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our interest in Calista; for the venerable good old man has by much the greatest share in it; whose affection for his child, contending with his rigid sense of honour, forms a spectacle that draws at once our admiration and our love. Sciolto, indeed, is the most interesting, as well as most respectable person of the drama; his situation, his character, and his feelings, equally inspire our reverence for his virtue, and our pity for his misfortunes.
If the character of Calista offend us by its fierceness, that of Altamont disgusts us by its insignificance. Of him we know little more than this, which is far from being enough, that he is an ardent admirer of Calista. We are told indeed by the other persons of the piece, that he is an excellent young man, and inherits all his father's virtues. But these en. comiums by his friends make him no favourite with the spectator, who knows nothing of his father, and is attached only by what he himself sees, and observes, and finds reason for; not by what he hears related, or is desired to believe. Now, what of Altamont is presented is boyish, silly, and extravagant; we neither sympathise with his joy for the acquisition, nor in his despair for the loss of a mistress who receives his adoration with such indifference, and yields him her hand with such unwillingness. We feel the meanness as well as indelicacy of his situation, and are tempted to despise him for accepting a bride on such mortifying conditions.
When love, as in the case of Altamont, is the only prominent part of a character, its object should be rendered worthy of its ardour. Neither for Altamont's affection for Calista, nor Calista's for Lothario, has the poet furnished such an apology. The first is mean, though it may be honest; the last is nearly as contemptible, and much less pure; here it is silly, there it is criminal.
Horatio's character is of a better stamp: but he is not a principal in the action. At the same time, the behaviour of this far-famed friend of noble Altamont is not in every instance just what we expect of him; especially in the first meeting between him and that unfortunate youth, after the full discovery of Calista's guilt: on which occasion, instead of considering the bitter disappointment his young friend had met with, and preventing him by an unsolicited forgiveness, which is what we look for from the calm and generous temper of Horatio; he abuses and reviles him with all the sharpness of an enemy, and can hardly be won to forget his offence.
There is one other person of the drama, whom we had almost forgot to take notice of; a lady too; Lavinia, the spouse of Horatio; a very deserving person doubtless, as well as her brother Altamont, but withal extremely insipid; and so much the less allowed for, that she is quite unnecessary;
presence serving only to introduce two dull scenes of conjugal endearment between her and her husband.
The conduct of the piece, though by no means so exceptionable as the manners, is not without a fault. We may observe of many English plays, and some of these among the best in the language, Mr. Home's Douglas, for example, that they are languid towards the conclusion, owing to the inability of the poet to suspend the unravelling of his story; or, as the poet will tell us, owing to the arbitrary rule which prescribes, that a tragedy shall not consist of fewer acts than five; to comply with which, he is obliged either to continue the story beyond its natural and proper term, or else to swell the piece with artificial scenes, that contribute little to heighten our interest, or to advance the action. The embarrassment of this rule has been felt by the author of the Fair Penitent. After the death of Lothario, which happens as early
as the beginning of the fourth act, he is evidently at a loss to fill up the remainder of the play, and not a little puzzled how to keep the heroine alive till the end of it. This was indeed no small difficulty; as it is not easy to imagine what should restrain so proud and violent a personage one moment from escaping despair and infamy, and setting herself at liberty, after · the broad shame' of her discovery with Lothario. Mr. Rowe seems by no means successful in the attempt. Soon after Lothario's fall, we are informed that a tumult has arisen in consequence of it among the partisans of that young nobleman, and that Sciolto's palace is attacked. The old man goes forth to repel their violence : the event we are never told of; but we must suppose it favourable, as he afterwards
appears in safety. Horatio is in like manner assaulted in the streets: but this scuffle produces not, more than the former, any consequence whatever; if it be not, that Lavinia comes forward to distress us with her alarms about the safety of her lord. We are next presented with the long superfluous scene of reconciliation between him and Altamont. Follows, in the beginning of the fifth act, the spectacle of Lothario's dead body, with the music, the book, the bones, and the black hangings; by what means so furnished out, or for what service intended, it is not easy to discover. And in the end, Sciolto, who had given orders to have his gates well guarded, and had summoned his friends to attend him in his palace, having, against all probability, stolen out alone and unattended, on some errand unknown to any body, receives his death by means which we have not seen prepared, and in a manner which we do not understand. It is this circumstance that determines Calista's resolution; for though there had before this been much talking about death, and a great deal of preparation for it, still she had unaccountably delayed
the execution of a purpose, which she had from the beginning prepared us to expect whenever her guilt should be discovered; and which the desperate and horrid circumstances attending the discovery should have confirmed and accelerated. Thus, in the middle of the fourth act, a new spring of movement is brought into play; and the action is afterwards forced on, not by the passions of the principal personages, which had till then advanced it, and which alone ought to do that duty, but by the partyzeal of (we know not who) Lothario's friends: a power which we may suppose, if we please, but which we feel ourselves under no manner of necessity to suppose. Farther, the death of Sciolto is not well interwoven with that fresh thread, detached from the texture of the piece as it is, but figures as a mere accident; insomuch that we are almost equally surprised on being told of it, as if we were to hear that he had dropped down in a fit of apoplexy.
With all this, the play has beauties that must be relished by every reader of taste. It is particularly eminent for elegance and richness of expression throughout. The descriptions (with which it abounds) are equal to any in the language. And the subordinate degrees of all the passions, especially the amiable, are touched for the most part both with spirit and with delicacy. The high pathetic, however, is not any where to be met with in it, if we except one stroke, in the scene already taken notice of between Calista and her father. We must particularly remark the want of genuine pathos in Calista's noted soliloquy at the beginning of the fifth act, where that lady is by far too much mistress of herself, and discourses in a style very foreign to her circumstances : instead of being lost in the thoughts of her situation, she remarks on the scene, as a spec
tator might, that here is ample room for meditation. She tries the book, and descants upon the vanity of its precepts; she listens to the music, and approves the style of it: she expatiates on the pageantry of the death's head and bones; while the corse of the loved youth who had wrought all her troubles is noticed in fewer words than are bestowed on any of the other topics; and these words only an exclamation at the ghastliness of its appearance. This composure and unconcern are by no means what we look for from the ardent spirit of Calista, sitting at midnight by the dead body of her dear betrayer.' She had loved Lothario with passion; and her fondness for him had confessedly a little while ago full possession of her breast.--Only a few hours have passed since he was slaughtered in her presence. His faults are now expatiated in his blood.--She was a woman, not a Cato; and she had hitherto been represented as of a violent temper, rather than firm: so that we now indulge in the full hope to hear the genuine voice of grief and despair uttering not a single word but what immediately relates to her situation, and is suggested by it. It is not enough that she tells us the mind may here burst with thinking, and that she is full of anguish which no discipline can cure; nor that she feed the phrensy of her soul with solemn sounds, and invoke the infernal gods to match the horror around her. A thousand such fanciful exclamations express not truly any distress. They are not the language of anguish, which dwells, like every other strong feeling, steadily on its object, and is occupied with that alone, and not with talking of itself. It is the very griefs of Calista, the sources of pain opened afresh by the sight of Lothario, as he there lies,-compassion for his fate,-revived affection for his person,—the present scene compared with their stolen interview of love,-the desolation she has spread around her,-her