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whatever is shewed, it is known still to be but a play; but such may as well excuse an ill scene, that is not naturally painted, because they know it is only a scene, and not really a city or country.
But there is yet another thing which makes verse upon the stage appear more unnatural; that is, when a piece of a verse is made up by one that knew not what the other meant to say, and the former verse answered as perfectly in sound as the last is supplied in measure ; so that the smartness of a reply, which has its beauty by coming from sudden thoughts, seems lost by that which rather looks like a design of two, than the answer of one. It may be said, that rhyme is such a confinement to a quick and luxuriant fancy, that it gives a stop to its speed, till slow judgment comes in to assist it; but this is no argument for the question in hand : for the dispute is not, which way 7 man may write best in, but which is most proper for the subject he writes upon; and, if this were let pass, the argument is yet unsolved in itself: for he that wants judgment in the liberty of his fancy, may as well shew the defect of it in its confinement : and, to say truth, he that has judgment will avoid the errors, and he that wants it will commit them both. It may be objected, it is improbable that any should speak extempore as well as Beaumont and Fletcher makes them, though in blank verse : I do not only acknowledge that, but that it is also improbable any will write so well that way. But if that may be allowed improbable, I believe it
may be concluded impossible that any should speak as good verses in rhyme, as the best poets have writ; and therefore, that which seems nearest to , what it intends, is ever to be preferred. Nor is*
great thoughts more adorned by verse, than verse unbeautified by mean ones; so that verse seems not only unfit in the best use of it, but much more in the worse, when a servant is called, or a door bid to be shut, in rhyme. Verses (I mean good ones) do in their height of fancy declare the labour that brought them forth, like majesty, that grows with care ; and Nature, that made the poet capable, seems to retire, and leave its offers to be made perfect by pains and judgment. Against this I can raise no argument but my Lord of Orrery's writings, in whose verse the greatness of the majesty seems unsullied with the cares, and his inimitable fancy descends to us in such easy expressions, that they seem as if neither had ever been added to the other, but both together flowing from a height; like birds got so high, that use no labouring wings, but only with an easy care preserve a steadiness in motion. But this particular happiness, among those multitudes which that excellent person is owner of, does not convince my reason, but
* This disregard of concord was common in the last age. So again in this preface :-" The manner of the stage entertainments have differed," &c. and, “ The want of abilities are largely supplied,” &c. a species of inaccuracy into which more correct writers than Sir Robert Howard have fallen, when a second noun in the plural number immediately precedes the verb.
employ my wonder : yet I am glad such verse has been written for our stage, since it has so happily exceeded those whom we seemed to imitate. But while I give these arguments against verse, I may seem faulty that I have not only written ill ones, but written any: but, since it was the fashion, I was resolved, as in all indifferent things, not to appear singular, the danger of the vanity being greater than the error ; and therefore I followed it as a fashion, though very far off.
For the Italian plays, I have seen some of them which have been given me as the best ; but they are so inconsiderable, that the particulars of them are not at all worthy to entertain the reader ; but as much as they are short of others in this, they exceed in their other performances on the stage : I mean their Operas; which, consisting of musick and painting, there is none but will believe it is much harder to equal them in that way, than it is to excel them in the other.
The Spanish plays pretend to more, but, indeed, are not much; being nothing but so many novels put into acts and scenes, without the least attempt or design of making the reader more concerned
than a well-told tale might do ; whereas a poet that · endeavours not to heighten the accidents which
fortune seems to scatter in a well-knit design, had better have told his tale by a fire-side, than presented it on a stage.
For these times wherein we write, I admire to hear the poets so often cry out upon, ana wittily
(as they believe) threaten their judges, since the effects of their mercy has so much exceeded their justice, that others, with me, cannot but remember how many favourable audiences some of our ill plays have had ; and when I consider how severe the former age has been to some of the best of Mr. Jonson's never-to-be-equalled comedies, I cannot but wonder why any poet should speak of former times, but rather acknowledge that the want of abilities in this age are largely supplied with the mercies of it. I deny not but there are some who resolve to like nothing ; and such, perhaps, are not unwise, since by that general resolution they may be certainly in the right sometimes, which perhaps they would seldom be, if they should venture their understandings in different censures; and being forced to a general liking or disliking, lest they should discover too much their own weakness, it is to be expected they would rather choose to pretend to judgment than good nature, though I wish they could find better ways to shew either.
But I forget myself; not considering, that while I entertain the reader in the entrance with what a good play should be, when he is come beyond the entrance he must be treated with what ill plays are : but in this I resemble the greatest part of the world, that better know how to talk of things than to perform them, and live short of their own discourses.
And now I seem like an eager hunter, that has long pursued a chace after an inconsiderable quarry, and gives over weary, as I do.
TO THE ESSAY ON
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
CHARLES, LORD BUCKHURST..
As I was lately reviewing my loose papers, amongst the rest I found this Essay, the writing of which, in this rude and indigested manner wherein your lordship now sees it, served as an amusement to me in the country, when the violence of the
9 Charles, lord Buckhurst, afterwards frequently distinguished by the appellation of the witty earl of Dorset, was the son of Richard, the fifth earl of Dorset, and was born January 24, 1637-8. He survived our author a few years, dying January 29th, 1705-6. He attended the duke of York as a volunteer in the Dutch war, and was in the sea-fight of June 3, 1665, alluded to in the opening of the following Dialogue. On the preceding evening, according to tradition, he wrote the well-known ballad, To all you ladies now at land, &c. But Dr. Johnson, with more probability, tells us from the information of John, the fifth earl of Orrery, that he then only retouched and finished it.