Page images
[ocr errors]

French language who has real claim to poetical merit. Their language is not the language of verfe; nor are their thoughts, or their coflume, those of poetry, Fontaine uses their language familiarly, in which way only it can be used to advantage. His thoughts are likewise in the style of mere familiar humour. Comic tales may be well written in French, but nothing else. Their prose writers, I readily allow, yield to none in the world; but of their poetry the bon mot said by one of themselves io Voltaire, which was, Les François n'ont pas la tete epique, may be with great justice enlarged thus, Leş FRANÇOIS N'ONT PAS LA TETE POETIQUE,

In English comedy Congreve, I believe, stands without a rival. His plots have great depth and art; perhaps too much: his characters are new and strong: his wit genuine; and so exuberant, that it has been alleged as his only fault, that he makes all his characters inherit his own wit. Yet this fault will not be imputed by adepts, who know that the dialogue of our comedy cannot possibly be too spirited and epigrammatic, for it requires language as well as characters stronger than nature.


SHAKSPERE excells in the strength of his characters and in wit; but as plot must be regarded as an essential of good comedy, he must not be erected as a model in the comic academy; a loss sufficiently compensated by the reflection, that it were vain to place him as a model whose beauties transcend all imitation.

TRAGEDY and Comedy both ought certainly to approach as near the truth of life as possible; in so much that we may imagine we are placed with Le Diable Boiteux on the roof of the house, and perceive what passes within. This rule in Tragedy cannot be too strictly observed, tho it has escaped almost every writer of modern Tragedy; the characters of which fpeak similies, bombast, and every thing except the language of real life; so that we are eternally tempted to exclaim, as Falstaff does' to Pistol, Proythee speak like a man of this world.'

[ocr errors]

In comedy this rule ought by no means to be adhered to; as insipidity is the worst fault writing can have, but particularly comedy; whose chief quality it is to be poignant. Now poignancy cannot be effected without strolig character ; but an excellent tragedy may be 7


written without a strong character in it, witness Douglas. The characters of Tragedy therefore cannot have too much truth: but those of Comedy ought to resemble the painted scenes, which, if examined too nearly, are mere daubings; but at a proper distance have the very truth of nature, while the beauties of more delicate paintings would not be perceived.,

SENTIMENTAL Comedy, as it is called, tho of late birth in England, is yet the comedy of Menander and of Terence. Terence is quite full of sentiment, and of a tenderness which accompanies it; and so barren of wit and humour, that I only remember two passages in his six comedies that provoke a sinile; for a smile is all they can provoke. The one is that scene which passes after the eunuch is supposed to have ravished a young lady. This is the only proof of the humour of Terence: and the only sample of his wit we have in the reply of an old miser to one who he expected brought him tidings of a legacy, but who instead thereof makes very gravely a moral observation to the impatient old man, who peevishly retorts, « What! haft thou brought nothing here but one maxim?"


SENTIMENTAL Comedy bore a very short fway in England. Indeed it was incompatible with the humour of an English audience, whơ go to a comedy to laugh, and not to cry. It was even more abfurd, it may be added, in its faults than that of which Congreve is the model; for fentiments were spoken by every character in the piece, whereas one fentimental character was furely enough. If a man met with his mistress, or left her; if he was suddenly favoured by fortune, or suddenly the object of her hatred; if he was drunk, or married; he fpoke a fentiment: if a lady was angry, or pleafed; in love, or out of it; a prude, or a coquet ; make room for a sentiment! If a será vapt girl was chid, or received a present from her mistress; if a valet received a pürfe, or a horsewhipping ; good heavens, what a fine fentiment !

This fault I say was infinitely more absurd than that of Congreve ; for a peafant

may blunder on wit, to whose mind sentiment is totally heterogeneous. Besides, Congreve's wit is all his own'; whereas most of the faid sentiments may be found in the Proverbs of Solo- .



No wonder then this way of writing was foon abandoned even by him who wasýts chief leader. Goldsmith in vain tried to stem the torrent by opposing a bartier of low humour; and dullness and absurdity; morė dull and abó furd than English fentimental Comedy itself.

It is very much to the credit of that excel. lent writer Mr. Colmad, that, while other dra. matists were lost in the fashion of fentiment, his comedies always present the happiest medium of nature ; without either affectation of fentiment, or affectation of wit. That the able translator of Terence should yet have fufficient force of mind to keep his own pieces clear of the declamatory dullness of that ancient, is certainly a matter deserving of much applause. The Jealous Wife, and the Clandestine Mars siage, with others of his numerous dramas, may be mentioned as the most perfect models of comedy we have : to all the other requisites of fine cómic writing they always add just as much sentiment and wit as does them good. This happy medium is the most difficult to hit in all compofition, and most declares the hand of a master


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »