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lion. In every rank of life, the relations of father, husband, son, brother, lover, or friend, lay the foundation of those affecting situa-. lions, which make man's heart feel for man.
The moral characters of the persons represented are of much greater consequence than the external circumstances in which the poet places them. Nothing, indeed, in the conduct of tragedy demands a poet's attention more, than so to describe his personages, and so to order the incidents which relate to them, as shall leave upon the spectators impressions favourable to virtue, and to the administration of providence. It is not necessary, for this end, that poetical justice, as it is called, should be observed in the catastrophe of the piece. This has been long exploded from tragedy; the end of which is, to affect us with pity for the virtuous in distress, and to afford a probable representation of the state of human life, where calamities often befal the best, and a mixed portion of good and evil is appointed for all. But, withal, the author must beware of shocking our minds witli such representations of life as tend to raise horror, or to render virtue an object of aversion. Though innocent persons suffer, their sufferings ought to be attended with such circumstances as shall make virtue appear amiable and venerable; and shall render their condition, on the whole, preferable to that of bad men, who have prevailed against them. The stings and the remorse of guilt must ever be represented as productive of greater miseries than any that the bad can bring upon the good,
Aristotle's observations on the characters proper for tragedy, are very judicious. He is of opinion, that perfect unmixed characters, either of good or ill men, are not the fittest to be introduced. The distresses of the one, being wholly unmerited, hurt and shock us; and the sufferings of the other occasion no pity. Mixed characters, such as, in fact, we meet with in the world, afford the most proper field for displaying, without any bad effect on morals, the vicissitudes of life; and they interest us the more deeply, as they display emotions and passions, which we have all been conscious of. When such persons fall into distress, through the vices of others, the subject may be very pathetic; but it is always more instructive when a person has been himself the cause of his misfortune, and when his misfortune is occasioned by the violence of passion, or by some weakness incident to human nature. Such subjects both dispose us to the deepest sympathy, and administer useful warnings to us for our own conduct.
- Upon these principles, it surprises me that the story of CEdipus should have been so much celebrated by all the critics, as one of the fittest subjects for tragedy; and so often brought upon the stage, not by Sophocles only, but by Corneille also, and Voltaire. An innocent person, one, in the main, of a virtuous character, through no crime of his own, nay, not by the vices of others, but through mere fatality and blind chance, is involved in the greatest of all human miseries. In a casual rencounter, he kills his father, without knowing him; he afterwards is married to his own mother; and, discovering himself in the end to have committed both parricide and incest, he becomes frantic, and dies in the utmost misery. Such a subject excites horror rather than pity. As it is conducted by Sophocles, it is indeed extremely affecting; but it conveys no instruction; ic awakens in the mind no tender sympathy; it leaves no impression favourable to virtue or humanity.
It must be acknowledged, that the subjects of the ancient Greek tragedies were too often founded on mere destiny, and inevitable misfortunes. They were too much mixed with their tales about oracles, and the vengeance of the gods, which led to many an incident sufficiently melancholy and tragical; but rather purely tragical, than useful or moraL Hence, both the CKdipus's of Sophocles, the Iphigenia in Aulis, the Hecuba of Euripides, and several of the like kind. In the course of the drama, many moral sentiments occurred. But the instruction which the fable of the play conveyed seldonj was any more than that reverence was owing to the gods, and submission due to the decress of destiny. Modern tragedy has aimed at a higher object, by becoming more the theatre of passion; pointing out to men the consequences of their own misconduct; showing the direful effects which ambition, jealousy, love, resentment, and other such strong emotions, when misguided, or left unrestrained, produce upon human life. 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; a Calista, seduced into a criminal intrigue, which overwhelms herself, her father, and all her friends in misery: these, and such as these, are the examples which tragedy now displays to public view ; and by means of which it inculcates on men the proper government of their passions. . Of all the passions which furnish matter to tragedy, that which has most occupied the modern stage, is love. To the ancient theatre it was in a manner wholly unknown. In few of their tragedies is it ever mentioned; and I remember no more than one which turns upon it, the Hippolitns of Euripides. This was owing to the national manners of the Greeks, and t» that greater sepnenrion of the two sexes from one another, than has taken place in modern times raided too, perhaps, by this circumstance, that no female actors ever appeared on the ancient stage. But though no reason appears for the total exclusion of love from the theatre, yet with what justice or propriety it has usurped so much place, as to be in a manner the sole hinge of modern tragedy, may be much que«tioned. Voltaire, who is no less eminent as a critic than as a poet, declares loudly and strongly against this predominancy of love, as both degrading the majesty, and confining the natural limits of tragedy.— And, assuredly, the mixing of it perpetually with all the great and i«olemn revolutions of human fortune which belong to the tragic stage, tends to give tragedy too much the air of gallantry and juvenile entertainment. The Athalie of Racine, the Merope of Voltaire, the Douglas of Mr. Home, are sufficient proofs, that, without any assistance from love, the drama is capable of producing iu highest effects upon the mind.
This seems to be clear, that wherever love is introduced into tragedy, it ought to reign in it, and to give rise to the principal action. It ought to be that sort of love which possesses all the force and majesty of passion; and which occasions great and important eonsequences. For nothing can have a worse effect, or be more debasing to tragedy, than, together with the manly and heroic passions, to mingle a trifling love intrigue, as a sort of seasoning to the play. The bad effects of these are sufficiently conspicuous both in the Cato of Mr. Addison, as I had occasion before to remark, and in the lphigenie of Racine.'
OBSERVATIONS ON THE ENGLISH THEATRE.
Xiie Stage ought to be considered as the great scene of mingled amusement and instruction of the people in general, and of the mirth and seriousness, morality and emulative talent of the nation in particular. Perhaps the first view which a young and unpractised person, new to London, and indeed to the world, takes of the stage, is amongst the warmest and strongest fascinations that can bind the human imagination. It held mine for some years in chains of such magic, that the impressions they wrought into my very heart, are never to be worn out. I magnified every mimic hero and heroine into the god and goddess of that heart's idolatry. And
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if time would permit, I could amuse and interest you, by detailing the sort of homage I paid to the actress whom I had first seen perform the part of Imogen, on the London boards: I detested the insidious queen who separated her from Posthumus so violently, that I could have almost sprung upon her across the orchestra, and torn the crown from her head; and as for the 'yellow Jachimo' I could have nailed him down in his pretended travelling trunk. But how fondly did I follow the fair fugitive in her disguise! how did my affections attend her to Milford Haven! how twine themselves (about the faithful J'isauio—how share in the scorn of the Princess over the insolent Cloten, mourn over the flowery bier of Fidele, and triumph in the happy re-union of the lovers!
Nor was the devotion of my feelings offered only to the great poet, or to the player who represented one of his most amiable characters. No, my friend, in this glowing season of ignorance and youth, I could scarcely be persuaded that there was any thing like fiction in any part of the delight I received. So intensely was my .fancy kindled, and my feelings exerted, I almost annihilated the sublime bard himself, and supposed all that I heard or saw the spontaneous effusion of a real Imogen; and that Imogen the very Jady who performed the part. A proof of this might be gathered from my charm continuing after she had resumed her character. No , sooner had the curtain dropt, than, unable to bear the thoughts of chasing away the virtuous grief or joy of my heart, by the burlesque, or the coarse humour of a farce, I left the theatre, and waited at the stage door for a s ght of my Imogen returning home. I found out her sedan, and stuck as close to it as one of the chairmen; heedless of a cold and inclement night. This princess of my imagination, in the majestic form of Mrs. Yates, at last came forth, and though she was completely mufted up, tucked hersejf into her chair, and was bobbed off at a slow trot just like a common mortal, I converted every circumstance to her honour. In fancy's eye I still saw her an illumined object, through all the smoke of the streets, blink of the lamps, and the pelting of the rain; aud when the fellows, who had the honour to carry her, set down tlieir precious load, at her well-remembered aparments in KingrStreet, Covent Garden—which I have never passed since, without either smiling or sighing at the circumstances—never my friend—O never ishall I forget the bounding sensation with which I saw my paragon quit her sedan, order her chairmen at ten the next morning, to a rehearsal, and ascend to her apartments. And although the passage to those, had nothing to distinguish them from a thousand others.
V U—VOL. XVI.
which, at that period, more inferior beings might have had forabout a guinea and a half per week, they maintained their importance in my imagination, and their dignity in my feeling, not only during that night, while I ruminated upon them in my own rooms, but the whole of this my first excursion to London.
How all this imagery of a warm heart came to be dismantled, by what means the enchantment was dissolved, and how the fairy scenery was melted away,
"Even as the baseless fabric of a vision,"Which leaves not a wreck behind," has no necessary connexion with this true picture of my own, and I dare believe of every youthful and enthusiast mind. It was most delicious while it remained ; the tinting of the rainbow was not more bright, rich, or lovely; and even if, like many other prospects of life, it faded under our eyes, and turned out to be only one of
"Painted clouds which beautify our days," it delights us by its transitory splendour, and the dull realities, or even the darknesses which sometimes follow, are but according to the inevitable changes which take place in the ever-shifting scenery of life.
The British theatre has always had virtues as well as talents, and never, perhaps, more of the former, in the aggregate, than at the present day. Of the latter, we have less to complain than of their application; but then, again, it should be remembered, whoever it was that has introduced the false and vicious taste, which your Gleaner before commented upon, the public deserve to share the blame, for giving it their suffrage, in the first instance, and still more for continuing to applaud it in the second. They are well aware of the truth of Johnson's poetical remark, that
"Those who live to please must please to live and they have but to be pleased with natural character and genuine wit or pathos, and to shew their disrelish of inflated buffoonery, and over-strained caricature, to redeem the comic, and reform the tragic Muses of the country, from their long and ignominious degradation. I am convinced, my friend, that some who, of late years, have debased their abilities by sacrificing to a system of trick and finesse, which is almost beneath the operations of harlequin, would rally round the standard of Good Sense and Nature, were the public but to give both authors and actors their cue, and to bring those exploded, exiled, though once honoured guardians of the stage, again into fashion.
But what shall I say to a literary magician amongst us, who