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To a Play for Mr. DENNIS's Benefit in 1733, when he was old, blind, and in great Distress, a little before his Death.
As when that Hero, who in each Campaign,
Ver. 6. But pitied Belisarius, &c.] Nothing could be more happily imagined than this allusion, nor more finely conducted. The continued pleasantry is so delicately touched, that it took nothing from the self-satisfaction which the critic who heard it, had in his own merit, or the audience in their charity. In a word, this benevolent irony is prosecuted with so masterly a hand, that the Poet supposed, had Dennis himself the wit to see it, he would have had the ingenuity to approve of it.
"This dreaded Sat'rist, Dennis will confess,
Foe to his pride, but friend to his distress." Warburton. Ver. 7. Was there a Chief, &c.] The fine figure of the Commander in that capital picture of Belisarius at Chiswick, supplied the Poet with this beautiful idea.
Dennis, who long had warr'd with modern Huns,
How chang'd from him who made the boxes groan,
And be the Critic's, Briton's, Old Man's Friend.
Ver. 12. Their Quibbles routed, and defy'd their Puns;] An old gentleman of the last century, who used to frequent Button's coffee-house, told me they had many pleasant scenes of Dennis's indignation and resentment, when Steele and Rowe, in particular, teazed him with a pun. Ver. 13. A desp'rate Bulwark, &c.] Alluding to his hatred of rhyme. Warton.
Dr. WARTON thinks that much "bitter satire is concealed under these topics of commiseration." If sarcasms were intended upon such an occasion, they were as ill-timed as they were cruel. I perceive nothing bitter, but a good humoured smile, on poor Dennis's favourite topics. Hard, indeed, must be the heart, that could strike a blow at a fallen enemy, disarmed and poor, under the shew of pity and generosity. I dare say, the old man heard the Prologue, not only with complacency but with delight. It is added, that Mallet and Thomson interested themselves much in procuring him a good benefit.
MR. ROWE'S JANE SHORE.
DESIGNED FOR MRS. OLDFIELD.
THE Epilogue to Jane Shore is written with that air of gallantry and raillery which, by a strange perversion of taste, the audience expects in all Epilogues to the most serious and pathetic pieces. To recommend cuckoldom, and palliate adultery, is their usual intent. I wonder Mrs. Oldfield was not suffered to speak it; for it is superior to that which was used on the occasion. In this taste Garrick has written some that abound in spirit and drollery. Rowe's genius was rather delicate and soft, than strong and pathetic; his compositions soothe us with a tranquil and tender sort of complacency, rather than cleave the heart with pangs of commiseration. His distresses are entirely founded on the passion of love. His diction is extremely elegant and chaste, and his versification highly melodious. His plays are declamations, rather than dialogues; and his characters are general, and undistinguished from each other. Such a furious character as that of Bajazet, is easily drawn; and, let me add, easily acted. There is a want of unity in the fable of Tamerlane. The death's head, dead body, and stage hung in mourning, in the Fair Penitent, are artificial and mechanical methods of affecting an audience. In a word, his plays are musical and pleasing poems, but inactive and unmoving tragedies. This of Jane Shore is, I think, the most interesting and affecting of any he has given us; but probability is sadly violated in it by the neglect of the unity of time. For a person to be supposed to be starved, during the representation of five acts, is a striking instance of the absurdity of this violation.
It is probable that this is become the most popular and pleasing tragedy of all Rowe's works, because it is founded on our own history. I cannot forbear wishing, that our writers would more frequently search for subjects in the annals of England, which afford many striking and pathetic events, proper for the stage. We have been too long attached to Grecian and Roman stories. In truth, domestica facta are more interesting, as well as more
useful; more interesting, because we all think ourselves concerned in the actions and fates of our countrymen; more useful, because the characters and manners bid the fairest to be true and natural, when they are drawn from models with which we are exactly acquainted. The Turks, the Persians, and Americans, of our poets, are, in reality, distinguished from Englishmen, only by their turbans and feathers; and think and act as if they were born and educated within the Bills of Mortality. The historical plays of Shakespear are always grateful to the spectator, who loves to see and hear our own Harrys and Edwards, better than all the Achilleses or Cæsars that ever existed. In the choice of a domestic story, however, much judgment and circumspection must be exerted, to select one of a proper æra; neither of too ancient, or of too modern a date. The manners of times very ancient, we shall be apt to falsify, as those of the Greeks and Romans. And recent events, with which we are thoroughly acquainted, are deprived of the power of impressing solemnity and awe, by their notoriety and familiarity. Age softens and wears away all those disgracing and depreciating circumstances, which attend modern transactions, merely because they are modern. Lucan was much embarrassed by the proximity of the times he treated of.
I take this occasion to observe, that Rowe has taken the fable of his Fair Penitent, from the Fatal Dowry of Massinger and Field. Warton.
These observations are in general very just, but Dr. Warton should not have cited Shakespear, as having founded his most interesting plays on "domestica facta." Who ever read Julius Casar, without sympathy and interest? Who ever read, without a tear, the passage where Brutus, after his disagreement with Cassius, speaks of his wife's death? Who is not a partaker of his griefs, and fortunes? In truth, GENIUS can make at all times a "Cæsar," as interesting as an "Edward, or Henry." Bowles.
This last remark is indisputably true, and ought not to pass unobserved by those who contend, that the excellence of the poet chiefly depends on the nature of the subject.
RODIGIOUS this! the Frail-one of our Play From her own Sex should mercy find to-day!
You might have held the pretty head aside, Peep'd in your fans, been serious, thus, and cry'd, The Play may pass-but that strange creature, Shore,
I can't-indeed now-I so hate a whore
Just as a blockhead rubs his thoughtless skull,
"How strangely you expose yourself, my dear!" 10 But let me die, all raillery apart,
Our sex are still forgiving at their heart;
There are, 'tis true, who tell another tale, That virtuous ladies envy while they rail; Such rage without betrays the fire within; In some close corner of the soul, they sin; Still hoarding up, most scandalously nice, Amidst their virtues a reserve of vice. The godly dame, who fleshly failings damns, Scolds with her maid, or with her chaplain crams. Would you enjoy soft nights and solid dinners? Faith, gallants, board with saints, and bed with sinners;
Well, if our Author in the Wife offends, He has a Husband that will make amends: He draws him gentle, tender, and forgiving, And sure such kind good creatures may be living. In days of old, they pardon'd breach of vows, Stern Cato's self was no relentless spouse: