Imatges de pÓgina

our gratifications. Because the recoil of a few years carries us back to a period of keener enjoyment, we imagine that to recede still farther must be to improve still more the objects which contribute to the relish of existence ; and, ascending the scale of retrogressive excellence, we at length habitually de plore the destitution of the present times, and invest antiquity with every species of perfection. This obliquity of view, combined with the paltry jealousy from which human nature is rarely exempt, and by which it is constantly prompted to exalt the dead that it may depress the living, has doubtless operated in rounding many a declamatory period upon the degradation of the modern drama.

Another cause which contributes to its undue depreciation, is the erroneous standard by which we form our estimate. We judge of the old dramatists by the best of their productions; of moderns by the worst. When we talk of the former, we only think of Love for Love, The Beaux Stratagem, or those which, to our tastes, appear the most perfect specimens, without reflecting that they are capital prizes in a long succession of dramatic speculations, and without adverting to the innumerable blanks which the same period has produced. We deduce from the exception, and because none but the vigorous have survived to our days, conclude that none others have been born. Disgusted at having witnessed the condemnation of some wretched piece, we talk in contemptuous terms of modern comedy, and, in corroboration of our scorn, appeal to the trash which we have, perhaps, assisted in consigning to oblivion, as if it were a fair sample of contemporaneous talent. Let us suppose, however, that a lover of dramatic literature should bind in one volume the most perfect productions of Cumberland, Sheridan, Colman, and Tobin, to say no. thing of other writers who have distinguished themselves in the same period; and that this choice col



lection, a hundred or two of years hence, should fall into the hands of an equally ardent admirer of the stage ; may we not reasonably conclude that he would extol this time as the Augustan æra of comedy, deplore the decadency of his own times, and hold his contemporaries as inferior to the wits of George the Third, as these latter are now deemed to the dramatic writers of Charles the Second ?

Although we are of opinion that these feelings have occasioned an exaggerated view of the evil, it is by no means our intention to assert that it does not exist to a limited extent, of which it is our present endeavour to determine the boundaries and ascertain the causes. An adınirer of the old comedies generally begins by indignantly contrasting the clas. sical allusions, literary research, and abstracted wit, by which they are pervaded, with the unembellished poverty, sentimental mawkishness, or impertinent Hippancy, of the moderns; and concludes his phil. ippic by telling you that the former may be always. read with pleasure in the closet, while the latter are only adapted to the vitiated tastes of existing audiences. The fact may be admitted, but before we attribute it to the decay of dramatic genius, we should pause to inquire whether the different quality of the audiences have not influenced the change, and whether each class of writers may not have brought forward that commodity which was best adapted to the market it professed to supply. From Gammer Gurton's Needle down to the present day, dramatists have found it more profitable to follow than to lead the taste of the town. Shakspeare, in his earlier comic productions, evidently lent himself to the prevailing humours of the rabble ; nor was it until he had obtained the acquaintance of the great, and the countenance of the court, that he felt strong enough to display the unfettered energies of his mighty mind, and write for eternity. Yet even then the pedantry by which the intellectual powers of

the higher ranks were cramped, enabled Jonson, who piqued himself upon his scholarship, and his conformity to the severe models of antiquity, not only to become his rival in public favour, but for a certain length of time to predominate. Nature, however, has triumphed over Aristotle : Jonson is hardly ever presented upon the stage, and Shakspeare is never absent.

The Restoration brought us a witty and dissi. pated monarch, and with him arose a new order of men, and a metamorphosed system of manners. Rejoicing in its escape from the gloomy fanaticism of the puritans, the nation rushed into the opposite estreme: a deluge of licentiousness overspread the land; decency was chased from the stage ; and obscenity, sparkling in the decorations of wit, usurped the throne of ihe Comic Muse. The dramatists of that æra are not, however, to be accused as the leaders of the revolution in manners, which they only accompanied or followed. Wit and pleasure, dissipation and repartee—these were the characteristics of the fashionable world, and naturally became the qualities by the display of which comic writers hoped to attain distinction and favour. Hence their personages were, as Dr. Johnson expresses in his Life of Congreve, “intellectual gladiators, whoseevery sentence is to ward or strike;" and this profusion of smartness is perpetually maintained in open violation of dramatic propriety. As wit is too costly an article to be lavished without the prospect of remuneration, we may be well assured that it was then the passport to public favour, the glittering prize for whose attainment both the author and the audience were prepared to make equal sacrifices. Decent females couid seldom encounter the hazard. ous dialogue of a new play; and on such occasions the pit and boxes were resigned to a crowd of Templars, and other young men of loose habits and liberal education, who, from the smallness of the


house, were enabled to hear what was passing on the stage, and direct the verdict of the audience. To them a vivacious and unrestrained wit never appealed in vain: they could comprehend its scope while they relished its libertinism ; and it became therefore a mere matter of policy in dramatic writers to sprinkle their productions, as liberally as their mental stores would allow, with this malicious preservative.

Since those days, a most material change has occurred in the composition and sentiments of audiences. Brilliant indelicacies and incessant repartees continued to delight from the Restoration to the Revolution : after that period, manners became more decorous and sophisticated ; comedy assumed a more matronly appearance. Addison and Steele completed the reformation of her habits, and others refined upon the refinement, till the genuine vis comica seemed destined to evaporate in sickly sentimentality and polished mawkishness. Gold. smith exerted himself to chase away this unsubstantial shadow of Thalia, and restore the vigorous body and broad humours of the Comic Muse, but neither he nor his immediate predecessors attempted the sparkling and pointed interchanges, the unexpected repartees and sudden coruscations, which distinguished the dramatic colloquies of the Sedleys, the Ethereges, and other loose companions of Charles the Second; and which were eagerly imitated by their followers. So far, then, as the decline of the drama is inferred from its deficiency in this redundant wit, the symptoms of its degradation have been manifested long before the present times. Let us not heap unfounded charges upon the heads of our contemporaries, and dig up the sins of the dead to smother the living ; neither let us omit to praise them for decorum and moral bias, when we accuse them of deficiency in that dangerous though dazzling style, which was so thickly studded with indelicate allusions and dissolute principles.




O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!
The lights burn blue--is it not dead midnight?
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.


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This mysterious subject has exercised the facul. ties of some of the world's most erudite scholars and profound thinkers. The learned German Blumenbergius,* after maintaining that candles derive their name from Candaules, King of Lydia, who first made use of them when he showed his wife unattired to his minister Gyges, for which he lost his crown and life, enters into a scholastic but somewhat far-fetched argument, to prove that, as that monarch was a great magician, and in habits of frequent intercourse with ghosts and spectres, he endued his candles with this inexplicable property, that he might learn the approach of his supernatural visitants. Suetonius, however,t who took his name from the circumstance of his being a tallowchandler, on which trade he has left a learned treatise, altogether derides this solution as fantastical and vain, asking very pertinently why this ghostindicating quality, even if originally imparted, should have descended to posterity : and proceeds to argue, first—that the colour assumed is not blue, but purple, such being the proper translation of the ancient word purpureus ; and secondly, that this being the colour sacred to kings and bishops, the number of those personages in the lower regions may have so

• De Bluit. Candel. vide Joseph Drippinginus, in his Talamon, Ajax. Chronic. in Edit. Georg. Homedidæ. Seriem Godolia Tradit. Hebraic. Corpus Paradoseon. Titulo Dips, c. 1 s. 8.

Vide Suet, de Spect. et Apparit. lib. 4. cap. 2. where he strenuously avers, in opposition to Blumenbergius, that candles came originally not from Lydia, but from Greece, and were dedicated to Pan by the Dryopes; whence, probably, our recipient of fat intended for candles is termed dripping-pan.

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