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I is now seven or eight years since I designed to write this play of “ Cleomenes;” and my Lord Falkland *, (whose name I cannot mention without honour, for the many favours I have received from him) is pleased to witness for me, that, in a French book which I presented him about that time, there were the names of many subjects that I had thought on for the stage, amongst which this tragedy was
This was out of my remembrance; but my lord, on the occasion of stopping my play, took the opportunity of doing me a good office at court, by representing it as it was, a piece long ago designed; which being judiciously treated, I thought was capable of moving compassion on the stage. The success has justified my opinion; and that at a time when the world is running mad after Farce, the extremity of bad poetry, or rather the judgment that is fallen upon dramatic writing. Were I in the humour, I have sufficient cause to expose it in its true colours ; but, having for once escaped, I will forbear my satire, and only be thankful for my deliverance. A great part of my good fortune, I must confess, is owing to the justice which was done me in the performance. I can scarcely refrain from giving every one of the actors their particular commendations; but none of them will be offended, if I say what the town has generally granted, that Mrs Barry, always excellent, has, in this tragedy, excelled herself, and gained a reputation beyond any woman whom I have ever seen on the theatre. After all, it was a bold attempt of mine, to write upon a single plot, unmixed with comedy; which, though it be the natural and true way, yet is not to the genius of the nation. Yet, to gratify the barbarous party of my audience, I gave them a short rabble-scene, because the mob (as they call them) are represented by Plutarch and Polybius, with the same character of baseness and cowardice, which are here described in the last attempt of “ Cleomenes.” They may thank me, if they please, for this indulgence; for no French poet would have allowed them any more than a bare relation of that scene, which debases a tragedy to show upon the stage.
Anthony, fourth Lord Viscount Falkland, succeeded to that title by the death of his father in 1664. He was a person of wit and honour, as the phrase then was ; a character which he maintained by writing prologues, and occasional verses, as well as by keeping company with men of more genius than his own. He died in 1694.
For the rest, some of the mechanic rules of unity are observed, and others are neglected. The action is but one, which is the death of Cleomenes; and every scene in the play is tending to the accomplishment of the main design. The place is likewise one ; for, it is all in the compass of Alexandria, and the port of that city. The time might easily have been reduced into the
of twentyfour hours, if I would have omitted the scene of
famine in the fifth act; but it pleased me to try how Spartans could endure it; and, besides, gave me the occasion of writing that other scene, betwixt Cleomenes and his suspected friend; and, in such a case, it is better to trespass on a rule, than leave out a beauty.
As for other objections, I never heard any worth answering; and, least of all, that foolish one which is raised against me by the sparks, for
Cleomenes not accepting the favours of Cassandra. They would not have refused a fair lady! I grant they would not; but, let them grant me, that they are not heroes; and so much for the point of honour * A man might have pleaded an excuse for himself, if he had been false to an old wife, for the sake of a young mistress; but Cleora was in the flower of her age, and it was yet but honey-moon with Cleo* menes; and so much for nature. Some have told me, that many of the fair sex complain for want of tender scenes, and soft expressions of love. I will endeavour to make them some amends, if I write again, and my next hero shall be no Spartan.
I know it will be here expected, that I should write somewhat concerning the forbidding of my play; but, the less I say of it, the better. And, besides, I was so little concerned at it, that, had it not been on consideration of the actors, who were to suffer on my account, I should not have been at all solicitous whether it were played or no. No
* This objection and answer are stated by Steele to have taken place inan extempore conversation betwixt Dryden and a young beau just come from the representation of “ Cleomenes.”--- See the Guardian, No. 45. The retort may doubtless have been first made by the poet in this manner; but it is more probable that Steele either had an inaccurate recollection of the passage, or thought it had a more lively effect when thrown into dialogue.
body can imagine that, in my declining age, I write willingly, or that I am desirous of exposing, at this time of day, the small reputation which I have gotten on the theatre. The subsistence which I had from the former government is lost; and the reward I have from the stage is so little, that it is not worth my labour.
As for the reasons which were given for suspending the play, it seems they were so ill-founded, that my Lord-Chamberlain no sooner took the pains to read it, but they vanished ; and my copy was restored to me, without the least alteration by his lordship. It is printed as it was acted ; and, I dare assure you, that here is no parallel to be found : it is neither compliment, nor satire; but a plain story, more strictly followed than any which has appeared upon the stage. It is true, it had been garbled before by the superiors of the play-house ; and I cannot reasonably blame them for their caution, because they are answerable for any thing that is publicly represented; and their zeal for the government is such, that they had rather lose the best poetry in the world, than give the least suspicion of their loyalty. The short is, that they were diligent enough to make sure work, and to geld it so clearly in some places, that they took away the very manhood of it. I can only apply to them, what Cassandra says somewhere in the play to Ptolemy;
To be so nice in my concerns for you;
But, since it concerns me to be as circumspect as they are, I have given leave to my bookseller to print the life of Cleomenes, as it is elegantly and
faithfully translated out of Plutarch, by my learned friend, Mr Creech, to whom the world has been indebted for his excellent version of Lucretius and I particularly obliged in his translation of Horace *
• The enemies of Dryden, imputing to him the pitiful jealousy of which they were probably themselves conscious, pretended, that, envious of the reputation which Creech acquired by his translation of Lucretius, Dryden insidiously pushed him on to attempt a version of Horace, a task for which he was totally unfit, and by which he forfeited all the credit he had guined. The accusation is thus stated by Tom Brown, and may serve for a specimen of the under-bred petulance in which he indulges.
Bays. “I have a certain profound stratagem still behind, my Sacra Anchora I call it, which is only to be made use of upon extraordinary occasions, and which I was never forced to employ but once in my time, and is as follows : When any young author has been so fortunate in his first undertaking, as to win himself the applause of all the world, so that 'tis impossible for one to ruin his reputation, without running the hazard of having his throat cut by all sort of company, I am as forward as the best of them all to commend his ingenuity, to extol his parts, and promise him a copy of verses before his book, if he honours the world with a second edition.
Crites. " Very good. Bays. “ At the same time I privately feel his pulse, and examine the nature, and inclination of the beast. If he chances to be a little saturnine like myself, I set him upon a gay undertaking, where 'tis the devil and all of ill luck if he does not ship-wreck all his former credit. But, if he proves a man of a brisk and jolly temper, I persuade him of all loves to make an experiment of his abilities upon some serious solemn subject; tell him, if ever he expects to be saved, he must out of hand do justice to the Psalms and Canticles, which work he's as incapable to manage, egad, as little David was to fight in Saul's armour. tlemen. by engaging the author in a province, where he has not stock enough to carry on the plantation, I never fail one way or other to compass my designs, and, at long-run, to defeat my competitor.
Crites. “ Why, Mr Bays, this is like enjoining a painter, that has a good fancy at drawing of Saracens' heads, and grotesque figures only, to draw you a Venus or an Adonis, where he must certainly miscarry. Now, I am apt to fancy you trepanned the