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NUMB. 125. TUESDAY, May 28, 1751.
Defcriptas fervare vices, operumque colores,
'But if, through weakness, or my want of art,
T is one of the maxims of the civil law, that definitions are hazardous. Things modified by human understandings, fubject to varieties of complication, and changeable as experience advances knowledge, or accident influences caprice, are fcarcely to be included in any standing form of expreffion, because they are always fuffering fome alteration of their state. Definition is, indeed, not the province of man; every thing is fet above or below our faculties. The works and operations of nature are too great in their extent, or too much diffused in their relations, and the performances of art too inconftant and uncertain, to be reduced to any determinate idea. It is impoffible to impress upon our minds an adequate and just representation of an object so great, that we can never take it into our view, or so mutable, that it is always changing under our eye, and has already loft its form while we are labouring to conceive it.
Definitions have been no lefs difficult or uncertain. in criticisms than in law. Imagination, a licentious and vagrant faculty, unfufceptible of limitations, and
impatient of reftraint, has always endeavoured to baffle the logician, to perplex the confines of diftinction, and burst the inclofures of regularity. There is, therefore, scarcely any fpecies of writing, of which we can tell what is its effence, and what are its conftituents; every new genius produces fome innovation, which, when invented and approved, fubverts the rules which the practice of foregoing authors had eftablished.
Comedy has been particularly unpropitious to definers; though perhaps they might properly have contented themselves, with declaring it to be fuch a dramatick representation of human life, as may excite mirth, they have embarrassed their definition with the means by which the comick writers attain their end, without confidering that the various methods of exhilarating their audience, not being limited by nature, cannot be comprised in precept. Thus, fome make comedy a representation of mean, and others of bad men; fome think that its effence confifts in the unimportance, others in the fictitioufnefs of the tranf action. But any man's reflections will inform him, that every dramatick compofition which raises mirth, is comick; and that, to raise mirth, it is by no means univerfally neceffary, that the perfonages fhould be either mean or corrupt, nor always requifite, that the action should be trivial, nor ever, that it fhould be fictitious.
If the two kinds of dramatick poetry had been defined only by their effects upon the mind, fome abfurdities might have been prevented, with which the compofitions of our greatest poets are difgraced,
who, for want of fome fettled ideas and accurate diftinctions, have unhappily confounded tragick with comick fentiments. They feem to have thought, that as the meannefs of perfonages conftituted comedy, their greatnefs was fufficient to form a tragedy; and that nothing was neceffary but that they fhould crowd the fcene with monarchs, and generals, and guards; and make them talk, at certain intervals, of the downfal of kingdoms, and the rout of armies. They have not confidered, that thoughts or incidents, in themfelves ridiculous, grow ftill more grotefque by the folemnity of fuch characters; that reafon and nature are uniform and inflexible; and that what is despicable and abfurd, will not, by any affociation with fplendid titles, become rational or great; that the most import ant affairs, by an intermixture of an unfeasonable levity, may be made contemptible; and that the robes of royalty can give no dignity to nonsense or to folly.
"Comedy," fays Horace, "fometimes raises her "voice;" and Tragedy may likewife on proper occafions abate her dignity; but as the comick perfonages can only depart from their familiarity of ftyle, when the more violent paffions are put in motion, the heroes and queens of tragedy should never defcend to trifle, but in the hours of eafe, and intermiffions of danger. Yet in the tragedy of Don Sebaftian, when the king of Portugal is in the hands of his enemy, and having just drawn the lot, by which he is condemned to die, breaks out into a wild boaft that his duft fhall take poffeffion of Africk,
the dialogue proceeds thus between the captive and
Muley Moluch. What fhall I do to conquer thee?
Souls know no conquerors.
M. Mol. I'll fhew thee for a monster thro' my Africk. Seb. No, thou canft only fhew me for a man: Africk is ftor'd with monsters; man's a prodigy Thy fubjects have not feen.
M. Mol. Thou talk'ft as if
Still at the head of battle.
Seb. Thou mistak'ft.
For there I would not talk.
Benducar, the Minifter. Sure he would fleep.
This conversation, with the fly remark of the minifter, can only be found not to be comick, because it wants the probability neceffary to reprefentations of common life, and degenerates too much towards buffoonery and farce.
The fame play affords a fmart return of the general to the emperor, who, enforcing his orders for the death of Sebaftian, vents his impatience in this abrupt
No more replies,
But fee thou doft it; Or
To which Dorax answers,
Choak in that threat: I can say Or as loud.
A thousand inftances of fuch impropriety might be produced, were not one scene in Aureng-Zebe fufficient to exemplify it. Indamora, a captive queen, having Aureng-Zebe for her lover, employs Arimant,
to whose charge fhe had been entrusted, and whom she had made fenfible of her charms, to carry her mef fage to his rival.
ARIMANT, with a letter in his hand: INDAMORA.
Arim. And I the meffenger to him from you?
Ind. You first betray'd your truft in loving me
Arim. I'll to the king, and straight my trust resign.
Arim. I afk not heav'n my freedom to reftore,-[Reading. But only for your fakeI'll read no more.
And yet I must
Lefs for my own, than for your forrow fad[Reading.
-and yet more kind!
Each fentence is a dagger to my mind.