« 前へ次へ »
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 possible in human life. Nothing here excites or assuages emotion ;, here is no magical power of raising phantastick terror or wild anxiety. The events are expected without solicitude, 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 wish 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 efteem. But they are made the vehicles of such kntinents and such expression, that there is scarcely a scene in the play which the reader does not with to impress upon his memory.
When Cato was shewn to Pope *, he advised the author to print it, without any theatrical exhibition; fupposing 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 univerfality 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 shewed many faults ; he fhewed 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 that applause is natural and sponta
neous; 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 å “ tragedy, who knows he has judgement, and who “ feels he has genius, that poet presu!nes upon his “ own merit, and scorns to make a cabal. That peo
ple come coolly to the representation of such a tra“gedy without any violent expectation, or delusive “ iinagination, or invincible prepoffeffion; that such “ an audience is liable to receive the impressions which “ the poem shall naturally make in them, and to judge “ by their own reason, and their own judgements, and “ that reason and judgement are calm and ferene, not ... formed by nature to make proselytes, and to controul
“ and lord it over the imaginations of others. But “ that when an author writes a tragedy, who knows he “has neither genius nor judgement, he has recourse to “ the making a party, and he endeavours to make up “ in industry what is wanting in talent, and to supply “ by poetical craft the absence of poetical art: that “ such an author is humbly contented to 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 prepossession, are cla“ morous and tumultuous things, and so much the
more clamorous and tumultuous by how much the
more erroneous: that they domineer and tyrannize “ over the imaginations of persons who want judge“ment, and sometimes too of those who have it; and, “ like a fierce and outrageous torrent, bear down all “ opposition before them.” He then condemns the neglect of poetical jus
which is always one of his favourite princi. ples.
“ 'Tis certainly the duty of every tragick poet, by s the exact distribution of poetical justice, to imitate “ the Divine Dispensation, and to inculcate a pars ticular Providence. 'Tis true, indeed, upon the " stage of the world, the wicked sometimes prosper, “ and the guiltless suffer. But that is permitted by “the Governor of the world, to shew, from the attri“ bute of his infinite justice, that there is a compensa“tion in futurity, to prove the immortality of the “ human soul, and the certainty of future rewards and ” punishments. But the poetical persons in tragedy “ exist no longer than the reading, or the representa" tion; the whole extent of their entity is circum
“ scribed by those; and therefore, during that reading “ or representation, according to their merits or de“merits, they must be punished or rewarded. If this “ is not done, there is no impartial distribution of
poe“ tical justice, no instructive lecture of a particular “ Providence, and no imitation of the Divine Dispen“ sation. 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 treachery and perfi“ diousness of Syphax prevails over the honest sim
plicity and the credulity of Juba; and the fly sub“ tlety and dissimulation of Portius over the ge
nerous frankness and open-heartedness of Marcus.”
Whatever pleasure there may be in seeing crimes punished and virtue rewarded, yet, since wickedness often profpers 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 account of his son's death.
“ Nor is the grief of Cato, in the fourth act, 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 sort of satisfac“ tion; and in the same page sheds tears for the cala“ mity of his country, and does the same thing in the
next page upon the bare apprehension of the danger ~ of his friends. Now, since the love of one's country “ is the love of one's countrymen, as I have shewn
upon another occasion, I desire to ask these questions : “ Of all our countrymen, which do we love most, “ those whom we know, or those whom we know not? “ And of those whom we know, which do we cherish “ most, our friends or our enemies? And of our “ friends, which are the dearest to us? those who “ are related to us, or those who are not? And of all « our relations, for which have we most tenderness, “ for those who are near to us, or for those who are “ remote ? And of our near relations, which are the “ nearest, and consequently the dearest to us, our off
spring or others ? Our offspring, most certainly; as
nature, or in other words Providence, has wisely “ contrived for the preservation of mankind. Now, “ does it not follow, from what has been said, that “ for a man to receive the news of his son's death with
dry eyes, and to weep at the same time for the cala“mities of his country, is a wretched affectation, and
a miserable inconsistency? Is not that, in plain Eng“ lith, to receive with dry eyes the news of the deaths “ of those for whose fake our country is a name fo “ dear to us, and at the same time to thed tears for “ those for whose fakes our country is not a name fo « dear to us?"
But this formidable assailant is leaft refiftible when he attacks the probability of the action, and the reason5