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i The oak, as I think Gildon has observed, belonged to the British druids, and Thor and Woden were Saxon deities. Of the double rhymes, which he so liberally supposes, he certainly had no knowledge.
His interposition of a long paragraph of blank verses is anwarrantably licentious. Latin poets might as well have introduced a series of iambics among their heroics.
Ilis next work is the translation of the "Art of Poetry;" which has received, in my opinion, not less praise than it deserves. Blank verse, left merely to its numbers, has little operation either on the ear or mind: it can hardly support itself without bold figures and striking images. A poem frigidly didactic, without rhyme, is so near to prose, that the reader only scorns it for pretending to be verse.
Having disentangled himself from the difficulties of rhyme, he may justly be expected to give the sense of Horace with great exactness, and to suppress no subtlety of sentiment for the difficulty of expressing it. This demand, however, his translation will not satisfy; what he found obscure, I do not know that he has ever cleared.
Among his smaller works the “Eclogue of Virgil” and the "Dies Iræ" are well translated; though the best line in the “Dies Iræ" is borrowed from Dryden. In return, succeeding poets have borrowed from Roscommon.
In the verses on the Lap-dog, the pronouns thou and you are offensively confounded; and the turn at the end is from Waller.
His versions of the two odes of Horace are made with great liberty, which is not recompensed by much elegance or vigour.
His political verses are sprightly, and when they were written must have been very popular.
Of the scene of “Guarini" and the prologue of “Pompey," Mrs. Philips, in her letters to Sir Charles Cotterel, has given
the history. ","Lord Roscommon," says she, “is certainly one of the most promising young noblemen in Ireland. He has phrased a psalm admirably; and a scene of “Pastor Fido' very finely, in some places much better than Sir Richard Fanshaw. This was undertaken merely in compliment to me, who happened to say that it was the best scene in Italian,
and the worst in English. He was only two hours about it. It begins thus:
“Dear happy groves, and you the dark retreat
Of silent horror, Rest's eternal seat." 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. Philips 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 design, 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 judginent of the public 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.
Of 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 Otway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester-school, where he was educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ-church; but left the university without a degree, whether for want of money, or from impatience of academical restraint, 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 dramatic poet should withcut 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 dramatic author; Johnson's Lives. I.
and, in 1675, his twenty-fifth year, produced " Alcibiades," a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to inquire. Langbaine, the great detector of plagiarism, is silent.
In 1671, 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 might 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 dissolute 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 reckoning. 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 dimissed again to their own narrow circumstances. Thus they languished in poverty, without the support of eminence.”
Some exception, however, must be made. The Earl of Plymouth, one of King Charles's natural sons, procured for him a cornet's commission in some troops then sent into Flanders. But Otway did not prosper in his military character: for he soon left his commission behind him, whatever was the reason, and came back to London in extreme indigence; which Rochester mentions with merciless insolence in the “Session of the Poets:" —
Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
"Don Carlos," from which he is represented as having received so much benefit, was played in 1675. It appears, by
the lampoon, to have had great success, and is said to have been played thirty nights together. This, however, it is reasonable to doubt; as so long a continuance of one play upon the stage is a very 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 of nearly the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety.
The Orphan" was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep possession of the stage, and has pleased for almost a century, through all the vicissitudes of dramatic fashion. Of this play nothing new can easily be said. It is a domestic tragedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the affections; for it is not written with much comprehension 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 dramatic work, "Venice Preserved,” a tragedy, which still continues to be one of the favourites of the public, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable scenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his tragic action. By comparing this with his “Orphan," it will appear that his images were by time become stronger, and his language more energetic. The striking passages are in every mouth; and the public seems to judge rightly of the faults and excellences of this play, that it is the work of a man not attentive to decency, nor zealous for virtue; but of one who conceived forcibly, and drew originally, by consulting nature in his own breast.
Together with those plays he wrote the poems which are in the present collection, and translated from the French the “History of the Triumvirate." .
All this was performed before he was thirty-four years old; for he died April 14, 1685, in a manner which I am unwilling to mention. Having been compelled by his necessities to con