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were poets. Corneille having once got some notion of his powers, tried a long time on all fides to know what particular direction he should take. He had first made an attempt in comedy, in an age when it was yet so gross in France that it could give no pleasure to polite persons. Melite was so well received when he dressed her out, that she gave rise to a new species of comedy and comedians. This success, which encouraged Corneille to pursue that fort of comedy of which he was the first inventor, left him no reason to imagine, that he was one day to produce those master-pieces of tragedy, which his muse displayed afterwards with so much fplendor; and yet less did he imagine, that his comic pieces, which, for want of any that were preferable, were then very much in fashion, would be eclipsed by anos ther genius * formed upon the Greeks and Romans, and who would add to their excellencies improvements of his own, and that this modish comedy, to which Corneille, as to his idol, dedicated his labours, would quickly be forgot. He wrote first Medea, and afterwards the Cid, and, by that prodigious flight of his genius, he discovered, though late, that nature had formed him to run in no other course but that of Sophocles. Happy genius that, without rule or imitation, could at once take so high a fight; having önce, as I may fay, made himself an eagle, he never afterwards quitted the path, which he had worked out for himself, over the heads of the writers of his time : yet he retained fome traces of the false taste which infected the whole nation; but even in this,

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he deserves our admiration, since in time he changed it completely by the reflections he made, and those he occasioned. In short, Corneille was born for tragedy, as Moliere for comedy. Moliere, indeed, knew his own genius sooner, and was not less happy in procuring applause, though it often happened to him as to Corneille, i

LIgnorance & l'Erreur à ses naisantes pièces
En habit de Marquis, en robes de Comtesses,
Vinsent pour diffamer son chef-d'æuvre nouveau,
Et secoüer la tête à l'endroit le plus beau.

But, without taking any farther notice of the time at which either came to the knowledge of his own genius, let us suppose that the powers of tragedy and comedy were as equally shared between Moliere and Corneille, as they are different in their own nature, and then nothing more will remain than to compare the several difficulties of each composition, and to rate those difficulties together which are common to both. · It appears, first, that the tragic poet has in his subject an advantage over the comic, for he takes ic from history, and his rival, at least in the more elevated and splendid comedy, is obliged to form it by his own invention. Now, it is not so easy as it might seem to find comic subjects capable of a new and pleasing form ; but history is a source, if not inexhaustible, yet certainly fo copious as never to leave the genius a-ground. It is true, that invention seems to have a wider field than history : real facts are limited in their number, but the facts which may


be feigned have no end; but though, in this respect, invention may be allowed to have the advantage, is the difficulty of inventing to be accounted as nothing? To make a tragedy, is to get materials together, and to make use of them like a skilful architect; but to make a comedy, is to build like Ælop in the air. It is in vain to boast that the compass of invention is as wide as the extent of defire: every thing is limited, and the mind of man like every thing else. Besides, invention must be in conformity to nature ; but distinct and remarkable characters are very rare in nature herself. Moliere has got hold on the principal touches of ridicule. If any man should bring characters less strong, he will be in danger of dulness. Where comedy is to be kept up by subordinate personages, it is in great danger. All the force of a picture must arise from the principal persons, and not from the multitude cluftered up together. In the same manner, a comedy, to be good, must be supported by a single striking

character, and not by under-parts. · But, on the contrary, tragic characters are with· out number, though of them the general out-lines are

limited; but dissimulation, jealousy, policy, ambition, desire of dominion, and other interests and passions, are various without end, and take a thousand different forms in different situations of history; so that as long as there is tragedy, there may be always novelty. Thus the jealous and dissembling Mithridates, so happily painted by Racine, will not stand in the way of a poer who shall attempt a jealous and dissembling Tiberius. The stormy violence of an Achilles will always leave room for the stormy violence of Alexander.


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But the case is very different with avarice, trifling vanity, hypocrisy, and other vices, considered as ridiculous. It would be safer to double and treble all the tragedies of our greatest poets; and use all their subjects over and over, as has been done with Oedipus and Sophonisba, than to bring again upon the stage in five acts a Miser, a Citizen turned Gentleman, a Tartuffe, and other subjects sufficiently known. Not that these popular vices are less capable of diversification, or are less varied by different circumstances, than the vices and passions of heroes ; but that if they were to be brought over again in comedies, they would be less distinct, less exact, lefs forcible, and, consequently, less applauded. Pleasantry and ridicule must be more strongly marked than heroism and pathos, which support themselves by their own force. Besides, though these two things of so different natures could support themselves equally in equal variety, which is very far from being the case; yet comedy, as it now stands, consists not in incidents, but in characters. Now it is by incidents only that characters are diversified, as well upon the stage of comedy, as upon the stage of life. Comedy, as Moliera has left it, resembles the pictures of manners drawn by the celebrated La Bruyere. Would any man after him venture to draw them over again, he would expofe himself to the fate of those who have ventured to continue them. For instance, what could we add to his character of the Absent Man? Shall we put him in other circumstances ? The principle strokes of absence of mind will always be the same; and there are cnly those striking touches which are fit for a co.cdy, of which the end is painting after nature, but


with strength and sprightliness like the designs of Callot. If comedy were among us what it is in Spain, a kind of romance, consisting of many circumstances and intrigues, perplexed and disentangled, so as to surprise ; if it was nearly the same with that which Corneille practised in his time ; if, like that of Terence, it went no farther than to draw the common portraits of simple nature, and shew us fathers, sons, and ri. vals; notwithstanding the uniformity, which would always prevail as in the plays of Terence, and probably in those of Menander, whom he imitated in his four first pieces, there would always be a resource found either in variety of incidents, like those of the Spaniards, or in the repetition of the same characters in the way of Terence : but the case is now very different, the public calls for new characters and nothing else. Multiplicity of accidents, and the laborious contrivance of an intrigue, are not now allowed to shelter a weak genius that would find grear conveniences in that way of writing. Nor does it fuit the taste of comedy which requires an air less constrained, and such freedom and ease of manners as admits nothing of the romantic. She leaves all the pomp of ludden events to the novels, or little romances, which were the diversion of the last age. She allows nothing but a succession of characters, resembling nature, and falling in without any apparent contrivance, Racine has likewise taught us to give to tragedy the same fimplicity of air and action; he has endeavoured to disentangle it from that great number of incidents, which made it rather a study than diverfion to the audience, and which shew the poet not so much to abound in invention, as to be deficient in

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