« PreviousContinue »
and extraordinary incidents, that make the beauty of a tragedy: 'tis the discourses, when they are natural and passionate: so are Shakspeare's.'
"The parts of a poem, tragic or heroic, are, "1. The fable itself.
"2. The order or manner of its contrivance, in relation of the parts to the whole.
"3. The manners, or decency of the characters, in speaking or acting what is proper for them, and proper to be shown by the poet.
this he has offered at, in some measure; but, I think, a little partially to the ancients.
"For the fable itself, 'tis in the English more adorned with episodes, and larger than in the Greek poets; consequently more diverting. For, if the action be but one, and that plain, without any counterturn of design or episode, i. e. under plot, how can it be so pleasing as the English, which have both underplot and a turned design, which keeps the audience in expectation of the catastrophe? whereas in the Greek poets we see through the whole design at first.
"For the characters, they are neither so many
"4. The thoughts which express the manners. "5. The words which express those thoughts. "In the last of these, Homer excels Virgil: Virgil all the other ancient poets; and Shak-nor so various in Sophocles and Euripides, as speare all modern poets.
in Shakspeare and Fletcher: only they are more adapted to those ends of tragedy which Aristotle commends to us, pity and terror.
"The manners flow from the characters, and consequently must partake of their advantages and disadvantages.
"The thoughts and words, which are the fourth and fifth beauties of tragedy, are certainly more noble and more poetical in the English than in the Greek, which must be proved by comparing them somewhat more equitably than Mr. Rymer has done.
"For the second of these, the order: the meaning is, that a fable ought to have a beginning, middle, and an end, all just and natural; so that that part, e. g. which is the middle, could not naturally be the beginning or end, and so of the rest: all depend on one another, like the links of a curious chain. If terror and pity are only to be raised, certainly this author follows Aristotle's rules, and Sophocles and Euripides' example; but joy may be raised too, and that doubly, either by seeing a wicked man punished, or a good man at last fortunate; or perhaps indignation, to see wickedness prosper-lish way is less conducing to move pity and terous, and goodness depressed: both these may be profitable to the end of a tragedy, reformation of manners; but the last improperly, only as it begets pity in the audience; though Aristotle, I confess, places tragedies of this kind in the second form.
“After all, we need not yield that the Eng
ror, because they often show virtue oppressed and vice punished: where they do not both, or either, they are not to be defended.
"And if we should grant that the Greeks performed this better, perhaps it may admit of dispute, whether pity and terror are either the "He who undertakes to answer this excel-prime, or at least the only ends of tragedy. lent critique of Mr. Rymer, in behalf of our English poets against the Greek, ought to do it in this manner: either by yielding to him the greatest part of what he contends for, which consists in this, that the μúdos, i. e. the design and conduct of it, is more conducing in the Greeks to those ends of tragedy, which Aristotle and he propose, namely, to cause terror and pity; yet the granting this does not set the Greeks above the English poets.
"But the answerer ought to prove two things: First, That the fable is not the greatest masterpiece of a tragedy, though it be the foundation of it.
"Secondly, That other ends as suitable to the nature of tragedy may be found in the English, which were not in the Greek.
"Aristotle places the fable first; not quoad dignitatem, sed quoad fundamentum: for à fable never so movingly contrived to those ends of his, pity and terror, will operate nothing on our affections, except the characters, manners, thoughts, and words are suitable.
"So that it remains for Mr. Rymer to prove, that in all those, or the greatest part of them, we are inferior to Sophocles and Euripides; and
" 'Tis not enough that Aristotle had said so; for Aristotle drew his models of tragedy from Sophocles and Euripides; and if he had seen ours, might have changed his mind. And chiefly we have to say (what I hinted on pity and terror, in the last paragraph save one), that the punishment of vice, and reward of virtue, are the most adequate ends of tragedy, because most conducing to good example of life. Now, pity is not so easily raised for a criminal (and the ancient tragedy always represents its chief person such) as it is for an innocent man; and the suffering of innocence and punishment of the offender is of the nature of English tragedy: contrarily, in the Greek, innocence is unhappy often, and the offender escapes. Then we are not touched with the sufferings of any sort of men so much as of lovers; and this was almost unknown to the ancients: so that they neither administered poetical justice, of which Mr. Rymer boasts, so well as we; neither knew they the best common-place of pity, which is love.
"He therefore unjustly blames us for not building on what the ancients left us; for it seems, upon consideration of the premises, that we have wholly finished what they began.
"My judgment on this piece is this: that it is extremely learned, but that the author of it s better read in the Greek than in the English poets; that all writers ought to study this critique, as the best account I have ever seen of the ancients; that the model of tragedy, he has here given, is excellent, and extremely correct; but that it is not the only model of all tragedy, because it is too much circumscribed in plot, characters, &c.; and, lastly, that we may be taught here justly to admire and imitate the ancients, without giving them the preference with this author, in prejudice to our own country.
"Want of method in this excellent treatise makes the thoughts of the author sometimes ob
"His meaning, that pity and terror are to be moved, is, that they are to be moved as the means conducing to the ends of tragedy, which are pleasure and instruction.
"And these two ends may be thus distinguished. The chief end of the poet is to please; for his immediate reputation depends on it.
"The great end of a poem is to instruct, which is performed by making pleasure the vehicle of that instruction; for poesy is an art, and all arts are made to profit.-Rapin.
"The pity, which the poet is to labour for, is for the criminal, not for those or him whom he has murdered, or who have been the occasion of the tragedy. The terror is likewise in the punishment of the same criminal; who, if he be represented too great an offender, will not be pitied; if altogether innocent, his punishment will be unjust.
"Another obscurity is, where he says, Sophocles perfected tragedy by introducing the third actor: that is, he meant three kinds of action: one company singing, or speaking; another playing on the music; a third dancing.
"To make a true judgment in this competition betwixt the Greek poets and the English, in tragedy:
"Consider, First, How Aristotle has defined a tragedy. Secondly, What he assigns the end of it to be. Thirdly, What he thinks the beauties of it. Fourthly, The means to attain the end proposed.
Compare the Greek and English tragic poets justly, and without partiality, according to those rules.
"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 excellences 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, scarcely 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 a heroic passion, is fit for tragedy, which cannot be denied, because 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 it 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 discouragement 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 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.
"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 objects, is the same in all places, and reason too the same; yet the climate, the age, the disposition of the people, to whom a poet writes, may be so different, that what pleased the Greeks would not satisfy an English audience.
"And if they proceed 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.
"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 beforenamed, 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 that a writer is not to run down with the stream, or to please the people by their usual methods, but rather to reform their judgments, it still remains to prove that our theatre needs this total reformation.
"The faults, which he has found in their design, 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.
"They destroy not if they are granted, the foundation of the fabric; only take away from the beauty of the symmetry; for example, the faults in the character of the King, in King and No-king,' are not, as he calls 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 con cernment for him: this answer may be applied to most of his objections of that kind.
"And Rolla 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 certainly a good rule, but not perpetually to be observed; for that were to make all tragedies too much alike; which objection he foresaw, but has not fully answered.
"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.
"Being now at Sir William Bowyer's in the country, I cannot write at large, because I find myself somewhat indisposed with a cold, and am thick of hearing, rather worse than I was in town. I am glad to find, by your letter of July 26th, your style, that you are both in health, but wonder you should think me so negligent as to forget to give you an account of the ship in which your parcel is to come. have written to you two or three letters concerning it, which I have sent by safe hands, as I told you, and doubt not but you have them before this can arrive to you. Being out of S
town, I have forgotten the ship's name, which your mother will inquire and put it into her letter, which is joined with mine. But the master's name I remember: he is called Mr. Ralph Thorp; the ship is bound to Leghorn, consigned to Mr. Peter and Mr. Thomas Ball, merchants. I am of your opinion, that by Tonson's means almost all our letters have miscarried for this last year. But, however, he has missed of his design in the dedication, though he had prepared the book for it; for, in every figure of Æneas he has caused him to be drawn like King William, with a hooked nose. After my return to town, I intend to alter a play of Sir Robert Howard's, written long since, and lately put into my hands; it is called "The Conquest of China by the Tartars." It will cost me six weeks study, with the probable benefit of a hundred pounds. In the mean time I am writing a song for St. Cecilia's Feast, who, you know, is the patroness of music. This is troublesome, and no way beneficial; but I could not deny the stewards of the feast, who came in a body to me to desire that kindness, one of them being Mr. Bridgeman, whose parents are your mother's friends. I hope to send you thirty guineas between Michaelmas and Christmas, of which I will give you an account when I come to town. I remember the counsel you give me in your letter; but dissembling, though lawful in some cases, is not my talent; yet, for
your sake, I will struggle with the plain openness of my nature, and keep in my just resentments against that degenerate order. In the mean time, I flatter not myself with any manner of hopes, but do my v, and suffer for God's sake; being assured, before-hand, never to be rewarded, though the times should alter. Towards the latter end of this month, September, Charles will begin to recover his perfect health, according to his nativity, which, casting it myself, I am sure is true, and all things hitherto have happened accordingly to the very time that I predicted them: I hope at the same time to recover more health, according to my age. Remember me to poor Harry, whose prayers I earnestly desire. My Virgil succeeds in the world beyond its desert or my expectation. You know the profits might have been more; but neither my conscience nor my honour would suffer me to take them; but I can never repent of my constancy, since I am thoroughly persuaded of the justice of the cause for which I suffer. It has pleased God to raise up many friends to me amongst my enemies, though they who ought to have been my friends are negligent of me. I am called to dinner, and cannot go on with this letter, which I desire you to excuse; and am
"Your most affectionate father,
EDMUND SMITH is one of those lucky writers | ter of the famous Baron Lechmere. who have, without much labour, attained high fortunes of his father, which were soon followreputation, and who are mentioned with rever- ed by his death, were the occasion of the son's ence rather for the possession than the exertion being left very young in the hands of a near reof uncommon abilities. lation (one who married Mr. Neale's sister) whose name was Smith.
Of his life little is known; and that little claims no praise but what can be given to intellectual excellence seldom employed to any virtuous purpose. His character, as given by Mr. Oldisworth with all the partiality of friendship, which is said by Dr. Burton to show "what fine things one man of parts can say of another," and which, however, comprises great part of what can be known of Mr. Smith, it is better to transcribe at once than to take by pieces. shall subjoin such little memorials as accident has enabled me to collect.
Mr. EDMUND SMITH was the only son of an eminent merchant, one Mr. Neale, by a daugh
This gentleman and his lady treated him as their own child, and put him to Westminster School, under the care of Dr. Busby; whence, after the loss of his faithful and generous guardian (whose name he assumed and retained) he was removed to Christ-church, in Oxford, and there by his aunt handsomely maintained till her death; after which he continued a member of that learned and ingenious society till within five years of his own; though, some time before his leaving Christ-church, he was sent for by his mother to Worcester, and owned and acknowledged as her legitimate son; which had not been mentioned, but to wipe off the asper.
sions that were ignorantly cast by some on his birth. It is to be remembered, for our Author's honour, that, when at Westminster election he stood a candidate for one of the universities, he so signally distinguished himself by nis conspicuous performances, that there arose no small contention between the representative electors of Trinity College, in Cambridge, and Christ-church, in Oxon, which of those two royal societies should adopt him as their own. But the electors of Trinity College having the preference of choice that year, they resolutely elected him; who yet, being invited at the same time to Christ-church, chose to accept of a studentship there. Mr. Smith's perfections, as well natural as acquired, seem to have been formed upon Horace's plan, who says, in his "Art of Poetry,"
-Ego nec studium sine divite vena,
He was endowed by nature with all those excellent and necessary qualifications which are previous to the accomplishment of a great man. His memory was large and tenacious, yet by a curious felicity chiefly susceptible of the finest impressions it received from the best authors he read, which it always preserved in their primitive strength and amiable order.
as young as Cowley, he had no puerilities; and his earliest productions were so far from having any thing in them mean and trifling, that, like the junior compositions of Mr. Stepney, they may make gray authors blush. There are many of his first essays in oratory, in epigram, elegy, and epique, still handed about the University in manuscript, which show a masterly hand; and though maimed and injured by frequent transcribing, make their way into our most celebrated miscellanies, where they shine with uncommon lustre. Besides those verses in the Oxford books which he could not help setting his name to, several of his compositions came abroad under other names, which his own singular modesty and faithful silence strove in vain to conceal. The Encænia and public Col lections of the University upon State Subjects were never in such esteem, either for elegy and congratulation, as when he contributed most largely to them; and it was natural for those who knew his peculiar way of writing to turn to his share in the work, as by far the most relishing part of the entertainment. As his parts were extraordinary, so he well knew how to improve them; and not only to polish the diamond, but enchase it in the most solid and durable metal. Though he was an academic the greatest part of his life, yet he contracted no sourness of temper, no spice of pedantry, no itch of disputation, or obstinate contention for the old or new philosophy, no assuming way of dictating to others, which are faults (though excusable) which some are insensibly led into who are constrained to dwell long within the walls of a private college. His conversation was pleasant and instructive; and what Horace said of Plotius, Varius, and Virgil, might justly be ap
Nil ego contulerim jucundo sanus Amico,
He had a quickness of apprehension and vivacity of understanding which easily took in and surmounted the most subtle and knotty parts of mathematics and metaphysics. His wit was prompt and flowing, yet solid and piercing; his taste delicate, his head clear, and his way of expressing his thoughts perspicuous and engaging. I shall say nothing of his per-plied to him: son, which was yet so well turned, that no neglect of himself in his dress could render it disagreeable; insomuch that the fair sex, who observed and esteemed him, at once commended and reproved him by the name of the handsome sloven. An eager but generous and noble emulation grew up with him; which (as it were a rational sort of instinct) pushed him upon striving to excel in every art and science that could make him a credit to his College, and that college the ornament of the most learned and polite University; and it was his happiness to have several contemporaries and fellow-students who exercised and excited this virtue in themselves, and others thereby becoming so deservedly in favour with this age, and so good a proof of its nice discernment. His judgment, naturally good, soon ripened into an exquisite finerless and distinguishing sagacity, which, as it was active and busy, so it was vigorous and manly, keeping even paces with a rich and strong imagination, always upon the wing, and never tired with Aspiring. Hence it was, that, though he writ
Sat. v. 1. 1.
As correct a writer as he was in his most elaborate pieces, he read the works of others with candour, and reserved his greatest severity for his own compositions; being readier to cherish and advance than damp or depress a rising genius, and as patient of being excelled himself (if any could excel him) as industrious to excel others.
It were to be wished he had confined himself to a particular profession who was capable of surpassing in any; but, in this, his want of application was in a great measure owing to his want of due encouragement.
He passed through the exercises of the College and University with unusual applause; and though he often suffered his friends to call him off from his retirements, and to lengthen out those jovial avocations, yet his return to his studies was so much the more passionate, and