페이지 이미지

N° 59. TUESDAY, MAY 19, 1718.

Sic honor et nomen divinis vatibus atque
Carminibus venit-

HOR. Ars. Poet.ver. 400.

So ancient is the pedigree of verse,
And so divine a poet's function.


THE tragedy of Cato has increased the number of my correspondents, but none of them can take it ill, that I give the preference to the letters which come from a learned body, and which on this occasion may not improperly be termed the Plausus Academici. The first is from my lady Lizard's youngest son, who, (as I mentioned in a former precaution) is fellow of All-souls, and applies himself to the study of divinity.


I RETURN you thanks for your present of Cato: I have read it over several times with the greatest attention and pleasure imaginable. You desire to know my thoughts of it, and at the same time compliment me upon my knowledge of the ancient poets. Perhaps you may not allow me to be a good judge of them, when I tell you, that the tragedy of Cato exceeds, in my opinion, any of the dramatic pieces of the ancients. But these are books I have some time since laid by; being, as you know, engaged in the reading of divinity, and conversant chiefly in the poetry of the truly inspired writers. I scarce thought any modern

tragedy could have mixed suitably with such serious studies, and little imagined to have found such exquisite poetry, much less such exalted sentiments of virtue, in the dramatic performance of a contemporary.

'How elegant, just and virtuous is that reflection of Portius?

'The ways of heaven are dark and intricate, Puzzled in mazes, and perplex'd with errors; Our understanding traces them in vain, Lost and bewilder'd in the fruitless search; Nor sees with how much art the windings run, f Nor where the regular confusion ends.'

[ocr errors]

Cato's soliloquy at the beginning of the fifth act is inimitable, as indeed is almost every thing in the whole play: but what I would observe, by particularly pointing at these places, is, that such virtuous and moral sentiments were never before put into the mouth of a British actor; and I congratulate my countrymen on the virtue they have shown in giving them (as you tell me) such loud and repeated applauses. They have now cleared themselves of the imputation which a late writer had thrown upon them in his 502d speculation. Give me leave to transcribe his words.

"In the first scene of Terence's play, the SelfTormentor, when one of the old men accuses the other of impertinence for interposing in his affairs, he answers, I am a man, and cannot help feeling

any sorrow that can arrive at man.' It is said this sentence was received with universal applause. There cannot be a greater argument of the general good understanding of a people, than a sudden consent to give their approbation of a sentiment which has no emotion in it.

"If it were spoken with never so great skill in the actor, the manner of uttering that sentence could have nothing in it which could strike any but people of the greatest humanity, nay people elegant and skilful in observations upon it. It is possible he might have laid his hand on his breast, and with a winning insinuation in his countenance, expressed to his neighbour, that he was a man who made his case his own; yet I will engage a player in Covent-garden might hit such an attitude a thousand times before he would have been regarded.' • These observations in favour of the Roman people, may now be very justly applied to our own nation.

'Here will I hold, If there's a power above us,
(And that there is, all nature cries aloud
Through all her works) He must delight in virtue;
And that which He delights in must be happy.'

[ocr errors]

This will be allowed, I hope, to be as virtuous a sentiment as that which he quotes out of Terence; and the general applause with which (you say) it was received, must certainly make this writer (notwithstanding his great assurance in pronouncing upon our ill taste) alter his opinion of his country


Our poetry, I believe, and not our morals, has been generally worse than that of the Romans; for it is plain, when we can equal the best dramatic performance of that polite age, a British audience may vie with the Roman theatre in the virtue of their applauses.

However different in other things our opinions may be, all parties agree in doing honour to a man, who is an honour to our country. How are our hearts warmed by this excellent tragedy with the

love of liberty, and our constitution! How irresistible is virtue in the character of Cato! Who would not say with the Numidian prince to Marcia,

I'll gaze for ever on thy godlike father,
Transplanting, one by one, into my life
His bright perfections, till I shine like him.'

Rome herself received not so great advantages from
her patriot, as Britain will from this admirable re-
presentation of him.
Our British Cato improves
our language, as well as our morals, nor will it be
in the power of tyrants to rob us of him, (or to use
the last line of an epigram to the author)

'In vain your Cato stabs, he cannot die.'

[blocks in formation]

You are, I perceive, a very wary old fellow, more cautious than a late brother-writer of yours, who at the rehearsal of a new play, would at the hazard of his judgment, endeavour to prepossess the town in its favour; whereas you very prudently waited until the tragedy of Cato had gained an universal and irresistible applause, and then with great boldness venture to pronounce your opinion of it to be the same with that of all mankind. I will leave you to consider whether such a conduct becomes a Guardian, who ought to point out to us proper entertainments, and instruct us when to bestow our applause. However, in so plain a case we did not wait for your directions;

[blocks in formation]

and I must tell you, that none here were earlier or louder in their praises of Cato, than we at Christchurch. This may, I hope, convince you, that we do not deserve the character (which envious dull fellows give us) of allowing nobody to have wit or parts but those of our own body, especially when I let you know that we are many of us,

Your affectionate

humble servants.'



Oxon. Wad. Coll. May 7.

• WERE the seat of the muses silent while London is so loud in their applause of Cato, the university's title to that name might very well be suspected;-in justice therefore to your alma mater, let the world know our opinion of that tragedy here.

The author's other works had raised our expectation of it to a very great height, yet it exceeds whatever we could promise ourselves from so great a genius.

Cæsar will no longer be a hero in our declamations. This tragedy has at once stripped him of all the flattery and false colours, which historians and the classic authors had thrown upon him, and we shall for the future treat him as a murderer of the best patriot of his age, and a destroyer of the liberties of his country. Cato as represented in these scenes, will cast a blacker shade on the memory of that usurper, than the picture of him did upon his triumph. Had this finished dramatic piece appeared some hundred years ago, Cæsar would have lost so many centuries of fame, and

« 이전계속 »