« AnteriorContinuar »
ehosen and known argument, to follow truth with great exactness. For my part, I am of opinion, that neither Homer, Virgil, Statius, Ariosto, Tasso, nor our English Spencer, could have formed their poems half so beautiful, without those gods and spirits, and those enthusiastic parts of poetry, which compose the most noble parts of all their writings. And I will ask any man who loves heroic poetry (for I will not dispute their tastes who do not), if the ghost of Polydorus in Virgil, the Enchanted Wood in Tasso, and the Bower of Bliss in Spencer (which he borrows from that admirable Italian) could have been omitted, without taking from their works some of the greatest beauties in them. And if any man object the improbabilities of a spirit appearing, or of a palace raised by magic; I boldly answer him, that an heroic poet is not tied to a bare representation of what is true, or exceeding probable; but that he may let himself loose to visionary objects, and to the representation of such things, as, depending not on sense, and therefore not to be comprehended by knowledge, may give him a freer scope for imagination. It is enough that, in all ages and religions, the greatest part of mankind have believed the power of magic, and that there are spirits or spectres which have appeared. This, I say, is foundation enough for poetry; and I dare farther affirm, that the whole doctrine of separated beings, whether those spirits are incorporeal substances, (which Mr Hobbes, with some reason, thinks to imply a contradiction) or that they are a thinner and more aërial sort of bodies, (as some of the fathers have conjectured) may better be explicated by poets than by philosophers or divines. For their speculations on this subject are wholly poetical; they have only their fancy for their guide; and that, being sharper in an excellent poet, than it is likely it
should in a phlegmatic, heavy gownman, will see farther in its own empire, and produce more satisfactory notions on those dark and doubtful problems.
Some men think they have raised a great argument against the use of spectres and magic in heroic poetry, by saying they are unnatural; but whether they or I believe there are such things, is not material; it is enough that, for aught we know, they may be in nature; and whatever is, or may be, is not properly unnatural. Neither am I much concerned at Mr Cowley's verses before “Gondibert," though his authority is almost sacred to me: It is true, he has resembled the old epic poetry to a fantastic fairy-land; but he has contradicted himself by his own example: For he has himself made use of angels and visions in his “Davideis,” as well as Tasso in his “Godfrey.”
What I have written on this subject will not be thought a digression by the reader, if he please to remember what I said in the beginning of this essay, that I have modelled my heroic plays by the rules of an heroic poem. And if that be the most noble, the most pleasant, and the most instructive way of writing in verse, and withal the highest pattern of human life, as all poets have agreed, I shall need no other argument to justify my choice in this imitation. One advantage the drama has above the other, namely, that it represents to view what the poem only does relate; and, Segnius irritant animum demissa per aures, quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus, as Horace tells us.
To those who object my frequent use of drums and trumpets, and my representations of battles, I answer, I introduced them not on the English stage: Shakespeare used them frequently; and though Jonson shews no battle in his “Catiline," yet you hear
whace teli quam nonius;
from behind the scenes the sounding of trumpets, and the shouts of fighting armies. But, I add farther, that these warlike instruments, and even their prescutations of fighting on the stage, are no more than necessary to produce the effects of an heroic play; that is, to raise the imagination of the audience, and to persuade them, for the time, that what they behold on the theatre is really performed. The poet is then to endeavour an absolute dominion over the minds of the spectators; for, though our fancy will contribute to its own deceit, yet a writer ought to help its operation : And that the Red Bull has formerly done the same, is no more an argument against our practice, than it would be for a physician to forbear an approved medicine, because a mountebank has used it with success.
Thus I have given a short account of heroic plays. I might now, with the usual eagerness of an author, make a particular defence of this. But the common opinion (how unjust soever) has been so much to my advantage, that I have reason to be satisfied, and to suffer with patience all that can be urged against it.
For, otherwise, what can be more easy for me, than to defend the character of Almanzor, which is one great exception that is made against the play ? 'Tis said, that Almanzor is no perfect pattern of heroic virtue, that he is a contemner of king's, and that he is made to perform impossibilities.
I must therefore avow, in the first place, from whence I took the character. The first image I had of hin, was from the Achilles of Homer; the next from Tasso's Rinaldo, (who was a copy of the former) and the third from the Artaban of Monsieur Calpranede, who las imitated both. The original of these, Achilles, is taken by Ilomer for his hero; and is described by him as one, who in strength
ESSAY ON HEROIC
and courage surpassed the rest of the Grecian army; but, withal, of so fiery a temper, so impatient of an injury, even from his king and general, that when his mistress was to be forced from him by the command of Agamemnon, he not only disobeyed it, but returned him an answer full of contumely, and in the most opprobrious terms he could imagine; they are Homer's words which follow, and I have cited but some few amongst a multitude.
Divocaçès, xuvos õppear fywv, xqadino diná 0010.-. a. v. 225.
Ampobócos Baoineús, &c. Il. a. v. 231. Nay, he proceeded so far in his insolence, as to draw out his sword, with intention to kill him ;
"Enxeto do ix xodsoño péya tiços. 11.a. v. 194. and, if Minerva had not appeared, and held his hand, he had executed his design; and it was all she could do to dissuade him from it. The event was, that he left the army, and would fight no more. Agamemnon gives his character thus to Nestor;
'Aga? Dárne šténet Tepi Tártwv špplevas ärrwv,
11. a. v. 287, 288. and Horace gives the same description of him in his Art of Poetry.
- -Honoratum si fortè reponis Achillem,
Jura neget sibi nata, nihil non arroget armis. Tasso's chief character, Rinaldo, was a man of the same temper; for, when he had slain Gernando in his heat of passion, he not only refused to be judged by Godfrey, his general, but threatened that if he came to seize him, he would right himself by arms upon him ; witness these following lines of Tasso :
l'enga egli, o mandi, io terrò fermo il piede:
Per lor diporto, alle nemiche genti. You see how little these great authors did esteem the point of honour, so much magnified by the French, and so ridiculously aped by us. They made their heroes men of honour; but so, as not to divest them quite of human passions and frailties : they content themselves to shew you, what men of great spirits would certainly do when they were provoked, not what they were obliged to do by the strict rules of moral virtue. For my own part, I declare myself for Homer and Tasso, and am more in love with Achilles and Rinaldo, than with Cyrus and Oroondates. I shall never subject my characters to the French standard, where love and honour are to be weighed by drams and scruples : Yet, where I have designed the patterns of exact virtues, such as in this play are the parts of Almahide, of Ozmyn, and Benzayda, I may safely challenge the best of theirs.
But Almanzor is taxed with changing sides : and what tie has he on him to the contrary? He is not born their subject whom he serves, and he is injured by them to a very high degree. He threatens them, and speaks insolently of sovereign power; but so do Achilles and Rinaldo, who were subjects and soldiers to Agamemnon and Godfrey of Bulloigne. He talks extravagantly in his passion; but, if I would take the pains to quote an hundred passages of Ben Jonson's Cethegus, I could easily shew you, that the rhodomontades of Almanzor are neither so irrational as his, nor so impossible to be put in execution ; for Cethegus threatens to destroy nature, and to raise a new one out of it; to kill all the senate for his part of the action; to look Cato