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“ Lastly: Again, how many readers, who would not be glad of attaining to knowledge the shortest way, seeing the orb thereof is swollen to such a magnitude, and life but such a span to grasp it! How many who have not some curiosity to know the foundations of those tenets upon which they so securely trust their understandings? or where the footsteps of those opinions and precedents may be found, which have given direction to so many modern performances? Who would not embrace the most likely means to detect the vile grievance of plagiarism, and deter so many disadvantageous repetitions of the same thing? What reader would not think it convenient to be apprised of the worth of authors, before he gave them place in his study or esteem, by some previous character, or little analysis of what is comprised in them? and who would not find it commodious to have the opportunity of revising the library of which he has been or may be possessed, in faithful portraits thereof, at such times and places, and in which he cannot come at the originals? In a word, if he be ignorant, who would not covet to enlarge his knowledge? If he be knowing who would not willingly refresh his memory? And yet all the expedients we have to accommodate the curious with so many desiderata are only some superficial catalogues, either of authors rather than their works, or of the works of authors only, in some one peculiar place of education, or in some single science; or else those which have been most curiously taken of some particular libraries, and also a few extracts, limited to the recommendation only of some modern writers.”—P. ii. The following quotation will clearly exhibit the difference between our work and that of Oldys:
“Our business therefore cannot be so much to delight Readers with the flowers of books, or satisfy them with a smooth contexture of all the reasons and arguments in them, as to point out those heads and topics which, like so many streams and rivulets that severally arise in the provinces of literature, may best direct them to the fountains themselves, where every reader will extract those parts and those proportions, which no epitomist can do for him:—So that by this compendium of hints and advertisements concerning the most observable persons and places, times and things, which have been spoken of in the writings of men, is intended a promptuary only to the search of those writings, as the best means to expedite the attainment of what every one is seeking; for, as the excellent Lord Bacon complains, • learned men want such inventories of every thing in nature and art, as rich men have of their estates.'”
VOL. I. PART I.
Vol. I. Part I.
ART. I. The Tragedies of the last Age, considered and examined by
the Practice of the Ancients, and by the Common Sense of all Ages, in a Letter to Fleetwood Shepheard, Esq. by Mr. Rymer, Servant to their Majesties. Part I. London, 1692.
Second Edition. A short View of Tragedy; its original Excellency, and Corrup
tion, with some Reflections on Shakespear, and other Practitioners for the Stage. By Mr. Rymer, Servant to their Majesties. London, 1693.
These are very curious and edifying works. The author (who was the compiler of the Fædera) appears to have been a man of considerable acuteness, maddened by a furious zeal for the honour of tragedy. He lays down the most fantastical rules for the composition which he chiefly reveres, and argues on them as “ truths of holy writ.” He criticizes Shakespear as one invested with authority to sit in judgment on his powers, and passes on him as decisive a sentence of condemnation, as ever was awarded against a friendless poet by a Reviewer. We will select a few passages from his work, which may be consolatory to modern authors, and useful to modern critics.
The chief weight of Mr. Rymer's critical vengeance is wreaked on Othello. After a slight sketch of the plot, he proceeds at once to speak of the moral, which he seems to regard as of the first importance in tragedy.
" Whatever rubs or difficulty, may stick on the bark, the moral use of this fable is very instructive. First, this may be a caution to all maidens of quality, how, without their parents' consent, they run away with blackamoors. Secondly, this may be a warning to all good;
wives, that they look well to their linen. Thirdly, this may be a lesson to husbands, that before their jealousy be tragical, the proofs may be mathematical.”
Our author then proceeds happily to satirize Othello's colour. He observes, that “ Shakespear was accountable both to the eyes and to the ears.” On this point we think his objection is not without reason. We agree with an excellent modern critic in the opinion, that though a reader may sink Othello's colour in his mind, a spectator can scarcely avoid losing the mind in the colour. But Mr. Rymer proceeds thus to characterize Othello's noble account to the Senate of his whole course of love.
“ This was the charm, this was the philtre, the love-powder that took the daughter of this noble Venetian. This was sufficient to make the Blackamoor white, and reconcile all, though there had been a cloven foot into the bargain. A meaner woman might as soon be taken by Aqua Tetrachymagogon.”
The idea of Othello's elevation to the rank of a general, stings Mr. Rymer almost to madness. He regards the poet's offence as a kind of misprision of treason.
“ The character of the state (of Venice) is to employ strangers in their wars; but shall a poet thence fancy that they will set a Negro to be their general ; or trust a Moor to defend them against the Turk? With us, a Blackamoor might rise to be a trumpeter, but Shakespear would not have him less than a lieutenant-general. With us, a Moor might marry some little drab or small-coal wench; Shakespear would provide him the daughter and heir of some great lord, or privy counsellor; and all the town should reckon it a very suitable match: yet the English are not bred up with that hatred and aversion to the Moors as the Venetians, who suffer by a perpetual hostility from them,
“ Littora littoribus contraria.”. Our author is as severe on Othello's character, as on his exaltation and colour. • “Othello is made a Venetian general. We see nothing done by him, nor related concerning him, that comports with the condition of a general, or, indeed, of a man, unless the killing himself to avoid a death the law was about to inflict upon him. When his jealousy had wrought him up to a resolution of his taking revenge for the supposed injury, he sets Iago to the fighting part to kill Cassio, and chuses himself to murder the silly woman his wife, that was like to make no resis
Mr. Rymer next undertakes to resent the affront put on the army by the making Iago a soldier.
“ But what is most intolerable is Iago. He is no Blackamoor soldier, so we may be sure he should be like other soldiers of our acquaintance; yet never in tragedy, nor in comedy, nor in nature, was a soldier with his character ;-take it in the author's own words :