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« With respect to sprightly turns and poignancy of wit, • the prologues of Dryden have not been equalled. The reader may find
twenty of them in the first edition of the « first volume of Tonson's Miscellanies. Many of them were • written on occasion of the players going to Oxford; a cuf
tom, for the neglect of which no good reason can be assign• ed, except, perhaps, that even the players must now, for
footh, follow the contemptable cant of decrying that most « learned University, and of doing nothing that may contribute to its pleasure and emolument.'
From some former passages in this Essay, we suspected that the Author had been an Oxonian; but the last quotation is a proof, next to demonstration, that he is little acquainted with that most learned university; otherwife he must have known, that the Vice-Chancellors alone have the power of allowing plays to be acted in that city, and within five miles of it; and that, therefore, those Gentlemen, and not they who decry the university, would seem reprehensible if the Oxonians are either deprived of pleasure or emolument. But to do justice to all, the Vice-Chancellors may be vindicated in their prohibition of plays; it was intended to prevent the youth from being debauched, and other bad consequences.* Perhaps if plays could now be performed without women, as formerly, Oxford might again have theatrical representations.
The Prologue leads the Critic to consider the Tragedy itself, which he blames as destitute of action, pathos, and even character, and as taking up more time than it needed; but he does not do justice to the sublimity of some of the speeches, and the philosophical precision of the sentiments. The fimile of Mount Atlas, and of the traveller (mothered in the desert, he allows to be in character, but thinks them sufficiently obvious. That of the mountain is, indeed, obvious, and has it the less propriety on that account? But how can the fimile of the traveller be stiled obvious, when it is the first of the kind in the English tongue ? After all, both the fimilies, in our opinion, are out of place, as the instances are few, where a comparison can be introduced in tragedy with any fort of propriety.
The Essayist thinks the loves of Marcia and Juba, of Lucia and Portius, are vicious and insipid Episodes; and says, they * debase the dignity, and destroy the unity, of the fable.' In
. Such bad consequences have actually happened in that very Unive:fity; of which instances might be mentioned.
deed, where love is only the secondary passion, in a play, it can never greatly affect.
From his criticism on this tragedy, the Author proeeds to confider Mr. Addison's other writings. The Letter from Italy he thinks no way equal to a subject fo fruitful of genuine poetry, and which might have warmed the most cold and correct ima. gination. One would have expected (adds he), a young tra
veller, in the height of his genius and judgment, would have broke out into some strokes of enthusiasm. With what o fatness and unfeelingness has he spoken of ftatuary and
painting? Raphael never received a more phlegmatick elogy. The flavery and superstition of the present Romans
are well touched upon, towards the conclusion; but I will ! venture to name a little piece, on a parallel subject, that
greatly excels this celebrated Letter, and in which are as • much lively and original imagery, strong painting, and man
ly sentiments of freedom, as I have ever read in our language. It is a copy of Verses written at Virgil's tomb, and printed in Dodfley's fourth volume of Miscellanies.'
Never was any thing more unjust than the character here given us of Mr. Addison's Letter from Italy. What can be more poetical than his description of the Italian rivers, and especially of the Po?
Fir’d with a thousand raptures I survey
Distributes wealth and plenty where he flows.
Sometimes, misguided by the tuneful throng,
And in the smooth description murmur still. Nor is the description of the Tyber less picturesque. This however, we shall, omit together with his elegantly sublime compliment to Lord Hallifax, and only ask the impartial reader, whether the following lines are destitute of poetical enthusiasm.
See how the golden groves around me smile,
Here kindly warmth their mounting juice ferments
And the whole year in gay confusion lii s. Is not the description of the ruins of Rome nobly animated, and particularly the four last lines ?
Where the old Romans deathless acts display'd,
And, wond'ring at their heigbe, through airy channels flow*. Nor can we think Mr. Addison's verses on Statuary, and on Raphael, so fat and unfeeling as the Critic represents them.
Still to new scenes my u andering Muse retires,
Still show the charms that their proud hearts subdu'd. If the encomium on Raphael is lefs animated, the following lines, however, exhibit a picture more lively and glowing than any that ever flowed from the pencil of that wonderful artist: as the moral, too, is well worthy of a Briton.
How has kind Heav'n adorn'd the happy land,
Indeed the slavery and fuperftition of the Romans are so well touched upon, towards the conclusion, that none but the author of the verses he sets in competition with Addison, or the Author's very partial friend, could ever have dream'd of the parallel; yet are we far from denying that Copy of Verses its due merit.
That there are many well wrought descriptions, adds the Critic, and even pathetic strokes in the Campaign' (which he elsewhere calls a Gazette in rhyme) “it would be stupidity • and malignity to deny. But surely the regular march ( which the poet has observed, from one town to another, as • if he had been a Commissary of the army, cannot well be o excused.'
Mr. Voltaire, however, (whese judgment our Author, on other occasions, has readily adopted, and whom we all know to be not over partial to the English poets) thought very differently of the Campaign. That spirited author, after describing the battle of Blenheim, thus proceeds ; Les remercia ments des Chambres du parlement, ceux des villes & des bour. gades, les acclamations d'Angleterre furent le premier priz quil recut de la victoire. Le poeme du celebre Addison, monument plus durable que le palais de Blenheim, est comptè, par cette nation guerriere et lavante, parmi les recompenses les plus honorables du Duc de Marlborough, But to return to our Critic; who is so candid as to allow due praise to some other parts of Mr. Addison's works, particularly his prose pieces.
' In various parts,' of his prose Essays, are to be found
many strokes of genuine and sublime poetry, 'many marks • of a vigorous and exuberant imagination ; particularly • in the noble Allegory of Pain and Pleasure, the Vision of • Mirza, the Story of Maraton and Yaratilda, of Conftantia
and Theodosius, the beautiful Eastern Tale of Abdallah ' and Balsora, and many others, together with several strokes
in the Essay on the Plealures of the Imagination. After all, « the chief and characteristical excellence of Addison was his ( humour; for in humour no mortal has excelled him, except • Moliere ; witness the character of Sir Roger de Coverly, ' fo original, fo natural, and so inviolably preserved, particus • larly in the month which the Spectator ipends at his Hall in
the country; witness also the Drummer, that excellent and neglected comedy, that juft picture of life and real man
ners, where the poet never speaks in his own person, or to. • tally drops or forgets a character, for the sake of introducing
a brilliant fimile, or acute remark: where no train is laid for 6 witi no Jeremys, or Bens, are suffered to appear.'
The Critic next considers the Epilogue to Jane Shore, which, he says, 'is written with the air of gallantry and rail
lery, which, by a strange perversion of taste, the audience s expects in all epilogues to the most serious and pathetic
plays. To recommend cuckoldom, and palliate adultery, is their usual intent.'
This Epilogue leads him to consider Rowe as a writer; and whom he justly represents as rather delicate and tender, than strong and pathetic; and as soothing us with a tranquil and tender sort of complacency, rather than cleaving the heart with pangs of commiferation. His distresses are entirely s founded on the passion of love. His diction is extremely o elegant and chaste; and his versification highly melodious. • His plays are declamations rather than dialogues; and his
characters are general, and undistinguished from each other, « Such a furious character as that of Bajazet is easily drawn; • and let me add, easily acted. There is a want of unity in 6 the fable of Tamerlane. The death's head, dead body, " and stage hung in mourning, in the Fair Penitent, are in<artificial and mechanical methods of affecting an audience. * In a word, his plays are musical and pleasing poems, but • inactive and unmoving tragedies. This of Jane Shore, is, “ I think, the most interesting and affecting of any he has “ given us; but probability is sadly violated in it, by the ne
glect of the unity of time. For a person to be supposed to s be starved during the representation of five acts, is a striksing instance of the absurdity of this violation. In this
piece, as in all of Rowe's, are many florid speeches, ut• terly inconsistent with the state and circumstances of the di• stressful personages who speak them.' Of this, as he gives fome instances, so does he also candidly quote some that are extremely natural and tender. What Shore answers to her hus. band, when he asks her movingly,
Why dost thou fix thy dying eyes upon me
Thou couldst not speak :-
Forgive me, but forgive me! Are words, adds he, that far exceed the most pompous dee clamations of Cato, « The interview between Jane Shore
and Alicia, in the middle of this act, (continues the Critic) ç is also very affecting: where the madness of Alicia is well painted. But of all representations of madness, that of