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list of our calamities, without increasing the catalogue of our virtues.
As tragedy thus dignifies the distresses, so it elevates the actions of its personages, their virtues, and their vices. But this removes virtue to a greater distance from us, and brings vice nearer: it exalts the first to a point beyond our imitation, and ennobles the latter to a degree above our abhorrence. Shakspeare, who generally discriminates strongly the good and ill qualities of his characters, has yet exhibited a Macbeth, a tyrant and a murderer, whom we are disposed rather to pity than to hate. Modern tragedy,' says a celebrated critic, has become more a school of virtue than the ancient, by being more the theatre of passion: an Othello, hurried by jealousy to murder his innocent wife: a Jaffier, ensnared by resentment and want, to engage in a conspiracy, and then stung with remorse and involved in ruin; a Siffredi, through the deceit which he employs for public-spirited ends, bringing destruction on all whom he loved: these are the examples which tragedy now displays, by means of which it inculcates on men the proper government of their passions.' I am afraid, if we appeal to the feelings of the audience at the conclusion of any of those pieces, we shall not find the effect to be what is here supposed. Othello we rather pity for his jealousy, than hate as a murderer. With Jaffier and his associates we are undoubtedly leagued against the rulers of Venice; and even the faith and tenderness of Belvidera hardly make us forgive her for betraying her secret. The sentiments of Siffredi, however wise and just, are disregarded where they impeach the dignity and supereminence of love. His deceit indeed is blamed, which is said to be the moral of the piece; but it is blamed because it hindered the union of Tancred and Sigismunda, which, from the very beginning of the play, is the object in
which the reader or spectator is interested. Reverse the situation, make it a contrivance to defeat the claim of the tyrant's daughter, to give the throne to Tancred, and to place Sigismunda there at his side, the audience would admire its ingenuity, and rejoice in its success.
In the mixture of a plot, and amidst the variety of situations, where weaknesses are flattered and passions indulged, at the same time that virtues are displayed and duties performed, one set of readers will enjoy the pleasure of the first, while those only who have less need to be instructed will seize the instruction of the latter. When Marcus dies for his country, the ladies in the side-boxes only consider his death as removing the bar to the marriage of Lucia with his brother Portius.
In tragedy as in novel, which is sometimes a kind of tragedy, the author is obliged, in justification of weak characters, to elevate villanous ones, or to throw round their vices a bewitching address and captivating manners. Lovelace is made a character which the greater number of girls admire, in order to justify the seduction of Clarissa. Lothario, though very inferior, is something of the same cast, to mitigate the crime of Calista. The story would not be probable else ; granted: but in proportion to the art of the poet in rendering it probable, he heightens the immoral effect of which I complain.
As the incidents must be formed, so must the sentiments be introduced according to the character and condition of the person speaking them, not according to the laws of virtue, or the dictates of prudence. To give them this propriety, they must often be apologies for vice and for fraud, or contain ridicule against virtue and honesty. It is not sufficient to answer, that if the person uttering them is punished in the course, or at the end of the play, the expiation is
sufficiently made ; if the sentiments at the time are shrewdly imagined, and forcibly expressed, they will have a powerful effect on the mind, and leave impressions which the retribution of poetical justice will hardly be able to efface.
On poetical justice, indeed, I do not lay so much stress as some authors have done. I incline to be of the opinion of one of my predecessors, that we are frequently more roused' to a love of virtue, and a hatred of vice, when virtue is unfortunate, and vice successful, than when each receives the recompense it merits. But I impute more to striking incidents, to the sentiments running through the tenor of a piece, than to the general impression of its denouement. Mons. d'Alembert says, that in any sort of spectacle which would leave the poet more at liberty than tragedies taken from history, 'in the opera, for example, the author would not easily be pardoned for allowing vice to go unpunished. I remember to have seen, continued he, a MS. opera of Atreus, where that monster perished by a thunderbolt, exclaiming, with a savage satisfaction,
Tonnez, Dieux impuissans ;
Frappez; je suis vengé !' • This would have made one of the happiest denouements that can well be imagined. As to theatrical effect, I am quite of his opinion : but as to the moral, I cannot agree with him. The line which he quotes, brilliant, forcible, and bold, would have remained with the audience, not to recal the punishment of guilt, but to mark the pleasure of revenge.
But it is not only from the vices or imperfections of tragic characters that we are to fear the danger of familiarising the approach of evil, or encouraging the growth of error. Their very virtues, I fear, are often dangerous to form the principles, or draw the imita
tion of their readers. Theirs are not so much the useful, the productive virtues (if I may be allowed the expression) of real life, as the shining and showy qualities which attract the applause, or flatter the vanity of the unthinking. The extreme, the enthusiasm even of a laudable propensity, takes from its usefulness to others, and degenerates into a blind and headlong indulgence in the possessor. In the greatest part of modern tragedies, such are the qualities of the persons that are most in favour with the public. In what relates to passive excellence, prudence to avoid evils, or fortitude to bear them, are not the virtues of tragedy, conversant as it is with misfortune; it is proud to indulge in sorrow, to pour its tears without the control of reason, to die of disappointments which wisdom would have overcome. There is an æra in the life of most young people, and those too the most amiable, where all this is their creed of excellence, generosity, and heroism, and that creed is drawn from romance and tragedy.
In the remarks which in this and two former papers I have made on novel and on tragedy, two of the most popular of all kinds of writing, I have ventured, in the hardihood of a moralist, rather beyond the usual caution of a periodical paper that wishes to conciliate the favour of the public
. By those whose daily and favourite reading is crossed by my observations I shall be asked, if I mean to proscribe every novel and every tragedy, or of what kind of each 1 am disposed to allow the perusal, and to what class of readers their perusal may be trusted. To such I would answer in general, that if I had influence enough to abridge the list of both species of reading, I believe neither morals nor taste would suffer by the restriction. I have pointed out the chief dangers to which I conceive the perusal of many such works is liable.
I am not, however, insensible of the value, per, haps but too sensible of the power, of these produce tions of fancy and genius. Nor am I so much a bigot to the opinions I have delivered as to deny that there are uses, noble ușes, which such productions may serve, amidst the dangers to which they sometimes expose their readers. The region of exalted virtue, of dignified sentiment, into which they transport us, may have a considerable effect in changing the cold and unfeeling temperament of worldly minds; the indifferent and the selfish may be warmed and expanded by the fiction of distress, and the eloquence of feeling. In the present age, and among certain ranks, indifference and selfishness have become a sort of virtues, and fashion has sometimes taught the young to pride themselves on qualities so unnatura) to them. "To combat these giants of the rock,' romance and tragedy may be very usefully employed ; and that race must have become worthless and de generate indeed, whom their terrors shall fail to rouse, and their griefs to melt.
Nor, as an amusement, can the elegance of that which is drawn from the perusal of a well-written novel, or the representation of a well-composed tragedy, be disputed. It certainly is as much a nobler, as it is a more harmless employment of time, than its waste in frivolous dissipation, or its abuse in the vigils of play. But there is a certain sort of mind common in youth, and that too of the most amiable, kind, tender, warm, and visionary, to which the walks of fancy and enthusiasm, of romantic love, of exaggerated sorrow, of trembling sensibility, are very unsafe. To readers of this complexion, the amusement which the works abovementioned afford should, I think, be sparingly allowed, and judiciously chosen. In such bosoms, feeling or susceptibility must be often repressed or directed ; to encourage it by premature