Imágenes de páginas

of real life. Nor do I know that it is always unlawful, amidst this disordered world, and in the absence of higher remedies, to yield for a moment to this kind of enchantinent; nor does it seem' impossible, that such images of excellence, by rousing and elevating the human faculties, may lead to inquiries after the perfection of our original state.

As poetry, however, is one of the most powerful instruments of our pleasure, we ought cautiously to examine, whether the pleasure it affords be at least innocent. Whenever we are pleased, it is because some principle within us is gratified; and as this is good or evil, so is the pleasure we experience from it. If we are delighted, for instance, with the Iliad of Homer, it is because it finds something correspondent with the state of our own minds, and there is need to inquire, whether our delight does not spring from a secret sympathy with that ambition of superiority, that indignant pride, and that implacable resentment, which are the predominant passions exhibited in this celebrated poem. If we are exalted into rapture in the reading of Milton, we should strictly question ourselves, whether it is not more from the proud adventurous opposition of Satan, and his rebel host, than from a view of the character and perfections of the Almighty, manifested in his condescending grace to man, and in the execution of his righteous vengeance upon his enemies.*

*" It has been observed by some, and the remark I apprehend is not entirely without foundation, that Milton's hero is Satan. Instead of a rebel against the just authority and laws of his benign Creator, this malignant chief is frequently represented under the character of a generous patriot, who sacrifices his own personal ease and safety to the common cause of liberty and equality, of natural rights and original independence. And as the pride of human nature is not indisposed to set up the same claims, it is probable that their assertion, though from the lips and by the efforts of an apostate spirit, may have contributed its share to the general applause with which the Paradise Lost has been received in the world, and which it merils by much better titles. But my design in this note is not so much to tax the equivocal and captious pretensions now excited, as to put the younger reader upon his guard | against the fascination of superior genius, when employed rather to elevate and adorn its subject, than to place it in its due light; and to recommend to his particular attention, the following canon of sound criticism, namely, that Nothing is truly either sublime or beautiful

Or (to descend from this height) if we are enchanted with the Dramas of Shakspeare one of the great idols of the time) we should examine, whether it is not rather in consequence of the sympathy we find with the vitiated spirit and manners of the world, than of the pleasure we derive from those just views of nature and human life, that frequently occur in the works of this extraordinary genius. It may be said, indeed, that our delight may arise from the talents displayed by an author, separate from the morality of his performance; but the truth is, that, to a truly virtuous mind, misapplied or prostituted talents can only be an object of grief or indignation.

No pleasure can be purer than the spring from which it flows, and the springs of Parnassus are commonly polluted; their ordinary quality is to inspire the irascible or sensual passions, to intoxicate rather than innocently to gladden and elevate the spirits. One of the fathers, somewhat harshly, has denominated poetry the wine of demons, from his opinion of its tendency to inflate the mind with pride; and, by a metaphor not harsher, he might have entitled it the cup of Circe, which, according to the fiction of Homer, transformed the followers of Ulysses into brutes. From the severity of this censure there

are, however, many poetical works, both in our own and in other languages, which ought to be exempted; and some which merit a degree of praise, not only as they are suited to amuse the imagination, but also to raise the sentiments and purify the passions. I speak with reserve, because an art, whose professed object is in general to captivate through the medium of pleasure, is liable to just suspicion, and ought never to be entertained with favour, but when it appears under its proper subordinate character, either as a humble assistant to devotion, or when it follows in the train of reason and philosophy."

There is likewise a passage of importance upon this head in Jones's Letters from a Tutor to his Pupils, Letter V. which is on Novels.

“ I have sometimes been struck wish the reflection, that few writers, who forge a series of events, look upon their attempt in a serious light, and consider the hazard of the undertaking; how they

which is not just. When tried by this maxim, he may probably find that many shining passages in Milton, which before had dazzled his imagination, and seduced his judgment, will fade away; though many doubtless will stii remain, sufficient to vindicate to their author a place in the very first rank of poets, whether ancient or modern.”

are in continual danger of giving us false notions of the consequences of human actions, and of misrepresenting the ways of Divine Providence; for the


of men, so far as they are passive under the consequences of their own actions, are the ways of God. When we confine ourselves to real life, and are content with describing facts, with the consequences that actually followed them, we may be unable to trace the designs of Providence, but then we do not misrepresent them; and the time will come, when God will be justified in all those complicated events, which we are unable now to reconcile with the known laws of justice and goodness. But when we dare to settle the fate of imaginary characters, we take the providence of God out of his hands, assuming an office for which no man is fit, and in which he cannot miscarry without some danger to himself and others. For example, a writer may mean well, and yet through short-sightedness and mistake, may bring virtue into distress, under such circumstances as Providence, perhaps, never did, nor will, and thereby may bring discouragements upon virtue, and even throw it into despair; he may give to vice that success which it never had, nor will have, so long as God


the world. * To counterbalance this danger, Lord Bacon observes, that, "in works of imagination there is liberty of representing virtue and vice in their proper colours, with their proper rewards ; and to correct, as it were, the common course of things, and satisfy the principles of justice, by which the mind of a reader is influenced.” In this respect, works of genius have had an advantage above real history, and may be admitted, provided the writer himself is of sound judgment, and influenced by principles of truth and justice.

If; when you have weighed these things together, you should suspect that I have been too nice and severe, consider that it is better to err on the side of caution and prudence; and that }

may say for myself, what the Apostle said upon a like occasion, “I am jealous

with a godly jealousy.” (2 Cor. xi. 2.) Upon the whole, life is a serious thing, and all events are at God's disposal; and as the good and evil of this world, transient and momentary as it is, stands connected with the good and evil of the next, which is perpetual, it is dangerous to trifle with it, as they are tempted to do, who address themselves only to the passions of men, without having any principles of truth and justice to restrain them."

over you

* See Note O. on Discourse II. p. 170.

Collier, in his Chapter on The Profaneness of the Stage, says, “ Poets are of all people most to blame. They want even the plea of Bullies and Sharpers. There's no rencounters, no starts of passion, no sudden accidents to discompose them. They swear in solitude and cool blood, under thought and deliberation, for business and for exercise: this is a terrible circumstance; it makes all malice prepense, and enflames the guilt and the reckoning," p. 58.

Again, in his ANSWER to The Ancient and Modern Stages Sur, veyed, he says, A Poet that writes loosely can never be excused, for this is done either out of inclination, or interest: if the first, he's a person of no sobriety, if the second, of no conscience." p. 120.

How much a single author may do to reform the taste of the public, is shewn in the case of MENANDER among the Greeks, who coming after the corrupt state of the Stage in the times of Aristophanes, and of the Middle Comedy, set the model of correct, elegant, and moral Comedy. (See Blair, vol. iii. p. 367.) And EURIPIDES considered the character of a poet in a higher light than that of being merely a minister to the taste of the public, whatever it might be; for, when the people of Athens were in an uproar, being offended at some sentence in a play of his, then being acted, and called upon the author to alter it, he stepped forward, and said, “I compose plays to instruct you, not that you

should instruct me,”*

G. p. 83. When we consider the mass of blasphemy, profane. ness, indecency, and immorality, which have been brought forward by Collier, and by Bedford, and how much of these are still heard in our theatres almost nightly, and which exist in print as eviderices of it, it must appear strange, that almost all the instances upon record of the Lord Chamberlain's interference, are attributed to the ground of politics. The Tragedy of Lucius Junius Brutus, by Lee, the Opera of Polly, by Gay, the Tragedies of Edward und Eleanora, by Tompson, Gustavus Vasa, by Brooke, and Electra, by Shirley, have all been prohibited on this account. So likewise was a piece on the subject of the French Revolution, and the Destruction of the

* I find this anecdote mentioned in The Treasury of Wit, by H. Benret, M. A. vol. i. p. 42. His collection of the Apophthegins of the Greeks, he professes to have taken from Plutarch, Erasmus, and others,

Bastile, and a Piece on the history of Wat Tyler, by Mr. Cumberland; Venice Preserved, which had long kept possession of the Stage, on being revived, and some passages received with a political reference, was ordered to be withdrawn. We have, as far as I am aware, only two instances upon record, of Dramas refused a licence on other grounds, the first is the German Tragedy of The Robbers, by Schiller, which having incited some of the students at the School of Fribourg to turn robbers, when it was presented to the Lord Chamberlain, he would not allow it to be performed; the other is a Piece in two Acts, which Mr. Cumberland had written on occasion of the Death of Lord Nelson, and which he says was refused. See his Memoirs of his own Life, vol. ii. p. 324. 8vo.

We find even Dryden himself, in the Dedication to his translation of Juvenal, to the Earl of Dorset, suggesting to him the important duties of his station : “ As Lord Chamberlain, I know, you are absolute by your office, in all that belongs to the decency and good manners of the Stage. You can banish thence scurrility and profaneness, and restrain the licentious insolence of poets and their actors, in all things that shock the public quiet, or the reputation of private persons, under the notion of humour.” (p. viii. See also Blackmore's Essays, vol. i. p.

225.) We are indebted to the Bishops of London and Durham, for their interference, a few years since, in respect to the indecent dress of the Opera dancers. The Bishop of London has since interfered, that the lale hour at the Opera on Saturday night should not intrench upon Sunday morning.

In an Occasional Report of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, published early in the year 1805, an account is given of a very indecent exhibition which took place at the Opera House, The Society informed The Lord Chamberlain of it, and he imniediately forbid its being repeated.

[ocr errors]

H. p. 85. Some attempt towards purifying our Drama, has been lately made in THE FAMILY SHAKSPEARE, which contains twenty of the most unexceptionable of Shakspeare's Plays, with the ohjectionable passages omitted. For this work the world is much indebted to the excellent Editor: to which appellation, I believe, may now be added the name of THOMAS Bowdler, Esq. But, great as are our obligations for what he has done, I must confess, that I think he should have gone farther, and omitted, or altered, many

« AnteriorContinuar »