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Doubts her own strength fo far, and justly fears
The lofty road of airy travellers ;
But yet incited by some bold design,
That does her hopes beyond her fcars incline,
Prunes every feather, views herself with care,
At last, resolv'd, The cleaves the yielding air ;
Away she fies, so strong, fo high, so fast,
She lessens to us, and is lost at last :
So (though too weak for such a weighty thing)
The Muse inspires a sharper note to sing.
And why should truth offend, when only told
To guide the ignorant, and warn the bold ?
On then, my Mufe, adventurously engage
To give initructions that concern the Stage.
The unities of action, time, and place,
Which, if observ’d, give plays so great a grace,
Are, though but little practis'd, too well known
To be taught here, where we pretend alone
From nicer faults to purge the present age,
Less obvious errors of the English Itage.
First then, Soliloquies had need be few,
Extremely short, and spoke in passion too.
Our lovers talking to themselves, for want
Of others, make the pit their confidant ;
Nor is the matter mended yet, if thus
They trust a friend, only to tell it us ;
Th’occasion should as naturally fall,
As when Bellario * confesses all.
* In Philaster, a play of Beaumont and Fletcher. 5
Figures of speech, which poets think so fine,
(Art's needless varnish to inake nature shine)
All are but paint upon a beauteous face,
And in descriptions only claim a place :
But, to make rage declaim, and grief discourse,
From lovers in despair fine things to force,
Must needs succeed ; for who can chuse but pity
A dying hero, miserably witty?
But oh! the Dialogues, where just and mock
Is held up like a rest at thittle-cock;
Or else, like bells, eternally they chime,
They sigh in Simile, and die in Rhyme.
What things are these who would be poets thought,
By nature not inspir’d, nor learning taught :
Some wit they have, and therefore
A better course than this, by which they starve :
But to write plays! why, 'tis a bold pretence
To judgment, breeding, wit, and eloquence :
Nay more; for they must look within, to find
Those secret turns of nature in the mind :
Without this part, in vain would be the whole,
And but a body all, without a foul.
All this united yet, but makes a part
Of Dialogue, that great and powerful ait,
Now almost lost, which the old Grecians knew,
From whom the Romans fainter copies drew,
Scarce comprehended since, but by a few.
Plato and Lucian are the best remains
Of all the wonders which this art contains;
Yet to ourselves we justice must allow,
Shaktspeare and Fletcher are the wonders now :
Consider them, and read them o'er and o'er,
Go see them play'd; then read them as before ;
For though in many things they grofsly fail,
Over our passions still they fo prevail,
That our own grief by theirs is rock'd asleep;
The dull are forc'd to feel, the wise to weep.
Their beauties imitate, avoid their faults;
First, on a plot employ thy careful thoughts ;
Turn it, with time, a thousand several ways;
This oft, alone, has given success to plays.
Reject that vulgar error (which appears
So fair) of making perfect characters ;
There's no such thing in nature, and you 'll draw
A faultless monster which the world ne'er faw.
Some faults must be, that his misfortunes drew,
But such as may deserve compassion too.
Besides the main design compos'd with art,
Each moving scene must be a plot apart;
Contrive cach little turn, mark every place,
As painters first chalk out the future face :
Yet be not fondly your own save for this,
But change hereafter what appears amiss.
Think not so much where shining thoughts to place,
As what a man would say in such a case :
Neither in comedy will this suffice,
The player too must be before your eyes ;
And, though 'tis drudgery to stoop so low,
To him you must your secret meaning show.
Expose no single fop, but lay the load
More equally, and spread the folly broad;
Mere coxcombs are too obvious; oft we see
A fool derided by as bad as he :
Hawks fly at nobler game; in this low way,
owl may prove a bird of prey. Small
poets thus will one poor fop devour,
But to collect, like bees, from every flower,
Ingredients to compose that precious juice,
Which serves the world for pleasure and for use,
In spite of faction this would favour get;
But Falstaff* ftands inimitable yet.
Another fault which often may befall,
Is, when the wit of some great poet shall
So overflow, that is, be none at all;
That ev’n his fools fpeak fense, as if posseft,
And each by inspiration breaks his jest.
If once the justness of each part be loft,
Well may we laugh, bat at the poet's coft.
That filly thing men call theer-wit avoid,
With which our age so nauseously is cloy'd :
Humour is all; wit should be only brought
To turn agreeably some proper thought.
But since the poets we of late have known,
Shine in no dress so much as in their own,
The better by example to convince,
Cast but a view on this wrong side of fenfe.
* The matchless character of Shakespeare.
First, a soliloquy is calmly made, Where every reason is exactly weigh'd; Which once perform’d, most opportunely comes Some hero frighted at the noise of drums; For her sweet sake, whom at first sight he loves, And all in metaphor his passion proves : But some sad accident, though yet unknown, Parting this pair, to leave the swain alone ; He strait grows jealous, though we know not why; Then, to oblige his rival, needs will die : But first he makes a speech, wherein he tells The absent nymph how much his fame excels; And yet bequeaths her generously now, To that lov'd rival whom he does not know ! Who strait appears; but who can fate withstand: Too late, alas! to hold his hasty hand, That just has given himself the cruel stroke ! At which his very rival's heart is broke : He, more to his new friend than mistress kind, Most sadly mourns at being left behind, Of such a death prefers the pleasing charms To love, and living in a lady's arins. What shameful and what monstrous things are these ! And then they rail at those they cannot please ; Conclude us only partial to the dead, And grudge the sign of old Ben Jonson's head ; When the intrinsic value of the stage Can scarce be judg'd but by a following age: For dances, flutes, Italian songs, and rhyme, May keep up finking nonsense for a time;