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K. Ferd. Meantime, you shall my victories
pursue, The Moors in woods and mountains to subdue. Almanz. The toils of war shall help to wear
each day, And dreams of love shall drive my nights away.Our banners to the Alhambra's turrets bear; Then, wave our conquering crosses in the air, And cry, with shouts of triumph,—Live and
reign, Great Ferdinand and Isabel of Spain !
They, who have best succeeded on the stage,
* The characters alluded to are Cobb, the water-bearer, in " Every Man in his Humour;" and Captain Otter, in " Epicæne, or the Silent Woman,' whose humour it was to christen his drinking-cups by the names of Horse, Bull, and Bear.
AN ESSAY ON THE DRAMATIC POETRY
OF THE LAST AGE.
The promises of authors, that they will write again, are, in effect, a threatening of their readers with some new impertinence; and they, who perform not what they promise, will have their pardon on easy terms. It is from this consideration, that I could be glad to spare you the trouble, which I am now giving you, of a postscript,* if I were not obliged, by many reasons, to write somewhat concerning our present plays, and those of our predecessors on the English stage. The truth is, I have so far engaged myself in a bold epilogue to this play, wherein I have somewhat taxed the former writing, that it was necessary for me either not to print it, or to show that I could defend it. Yet I would so maintain my opinion of the present age, as not to be wanting in my veneration for the past : I would ascribe to dead authors their just praises
* [In 1st edition, by oversight, “preface.”-Ed.] VOL. IV.
in those things wherein they have excelled us; and in those wherein we contend with them for the pre-eminence, I would acknowledge our advantages to the age, and claim no victory from our wit. This being what I have proposed to myself, I hope I shall not be thought arrogant when I inquire into their errors; For we live in an age so sceptical, that as it determines little, so it takes nothing from antiquity on trust; and I profess to have no other ambition in this essay, than that poetry may not go backward, when all other arts and sciences are advancing. Whoever censures me for this inquiry, let him hear his character from Horace:
Ingeniis non ille favet, plauditque sepultis,
He favours not dead wits, but hates the living. It was upbraided to that excellent poet, that he was an enemy to the writings of his predecessor Lucilius, because he had said, Lucilium lutulentum * fluere, that he ran muddy; and that he ought to have retrenched from his satires many unnecessary verses.
But Horace makes Lucilius himself to justify him from the imputation of envy, by telling you that he would have done the same, had he lived in an age which was more refined :
Si foret hoc nostrum fato delapsus in ævum,
Perfectum traheretur, etc. And, both in the whole course of that satire, and in his most admirable Epistle to Augustus, he makes it his business to prove, that antiquity alone is no plea for the excellency of a poem;
[In 1st edition, “luculentum," “detraherit,” and “recederet," obviously from hasty printing.--Ed.]
but that, one age learning from another, the last (if we can suppose an equality of wit in the writers) has the advantage of knowing more and better than the former. And this, I think, is the state of the question in dispute. It is therefore my part to make it clear, that the language, wit, and conversation of our age, are improved and refined above the last; and then it will not be difficult to infer, that our plays have received some part of those advantages.
In the first place, therefore, it will be necessary to state, in general, what this refinement is, of which we treat; and that, I think, will not be defined amiss, “An improvement of our Wit, Language, and Conversation; or, an alteration in them for the better.
To begin with Language. That an alteration is lately made in ours, or since the writers of the last age (in which I comprehend Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Jonson), is manifest. Any man who reads those excellent poets, and compares their language with what is now written, will see it almost in every line; but that this is an improvement of the language, or an alteration for the better, will not so easily be granted. For many are of a contrary opinion, that the English tongue was then in the height of its perfection; that from Jonson's time to ours it has been in a continual declination, like that of the Romans from the age of Virgil to Statius, and so downward to Claudian; of which, not only Petronius, but Quintilian himself so much complains, under the person of Secundus, in his famous dialogue De Causis corruptæ Eloquentiæ. *
But, to show that our language is improved,
* [Not now generally thought to be Quintilian's.--Ed.]