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The English writers of tragedy are pussessed with a notion, that when they represent a virtuous or inno. cent person in distress, they ought not to leave him till they have delivered him out of his troubles, or made him triumph over his enemies. This error they have been led into by a ridiculous doctrine in modern criticism, that they are obliged to an equal distribution of rewards and punishinents, and an impartial execution of poetical justice. Who were the first that esta blished this rule I know not; but I am sure it has no foundation in nature, in reason, or in the practice of the ancients. We find that good and evil happen alike to all men on this side the grave; and as the principal design of tragedy is to raise commiseration and terror in the minds of the aadience, we sball defeat this great end, if we always make virtue aud innocence happy and successful. Whatever crosses and disappointments a good man suffers in the body of the tragedy, they will make but snjall impression on our minds, when we know that in the last act he is to arrive at the end, of bje wishes and desires. When we see him engaged in the depth of his afflictions, we are apt to comfort ourselves, because we are sure he will find his way out of them; and that his grief, how great soever it may be at present, will soon terminate in glad. ness. For this reason, the ancient writers of tragedy treated men in their plays, as they are dealt with in the world, by making virtue sometimes happy and sometimes miserable, as they found it in the fable which they made choice of, or as it might affect their audience in the most agreeable manner. Aristotle considers the tragedies that were written in either of these kinds, and observes, that those which ended unhappily had always pleased the people, and carried away the prize in the public disputes of the stage, from those that ended happily. Terror and commise. tation leaye a pleasing anguish in the mind; and fix
the audience in snch a serious counposure of thought, as is much more lasting and delightful than any little transient starts of joy and satisfaction. Accordingly we find, that more of our English tragedies have suc. ceeded, in wbich the favourites of the audience sink under their calamities, than those in which they recover themselves out of them. The best plays of this kind are, The Orphan, Venice Preserved, Alexander the Great, Tbeodosius, All for Love, Oedipus, Oroonoko, Othello, &c. King Lear is an admirable tragedy of the same kind, as Shakspeare wrote it; but as it is reformed according to the chirnerical notion of poetical justice, in my humble opinion it has lost half its beauty. At the same time I must allow, that there are very noble tragedies, which have been framed upon the other plan, and have ended happily; as indeed most of the good tragedies which have been written since the starting of the above-mentioned criticism, have taken this turn: as The Mourning Bride, Tamer. ' lape, Ulysses, Phædra and Hippolitus, with most of Mr. Dryden's. I must also allow, that many of Shak.. speare's, and several of the celebrated tragedies of an. tiquity, are cast in the same form. I do not therefore dispnte against this way of writing tragedies, but against the criticism that would establish this as the only method; and by that means would very much cramp the English tragedy, and perhaps give a wrong bent to the genius of our writers.
The tragi-comedy, which is the product of the Eng lish theatre, is one of the most monstrous inventions that ever entered into a poet's thoughts. An author might as well think of weaving the adventures of Æneas and Hudibras into one poem, as of writing such a motley piece of mirth and sorrow. But the absurdity of these performances is so very visible, that I shall not insist upon it.
The same objections which are made to tragi.com medy, may in some measure be applied to all tragedies that have a double plot in them which are like
wise more frequent upon the English stage, than upon any other; for though the grief of the audience, in such performances, be not changed into another pas. sion, as in tragi-comedies; it is diverted upon another object, which weakens their concern for the principal action, and breaks the tide of sorrow, by throwing it into different channels. This inconvenience, however, may in a great measure be cured, if not wholly removed, by the skilful choice of an under-plot, which may bear such a near relation to the principal design, as to contribute towards the completion of it, and be concluded by the same catastrophe..
There is also another particular, which may be reckoned among the blemishes, or rather the false beauties of our English tragedy: I mean those parti. cular speeches wbich are commonly known by the name of rants. The warm and passionate parts of a tragedy are always the most taking with the audience; for which reason we often see the players pronouncing, in all the violence of action, several parts of the tra. gedy which the author writ with great temper, and designed that they shonld have been so acted. I have seen Powell very often raise himself a loud clap by this artifice. The poets that were acquainted with this secret, have given frequent occasion for such emotions in the actor, by adding vehemence to words where there was no passion, or inflaniing a real passion into fustian. This hath filled the months of our heroes with bombast; and given them such sentiments, as proceed rather from a swelling than a greatness of mind. Unnataral exclamations, curses, vows, blasphemies, a defiance of mankind, and an outraging of the gods, frequently pass upon the audience for towering thoughts, and have accordingly met with infinite applause..
I shall here add a remark, which I ain afraid oor tragic writers may make an ill use of. As our heroes are generally lovers, their swelling and blastering opon the stage very much recommends them to the fair part of their audience. The ladies are wonderfully
pleased to see a man insnlting kings, or affronting the gods, in one scene, and throwing himself at the feet of his mistress in another. Let him behave himself insolently towards the men, and abjectly towards the fair one, and it is ten to one but he proves a favourite of the boxes. Dryden and Lee, in several of their tragedies, have practised this secret with good success.
But to show how a rant pleases beyond the most just and natural thought that is not pronounced with vehemence, I would desire the reader, when he sees the tragedy of Oedipns, to observe how quietly the hero is dismissed at the end of the third act, after having pronounced the following lines, in wbich the thougbt is very natural, and apt to move compassion:
“ To you, good godis, I make my last appeal;
Let us then recollect with what thunder-claps of applause he leaves the stage, after ine impieties and execrations at the end of the fourth act; and you will wonder to see an audience so cursed and so pleased at the same time.
“O that, as oft I have at Athens seen,
many years after Oedipus]
ENTHUSIASM AND SUPERSTITION. Religentem esse oportet, religiosum nefas.
Incerti Autoris apud Aul. Gell. A man should be religious, not superstitious.
IT is of the last importance to season the passions of
a child with devotion, which seldom dies in a mind that has received an early tincture of it. Though it may seem extinguished for a while by the cares of the world, the heats of youth, or the allurements of vice, it generally breaks out and discovers itself again as soon as discretion, consideration, age, or misfortunes, have brought the man to himselt. The fire may be covered and overlaid, but cannot be eutirely quenched and smothered.
A state of temperance, sobriety, and justice, without devotion, is a cold, lifeless, insipid condition of virtue; and is rather to be styled philosophy than reli. gion. Devotion opens the mind to great conceptions, and fills it with more sublime ideas than any that are to be met with in the most exalted science; and at the same time warms and agitates the soul more than sensual pleasure.
It has been observed by some writers, that man is more distinguished from the animal world by devotion than by reason, as several brute creatures discover in their actions something like a faint glimmering of reason, though they betray in no single circumstance of their behaviour any thing that bears the least affinity to devotion. It is certain the propensity of the mind to religious worsbip, the natural tendency of the soul to fly to some superior Being for succour in dangers and distresses, the gratitude to an invisible superintend. ent which arises in us upon receiving any extraordi. pary and unexpected good fortune, the acts of love and admiration with which the thoughts of men are so