Page images
PDF
EPUB

and yet he is even reproached by Cæsar for wanting the vis comica. All the other comic writers of antiquity aim only at rendering folly or vice ridiculous, but seldom exalt their characters into buskined pomp, or make what Voltaire humourously calls a tradesman's tragedy.

Yet notwithstanding this weight of authority and the universal practice of former ages, a new species of dramatic composition has been introduced under the name of sentimental comedy, in which the virtues of private life are exhibited rather than the vices exposed, and the distresses rather than the faults of mankind make an interest in the piece. These comedies have had of late great success, perhaps from their novelty, and also from their flattering every man in his favourite foible. In these plays almost all the characters are good, and exceedingly generous ; they are lavish enough of their tin money on the stage; and though they want humour, have abundance of sentiment and feeling. If they happen to have faults or foibles, the spectator is taught not only to pardon but to applaud them in consideration of the goodness of their hearts ; so that folly instead of being ridiculed is commended, and the comedy aims at touching our passions, without the power of being truly pathetic. In this manner we are likely to lose one great source of entertainment on the stage; for while the comic poet is invading the province of the tragic muse, he leaves her lovely sister quite neglected; of this however he is no way solicitous, as he measures bis fame by his profits.

But it will be said that the theatre is formed to'amuse mankind, and that it matters little, if this end be answered, by what means it is obtained. If mankind find delight in weeping at a comedy, it would be cruel to abridge them in ihat or any other innocent pleasure. If those pieces are denied the name of comedies, yet call them by any other name, and if they are delightful they are good. Their success, it will be said, is a mark of their inerit, and it is only abridging our happiness to deny us an inlet to amusement.

These objections, however, are rather specious ihan solid. It is true, that amusement is a great object of the theatre; and it will be allowed, that these sentimental pieces do often amuse us ; but the question is whether the true comedy would not amuse us more? The question is whether a character supported through a piece with its ridicule still attending, would not give us more delight than this species of bastard tragedy, which is only applauded because it is new ? A friend of mine who was sitting unmoved at one of these sentimental pieces, was asked how he could be so indifferent. Why truly,” says he, “ as the hero is but a tradesman, it is indif“ ferent to me whether he be turned out of his

counting house on Fish Street Hill, since he “ will still have enough left to open shop in St. “ Giles's.

The other objection is as ill grounded; for though we should give these pieces another name, it will not mend their efficacy. It will continue a kind of mulish production, with all the defects of its opposite parents and marked with sterility. If we are perınitted to make comedy weep, we have an equal right to make tragedy laugh, and to set down in blank verse, the jests and repartees of all the attendants in a funeral procession.

But there is one argument in favour of sentimental comedy which will keep it on the stage, in spite of all that can be said against it. It is of all others the most easily written. Those abilities, that can hammer out a novel, are fully sufficient for the production of a sentimental comedy. It is only sufficient to raise the characters a little ; to deck out the hero with a ribband or give the heroine a title; then to put an insipid dialogue, without character or humour, into their mouths, give them mighty good hearts, very fine cloaths, furnish a new set of scenes, make a pa

thetic scene or two, with a sprinkling of tender melancholy conversation through the whole, and there is no doubt, but all the ladies will cry, and all the gentlemen applaud.

Humour, at present, seems to be departing from the stage; and it will soon happen that our comic players will have nothing left but a fine coat and a song.

It depends upon the audience whether they will actually drive those poor merry creatures from the stage, or sit at a play as gloomy as at the tabernacle. It is not easy to recover an art when once lost; and it will be but a just punishment, that when by our being too fastidious we have banished humour from the stage, we should ourselves be deprived of the art of laughing

160

ESSAY 80.

LAZINESS.

(Lord Shaftesbury.)

THERE is no one of ever so little understanding in what belongs to a human constitution, who knows not, that without action, motion, and employment, the body languishes and is opprest: its nourishment runs to disease; the spirits employed abroad help to consume the parts within; and nature, as it were, preys upon herself. For although an inclination to ease and moderate rest from action, be as natural and useful to us as the inclination we have towards sleep; yet an excessive love of rest, and a contracted aversion to employment, must be a disease in the mind equal to that of a lethargy in the body, How necessary

indeed action and exercise are to the body, may be judged by the difference we find between those constitutions, which are accustomed, and those which are wholly strangers to exercise; and by the different healths and complexions which labour creates, in comparison

« EelmineJätka »