« VorigeDoorgaan »
do it in this manner : either by yielding to him the greatest part of what he contends for, which consists in this, that the uilos, i.e. the design and conduct of it, is more conducing in the Greeks to those ends of tragedy which Aristotle and he propose, namely to cause terror and pity; yet the granting this does not set the Greeks above the English poets.
“But the answerer ought to prove two things : first, that the fable is not the greatest masterpiece of a tragedy, though it be the foundation of it.
“Secondly, that other ends as suitable to the nature of tragedy may be found in the English, which were not in the Greek.
"Aristotle places the fable first, not quoad dignitatem, sed quoad fundamentum: for a fable never so movingly contrived to those ends of his, pity and terror, will operate nothing on our affections, except the characters, manners, thoughts, and words are suitable.
“So that it remains for Mr. Rymer to prove, that in all those, or the greatest parts of them, we are inferior to Sophocles and Euripides; and this he has offered at in some measure, but I think a little partially to the ancients.
« For the fable itself, 'tis in the English more adorned with episodes and larger than in the Greek poets, consequently more diverting. For if the action be but one, and that plain, without any counterturn of design or episode, i. e. underplot, how can it be so pleasing as the English, which have both underplot and a turned design, which keeps the audience in expectation of the catastrophe ? whereas in the Greek poets we see through the whole design at first.
“For the characters, they are neither so many nor so various in Sophocles and Euripides as in Shakespeare and Fletcher; only they are more adapted to those ends of tragedy which Aristotle commends to us-pity and terror.
“ The manners flow from the characters, and consequently must partake of their advantages and disadvantages.
“ The thoughts and words, which are the fourth and fifth beauties of tragedy, are certainly more noble and more poetical in the English than in the Greek, which must be proved by comparing them somewhat more equitably than Mr. Rymer has done.
“ After all, we need not yield that the English way is less conducing to move pity and terror, because they often show virtue oppressed and vice punished; 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 adinit of dispute, whether pity and terror are either the prime, or at least the only ends of tragedy.
'Tis not enough that Aristotle had 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 are the most adequate ends of tragedy, because most conducing to good example of life. Now, pity is not so easily raised for a criminal (and the ancient tragedy always represents his chief person such) as it is for an innocent man; and the suffering of innocence and punishment of the offender is of the nature of English tragedy: contrarily, in the Greek, innocence is unhappy often, and the offender escapes. Then we are not touched with the sufferings of any sort of men so much as of lovers; and this was almost 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 commonplace 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 premisses, that we have wholly finished what they began.
“My judgment on this piece is this: that it is extremely learned, but that the author of it is better read in the Greek than in the English poets; 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, and extremely correct; but that it is not the only model of all tragedy, because 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 means 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 made to profit.*
“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 introducing the third actor ; that is, he meant three kinds of action: one company singing or speaking; another playing on the music; a third dancing.
“ To make a true judgment in this competition between the Greek poets and the English, in tragedy :
“ Consider, first, how Aristotle has defined a tragedy. Secondly, what he 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 tragic poets justly, and without partiality, 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, having 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, show in what ancient tragedy was deficient,-for example,
in the narrowness of its plots and fewness of persons; and try whether that be not a fault in the Greek poets; and whether their excellency was so great, when the variety was visibly so little; or whether what they did was not very easy 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, scarcely 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 alleged of Phædra; and how far Shakespeare has outdone them in friendship, &c.
“ To return to the beginning of this inquiry. 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 further; and that it is to reform manners, 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 showing the rewards of one, and punishments of the other : at least, by rendering virtue always amiable, though it be shown unfortunate; and vice detestable, though it be shown 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 commonplaces : and a general concernment for the principal actors is to be raised, by making them appear such in their 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 good, and terror includes detestation for the bad, then let us consider whether the English have not answered this end of tragedy as well as 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 passions 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 shows that there is something of force and merit in the plays themselves, conducing 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 upon 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.
6 This, being matter of fact, is reasonably to be established by this appeal; as, if one man says it is night, when the rest of the world conclude it to be day, there needs no further 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 those means which they have used have been successful, and have produced them.
“And one reason of that success is, in my opinion, this, that Shakespeare 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 proceed upon a foundation of truer reason to please the Athenians, than Shakespeare and Fletcher to please the English, it only shows 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, 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 yielded 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 judgments, it still remains to prove that our theatre needs this total reformation.
“The faults which he has found in their design 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.
“They destroy not, if they are granted, the foundation of the fabric; 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 accompany 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 detestation of the criminal: and poetic 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 a 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 shows 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 public 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)—“Al illustrissimo Sigre Carlo Dryden Camariere* d'Honore A.S.S. In Roma. “Franca per Mantoua.
“September 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, and am thick of hearing, rather 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 neg. ligent 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 inquire, 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. Thomas Ball, merchants. I am of your opinion, that by Tonson's means almost all 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 a 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 probable benefit of an hundred pounds. In the meantime I am writing a song for St. Cecilia's feast, who, you know, is the patroness of music. 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. Bridgeman, whose parents are your mother's friends. I hope to send you thirty guineas between Michaelmas and Christmas, 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 openness of my nature, and keep in my just resentments against that degenerate order. In the meantime, I flatter not myself with any manner of
* This son, Charles, was drowned in the Thames, near Windsor,