Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

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 “Guarioi" 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 paraphrased 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 ft 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 judgment 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.*

OTWAY,

F THOMAS OTWAY, one of the first names in 02

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 Wool. beding. 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.t

This kind of inability he shared with Shakspeare and Jonson, as he shared likewise some of their

• This Life was originally written by Dr. Johnson in the “Gertleman's Magazine" for May, 1748. It then had notes, which are now incorporated with the text.-C.

+ In “ Roscius Anglicanus," by Downes the prompter, p. 34, we learn that it was the character of the King, in Mrs. Behn's “Forced Marriage, or the Jealous Bridegroom,” which Mr. Otway attempted to perform, and failed in. This event appears to have happened in the year 1672.-R. VOL. I.

K

excellences. It seems reasonable to expect that a great dramatic poet should without difficulty be come 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

pos. sessed 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 nust 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 contem, plated 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; and, in 1675, his twenty-fifth year, produced Alcibiades," a tra. gedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to inquire. Langbaine, the great detector of plagiarism, is silent.

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 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 dis. solute 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

[ocr errors]

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, re. ceived 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 à 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 mer. ciless insolence in the “ Session of the Poets :"Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany, And swears for heroics he writes best of any; Don Carlos his pockets so amply had fillid, That his mange was quite cur'd, and his lice were

all kill'd.
But Apollo had seen his face on the stage,
And prudently did not think fit to engage
The scum of a play-house, for the

prop

of

an age. " 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

• This doubt is indeed very reasonable. I know not' where it is said that “Don Carlos" was acted thirty nights together. Wherever it is said, it is

je. 'Downes, is perfectly good authority on this point, informs us that it was performed ten days successively.-MALONE.

play upon the stage is a very wide deviation from the practice of that time; when the ardour for the atrical 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 tra gedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the affections; for it is not written with mach comprehension of thought, or elegance of expres.. sion. 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 yeart 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

of the favourites of the public, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable scenes of vile comedy 5 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 ener. getic. The striking passages are in every mouth; and the public seems to judge rightly of the faults,

* 1681.
+ 1684.

| 1682. 5. The“ despicable scenes of vile coinedy" can be no bar to its being a favourite of the public, as they are always omitted in the representation.J. B.

« VorigeDoorgaan »