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MR. ADDISON'S TRAGEDY OF CATO.*
THE Prologue to Addison's Tragedy of Cato, is superior to any Prologue of Dryden; who, notwithstanding, is so justly celebrated for this species of writing. The Prologues of Dryden are satirical and facetious; this of Pope is solemn and sublime, as the subject required. Those of Dryden contain general topics of criticism and wit, and may precede any play whatsoever, even tragedy or comedy. This of Pope is particular, and appropriated to the tragedy alone which it was designed to introduce. Warton.
To the above just tribute to the merit of the following Prologue, I shall add the opinion of an excellent critic, the late Dr. Aikin, who has observed that "scarcely any thing grave or dignified had been offered to the public in this form, till Pope, inspired by the noble subject of Addison's Tragedy, composed this piece; which not only stands at the head of all prologues, but is scarcely surpassed in vigour of expression and elevation of sentiment by any passage in his own works."
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
*This Prologue, and the Epilogue (to Jane Shore) are the most perfect models of this species of writing, both in the serious and the ludicrous way. Warburton.
The former is much the better of the two; for some of Dryden's, of the latter kind, are unequalled.
For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage,
Ver. 7. Tyrants no more] Louis XIV. wished to have pardoned the Cardinal de Rohan, after hearing the Cinna of Corneille.
Ver. 11. In pitying love,] Why then did Addison introduce the loves of Juba and Marcia? which Pope said to Mr. Spence, were not in the original plan of the play, but were introduced in compliance with the popular practice of the stage. Warton.
Ver. 20. But what with pleasure] This alludes to a famous passage of Seneca, which Mr. Addison afterwards used as a motto to his play, when it was printed. Warburton.
Ver. 21. A brave man, &c.] The noble passage of Seneca, which Addison adopted as a Motto, and to which Pope in this passage finely alludes, is this,
"Ecce spectaculum dignum ad quod respiciat, intentus operi suo, DEUS! Ecce par Deo dignum, vir fortis cum malâ fortunâ com
While Cato gives his little Senate laws,
Who hears him groan, and does not wish to bleed?
Show'd Rome her Cato's figure drawn in state; 30
positus! Non video, inquam, quid habeat in terris Jupiter pulchrius, si convertere animum velit, quàm ut spectet CATONEM, jam partibus non semel fractis, nihilominùs inter ruinas publicas erectum."
Pope has very much heightened the idea of Seneca, in one passage, "Fortis vir, malâ fortunâ compositus ;" which is far less animated than
A brave man struggling in the storms of fate!
Let me take this opportunity of remarking, that Pope has very seldom laid the stress, as it is in the line,
A braze măn
The stress, however, laid upon the epithet in this manner, has often a pleasing effect, and, when it is judiciously introduced, is particularly grateful to the ear. Milton and Shakespear often accent a line in this manner, and who but feels its occasional propriety and beauty?
"Thro' the HIGH wood, echoing shrill."
"What time the GRAY fly winds her sullen horn." Lycidas. "On which the SWART star sparely looks." Ver. 27. Ev'n when] The twenty-seventh, thirtieth, thirtyfourth, thirty-ninth, and forty-fifth lines, are artful allusions to the character and history of Cato himself.
Britons, attend: be worth like this approv'd, And show, you have the virtue to be mov'd. With honest scorn the first fam'd Cato view'd Rome learning arts from Greece whom she subdu'd; Your scene precariously subsists too long On French translation, and Italian song. Dare to have sense yourselves; assert the stage; Be justly warm'd with your own native rage: Such Plays alone should win a British ear, As Cato's self had not disdain'd to hear.
Ver. 37. Britons, attend:] Spence told me, that Pope had written it" Britons, arise"; but that Addison, frightened at so strong an expression, as promoting insurrection, lowered and weakened it, by the word, "attend." Warton.
Ver. 42. On French translation,] He glances obliquely at the Distrest Mother of his old antagonist, Philips, taken, evidently, from Racine. Cato's last soliloquy is translated with great purity and elegance by Bland.
It is a little remarkable that the last line of Cato is Pope's ; and the last of Eloisa is Addison's. Warton.
Ver. 45. Such Plays alone] Addison, having finished and laid by, for several years, the first four acts of Cato, applied to Hughes for a fifth, and Dr. Johnson, from entertaining too mean an opinion of Hughes, does not think the application serious. When Hughes brought his supplement, he found the author himself had finished his play. Hughes was very capable of writing this fifth act. The Siege of Damascus is a better tragedy than Cato; though Pope affected to speak slightingly of its author. An audience was packed by Steele on the first night of Cato; and Addison suffered inexpressible uneasiness and solicitude during the representation. Bolingbroke called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for defending the cause of liberty so well, against a perpetual dictator. Warton.
Ver. 46. As Cato's self, &c.] This alludes to that famous story of his coming into the Theatre, and going out again, related by Martial. Warburton.
BY POPE AND MALLET.*
WHEN Learning, after the long Gothic night,
The tragic Muse, returning, wept her woes.
What foreign theatres with pride have shewn, Britain, by juster title, makes her own. When freedom is the cause, 'tis her's to fight, And hers, when freedom is the theme, to write. For this a British Author bids again
The Heroine rise, to grace the British scene: Here, as in life, she breathes her genuine flame, 15 She asks, what bosom has not felt the same?
I have been told by Savage, that of the Prologue to Sophonisba, the first part was written by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish it, and that the concluding lines were written by Mallet. Johnson.