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nór can apply its art to the benefit of the ignorant vulgar, where those distempers are in their most exasperated state.
An epic Poem is too abstruse for the people; the moral is too much enveloped, the language too elevated for their apprehension ; nor have they leisure, or application, to trace the consequences of ill-governed passions, or erroneous principles, through the long series of a voluminous work. The Drama is happily constituted for this purpose. Events are brought within the compass of a short period: precepts are delivered in the familiar way
of discourse : the fiction is concealed, the allegory is realized ; and Representation and Action take the place of cold unaffecting Narration. A Tragedy is a fable exhibited to the view, and rendered palpable to the senses ; and every decoration of the Stage is contrived to impose the delusion on the spectator, by conspiring with the imitation. It is addressed to the imagination, through which it opens to itself a communication with the heart, where it is to excite certain passions and affections ; each character being
personated, and each event exhibited, the attention of the audience is greatly captivated, and the imagination fo far affifts in the, delusion, as to sympathize in the representation. To the Muse of Tragedy, therefore, Mr. Pope has assigned the noble talk,
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art, To raise the genius, and to mend the heart, To inake mankind in conscious virtue bold, Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold. He ascribes such power to a well-wrought scene, as to ask,
When Cato groans who does not wish to bleed ? He would not have fupposed the death of Hector, or Sarpedon, could have produced an equal effect on any reader of the Iliad ; such enthusiasm is to be caught only from the Stage, and is the effect alone of strong-working sympathy, and passions agitated by the peculiar force and activity of the dramatic manner. - Writers of feeble genius, in their compositions for the Stage, frequently deviate into the narrative and descriptive style ; a fault for which nothing can atone; for the
Drama is a species of poetry, as distinët from the epic, as Statuary from Painting; and can no more claim that merit which fpecifically belongs to it, and constitutes its perfection, from fine versification, or any other poetical ornaments, than a statue can be rendered a fine specimen of sculpture, from being beautifully coloured, or highly polished. It is frivolous and idle, therefore, to infift on any little incidental and accessory beauties, where the main part, the very constitution of the thing, "is defective. Yeton such trivial beauties do the French found all their
pretensions to fuperiority and excellence in the Drama.
According to Aristotle, there can be no Tragedy without Action*. Mr. Voltaire confesses, that some of the most admired Tragedies, in France, are rather conversations, than representations of an action. It will hardly be allowed to those who fail in the most essential part of an art, to set up their performances as models. Can they * Arist. Chap. vi.
who have robbed the Tragic Muse of all her virtue, and divested her of whatsoever gives her a real interest in the human heart, require, we should adore her for the glitter of a few false brilliants, or the nice arrangement of frippery ornaments ? If she wears any thing of intrinsic value, it has been borrowed from the ancients ; but by these artists it is so fantastically fashioned to modern modes, as to lose all its original graces, and even that necessary qualification of all ornaments, Fitness and Propriety. A French Tragedy is a tissue of declamations, and laboured recitals of the catastrophe, by which the spirit of the Drama is greatly weakened and enervated, and the theatrical piece is deprived of that peculiar influence over the mind, which it derives from the vivid force of Representation.
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem,
The business of the Drama is to excite
sympathy, and its effect on the spectator depends on such a justness of imitation, as Thall cause, to a certain degree, the same passions and affections, as if what was exhibited was real. We have observed narrative imitation to be too faint and feeble a means to excite passion : declamation, still worse, plays idly on the surface of the subject, and makes the Poet, who should be concealed in the action, visible to the spectator. In many works of art, our pleasure arises from a reflection on the art itself; and in a comparison, drawn by the mind, between the original and the copy before us.
But here the Art and the Artist must not appear; for, as often as we recur to the Poet, so often our fympathy with the Action on the Stage is suspended. The pompous declamations of the French Theatre are mere rhetorical flourishes, such as an uninterested person might make on the state of the persons in the drama. They assume the office of the Spectator by expressing his feelings, instead of conveying to us the Atrong emotions and sensations of the persons C