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DUKE OF LERMA; the author of which, a noble and most ingenious person, has done me the favour to make some observations and animadversions upon my DRAMATICK Essay. I must confess he might have better consulted his reputation, than ; by matching himself with so weak an adversary. But if his honour be diminished in the choice of his antagonist, it is sufficiently recompensed in the election of his cause : which being the weaker, in all appearance, as combating the received opinions of the best ancient and modern authors, will add to his glory, if he overcome, and to the opinion of his generosity, if he be vanquished : since he engages at so great odds, and, so like a cavalier, undertakes the protection of the weaker party. I have only to fear on my own behalf, that so good a cause as mine may not suffer by my ill management, or weak defence ; yet I cannot in honour but take the glove, when it is offered me: though I am only a champion by succession ; and no more able to defend the right of Aristotle and Horace, than an infant Dimock to maintain the title of a King
For my own concernment of the controversy, it is so small, that I can easily be contented to be driven from a few notions of Dramatick Poesy; especially by one, who has the reputation of understanding all things : and I might justly make that excuse for my yielding to him, which the Philosopher made to the Emperor,—why should I offer to contend with him, who is master of more than twenty legions of arts and sciences ? But I am
forced to fight, and therefore it will be no shame to be overcome.
Yet I am so much his servant, as not to meddle with any thing which does not concern me in his Preface; therefore, I leave the good sense and other excellencies of the first twenty lines to be considered by the criticks. As for the play of The Duke of LERMA, having so much altered and beautified it, as he has done, it can justly belong to none but him. Indeed, they must be extreme ignorant as well as envious, who would rob him of that honour ; for you see him putting in his claim to it, even in the first two lines :
Repulse upon repulse, like waves thrown back,
That slide to hang upon obdurate rocks. After this, let detrạction do its worst; for if this be not his, it deserves to be. For my part, I declare for distributive justice ; and from this and what follows, he certainly deserves those advantages which he acknowledges to have received from the opinion of sober men.
In the next place, I must beg leave to observe his great address in courting the reader to his party. For intending to assault all poets, both ancient and modern, he discovers not his whole design at once, but seems only to aim at me, and attacks me on my weakest side, my defence of verse.
To begin with me,- he gives me the compellation of The Author of a Dramatick Essay, which is a little discourse in dialogue, for the most part borrowed from the observations of others : there
fore, that I may not be wanting to him in civility, I return his compliment by calling him The Author of The Duke of LERMA.
But (that I may pass over his salute) he takes notice of my great pains to prove rhyme as natural in a serious play, and more effectual than blank verse. Thus, indeed, I did state the question ; but he tells me, I pursue that which I call natural in a wrong application : for 'tis not the question whether rhyme or not rhyme be best or most natural for a serious subject, but what is nearest the nature of that it represents.
If I have formerly mistaken the question, I must confess my ignorance so far, as to say I continue still in my mistake : but he ought to have proved that I mistook it ; for it is yet but gratis dictum : I still shall think I have gained my point, if I can prove that rhyme is best or most natural for a serious subject. As for the question as he states it, whether rhyme be nearest the nature of what it represents, I wonder he should think me so ridiculous as to dispute whether prose or verse be nearest to ordinary conversation.
It still remains for him to prove his inference, that, since verse is granted to be more remote than prose from ordinary conversation, therefore no serious plays ought to be writ in verse : and when he clearly makes that good, I will acknowledge his victory as absolute as he can desire it.
The question now is, which of us two has mistaken it; and if it appear I have not, the world will suspect what gentleman that was, who was allowed to speak twice in parliament, because he had not yet spoken to the question ; and perhaps conclude it to be the same, who, as it is reported, maintained a contradiction in terminis, in the face of three hundred persons.
But to return to verse ; whether it be natural or not in plays, is a problem which is not demonstrable of either side. It is enough for me that he acknowledges he had rather read good verse than prose : for if all the enemies of verse will confess as much, I shall not need to prove that it is natural. I am satisfied, if it cause delight : for delight is the chief, if not the only, end of poesy : instruction can be admitted but in the second place ; for poesy only instructs as it delights. It is true, that to imitate well is a poet's work; but to affect the soul, and excite the passions, and above all to move admiration, which is the delight of serious plays, a bare imitation will not serve. The converse, therefore, which a poet is to imitate, must be heightened with all the arts and ornaments of poesy; and must be such, as, strictly considered, could never be supposed spoken by any without premeditaton.
As for what he urges, that a play will still be supposed to be a composition of several persons speaking extempore ; and that good verses are the hardest things which can be imagined to be spoken; I must crave leave to dissent from his opinion, as to the former part of it: for, if I am not deceived, a play is supposed to be the work of the poet, imitating or representing the conversation of several persons; and this I think to be as clear, as he thinks the contrary.
But I will be bolder, and do not doubt to make it good, though a paradox, that one great reason why prose is not to be used in serious plays, is, because it is too near the nature of converse. There may be too great a likeness ; as the most skilful painters affirm, that there may be too near a resemblance in a picture: to take every lineament and feature, is not to make an excellent piece; but to take so much only as will make a beautiful resemblance of the whole; and, with an ingenious flattery of nature, to heighten the beauties of some parts, and hide the deformities of the rest. For so says Horace:
Ut pictura poesis erit. -----
et quæ Desperat tractata nitescere posse, relinquit. In BARTHOLOMEW Fair, or the lowest kind of comedy, that degree of heightening is used, which is proper to set off that subject. It is true the author was not there to go out of prose, as he does in his higher arguments of comedy, The Fox, and ALCHEMIST; yet he does so raise his matter in that prose, as to render it delightful ; which he could never have performed, had he only said or done those very things that are daily spoken or practised in the Fair ; for then the Fair itself would be as full of pleasure to an ingenious person as the