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Cæsar, a tragedy, and epigrams. But their writing was the entertainment of their pleasure, yours is only a diversion of your pain. The Muses have seldom employed your thoughts, but when some violent fit of the gout has snatched you from affairs of state : and, like the Priestess of Apollo, you never come to deliver his oracles, but unwillingly and in torment. So that we are obliged to your Lordship’s misery for our delight: you treat us with the cruel pleasure of a Turkish triumph, where those who cut and wound their bodies, sing songs of victory as they pass, and divert others with their own sufferings. Other men endure their diseases, your Lordship only can enjoy them. Plotting and writing in this kind, are certainly more troublesome employments than many which signify more, and are of greater moment in the world : The fancy, memory, and judgment are then extended (like so many limbs) upon the rack; all of them reaching with their utmost stress at nature; a thing so almost infinite and boundless, as can never fully be comprehended, but where the images of all things are always present. Yet I wonder not, your Lordship succeeds so well in this attempt : the knowledge of men is your daily practice in the world ; to work and bend their stubborn minds, which go not all after the same grain, but each of them so particular a way, that the same common humours, in several persons, must be wrought upon by several means.
? Entitled Ajax. See Sueton. in Aug. 85.
Thus, my Lord, your sickness is but the imitation of your health; the poet but subordinate to the statesman in you : you still govern men with the same address, and manage business with the same prudence; allowing it here, as in the world, the due increase and growth, till it comes to the just height; and then turning it when it is fully ripe, and Nature calls out, as it were, to be delivered. With this only advantage of ease to you in your poetry, that you have fortune here at your command; with which, wisdom does often unsuccessfully struggle in the world. Here is no chance which you have not foreseen; all your heroes are more than your subjects, they are your creatures ; and though they seem to move freely in all the sallies of their passions, yet you make destinies for them which they cannot shun. They are moved, if I may dare to say so, like the rational creatures of the Almighty Poet, who walk at liberty, in their own opinion, because their fetters are invincible, when indeed the prison of their will is the more sure for being large; and instead of an absolute power over their actions, they have only a wretched desire of doing that, which they cannot choose but do.
I have dwelt, my Lord, thus long upon your writing, not because you deserve not greater and more noble commendations, but because I am not equally able to express them in other subjects. Like an ill swimmer, I have willingly staid long in my own depth ; and though I am eager of performing more, yet am loath to venture out beyond'! my knowledge: for beyond your poetry, my Lord, all is ocean to me. To speak of you as a soldier, or a statesman, were only to betray my own ignorance; and I could hope no better success. from it, than that miserable rhetorician had, who solemnly declaimed before Hannibal, of the conduct of arms, and the art of war. I can only say in general, that the souls of other men shine out at little crannies; they understand some one thing, perhaps to admiration, while they are darkened on all the other parts : but your Lordship’s soul is an entire globe of light, breaking out on every side ; and if I have only discovered one beam of it, 'tis not that the light falls unequally, but because the body which receives it, is of unequal parts.
The acknowledgment of which is a fair occasion offered me, to retire from the consideration of your Lordship to that of myself. I here present you, my Lord, with that in print, which you had the goodness not to dislike upon the stage; and account it happy to have met you here in England; it being at best, like small wines, to be drunk out upon the place, and has not body enough to endure the sea. I know not whether I have been so careful of the plot and language as I ought; but for the latter, I have endeavoured to write English, as near as I could distinguish it from the tongue of pedants, and that of affected travellers; only I am sorry, that, speaking so noble a language as we do, we have not a more certain measure of it, as they have in France, where they have an
Academy; erected for that purpose, and endowed with large privileges by the present king. I wish we might at length leave to borrow words from other nations, which is now a wantonness in us, not a necessity; but so long as some affect to speak them, there will not want others who will have the boldness to write them.
But I fear, lest defending the received words, I shall be accused for following the new way,-1 mean, of writing scenes in verse : though, to speak properly, 'tis not so much a new way amongst us, as an old way new revived; for many · years before Shakspeare's plays, was the tragedy of Queen Gorboduc+ in English verse, written by
3 Some years after this Dedication was written, Lord Roscommon, as Fenton informs us, in imitation of those learned and polite assemblies with which he had been acquainted abroad, formed the plan of a Society for refining our language, and fixing its standard. In this design, he adds,“ his great friend Mr. Dryden was his principal assistant.”—But the project was not carried into execution. The same scheme was again attempted by Swift, in the beginning of the présent century, without success.
* The author means The TRAGEDIE OF FERREX AND PORRex, written by Thomas Sackville (afterwards Lord Buckhurst, and finally Earl of Dorset) and Thomas Norton, and acted before Queen Elizabeth, Jan. 18th, 1561-2. A spurious edition of this play appeared in 1565, under the title of The TRAGEDIE OF GORBODUC; and the genuine piece was printed by John Daye, in 8vo. in 1571. The first three acts were written by Norton; the last two by Sackville.
that famous Lord Buckhurst, afterwards Earl of Dorset, and progenitor to that excellent person, who, as he inherits his soul and title, I wish may inherit his good fortune. But supposing our countrymen had not received this writing till of late, shall we oppose ourselves to the most polished and civilized nations of Europe ? Shall we with the same singularity oppose the world in this, as most of us do in pronouncing Latin? or do we desire that the brand which Barclay has (I hope) unjustly laid upon the English, should still continue,- Angli suos ac sua oninia impense mirantur ; cæteras nationes despectui habent. All the Spanish and Italian tragedies I have yet seen, are writ in rhyme. For the French, I do not name them, because it is the fate of our countrymen to admit little of theirs among us, but the basest of their men, the extravagancies of their fashions, and the frippery of their merchandise. Shakspeare (who
On our author's mistake respecting the sex of Gorboduc, who was king of Britain, and the father of Ferrex and Porrex, Langbaine expatiates with his usual severity.'
This play, however, is not written in rhyme, which from the context appears to have been meant by the words English verse. The greater part of the piece is in blank verse; the choruses in alternate rhymes.
Mr. Pope and Mr. Spence being struck with the merit of this tragedy, the latter gentleman republished it in 1735, with a preface; but unluckily followed a spurious edition of 1590, instead of the genuine copy above mentioned.
s Charles, then Lord Buckhurst, who, in 1677, on the death of his father, became Earl of Dorset.