when placed near, set off each other. A continued gravity keeps the spirit too much bent; we must refresh it sometimes, as we bait in a journey, that we may go on with greater ease. A scene of mirth, mixed with tragedy, has the same effect upon us which our music has betwixt the acts; which we find a relief to us from the best plots and language of the stage, if the discourses have been long. I must therefore have stronger arguments, ere I am convinced, that compassion and mirth, in the same subject, destroy each other; and, in the mean time, cannot but conclude, to the honour of our nation, that we have invented, increased, and perfected, a more pleasant way of writing for the stage, than was ever known to the ancients or moderns of any nation, which is tragi-comedy.'*

The following passage will speak for itself: 'As for his (Licideius's) other argument, that, by pursuing one single theme, they gain an advantage to express and work up the passions, I wish any example he could bring from them would make it good; for I confess their verses are to me the coldest I have ever read. Neither, indeed, is it possible for them, in the way they take, so to express passion, as the effects of it should appear in the concernment of an audience, their speeches being so many declamations, which tire us with the length; so that instead of persuading us to grieve for their imaginary heroes, we are concerned for our own trouble, as we are in tedious visits of bad company; we are in pain till they are gone. When the French stage came to be reformed by cardinal Richelieu, those long harangues were introduced, to comply with the gravity of a churchman. Look upon the Cinna and the Pompey; they are not so properly to be called plays, as long discourses of reason of state; and Pollencté in matters of religion is as so

* Scot. Dryd, vol. xv. p. 318.

lemn as the long stops upon our organs. Since that time, it was grown into custom, and their actors speak by the hour-glass, like our parsons: nay, they account it the grace of their parts, and think themselves disparaged by the poet, if they may not twice or thrice in a play entertain the audience with a speech of an hundred lines. I deny not that this may suit well enough with the French; for, as we, who are a more sullen people, come to be diverted at our plays, soʻthey, who are of an airy and gay temper, come thither to make themselves more serious: and this I conceive to be one reason, why comedies are more pleasing to us, and tragedies to them. But to speak generally : it cannot be denied, that short speeches and replies are more apt to move the passions, and beget concernment in us, than the other; for it is unnatural for any one, in a gust of passion, to speak long together; or for another, in the same condition, to suffer him without interruption. Grief and passion are like floods raised in little brooks by a sudden rain; they are quickly up, and if the concernment be poured unexpectedly in upon us, it overflows us : but a long sober shower gives them leisure to run out as they came in, without troubling the ordinary current. As för comedy, repartee is one of its chiefest graces; the greatest pleasure of the audience is a chace of wit, kept up on both sides, and swiftly managed.'*

Nothing can surpass the acuteness of his criticism upon the French drama: “Many times they (the French) fall by it (the unity of action) into a greater inconvenience; for they keep their scenes unbroken, and yet change the place; as in one of their newest plays, where the act begins in the street. There a gentleman is to meet his friend; he sees him with his man coming out of his father's house ; they talk together, and the first goes out: the se

* Scott's Dry. vol. xv. p. 340.

cond, who is a lover, has made an appointment with his mistress; she appears at the window, and then we are to imagine the scene lies under it. This gentleman is called away, and leaves his servant with his mistress: presently her father is heard from within; the young lady is afraid the serving man should be discovered, and thrusts him into a place of safety, which is supposed to be her closet. After this, the father enters to the daughter, and now the scene is in a house : for he is seeking from one room to another for this poor Philipin, or French Diego, who is heard from within, drolling and making many a miserable concert on the subject of his sad condition. In this ridiculous manner the play goes forward, the stage being never empty all the while : so that the street, the window, the two houses, and the closet, are made to walk about, and the persons to stand still. Now, what I beseech you, is more easy than to write a regular French play, or more difficult than to write an irregular. English one ?*

We shall subjoin that account of Shakspeare,' of which Johnson says, it may stand as a perpetual model of encomiastic criticism; exact without minuteness, and lofty without exaggeration. The praise, lavished by Longinus, on the attestation of the heroes of Marathon, by Demosthenes, fades away before it. In a few lines is exhibited a character, so extensive in its comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor can the editors or admirers of Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, boast of much more than of having diffused and paraphrased this epitome of excellence, of having changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower value, though of greater bulk? This encomium is nearly as long, and quite as lofty, as that on which it is lavished. It was not usual for Dr.

* Scott's Dry. xv. p. 347,

Johnson to speak thus of any composition ; and, though no person can deny, that Dryden's character of Shakspeare has pre-eminent merit, many would be disappointed to find, that such a biographer had bestowed so much praise upon so short a paragraph:

"To begin then with Shakspeare. He was the man, who, of all modern, and perhaps all ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him; and he drew them, not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those, who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation : he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature ; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say, he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clinches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him: no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,

Quantum lenta solent inter viberna cupressi.'

E 2

« VorigeDoorgaan »