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I am proud to call my friend, has obliged all honest and virtuous men by one of the most bold, most general, and most useful satires, which has ever been presented on the English theatre. I do not dispute the preference of tragedy; let every man enjoy his taste; but it is unjust, that they who have not the least notion of heroick writing, should therefore condemn the pleasure which others re ceive from it, because they cannot comprehend it. Let them please their appetites in eating what they like; but let them not force their dish on all the table. They who would combat general authority with particular opinion, must first establish themselves a reputation of understanding better than other men. Are all the flights of heroick poetry to be concluded bombast,' unnatural, and
he wrote when he was but nineteen; THE GENTLEMAN DANCING-Master at twenty-one ; The Plain DEALER at twenty-five ; and The COUNTRY WIFE at one or two and thirty.” Spence's ANECDOTES.
Wycherley was born about the year 1638; according therefore to this statement, he must have written his Plain Dealer in 1663. As he then lived in an ex. pensive course of life, it is extraordinary that he should not have produced his plays on the theatre at an earlier period. The Plain DEALER was first published in 1677, the imprimatur being dated January 9, 1676-7. Howe ever, it appears from the passage in the text, that it had been exhibited before 1674.
Our author here probably alludes to The REHEARSAL, which had been published in 1672, and had with considerable success turned some of the flights of heroick poetry into ridicule.
mere madness, because they are not affected with their excellencies ? It is just as reasonable as to conclude there is no day, because a blind man cànnot distinguish of light and colours. Ought they not rather in modesty to doubt of their own judgments, when they think this or that expression in Homer, Virgil, Tasso, ör Milton's PARADISE, to be too far strained, than positively to conclude that it is all fustian and inere nonsense ? It is true, there are limits to be set betwixt the boldness and rashness of a poet; but he must understand those limits who pretends to judge, as well as he who undertakes to write, and he who has no liking to the whole, ought in reason to be excluded from censuring of the parts. He must be a lawyer, before he mounts the tribunal; and the judicature of one court too does not qualify a man to preside in another. He may be an excellent pleader in the Chancery, who is not fit to rule the Common Pleas. But I will presume for once to tell them, that the boldest strokes of poetry, when they are managed artfully, are those which most delight the reader.
Virgil and Horace, the severest writers of the severest age, have made frequent use of the hardest métaphors, and of the strongest hyperboles; and in this case the best authority is the best argument. For generally to have pleased, through all ages, must bear the force of universal tradition; and if you would appeal from thence to right reason, you will gain no more by it in effect, than first, to set set up your reason against those authors; and secondly, against all those who have admired them. You must prove why that ought not to have pleased, which has pleased the most learned and the most judicious; and to be thought knowing, you must first put the fool upon all mankind. If you can enter more deeply than they have done into the causes and resorts? of that which moves pleasure in a reader, the field is open, you may be heard; but those springs of human nature are not so easily discovered by every superficial judge: it requires philosophy, as well as poetry, to sound the depth of all the passions; what they are in themselves, and how they are to be provoked ; and in this science the best poets have excelled. Aristotle raised the fabrick of his poetry from observations of those things in which Euripides, Sophocles, and Æschylus pleased ; he considered how they raised the passions, and thence has drawn rules for our imitation ; from hence have sprung the tropes and figures for which they wanted a name who first practised them, and succeeded in them. Thus I grant you, that the knowledge of nature was the original rule, and that all poets ought to study her, as well as Aristotle and Horace, her interpreters; but then this also undeniably follows, that those things which delight all ages must have been
* This is a gallicism, for which, however, our author had authority; for Bacon before him had used resort in the sense of spring
an imitation of Nature, which is all I contend. Therefore is rhetorick made an art; therefore the names of so many tropes and figures were invented; because it was observed they had such and such an effect upon the audience. Therefore catachreses and hyperboles have found their place amongst them ; not that they are to be avoided, but to be used judiciously, and placed in poetry as heightenings and shadows are in painting, to make the figure bolder, and cause it to stand off to sight. Nec retia cervis ulla dolum meditantur, says Virgil in his Eclogues : and speaking of Leander, in his Georgicks,
Nocte natat cæca serus freta, quem super ingens
Æquora.-In both of these, you see, he fears not to give voice and thought to things inanimate.
Will you arraign your master, Horace, for his hardness of expression, when he describes the death of Cleopatra, and says she did-asperos tractare serpentes, ut atrum corpore combiberet venenum,—because the body in that action performs what is proper to the mouth?
As for hyperboles, I will neither quote Lucan, nor Statius, men of an unbounded imagination, but who often wanted the poize of judgment. The divine Virgil was not liable to that exception; and yet he describes Polyphemus thus :
graditurque per æquor
In imitation of this place, our admirable Cowley thus paints Goliah :
The valley now this monster seem'd to fill,
And we, methought, look'd up to him from our hill : where the two words seem'd and methought have mollified the figure ; and yet if they had not been there, the fright of the Israelites might have excused their belief of the giant's stature.
In the eighth of the Æneids, Virgil paints the swiftness of Camilla thus :
Illa vel intactæ segetis per summa volaret
Ferret iter, celeres nec tingeret æquore plantas. You are not obliged, as in history, to a literal belief of what the poet says; but you are pleased with the image, without being cozened by the fiction.
Yet even in history, Longinus quotes Herodotus on this occasion of hyperboles. The Lacedemonians, says he, at the Straits of Thermopylæ, defended themselves to the last extremity; and when their arms failed them, fought it out with their nails and teeth ; till at length, the Persians shooting continually upon them, they lay buried under the arrows of their enemies. It is not reasonable (continues the critick) to believe that men could defend themselves with their nails and teeth from an armed multitude, nor that they lay buried under a pile of darts and arrows; and yet