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ment, the Passions of the several Characters dwell No. 290. strongly upon my Imagination; and I congratulate to Friday, the Age, that they are at last to see Truth and humane February
1, 1712. Life represented in the Incidents which concern Heroes and Heroines. The Stile of the Play is such as becomes those of the first Education, and the Sentiments worthy those of the highest Figure. It was a most exquisite Pleasure to me, to observe real Tears drop from the Eyes of those who had long made it their Profession to dissemble Affliction and the Player who read, fre quently throw down the Book, till he had given Vent to the Humanity which rose in him at some irresistible Touches of the imagined Sorrow. We have seldom had any Female Distress on the Stage, which did not, upon cool Imagination, appear to flow from the Weakness rather than the Misfortune of the Person represented But in this Tragedy you are not entertained with the ungoverned Passions of such as are enamoured of each other meerly as they are Men and Women, but their Regards are founded upon high Conceptions of each other's Virtue and Merit; and the Character which gives Name to the Play, is one who has behaved her self with heroick Virtue in the most important Circumstances of a female Life, those of a Wife, a Widow, and a Mother. If there be those whose Minds have been too attentive upon the Affairs of Life, to have any Notion of the Passion of Love in such Extremes as are known only to particular Tempers, yet, in the abovementioned Considerations, the Sorrow of the Heroine will move even the Generality of Mankind. Domestick Vir tues concern all the World, and there is no one living who is not interested that Andromache should be an imitable Character. The generous Affection to the Memory of her deceased Husband, that tender Care for her Son, which is ever heightned with the Considera tion of his Father, and these Regards preserved in spite of being tempted with the Possession of the highest Greatness, are what cannot but be venerable even to such an Audience as at present frequents the English Theatre. My Friend WILL HONEYCOMB commended several tender Things that were said, and told me they were
No. 290. very genteel; but whispered me, that he feared the 'riday, Piece was not busy enough for the present Taste. To february supply this, he recommended to the Players to be very 1712
careful in their Scenes, and above all Things, that every Part should be perfectly new dress'd. I was very glad to find that they did not neglect my Friend's Admonition, because there are a great many in his Class of Criticism who may be gained by it; but indeed the Truth is, that as to the Work it self
, it is every where Nature. The Persons are of the highest Quality in Life, even that of Princes, but their Quality is not represented by the Poet with Direction that Guards and Waiters should follow them in every Scene, but their Grandeur appears in greatness of Sentiments, flowing from Minds worthy their Condition. To make a Character truly Great, this Author understands that it should have its Foundation in superior Thoughts and Maxims of Conduct. It is very certain, that many an honest Woman would make no Difficulty, tho' she had been the Wife of Hector, for the Sake of a Kingdom, to marry the Enemy of her Husband's Family and Country, and indeed who can deny but she might be still an honest Woman, but no Heroine? That may be defensible, nay laudable in one Character, which would be in the highest degree exceptionable in another. When Cato Uticensis killed himself, Cottius, a Roman of ordinary Quality and Character, did the same Thing; upon which one said, smiling, 'Cottius might have lived tho' Caesar has seized the Roman Liberty, Cottius's Condition might have been the same, let Things at the Upper-End of the World pass as they would. What is further very extraordinary in this work, is, that the Persons are all of them laudable, and their Misfortunes arise rather from unguarded Virtue than Propensity to Vice. The Town has an opportunity of doing it self Justice in supporting the Representations of Passion, Sorrow, lo dignation, even Despair it self, within the Rules of Decency, Honour, and good Breeding: and since there is no one can flatter himself his Life will be always fortunate, they may here see Sorrow as they would wish to bear it whenever it arrives,
No. 290. I am appointed to act a part in the new Tragedy,
February ? called The Distressed Mother: It is the celebrated Grief
1, 1712. of Orestes which I am to personate ; but I shall not act as I ought, for I shall feel it too intimately to be able to utter it I was last Night repeating a Paragraph to my self, which I took to be an Expression of Rage, and in the Middle of the Sentence there was a Stroke of Selfpity, which quite unmanned me. Be pleased, Sir, to print this Letter, that when I am oppressed in this Manner at such an laterval, a certain Part of the Audience may not think I am out; and I hope with this Allowance to do it to Satisfaction,
It is not me you are in love with, for I was very ill, * and kept my Chamber all that Day,
Your most humble Servant, T
Saturday, February 2.
Aut humana parum cavit natura --Hor.
those four great Heads of the Fable, the Characters, the Sentiments, and the Language; and have shewa
No. 291. that he excels, in general, under each of these Heads
may appear new, even to those who are versed in
It is in Criticism, as in all other Sciences and Specula tions; one who brings with him any implicit Notions and Observations which he has made in his reading of the Poets, will find his own Reflections methodized and explained, and perhaps several little Hints that had passed in his Mird, perfected and improved in the Works of a good Critick; whereas one who has not these previous Lights, is very often an utter Stranger to what he reads, and apt to put a wrong Interpretation
Nor is it sufficient, that a Man who sets up for a Judge in Criticism, should have perused the Authors above-mentioned, unless he has also a clear and logical Head. Without this Talent he is perpetually puzzled and perplexed amidst his own Blunders, mistakes the Sense of those he would confute, or if he chances to think right, does not know how to convey his Thoughts to another with Clearness and Perspicuity. Aristotle, who was the best Critick, was also one of the best Logicians that ever appeared in the World.
Mr. Lock's Essay on Human Understanding would be thought a very odd Book for a Man to make him self Master of, who would get a Reputation by Critical Writings, though at the same Time it is very certain, that an Author who has not learned the Art of disa tinguishing between Words and Things, and of ranging his Thoughts, and setting them in proper Lights, what ever Notions he may have, will lose himself in Confusion and Obscurity. I might further observe, that there is
not a Greek or Latin Critick who has not shewn, No. 291 even in the Stile of his Criticisms, that he was a
Saturday, Master of all the Elegance and Delicacy of his Native
2, 1712. Tongue.
The Truth of it is, there is nothing more absurd, than for a Man to set up for a Critick, without a good Insight into all the Parts of Learning; whereas many of those who have endeavoured to signalize themselves by Works of this Nature among our English Writers, are not only defective in the above mentioned Particulars, but plainly discover by the Phrases which they make use of, and by their confused way of thinking, that they are not acquainted with the most common and ordinary Systems of Arts and Sciences. A few general Rules extracted out of the French Authors, with certain Cant of Words, has sometimes set up an illiterate heavy Writer for a most judicious and formidable Critick,
One great Mark, by which you may discover a Critick who has neither Taste nor Learning, is this, that he seldom ventures to praise any Passage in an Author which has not been before received and applauded by the Publick, and that his Criticism turns wholly upon little Faults and Errors. This part of a Critick is so very easy to succeed in, that we find every ordinary Reader, upon the publishing of a new Poem, has Wit and Ill-nature enough to turn several Passages of it into Ridicule, and very often in the right place. This Mr. Dryden has very agreeably remarked in those two celebrated Lines,
Errors, like Straws, upon the Surface flow,
He who would search for Pearls must dive below. A true Critick ought to dwell rather upon Excellencies than Imperfections, to discover the concealed Beauties of a Writer, and communicate to the World such Things as are worth their Observation
The most exquisite Words and finest Strokes of an Author are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable, to a Man who wants a Relish for polite Learning, and they are these, which a soure undistinguishing Critick generally attacks with the greatest