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it. I am taxed with stealing all my plays, and that by some who should be the last men from whom I would steal any part of them. There is one answer which I will not make; but it has been made for me by him to whose grace and patronage I owe all things,–
Et spes et ratio studiorum in Casare tantumand without whose command they should no longer be troubled with any thing of mine ;that he only desired, that they who accused me of theft, would always steal him plays like mine. But though I have reason to be proud of this defence, yet I should wave it, because I have a worse opinion of my own comedies, than any of my enemies can have. It is true, that wherever I have liked any story in a romance, novel, or foreign play, I have made no difficulty, nor ever shall, to take the foundation of it, to build it up, and to make it proper for the English stage. And I will be so vain to say—it has lost nothing in my hands; but it always cost me so much trouble to heighten it for our theatre, which is incomparably more curious in all the ornaments of dramatick poesy, than the French or Spanish, that when I had finished my play, it was like the hulk of Sir Francis Drake, so strangely altered, that there scarce remained any plank of the timber which
7 King Charles the Second. His Majesty is known to have been fond of theatrical entertainments, and sometimes condescended so far as to suggest subjects for plays to the poets of the time.
first built it. To witness this, I need go no farther than this play. It was first Spanish, and called EL ASTROLOGO FINGIDO; then made French by the younger Corneille ; and is now translated into English, and in print, under the name of The FEIGNED ASTROLOGER.: What I have performed in this, will best appear, by comparing it with those : you will see that I have rejected some adventures which I judged were not divertising ; that I have heightened those which I have chosen; and that I have added others which were neither in the French nor Spanish. And besides you will easily discover, that the walk of the Astrologer is the least considerable in my play; for the design of it turns more on the parts of Wildblood and Jacintha, who are the chief persons in it. I have farther to add, that I seldom use the wit and language of any romance or play which I undertake to alter ; because my own invention (as bad as it is) can furnish me with nothing so dull as what is there. Those who have called Virgil, Terence, and Tasso, plagiaries, though they much injured them, had yet a better colour for their accusation ; for Virgil has evidently translated Theocritus, Hesiod, and Homer, in many places ; besides what he has taken from Ennius in his own language : Terence was not only known to translate Menander, (which he avows also in his Prologues,) but was said also to be helped in those translations by Scipio the African, and
& Published in quarto in 1668.
Lælius : and Tasso, the most excellent of modern poets, and whom I reverence next to Virgil, has taken both from Homer many admirable things which were left untouched by Virgil, and from Virgil himself, where Homer could not furnish him. Yet the bodies of Virgil's and Tasso's poems were their own; and so are all the ornaments of language and elocution in them. The same, if there were any thing commendable in this play, I could say for it. But I will come nearer to our own countrymen. Most of Shakspeare's plays, I mean the stories of them, are to be found in the HeCATOMITHI, or Hundred Novels of Cinthio. I have, myself, read in his Italian, that of ROMEO AND JULIET, The MOOR OF VENICE,' and many others of them. Beaumont and Fletcher had most of theirs from Spanish novels: witness THE CHANCES, THE SPANISH CURATE, RULE A WIFE AND HAVE A Wife, The LITTLE FRENCH LAWYER,' and so many
9 The story of Othello may be read in CINTHIO, (Deca Terza, novel. vii. p. 159. edit. 1583,) but that of ROMEO AND JULIET is not found in that writer's HECATOMITHI. It was originally related by Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza, whose work (La GiuLIETTA) was printed at Venice in 1535. In 1554, Bandello published a Novel on the same subject. This in 1562 was formed by Arthur Brooke into a poem, entitled “The Tragical History of ROMEUS AND JULIET;" on which Shakspeare founded his play.
All the plays here named appear to have been written by Fletcher alone.
others of them, as compose the greatest part of their volume in folio. Ben Jonson, indeed, has designed his plots himself; but no man has borrowed so much from the Ancients as he has done : and he did well in it, for he has thereby beautified our language.
But these little criticks do not well consider what is the work of a poet, and what the graces of a poem. The story is the least part of either : I mean the foundation of it, before it is modelled by the art of him who writes it; who forms it with more care, by exposing only the beautiful parts of it to view, than a skilful lapidary sets a jewel. On this foundation of the story the characters are raised; and, since no story can afford characters enough for the variety of the English stage, it follows that it is to be altered, and enlarged, with new persons, accidents, and designs, which will almost make it new. When this is done, the forming it into acts and scenes, disposing of actions and passions into their proper places, and beautifying both with descriptions, similitudes, and propriety of language, is the principal employment of the poet; as being the largest field of fancy, which is the principal quality required in him: for so much the word month's implies.-Judgment, indeed, is necessary in him; but it is fancy that gives the life-touches, and the secret graces to it; especially in serious plays, which depend not much on observation. For to write humour in comedy, (which is the theft of poets
from mankind,) little of fancy is required; the poet observes only what is ridiculous and pleasant folly, and by judging exactly what is so, he pleases in the representation of it."
But in general, the employment of a poet is like that of a curious gunsmith or watchmaker : the iron or silver is not his own, but they are the least part of that which gives the value ; the price lies wholly in the workmanship. And he who works dully on a story, without moving laughter in a comedy, or raising concernments in a serious play, is no more to be accounted a good poet, than a gunsmith of the Minories is to be compared with the best workman of the town.
But I have said more of this than I intended; and more, perhaps, than I needed to have done. I shall but laugh at them hereafter, who accuse me with so little reason ; and withal, contemn their dulness, who, if they could ruin that little reputation I have got, and which I value not, yet would want both wit and learning to establish their own, or to be remembered in after ages for any thing, but only that which makes them ridiculous in this.
? Our author, in my apprehension, has here, by an. ticipation, given a complete answer to the intemperatę invectives which many years afterwards Langbaine published against him on the subject of plagiarism. See his “ Account of the English Dramatick Poets,” 8vo. 1691, pp. 130—177.