« PreviousContinue »
Coach of Riches : but by their means he was driven forward to the same machine, which he however seemed heartily to despise. Impelled, however, by their solicitations, he steps up, flourishing a voluminous history, and demanding admittance. “ Sir, I hare formerly heard your name mentioned,” says the coachman, “ but never as an historian. Is there no other work upon which you may claim a place?” “None,” replied the other, “ except a romance; but this is a work of too trifling a nature to claim future attention.” “You mistake,” says the inquisitor; a well-written romance is no such easy task as is generally imagined. I remember formerly to have carried Cervantes and Segrais, and if you think fit, you may enter.”
Upon our three literary travellers coming into the same coach, I listened attentively to hear what might be the conversation that passed upon this extraordinary occasion; when, instead of agreeable or entertaining dialogue, I found them grumbling at each other, and each seemed discontented with his companions. Strange! thought I to myself, that they who are thus born to enlighten the world, should still preserve the narrow prejudices of childhood, and by disagreeing, make even the highest merit ridiculous. Were the learned and the wise to unite against the dunces of society, instead of sometimes siding into opposite parties with them, they might throw a lustre upon each other's reputation, and teach every rank of subordinate merit, if not to admire, at least not to avow dislike.
In the midst of these reflections, I perceived the coachman, unmindful of me, had now mounted the box. Several were approaching to be taken in, whose pretensions I was sensible were very just; I therefore desired him to stop, and take in more passengers ; but he replied, as he had now mounted the box, it would be improper to come down; but that he should take them all, one after the other, when he should return. So he drove away; and for myself, as I could not get in, I mounted behind, in order to hear the conversation on the way.
(To be continued.)
A WORD OR TWO ON THE LATE FARCE,
HIGH LIFE BELOW STAIRS.
Just as I had expected, before I saw this farce, I found it formed on too narrow a plan to afford a pleasing variety. The sameness of the humour in every scene could not but at last fail of being disagreeable. The poor, affecting the manners of the rich, might be carried on through one character, or two at the most, with great propriety ; but to have almost every personage on the scene almost of the same character, and reflecting the follies of each other, was unartful in the poet to the last degree.
The scene was also almost a continuation of the same absurdity; and my Lord Duke and Sir Harry (two footmen who assume these characters) have nothing else to do but to talk like their masters, and are only introduced to speak, and to show themselves. Thus, as there is a sameness of character, there is a barrenness of incident, which, by a very small share of address, the poet might have easily avoided.
From a conformity to critic rules, which, perhaps, on the whole have done more harm than good, our author has sacrificed all the vivacity of the dialogue to nature; and though he makes his characters talk like servants, they are seldom absurd enough, or lively enough to make us merry. Though he is always natural, he happens seldom to be humorous.
The satire was well intended, if we regard it as being masters ourselves ; but probably a philosopher would rejoice in that liberty which Englishmen give their domestics; and for my own part, I cannot avoid being pleased at the happiness of those poor creatures, who in some measure contribute to mine. The Athenians, the politest and best-natured people upon earth, were the kindest to their slaves ; and if a person may judge, who has seen the world, our English servants are the best treated, because the generality of our English gentlemen are the politest under the sun.
But not to lift my voice among the pack of feeble critics, who probably have no other occupation but that of cutting up every thing new, I must own, there are one or two scenes that are fine satire, and sufficiently humorous ; particularly the first interview between the two footmen, which at once ridicules the manners of the great, and the absurdity of their imitators.
Whatever defects there might be in the composition, there were none in the action; in this the performers showed more humour than I had fancied them capable of. Mr, Palmer and Mr. King were entirely what they desired to represent; and Mrs. Clive (but what need I talk of her, since, without the least exaggeration, she has more true humour than any actor or actress upon the English or any other stage I have seen); she, I say, did the part all the justice it was capable of. And upon the whole, a farce which has only this to recommend it, that the author took his plan from the volume of nature, by the sprightly manner in which it was performed, was for one night a tolerable entertainment. Thus much may be said in its vindication, that people of fashion seemed more pleased in the representation than the subordinate ranks of people.
UPON UNFORTUNATE MERIT.
Every age seems to have its favourite pursuits, which serve to amuse the idle, and relieve the attention of the industrious. Happy the man who is born excellent in the pursuit in vogue, and whose genius seems adapted to the times in which he lives. How many do we see, who might have excelled in arts or sciences, and who seem furnished with talents equal to the greatest discoveries, had the road not been already beaten by their predecessors, and nothing left for them, except trifles, to discover, while others of very moderate abilities become famous, because happening to be first in the reigning pursuit !
Thus, at the renewal of letters in Europe, the taste was not to compose pew books, but to com.
ment on the old ones. It was not to be expected that new books should be written, when there were so many of the ancients either not known or not understood. It was not reasonable to attempt new conquests, while they had such an extensive region lying waste for want of cultivation. At that period criticism and erudition were the reigning studies of the times ; and he, who had only an inventive genius, might have languished in hopeless obscurity. When the writers of antiquity were sufficiently explained and known, the learned set about imitating them : hence proceeded the nuinber of Latin orators, poets, and historians, in the reigns of Clement the seventh, and Alexander the sixth. This passion for antiquity lasted for many years, to the utter exclusion of every other pursuit; till some began to find, that those works which were imitated from nature, were more like the writings of antiquity, than even those written in express imitation. It was then modern language began to be cultivated with assiduity, and our poets and orators poured forth their wonders upon the world.
As writers become more numerous, it is natural for readers to become more indolent; whence must necessarily arise a desire of attaining knowledge with the greatest possible ease. No science or art offers its instruction and amusement in so obvious a manner as statuary and painting. Hence we see, that a desire of cultivating those arts generally attends the decline of science. Thus the finest statues and the most beautiful paintings of antiquity preceded but a little the absolute decay of every other science. The statues of Antoninus, Commodus, and their contemporaries, are the finest productions of