« ZurückWeiter »
law,) and obliged me to take the best he had to give, which was full 10001. a year. Once again I forgot that men were mortal. His youth and my own, I imagined, promised us riches and pleasures for many years to come: it was permitted that he should die too. I end my history of myself here. You and Dick both know but too well the sequel of it, What I mean by telling it him is plain. It is, to make him sensible that without the knowledge of something that mankind cannot be without, no wit, no parts, no friends, no patrons, can secure him from want, and the terrible consequence of it, contempt. He cannot easily set out in life with more hopes of success than I did. He may be more fortunate, but it is ten thousand to one he is not. And what led me into this particular way of thinking at present is, that supposing the law would not please him, I was imagining, if Sir R. lived, he might possibly get to be secretary to some minister at a foreign court. But even this cannot be obtained without that necessary knowledge I have been speaking of; as troublesome, as disagreeable to the full, as the law of England; and as remote and different from wit and poetry, and those pursuits with which he hath too long amused, or rather abused, his good parts. And my intent was to shew him, that supposing he had obtained this previous acquaintance with the civil law and the law of nations, and had got to be king's secretary to the first embassy in Europe, he would not be in half so comfortable, so easy a condition to a man of sense, who knows what this world is, as if he was in a three pair of stairs chamber at the Temple, in a way only of getting 2001. a year. If he thinks my case para ticular, he does not know (as how should he') what passes about the court, where, besides the changeableness of things, there is not one place of any kind for which there are not five hundred competitors ; many of whom are as well and better qualified than he can be these two years, let him study ever so hard. In short all places are, from the accidents I have related, so extremely precarious; the attendance about them is so mean and unmarly; refusals and delays are so insupportable; and the loss of them, when obtained, so dreadtul to one who has not a good foundation in bis own fortune, that he must be weak who should propose that pursuit to a friend. It is for this reason I have troubled you and him with this account of my own mistakes, that I may deter him from falling into them; and that I may use this one effort more to convince him, that any useful profession is infinitely better than a thousand patrons. God knows how zealous I am for his success in the world, and
how grieved I am when I recollect, that he is now near twenty-two, and has not yet read one book (since at Eton) for which he, or his family, will ever be the better as long as he lives. I love him, dearly love him, and therefore these pains, and this plainness. Why does not his uncle* second my intreaties, and engage him to fix ? He cannot take Dick's honest regard for me ill, surely; besides, he said he did not. If he did, I should be sorry indeed, since his adherence to me cannot be agreeable to me any longer than it is ufeful to himself; and I am of no ase to bim, if I cannot influence his conduct in a matter so plain, so true, and so important, as this. For God's sake do what you can (but with that tenderness which is so natural to you towards your children) to engage him to hearken to me, before it is too late. Help me to do him good; desire him to add my years, my experience, to his own parts, and I will, with my life, answer for his success. But tell him, that his parts will be his ruin, if he will not submit them to the conduct of those who have gone through a good part of the road of life to him utterly unknown, and therefore dangerous.
See how far my love has carried me! I will not be so full of words again soon. God knows they come from a heart most sincerely, most gratefully disposed to do all sorts of good in my poor power to you and your children.
I rejoice at what you say in your letter of some comforts and conveniences you meet with at present at Epsom. May they and greater ever accompany you! My sincere love to Molly and Dick. You need not burn this letter. I will answer your long agreeable letter another time.
XXXIII. The Rev. G. Costard, of Twickenham, to his Sister,
containing Reflections on the Language of Tragedy, &c.
Wad. Coll. Dec. 21, 1732. OXFORD not affording any thing worth your knowledge, and having observed in you a particular taste for tragedy; because I would not have you, like the generality of man. kind, approve without reason, and dislike they know not why, I thought I could not employ this opportunity better than in sending you some scattered thoughts upon that subject, which may be of use towards the conducting your
* Mr, Mitchell, who married Mrs. West's sister,
judgment, and directing your choice. The first thing then you are to observe is the language, where the sound should not exceed the sense, which is called bombast; nor yet run into the opposite extreme, and talk in a low vulgar phrase. When the sentence is burdened with particles such as of, for, and, so, &c. it tires the ear, and grows nauseous, and therefore wherever you see these sown with too liberal a hand, you may safely condemn the performance in this
particular. Tragedy is a serious thing, and intended to reform men's manners, and spur them to virtue, and therefore whatever borders upon smut, ribaldry, or double entendre, is not to be endured. The ancients are particularly modest in that respect; but the moderns have taken greater licence, and in their love interviews intermixed what they call the luscious; but this is scarcely excusable. To this head belong comparisons; the intention of which is to relieve the mind when it has been long engaged in attending the progress of a narration, or else to paint something in more lively colours to the imagination than could be done by plain description only. The first of these is mostly in use in heroick poetry, such as Dryden's Virgil, and Pope's translation of Homer; but the latter belongs likewise to that kind of poetry I am now speaking of. Beautiful examples of this you will find in Addison's Cato,
“ So the pure limpid stream, &c." And in Rowe's Tamerlane,
“ So chear's some pious saint a dying sinner, &c.” I instance in these because they first occur to my memory. You will find others scattered throughout both those pieces equally admirable in their kind.
I cannot dismiss this part of my subject without observing to you that when these similies are too frequent in any conposition, they unbend the mind too much, and draw it off too far from the main subject. And yet this is a fault that some of our English writers have failen into. A person in grief, or in anger, should never make any comparison, for that coolness of thought which is requisite for this is entirely inconsistent with the hurry and agitation of the blood upon such occasions. A person that is sent upon any important design, or has determined with himself upon the execution of it, should never stay to make harangues, much less to make similies, wbich are the business of leisure and the sports of the imagination.
And now I am engaged in treating of the language of
tragedy, I must add that rhyme is very improper. Dryden did this in his Indian Emperor, but if I mistake not he has somewhere else in his works condemned it. It is a thing so contrary to reason and sense, that nothing but a condescension to please the rabble could have induced him to it; but the absurdity of it will appear from any one's using it in ordinary life, and if there is a person of your and my acquaintance that is guilty of this practice in common conversation, when you see him next, think of this and own the justness of the remark. How or when rhyme came first into English poetry is difficult to say; the oldest that I have seen in our language is Chaucer, in 1358; but I am sure he was not the author. It is generally ascribed to the monks; but I am apt to think they were only' borrowers of the art. I have by me several Arabic pieces written in the same manner; which makes me inclined to think that the Moors brought it with them into Spain, whence they propagated it over these Western parts. But I am vastly deceived if it is not more ancient still, and have some reason to think that a few of the Psalms at least are written in this manner. But of this perhaps more than enough.
The next thing you will observe is the characters and sentiments. I join them together, because we can scarcely speak of one without considering the other too. When a king makes his appearance, he must discover himself in every word and every sentence. Guards and attendants are but the trappings of royalty, the language and the thoughts must bespeak the monarch. The parlour must never be brought into the kitchen, and it can never be supposed that servants can have notions equally enlarged with their masters and mistresses. Tales of fairies and people led away by will-o'-whisp, or spirited through the air, may suit well enough with Doll the dairy-maid, but can hardly be thouglit to be credited by Mrs. Abigail, my lady's woman. When a person famous for chastity and mildness of temper is made to talk loosely or in rants (the faults of Lee's Scipio in his Sophonisba,) it is an unpardonable crime. The formality of an old steward, and the simplicity of country servants, is well observed in the Drummer. I mention this play because I know you have read it, and because it fully expresses my meaning. Nor need its being a comedy be any objection, for in this both comedy and tragedy agree. Shakespeare has hit upon low humour in his Hamlet, under the persons of his yrave-diggers. But in a tragedy such witticisms draw off the mind from that solemnity and composure which should be maintained throughout the whole
of such representations, and therefore should never be ad. mitted. When a libertine is introduced (though I think it should be with great caution,) he may be allowed to speak a Jittle injuriously of a Providence, as not being supposed to have considered its inysterious and intricate, yet regular, proceedings. And if he uses the fair sex in general with the same freedom, it is no more than what may be expected from his intercourse with none but the corrupt part of the sex; for that such there are I know you will readily grant
But when such reflections are put in the mouth of a person of piety and virtue, it is an open insult upon good sense, and contrary to all the laws of religion and poetry. It is said of an ancient philosopher, that being in the theatre one day, and hearing in the drama a person of eminent probity and worth say something reflecting upon heaven, he immediately went out, lest by his stay he should seem in the least to countenance or approve his words. And this was the more remarkable because the poet was his intimate friend.
Again : a heathen can never with any propriety be made to talk like a christian, or a barbarian like a philosopher; and yet Dryden has been guilty of both these errors.
As tragedy is designed.to raise the passions and affections, great care is to be used by the poet that they be placed upon proper objects : and where he has failed in this, his auditors ought to condemn him. Venice Preserved is an example of this kind, for there we are made to pity a pack of abandoned villains, whose intention was the ruin and de-. struction of their country. And this is what is meant when it is said that a play is founded upon a wrong moral.
The mind of a rational being can never be satisfied with any thing void of probability, and therefore the representation must take in only a proper quantity of time, just so much as we can suppose such a number of facts could be performed in. And the same may be said with regard to place. We can never possibly imagine, for instance, that within the space of two or three hours the transaction of a year, much less eight or nine, can be included. Nor can we allow so small a space of time for a journey from France to England, and back again from thence to France ; and yet Shakespeare has offended in both these cases.
It is time now to consider tbe conduct of a play, Those of the Spaniards consist bụt of three acts, and that form has been introduced within this year or two upon the English stage; but, as the best in our language capsist of Gve, my retiections shall regard these. How the number of five