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absurdities, it is but the common privilege of mediocrity to do so; but let not mediocrity assume the airs and presumption of excellence and perfection, nor pretend to obtrude on others, as rules, any fantastical forms which affectation or fashion may have imposed on them.
It cannot be denied, but there should be some compliance with the change of manners and opinions. Our delicacy would be justly offended, if the loud groans and nauseous wounds of Philoctetes were imitated on the stage; but would good-sense be less offended, if, in the conduct of the play, his fierce resentments of his wrongs, the noble frankness of the son of Achilles, and the crafty wiles of Ulysses, which are so finely exhibited in the tragedy of Sophocles, and so deeply interest us in the dispute for the arrows, were all neglected, in order to engage our attention to some love-scenes between Neoptolemus, and a fair nymph of Lemnos ? Would the poet be excused by pleading the effeminacy and
gallantry of an audience, who would not endure so unpleasing an object as a wounded man, nor attend to any contest but about a heart? In such a country the lyre should warble melting strains: but let not example teach us to fetter the energy, and enervate the noble powers of the British muse, and of a language fit to express sublimer sentiments. The bleeding, sightless eyeballs of Edipus are objects of too great horror for the spectator; but is not Theseus, in the midst of plagues and famine, adoring les beaux yeux of the princess Dirce, as much an object of ridicule?
Fine dialogues of love, interwoven with a tale of incest and murder, would not have been endured in any country, where taste had not been absolutely perverted. Mr. Voltaire has the candour to own, this is a bad Tragedy; but Corneille tells us, it was his good fortune to find it the general opinion, that none of his pieces was composed with more art: so little was the dramatic art understood in the polite court of
Louis XIV. The Edipus of Corneille is so far below criticism, that I should not have taken any notice of it but as it was necessary to bring a strong proof of the depravity of taste in those times.
Mr. Voltaire has endeavoured to convince his countrymen, that the metaphysics of love, and the sophistry of politics, are not adapted to the theatre: but he durst not bring the story of Edipus on the stage without the addition of a love-intrigue; and Philoctetes, the companion of Hercules, is introduced sighing for the autumnal charms of Jocasta.One may
surely say with her.
D'un lien charmant le soin tendre & timide
Tragedy thus converted into mere amorous ditty, drops all the ends of her institution, which were, says sir P. Sidney*,
* Defence of Poesy.
"to open the greatest wounds,and to shew forth the ulcers that are covered with "tissue; to make kings fear to be tyrants, tyrants to manifest their tyrannical humours; that stirring the effects of ad"miration and commiseration, teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how "weak foundations gilded roofs are build“ed; that maketh us know, Qui sceptra
sævus duro imperio regit, timet timen"tes, metus in autorem redit." The example to the great; the warnings to the people; all high and public precepts, are neglected; and by making the interest of the play turn upon the passion of love, to which the man, the prince, the hero, is made to sacrifice every other consideration, even private morals are corrupted. Of this we shall be perfectly convinced, if we compare the conduct and sentiments of Theseus, and of the unfortunate daughter of Jocasta, in Antigone, and Edipus Coloneus, with the Theseus and Dirce of Corneille; where the enamoured pair disclaim all
all other regards and duties, human and divine, for the character of mere lovers. In this play, great violence is done to the character of the persons, to which Horace, and all good critics, prescribe a most exact adherence. And though the Romans, who had conquered all other nations, had the best right to prefer their own manners, and despise those of other countries, yet their critics inculcated the necessity of imitating those of the people represented.
The French tragedians not only deviate from thech aracter of the individual represented, but even from the general character of the age and country. Theseus and Achilles are not only unlike to Theseus and Achilles, but they are not Greeks. Sophocles and Euripides never introduce a hero who had appeared in the Iliad or Odyssey, without a strict attention to make him act suitably to the opinion conceived of him from those epic poems. When Ulysses, in the tragedy of Hecuba, comes to demand Polixena to be sacrificed, how admirable is