Imatges de pÓgina
[ocr errors]

player as we have just now mentioned in Catco creates as it were in the hearts of even the lower class of his audience, sentiments and emotions which they never felt before, nor even had ever suspected themselves to be capable of feeling.

The power of elevating our hearts far above our real felves, is the great prerogative of tragedy; but in many cases the poet alone is not able to do this: We must hear, not read the pallages that are calculated to this end; and the great, the excellent performer gives them that eminence upon the stage, which we shou'd never have found in them in the closet. The language in which the poet chooses to convey his most heroic, most ennobling sentiments, is, to a very great part of a common audience, what a piece of music prick'd down upon paper is to a person who has not been taught any thing of that science.

The merit in both cases is indeed all there the poet and the composer have both perfectly done their parts; but, in the one case, till a good finger by his voice, gives the notes their soul and expreffion, or a good player enforces and explains the sentiment by his expressive elocution in the other, the harmony, is not known to the one, nor is the sublimity of the sentiment understood by the other.

It will readily be allow'd us, that no author in our language, or perhaps in any other, has arrived at that height in the sublime that Milton has; and we flatter ourselves that it will also be allow'd that no man ever arriv’d at an equal perfection in speaking the fublime with Mr. Quin. There is also this other happy connexion between that great writer and this great player, that their turn of foul seems much the faune; their sentiments ap


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

F 2

pear to be of a like kind; the very language of Milton seems contriv'd on purpose for the voice of Mr. Quin, and the voice of Mr. Quin, while he is speaking it, seems form'd on purpose for. the language of Milton. Whoever has heard him read any part of the Paradise Lost of that divine author, knows the full force of what we are advancing ; but to those who have not had that pleasure, we may recommend his playing Comus. This is a light every body has an opportunity to see him in; and in this it is easy to obferve, that he has all that strength of conception, and expression, we have now been celebrating, all that power of enforcing the sentiments of an author which we have described, and of giving meaning to every period, while he addresses it to those who otherwise wou'd have enter'd into none of its beauties.

We have lately had the advantage of a contrat to prove the truth not only of this proposition in general, but of this particular instance of it. We have seen another Comus, and have observed a whole audience (the few of a modern audience who are capable themselves of understanding Milton only excepted) yawn over the whole part, and shew no sign of pleasure but in the scenery and the bacchanals. What an absolute. inattention was there to the speech in which Comus discovers his surprise at the lady's voice, as spoke by this weak attempter of the part! and how strong is the sense, how evident the beauty of every line as Mr. Quin delivers the fame words ! With how noble a share of the enthusiasm we have been mentioning, with what a seeming heartfelt rapture does he say,


Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?
Sure something holy lodges in that breast,
And with these raptures moves the vocal air
To testify its hidden residence.
How sweetly did they Aoat upon the wings
Of silence thro’ the empty vaulted night,
At every fall, smoothing the Raven-Down
Of darkness till it smild -I oft have heard
My mother Circe with the Syrens three
Amidst the flowr'y kirtled Naiades
Culling their potent herbs and baleful drugs,
Who as they sung wou'd take the prison d fou!
And lap it in elysium-Scylla wept
And chid her barking waves into attention,
And fell Charybdis murmur'd hoarse applause.
Yet these in pleasing flumber lull'd the sense,
And in sweet madness rob'd it of itself.
But such a sacred and home-felt delight,
Such sober certainty of waking bliss,
I never heard till now

Notwithstanding that this speech contains a multitude of beauties of the highest kind, yet they are, to many ears, what prick'd mufick i to the eye of an ignorant person; they lie too deep to be tasted in their true dignity by any but those who have study'd the nature of this kind of poetry : But as this player speaks them, the mystery is all thrown off, the veil is cast away, and we are apt to believe even the upper gallery hardly contains a person who does not truely taste fome of the most beautiful passages Milton has If it were our business to enter on criticism in this place, we have an ample field for it in the epithet given to the applause of the Fell Charybdis in this speech. We have given it as Mr. Quin speaks it: Hoarse Applause, the printed copies have it, and accordingly others speak it, Soft Applause: We have heard many a learned coffee-house dirpute, and some more serious ones, on the subject of this passage; but it may perhaps be easy to cut short all arguments about it, by finding a parallel one, and seeing what the sme author has done there. If we enter truly into the Spirit of Milton, there is a line in his description of the testimony death gives of pleasure at the news of his being to be let loose upon the world, in his Paradise Lost, which he meant to be of the same kind with this. He seems to have thought it as forc'd a point to make the Fell Charybdis applaud the sounds of Cirie as the Fell monster death to smile at any thing : He has in the one of these cases express’d the action by an epithet the most contrary to the nature of the subject that he cou'd possibly have selected, and tells us that dea: h grin'd horrible a Ghaftly smile ; and we are of opinion, he meant to do just the fame in the other.

left us.

We are apt to believe that the word Hoarfe in the passage before us was meant in the same light as the epithet here; and till we are convino'd that Ghaftly has a natural allusion to the word fimile, we shall suppose that Soft cannot be properly placid where the printers of Comus lave

given it.

To return to our subject, we must allow that there is something in the very language of Milton, that gives a natural turn to dignity in the speaker ;


but in regard to the actor before us, this adventitious help is not necessary to his acquiting himself with the same masterly fuperiority: To be magnificent in a little part is bombaít, not great ; but whenever the character he represents will bear him out in it, he never fails of giving us the Monarch or the Demigod in every specch of it. The language in tragedy the most unlike of all to that of Milton, is that of Ambrose Phillips. This author has succeeded in that species of writing in a new way, by throwing off all the false ornaments, all the idle pomp of diction, and bringing the speeches of kings and heroes to be more like those of other men. Here, if any where in tragedy, the actor is left to keep up the dignity of speaking himself; but here we find Mr. Quin a great as in the most fonorous numbers. Whoever recollects this actor in the character of Pyra rhus, when he receives the embassy of Orestes, will own that no man ever look'd or spoke so much like a king as he, when he returns for answer,

The Greeks are for my safety more concern'd
Than I defire--I thought your kings were met
On more important council-When I heard
'The name of their ambassador, I hop'd
Some glorious enterprize was taking birth----
Is Agamemnon's son dispatch'd for this?
And do the Grecian chiefs renown'd in war,
A race of heroes, join in close debate
'To plot an infant's death-What right has Greece
To ask his life? Muft I, must I alone,
Of all her scepter'd warriors be deny'd
To treat my captive as I please. Know, prince,
When Troy lay smoaking on the ground, and each
Proud victor Thai’d the harvest of the war,
F 4


[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »