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Adieu, my dear father, and believe me attached to you and yours by that tender regard which I owe you, and which those who were educated by you do not always retain.
Paris, Jan. 7th,
P R E F A C E. T:
HE Oedipus, now. re-printed, was repre
fented for the first time at the end of the
year 1718, and received with great indul. gence by the public, it has even fince that time fupported itself on the stage, and is seen to this day with some pleasure, in spite of all its faults ; a circumstance which I attribute partly to its advantage of being always well acter, and partly to the pomp and solemnity of the spectacle, together with some intrinsic merit in the piece. P. Folard, the jesuit, and Mr. de la Motte,* of the French academy, have both of them since treated the same subject, and both avoided the errors which I had fallen into. It is not my
business to criticise their performances, my cenfures and my praises would be equally liable to sufpicion : ftill further is my intention from pretending to lay down rules for writing tragedy. I am perfuaded, that all those refined reasonings, so often reiterated, are scarce worth one single scene of genius;
* Mons. de la Motte presented the world with two Oedipus's, one in verse, the other in prose, in the year 1726 : that in verse was played four times; the profe was never represented at all. See La Viotte's works, duodecimo, vol. ii. and iii.
and that we may learn more from † Cinna and Polyeucte, than from all the precepts of 1 D'Aubignal. Severus and Paulinus are true masters of the art. Ail the books on painting, which were cver written by the greatest connoisseurs, would not give a young painter half the instruction as only the fight of a head by Raphael.
The principles of all the arts that depend on the imagination are easy and simple, all drawn from nature and from reason. Our Pradons and Boyers knew them as well as our Corneille's and Racine ; the only difference was, and always will be, in their application of them. The worst composers had the same rules of music before them, as the authors of Armida and Isle. Poussin worked upon the same principles as Vignon. 'Tis as useless, therefore, to talk of rules in a preface to a tragedy, as it would be to a painter to endeavour to prejudice the public in his favour, by a disertation on his pictures ; or to a musician, to prove by demonstration, that his compositions must be sure to please.
But since Mons. Je la Motte seems desirous of a blishing rules, directly opposite to those which our
+ Cinna and Polyeuete, two tragedies by Corneille.
| La Pratique du Theatre, par l'Abbé D'Aubignac, a very judicious and sensible performance.
great masters submitted to, it is but just to defend the
antient laws; not because they are ancient, but be- cause they are good and necessary, and because those
laws might find a very powerful adversary in a man of his distinguished merit.
OF THE THREE UNITIES.
Mr. de la Motte would abolish the unities of action, time, and place. The French were the first of the moderns, who revived the wise rules of the antient theatre : other nations refused for a long time submnisfion to a yoke, which they thought too fevere; but as the laws were just, and reason must triumph at last, in process of time they yielded also. Even in England, at this day, authors give us notice at the beginning of their pieces, that the time employed in the action is equal to that of the representation, and thus go
further than ourselves who tàught them. All nations now begin to look upon those ages as barbarous, when this practice was entirely unknown to the greatest geniusses, such as Lopez de Vega and Shakespeare ; they acknowledge their obligation to us for awakening them from this gothicism ; and shall a Frenchman after this exercise all his wit and abilities to reduce us once more to the same standard?
Had I nothing more to offer in opposition to Mr. de la Motte, than that Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Addison, Congreve, and Maffei, have all observed the rules of the theatre, it would be sufficient to prevent the violation of them ; but a man of such superior understanding as M. de la Motte has a right to expect that we should oppose him rather by reason than by authority
What is a theatrical performance? The representation of an action. Why of a single action, and not of two or three? Doubtless, because the human mind is incapable of embracing more than cne oljeet at a time; because the interest, which is divided, is foon destroyed; because we are disgusted at fecing two different events even in a picture; it is, in short, because nature alone points out to us this precept, which is as invariable as herself.
For the same reason unity of place is essential; for a single action cannot posfibly happen in several places at a time: if the persons of the drama are at Athens in the first act, how can they be at Persia in the lecond? Did Le Brun paint Alexander at Aibele and the Indies on the same canvas? " I should not be in the
least surprized,' (says M. de la Motte, with all the smartness imaginable) * to see a fenfible people, not fond of rules, reconcile themselves to the reprefen