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With store sufficient for relief,
BORN 1693.-DIED 1739.
GEORGE Lillo was the son of a Dutch jeweller, who married an English woman, and settled in London. Our poet was born near Moorfields, was bred to his father's business, and followed it for many years. The story of his dying in distress was a fiction of Hammond, the poet; for he bequeathed a considerable property to his nephew, whom he made his heir. It has been said that this bequest was in consequence of his finding the young man disposed to lend him a sum of money at a time when he thought proper to feign pecuniary distress, in order that he might discover the sincerity of those calling themselves his friends. Thomas Davies, his biographer and editor, professes to have got this anecdote from a surviving partner of Lillo. It bears however an intrinsic air of improbability. It is not usual for sensible tradesmen to affect being on the verge of bankruptcy, and Lillo's character was that of an uncommonly sensible man. Fielding, his intimate friend, ascribes to him a manly simplicity of mind, that is extremely unlike such a stratagem.
Lillo is the tragic poet of middling and familiar life. Instead of heroes from romance and history, he gives the merchant and his apprentice; and the Macbeth of his " Fatal Curiosity" is a private gentleman, who has been reduced by his poverty to dispose of his copy of Seneca for a morsel of bread. The mind will be apt, after reading his works, to suggest to itself the question, how far the graver drama would gain or lose by a more general adoption of this plebeian principle. The cares, it may be said, that are most familiar to our existence, and the distresses of those nearest to ourselves in situation, ought to lay the strongest hold upon our sympathies, and the general mass of society ought to furnish a more express image of man than any detached or elevated portion of the species.
Lillo is certainly a master of potent effect in the exhibition of human suffering. His representation of actual or intended murder seems to assume a deeper terror from the familiar circumstances of life with which it is invested. Such indeed is said to have been the effect of a scene in his “ Arden of Feversham,” that the audience rose up with one accord and interrupted it. The anecdote, whether true or false, must recal to the mind of every one who has perused that piece, the harrowing sympathy which it is calculated to excite. But, notwithstanding the power of Lillo's works, we entirely miss in them that romantic attraction which invites to repeated perusal of them. They give us life in a close and dreadful semblance of reality, but not arrayed in the magic illusion of poetry. His strength lies in conception of situations, not in beauty of dialogue, or in the eloquence of the passions. Yet the effect of his plain and homely subjects was so strikingly superior to that of the vapid and heroic productions of the day, as to induce some of his contemporary admirers to pronounce that he had reached the acme of dramatic excellence, and struck into the best and most genuine path of tragedy. George Barnwell, it was observed, drew more tears than the rants of Alexander. This might be true, but it did not bring the comparison of humble and heroic subjects to a fair test; for the tragedy of Alexander is bad not from its subject, but from the incapacity of the poet who composed it. It does not prove that heroes drawn from history or romance are not at least as susceptible of high and poetical effect as a wicked apprentice, or a distressed gentleman pawn. ing his moveables. It is one question whether Lillo has given to his subjects from private life the degree of beauty of which they are susceptible. He is a master of terrific, but not of tender impressions. We feel a harshness and gloom in his genius even while we are compelled to admire its force and originality.
The peculiar choice of his subjects was happy and commendable as far as it regarded himself, for his talents never succeeded so well when he ventured out of them. But it is another question, whether the familiar cast of those subjects was fitted to consti'tute a more genuine, or only a subordinate walk in tragedy. Undoubtedly the genuine delineation of the human heart will please us, from whatever station or circumstances of life it is derived. In the simple pathos of tragedy probably very little difference will be felt from the choice of characters being pitched above or below the line of mediocrity in station. But something more than pathos is required in tragedy ; and the very pain that attends our sympathy requires agreeable and romantic associations of the fancy to be blended with its poignancy. Whatever attaches ideas of importance, publicity, and elevation to the object of pity, forms a brightening and alluring medium to the imagination. Athens herself, with all her simplicity and democracy, delighted on the stage to
“ let gorgeous Tragedy “ In scepter'd pall come sweeping by." Even situations far depressed beneath the familiar mediocrity of life, are more picturesque and poetical than its ordinary level. It is certainly on the virtues of the middling rank of life that the strength and comforts of society chiefly depend, in the same manner as we look for the harvest not on cliffs and
precipices, but on the easy slope and the uniform plain. But the painter does not in general fix on level 'countries for the subjects of his noblest landscapes.
There is an analogy, I conceive, to this in the moral painting of tragedy. Disparities of station give it
boldness of outline. The commanding situations of life are its mountain scenery-the region where its storm and sunshine may be pourtrayed in their strongest contrast and colouring.
FROM THE FATAL CURIOSITY.
ACT II. SCENE I.
Persons.-Maria, Charlotte, and Young Wilmot. Enter CHARLOTTE, thoughtful; and soon after
MARIA from the other side. lar. MADAM, a stranger in a foreign habit Desires to see you.
Char. In a foreign habit 'Tis strange, and unexpected-But admit him
(Exit MARIA. Who can this stranger be? I know no foreigner,
Enter Young Wilmot.
(going to embrace her. Char. You are rude, sir-Pray forbear, and let
me know What business brought you here, or leave the place. Y. Wilm. She knows me not, or will not seem to
[Aside. Perfidious maid ! Am I forgot.or scorned ?
Char. Strange questions from a man I never knew!