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PRECEDINg a play like this, it would be peculiarly injudicious to say a word which might anticipate that interest, and that admiration, which the reader, of good taste, and strong nerves, must feel in the perusal.
Dialogue, character, fable, incident, all combine to render this little three act drama one of the most powerful, at the same time the most instructive, the stage has to boast—yet, for want of that robust constitution just alluded to, which implies strength of mind as well as body, an audience shrink from beholding it performed; and even certain tremulous readers should be forewarned, not to proceed so far as the catastrophe.
The author of this tragedy was a man of a very singular imagination, for all his plays are of a species almost wholly distinct from those of every other dramatic writer. “George Barnwell,” as well as “Fatal Curiosity,” is a proof of the particularity of Lillo's muse; and, to be original both in design and execution, is surely one of the highest encomiums that an artist can deserve,
The affecting tragedy of “George Barnwell" has more admirers than it is the fashion to acknowledge: yet it gives not even an intimation, that the same dramatist could ever arrive to that degree of perfection in his art, as to produce “Fatal Curiosity.” From the first scene of this tragedy to the last, allis interesting, all is natural—occurrences, as in real life, give rise to passions; passion inspires new thoughts, elevates each sentiment, embellishes the language and renders every page of the production either sweetly pathetic, or horribly sublime. . Yet the highest merit of any, is the moral which the work contains. The unfortunate should read it, and be taught patience—the fortunate, and learn gratitude to Divine Providence. There is even instruction to be gained by a very inferior event in the glay—deception, for whatever innocent purpose used, is shown to be of most fatal tendency. Though every character partakes of the general interest which the story excites, yet Old Wilmot and his wife are pre-eminent in all they utter, even before they are provoked to act. It may be, their conversation has greater force, and appears to have more of nature, because the dissatisfied and complainer, though seldom made an object of interest by an author, is a being far more familiar to every observer, and by far more pitiable, than the resigned and the patient. “Fatal Curiosity” was first performed in the year 1736, and received most favourably—it then was withdrawn from the stage till about the year 1782, when Colman the elder revived it at his theatre during the Sllininer. Mr. Colman was a warm admirer of Lillo's works, and of this play in particular. He caused it to be rehearsed with infinite care; and, from the reception of the two first acts, and part of the third, he had the hope that it would become extremely popular—but, on the performance of a scene which followed soon after, a certain horror seized the audience, and was manifested by a kind of stifled scream. After having shuddered at this tragedy, even as a fiction, it is dreadful to be told,—that the most horrid event which here takes place, is merely the representation of a fact which occurred at a village on the western coast of England. That the direful circumstance thus brought upon the stage might probably occur, is the great hold which it has upon the heart;-had probability been violated, that powerful force would have failed—but Lillo is an author whose characters are such as inhabit the world, and do not reside merely in romances. Fielding, another copyist of nature, says of the play, in his prologue : “ No fustian hero rages here to-night; “No armies fall to fix a tyrant's right: “From lower life we draw our scene's distress: “Let not your equals * your pity less.” B
DRURY-LAN e. HAYMARKret. OLD WILMoT Mr. Kemble. Mr. Bensley. YouNg WILMoT Mr.Barrymore. Mr. Palmer.
EUsTACE Mr. Trueman. Mr. R. Palmer. RANDAL Mr. C. Kemble. Mr. Bannister,sun. AGNES Mrs. Siddons. Miss Sherry. CIIARLoTTE Mrs. Powell. Mrs. Bulkeley. MARIA Miss Leake. Miss Hooke.
ACT THE FIRST.
‘OLD WILMoT alone.
O. Wilm. The day is far advanc'd. The cheerful Sull Pursues with vigour his repeated course : No labour lessens, nor no time decays His strength, or splendour: evermore the same, From age to age his influence sustains Dependent worlds, bestows both life and motion On the dull mass, that forms their dusky orbs, Cheers them with heat, and gilds them with his brightness. Yet man, of jarring elements compos'd, Who posts from change to change, from the first hour Of his frail being to his dissolution, Enjoys the sad prerogative above him, To think, and to be wretched ' What is life To him that's born to die Or, what the wisdom, whose perfection ends In knowing, we know nothing? Mere contradiction all! A tragic farce,