Imatges de pàgina
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of the human heart never speak, but with all the modesty of Christian humility, in the third person. There is befides a certain affected dignity in theatrical discourse and action, which never permits the paffions to be expressed in their natural language, or suffers the writer to divest himself of the poet, and attend to the scene of action, but binds him constantly down to the theatre and the audience. Hence the most critical situations, the most interesting circumItances of the piece, never make him forget the nicest arrangement of phrase or elegancies of articude. Should even Despair plunge a dagger in the heart of his hero, not contented that like Polix enes he should observe a decency in fall. ing, he would not let him fall at all: for the sake of decency, he is supported bolt upright after he is dead ; and continues as erect after he has expired as before. VOL. III.

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* The reason of all this is, that a Frenchman requires on the stage neither nature nor deception, but only wit and fentiments: he requires only to be diverted, and cares not whether what he sees be a true or false representation of nature. Nobody goes here to the theatre for the pleasure of seeing the play, but for the sake of seeing, and being leen by, the company, and to catch a subject for conversation after the play is over. The actor with them is always the actor, never the character he represents. He who gives himself those important airs of an universal sovereign is not the emperor Auguftus, it is only Baron ; the relict of Pompey is no other than Adrienne ; Alzira is Mademoiselle Gausin; and that formidable savage is no other than the civil Grandval. The comedians, on the

other hand, give themselves no trouble to keep up an illusion which nobody expects. They place the venerable heroes of antiquity between fix rows of young spruce Parisians. They have their Roman dresses made up in the French fashion ; the weeping Cornelia is seen bathed in tears, with her rouge laid on two fingers thick: Cato has his hair dress'd and powderd, and Brutus ftruts along in a Roman hoop-petticoat; yet nobody is fhocked at all this absurdity, nor doth it hinder the fuccess of the piece ; for as the' actors only are seen in the characters, so what respects the author is the only thing considered in the play; and though propriety should be entirely neglected, it is easily excused, for every one knows that Corneille was no taylor, nor Crebillion a peruke-maker.” Eloisa, vol. ii.

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Neither the unities of action, of time, or of place, ought to be regarded so much as a fable which admits a variety of incidents; as character, or as passion : We may have admirable tragedies without one of the unities; but without character and passion we can have no tragedy. Let us but ref-ct on the multitude of tragedies we have which are wrote strictly to all the unities ; yet one irregular piece of Shakespear is to be preferred to five hundred of them. The only objection Mr. Mafon* tells us to observing the uni. ties is, that a strict adherence to them restrains the genius of the poet; and, by the fimplicity of its conduct, it diminishes the pathos of the fable. But surely this objection must cease, when we consi. der how many excellent tragedies, in which our terror and compassion are * Letters prefixed to Elfrida.

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raised to the greatest degree, have been composed on this plan. Can it be faid that Sophocles, Corneille, or Racine, would have composed better tragedies, had they neglected these necessary rules?

Yes; undoubtedly; one of the just objections to the French tragedies of Corneille and Racine is their pepetual declamation and description, which is frequently occasioned by the poet's not being at liberty to represent those incidents which he is forced to make his characters describe. Had these poets not been so tied down, we should have met with more strokes of genuine character in Corneille, whose fire, had not criticism damp'd it, would have blazed into action and pathos; and Racine, by admitting a greater variety of incidents into his pieces, would have

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