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Now I am a living man, my mind is free;
And whilst I live and breathe, by Heaven, I'll act
As if I were immortal!"
One line, uttered by the same person in this scene, attracted the particular applause of the audience, from a circumstance in the conduct of the Seven Years' War, which had then recently happened. Our troops had been foiled in an attempt on the French coast, and the dispatch, if I recollect right, of the commander of that detachment, had mentioned the danger which had deterred him from landing, or longer maintaining his position on the coast. In the play, Euxus proposes to L/ysander immediately to leave Sparta, and depart for the army. "Your stay," says he,
"Your stay is full of danger, risk it not." Lysander replies,
"All necessary dangers must be risk'd."
Some one in the pit exclaimed, "Bellisle" and there was a loud and continued plaudit.
The fifth act but ill supports the spirit of the two former, though there is some interest excited by the uncertainty which hangs over the fate of Lysander, till the scene in which he kills Amphares, and rescues Euanthe. But the audience, when I saw this piece represented, felt the languor of its conclusion, and went away not much affected by the death of Agis, and with somewhat of indifference about the future fate of the lovers, or of Sparta. To this is probably owing the neglect which it has experienced since its original representation, though certainly superior, in every kind of merit, to many tragedies that have since kept possession of the stage.
I think it probable that the suggestion contained in the criticism of Mr Oswald, which I read a little while ago, was the prompter of our author's idea in writing the tragedy of Douglas; for there are among his papers some hints and scraps that seem to have been germs of that tragedy, which bear the appearance of having been set down very near the time when that letter was written. In conformity, perhaps, with the criticism of that letter, he now discarded love from the plan of his drama, and founded it on maternal tenderness—a subject which had employed the ablest dramatic poets, from the earliest times, and which was naturally indeed, from the earliest times, entitled to possession of the stage. He wove it into a story, founded, I believe, on the old Scots ballad of Gil Morrice, which had been recited to him by a lady, and which happily suited the bent of his imagination, that loved to dwell amidst the heroic times of chivalry and romantic valour, particularly amidst those in which the great names of our ancient Scottish Worthies were distinguished. The story, in all its circumstances, was calculated to inflame this sort of imagination, and the incidents which it presented were of an appropriate kind, familiarized to the fancy of a poet of this country, and congenial to its traditional history as well as manners. This seems to me to have been the peculiar felicity which gave Mr Home so great an advantage in the composition of Douglas, and raised that drama so much above all his other works. Of this piece there are extant, among those papers which Mr Home's nephew has been so obliging as to put into my hands, more fragments and original sketches, or, as a painter would call them, studies, than of any other of Mr Home's productions ; and it is curious to observe, how much the after corrections of the poet, probably suggested by the remarks of that very able set of friends and companions to whom he early communicated his piece, have improved it.* Yet the chief scene, one, indeed, which has no equal in modern, and scarcely a superior in ancient drama, that between Lady Randolph and Old Norval, I have found, on comparing the original sketch with the finished scene in the printed play, to differ scarcely in a word. Thus it is that the fervid creation of genius and fancy strikes out what is so excellent as well as vivid, as not to admit of amendment, and which, indeed, correction would spoil instead of improving. This is the true inspiration of the poet, which gives to criticism instead of borrowing from it, its model and its rule, and which it is possible, in some diffident authors, the terrors of criticism may have weakened or extinguished.
* These corrections, it is probable, occasioned the belief, which I remember very current at one time, that the superior excellence of Douglas, was owing to the assistance which he received in its composition, from his literary friends.— There is a disposition, (whether from envy or a love of detraction, or merely a sort of pleasure in the discovering of things not commonly known) in the public to impute works to others, instead of their real authors. The same disposition leads to the accusations of plagiarism, so often made on very slight foundations.
The only part of any great poetical composition, whether in the dramatic or narrative form, which no genius can produce in a hurry, is the plan and progress of the fable. On that the poet, gifted how much soever he may be, must often pause—must consider it in its general effect, as well as in its various parts in detail, in the relation which those parts bear to one another, as well as to nature and probability. He must often look back from the end to the beginning—must measure, as it were, the growth of his characters, from their earliest introduction into the piece, and trace the connexion of the incidents or scenes, from the opening of his story to its final catastrophe. It was this that made Racine say that his piece was written when he had written out its plan ; yet I am rather of the opinion which I had once occasion to hear Garrick declare, that there is a power in exquisite writing to abate the faults, and to supply the wants of a defective plan; just as an excellent colourist can soften the errors of his drawing, by the lights and shadows of his painting.
In Douglas, there are some defects in the plan and construction of the story; and one which is a sort of merit in the poet to have produced, is the falling off in the interest in the two last acts; for I think, on an impartial examination, it will be found, that the incidents, and more particularly the dialogue, in these last acts, go off somewhat coldly, chiefly from the high excitement of the spectator's mind in the scene of the discovery; and it is also to be attended to, that in a play so often represent.ed, the reader always raises up, even in his study, the picture of the representation—and in the representation, the acting ; especially of that admirable actress who has electrified so many audiences in Lady Randolph; and who, in her interview with the Old Shepherd, has so called forth and exhaust•ed the feelings, as to leave only their languid remains to the future scenes of the play. I think that if allowance be made for those disadvantages, the reader will find, in the dialogue between the