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That perfect harmony which ought to subsist among all the constituent parts of a dialogue, is a beauty no less rare than conspicuous. I shall therefore confine my quotations to the grosser errors, which every writer ought to avoid. And, first, of passion expressed in words flowing in an equal course without interruption. In the chapter above cited, Corneille is censured for the impropriety of his sentiments; and, here, for the sake of truth, I am obliged to attack him a second time. Were I to give instances from that author of the fault under consideration, I might transcribe whole tragedies; for he is no less faulty in this particular, than in passing upon us his own thoughts as a spectator, instead of the genuine sentiments of passion. Nor would a comparison between him and Shakspeare, upon the present article, redound more to his honor than the former upon the sentiments. Racine is here less incorrect than Corneille; and from him therefore I shall gather a few instances. The first shall be the description of the sea-monster in his Phædra, given by Theramene, the companion of Hippolytus. Theramene is represented in terrible agitation. Yet he gives a long, pompous, connected description of that event, dwelling upon every minute circumstance, as if he had been only a cool spectator.
The last speech of Atalide, in the tragedy of Bajazet, of the same author, is a continued discourse; and but a faint representation of the violent passion which forced her to put an end to her own life.
Corneille, however, is always sensible, generally correct, never falls low, maintains a moderate degree of dignity, without reaching the sublime, paints delicately the tender affections, but is a stranger to the genuine language of enthusiastic or fervid passion.
If, in general, the language of violent passion ought to be broken and interrupted, soliloquies ought to be so in a peculiar manner: language is intended by nature for society; and a man when alone, though he always clothes his thoughts in words, seldom gives his words
utterance, unless when prompted by some strong emotion; and even then by starts and intervals only. Shakspeare's soliloquies may be justly established as a model; for it is not easy to conceive any model more perfect.
.Corneille is not more happy in his soliloquies than in his dialogue. Take for a specimen the first scene of Cinna. Racine also is faulty in the same respect. His soliloquies are regular harangues, a chain completed in every link, without interruption or interval; that of Antiochus in Berenice* resembles a regular pleading, where the parties display their arguments at full length. The following soliloquies are equally faulty: Bajazet, Act III. Sc. 7; Mithridate, Act III. Sc. 4, and Act IV. Sc. 5; Iphigenia, Act IV. Sc. 8.
Soliloquies upon lively subjects, without any turbulence of passion, may be carried on in a continued chain of thought. If the sprightliness of the subject prompt a man to speak his thoughts in the form of a dialogue, the expression must be carried on without interruption, as in a dialogue between two persons; which justifies Falstaff's soliloquy upon honor:
What need I be so forward with Death, that calls not on me? Well, 'tis no matter, Honor pricks me on. But how if Honor prick me off, when I come on? how then? Can Honor set a leg? No: or an arm? No: or take away the grief a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is Honor? A word. What is that word honor? Air: a trim reckoning.Who hath it? He that died a Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. Is it insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it: Honor is a mere scutcheon; and so ends my catechism.
FIRT PART HENRY IV.-ACT V. Sc. 2.
Even without a dialogue, a continued discourse may be justified, where a man reasons in a soliloquy upon an important subject; for if in such a case it be excusable to think aloud, it is necessary that the reasoning be carried on in a chain; which justifies that ad
*Act I. Sc. 2.
mirable soliloquy in Hamlet upon life and immortality, being a serene meditation upon the most interesting of all subjects. And the same consideration will justify the soliloquy that introduces the 5th Act of Addison's Cato.
The next class of the grosser errors which all writers ought to avoid, shall be of language elevated above the tone of the sentiment; of which take the following instances:
Zara. Swift as occasion, I
Myself will fly; and earlier than the morn
The language here is too pompous and labored for describing so simple a circumstance. Language too artificial or too figurative for the gravity, dignity, or importance, of the occasion, may be put in a third class.
Chimene demanding justice against Rodrigue who killed her father, instead of plain and pathetic expostulation, makes a speech stuffed with the most artificial flowers of rhetoric;-than which nothing can be contrived in language more averse to the tone of the passion: it is more apt to provoke laughter than to inspire concern or pity.
In a fourth class shall be given specimens of language too light or airy for a severe passion.
Imaginary and figurative expressions are discordant, in the highest degree, with the agony of a mother, who is deprived of two hopeful sons by a brutal murder. The following passage is in a bad taste.
Queen. Ah, my poor princes! ah, my tender babes!
And be not fixt in doom perpetual,
K. Philip. You are as fond of grief as of your child.
A thought that turns upon the expression instead of the subject, commonly called a play of words, is unworthy of a composition that pretends to any degree of elevation: thoughts of this kind make a fifth class.
In the Amynta of Tasso,* the lover falls into a mere play of words, demanding how he, who had lost himself, could find a mistress.
To die is to be banish'd from myself:
Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.-ACT III. Sc. 1.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.-ACT III. Sc. 2.
SECOND PART HENRY IV. Act IV. Sc. 4.
Antony, speaking of Julius Cæsar:
O world! thou wast the forest of this hart:
JULIUS CESAR.-ACT III. Sc. 1.
Playing thus with the sound of words is worse than a pun, and the meanest of all conceits. But Shak
*Act I. Sc. 2.
speare, when he descends to a play of words, is not always in the wrong; for it is done sometimes to denote a peculiar character, as in the following passage:
K. Philip. What say'st thou boy? look in the lady's face.
Till now infixed I beheld myself
Falconbridge. Drawn in the flatt'ring table of her eye!
That hang'd, and drawn, and quarter'd, there should be
KING JOHN. ACT II. Sc. 2.
A jingle of words is the lowest species of that low wit, which is scarce sufferable in any case, and least of all in an heroic poem; and yet Milton, in some instances, has descended to that puerility:
And brought into the world a world of woe.
Beseeching or besieging
Which tempted our attempt
At one slight bound high overleap'd all bound.
-With a shout
One would think it unnecessary to enter a caveat against an expression that has no meaning, or no distinct meaning; and yet somewhat of that kind may be found even among good writers. Such make a fifth class.
Sebastian. I beg no pity for this mould'ring clay:
If burnt and scatter'd in the air; the winds
That strew my dust, diffuse my royalty,
And spread me o'er your clime; for where one atom
DRYDEN, DON SEBASTIAN KING OF PORTUGAL, Act I.