Slike strani
PDF
ePub

fool enough at home without looking for it abroad; and am a sufficient theatre to myself of ridiculous actions, without expecting company either in a court, a town, or a playhouse. It is on this account that I am weary with drawing the deformities of life, and lazars of the people, where every figure of imperfection more resembles me than it can do others. If I must be condemned to rhyme, I should find some ease in my change of punishment. I desire to be no longer the Sisyphus of the stage; to roll up a stone with endless labour, which, to follow the proverb, gathers no moss, and which is perpetually falling down again. I never thought myself very fit for an employment, where many of my predecessors have excelled me in all kinds; and some of my contemporaries, even in my own partial judgment, have outdone me in comedy. Some little hopes I have yet remaining, (and those too, considering my abilities, may be vain,) that I may make the world some part of amends for many ill plays, by an heroick poem. Your Lordship has been long acquainted with my design; the subject of which you know is great, the story English, and neither too far distant from the present age, nor too near approaching it." Such it is in my opinion, that I could not have wished a nobler occasion to do honour by it to

[ocr errors]

5 Dr. Johnson thought that our author's intention to write an epick poem was here mentioned in obscure terms, from an apprehension that his plan might be "purloined, as he says, happened to him when he told it

A

my King, my country, and my friends most of our ancient nobility being concerned in the action. And your Lordship has one particular reason to promote this undertaking, because you were the first who gave me the opportunity of discoursing it to his Majesty, and his Royal Highness; they were then pleased both to commend the design, and to encourage it by their commands; but the unsettledness of my condition has hitherto put a stop to my thoughts concerning it. As I am no successor to Homer in his wit, so neither do I desire to be in his poverty. I can make no rhapsodies, nor go a begging at the Grecian doors, while I sing the praises of their ancestors. The times of Virgil please me better, because he had an Augustus for his patron; and to draw the allegory nearer you, I am sure I shall not want a Mecenas with him. It is for your Lordship to stir up that remembrance in his Majesty, which his many avocations of business have caused him, I fear, to lay aside; and, as himself and his royal brother are the heroes of the poem, to represent to them the images of their warlike predecessors; as Achilles is said to be roused to glory with the sight of the combat before the ships. For my own part, I am satisfied to have offered the design; and it may be to the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

more plainly in his Preface to Juvenal." From that Preface it appears that the poem which he now meditated, was to have been founded on the actions of either King Arthur, or the Black Prince.

advantage of my reputation to have it refused.

me.

In the mean time, my Lord, I take the confidence to present you with a tragedy, the characters of which are the nearest to an heroick poem. It was dedicated to you in my heart, before it was presented on the stage. Some things in it have passed your approbation, and many your amendment; you were likewise pleased to recommend it to the King's perusal before the last hand was added to it, when I received the favour from him to have the most considerable event of it modelled by his royal pleasure. It may be some vanity in me to add his testimony then, and which he graciously confirmed afterwards, that it was the best of all my tragedies," in which he has made authentick my private opinion of it; at least, he has given it a value by his commendation, which it had not by my writing.

That which was not pleasing to some of the fair ladies in the last act of it, as I dare not vindicate, so neither can I wholly condemn, till I find more reason for their censures. The procedure of Indamora and Melesinda seems yet, in my

6" AURENGZEBE has the appearance of being the most elaborate of all the dramas. The personages are imperial, but the dialogue is often domestick, and therefore susceptible of sentiments accommodated to familiar incidents.

The complaint of life is celebrated, and there are many passages that may be read with pleasure." Johnson's Life of DRYDEN.

judgment; natural, and not unbecoming of their characters. If they who arraign them fail not more, the world will never blame their conduct; and I shall be glad, for the honour of my country, to find better images of virtue drawn to the life in their behaviour, than any I could feign to adorn the theatre. I confess I have only represented a practicable virtue, mixed with the frailties and imperfections of human life. I have made my heroine fearful of death, which neither Cassandra nor Cleopatra would have been; and they themselves, I doubt it not, would have outdone romance in that particular. Yet their Mandana (and the Cyrus was written by a lady) was not altogether so hard-hearted; for she sat down on the cold ground by the King of Assyria, and not only pitied him who died in her defence, but allowed him some favours, such perhaps as they would think should only be permitted to her Cyrus. I have made my Melesinda, in opposition to Nourmahal, a woman passionately loving of her husband, patient of injuries and contempt, and constant in her kindness to the last; and in that, perhaps, I may have erred, because it is not a virtue much in use. Those Indian wives are loving fools, and may do well to keep themselves in their own country, or at least to keep company with the Arrias and Portias of old Rome; some of our ladies know better things. But it may be, I am partial to my own writings; yet I have laboured as much as any man to divest myself of

:

V

the self-opinion of an author, and am too well satisfied of my own weakness to be pleased with any thing I have written. But on the other side my reason tells me, that, in probability, what I have seriously and long considered may be as likely to be just and natural, as what an ordinary judge (if there be any such amongst those ladies) will think fit, in a transient présentation, to be placed in the room of that which they condemn. The most judicious writer is sometimes mistaken, after all his care; but the hasty critick, who judges on a view, is full as liable to be deceived. Let him first consider all the arguments which the author had to write this, or to design the other, before he arraigns him of a fault; and then perhaps, on second thoughts, he will find his reason oblige him to revoke his censure. Yet after all, I will not be too positive. Homo`sum, humani à me nihil alienum puto: as I am a man, I must be changeable; and sometimes the gravest of us all are so, even upon ridiculous accidents. Our minds are perpetually wrought on by the temperament of our bodies, which makes me suspect they are nearer allied than either our philosophers or school-divines will allow them to be. I have observed, says Montagne, that when the body is out of order, its companion is seldom at his ease. An ill dream, or a cloudy day, has power to change this wretched creature, who is so proud of a reasonable soul, and make him think what he thought not yesterday; and Homer was

[ocr errors]
« PrejšnjaNaprej »