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I will not trouble the reader with many apo. logies or appeals, yet just now whilst I am beginning to introduce a long list of dramas, such
I presume no English author has yet equalled in point of number, I would fain intercede for a candid interpretation of my labours, and recommend my memory to posterity for protection after death from those unhandsome vils, which I have patiently endured whilst living.
I am not to learn that dramatic authors are to arm themselves with fortitude before they take a post so open to attack; they, who are to act in the public eye, and speak in the public ear, have no right to expect a very smooth and peaceful career. I have had
full share of success, and I trust I have paid my tax for it always without mutiny, and very generally without murmuring. I have never irritated the town by making a sturdy stand against their opposition, when they have been pleased to point it against any one of my productions : I never failed to withdraw myself on the very first intimation that I was unwelcome, and the only offence I have been guilty of is, that I have not always thought the worse of a composition only because the public did not think well of
it. I solemnly protest that I have never written, or caused to be written, a single line to puff and praise myself, or to decry a brother dramatist, since I had life; of all such anonymous and mean manæuvres I am clearly, innocent and proudly disdainful; I have stood firm for the corps, into which I enrolled myself, and never disgraced my colours by abandoning the cause of the legitimate comedy, to whose service I am sworn, and in whose defence I have kept the field for nearly half a century, till at last I have survived all true national taste, and lived to see buffoonery, spectacle and puerility so effectually triumph, that now to be repulsed from the stage is to be recommended to the closet, and to be applauded hy the theatre is little else than a passport to the puppet-show. I only say what every body knows to be true: I do not write from personal motives, for I have no more cause for complaint than is common to many of my brethren of the corps. It is not my single misfortune to have been accused of vanity, which I did not feel, of satires, which I did not write, and of invectives, which I disdained even to meditate. It stands recorded of me in a review to
this hour, that on the first night of The School for Scandal I was overheard in the lobby endeavouring to decry and cavil at that excellent comedy: I gave my accuser proof positive, that I was at Bath during the time of its first run, never saw it during its first season, and exhibited my pocket-journal in confirmation of my alibi: the gentleman was convinced of my innocence, but as he had no opportunity of correcting his libel, every body that read it remains convinced of my guilt. Now as none, who ever heard my name, will fail to suppose I must have said what is imputed to me in bitterness of heart, not from defect in head, this false aspersion of my character was cruel and injurious in the extreme. I hold it right to explain that the reviewer I am speaking of has been long since dead.
In the ensuing year I again paid a visit to my father ‘at Clonfert, and there in a little clo. set at the back of the palace, as it was called, unfurnished and out of use, with no other pros
my single window but that of a turfstack, with which it was almost in contact, I seated myself by choice, and began to plan and compose The West Indian.
As the writer for the stage is a writer to the passions, I hold it matter of conscience and duty in the dramatic poet to reserve his brightest colouring for the best characters, to give no false attractions to vice and immorality, but to endeavour, as far as is consistent with that contrast, which is the very essence of his art, to turn the fairer side of human nature to the public, and, as much as in him lies, to contrive so as to put men in good humour with one another. Let him therefore in the first place strive to make worthy characters amiable, but take great care not to make them insipid; if he does not put life and spirit into his man or woman of virtue, and render them entertaining as well as good, their morality is not a whit more attractive than the morality of a Greek chorus. He had better have let them alone altogether.
Congreve, Farquhar, and some others have made vice and villany so playful and amusing, that either they could not find in their hearts to punish them, or not caring how wicked they were, so long as they were witty, paid no attention to what became of them : Shadwell's comedy is little better than a brothel. Poetical justice, which has armed the tragic poet with the weapons of death, and commissioned him to wash out the offence in the blood of the offender, has not left the comic writer without his instruments of vengeance ; for surely, if he knows how to employ the authority that is in him, the scourge of ridicule alone is sharp enough for the chastisement of any crimes, which can fall within his province to exhibit. A true poet knows that unless he can produce works, whose fame will outlive him, he will outlive both his works and his fame; therefore every comic author who takes the mere clack of the day for his subject, and abandons all his claim upon posterity, is no true poet; if he dabbles in personalities, he does considerably worse. When I began therefore, as at this time, to write for the stage, my ambition was to aim at writing something that might be lasting and outlive me; when temporary subjects were suggested to me, I declined them: I formed to myself in idea what I conceived to be the character of a legitimate comedy, and that alone was my object, and though I did not quite aspire to attain, I was not altogether in despair of approaching it. I perceived that I had