Page images

reputation; it was occasion only has been wanting to your courage, for that can never be wanting to occasion. The same ardour still incites you to heroic actions, and the same concernment for all the interest of your king and brother continues to give you restless nights, and a generous emulation for your own glory. You are still meditating on new labours for yourself, and new triumphs for the nation; and when our former enemies again provoke us, you will again solicit fate to provide you another navy to overcome, and another admiral to be slain. You will then lead forth a nation eager to revenge their past injuries; and, like the Romans, inexorable to peace, till they have fully vanquished. Let our enemies make their boast of a surprise,* as the Samnites did of a successful stratagem; but the Furcæ Caudina will never be forgiven till they are revenged. I have always observed in your Royal Highness an extreme concernment for the honour of your country; it is a passion common to you with a brother, the most excellent of kings; and in two persons are eminent the characters which Homer has given us of heroic virtue; the commanding part in Agamemnon, and the executive in Achilles. And I doubt not from both your actions, but to have abundant matter to fill the annals of a glorious reign, and to perform the part of a just historian to my royal master, without intermixing with it any thing of the poet.

In the mean time, while your Royal Highness is preparing fresh employment for our pens, I have been examining my own forces, and making trial of myself, how I shall be able to transmit you to pos


* The author seems to refer to the burning of the English ships at Chatham, by the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter.

terity. I have formed a hero, I confess, not abso, lutely perfect, but of an excessive and over-boil. ing courage; but Homer and Tasso are my precedents. Both the Greek and the Italian poet had well considered, that a tame hero, who never transgresses the bounds of moral virtue, would shine but dimly in an epic poem ; the strictness of those rules might well give precepts to the reader, but would administer little of occasion to the writer. But a character of an eccentric virtue is the more exact image of human life, because he is not wholly exempted from its frailties; such a person is Almanzor, whom I present, with all humility, to the patronage of your Royal Highness. I designed in him a roughness of character, impatient of injuries, and a confidence of himself, almost approaching to an arrogance. But these errors are incident only to great spirits; they are moles and dimples, which hinder not a face from being beautiful, though that beauty be not regular; they are of the number of those amiable imperfections which we see in mistresses, and which we pass over without a strict examination, when they are accompanied with greater graces. And such in Almanzor are a frank and noble openness of nature, an easiness to forgive his conquered enemies, and to protect them in distress; and, above all, an inviolable faith in his affection,

This, sir, I have briefly shadowed to your Royal Highness, that you may not be ashamed of that hero, whose protection you undertake. Neither would I dedicate him to so illustrious a name, if I were conscious to myself that he did or said any thing which was wholly unworthy of it. However, since it is not just that your Royal Highness should defend or own what possibly may be my error,

I bring before you this accused Almanzor in the nature of a suspected criminal. By the suffrage of the most and best he already is acquitted ; and by the sentence of some, condemned. But as I have no reason to stand to the award of my enemies, so neither dare I trust the partiality of my friends : I make my last appeal to your Royal Highness, as to a sovereign tribunal. Heroes should only be judged by heroes ; because they only are capable of measuring great and heroic actions by the rule and standard of their own. If Almanzor has failed in any point of honour, I must therein acknowledge that he deviates from your Royal Highness, who are the pattern of it. But if at any time he fulfils the parts of personal valour, and of conduct, of a soldier, and of a general; or, if I could yet give him a character more advantageous than what he has, of the most unshaken friend, the greatest of subjects, and the best of masters, I should then draw to all the world a true resemblance of your worth and virtues ; at least, as far as they are capable of being copied by the mean abilities of,


Your Royal Highness's

Most humble, and

Most obedient servant,





WHETHER heroic verse ought to be admitted into serious plays, is not now to be disputed: it is already in possession of the stage, and I dare confidently affirm, that very few tragedies, in this age, shall be received without it. All the arguments which are formed against it, can amount to no more than this, that it is not so near conversation as prose, and therefore not so natural. But it is very clear to all who understand poetry, that serious plays ought not to imitate conversation too nearly. If nothing were to be raised above that level, the foundation of poetry would be destroyed. And if you once admit of a latitude, that thoughts may be exalted, and that images and actions may be raised above the life, and described in measure without rhyme, that leads you insensibly from your own principles to mine: you are already so far onward of your way, that you have forsaken the imitation of ordinary converse. You are gone beyond it; and to continue where you are, is to lodge in the open fields, betwixt two inns. You have lost that which you call natural, and have not acquired the last perfection of art. But it was only custom which cozened us so long ; we thought, because Shakespeare and Fletcher went no farther, that there the pillars of poetry were to be erected ; that, because they excellently described passion without rhime, therefore rhime was not capable of describing it. But time has now.convinced most men of that error.

It is indeed so difficult to write verse, that the adversaries of it have a good plea against many, who undertook that task, without being formed by art or nature for it. Yet, even they who have writ. ten worst in it, would have written worse without it. They have cozened many with their sound, who never took the pains to examine their sense. In fine, they have succeeded; though, it is true, they have more dishonoured rhime by their good success, than they have done by their ill

. But I am willing to let fall this argument: It is free for every man to write, or not to write, in verse, as he judges it to be, or not to be, his talent; or as he imagines the audience will receive it.

For heroic plays, in which only I have used it without the mixture of prose, the first light we had of them on the English theatre, was from the late Sir William D'Avenant. It being forbidden him in the rebellious times to act tragedies and comedies, because they contained some matter of scandal to those good people, who could more easily dispossess their lawful sovereign, than endure a wanton jest, he was forced to turn his thoughts another way, and to introduce the examples of moral virtue, writ in verse, and performed in recitative music. The original of this music, and of the scenes which adorned his work, he had from the Italian

operas; but he heightened his characters, as I may proba



« PreviousContinue »