« AnteriorContinua »
be as little comprehended as among the
Learning here is not confined to ecclefiaftics, or a few lettered fages and academics : every English gentleman has an education, which gives him an early acquaintance with the writings of the ancients. His knowledge of polite literature does not begin with that period, which Mr. de Voltaire calls Le Siecle de Louis quatorze. Before he is admitted as a fpectator at the theatre in London, it is probable he has already heard the tragic muse as she spoke at Athens, and as she now speaks at Paris, or in Italy; and he can difcern between the natural language, in which fhe once addreffed the human heart, and the artificial dialect which she has acquired from the prejudices of a particular nation, or the jargon caught from the tone of a court. In order to please upon the French stage, every perfon of every age and nation was made to adopt French manners.
The Heroes of antiquity were not more A 2 disguised
disguised in the romances of Calprenede and Scuderi, than in the tragedies of Corneille. In spite of the admonitions given by that admirable critic Boileau to their dramatic writers in the following lines:
Gardez donc de donner, ainfi que dans Clélie,
the Horatii are reprefented no less obfequious in their address to their king, than the courtiers of the grand monarque. Thefeus is made a mere fighing fwain. Many of the greatest men of antiquity, and even the roughest Heroes amongst the Goths and Vandals, are exhibited in this effeminate form. The poet dignified the piece, perhaps, with the name of an Hercules, but, alas! it was always Hercules spinning, that was fhewn to the fpectator. And yet the editor of Corneille's works, in terms fo grofs as are hardly pardonable in fuch a master of fine raillery, frequently attacks our Shakespear for the
want of delicacy and politeness in his pieces. It must be owned, that in fome places they bear the marks of the unpolished times in which he wrote; but one cannot forbear smiling to hear a critic, who profeffes himfelf an admirer of the tragedies of Corneille, object to the barbarifm of Shakespear's. There never was a more barbarous mode of writing than that of the French romances in the last age, nor which from its tediousness, languor, and want of truth of character, is lefs fit to be copied on the stage: and what are most parts of Corneille's boasted tragedies, but the romantic dialogue, its tedious foliloquy, and its extravagant fentiments in the true Gothic livery of rhyme ?
The French poets affume a fuperiority over Shakespear, on account of their more conftant adherence to Ariftotle's unities of Time and Place.
The pedant who bought at a great price the lamp of a famous Philofopher, expecting that by its affistance his lucubrations would A 3 become
become equally celebrated, was little more absurd than those poets, who suppose their dramas must be excellent if they are regulated by Aristotle's clock. To bring within a limited time, and an affigned space, a feries of converfations (and French plays are little more) is no difficult matter; for of every art perhaps, and in poetry without dispute, that is the easiest part in which the connoiffeur can direct the artist.
I do not suppose the Critic imagined that a mere obedience to his laws of drama would make a good tragedy, tho' it might prevent a poet more bold than judicious, from writing a very abfurd one. A painter can define the juft proportion of the human body, and the anatomift knows what muscles conftitute the strength of the limbs; but grace of motion, and exertion of ftrength, depend on the mind, which animates the form. The critic but fashions the Body of a work; the poet must add the Soul, which gives force and direction to its actions and geftures. When one of these critics has attempted to finish a work
work by his own rules, he has rarely been able to convey into it one spark of divine fire; and the hero of his piece, whom he defigned for a Man, remains a cold inanimate Statue; which, moving on the wood and wire of the great masters in the mechanical part of the drama, prefents to the fpectators a kind of heroic puppet-shew. As thefe pieces take their rife in the school of Criticism, they return thither again, and are as good fubjects for the students in that art, as a dead body to the profeffors in anatomy. Most minutely too have they been anatomifed in learned academies: but works, animated by Genius, will not abide this kind of diffection.
Mr. Pope fays, that, in order to form a judgment of Shakespear's works, we are not to apply to the rules of Ariftotle, which would be like trying a man by the laws of one country, who lived under those of another. Heaven-born Genius acts from fomething fuperior to Rules, and antecedent to Rules; and has a right of appeal to Nature herfelf.