, at the battle of Senneph:t from immoral plays, to no plays, ab abusu ad usum, non valet consequentia. But, being a party, I am not to erect myself into a judge. As for the rest of those who have written against me, they are such scoundrels, that they deserve not the least notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and Milbourne are only distinguished from the crowd, by being remembered to their infamy :
* This play is bad enough, yet the assertion seems a strong one. There can be little pleasure, however, in weighing filth against filth, so the point may be left undecided.
+ There is an account of this desperate action, in the Memoirs of Captain Carleton. The Confederate Army were upon their march when the Prince of Condé suddenly attacked their rear, which he totally routed, and then led his forces between the second line of the Confederates, and their line of baggage, to compel them to a general action. But the plunder of the baggage occasioned so much delay, that the van of the Prince of Orange's army had time to rejoin the centre; and, though the French maintained the action with great vigour, they were, in the end, compelled to leave the Confederates in possession of the field of battle. This battle was fought 11th August, 1674.