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It is from the example of princes, that virtue becomes a fashion in the people; for even they who are averse to instruction, will yet be fond of imitation.
But there are multitudes who never can have means nor opportunities of so near an access, as to partake of the benefit of such examples. And, to these, Tragedy, which distinguishes itself
from the vulgar Poetry by the dignity of its characters, may be of use and information. For they who are at that distance from original greatness, as to be deprived of the happiness of contemplating the perfections, and real excellencies of your Royal Highness's person in your court, may yet behold some small sketches and imagings of the virtues of your mind, abstracted, and represented on the Theatre.
Thus Poets are instructed, and instruct; not alone by precepts which persuade, but also by examples which illustrate. Thus is delight interwoven with instruction; when not only virtue is prescribed, but also represented.
But if we are delighted with the liveliness of a feigned representation of great and good persons and their actions, how must we be charmed with beholding the persons themselves? If one or two excelling qualities, barely touched in the single action, and small compass, of a Play, can warm an audience with a concern and regard even for the seeming success and
prosperity of the actor, with what zeal must the hearts of all be filled for the continued and encreasing happiness of those who are the true and living instances of elevated and persisting virtue ? Even the vicious themselves must have a secret veneration for those peculiar graces and endowments which are daily so eminently conspicuous in your Royal Highness; and, though repining, feel a pleasure, which, in spite of envy, they per-force approve.
If, in this Piece, humbly offered to your Royal Highness, there shall appear the resemblance of any of those many excellencies which you so promiscuously possess, to be drawn so as to merit
least approbation, it has the end and accomplishment of its design. And however imperfect it may be, in the whole, through the inexperience or incapacity of the author; yet if there is so muchas to convince your Royal Highness, that a Play may be, with industry so disposed (in spite of the licentious practice of the modern Theatre) as to become sometimes an innocent, and not unprofitable entertainment; it will abundantly gratify the ambition, and recompense the endeavours of
Your Royal Highness's
THE MOURNING BRIDE.
This splendid error of a man of genius has been popular among such as either knew not, or did not feel, the chaster ornaments of composition—but gave to extravagance of sentiment and improbability of situation what is due only to propriety and nature.
As the language and the sentiments of this tragedy exemplify very forcibly every fault in dramatic composition, it may not be disserviceable to Letters to extend the brevity of our mentions for this article.
Congreve's imagination was naturally vivid, luxuriant, and rapid.--He heaps up, when the impetus is upon him, an accumulation of glitter and gawd, extravagant and mistimed.-For passion his common substitute is splendor; yet so unequal are his powers, that he has frequently scenes of alternate inanity and bombast—of creeping imbecility and soaring extravagance.
Of his use of unmeaning expletive, take the following sample:Almeria. But I did promise I would tell thee-What?
My miseries? Thou dost already know them ;
And, when I told thee thou didst nothing know,
It was because thou didst not know Alphonso.
But as I may, I'll do. This reminds us of Corporal Nym and ancient Pistol one of which tatterdemalions says
I cannot tell,
Things must be as they may. Of miserable extravagance, and misplaced metaphor, read this rant: Osmyn. What brightness breaks upon mé thus thro' shades,
And promises a day to this dark dwelling? A Prince imprisoned is not thus superlative in expression.–Observe also the lady is veiled.
The grand model for tender intercourse, the exact etiquette of dress, and colloquial communicativeness, here follows, extracted from a scene between Almeria and Leonora :
Leon. Husband! O Heav'ns!
My grief has hurried me beyond all thought.
Thy love and faith to me deserve all confidence. The reason why she would conceal it, is extremely curious.
But 'tis the wretch's comfort still to have
Leon. Indeed !
I knew not this.
Know'st nothing of my sorrows if thou did'st
Tell me: I know thou wouldst, thou art compassionate.
But it is necessary we should remark, Allis not like these notitiamthe Play has sentiments, now and then, that are natural, and description that both Feeling and Fancy may delight in—but it excites no interest the personages are out of drawing the modest outline of nature is bloated by extravagance, and ornamented by an injudicious fancy with jewels that glitter only in the sooty ear of an Ethiop.