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cursorily written ; yet the judgment which is given here, is generally founded upon experience. But because many men are shocked at the name of rules, as if they were a kind of magisterial prescription upon poets, I will conclude with the words of Rapin, in his reflections on Aristotle's work of poetry : “ If the rules be well considered, we shall find them to be made only to reduce nature into method, to trace her step by step, and not to suffer the least mark of her to escape us. It is only by these that probability in fiction is maintained, which is the soul of poetry. They are founded upon good sense and sound reason, rather than on authority; for though Aristotle and Horace are produced, yet no man must argue that what they write is true, because they writ it; but it is evident, by the ridiculous mistakes and gross absurdities which have been made by those poets who have taken their fancy only for their guide, that if this fancy be not regulated, it is a mere caprice, and utterly incapable to produce a reasonable and judicious poem.” *
* In this Essay our author has asserted, that Shakspeare has often obscured his meaning, and sometimes rendered it unintelligible, by his expressions; and that his fancy out-ran his judgment, “ either in coining of new words and phrases, or racking words which were in use, into the violence of a catachresis.” In vindication of our great dramatick poet, it may be observed, without any disrespect to this ingenious and acute critick, that clearness and obscurity are relative terms, and that what he
has censured as unintelligible, might perhaps have appeared to him perfectly clear, if he had been more conversant with the language, customs, and manners of Shakspeare's age, and of a preceding period. I much doubt, whether in all his plays, twenty words of his own coinage can be found; and whether the words and phrases which our author would have objected to, were new or old, he appears to have had no means of ascertaining, for the reason already assigned.
Thomas Rymer, in 1678, published a tract, entitled “ The Tragedies of the last Age considered and examined by the Practice of the Ancients, and the Common Sense of all Ages.” To this Essay, the chief object of which was to expose the faults of three of Beaumont's and Fletcher's plays, Rollo, (if that play be their joint production, which may be doubted,) The Maid's Tragedy, and KING AND No King, Dryden appears to have intended to write an Answer; for a copy of Rymer's book having been pre. sented to him by the author, he wrote on the blank leaves at the beginning and end of the volume, the following Observations, which it is to be regretted he did not afterwards enlarge and methodize. This volume, after his death, falling into the hands of the publisher of the works of Beaumont and Fletcher in 1711, he prefixed these remarks to that edition; and they were again published by Dr. Johnson, in the LIFE OF Dryden, from the original copy, which had fallen into the hands of Mr. Garrick.
There is a considerable variation between the two editions, in the arrangement of the paragraphs ; but not having seen the original, I am unable to ascertain which arrangement is most conformable to the writer's intention. The variation was probably occasioned by these remarks being found at the beginning and end of Rymer's book ; and perhaps those which were found in the beginning, were written last. I have followed Dr. Johnson's arrangement, though I have some doubt whether it be correct.
AN ANSWER TO RYMER's REMARKS
THE TRAGEDIES OF THE LAST AGE.
I Hat we may the less wonder why pity and terrour are not now the only springs on which our tragedies move, and that Shakspeare may be more excused, Rapin confesses that the French tragedies now all run on the tendre; and gives the reason, because love is the passion which most predominates in our souls; and that therefore the passions represented become insipid, unless they are conformable to the thoughts of the audience.
s Mr. Spence, addressing Pope, observed, that Rymer was a learned and strict critick. “Ay," replied Pope, " that's exactly his character. He is generally right, “ though rather too severe in his opinion of the particular " plays he speaks of; and is, on the whole, one of the best “ criticks we ever had.” Spence's ANECDOTES.
In citing the dictum of this great poet, that Rymer is generally right, I by no means wish it should be under. stood that I subscribe to his opinion.