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the same with that which Corneille practised in his time ; if, like that of Terence; it went no farther than to draw the common portraits of simple nature, and shew us fathers, sons, and rivals; notwithstanding the uniformity, which would always prevail as in the plays of Terence, and probably in those of Menander, whom he imitated in his four first pieces, there would always be a resource found either in variety of incidents, like those of the Spaniards, or in the repetition of the same characters in the way of Terence : but the case is now very different, the publick calls for new characters and nothing else. Multiplicity of accidents, and the laborious contrivance of an intrigue, are not now allowed to shelter a weak genius that would find great conveniences in that way of writing. Nor does it suit the taste of comedy, which requires an air less constrained, and such freedom and ease of manners as admits nothing of the romantick. She leaves all the pomp of sudden events to the novels, or little romances, which were the diversion of the last age. She allows nothing but a succession of characters resembling nature, and falling in without any apparent contrivance. Racine has likewise taught us to give to tragedy the same simplicity of air and action ; he has endeavoured to disentangle it from that great number of incidents, which made it rather a study than diversion to the audience, and which shew the poet not so much to abound in invention, as to be deficient in taste. But, notwithstanding all that he has done, or that we can do, to make it simple, it will always have the advantage over Comedy in the number of its subjects, because it admits more variety of situations and events, which give variety and novelty to the characters. A miser, copied after nature, will always be the miser of Plautus or Moliere; but a Nero, or a prince like Nero, will not always be the hero of Racine. Comedy admits of so little intrigue, that the miser cannot be shewn in any such position as will make his picture new; but the great events of tragedy may put Nero in such circumstances as to make him wholly another character.
But, in the second place, over and above the subjects, may we not say something concerning the final purpose of comedy and tragedy? The purpose of the one is to divert, and the other to move; and of these two, which is the easier? To go to the bottom of those purposes; to move is to strike those strings of the heart which is most natural, terror and pity: to divert is to make one laugh, a thing which indeed is natural enough, but more delicate. The gentleman and the rustick have both sensibility and tenderness of heart, perhaps in greater or less degree; but as they are men alike, the heart is moved by the same touches. They both love likewise to send their thoughts abroad, and to expand themselves in merriment; but the springs which must be touched for this purpose, are not the same in the gentleman and the rustick. The passions depend on nature, and merriment
education. The clown will laugh at a waggery, and the gentleman only at a stroke of delicate conceit. The spectators of a tragedy, if they have but a little knowledge, are almost all on a level; but with respect to comedy, we have three classes, if not more, the people, the learned,
and the court. If there are certain cases in which all may be comprehended in the term people, this is not one of those cases. Whatever father Rapin may say about it, we are more willing even to ad. mire than to laugh. Every man that has any power of distinction, laughs as rarely as the philosopher admires ; for we are not to reckon those fits of laughter which are not incited by nature, and which are given merely to complaisance, to respect, flattery, and good-hamour; such as break out at sayings which pretend to smartness in assemblies. The laughter of the theatre is of another stamp. Every reader and spectator judges of wit by his own standard, and measures it by his capacity, or by his condition? the different capacities and conditions of men make them diverted on very different occasions. If, therefore, we consider the end of the tragick and comick poet, the comedian must be involved in much more difficulties, without taking in the obstructions to be encountered equally by both, in an art which consists in raising the passions, or the mirth of a great multitude. The tragedian has little to do but to reflect upon his own thought, and draw from his heart those sentiments which will certainly make their way to the hearts of others, if he found them in his own, The other must take many forms, and change himself almost into as many persons, as he undertakes to satisfy and divert.
It may be said, that; if genius be supposed equal, and success supposed to depend upon genius, the business will be equally easy and difficult to one author and to the other. This objection is of
no weight ; for the same question still recurs, which is, whether of these two kinds of genius.is more valuable or more rare. If we proceed by example, and not by reasoning, we shall decide Í think in favour of comedy.
It may be said, that, if merely art be considered, it will require deeper thoughts to form a plan just and simple; to produce happy surprises without apparent contrivance; to carry a passion skilfully through its gradations to its height; to arrive happily to the end by always moving from it, as Ithaca seemed to fly Ulysses; to unite the acts and scenes ; and to raise by insensible degrees a striking edifice, of which the least merit shall be exactness of proportion. It may be added, that in comedy this art is infinitely less, for there the characters come upon the stage
little artifice or plot : the whole scheme is so connected that we see it at once, and the plan and disposition of the parts make a small part of its excellence, in comparison of a gloss of pleasantry diffused over each scene, which is more the happy effect of a lucky moment, than of long consideration.
These objections, and many others, which so fruitful a subject might easily suggest, it is not difficult to refute: and if we were to judge by the impression made on the mind by tragedies and comedies of equal excellence, perhaps, when we examine those impressions, it will be found that a sally of pleasantry, which diverts all the world, required more thought than a passage which gave the highest pleasure in tragedy; and to this determination sve shall be more inclined when a clo
239 ser examination shall shew us, that a happy vein of tragedy is opened and effused at less expence, than a well-placed witticism in comedy has required merely to assign its place. It would be too much to dwell long upon
such a digression ; and as I have no business to decide the question, I leave both that and my arguments to the taste of each particular reader, who will find what is to be said for or against it. My purpose was only to say of comedy, considered as a work of genius,
all that a man of letters can be supposed to deliver without departing from his character, and without palliating in any dgree the corrupt use which has been almost always made of an exhibition which in its nature might be innocent; but has been vicious from the time that it has been infected with the wickedness of men. It is not for publick exhibitions that I am now writing, but for literary inquiries. is too much frequented, and books too much neglected. Yet it is to the literature of Greece and Rome that we are indebted for that valuable taste, which will be insensibly lost by the affected negligence which now prevails of having recourse to originals. If reason has been a considerable gainer, it must be confessed that taste has been somewhat a‘loser.
To return to Aristophanes: so many great men of antiquity, through a long succession of ages, down to our times, have set a value upon his works, that we cannot naturally suppose them contemptible, notwithstanding the essential faults with which he
may be justly reproached. It is sufficient to say, that he was esteemed by Plato and Cicero;