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cnrious in the choice of his snuff-box, we here see him guilty of an absurdity of which we imagine it impossible for ourselves to be guilty, and therefore applaud our own good sense on the comparison. Thus then, the pleasure we receive from wit, turps on the admiration of another; that which we feel from humor, centres in the admiration of ourselves. The poet, therefore, must place the object he would have the subject of humor in a state of inferiority; in other words, the subject of humor must be low.
The solemnity worn by many of our modern writers is, I fear, often the mask of dulness; for certain it is, it seems to fit every author who pleases to put it on. By the complexion of many of our late publications, one might be apt to cry out with Cicero, “Civem, mehercule! non puto esse qui his temporibus ridere possit.” On my conscience, I believe we have all forgot to laugh in these days. Such writers probably make no distinction be. tween what is praised and what is pleasing; between those commendations which the reader pays his own discernment, and those which are the genuine result of his sensations. It were to be wished, therefore, that we no longer found pleasure with the inflated style that has for some years been looked upon as fine writing, and which every young writer is now obliged to adopt, if he chooses to be read. We should now dispense with loaded epithet, and dressing up trifles with dignity. For, to use an obvious instance, it is not those who make the greatest noise with their wares in the streets that have most to sell.
instead of writing finely, try to write naturally; not hunt after lofty expressions to deliver mean ideas, nor be for ever gaping, when we only mean to deliver a whisper.
OF THE STAGE.
Our Theatre has been generally confessed to share in this general decline, though partaking of the show and decoration of the Italian opera, with the propriety and declamation of French performance. The stage also is more magnificent with us than any other in Europe, and the people in general fonder of theatrical entertainment. Yet still as our pleasures as well as more important concerns, are generally managed by party, the stage has felt its influence. The managers, and all who espouse their side, are for decoration and ornament; the critic, and all who have studied French decorum, are for regularity and decla'nation. Thus it is almost impossible to please both parties; and the poet, by attempting it, finds bimself often incapable of pleasing either. If he introduces stage pomp, the critic consigns his performance to the vulgar; if he indulges in recital and simplicity, it is accused of insipidity, or dry affectation.
From the nature, therefore, of our theatre, and the genius of our country, it is extremely difficult for a dramatic poet to please his audience. But happy would he be, were these the only difficulties he had to encounter: there are many other more danger ous combinations against the little wit of the age. Our poet's performance must undergo a process truly chemical, before it is presented to the public. It must be tried in the manager's fire, strained through a licenser, suffer from repeated corrections, till it may be a mere caput mortuum when it arrives before the public. *
[This passage seems to have given origin to a celebrated simile applied by Junius to the Duke of Grafton, when he says of Lord Chatham, “after going through all the revolutions of political chemistry, he has arrived at the coput mortuum of vitriol in your grace.”]
The success, however, of pieces upon the stage would be of little moment, did it not influence the success of the same piece in the closet. Nay, I think it would be more* for the interests of virtue, if stage performances were read, not acted; made rather our companions in the cabinet than on the theatre. While we are readers, every moral sentiment strikes us in all its beauty, but the love scenes are frigid, tawdry, and disgusting. When we are spectators, all the persuasives to vice receive an additional lustre. The love scene is aggravated, the obscenity
[“ But it may be answered, that we have a sufficient number of plays upon our theatres already, and therefore there is no need of new ones. But are they sufficiently good? And is the credit of our age nothing? Must our present times pass away unnoticed by posterity? We are desirous of leaving them liberty, wealth, and titles, and we can have no recompense but their applause. The title of learned' given to an age, is the most glorious applause, and shall this be disregarded? Our reputation among foreigners will quickly be discontinued, when we discontinue our efforts to deserve it, and shall we despise their praise ? Are our new absurdities, with which no nation more abounds, to be left unnoticed? Is the pleasure such performances give upon the perusal, to be entirely given up? If these are all matters of indifference, it then signifies nothing, whether we are to be entertained with the actor or the poet, with fine sentiments, or painted canvas, or whether the dancer, or the carpenter, be constituted master of the ceremonies.
“ But they are not matters of indifference. Every age produces new follies and new vices, and one absurdity is often displaced in order to make room for another. The dramatic poet, however, who should be, and has often been, a firm champion in the cause of virtue, detects all the new machinations of vice, levels his satire at the rising structures of folly, or drives her from behind the intrenchments of fashion. Thus far, then, the poet is useful; but how far the actor, that dear favorite of the public, may be so, is a question next to be determined.
“ As the poet's merit is often not sufficient to introduce his performance among the public with proper dignity, he is often obliged to call in the assistance of decoration and dress to contribute to this effect. By this means a performance which pleases on the stage, often instructs in the closet, and for one who has seen it acted, hundreds will be its readers. The actor then is useful, by introducing the works of the poet to the public with becoming splendor ; but when these have once become popular, I must confess myself so much a skeptic as to think it would be more,” &c.—first edit.)
heightened, the best actors figure in the most debauched characters, while the parts of morality, as they are called, are thrown to some mouthing machine, who puts even virtue out of countenance by his wretched imitation.
But whatever be the incentives to vice which are found at the theatre, public pleasures are generally less guilty than solitary
To make our solitary satisfaction truly innocent, the actor is useful, as by his means the poet's work makes its way from the stage to the closet; for all must allow, that the reader receives more benefit by perusing a well-written play, than by seeing it acted.
But how is this rule inverted on our theatres at present! Old pieces are revived, and scarcely any new ones admitted. The actor is ever in our eye, and the poet seldom permitted to appear; the public are again obliged to ruminate over those hashes of abBurdity, which were disgusting to our ancestors even in an age of ignorance; and the stage, instead of serving the people, is made subservient to the interests of avarice.
We seem to be pretty much in the situation of travellers at a Scotch inn ;-vile entertainment is served up, complained of, and sent down; up comes worse, and that also is changed; and every change makes our wretched cheer more unsavory. What must
* [" The principal performers find their interest in choosing such parts as tend to promote, not the benefit of society, but their own reputation ; and in using arts which inspire emotions very different from those of morality. How many young men go to the playhouse speculatively in love with the rule of right, but return home actually enamored of an actress. I have often attended to the reflections of the company upon leaving the theatre ; one actor had the finest pipe, but the other the most melodious voice; one was a bewitching creature, another a charming devil ; and such are generally our acquisitions at the playhouse : it brings to my remembrance an old lady, who being passionately fond of a famous preacher, went every Sunday to church, but, struck only with his graceful manner of delivery, disregarded and forgot the truths of his discourse." - First edit.)
be done ? Only sit down contented, cry up all that comes before us, and admire even the absurdities of Shakspeare.
Let the reader suspend his censure. I admire the beauties of this great father of our stage as much as they deserve, but could wish, for the honor of our country, and for his honor too, that many of his scenes were forgotten. A man blind of one eye should always be painted in profile. Let the spectator who assists at any of these newly revived pieces, only ask himself whether he would approve such a performance if written by a modern poet? I fear he will find that much of his applause proceeds merely from the sound of a name, and an empty veneration for antiquity. In fact, the revival of those pieces of forced humor, far-fetched conceit, and unnatural hyperbole, which have been ascribed to Shakspeare, is rather gibbeting than raising a statue to his memory; it is rather a trick of the actor, who thinks it safest acting in exaggerated characters, and who, by outstepping nature, chooses to exhibit the ridiculous outré of a harlequin under the sanction of that venerable name.
What strange vamped comedies, farcical tragedies, or what shall I call them, speaking pantomimes, have we not of late seen! No matter what the play may be, it is the actor who draws an audience. He throws life into all; all are in spirits and merry, in at one door and out at another; the spectator, in a fool's paradise, knows not what all this means, till the last act concludes in matrimony. The piece pleases our critics, because it talks old English; and it pleases the galleries, because it has ribaldry. True taste, or even common sense, are out of the question. But
great art must be sometimes used before they can thus impose upon the public. To this purpose, a prologue written with some spirit generally precedes the piece, to inform us that it was composed by Shakspeare, or old Ben, or somebody else who took them for his model. A face of irou could not have the as