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The Heroes of antiquity were not more disguised in the romances of Calprenede and Scuderi, than in the tragedies of Corneille. In spite of the admonitions given by that admirable critic Boileau to their dramatic writers in the following lines :
Gardez donc de donner, ainsi que dans Clélie,
The Horatii are reprefented no less obsequious in their address to their king, than the courtiers of the grand monarque. Theseus is made a mere sighing swain. Many of the greatest men of antiquity, and even the roughest Heroes amongst the Goths and Van-. dals, are exhibited in this effeminate form. The poet dignified the piece, perhaps with the name of an Hercules, but, alas! it was always Hercules spinning, that was shewn to the spectator. And yet the editor of Corneille's works, in terms so gross as are hardly
pardonable in such a master of fine raillery, frequently attacks our Shakespear for the want of delicacy and politeness in his pieces, It must be owned, that in some places they bear the marks of the unpolished times, in which he wrote, but one cannot forbear smiling to hear a critic, who professes himself an admirer of the tragedies of Corneille, object to the barbarism of Shakespear's. There never was a more barbarous mode of writing than that of the French romances in the last age, nor which from its tediousness, languor, and want of truth of character, is lefs fit to be copied on the stage: and what are most parts of Corneille’s boasted tragedies, but the romantic dialogue, its tedious soliloquy, and its extravagant sentiments in the true Gothic livery of rhyme ?
The French poets assume a superiority over Shakespear, on account of their more con
tant adherence to Aristotle's unities of Time and Place.
The pedant who bought at a great price
the lamp of a famous Philosopher, expecting that by its assistance his lucubrations would become equally celebrated, was little more absurd than those poets, who suppose their dramas must be excellent if they are segulated by Aristotle's clock. To bring within a limited time, and an assigned space, a series of conversations (and French plays are little more) is no difficult matter; for that is the easiest
of every art perhaps (but in poetry without dispute) in which the connoiffeur can direct the artist.
I do not suppose the Critic imagined that a mere obedience to his laws of drama would make a good tragedy, tho' it might prevent a poet more bold than judicious, from writing a very absurd one. A painter can define the just proportion of the human body, and the anatomist knows what muscles constitute the strength of the limbs; but tion, and exertion of strength, depend on the mind, which animates the form. The critic but fashions the Body of a work; the poet must add the Soul, which gives force and di
grace of mó
direction to its actions and gestures: when one of these critics has attempted to finish a work by his own rules, he has rarely been able to convey into it one spark of divine fire; and the hero of his piece, whom he designed for a Man, remains a cold inanimate Statue; which, moving on the wood and wire of the great masters in the mechanical part of the drama, presents to the spectators a kind of 'heroic puppet-thew. As these pieces take their rise in the school of Criticism, they return thither again, and are as good subjects for the students in that art, as a dead body to the professors in anatomy. Most minutely too have they been anatomised in learned academies: but works, animated by Genius, will not abide this kind of dissection,
Mr. Pope says, that, in order to form a judgment of Shakespear's works, we are not to apply to the rules of Aristotle, which would be like trying a man by the laws of one country, who lived under those of another.Heaven-born Genius acts from something su
perior to Rules, and antecedent to Rules; And' has a right of appeal to Nature herself.
Great indulgence is due to the errors of original writers, who, quitting the beaten track which others have travelled, make dare ing incursions into unexplored regions of invention, and boldly strike into the pathless Sublime: it is no wonder if they are often bewildered, sometimes benighted : yet surely it is more eligible to partake the pleasure and the hazard of their adventures, than still to follow the cautious steps of timid Imitators through trite and common roads. Genius is of a bold enterprizing nature, ill adapted to the formal restraints of critic institutions, or indeed to lay down to itself rules of nice discretion. If perfect and faultless compofition is ever to be'expected from human faculties, it must be at some happy period, when a noble and graceful fimplicity, the result of well regulated and fober magnanimity, reigns through the general manners.
Then the muses and the arts, neither effeminately deli