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"This Preface," says Dr. Johnson, 66 seems very elaborately written, and contains many just remarks on the Fathers of the English drama. Shakspeare's plots, he says, are in the hundred Novels of Cinthio; those of Beaumont and Fletcher in Spanish Stories; Jonson alone made them for himself. His criticisms upon tragedy, comedy, and farce, are judicious and profound. He endeavours to defend the immorality of some of his comedies by the example of former writers; which is only to say, that he was not the first, nor perhaps the greatest, offender." Life of DRYDEN.
I HAD HAD thought, Reader, in this Preface, to have written somewhat concerning the difference betwixt the plays of our age, and those of our predecessors, on the English stage: to have shewn in what parts of Dramatick Poesy we were excelled by Ben Jonson, I mean, humour, and contrivance of comedy; and in what we may justly claim precedence of Shakspeare and Fletcher, namely, in heroick plays; but this design I have waved on second considerations; at least deferred it till I publish THE CONQUEST OF GRANADA, where the discourse will be more proper. I had also prepared to treat of the improvement of our language since Fletcher's and Jonson's days, and consequently of our refining the courtship, raillery, and conversation of plays: but as I am willing to decline that envy which I should draw on myself from some old opiniatre judges of the stage, so likewise I am pressed in time so much, that I have not leisure, at present, to go through with it. Neither, indeed, do I value a reputation gained
from comedy, so far as to concern myself about it, any more than I needs must in my own defence: for I think it, in its own nature, inferior to all sorts of dramatick writing. Low comedy especially requires, on the writer's part, much of conversation with the vulgar, and much of ill nature in the observation of their follies. But let all men please themselves according to their several tastes that which is not pleasant to me, may be to others who judge better. And, to prevent an accusation from my enemies, I am sometimes ready to imagine, that my disgust of low comedy proceeds not so much from my judgment as from my temper; which is the reason why I so seldom write it; and that when I succeed in it, (I mean so far as to please the audience,) yet I am nothing satisfied with what I have done; but am often vexed to hear the people laugh, and clap, as they perpetually do, where I intended them no jest; while they let pass the better things without taking notice of them. Yet even this confirms me in my opinion of slighting popular applause, and of contemning that approbation which those very people give, equally with me, to the zany of a mountebank; or to the appearance of an antick on the theatre, without wit on the poet's part, or any occasion of laughter from the actor, besides the ridiculousness of his habit and his grimaces."
* Our author probably here alludes to Mr. James Noke, (corruptly called by his contemporaries Nokes,) who in the preceding year, (1670) by a fantastick dress and ridiculous
But I have descended before I was aware, from comedy to farce; which consists principally of grimaces. That I admire not any comedy equally with tragedy, is, perhaps, from the sullenness of my humour; but that I detest those farces, which are now the most frequent entertainments of the stage, I am sure I have reason on my side. Comedy consists, though of low persons, yet of natural actions and characters; I mean such humours, adventures, and designs, as are to be found and met with in the world. Farce, on the other side, consists of forced humours, and unnatural events. Comedy presents us with the imperfections of human nature; farce entertains us with what is monstrous and chimerical: the one causes laughter in those who can judge of men and manners, by the lively representation of their folly or corruption; the other produces the same effect in those who can judge of neither, and that only by its extravagancies. The first works on the judgment and fancy; the latter on the fancy only: there is more of satisfaction in the former kind of laughter, and in the latter more of scorn. But, how it happens, that an impossible adventure should cause our mirth, I cannot so easily imagine. Something there may be in the oddness of it, because on the stage it is the com
grimaces, had gained great applause in the part of Sir Arthur Addle, in the play of Sir SALOMON SINGLE, written by John Caryl, Esq. See Downes's RoscIUS ANGLICANUS, 8vo. 1708, p. 29.