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SPOKEN BY MR. GARRICK, AT THE OPENING OF THE
THEATRE-ROYAL, DRURY LANE, 1747
When learning's triumph o'er her barb'rous foes
Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
praise: A mortal born, he met the gen’ral doom, But left, like Egypt's kings, a lasting tomb.
The wits of Charles found easier ways to fame, Nor wish'd for Jonson's art, or Shakespeare's flame: Themselves they studied, as they felt, they writ; Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit; Vice always found a sympathetick friend; They pleas'd their age, and did not aim to mend. Yet bards, like these, aspir'd to lasting praise, And proudly hop'd to pimp in future days.
Their cause was gen’ral, their supports were strong; Their slaves were willing, and their reign was
long: Till shame regain’d the post that sense betray'd, And virtue call’d oblivion to her aid.
Then, crush'd by rules, and weaken'd, as refin'd, For years the pow'r of tragedy declin'd; From bard to bard the frigid caution crept, Till declamation roar'd, while passion slept; Yet still did virtue deign the stage to tread, Philosophy remain'd, though nature fled. But forced, at length, her ancient reign to quit, She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of wit; Exulting folly hail'd the joyful day, And pantomime and song confirm’d her sway.
But who the coming changes can presage,
Hard is his lot that, here by fortune plac'd,
* Hunt, a famous boxer on the stage; Mahomet, a ropedancer, who had exhibited at Covent garden theatre the winter before, said to be a Turk.
The drama's laws the drama's patrons give,
Then prompt no more the follies you decry,
PREFATORY NOTICE TO THE
TRAGEDY OF IRENE
HE history of this tragedy's composition is in
teresting, as affording dates to distinguish Johnson's literary progress. It was begun, and considerably advanced, while he kept a school at Edial, near Lichfield, in 1736. In the following year, when he relinquished the task of a schoolmaster, so little congenial with his mind and disposition, and resolved to seek his fortunes in the metropolis, Irene was carried along with him as a foundation for his success. Mr. Walmsley, one of his early friends, recommended him, and his fellow-adventurer, Garrick, to the notice and protection of Colson, the mathematician. Unless Mrs. Piozzi is correct, in rescuing the character of Colson from any identity with that of Gelidus, in the Rambler 8, Johnson entertained no lively recollection of his first patron's kindness. He was ever warm in expressions of gratitude for favours, conferred on him in his season of want and obscurity; and from his deep silence here, we may conclude, that the recluse mathematician did not evince much sympathy with the distresses of the young candidate for dramatic fame. Be this, however, as it may, Johnson, shortly after this introduction, took lodgings at Greenwich, to proceed with his Irene in quiet and retirement, but soon returned to Lichfield, to complete it. The same year that saw
& Rambler, No. 24, and note.
these successive disappointments, witnessed also Johnson's return to London, with his tragedy completed, and its rejection by Fleetwood, the patentee, at that time, of Drury lane theatre. Twelve years elapsed, before it was acted, and, after many alterations by his pupil and companion, Garrick, who was then manager of the theatre, it was, by his zeal, and the support of the most eminent performers of the day, carried through a representation of nine nights. Johnson's profits, after the deduction of expenses, and together with the hundred pounds, which he received from Robert Dodsley, for the copy, were nearly three hundred pounds. So fallacious were the hopes cherished by Walmsley, that Johnson would “turn out a fine tragedy writer b.'
“The tragedy of Irene,” says Mr. Murphy,“ is founded on a passage in Knolles's History of the Turks;' an author highly commended in the Rambler, No. 122. An incident in the life of Mahomet the great, first emperor of the Turks, is the hinge, on which the fable is made to move. The substance of the story is shortly this:-In 1453, Mahomet laid siege to Constantinople, and, having reduced the place, became enamoured of a fair Greek, whose name was Irene. The sultan invited her to embrace the law of the prophet, and to grace his throne. Enraged at this intended marriage, the janizaries formed a conspiracy to dethrone the emperor. To avert the impending danger, Mahomet, in a full assembly of Boswell's Life, i.