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into a weak and timorous despondeney; inclining us to submit, almost without resistance, to the incuinbent affli&tion; or, if we struggle at all with it, it is only to ease the labouring heart by putting forthi fome fruitless fighs and ineffectual complainings. Thus we find it represented by those perfect masters of simple nature, the Greek tragedians. So far are their forrowing personages from entertaining any vigorous thoughts or manly resolutions, that they conftantly languish into sad repinings at their prefent, and trembling apprehensions of future, mifery.
When thefe sentiments come to express themfelves in words, wliat can they be but the plainest and finplest which the language of the complainant furnishes? Such negligence, or more properly such deje&tion, of sorrow disposes the fpeaker to take up with terms as huinble as his fortune. His feeble conception is not only unapt, or unable to look out for fine words, and painted phrases; but, if chance throw them in his way, he even rejects thein as trappings of another condition, and which serve only to upbraid his present wretchedness. The pomp of numbers, and pride of poetic expresfion, are so little his care, that it is well if he even trouble himself to observe the ordinary exactness of mere
profe [a]. And this even where the height of rank and importance of affairs conspire to elevate the mind to more state and dignity.
Et tragicus plerumque DOLET SERMONE ,
PEDESTRI. Thus far the dramatic writer may inform himself by entering into his own consciousness, and observing the sure dictates of experience. For what concerns the successful application of this rule in practice, every thing, as is remarked below, (on l. 102] muft depend on the constitution of his own mind; which yet may be inuch affifted by the diligent study of those writers who excel most in this way: in which class all agree to give the palm to EURIPIDES.
But here it may not be improper to obviate a common mistake that seems to have arisen from the too strict interpretation of the poet's rule. Tragic chara&ters, he says, will generally express their sorrows in a prosaic language. From this just observation, bastily considered and compared with the absurd practice of some writers, it hath been concluded, That what we call pure poetry, the essence of which consists in bold figures and a lively imagery, hath no place on the stage.
[a] The reader may see a fine speech in the Cyrcpædia of Xenophon [1. iv.] where not so much as this is observed.
It may not be fufficient to oppose to this notion the practice of the best poets, ancient and modern; for the question recurs, how far that practice is to be justified on the principles of good criticism and common sense. To come then to the reafon of the thing.
The capital rule in this matter is,
Reddere perfonæ-convenientia cuique. . But to do this, the situation of the persons and the various passions resulting from such situation, must be well considered. Each of these has a character or turn of thinking peculiar to itself. But all agree in this property, that they occupy the whole attention of the speaker, and are perpetually offering to his mind a set of pictures or images, suitable to his state, and expresfive of it. In these the tragic character of every denomination loves to indulge; as we may fee by looking no farther than on what passes before us in common life, where persons, under the influence of any passion, are more eloquent, and have a greater quickness at allusion and imagery, than at other times. So that to take from the speaker this privilege of representing such pi&ures or images, is so far from consulting. Nature, that it is, in effect, to overlook or reject one of her plainest leffons.
It is true, if one character is busied in running after the images which Naturel throws in the way only of some other, or if; irr representing fuch images as are proper to the character, the imagination is taken up in tracing mimate res feinblances, and amusing itself with circuinstances that have no relation to the case in brand, then indeed the cenfure of these critics tis well applied. It may be fine poetry, if you will, but very bad dramatic writing. But let the innagcry be ever so great or splendid, if it be such only as the governing passion loves to conceive and paint, and if it be no further dilated on, and with no greater folicitude and curiosity, than the natural working of the passion demands, the drama is so far from rejecting such poetry, that it glories in it, as what is most essential to its true end and design. į. Ille: per extentum funein mihi pofe videtur ; i tre poeta, meum qui pectus inaniter angity w w Inritatg muliety falsis terroribus; impletes: 0 Ut magusaiend,!,... 11 An office, which the dramatic poet hath no means of sustaining but by: that strong painting and foreible imagery, above described. u nás
What feems to have given a colour to the oppofits opinion, is the faulty pra&tice which good critics have observed in the French tragedies, and in some of our own that have been formed upon their model. But the case is mistaken. It is not the poetry of the French or English draina that deserves their censure, but its prolix and languid declamation, neglecting paffion for sentiment, or expressing passion in a calm circuit of words, and without spirit. Even Mr. Addison's Cato, which, from being immoderately extolled, has had the usual fate of being as immoderately undervalued, is not to be censured for its abundance of poetry, but for its application of it in a way that hurts the passion. General sentiments, uncharacteristic imagery, and both drawn out in a spiritless, or, which comes to the same thing, a too curious expreffion, are the proper faults of this drama. What the critic of just taste demands in this fine tragedy, is even more poetry, but better applied, and touched with more spirit.
Still, perhaps, we are but on the surface of this matter. The true ground of this mistaken criticism is, The notion, that when the hero is at the crisis of his fate, he is not at liberty to use poetical, that is, highly figurative expression: but that the proper season for these things is when he has nothing else to do. Whereas the truth is just the contrary. The figures, when he is greatly agitated, come of themselves; and, suiting the grandeur and dignity of his situation,