« הקודםהמשך »
position of poems, for the sake of being applauded by this imaginary generation.
The present poets I reckon amongst the most inexorable enemies of our most excellent ministry, and much doubt whether any method will effect the cure of a distemper, which, in this class of men, may be termed, not an accidental disease, but a defect in their original frame and constitution.
Mr. Brooke, a name I mention with all the detestation suitable to my character, could not forbear discovering this depravity of his mind in his very prologue, which is filled with sentiments so wild, and so much unheard of among those who frequent levees and courts, that I much doubt, whether the zealous licenser proceeded any further in his examination of his performance. He might easily perceive that a man,
Who bade his moral beam through every age, was too much a bigot to exploded notions, to compose a play which he could license without manifest hazard of his office, a hazard which no man would incur untainted with the love of posterity.
We cannot, therefore, wonder that an author, wholly possessed by this passion, should vent his resentment for the licenser's just refusal, in virulent advertisements, insolent complaints, and scurrilous assertions of his rights and privileges, and proceed, in defiance of authority, to solicit a subscription.
This temper, which I have been describing, is almost always complicated with ideas of the bigh prerogatives of human nature, of a sacred unalienable birtbright, which no man has conferred upon us, and which neither kings can take, nor senates give away; which we may justly assert whenever and by whomsoever it is attacked ; and which, if ever it should happen to be lost, we may take the first opportunity to recover.
The natural consequence of these chimeras is contempt of authority, and an irreverence for any superiority but 20
what is founded upon merit; and their notions of merit are very peculiar, for it is anong them no great proof of merit to be wealthy and powerful, to wear a garter or a star, to command a regiment or a senate, to have the ear of the minister or of the king, or to possess any of those virtues and excellencies, which, among us, entitle a man to little less than worship and prostration.
We may, therefore, easily conceive that Mr. Brooke thought himself entitled to be importunate for a license, because, in his own opinion, he deserved one, and to complain thus loudly at the repulse he met with.
His complaints will bave, I hope, but little weight with the publick; since the opinions of the sect in which he is enlisted are exposed, and shown to be evidently and demonstrably opposite to that system of subordination and dependence, to which we are indebted for the present tranquillity of the nation, and that cheerfulness and readiness with which the two houses concur in all our designs.
I shall, however, to silence him entirely, or at least to show those of onr party that he ought to be silent, consider singly every instance of hardship and oppression which he has dared to publish in the papers, and to publish in such a manner, that I hope no man will condemn me for want of candour in becoming an advocate for the ministry, if I can consider his advertisements as nothing less than AN APPEAL TO HIS COUNTRY,
Let me be forgiven if I cannot speak with temper of such insolence as this: is a man without title, pension, or place, to suspect the impartiality or the judgment of those who are entrusted with the administration of publick affairs? Is he, when the law is not strictly observed in regard to him, to think himself aggrieved, to tell his sentiments in print, assert his claim to better usage, and fly for redress to another tribunal ?
If such practices are permitted, I will not venture to foretell the effects of them; the ministry may soon be convinced, that such sufferers will find compassion, and that it is safer not to bear hard upon them, than to allow them to complain.
The power of licensing, in general, being firmly established by an act of parliament, our poet has not attempted to call in question, but contents himself with censuring the manner in which it has been executed; so that I am not now engaged to assert the licenser's authority, but to defend bis conduct.
The poet seems to think himself aggrieved, because the licenser kept his tragedy in his hands one-and-twenty days, whereas the law allows him to detain it only fourteen.
Where will the insolence of the malecontents end? Or how are such unreasonable expectations possibly to be satisfied ? Was it ever known that a man exalted into a high station, dismissed a suppliant in the time limited by law ? Ought not Mr. Brooke to think himself happy that his play was not detained longer? If he had been kept a year in suspense, what redress could he have obtained ? Let the poets remember, when they appear before the licenser, or his deputy, that they stand at the tribunal, from which there is no appeal permitted, and where nothing will so well become them as reverence and submission.
Mr. Brooke mentions, in his preface, his knowledge of the laws of his own country: had he extended his inquiries to the civil law, he could have found a full justification of the licenser's conduct, “ Boni judicis est ampliare suam auctoritatem.”
If then it be “the business of a good judge to enlarge his authority,” was it not in the licenser the utmost clemency and forbearance, to extend fourteen days only to twenty-one?
I suppose this great man's inclination to perform, at least, this duty of a good judge, is not questioned by any, either of his friends or enemies. I may, therefore, venture to hope, that he will extend his power by proper degrees, and that I shall live to see a malecontent writer earnestly
soliciting for the copy of a play, which he had delivered to the licenser twenty years before.
“I waited,” says he, “ often on the licenser, and with the utmost importunity entreated an answer.” Let Mr. Brooke consider, whetber that importunity was not a sufficient reason for the disappointment. Let him reflect how much more decent it had been to have waited the leisure of a great man, than to have pressed upon him with repeated petitions, and to have intruded upon those precious moments which he has dedicated to the service of his country.
Mr. Brooke was, doubtless, led into this improper manner of acting, by an erroneous notion that the grant of a license was not an act of favour, but of justice; a mistake into which be could not have fallen, but from a supine inattention to the design of the statute, which was only to bring poets into subjection and dependence, not to encourage good writers, but to discourage all.
There lies no obligation upon the licenser to grant his sanction to a play, however excellent; nor can Mr. Brooke demand any reparation, whatever applause his performance may meet with
Another grievance is, that the licenser assigned no reason for his refusal. This is a higher strain of insolence than any of the former. Is it for a poet to demand a licenser's reason for his proceedings? Is he not rather to acquiesce in the decision of authority, and conclude, that there are reasons which he cannot comprehend ?
Unhappy would it be for men in power, were they always obliged to publish the motives of their conduct. What is power, but the liberty of acting without being accountable? The advocates for the licensing act have alleged, that the lord chamberlain has always had authority to prohibit the representation of a play for just reasons. Why then did we call in all our force to procure an act of parliament? Was it to enable him to do what he has always done? to confirm an authority which no man attempted to impair, or pretended to dispute ? No, certainly: our intention was to invest him with new privileges, and to empower him to do that without reason, which with reason he could do before.
We have found, by long experience, that to lie under a necessity of assigning reasons, is very troublesome, and that many an excellent design has miscarried by the loss of time spent unnecessarily in examining reasons.
Always to call for reasons, and always to reject them, shows a strange degree of perverseness ; yet, such is the daily behaviour of our adversaries, who have never yet been satisfied with any reasons that have been offered by us.
They have made it their practice to demand, once a year, the reasons for which we maintain a standing army.
One year we told them that it was necessary, because all the nations round us were involved in war ; this had no effect upon them, and, therefore, resolving to do our utmost for their satisfaction, we told them, the next year, that it was necessary, because all the nations round us were at peace.
This reason finding no better reception than the other, we had recourse to our apprehensions of an invasion from the Pretender, of an insurrection in favour of gin, and of a general disaffection among the people.
But as they continue still impenetrable, and oblige us still to assign our annual reasons, we shall spare no endeavour to procure such as may be more satisfactory than any of the former.
The reason we once gave for building barracks was, for fear of the plague; and we intend next year to propose the augmentation of our troops, for fear of a famine.
The committee, by which the act for licensing the stage was drawn' up, had too long known the inconvenience of giving reasons, and were too well acquainted with the characters of great men, to lay the lord chamberlain, or his deputy, under any such tormenting obligation.
Yet, lest Mr. Brooke should imagine that a license was refused him without just reasons, I shall condescend to treat him with more regard than he can reasonably expect,