« AnteriorContinuar »
saw.” If this is not criticism, it is at least gratitude. The thought of bringing Cæsar and Pompey into Ireland, the only country over which Cæsar never had any power, is lucky
Of Roscommon's works, the judgment of the publick seems to be right. He is elegant, but not great; he never labours after exquisite beauties, and he seldom falls into gross faults. His versification is smooth, but rarely vigorous; and his rhymes are remarkably exact. He improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors to English literature. *
* This Life was originally written by Dr. Johnson in the Gentleman's Magazine for May 1748. It then had notes, which are now incorporated with the text. C.
OF THOMAS OTWAY, one of the first names in the English drama, little is known; nor is there any part of that little which his biographer can take pleasure in relating.
He was born at Trottin in Sussex, March 3, 1651, the son of Mr. Humphry Otway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester-school, where he was educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ-church; but left the university without a degree, whether for want of money, or from impatience of academical restraint, or mere eagerness to mingle with the world, is not known.
It seems likely that he was in hope of being busy and conspicuous; for he went to London, and commenced player; but found himself unable to gain any reputation on the stage. *
* In Roscius Anglicanus, by Downes the prompter, p. 34, we learn, that it was the character of the King in Mrs. Behn's “ Forced Marriage, or The Jealous Bridegroom,” which Mr. Otway attempted to perform, and failed in. This event appears to have happened in the year 1672. R.
This kind of inability he shared with Shakspeare and Jonson, as he shared likewise some of their excellencies. It seems reasonable to expect that a great dramatick poet should without difficulty become a great actor; that he who can feel, could express ; that he who can excite passion, should exhibit with great readiness its external modes: but since experience has fully proved, that of those powers, whatever be their affinity, one may be possessed in a great degree by him who has very little of the other; it must be allowed that they depend upon different faculties, or on different use of the same faculty; that the actor must have a pliancy of mien, a flexibility of countenance, and a variety of tones, which the poet may be easily supposed to want; or that the attention of the poet and the player has been differently employed; the one has been considering thought, and the other action; one has watched the heart, and the other contemplated the face. . Though he could not gain much notice as a player, he felt in himself such powers as might qualify for a dramatick author; and, in 1675, his twenty-fifth year, produced Alcibiades, a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to enquire. Langbaine, the great detector of plagiarism, is silent.
In 1677 he published Titus and Berenice, translated from Rapin, with the Cheats of Scapin, from Moliere; and in 1678, Friendship in Fashion, a comedy, which, whatever might be its first reception, was, upon its revival at Drury-lane in 1749, hissed off the stage for immorality and obscenity.
Want of morals, or of decency, did not in those days exclude any man from the company of the wealthy and the gay, if he brought with him any powers of entertainment; and Otway is said to have been at this time a favourite companion of the dissolute wits. But, as he who desires no virtue in his companion has no virtue in himself, those whom Otway frequented had no purpose of doing more for him than to pay his reckoning. They desired only to drink and laugh: their fondness was without benevolence, and their familiarity without friendship. Men of wit, says one of Otway's biographers, received at that time no favour from the Great but to share their riots; “ from which they were dismissed again to their own narrow circumstances. Thus they languished in poverty without the support of eminence.”
Some exception, however, must be made. The Earl of Plymouth, one of King Charles's natural sons, procured for him a cornets commission in some troops then sent into Flanders. But Otway did not prosper in his military character: for he soon left his commission behind him, whatever was the reason, and came back to London in extreme indigence; which Rochester mentions with merciless insolence in the “ Session of the Poets :"
Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
Don Carlos, from which he is represented as having received so much benefit, was played in 1675. It appears, by the lampoon, to have had great success, and is said to have been played thirty nights together. This, however, it is reasonable to doubt*, as so long a continuance of one play upon the stage is a very wide deviation from the practice of that time; when the ardour for theatrical entertainments was not yet diffused through the whole people, and the audience, consisting nearly of the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety.
The Orphan was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep possession of the stage, and has pleased for almost a century, through all the vicissitudes of dramatick fashion. Of this play nothing new can easily be said. It is a domestick tragedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the affections; for it is not written with much comprehension of thought, or elegance of expression. But if the heart is interested, many other beauties may be wanting, yet not be missed.
The same year produced The History and Fall of Caius Marius; much of which is borrowed from the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspeare.
In 1683 † was published the first, and next year the second, parts of The Soldier's Fortune, two comedies now forgotten; and in 1685 , his last and
* This doubt is indeed very reasonable. I know not where it is said that Don Carlos was acted thirty nights together. Wherever it is said, it is untrue. Downes, who is perfectly good authority on this point, informs us, that it was performed ten days successively. M. + 1681.
I 1684. § 1682.