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heroes men of honour; but so as not to divest them quite of human passions and frailties: they contented themselves to show you, what men of great spirits would certainly do when they were provoked, not what they were obliged to do by the strict rules of moral virtue. 5 For my own part, I declare myself for Homer and Tasso, and am more in love with Achilles and Rinaldo, than with Cyrus and Oroondates. I shall never subject my characters to the French standard, where love and honour are to be weighed by drachms and scruples. 10 Yet, where I have designed the patterns of exact virtues, such as in this play are the parts of Almahide, of Ozmyn, and Benzayda, I may safely challenge the best of theirs.
But Almanzor is taxed with changing sides and 15 what tie has he on him to the contrary? He is not born their subject whom he serves, and he is injured by them to a very high degree. He threatens them, and speaks insolently of sovereign power; but so do Achilles and Rinaldo, who were subjects and soldiers 20 to Agamemnon and Godfrey of Bulloigne. He talks extravagantly in his passion; but, if I would take the pains to quote an hundred passages of Ben Johnson's Cetheguş, I could easily show you, that the rodomontades of Almanzor are neither so irrational as his, nor 25 so impossible to be put in execution; for Cethegus threatens to destroy Nature, and to raise a new one out of it; to kill all the Senate for his part of the action; to look Cato dead; and a thousand other things as extravagant he says, but performs not one 30 action in the play.
But none of the former calumnies will stick and, therefore, 'tis at last charged upon me, that Almanzor does all things; or if you will have an absurd accusation, in their nonsense who make it, that he performs 35
impossibilities. They say, that being a stranger, he appeases two fighting factions, when the authority of their lawful sovereign could not. This is indeed the most improbable of all his actions, but 'tis far from 5 being impossible. Their king had made himself contemptible to his people, as the history of Granada tells us; and Almanzor, though a stranger, yet was already known to them by his gallantry, in the juego de toros, his engagement on the weaker side, and more especially 10 by the character of his person and brave actions, given by Abdalla just before; and, after all, the greatness of the enterprise consisted only in the daring, for he had the king's guards to second him. But we have read both of Cæsar, and many other generals, who 15 have not only calmed a mutiny with a word, but have presented themselves single before an army of their enemies; which upon sight of them has revolted from their own leaders and come over to their trenches. In the rest of Almanzor's actions you see him for the most 20 part victorious; but the same fortune has constantly attended many heroes, who were not imaginary. Yet, you see it no inheritance to him; for, in the first place, he is made a prisoner; and, in the last, defeated, and not able to preserve the city from being taken. If the 25 history of the late Duke of Guise be true, he hazarded more, and performed not less in Naples, than Almanzor is feigned to have done in Granada.
I have been too tedious in this apology; but to make some satisfaction, I will leave the rest of my play 30 exposed to the critics, without defence.
The concernment of it is wholly passed from me, and ought to be in them who have been favourable to it, and are somewhat obliged to defend their own opinions. That there are errors in it, I deny not;
Ast opere in tanto fas est obrepere somnum.
But I have already swept the stakes; and, with the common good fortune of prosperous gamesters, can be content to sit quietly; to hear my fortune cursed by some, and my faults arraigned by others, and to suffer both without reply.
THEY, who have best succeeded on the stage, Have still conform'd their genius to their age. Thus Johnson did mechanic humour show, When men were dull, and conversation low. 5 Then, Comedy was faultless, but 'twas coarse : Cobb's tankard was a jest, and Otter's horse. And, as their Comedy, their love was mean; Except, by chance, in some one labour'd scene, Which must atone for an ill-written play: IO They rose, but at their height could seldom stay. Fame then was cheap, and the first comer sped; And they have kept it since, by being dead. But, were they now to write, when critics weigh Each line, and ev'ry word, throughout a play, None of them, no, not Johnson in his height, Could pass, without allowing grains for weight. Think it not envy, that these truths are told; Our poet's not malicious, though he's bold. 'Tis not to brand 'em that their faults are shown, But, by their errors, to excuse his own. If Love and Honour now are higher rais'd, 'Tis not the poet, but the age is prais'd.
TO THE SECOND PART OF 'THE CONQUEST
Wit's now arriv'd to a more high degree;