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judged the plays of the Greek or Roman poets comparable to ours, yet, on the other side, those we now see acted come short of many which were written in the last age. But my comfort is, if we are overcome, it will be only by our own countrymen: and if we yield to them in this one part of poesy, we more surpass them in all the other : for in the epick or lyrick way, it will be hard for them to shew us one such amongst them, as we have many now living, or who lately were: they can produce nothing so courtly writ, or which expresses so much the conversation of a gentleman, as Sir John Suckling ; nothing so even, sweet, and flowing, as Mr. Waller ; nothing so majestick, so correct, as Sir John Denham ; nothing so elevated, so copious, and full of spirit, as Mr. Cowley. As for the Italian, French, and Spanish plays, I can make it evident, that those who now write, surpass them; and that the drama is wholly ours.
All of them were thus far of Eugenius his6 opinion, that the sweetness of English verse was never understood or practised by our fathers ; even Crites himself did not much oppose it : and every one was willing to acknowledge how much our poesy is improved, by the happiness of some writers yet living ; who first taught us to mould our
6 This ungrammatical phraseology continued to be used by all our best writers, till the beginning of the present reign. Our author, as Dr. Lowth, bishop of London, has clearly shewn, (Grammar, p. 31,) ought to have written “ Eugeniusis opinion.”
thoughts into easy and significant words,--to retrench the superfluities of expression -and to make our rhyme so properly a part of the verse, that it ! should never mislead the sense, but itself be led and governed by it.
Eugenius was going to continue this discourse, when Lisideius told him that it was necessary, before they proceeded further, to take a standing measure of their controversy; for how was it possible to be decided who wrote the best plays, before we know what a play should be? But, this once agreed on by both parties, each might have recourse to it, either to prove his own advantages, or to discover the failings of his adversary
He had no sooner said this, but all desired the favour of him to give the definition of a play; and they were the more importunate, because neither Aristotle, nor Horace, nor any other, who had writ of that subject, had ever done it.
Lisideius, after some modest denials, at last confessed he had a rude notion of it; indeed, rather a description than a definition ; but which served to guide him in his private thoughts, when he was to make a judgment of what others writ: that he conceived a play ought to be, A just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it is ; subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind.
This definition, though Crites raised a logical objection against it—that it was only a genere et fine, and so not altogether perfect, was yet well received by the rest : and after they had given
order to the watermen to turn their barge, and row softly, that they might take the cool of the evening in their return, Crites, being desired by the company to begin, spoke on behalf of the ancients, in this manner :
If confidence presage a victory, Eugenius, in his own opinion, has already triumphed over the ancients : nothing seems more easy to him, than to overcome those whom it is our greatest praise to have imitated well; for we do not only build upon their foundations, but by their models. Dramatick Poesy had time enough, reckoning from Thespis (who first invented it) to Aristophanes, to be born, to grow up, and to flourish in maturity. It has been observed of arts and sciences, that in one
and the samé century they have arrived to great ! perfection ;* and no wonder, since every age has a
kind of universal genius, which inclines those that live in it to some particular studies : the work then being pushed on by many hands, must of necessity go forward.
Is it not evident, in these last hundred years. (when the study of philosophy has been the business of all the Virtuosi in Christendom) that almost a new nature has been revealed to us ? That more errors of the school have been detected, more useful experiments in philosophy have been made, more noble secrets in opticks, medicine, anatomy, astronomy, discovered, than in all those credulous and doting ages from Aristotle to us ?-SO
* See Vell. Paterc. i. 16, 17.
true it is, that nothing spreads more fast than science, when rightly and generally cultivated.
Add to this, the more than common emulation that was in those times of writing well ; which though it be found in all ages and all persons that pretend to the same reputation, yet poesy being then in more esteem than now it is, had greater honours decreed to the professors cf it, and consequently the rivalship was more high between them. They had judges ordained to decide their merit, and prizes to reward it; and historians have been diligent to record of Æschylus, Euripides, Sephocles, Lycophron, and the rest of thein, both who they were that vanquished in these wars of the theatre, and how often they were crowned : while the Asian kings and Grecian commonwealths scarce afforded them a nobler subject than the unmanly luxuries of a debauched court, or giddy intrigues of a factious city :-Alit æmulatio ingenia, (says Paterculus,) et nunc invidia, nunc admiratio incitationem accendit: Emulation is the spur of wit; and sometimes envy, sometimes admiration, quickens our endeavours.
But now, since the rewards of honour are taken away, that virtuous emulation is turned into direct malice ; yet so slothful, that it contents itself to condemn and cry down others, without attempting to do better : it is a reputation too unprofitable, to take the necessary pains for it ; yet, wishing they had it, that desire is incitement enough to hinder others from it. And this, in short, Eugenius, is the reason why you have now so few good poets,
and so many severe judges. Certainly, to imitate the ancients well, much labour and long study is required ; which pains, I have already shewn, our poets would want encouragement to take, if yet they had ability to go through the work. Those ancients have been faithful imitators and wise observers of that nature which is so torn and ill represented in our plays; they have handed down to us a perfect resemblance of her ; which we, like ill copiers, neglecting to look on, have rendered monstrous, and disfigured. But, that you may know how much you are indebted to those your masters, and be ashamed to have so ill requited them, I must remember you, that all the rules by which we practise the drama at this day, (either such as relate to the justness and symmetry of the plot; or the episodical ornaments, such as descriptions, narrations, and other beauties, which are not essential to the play ;) were delivered to us from the observations which Aristotle made, of those poets, who either lived before him, or were his contemporaries. We have added nothing of our own, except we have the confidence to say our wit is better ; of which, none boast in this our age, but such as understand not theirs. Of that book which Aristotle has left us, σερί της Ποιητικής, Horace his Art of Poetry is an excellent comment, and, I believe, restores to us that Second Book of his concerning Comedy, which is wanting in him.
Out of these two have been extracted the famous Rules, which the French call Des Trois : Unites, or, The Three Unities, which ought to be