Слике страница
PDF
ePub

covered up by the luxuriance of nature; the winding walks were grown dark; the brook assumed a

ESSAY XXII. natural sylvage ; and the rocks were covered with

The theatre, like all other amusements, has its moss. Nothing now remained but to enjoy the beauties of the place, when the poor poet died, and fashions and its prejudices; and when satiated with

its excellence, mankind begin to mistake change his garden was obliged to be sold for the benefit of those who had contributed to its embellishment for improvement. For some years tragedy was “ The beauties of the place had now for some

the reigning entertainment; but of late it has en: time been celebrated as well in prose as in verse ;

tirely given way to comedy, and our best efforts and all men of taste wished for so envied a spot

, tion. The pompous train, the swelling phrase,

are now exerted in these lighter kinds of composi where every urn was marked with the poet's pen- and the unnatural rant, are displaced for thaj cil, and every walk awakened genius and meditation. The first purchaser was one Mr. True- natural portrait of human folly and frailty, of

which all are judges, because all have sat for the penny, a button-maker, who was possessed of three thousand pounds, and was willing also to be pos

picture. gessed of taste and genius.

But as in describing nature it is presented with "As the poet's ideas were for the natural wild- a double face, either of mirth or sadness, our modern ness of the landscape, the button-maker's were for writers find themselves at a loss which chiefly to the more regular productions of art. He conceiv- copy from; and it is now debated, whether the ed, perhaps, that as it is a beauty in a button to be exhibition of human distress is likely to afford the

mind more entertainment than that of human abof a regular pattern, so the same regularity ought

surdity? to obtain in a landscape. Be this as it will, he employed the shears to some purpose ; he clipped up of the frailties of the lower part of mankind, to dis

Comedy is defined by Aristotle to be a picture the hedges, cut down the gloomy walks, made vistas upon the stables and hog-sties

, and showed his tinguish it from tragedy, which is an exhibition of friends that a man of taste should always be doing.

the misfortunes of the great. When comedy there. “The next candidate for taste and genius was a

fore ascends to produce the characters of princes oi captain of a ship, who bought the garden because generals upon the stage, it is out of its walk, since

low life and middle life are entirely its object. The the former possessor could find nothing more to mend; but unfortunately he had taste too. His principal question therefore is, whether in describ great passion lay in building, in making Chinese ing low or middle life, an exhibition of its follies

be not preferable to a detail of its calamities? Or, temples, and cage-work summer-houses. As the place before had an appearance of retirement, and

in other words, which deserves the preference—the inspired meditation, he gave it a more peopled air; weeping sentimental comedy so much in fashion

at present, * or the laughing and even low comedy, every turning presented a cottage, or ice-house, or

which scems to have been last exhibited by Vana temple; the improvement was converted into a little city, and it only wanted inhabitants to give it

brugh and Cibber?

If we apply to authorities, all the great masters the air of a village in the East Indies. "In this manner,

in the dramatic art have but one opinion. Their less than ten years, the improvement has gone through the hands of as many the great

, so comedy should excite our laughter,

rule is, that as tragedy displays the calamities of proprietors, who were all willing to have taste, and to show their taste too. As the place had received by ridiculously exhibiting the follies of the lower its best finishing from the hand of the first possessor: critics, asserts, that comedy will not admit of tragic

part of mankind. Boileau, one of the best modern so every innovator only lent a hand to do mischief.

distress: Those parts which were obscure, have been enlightened; those walks which led naturally, have Le comique, ennemi des soupirs et des pleurs, veen twisted into serpentine windings. The colour N'admet point dans ses vers de tragiques douleurs. of the flowers of the field is not more various than he variety of lastes that have been employed here, in nature, as the distresses of the mean by no

Nor is this rule without the strongest foundation and all in direct contradiction to the original aim of the first improver. Could the original possessor

means affect us so strongly as the calamities of the but revive, with what a sorrowful heart would be great. When tragedy exhibits to us some great

man fallen from his height, and struggling with look upon his favourite spot again! He would scarcely recollect a Dryad or a Wood-nymph of his

want and adversity, we feel his situation in the foriner acquaintance, and might perhaps find him

same manner as we suppose he himself must feel, self as much a stranger in his own plantation as in

and our pity is increased in proportion to the height the deserts of Siberia."

• 1773.

[ocr errors]

from which he fell. On the contrary, we do not and if they are delightful, they are good. Thess 80 strongly sympathize with one born in humbler success, it will be said, is a mark of their merr circumstances, and encountering accidental dis- and it is only abridging our happiness to deny us tress: so that while we melt for Belisarius, we an inlet to amusement. scarcely give halfpence to the beggar who accosts These objections, however, are rather specious us in the street. The one has our pity; the other than solid. It is true, that amusement is a great our contempt. Distress, therefore, is the proper object of the theatre, and it will be allowed that object of tragedy, since the great excite our pity by these sentimental pieces do often amuse us ; but their fall; but not equally so of comedy, since the the question is, whether the true comedy would not actors employed in it are originally so mean, that amuse us more? The question is, whether a cha they sink but little by their fall.

racter supported throughout a piece, with its ridi. Since the first origin of the stage, tragedy and cule still attending, would not give us more delight comedy have run in distinct channels

, and never than this species of bastard tragedy, which only is till of late encroached upon the provinces of each applauded because it is new? other. Terence, who seems to have made the A friend of mine, who was sitting unmoved at nearest approaches, always judiciously stops short one of the sentimental pieces, was asked how he before he comes to the downright pathetic; and yet

could be so indifferent? “Why, truly,” says he, he is even reproached by Cæsar for wanting the

as the hero is but a tradesman, it is indifferent to vis comica. All the other comic writers of anti- me whether he be turned out of his counting house quity aim only at rendering folly or vice ridiculous, on Fish-street Hill, since he will still have enough but never exalt their characters into buskined left to opere shop in St. Giles's." pomp, or make what Voltaire humorously calls a

The other objection is as ill-grounded; for though tradesman's tragedy.

we should give these pieces another name, it will

not mend their efficacy. It will continue a kind Yet, notwithstanding this weight of authority and of mulish production, with all the defects of its opthe universal practice of former ages, a new species posite parents, and marked with sterility. If we of dramatic composition has been introduced under

are permitted to make comedy weep, we have an the name of sentimental comedy, in which the vir- equal right to make tragedy laugh, and to set down tues of private life are exhibited, rather than the in blank verse the jests and repartees of all the ai vices exposed ; and the distresses rather than the tendants in a funeral procession. faults of mankind make our interest in the piece.

But there is one argument in favour of sentiThese comedies have had of late great success, per- mental comedy which will keep it on the stage in haps from their novelty, and also from their flatter-spite of all that can be said against it. It is of all ing every man in his favourite foible. In these others the most easily written. Those abilities plays almost all the characters are good, and ex- that can bammer out a novel, are fully sufficient ceedingly generous; they are lavish encugh of their for the production of a sentimental comedy. It is tin money on the stage ; and though they want only sufficient to raise the characters a little; te humour, have abundance of sentiment and feeling. Jeck out the hero with a riband, or give the heroine If they happen to have faults or foibles, the spec. a title; then to put an insipid dialogue, without tator is taught, not only to pardon, but to applaud character or humour, into their mouths, give them them, in consideration of the goodness of their mighty good hearts, very fine clothes, furnish hearts ; so that folly, instead of being ridiculed, is new set of scenes, make a pathetic scene or two, commended, and the comedy aims at touching our with a sprinkling of tender melancholy conversa. passions without the power of being truly pathetic. tion through the whole, and there is no doubt bul in this manner we are likely to lose one great all the ladies will cry, and all the gentlemen ap source of entertainment on the stage ; for while the

plaud. comic poet is invading the province of the tragic

Humour at present seems to be departing from muse, he leaves her lovely sister quite neglected. the stage, and it will soon happen that our comic Of this, however, he is no way solicitous, as bic players will have nothingo left for it but a fine coat measures his fame by his profits.

and a song. It depends upon the audience whether But it will be said, that the theatre is formed to they will actually drive those poor merry creatures amuse mankind, and that it matters little, if this from the stage, or sit at a play as gloomy as at the end be answered, by what means it is obtained. tabernacle. It is not easy to recover an art when If mankind find delight in weeping at conieds, it once lost; and it will be but a just punishment would be cruel to abridge them in that or any other that when, by our being too fastidious, we have innocent pleasure. If those pieces are denied the banished humour from the stage, we should nur name of co:nedies, yet call them by any other name, selves be deprived of the art of laughing.

he carried her down in a post-chaise, and coming ESSAY XXIII.

back she helped to carry his knapsack.

Miss Racket went down with her lover in their As I see you are fond of gallantry, and seem own phaeton; but upon their return, being very willing to set young people together as soon as you fond of driving, she would be every now and then can, I can not help lending my assistance to your for holding the whip. This bred a dispute : and endeavours, as I am greatly concerned in the at- before they were a fortnight together, she felt that tempt. You must know, sir, that I am landlady he could exercise the whip on somebody else beof one of the most noted inns on the road to Scot- sides the horses. hard, and have seldom less than eight or ten couples Miss Meekly, though all compliance to the will a-week, who go down rapturous lovers, and return of her lover, could never reconcile him to the change man and wife.

of his situation. It seems he married her supposIf there be in this world an agreeable situation, ing she had a large fortune; but being deceived in it must be that in which a young couple find them- their expectations, they parted; and they now selves, when just let loose from confinement, and keep separate garrets in Rosemary-lane. whirling off to the land of promise. When the The next couple of whom I have any account, post-chaise is driving off, and the blinds are drawn actually lived together in great harmony and unup, sure nothing can equal it. And yet, I do not cloying kindness for no less than a month ; but the know how, what with the fears of being pursued, lady who was a little in years, having parted with or the wishes for greater happiness, not one of my her fortune to her dearest life, he left her to make customers but seems gloomy and out of temper. love to that better part of her which he valued more. The gentlemen are all sullen, and the ladies dis- The next pair consisted of an Irish fortune-hunt. contented.

er, and one of the prettiest modestest ladies that But if it be ing down, how is it with them ever my eyes beheld. As he was a well-looking coming back? Having been for a fortnight together, gentleman, all dressed in lace, and as she was very they are then mighty good company to be sure. It fond of him, I thought they were blessed for life. is then the young lady's indiscretion stares her in Yet I was quickly mistaken. The lady was no the face, and the gentleman himself finds that much better than a common woman of the town, and he is to be done before the money comes in. was no better than a sharper; so they agreed upon

For my own part, sir, I was married in the a mutual divorce: he now dresses at the York usuai way; all my friends were at the wedding: 1 Ball, and she is in keeping by the member for our was conducted with great ceremony from the table borough to parliament. to the bed; and I do not find that it any ways di- In this manner we see that all those marriages minished my happiness with my husband, while, in which there is interest on the one side and diso poor man! he continued with me. For my part, bedience on the other, are not likely to promise a I am entirely for doing things in the old family large harvest of delights. If our fortune-hunting way; I hate your new fashioned manners, and gentlemen would but speak out, the young lady, never loved an outlandish marriage in my life. instead of a lover, would often find a sneaking

As I have had numbers call at my house, you rogue, that only wanted the lady's purse, and not may be sure I was not idle in inquiring who they her heart. For my own part, I never saw any were, and how they did in the world after they left thing but design and false bood in every one of me. I can not say that I ever heard much good them; and my blood has boiled in my veins, when come of them; and of a history of twenty-five that I saw a young fellow of twenty, kneeling at the feet I noted down in my ledger, I do not know a single of a twenty thousand pounder, professing his pascouple that would not have been full as happy ifsion, while he was taking aim at her money. I do they had gone the plain way to work, and asked not deny but there may be love in a Scotch mar. the consent of their parents. To convince you ofriage, but it is generally all on one side. it, I will inention the names of a few, and refer the Of all the sincere admirers I ever knew, a man rest to some fitter opportunity.

of my acquaintance, who, however, did not run Imprimis, Miss Jenny Hastings went down to away with his mistress to Scotland, was the most Scotland with a tailor, who, to be sure, for a tailor, so. An old exciseman of our town, who as you was a very agreeable sort of a man. But I do not may guess, was not very rich, had a daughter, who, know, he did not take proper measure of the young as you shall see, was not very handsome. It was lady's disposition; they quarrelled at my house on the opinion of every body that this young woman their return; so she lett him for a cornet of dra- would not soon be married, as she wanted two goons, and he went back to his shop-board. main articles, beauty and fortune. But for all this,

Miss Rachel Runfort went off with a grenadier. a very well-looking man, that happened to be trar. They spent all their money going down; so that lelling those parts, came and asked the excisemat

for his daughter in marriage. The exciseman done. He never measures the actions and power willing to deal openly oy him, asked him if he had of others by what himself is able to perform, nor seen the girl; "for,” says he, "she is hump- makes a proper estimate of the greatness of his backed.”_"

_"Very well," cried the stranger, " that fellows by bringing it to the standard of his own will do for me.”—“Ay,” says the exciseman, “but incapacity. He is satisfied to be one of a country my daughter is as brown as a berry.”—“So much where mighty things have been ; and imagines the the better,” cried the stranger, "such skins wear fancied power of others reflects a lustre on himself. well.”—“But she is bandy-legged,” says the ex. Thus by degrees he loses the idea of his own inciseman.—"No matter," cries the other; "her pet- significance in a confused notion of the extraorditicoats will hide that defect,"_"But then she is nary powers of humanity, and is willing to grant very poor, and wants an eye."-"Your description extraordinary gifts to every pretender, because undelights me,” cries the stranger : "I have been acquainted with their claims. looking out for one of her make; for I keep an ex- This is the reason why demi-gods and heroes aibition of wild beasts, and intend to show her off have ever been erected in times or countries of igfor a Chimpanzee."

norance and barbarity: they addressed a people who had high opinions of human nature, because they

were ignorant how far it could extend ; they adESSAY XXIV.

dressed a people who were willing to allow that

men should be gods, because they were yet imperMANKIND have ever been prone to expatiate in fectly acquainted with God and with man. These the praise of human nature. The dignity of man impostors knew, that all men are naturally fond is a subject that has always been the favourite theme of seeing something very great made from the little of humanity: they have declaimed with that osten- materials of humanity; that ignorant nations are tation which usually accompanies such as are sure not more proud of building a tower to reach heaven, of having a partial audience; they have obtained or a pyramid to last for ages, than of raising up a victories because there were none to oppose. Yet demi-god of their own country and creation. The from all I have ever read or seen, men appear more same pride that erects a colossus or a pyramid, inapt to err by having too high, than by having too stals a god or a hero: but though the adoring savdespicable an opinion of their nature; and by at- age can raise his colossus to the clouds, he can ex. tempting to exalt their original place in the creation, alt the hero not one inch above the standard of hudepress their real value in society.

manity: incapable, therefore, of exalting the idol, The most ignorant nations have always been he debases himself, and falls prost rate before him. found to think most highly of themselves. The When man has thus acquired an erroneous idea Deity has ever been thought peculiarly concerned of the dignity of his species, he and the gods bein their glory and preservation; to have fought come perfectly intimate; men are but angels, angels their battles, and inspired their teachers: their are but men; nay, but servants that stand in wait. wizards are said to be familiar with heaven, and ing, to execute human commands. The Persians, every hero has a guard of angels as well as men to for instance, thus address the prophet Hali: "I saattend him. When the Portuguese first came lute thee, glorious Creator, of whom the sun is but among the wretched inhabitants of the coast of Afri- the shadow. Masterpiece of the Lord of human ca, these savage nations readily allowed the strangers creatures, Great Star of Justice and Religion. The more skill in navigation and war; yet still cor: sid- sea is not rich and liberal, but by the gifts of thy ered them at best but as useful servants, brought to munificent hands. The angel treasurer of Heaven their coast, by their guardian serpent, to supply reaps his harvest in the fertile gardens of the purity them with luxuries they could have lived without. of thy nature. The primum mobile would never Though they could grant the Portuguese more dart the ball of the sun through the trunk of Heariches, they could never allow them to have such a ven, were it not to serve the morning out of the king as their Tottimondelem, who wore a bracelet extreme love she has for thee. 'i he angel Gabriel, of shells round his neck, and whose legs were messenger of truth, every day kisses the groundsel covered with ivory.

of thy gate. Were there a place more exalted than In this manner examine a savage in the history the most high throne of God, I would affirm it to of his country and predecessors, you ever find his be thy place, O master of the faithful ! Gabriel, warriors able to conquer armies, and his sages ac- with all his art and knowledge, is but a mere scholar quainted with more than possible knowledge; hu- to thee." Thus, my friend, men think proper to man nature is to him an unknown country; he treat angels; but if indeed there be such an order thinks it capable of great things because he is ig- of beings, with what a degree of satirical contempt norant of its boundaries; whatever can be con- must they listen to the songs of little mortals thus reived to be done, he allows to be possible, and pattering each other! thus to see creatures, wiser whatever is possible he conjectures must have been indeed than the monkey, and more active than ebe syster, claiming to themselves a mastery of Heaven! weakness being forgotten, while nothing but their minims, the tenants of an atom, thus arrogațing a power and their miracles were remembered. The partnership in the creation of universal nature ! Chinese, for instance, never had a god of their own surely Heaven is kind that launches no thunder at country; the idols which the vulgar worship at this those guilty heads; but it is kind, and regards their day, were brought from the barbarous nations follies with pity, nor will destroy creatures that it around them. The Roman emperors who preloved into being

tended to divinity, were generally taught by a But whatever success this practice of making poniard that they were mortal; and Alexander, demi-gods might have been attended with in bar- though he passed among barbarous countries for a barous nations, I do not know that any man became real god, could never persuade his polite countrya god in a country where the inhabitants were re- men into a similitude of thinking. The Larede fined. Such countries generally have too close an monians shrewdly complied with his commands by inspection into human weakness to think it invest- the following sarcastic edict : ed with celestial power. They sometimes, indeed, admit the gods of strangers or of their ancestors, Ε Αλεξανδρος βουλεται και Θιος, Θεος στα who had their existence in times of obscurity; their

THE END.

« ПретходнаНастави »