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“ battle of Blenheim, and eight had brought me the “ angel, I should not have been surprised.” .
The opera of Rosamond, though it is seldom mentioned, is one of the first of Addison's compositions. The subject is well chosen, the fiction is pleasing, and the praise of Marlborough, for which the scene gives an opportunity, is, what perhaps every human excellence must be, the product of good-luck, improved by genius. The thoughts are sometimes great, and sometimes tender; the versification is easy and gay. There is doubtless some advantage in the shortness of the lines, which there is little temptation to load with expletive epithets. The dialogue seems commonly better than the songs. The two comick characters of Sir Trusty and Grie deline, though of no great value, are yet such as the poet intended. Sir Trusty's account of the death of Rosaniond is, I think, too grossly absurd. The whole drama is airy and elegant; engaging in its process, and pleasing in its conclusion. If Addison had cultivated the lighter parts of poetry, he would probably have excelled.
The tragedy of Cato, which, contrary to the rule observed in selecting the works of other poets, has by the weight of its character forced its way into the late collection, is unquestionably the noblest production of Addison's genius. Of a work so much read, it is difficult to say any thing new. About things on which the publick thinks long, it commonly attains to think right; and of Cato it. has been not unjustly determined, that it is rather. a poem in dialogue than a drama, rather a succession
of just sentiments in elegant language, than a representation of natural affections, or of any state probable or poffible in human life. Nothing here " ex“ cites or assuages emotion :" here is “no magical “ power of raising phantastick terror or wild. " anxiety.". The events are expected without foli-. citude, and are remembered without joy or sorrow. Of the agents we have no care ; we consider not what they are doing, or what they are suffering ; we with only to know what they have to say. Cato is a being above our solicitude ; a man of whom the gods take care, and whom we leave to their care with heedless confidence. To the rest neither gods nor men can have much attention ; for there is not one amongst them that strongly attracts either affection or esteem. But they are made the vehicles of such sentiments and such expression, that there is scarcely a scene in the play which the reader does not wish to impress upon his memory.
When Cato was shewn to Pope *, he advised the author to print it, without any theatrical exhibition ; supposing that it would be read more favourably than heard. Addison declared himself of the same opinion; but urged the importunity of his friends for its appearance on the stage. The emulation of parties made it successful beyond expectation; and its success has introduced or confirmed among us the use of dialogue too declamatory, of unaffecting elegance, and chill philosophy.
The universality of applause, however it might quell the censure of common mortals, had no other
effect than to harden Dennis in fixed dislike ; but his dislike was not merely capricious. He found and Thewed many faults ; he shewed them indeed with anger, but he found them with acuteness, such as ought to rescue his criticism from oblivion ; though, at last, it will have no other life than it derives from the work which it endeavours to oppress.
Why he pays no regard to the opinion of the audience, he gives his reason, by remarking, that,
- A deference is to be paid to a general applause, “ when it appears that the applause is natural and 6 fpontaneous; but that little regard is to be had to «it, when it is affected and artificial. Of all the “ tragedies which in his memory have had vast and “ violent runs, not one has been excellent, few have ( been tolerable, most have been scandalous. When “ a poet writes a tragedy, who knows he has judge6 ment, and who feels he has genius, that poet pre6. sumes upon his own merit, and scorns to make a “ cabal. That people come coolly to the represen• tation of such a tragedy, without any violent ex“ pectation, or delusive imagination, or invincible şó prepoffeffion; that such an audience is liable to “ receive the impressions which the poem shall natu“ rally make on them, and to judge by their own “ reason, and their own judgements, and that reason şi and judgement are calm and serene, not formed Śc by nature to make profelytes, and to controul and $ ļord it over the imaginations of others. But that for when an author writes a tragedy, who knows he çc has neither genius or judgement, he has recourse
to the making a party, and he endeavours to make
st up in industry what is wanting in talent, and to “ supply by poetical craft the absence of poetical 66 art: that such an author is humbly contented to s raise men's passions by a plot without doors, since “ he despairs of doing it by that which he brings “ upon the stage. That party and passion, and pre66 poffeffion, are clamorous and tumultuous things, " and so much the more clamorous and tumultuous “ by how much the more erroneous : that they doc “ mineer and tyrannize over the imaginations of $6 persons who want judgement, and sometimes too $6 of those who have it ; and, like a fierce and out“ rageous torrent, bear down all opposition before $c them.”
He then condemns the neglect of poetical justice; which is always one of his favourite principles.
“ 'Tis certainly the duty of every tragick poet, by 56 the exact distribution of poetical justice, to imi
tate the Divine Dispensation, and to inculcate a “ particular Providence. 'Tis true, indeed, upon so the stage of the world, the wicked sometimes “ prosper, and the guiltless fuffer. But that is per“ mitted by the Governor of the world, to Thew, s from the attribute of his infinite justice, that there " is a compensation in futurity, to prove the im” mortality of the human soul, and the certainty of “ future rewards and punishments. But the poeti“ cal persons in tragedy exist no longer than the Śr reading, or the representation ; the whole extent
! of their enmity is circumscribed by those ; and “therefore, during that reading or representation, ” according to their merits or demerits, they must ff be punished or rewarded. If this is not done,
“ there is no impartial distribution of poetical juf“ tice, no instructive lecture of a particular Provic. dence, and no imitation of the Divine Dispensa“ tion. And yet the author of this tragedy does “ not only run counter to this, in the fate of his “ principal character ; but every where, throughout “it, makes virtue suffer, and vice triumph: for not “ only Cato is vanquished by Cæsar, but the trea“ chery and perfidiousness of Syphax prevail over “ the honest fimplicity and the credulity of Juba ; “ and the fly subtlety and dissimulation of Portius “ over the generous frankness and open-heartedness “ of Marcus."
Whatever pleasure there may be in seeing crimes · punished and virtue rewarded, yet, since wickedness
often prospers in real life, the poet is certainly at liberty to give it prosperity on the stage. For if poetry has an imitation of reality, how are its laws broken by exhibiting the world in its true form? The stage may sometimes gratify our wishes; but, if it be truly the “ mirror of life," it ought to Thew us sometimes what we are to expect.
Dennis objects to the characters, that they are not natural, or reasonable; but as heroes and heroines are not beings that are seen every day, it is hard to find upon what principles their conduct shall be tried. It is, however, not useless to consider what he says of the manner in which Cato receives the ac*count of his son's death.
" Nor is the grief of Cato, in the fourth act, o one jot more in nature than that of his son and " Lucia in the third. Cato receives the news of « his son's death not only with dry eyes, but with a