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EVILS OF A REPUBLIC.
WE have the happiness to be born under an equal and well poised government, which has all the advantages of liberty beyond a commonwealth, and all the marks of kingly sovereignty without the danger of a tyranny.
Both my nature, as I am an Englishman, and my reason, as I am a man, have bred in me a lothing to that specious name of a republic; that mock appearance of liberty, where all who have not part in the government are slaves; and slaves they are of a viler note than such as are subjects to an absolute dominion. For no Christian monarchy is so absolute, as not to be circumscribed with laws; but when the executive power is in the law-makers, there is no further check upon them, and the people must suffer
without a remedy, because they are oppressed by their representatives. If I must serve, the number of my masters who were before my equals, would but add to the ignominy of the bondage.
And yet there are not wanting malcontents amongst us, who, surfeiting themselves on too nuch happiness, would persuade the people that they might be happier by a change. It was indeed the policy of their old forefather, when himself fallen from the station of his glory, to seduce mankind into the same rebellion with him, by telling him he might be yet freer than he was; that is, more free than his nature would allow, or (if I may so say) than God could make him. We have already all the 'liberty which freeborn subjects can enjoy, and all beyond is but licence.
The experience of all ages, however, might let the discontented know, that they who trouble the waters first have seldom the benefit of the fishing; as they who began the late rebellion enjoyed not the fruit of their undertaking; but were crushed by the usurpation of their own instruments. Neither is it enough for them to answer, that they only intend a reformation of the government, but not the subversion of it; it is striking at the root of power, which is obedience.
THE theatre, like all other amusements, has its fashions and its prejudices; and when satiated with its excellence, mankind begin to mistake change for improvement. For some years tragedy was the reigning entertainment; but of late it has given way to comedy, and our best efforts are now exerted in these lighter kinds of composition. The pompous train, the swelling phrase, and the unnatural rant, are displaced for that natural portrait of human folly and frailty of which all are judges, because all have sat for the picture.
But as in describing nature, it is presented with a double face, either of mirth or sadness, our modern writers find themselves at a loss which chiefly to copy; and it is now debated
whether the exhibition of human distress is likely to afford the mind more entertainment than that of human absurdity?
Comedy is defined by Aristotle to be a picture of the frailties of the lower part of mankind, to distinguish it from tragedy, which is an exhibition of the misfortunes of the great. When comedy, therefore, ascends to produce the characters of princes or generals upon the stage, it is out of its walk, since low and middle life are entirely its object. The principal question is, therefore, whether in describing low or middle life, an exhibition of its follies be not preferable to a detail of its calamities? Or in other words which deserves the preference? The weeping sentimental comedy, so much in fashion at present (1773), or the laughing and even low comedy, which seems to have been last exhibited by Vanbrugh and Cibber?
If we apply to authorities, all the great masters in the dramatic art have but one opinion. Their rule is, that as tragedy displays the calamities of the great, so comedy should excite our laughter, by ridiculously exhibiting the follies of the lower part of mankind. Boileau, one of the best of modern critics, asserts that comedy will not admit of tragic distress.
"Le comique, ennemi des soupirs et des pleurs, "N'admit point dans ses vers de tragiques douleurs.” Nor is the rule without the strongest foundation in nature, as the distresses of the mean by no means affect us so strongly as the calamities of the great. When tragedy exhibits to us some great man fallen from his height and struggling with want and adversity, we feel his situation in the same manner as we suppose that he himself must feel, and our pity is encreased in proportion to the height from which he fell. On the contrary we do not so strongly sympathise with one born in humbler circumstances, and encountering accidental distress: so that while we melt for Belisarius, we scarcely give halfpence to the beggar, who accosts us in the street. The one has our pity; the other our contempt. Distress, therefore, is the proper object of tragedy, since the great excite pity by their fall; but not equally so of comedy, since the actors employed in it are originally so mean, that they sink but little by their fall.
Since the first origin of the stage, tragedy and comedy have run in distinct channels, and never till of late encroached upon the provinces of each other. Terence, who seems to have made the nearest approaches, always judiciously stops short, before he comes to the downright pathetic;