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From these lines, which are since somewhat mended, it appears that he did not think a work of two hours fit to endure the eye of criticism without revisal.
When Mrs. Phillips was in Ireland, some ladies, that had seen her translation of Pompey, resolved to bring it on the stage at Dublin; and, to promote their defign, Lord Roscommon gave them a prologue, and Sir Edward Dering an Epilogue; “ which,” says she,
are the best performances of those kinds I ever saw." If this is not criticism, it is at least gratitude. The thought of bringing Cæsar and Pompey into Ireland, the only country over which Cæsar never had any power, is lucky.
Of Roscommon's works, the judgement of the publick seems to be right. He is elegant, but not great ; he never labours after exquisite beauties, and he seldom falls into gross faults. His versification is smooth, but rarely vigorous, and his rhymes are remarkably exact. He improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors to English literature.
F THOMAS OTWAY, one of the first
names in the English drama, little is known; nor is there any part of that little which his biographer can take pleasure in relating.
He was born at Trottin in Sussex, March 3, 1651, the son of Mr. Humphry Orway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester-school, where he was educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ-church; but left the univertity without a degree, whether for want of money, or from impatience of academical reftraint, or mere eagerness to mingle with the world, is not known.
It seems likely that he was in hope of being busy and conspicuous : for he went to London, and commenced player; but found himself unable to gain any reputation on the stage.
This kind of inability he shared with Shakspeare and Jonson, as he shared likewise some of their excellences. It seems reasonable to expect that a great dramatick poet should without difficulty become a great actor; that he who can feel, could express; that he who can excite passion, should exhibit with great readiness its external modes: but since experience has fully proved that of those powers, whatever be their affinity, one may be possessed in a great degree by him who has very little of the other; it must be allowed that they depend upon different faculties, or on different use of the same faculty; that the actor must have a pliancy of mien, a flexibility of countenance, and a variety of tones, which the poet may be easily supposed to want; or that the attention of the poet and the player have been differently employed; the one has been considering thought, and the other action; one has watched the heart, and the other contemplated the face.
Though he could not gain much notice as a player, he felt in himself such powers as might qualify for a dramatick author; and, in 1675, his twenty-fifth year, produced Alcibiades, a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to enquire. Langbain, the great detector of plagiarism, is filent.
In 1677 he published Titus and Berenice, translated from Rapin, with the Cheats of Scapin from Moliere; and in 1678 Friendship in Fashion, a comedy, which, whatever right be its first reception, was, upon its revival at Drury-lane in 1749, hissed off the stage for immorality and obscenity.
Want of morals, or of decency, did not in those days exclude any man from the company of the wealthy and the gay, if he brought with him any powers of
entertainment; and Otway is said to have been at this time a favourite companion of the diffolute wits. But as he who desires no virtue in his companion has no virtue in himself, those whom Otway frequented had no purpose of doing more for him than to pay his Teckoning. They desired only to drink and laugh; their fondness was without benevolence, and their familiarity without friendship. Men of wit, says one of Otway's biographers, received at that time no favour from the Great but to share their riots; from which they were dismissed again to their own narrow circumstances. Thus they languished in poverty without tbe support of imninence.
Some exception, however, must be made. The Earl of Plymouth, one of King Charles's natural fons, procured for him a cornet's commission in some troops then sent into Flanders. But Otway did not prosper in his inilitary character; for he foon left his commission behind him, whatever was the reason, and came back to London in extreme indigence ; which Rochester mentions with merciless infolence in the Seffion of the Poets :
Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
is said to have been played thirty nights together. This however it is reasonable to doubt, as so long à continuance of one play upon the stage is a vey wide deviation from the practice of that time; when the ardour for theatrical entertainments was not yet diffused through the whole people, and the audience, consisting nearly of the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety
The Orpban was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep poffefsion of the stage, and has pleased for almost a century, through all the vicissitudes of dramatick fashion. Of this play nothing new can easily be said. It is a domestick tragedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the affections; for it is not written with much comprehenfion of thought, or elegance of expression. But if the heart is interested, many other beauties may be wanting, yet not be missed.
The same year produced The History and Fall of Caius Marius; much of which is borrowed from the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspeare.
In 1683 was published the first, and next year the second, parts of The Soldier's Fortune, two comedies now forgotten: and in 1685 his last and greatest dramatick work, Venice preserved, a tragedy, which still continues to be one of the favourites of the publick, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable scenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his tragick action *. By
* The want of morality may be justly objected to alınost the whole of Otway's writings. In the tragedy of the Orphan, in which the distress arises solely from a vicious action of a young man, is this most impious exclamation :