Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

With no greater right to our obedience have the criticks confined the dramatick action to a certain number of hours. Probability requires that the time of action should approach fomewhat nearly to that of exhibition, and thofe plays will always be thought most happily conducted which crowd the greatest variety into the least fpace. But since it will frequently happen that fome delusion must be admitted, I know not where the limits of imagination can be fixed. It is rarely observed that minds, not prepoffeffed by mechanical criticism, feel any offence from the extension of the intervals between the acts; nor can I conceive it absurd or impossible, that he who .can multiply three hours into twelve or twenty-four, might linage with equal ease a greater number.

I know not whether he that profeffes to regard no other laws than those of nature, will not be inclined to receive tragi-comedy to his protection, whom, however generally condemned, her own laurels have hitherto shaded from the fulminations of criticifin. For what is there in the mingled drama which impartial reason can condemn? The connexion of important with trivial incidents, since it is not only common but perpetual in the world, may surely be allowed upon the stage, which pretends only to be the mirrour of life. The impropriety of suppressing passions before we have raised them to the intended agitation, and of diverting the expectation from an event which we keep suspended only to raise it, may be speciously urged. But will not experience thew this objection to be rather subtle than just ? Is it not certain that the tragick and comick affections have been moved alternately with equal force, and that no plays have oftener filled the eye with tears, and the breast with palpitation, than those which are variegated with interludes of mirth?

been

I do not however think it safe to judge of works of genius merely by the event. The refiftless vicifsitudes of the heart, this alternate prevalence of merriment and solemnity, may sometimes be more properly ascribed to the vigour of the writer than the juftness of the design: and instead of vindicating tragi-comedy by the success of Shakespeare, we ought perhaps to pay new honours to that transcendent and unbounded genius that could preside over the passions in sport; who, to actuate the affections, needed not the flow gradation of common means, but could fill the heart with instantaneous jollity or sorrow, and vary our disposition as he changed his scenes. Perhaps the effects even of Shakespeare's poetry might have been yet greater, had he not counteracted himself; and we might have been more interested in the distresses of his heroes, had we not been so frequently diverted by the jokes of his buffoons.

There are other rules more fixed and obligatory. It is necessary that of every play the chief action should be single; for since a play represents some transaction, through its regular maturation to its final event, two actions equally important must evidently constitute two plays.

As the design of tragedy is to instruct by moving the passions, it must always have a hero, a personage apparently and incontestably superior to the rest, upon whom the attention may be fixed, and the anxiety suspended. For though of two persons op

posing

uni

H 2

posing each other with equal abilities and equal virtue, the auditor will inevitably in time choose his favourite, yet as that choice must be without any co. gency of conviction, the hopes or fears which it raises will be faint and languid. Of two heroes acting in confederacy against a common enemy, the virtues or dangers will give little emotion, because each claims our concern with the same right, and the heart lies at reft between equal motives.

It ought to be the first endeavour of a writer to distinguish nature from custom; or that which is established because it is right, from that which is right only because it is established; that he may neither violate essential principles by a desire of novelty, nor debar himself from the attainment of beauties within his view, by a needless fear of breaking rules which no literary dictator had authority to enact.

NUMB. 157. TUESDAY, September 17, 1751,

Oi ain's
Γίγνεται, η άνδρας μέγα σίνεται ηδ' ονίνησιν.

Hom.

Shame greatly hurts or greatly helps mankind.

ELPHINSTON.

To the RAMBLER.

TH

SIR,
HOUGH one of your correspondents has

presumed to mention with some contempt that presence of attention and easiness of address, which the polite have long agreed to celebrate and esteem, yet I cannot be persuaded to think them unworthy of regard or cultivation; but am inclined to believe that, as we seldom value rightly what we have never known the misery of wanting, his judgment has been vitiated by his happiness; and that a natural exuberance of assurance has hindered him from difcovering its excellence and use.

This felicity, whether bestowed by constitution, or obtained by early habitudes, I can scarcely contemplate without envy. I was bred under a man of learning in the country, who inculcated nothing but the dignity of knowledge, and the happiness of virtue. By frequency of admonition, and confidence of assertion, he prevailed upon me to believe, that the splendour of literature would always attract reverence, if not darkened by corruption. I therefore pursued my studies with incessant industry, aná avoided every thing which I had been taught to con

sider

H 3

fider either as vicious or tending to vice, because I regarded guilt and reproach as inseparably united, and thought a tainted reputation the greatest calamity.

At the university, I found no reason for changing my opinion ; for though many among my fellowstudents took the opportunity of a more remifs dircipline to gratify their passions ; yet yirtue preserved her natural superiority, and those who ventured to neglect, were not suffered to insult her. The ambition of petty accomplishments found its way into the receptacles of learning, but was observed to feize commonly on those who either neglected the sciences or could not attain them, and I was therefore confirmed in the doctrines of my old master, and thought nothing worthy of my care but the means of gaining or imparting knowledge.

This purity of manners, and intenseness of application, foon extended my renown, and I was aps plauded by those, whose opinion I then thought unlikely to deceive me, as a young man that gave uncommon hopes of future eininence. My performances in time reached my native province, and my relations congratulated themselves, upon the new honours that were added to their family.

I returned home covered with academical laurels, and fraught with criticism and philosophy. The wit and the scholar excited curiosity, and my acquaintance was solicited by innumerable invitations. To please will always be the wish of benevolence, to be admired must be the constant aim of ambition; and I therefore considered myself as about to receive the reward of my honest labours, and to find the efficacy of learning and of virtue. ,

The

« VorigeDoorgaan »