« PreviousContinue »
and represented them with sentiments and manners agreeable to their historical characters; and to those things, which common fame had divulged of them, must have engaged the attention of the spectator, and affifted in that delusion of his Imagination, from whence his fympathy with the story muft arise. We are affected by the catastrophe of a Stranger, we lament the destiny of an dipus, and the misfortunes of an Hecuba; but the little peculiarities of a character touch us only where we have some nearer affinity to the person, than the common relation of humanity: nor, unless we are particularly acquainted with the original character, can these distinguishing marks have the merit of heightening the ręsemblance, and animating the portrait.
.: We are apt to consider Shakespear only as a Poet; but he is certainly one of the greatest moral Philosophers that ever lived.
Euripides was highly esteemed by theancients for the moral sentences, with which he has interspersed the speeches in his tragedies;
and certainly many general truths are expressed in them with a sententious brevity. But he rather collects general opinions into maxims, and gives them a form, which is easily retained by memory, than extracts any new observations from the characters in action, which
reader of penetration will find the invariable practice of our author; and when he introduces a general maxim, it seems drawn from him by the occasion. As it arises out of the action, it loses itself again in it, and remains not, as in other writers, an ambitious ornament glittering alone, but is so connected as to be an useful passage very naturally united with the story. The examples of this are so frequent, as to occur almost in every scene of his best plays. But left I should be misunderstood, I will cite one from the second part of Henry IV. where the general maxim is, that
An habitation giddy and unsure
Let us on: And publish the occasion of our arms. The commonwealth is sick of their own choice; Their over greedy love hath surfeited. An habitation giddy and unfure Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart. Oh thou fond many ! with what loud applause, Did'st thou beat heav'n with blefling Bolingbroke, Before he was, what thou would'st have him be! And now, being trim'd up in thine own desires, Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of him, That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up. So, so, thou common dog, didst thou disgorge Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard, And now thou would'st eat thy dead vomit up, And howl'st to find it. What trust in these times? They that when Richard liv'd would have him die, Are now become enamour'd on his grave: Thou that throwd'st dust upon his goodly head, When through proud London he came fighing on After the admired heels of Bolingbroke, Cry'st now, O earth, yield us that king again, And take thou this.
be more frequent in this kind of Drama, than in the other species of Tragedy, where, if not very short, they teaze the spectator, whose mind is intent upon, and impatient for the catastrophe ; and unless they arise necessarily out of the circumstances the person is in, they appear unnatural. For in the pressure of extreme distress, men are intent only on themselves and on the present exigence. The various interests and characters in these historical plays, and the mixture of the comic, weaken the operations of pity and terror, but introduce various opportunities of conveying moral instruction, as occasion is given to a variety of reflections and obfervations, more useful in common life than those drawn from the conditions of kings and heroes, and persons greatly superior to us by nature or fortune.
As there are poets of various talents, and readers of various tastes, one would rather wish that all the fields of Parnaffus might
be free and open to men of genius, than that a proud and tyrannical spirit of criticism should controul us in the use of any of them. Those which we should have judged most barren, have brought forth noble productions when cultivated by an able hand.
Even fairy land has produced the Sublime ; and the wild regions of Romance have sometimes yielded just and genuine sentiments.
To write a perfect tragedy, a Poet must be possessed of the Pathetic or the Sublime; or perhaps to attain the utmost excellence, must, by a more uncommon felicity, be able to give the Sublime the finest touches of passion and tenderness, and to the Pathetic the dignity of the Sublime. The straining a moderate or feeble genius to these arduous tasks, has produced the most absurd bombast, and the most pitiable nonsense that has ever been uttered. Aristotle's rules, like Ulysses' bow, are held forth to all pretenders to Tragedy, who as unfortunate as 4