« PreviousContinue »
After all, we need not yield that the English way is not less conducing to ૯૮
move pity and terror, because they often shew virtue oppressed and vice pu“ nished; 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 prime, or at " least the only end of tragedy.
“ 'Tis not enough that Aristotle has 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 arethe inost adequate ends of tragedy, because most condu
cing 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
innocent man; and the suffering of innocence and punishment of the of “ fender is of the nature of English tragedy, contrarily, in the Greek, inno"cence is unliappy often, and the offender escapes. Then we are not touched s with the sufferings of any sort of men so much as of lovers, and this was " alınost 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 picce is this, that it is extremely learned; but that " the author of it is better read in the Greek than in the English poets : 4. 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, 16.and extremely correct: but that it is not the only model of all tragedy, because as 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 obscure.
“ His meaning, that pity and terror are to be moved, is, that they are to be “ moved as the mcans 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 the poem is to instruct, which is performed by making
pleasure the vehicle of that instruction ; for poesy is an art, and all arts are 56 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 intro“ ducing the third actor: that is, 'he meant three kinds of action; one com
pany singing, or another playing on the musick ; a third dancing.
“ To make a true. judgment in this competition betwixt the Greek poets " and the English, in tragedy :
“ Consider, first, how Aristotle had defined a tragedy. Secondly, what he s 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 tragick poets justly, and without partia"lity, 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, hav“ ing 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, shew in what ancient tragedy was deficient; for example, in the “ narrowness of its plots, and fewness of persons, and try whether that be not
fault in the Greek poets; and whether their excellence was so great, when " the variety was visibly so little; or whether what they did was not very casy
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, scarce 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 an heroic passion, is fit for tragedy, which “ cannot be denied, because of the example alledged of Phædra ; and how “ far Shakspeare has outdone them in friendship, &c.
“ To return to the beginning of this enquiry ; 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 man“ ners, 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 shewing the rewards of one, and punishments of the other; “ at least, by rendering virtue always amiable, tho' it be shewn unfortunate; " and vice detestable, though it be shew'n 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 the 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 consi“ der whether the English have not answered this end of tragedy, as well as “s 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.
« 'Tis evident those plays, which he arraigns, have moved both those pas“ sions 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 “ shews that there is something of force and merit in the plays themselves, con
ducing 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 'npon 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 'tis night, 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 these 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 proceeded upon a foundation of truer reason to please the “ Athenians, than Shakspeare and Fletcher to please the English, it only shews " 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, "s as he calls it, or with bread, is the next question ; that is, whether the " means which Shakespeare and Fletcher have used in their plays to raise " those passions before named, 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 granted 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 judge“ ments, it still remains to prove that our theatre needs this total reformation.
" The faults, which he has found in their designs, 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.
"2. They destroy not, if they are granted, the foundation of the fabrick; 5s 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 accom
pany human nature, and are for the most part excused by the violence of « his love ; so that they destroy not our pity or concernment for him: this "answer may be applied to most of his objections of that kind.
“ And Rollo committing many murders, when he is answerable but for
one, is too severely arraigned by him; for it adds to our horror and de“ testation of the criminal : and poetical 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 an 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 shews our genius in tragedy is greater ; “ for in all other parts of it the English have manifestly excelled them.”
THE original of the following letter is preserved in the Library at Lambeth, and was kindly imparted to the publick by the reverend Dr. Vyse. Copy of an original Letter from John Dryden, Esq. to his sons in Italy,
from a MS. in the Lambeth Library, marked No 933. p. 56. (Superscribed)
CC Al Illustrisssimo Sigre “ Carlo Dryden Camariere « d'Honore A. S. S.
" In Roma. Vol. I.
“ Franca per Mantoua.
Sept. the 3d, our style. * Dear Sons, “ Being now at Sir William Bowyer's in the country; I cannot write at « large, because I find myself somewhat indisposed with a cold, andam thick “ of hearing, rathet 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. I 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 town, I have forgotten the ship's name, which your mother will “ enquire, 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. Tho. Ball, merchants. “ I am of your opinion, that by Tonson's means almost ail 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
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 : " 'tis called The Conquest of China by the Tartars. It will cost me six weeks “ study, with the problable benefit of an hundred pounds. In the mean time “ I am writing a song for St. Cecilia's Feast, who, you know, is the pa“ troness of musick. 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. Bridgman, whose parents " are your mother's friends. I hope to send you thirty guineas between “ Michaelmass and Christmass, 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 openess 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 duty, 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. Remera* ber me to poor Harry, whose prayers I earnestly desire. My Virgil suc“ ceeds in the world beyond its desert or my expectation. You know the