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SPOKEN BY PHEDRA.
I'm thinking, (and it almost makes me mad)
THE BRITISH WORTHY.
-hic alta theatris Fundamenta locant,-scenis decora alta futuris. Virg. Æn. d. Purpurea intexti tollant aulæa Britanni.
Georg. 3. -Tanton' placuit concurrere motu, Jupiter, æterna gentes in pace futuris !
Æneid. 12. Et celebrare domestica facta.
The Seventeenth century was still familiar. with
Begirt with British and Armoric knights.
The sublime glow of his imagination, which delighted in painting · what was beyond the reach of human experience; the dignity of
his language, formed to express the sentiments of heroes and of immortals; bis powers of describing alike the beautiful and terrible ; above all, the justice with which he conceived and assigned to each supernatural agenţ a character as decidedly peculiar, as lesser poets have given to their human actors, would have sent him forth to encounter such a subject with gigantic might. Whoever has ventured, undeterred by their magnitude, upon the old romances of “ Lancelot du Lac,” “ Sir Tristrem," and others, founded on the atchievements of the Knights of the Round Table, cannot but remember a thousand striking Gothic incidents, worthy subjects of the pen of Milton. What would he not have made of the adventure of the Ruinous Chapel, the Perilous Manor, the Forbidden Seat, the Dolorous Wound, and many
others susceptible of being described in the most sublime poetry! Even when that sin had set, Arthur had yet another chance for immortality; for Dryden repeatedly expressed his intention to found an epic poem upon his history. Our poet, it may be guessed, was too much in the trammels of French criticism, to have ventured upon a style of composition allied to the Gothic romance. His poem would probably have been formed upon the model of the ancients, which, although more classical and correct, might have
wanted the force, which reality of painting and description nevet fails to give to epic narrative. Arthur, in such a poem, would, like Rinaldo, have reminded us of Achilles ; and the sameness of a copy would have been substituted for the spirit of a characteristic original. But, had Dryden executed his intended plan, we should have found picturesque narrative detailed in the most manly and majestic verse, and interspersed with lessons teaching us to know human life, maxims proper to guide it, and sentiments which ought to adorn it. In the Knight's Tale, and in Dryden's other narrative poems, we see enough to induce us to regret the sordid negligence, or avarice, which withheld from him the means of decent support, while employed upon the promised task. But Arthur, as a sort of counterpoise to his extravagant reputation during the middle ages, was doomed, in the seventeenth century, to be reluctantly abandoned by Milton and Dryden ; and to be celebrated by the pen of Blackmore.
It is probable, that, when Dryden abandoned all thoughts of a larger work, he adapted the intended subject to the following opera, and converted the Genii of the kingdoms, by whom the supernatural machinery of the epic was to have been conducted, into the lighter and simpler device of airy and earthy spirits, whose idea the Rosicrucian philosophy had long rendered popular and familiar. There is no attempt to avail himself of any fragments of Arthur's romantic renown. He is not, in this drama, the formidable possessor of Excalibar, and the superior of the chivalry of the Round Table; nor is Merlin the fiend-born necromancer, of whom antiquity related and believed so many wonders. They are the prince and magician of a beautiful fairy tale, the story of which, abstracted from the poetry, might have been written by Madame D'Aunois. At the same time, the obvious advantages of an appeal to the ancient prejudices, which our author has neglected, are supplied from the funds of his own genius. The incidents, being intended more for the purpose of displaying machinery, and introducing music and dances, than with any reference to the rules of the drama, are abundantly fantastic and extravagant; but the poet has supported them with wonderful address. The blindness of Emmeline, and the innocence with which she expresses her conception of visible objects, gives her character an interest often wanting in what may be called the heroine of a play, whose perfections generally raise her so far beyond mere mortal excellence, as to render superfluous all human sympathy. The scene in which Emmeline recovers her sight, when well represented, never fails to excite the most pleasing testimony of interest and applause. The machinery is simple, and well managed : the language and ministry of Grimbald, the fierce earthy dæmon, are painted with some touches which arise even to