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fended, if, in the conduct of the play, his fierce resentments of his wrongs, the noble frankness of the fon of Achilles, and the crafty wiles of Ulyffes, which are so finely exhibited in the tragedy of Sophocles, and fo deeply intereft us in the difpute for the arrows, were all neglected, in order to engage our attention to fome love-fcenes between Neoptolemus, and a fair nymph of Lemnos ? Would the poet be excused by pleading the effeminacy and gallantry of an audience, who would not endure fo unpleasing an object as a wounded man, nor attend to any contest but about a heart? In fuch a country the lyre fhould warble melting strains but let not example teach us to fetter the energy, and enervate the nobler powers of the British muse, and of a language fit to exprefs fublimer sentiments. The bleeding, fightless eyes of Edipus are objects of too great horror for the spectator; but is not Thefeus, in the midst of plagues and famine, adoring les beaux yeux of the princess Dirce as much an object of ridicule ?
Fine dialogues of love, interwoven with a tale of inceft and murder, would not have been endured in any country where taste had not been abfolutely perverted. Mr. Voltaire has the candor to own this is a bad tragedy; but Corneille tells us, it was his good fortune to find it the general opinion, that none of his pieces were compofed with more art fo little was the dramatic art understood in the polite court of Louis XIV. The Edipus of Corneille is fo far below criticism, that I fhould not have taken any notice of it but as it was neceffary to bring a ftrong proof of the depravity of taste in thofe times.
Mr. Voltaire has endeavoured to convince his countrymen, that the metaphyfics of love, and the fophiftry of politics, are not adapted to the theatre : but he durft not bring the story of Edipus on the stage without fome love-fcenes; and Philoctetes, the com-panion of Hercules, is introduced fighing for
for the autumnal charms of Jocasta. One may furely fay with her,
D'un lien charmant le foin tendre & timide
Tragedy, thus converted into mere amorous ditty, drops all the ends of her inftitution, which were, fays Sir P. Sydney *, " to open the greatest wounds, and to fhew "forth the ulcers that are covered with tiffue; to make kings fear to be tyrants, " tyrants to manifest their tyrannical hu"mours; that stirring the effects of admi"ration and commiferation, teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how "weak foundations gilded roofs are build"ed; that maketh us know, qui fceptra "fævus duro imperio regit, timet timentes, "metus in autorem redit." The example to the great; the warnings to the people; all high and public precepts are neglected; and by making the intereft of the play turn * Defence of Poefy.
upon the paffion of love, to which the man, the prince, the hero, is made to facrifice every other confideration, even private morals are corrupted. Of this we shall be perfectly convinced, if we compare the conduct and fentiments of Thefeus, and of the unfortunate daughter of Jocasta, in Antigone, and Edipus Coloneus, with the Thefeus and Dirce of Corneille; where the enamoured pair disclaim all other regards and duties, human and divine, for the character of mere lovers. In this play, great violence is done to the character of the perfons, to which Horace, and all good critics, prescribe a most exact adherence. And though the Romans, who had conquered all other nations, had the best right to prefer their own manners, and despise those of other countries, yet their critics inculcated the neceffity of imitating those of the people reprefented.
The French tragedians not only deviate from the character of the individual represented, but even from the general character of the age and country. Thefeus and
Achilles are not only unlike to Thefeus and Achilles, but they are not Greeks. Sophocles and Euripides never introduce a hero who had appeared in the Iliad or Odyffey, without a strict attention to making him act fuitably to the opinion conceived of him from those epic poems. When Ulyffes, in the tragedy of Hecuba, comes to demand Polixena to be facrificed, how admirably is his conduct fuited to our conceptions of him! He is cold, prudent, deaf to pity, blind to beauty, and to be moved only by confideration of the public weal. See him in the Iphigenia of Racine, on a fimilar occafion, where he tells Agamemnon, he is ready to cry, Je fuis pret de pleurer;
and examine whether there appears any thing of Ulyffes upon the ftage but his name. Nor is there a greater resemblance between the French and Greek Achilles. Euripides paints him with a peculiar franknefs and warmth of character, abhorrent of fraud, and highly provoked when he discovers his name has been used in a deceit. When he fees Iphigenia preferring the good of her