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whole design, made me uncapable to use much more; though perhaps written with higher style and thoughts than I could attain to.
I intend not to trouble myself nor the world any more in such subjects, but take my leave of these my too long acquaintances ; since that little fancy and liberty I once enjoyed, is now fettered in business of more unpleasant natures :' yet, were I free to apply my thoughts as my own choice directed them, I should hardly again venture inta the civil wars of censures,
Ubi-_ nullos habitura triumphos." In the next place, I must ingenuously confess, that the manner of plays which now are in most esteem, is beyond my power to perform ; nor do I condemn in the least any thing of what nature soever, that pleases, since nothing could appear to me a ruder folly than to censure the satisfaction of others : I rather blame the unnecessary understanding of some, that have laboured to give strict rules to things that are not mathematical; and with such eagerness pursuing their own seeming reasons, that at last we are to apprehend such argumentative poets will grow as strict as Sancho Panco's
* 9 Sir Robert Howard was about this time, I believe, made Secretary to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. A few years afterwards he was appointed Auditor of the Exchequer, which valuable office he held to the time of his death in September, 1698. · Bella geri placuit nullos habitura triumphos ?
Lucan. i. 12.
doctor was, to our very appetites; for in the difference of tragedy and comedy, and of farce itself, there can be no determination but by the taste, nor in the manner of their composure; and whoever would endeavour to like or dislike by the rules of others, he will be as unsuccessful as if he should try to be persuaded into a power of believing, not what he must, but what others direct him to believe.
But, I confess, 'tis not necessary for poets to study strict reason ; since they are so used to a greater latitude than is allowed by that severe inquisition, that they must infringe their own jurisdiction, to profess themselves obliged to argue well. I will not therefore pretend to say why I writ this play,—some scenes in blank verse, others in rhyme,—since I have no better a reason to give than chance, which waited upon my present fancy; and I expect no better a reason from any ingenious person, than his fancy for which he best relishes.
I cannot therefore but beg leave of the reader to take a little notice of the great pains the author of an EssAY OF DRAMATICK Poesy has taken, to prove rhyme as natural in a serious play, and more effectual than blank verse: thus he states the question, but pursues that which he calls natural in a wrong application; for 'tis not the question, whether rhyme or not rhyme, be best, or most natural for a grave and serious subject, but what is nearest the nature of that which it presents. Now, after all the endeavours of that ingenious person, a play will still be supposed to be a com
position of several persons speaking extempore ; and 'tis as certain, that good verses are the hardest things that can be imagined to be so spoken ; so that if any will be pleased to impose the rule of measuring things to be the best, by being nearest nature, it is granted by consequence, that which is most remote from the thing supposed, must needs be most improper ; and therefore I may justly say, that both I and the question were equally mistaken; for I do own, I had rather read good verses, than either blank verse or prose; and therefore the author did himself injury, if he like verse so well in plays, to lay down rules to raise arguments only unanswerable against himself. 4. But the same author being filled with the precedents of the ancients' writing their plays in verse, commends the thing, and assures us, that our language is noble, full, and significant; charging all defects upon the ill placing of words ; and proves it by quoting Seneca, loftily expressing such an ordinary thing as shutting a door ::.:.
Reserate clusos regii postes laris. I suppose he was himself highly affected with the sound of these words; but to have completed his dictates together with his arguments, he should have obliged us, by charming, our ears with such an art of placing words, as in an English verse to express so loftily the shutting of a door, that we might have been as much affected with the sound of his words. This, instead of being an argument upon the question rightly stated, is an attempt to prove that nothing may seem something, by the help of a verse, which I easily grant to be the illfortune of it; and therefore the question being so much mistaken, I wonder to see that author trouble himself twice about it," with such an absolute triumph declared by his own imagination : but I have heard that a gentleman in parliament going to speak twice, and being interrupted by another member, as against the orders of the house, he was excused by a third, assuring the house he had not yet spoken to the question.
But if we examine the general rules laid down for plays by strict reason, we shall find the errors equally gross ; for the great foundation that is laid to build upon is nothing, as it is generally stated ; which will appear upon the examination of the particulars.
First, we are told the plot should not be so ridiculously contrived, as 'to crowd two several countries into one stage ; secondly, to cramp the accidents of many years or days into the representation of two hours and a half : and lastly, a conclusion drawn, that the only remaining dispute is concerning time, whether it should be contained in twelve, or four-and-twenty hours; and the place to be limited to the spot of ground, either in town or city, where the play is supposed to begin.
• In the Dedication of THE RIVAL Ladies, and in the Essay ON DRAMATICK Poesy.
And this is called nearest to nature ; for that is concluded most natural which is most probable, and nearest to that which it presents.
I am so well pleased with any ingenuous offers, as all these are, that I should not examine this strictly, did not the confidence of others force me to it; there being not any thing more unreasonable to my judgment, than the attempt to infringe the liberty of opinion by rules so little demonstrative.
To shew, therefore, upon what ill grounds they dictate laws for Dramatick Poesy, I shall endeavour to make it evident, that there is no such thing as what they all pretend; for, if strictly and duly weighed, 'tis as impossible for one stage to present two houses, or two rooms truly, as two countries or kingdoms; and as impossible that five hours, or four-and-twenty hours should be two hours and a half, as that a thousand hours or years should be less than what they are, or the greatest part of time to be comprehended in the less ; for all being impossible, they are none of them nearest the truth, or nature, of what they present ; for impossibilities are all equal, and admit nó degrees : and then if all those poets that have so fervently laboured to give rules as maxims, would but be
3 Dr. Johnson, in his admirable Preface to his edition of Shakspeare, has used some of the arguments here urged in defence of a breach of the unities of place and time; but in language how different! He had probably never seen Sir Robert Howard's play.