페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

ever, with all its merits, rather languished on the London theatre, till the reflected reputation which it borrowed from the success of a French imitation of it, which Garrick found in high favour at Paris, brought it into equal favour on the London stage; and the Society knows the celebrity it has since acquired from the exquisite representation of its domestic distress in the acting of Mrs Siddons. I may speak of Mrs Siddons, now that she has quitted the stage, as an actress of former times; it would not, perhaps, be altogether delicate to speak of performers who continue to hold a high place there.

Mr Home does not seem to have written with any of the above-named authors in his view.— Shakespeare, of whose excellence he was an enthusiastic admirer, he did not think of imitating in manner or in style ; and the later poets he does not appear, from any of his private notes or letters which I have seen, to have either studied or followed. He had, I presume, very early conceived the idea of dramatic composition, and indeed I have not been able to find traces of any poetical attempts of his early life, when he wrote poetry independently of this idea. In his admiration of ancient republicanism, which the warm and enthusiastic turn of mind which T have before mentioned, as natural to him, readily excited, he had written a prose essay of considerable length, (already noticed in the first part of this paper,) somewhat after the manner of Plutarch, on the comparative merits of the Grecian characters ofAgis and Cleomenes, and the Roman ones of the two Gracchi. In the course of this historical dissertation, he seems to have caught the idea of dramatizing that portion of Spartan history which it led him to study, and he produced his first tragedy ofAgis. The plan of this tragedy, as it first rose in his mind, appears to have been conceived without the agency of any other passion than that of patriotism on the one side, and ambition on the other ; but after proceeding a certain length, he was convinced, (as Addison had been in writing Cato,) that his play would not succeed in representation without somewhat more of interest and tenderness being woven into the story, and therefore he introduced the love of Lysander and Euanthe. This, certainly, whatever objection might be made to it with regard to unity of action, improved the theatrical effect of the plot and incidents of the piece, and gave an opportunity, in particular, for one incident in the scene where Lysander, disguised in the dress of a helot, attempts to kill Amphares, but is checked by the threat of the Spartan chief, to stab Euanthe, if her lover makes any further resistance, which the author set a particular value on, as he expressed strongly to me on a subsequent occasion, and which Garrick, whose attention to stage effect sometimes, very naturally, overcame his literary or critical judgment, perused, (as will appear from a letter which I shall read by and by,) with the highest approbation. The tragedy of Agis remained several years in its author's possession, without his being able to procure its admission to the stage. It was read by several of his literary friends, among whom was a gentleman of great ability, but whose abilities were better known as a politician than as a critic, the late Mr Oswald of Dunnikeir, from whom I beg leave, in this place, to read a letter to Mr Home on the subject. The general remarks of this letter are more distinguished by their good sense than by their novelty; and I should perhaps think it too long for thejBociety to hear, were it not for one interesting circumstance, namely, that it contains the opinion of the great Lord Chatham on the tragedy of Agis, Mr Oswald having left the MS. with that illustrious statesman, for the purpose of obtaining his remarks on it. It is pleasant thus to attend, into the walks of literature and private life, the great public characters who have ruled the fate of nations; to mark the current of their minds in its purer state, un soiled and unperturbed amidst the mazes of politics, or the stormy regions of ambition. I am, however, extremely sorry to say, that Lord Chatham's (then Mr Pitt's) own letter has been lost or mislaid by Mr Home, the most careless man on earth with regard to papers, so that we can only judge of the criticism which it contained, from the representation of Mr Oswald in the letter with which it was accompanied, and in which it was amplified and enlarged.

"Dear. Sir,

"I received last night a letter from Mr Pitt, which, as it contains a judgment on your play, I have enclosed for your consideration. Since receiving it, I have considered your piece, with a particular view to the objections contained in the letter; which, though not quite enough opened, nor sufficiently accompanied with reasons, yet, as they are said to proceed from sentiment, and come from people of taste, deserve the most serious consideration, taste and sentiment being the ultimate tests of all poetical composition; though it is possible, by reasoning, to discover the foundations on which such judgments proceed.

"The first objection seems directed singly against the manner in which the love affair betwixt Lysander and Euanthe is executed, and condemnation is past on the expression of that passion, in both these personages. This criticism is founded entirely on sentiment. But, upon the best reflection I am able to make, if it is a just one, it is more deeply founded, and lies against the love intrigue itself, which is not, perhaps from its nature cannot be, sufficiently made a part of the main action, so as to mingle with, or be transfused into it, and contribute to the general distress or catastrophe. If that is the case, not only any imperfections in this part will be more visible, but at the same time less excusable, than if in those incidents or characters which are more peculiarly parts of the main design. The reason of this seems to be, that the attention of the mind being chiefly fixed to the main object, easily passes over whatever is immediately connected with, or contributes to it; and, consequently, easily escapes and forgives such small slips and faults as occur in the hurry which this attention creates, providing they do not intercept the view of the main object, or divert the attention any other way. Besides, while the attention remains fixed in general, such slips and faults are not so soon discovered. No questions are asked while the attention is carried on; and in the progress new lights arise, to clear up what would otherwise be obscure. The mind rests satisfied on the whole, and only critics perhaps demand greater exactness; but it is quite the reverse in episodes, or double plots ; for, as these infallibly divert the attention of the mind from the main object, they as infallibly give occasion to a thousand questions; whilst unluckily the poet is not at liberty to answer or explain them, without diverting the attention and distracting the mind still farther. To do it in a full degree, the main object might be wholly eclipsed and lost. To ap

« 이전계속 »