Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

Then, secondly, consider whether Aristotle has made a just definition of tragedy; of its parts, of its ends, and of its beauties; and whether he, having not seen any others but those of Sophocles, Euripides, &c. had, or truly could determine what all the excellencies of tragedy are, and wherein they consist.

Next, show in what ancient tragedy was deficient; for example, in the narrowness of its plots, and fewness of persons; and try whether that be not a fault in the Greek poets, and whether their excellency was so great, when the variety was visibly so little; or whether what they did was not very easy to do.

Then make a judgment on what the English have added to their beauties; as, for example, not only more plot, but also new passions, as, namely, that of love, scarce touched on by the ancients, except in this one example of Phædra, cited by Mr. Rymer; and in that how short they were of Fletcher.

Prove also that love, being an heroic passion, is fit for tragedy, which cannot be denied, be cause of the example alleged of Phædra; and how far Shakspeare has outdone them in friendship, &c.

To return to the beginning of this inquiry; consider, if pity and terror be enough for tragedy to move; and I believe, upon a true definition of tragedy, it will be found that its work extends farther, and that is, to reform manners, by a delightful representation of human life in great persons, by way of dialogue. If this be true, then not only pity and terror are to be moved, as the only means to bring us to virtue, but generally love to virtue, and hatred to vice, by showing the rewards of one, and punishments of the other; at least, by rendering virtue always amiable, though it be shown unfortunate, and vice detestable, though it be shown triumphant.

If, then, the encouragement of virtue, and dis

rus proportionably. But Sophocles adding a third actor and painted scenes, gave, in Aristotle's opinion, the utmost perfection to tragedy."-Rymer's Remarks, p. 13.

couragement of vice, be the proper ends of poetry in tragedy, pity and terror, though good means, are not the only. For all the passions, in their turns, are to be set in a ferment; as joy, anger, love, fear, are to be used as the poet's common-places, and a general concernment for the principal actors is to be raised, by making them appear such in their characters, their words, and actions, as will interest the audience in their fortunes.

And if, after all, in a larger sense, pity comprehends this concernment for the good, and terror includes detestation for the bad, then let us consider whether the English have not answered this end of tragedy, as well as the ancients, or perhaps better.

And here Mr. Rymer's objections against these plays are to be impartially weighed, that we may see whether they are of weight enough to turn the balance against our countrymen.

It is evident, those plays which he arraigns, have moved both those passions in a high degree upon the stage.

To give the glory of this away from the poet, and to place it upon the actors, seems unjust.*

One reason is, because whatever actors they have found, the event has been the same, that is, the same passions have been always moved; which shows, that there is something of force and merit in the plays themselves, conducing to the design of raising these two passions: and suppose them ever to have been excellently acted, yet action only adds grace, vigour, and

Alluding to the following remarks of Rymer transferring the pleasing effect of the plays, which

he censures, to the lively representation. "Amongst those who will be objecting against the doctrine I lay down, may peradventure appear a sort of men who have remembered so and so; and value themselves upon their experience. may write by the book (say they) what I have a mind, but they know

what will please. These are a kind of stage-quacks

and empirics in poetry, who have got a receipt to please; and no collegiate like them for purging the passions.

"These say (for instance) a "King and no King" pleases. I say the comical part pleases.

"I say that Mr. Hart pleases; most of the business falls to his share, and what he delivers, every one takes upon content; their eyes are prepossessed and charmed by his action, before aught of the poet's can approach their ears; and to the most wretched

of characters, he gives a lustre and brilliance, which dazzles the sight, that the deformities in the poetry cannot be perceived."-Remarks, p. 5.

He has a similar observation in page 138:-"We may remember, however we find this scene of Melantius and Amintor written in the book, that at the theatre we have a good scene acted. There is work cut out, and both our Esopus and Roscius are on the stage together: whatever defect may be in Amintor and Melantius, Mr. Hart and Mr. Mohun are wanting in nothing. To these we owe for what is pleasing in the scene; and to this scene we may impute the success of the "Maid's Tragedy.”

more life, upon the stage, but cannot give it wholly where it is not first. But secondly, I dare appeal to those who have never seen them acted, if they have not found these two passions moved within them; and if the general voice will carry it, Mr. Rymer's prejudice will take off his single testimony.

This, being matter of fact, is reasonably to be established by this appeal; as if one man says it is night, when the rest of the world conclude it to be day, there needs no farther argument against him, that it is so.

If he urge, that the general taste is depraved, his arguments to prove this can at best but evince, that our poets took not the best way to raise those passions; but experience proves against him, that those means which they have used have been successful, and have produced them.

foundation of the fabric, only take away from the beauty of the symmetry: for example, the faults in the character of the "King and no King "* are not as he makes them, such as render him detestable, but only imperfections which accompany human nature, and are for the most part excused by the violence of his love; so that they destroy not our pity or concernment for him. This answer may be applied to most of his objections of that kind.

And Rollof committing many murders, when he is answerable but for one, is too severely arraigned by him, for it adds to our horror and detestation of the criminal; and poetic justice is not neglected neither, for we stab him in our minds for every offence which he commits; and the point which the poet is to gain on the audience is not so much in the death of an offender, as the raising a horror of his crimes.

That the criminal should neither be wholly guilty, nor wholly innocent, but so participating of both as to move both pity and terror, is cer

And one reason of that success is, in my opinion, this, that Shakspeare and Fletcher have written to the genius of the age and nation in which they lived; for though nature, as he obtainly a good rule, but not perpetually to be objects, is the same in all places, and reason too served; for that were to make all tragedies too the same, yet the climate, the age, the disposi- much alike; which objection he foresaw, but tion of the people, to whom a poet writes, may has not fully answered. be so different, that what pleased the Greeks would not satisfy an English audience.

And if they proceeded upon a foundation of truer reason to please the Athenians, than Shakspeare and Fletcher to please the English, it only shows, that the Athenians were a more judicious people; but the poet's business is certainly to please the audience.

To conclude, therefore; if the plays of the ancients are more correctly plotted, ours are more beautifully written. And if we can raise passions as high on worse foundations, it shows our genius in tragedy is greater; for, in all other parts of it, the English have manifestly excelled them.

After laying it down as a necessary rule, that a king in tragedy is, ex jure, a hero, Rymer proceeds to arraign the character of Arbaces, for his vainglory, presumption, incestuous passion for his sister, and extravagance of language. He sums his character up in the words of the Irish inscription: For fierceness and for furiousness, Men call me the queen's mortar-piece.

Whether our English audience have been pleased hitherto with acorns, as he calls it, or with bread, is the next question; that is, whether the means which Shakspeare and Fletcher have used in their plays to raise those passions before named, be better applied to the ends by the Greek poets than by them. And perhaps we shall not grant him this wholly: let it be yielded, nothing remains but that the poet see him executed, that a writer is not to run down with the stream, or to please the people by their own usual methods, but rather to reform their judgments, it still remains to prove, that our theatre needs this total reformation.

"When Rollo has murdered his brother, he stands condemned by the laws of poetry; and

and the poet is to answer for all the mischief committed afterwards. But Rollo we find has made his escape, and wo be to the chancellor, to the schoolmaster, and to the chancellor's man; for those are to be men of this world no longer. Here is like to be poetical justice, so many lives taken away, and but the life of one guilty person to answer for all; and is not this a strange method of killing? If the planets had contrived him for a cock of thirteen, his first victory should not have been the most important; he should first have practised on his subjects, and have risen by degrees to the height of iniquity. His brother sovereign was his top-murder; nothing remained after that, unless it were his lady.

The faults which he has found in their designs, are rather wittily aggravated in many places, than reasonably urged; and as much may be returned on the Greeks by one who were as witty as himself. 2. They destroy not, if they are granted, the mother"

THE LIFE OF PLUTARCH.

IN 1683 appeared the first volume of a transiation of Plutarch's Lives, executed by several hands. Among the persons engaged in this undertaking, Mr. Malone enumerates "Richard Duke, and Knightly Chetwood, Fellows of Trinity College, in Cambridge; Paul Rycaut, Esq.; Thomas Creech, of Wadham College, Oxford, the translator of Horace, &c.; Edward Brown, M. D. author of Travels in Germany, &c.; Dr. Adam Littleton, author of the Latin Dictionary; John Caryl, Esq. I believe the friend of Pope; Mr. Joseph Arrowsmith; Thomas Rymer, Esq.; Dr. William Oldys; John Evelyn, Esq.; and Mr. Somers, afterwards Lord Somers, who translated the Life of Alcibiades, though his name is not prefixed to it. Beside the persons here enumerated, twenty-nine others were engaged in this work; so that the total number of the translators was forty-one. Dryden translated none of the Lives."

Dryden was induced to honour this work, so creditable to those who had undertaken it, with a Dedication, and Life of Plutarch. The Dedication is addressed to the great Duke of Ormond, whom Dryden had celebrated, in "Absalom and Achitophel," under the name of Barzillai. It is doing no injustice to the other great qualities of Ormond, to say, that his generous and unwearied protection of Dryden will not be the soonest forgotten. The poet's feelings towards this noble family were expressod in the preface to the "Fables," his last great work.

The publication and translation of "Plutarch's Lives" was not completed until 1686, when the last volume appeared. The following remarkable advertisement was prefixed to the work; which, from internal evidence, Mr. Malone ascribes to our author, although bearing the name, and written in the character of Jacob Tonson, the publisher of the work.

"You have here the first volume of Plutarch's Lives' turned from Greek into English;

and give me leave to say, the first attempt of doing it from the originals. You may expect the remainder in four more, one after another, as fast as they may conveniently be despatched from the press. It is not my business, or pretence, to judge of a work of this quality; neither do I take upon me to recommend it to the world, any farther than under the office of a fair and careful publisher, and in discharge of a trust deposited in my hands for the service of my country, and for a common good. I am not yet so insensible of the authority and reputation of so great a name, as not to consult the honour of the author, together with the benefit and satisfaction of the bookseller, as well as of the reader, in this undertaking. In order to which ends, I have, with all possible respect and industry, besought, solicited, and obtained, the assistance of persons equal to the enterprise, and not only critics in the tongue, but men of known fame and abilities for style and ornament; but I shall rather refer you to the learned and ingenious translators of this first part, (whose names you will find in the next page,) as a specimen of what you may promise yourself from the rest.

"After this right done to the Greek author, I shall not need to say what profit and delight will accrue to the English reader from this version, when he shall see this illustrious piece in his own mother tongue, and the very spirit of the original transfused into the traduction; and in one word, 'Plutarch's Worthies' made yet more famous, by a translation that gives a farther lustre even to Plutarch himself.

"Now as to the bookseller's part, I must justify myself, that I have done all that to me belonged; that is to say, I have been punctually faithful to all my commissions toward the correctness and decency of the work; and I have said to myself, that which I now say to the public,-It is impossible but a book that comes into the world with so many circumstances of dignity, usefulness, and esteem, must turn to account."

ΤΟ

HIS GRACE

THE

DUKE OF ORMOND, & c.

MY LORD,

LUCRETIUS, endeavouring to prove from the principles of his philosophy, that the world had a casual beginning from the concourse of atoms, and that men, as well as the rest of animals, were produced from the vital heat and moisture of their mother earth, from the same principles is bound to answer this objection,-why men are not daily formed after the same manner; which he tells us, is, because the kindly warmth and procreative faculty of the ground is now worn out; the sun is a disabled lover; and the earth is past her teeming time.

Though religion has informed us better of our origin, yet it appears plainly, that not only the bodies, but the souls of men, have decreased from the vigour of the first ages; that we are not more short of the stature and strength of those gigantic heroes, than we are of their understanding and their wit. To let pass those happy patriarchs, who were striplings at fourscore, and had afterwards seven or eight hundred years before them to beget sons and daughters, and to consider man in reference only to his mind, and that no higher than the age of Socrates, how vast a difference is there betwixt the productions of those souls, and these of ours? how much better Plato, Aristotle, and the rest of the philosophers understood nature; Thucydides and Herodotus adorned history; Sophocles, Euripides, and Menander advanced poetry, than those dwarfs of wit and learning who succeeded them in after times? That age was most famous amongst the Greeks which ended with the death of Alexander; amongst the Romans, learning seemed again to revive and flourish in the century which produced Cicero, Varro, Sallust, Livy, Lucretius, and Virgil: and after a short interval of years, wherein Nature seemed to take a breathing time for a second birth, there sprung up under the Vespasians, and those excellent princes who succeeded them, a race of memorable wits, such as were the two Plinies, Tacitus, and Suetonius; and, as if Greece was emulous of the Roman learning, under the same favourable constella

tion was born the famous philosopher and histo. rian, Plutarch; than whom antiquity has never produced a man more generally knowing, or more virtuous; and no succeeding age has equalled him.

His Lives, both in his own esteem and that of others, accounted the noblest of his works, have been long since rendered into English ; but as that translation was only from the French,* so it suffered this double disadvantage; first, that it was but a copy of a copy, and that too but lamely taken from the Greek original; secondly, that the English language was then unpolished, and far from the perfection which it has since attained; so that the first version is not only ungrammatical and ungraceful, but in many places almost unintelligible. For which reasons, and lest so useful a piece of history should lie oppressed under the rubbish of antiquated words, some ingenious and learned gentlemen have undertaken this task and what would have been the labour of one man's life, will, by the several endeavours of many, be accomplished in the compass of a year. How far they have succeeded in this laudable attempt, to me it belongs not to determine, who am too much a party to be a judge. But I have the honour to be commissioned from the translators of this volume to inscribe their labours and my own, with all humility, to your grace's name and patronage; and never was any man more ambitious of an employment of which he was so little worthy. Fortune has at last gratified that earnest desire I have always had to show my devotion to your grace, though I despair of paying you my acknowledgments. And of all other opportunities, I have happened on the most favourable to myself, who, having never been able to produce any thing of my own which could be worthy of your view, am supplied by the assistance of my friends, and honoured with the presentation of their labours: The author they have translated has been long familiar to

* Sir Thomas North's translation, published in 1579, was executed through the medium of the French translation, by Jaques Amiot.

you, who have been conversant in all sorts of history both ancient and modern, and have formed the idea of your most noble life from the instructions and examples contained in them, both in the management of public affairs, and in the private offices of virtue; in the enjoyment of your better fortune, and sustaining of your worse; in habituating yourself to an easy great. ness; in repelling your enemies, in succouring your friends; and in all traverses of fortune, in every colour of your life, maintaining an inviolable fidelity to your sovereign. It is long since that I have learned to forget the art of praising, but here the heart dictates to the pen; and I appeal to your enemies, (if so much generosity and good nature can have left you any,) whether they are not conscious to themselves that I have not flattered.

fame. You have cancelled the debt which you owed to your progenitors, and reflect more brightness on their memory than you received from them.

Your native country, which Providence gave you not leave to preserve under one king, it has given you opportunity under another to restore. You could not save it from the chastisement which was due to its rebellion, but you raised it from ruin after its repentance; so that the trophies of war were the portion of the conqueror, but the triumphs of peace were reserved for the vanquished. The misfortunes of Ireland were owing to itself, but its happiness and restoration to your grace. The rebellion against a lawful prince was punished by an usurping tyrant, but the fruits of his victory were the rewards of a loyal subject. How much that noble kingdom has flourished under your grace's government, both the inhabitants and the crown are sensible: the riches of Ireland are increased by it, and the revenues of England are augmented. That which was a charge and burden of the government, is rendered an advantage and support; the trade and interest of both countries are united in a mutual benefit; they conspire to make each other happy; the dependence of the one is an improvement of its commerce, the pre-eminence of the other is not impaired by the intercourse, and common necessities are supplied by both. Ireland is no more a scion, to suck the nourishment from the mother tree; neither is it overtopped, or hindered from growth by the superior branches; but the roots of England diving, if I may dare to say it, underneath the seas, rise at a just distance on the neighboring shore, and there shoot up, and bear a product scarce inferior to the trunk from whence they sprung.

It is an age, indeed, which is only fit for satire, and the sharpest I have shall never be wanting to lance its villanies, and its ingratitude to the govemment. There are few men in it, who are capable of supporting the weight of a just and deserved commendation ; but amongst those few there must always stand excepted the illustrious names of Ormond and of Ossory; a father and a son only worthy of each other. Never was one soul more fully infused into another's breast; never was so strong an impression made of virtue as that of your grace's into him; but though the stamp was deep, the subject which received it was of too fine a composition to be durable. Were not priority of time and nature in the case, it might have been doubted which of you had been most excellent; but Heaven snatched away the copy, to make the original more precious. I dare trust myself no farther on this subject; for after years of mourning, my sorrow is yet so green upon me, that I am ready to tax I may raise the commendation higher, and yet Providence for the loss of that heroic son: three not fear to offend the truth; Ireland is a better nations had a general concernment in his death, penitent than England. The crime of rebellion but I had one so very particular, that all my was common to both countries, but the repenthopes are almost dead with him; and I have ance of one island has been steady; that of the lost so much, that I am past the danger of a other, to its shame, has suffered a relapse; which second shipwreck. But he sleeps with an un-shows the conversions of their rebels to have envied commendation; and has left your grace been real, that of ours to have been but counterthe sad legacy of all those glories which he de feit. The sons of guilty fathers there have rived from you: an accession which you wanted made amends for the disloyalty of their families; not, who were so rich before in your own virtues, but here the descendants of pardoned rebels and that high reputation which is the product of have only waited their time to copy the wickthem. edness of their parents, and, if possible, to outdo it. They disdain to hold their patrimonies by acts of grace and of indemnity; and by maintaining their old treasonable principles, make it apparent that they are still speculative traitors; for whether they are zealous sectaries, or profane republicans, (of which two sorts they are principally composed.) both our reformers of

A long descent of noble ancestors was not necessary to have made you great; but heaven threw it in as overplus when you were born. What you have done and suffered for two royal masters, has been enough to render you illustrious; so that you may safely waive the nobility of your birth, and rely on your actions for your

« EelmineJätka »