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MR. ROWE’S JANE SHORE.
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 cukoldom, 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 Shakspeare 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 era; neither of too ancient or 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. His very spirited translation, which does not seem sufficiently regarded, is perhaps his best work; and one of the best translations in our language, of the only classic, said Addison, not explained for the use of the Dauphin.
MR. ROWE’S JANE SHORE.
DESIGNED FOR MRS. OLDFIELD.
PRODIGIOUS 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 whoreJust as a blockhead rubs his thoughtless skull, And thanks his stars he was not born a fool; So from a sister-sinner you shall hear, , “ How strangely you expose yourself, my dear!" But let me die, all raillery apart,
11 Our sex are still forgiving at their heart; And, did not wicked custom so contrive, We'd be the best, good-natur'd things alive.
There are, 'tis true, who tell another tale, 15 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.
20 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, 25 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 :
30 Plu— Plutarch, what's his name, that writes his life? Tells us, that Cato dearly lov'd his Wife: Yet if a friend, a night or so, should need her, He'd recommend her as a special breeder. To lend a Wife, few here would scruple make, 35 But, pray, which of you all would take her back? Tho' with the Stoic Chief our stage may ring, The Stoic Husband was the glorious thing. The man had courage, was a sage, 'tis true, And lov’d his country,—but what's that to you ? 40 Those strange examples ne'er were made to fit
ye, But the kind cuckold might instruct the City : There, many an honest man may copy Cato, Who ne'er saw naked sword, or look'd in Plato. If, after all, you think it a disgrace,
45 That Edward's Miss thus perks it in your face;
Ver. 44. IV ho ne'er saw] A sly and oblique stroke on the suicide of Cato; which was one of the reasons, as I have been informed, why this epilogue was not spoken.
Ver. 46. Edward's Miss] Sir Thomas More says, she had one accomplishment uncommon in a woman of that time; she could read and write.
To see a piece of failing flesh and blood,
Thomson in his Epilogue to Tancred and Sigismunda severely censures the flippancy and gaiety of modern Epilogues, as contrary to those impressions intended to be left on the mind by a well-written tragedy. The last new part Mrs. Oldfield took in tragedy was in Thomson's Sophonisba ; and it is recorded that she spoke the following line,
Not one base word of Carthage for thy soul, in so powerful a manner, that Wilkes, to whom it was addressed, was astonished and confounded. Mrs. Oldfield was admitted to visit in the best families. George II. and Queen Caroline, when Princess of Wales, condescended sometimes to converse with her at their levees. And one day the Princess asked her if she was married to General Churchill : “So it is said, may it please your Highness, but we have not owned it yet.” Her Lady Betty Modish, and Lady Townly, have never yet been equalled. She was universally allowed to be well-bred, sensible, witty, and generous. She gave poor Savage an annual pension of fifty pounds. And it is strange that Dr. Johnson seems rather to approve of Savage's having never celebrated his benefactress in any of his poems.
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
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