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There he will feldom or ever find that Tumour of Blank Verfe, to which he has been fo much accustomed. He will be furprized with a familiar Dignity, which, though it rifes fomewhat above ordinary Converfation, is rather an Improvement than Perverfion of it. He will foon be convinced that Blank Verfe is by no Means appropriated folely to the Bufkin, but that the Hand of a Mafter may mould it to whatever Purposes he pleases; and that in Comedy it will not only admit Humour, but heighten and embellish it. Inftances might be produced without Number. It muft however be lamented, that the modern Tragick Stile, free, indeed, from the mad Flights of Dryden, and his Cotemporaries, yet departs equally from Nature. I am apt to think it is in great Meafure owing to the almoft total Exclufion of Blank Verfe from all modern Compofitions, Tragedy excepted. The common Ufe of an elevated Diction in Comedy, where the Writer was often, of Neceffity, put upon expreffing the most ordinary Matters, and where the Subject demanded him to paint the most ridiculous Emotions of the Mind, was perhaps one of the chief Causes of that eafy Vigour, fo confpicuous in the Stile of the old Tragedies. Habituated to poetical Dialogue in those Compofitions, wherein they were obliged to adhere more strictly to the Simplicity of the Language of Nature, the Poets learnt, in those of a more raised Species, not to depart from it too wantonly. They were well acquainted alfo with the Force as well as Elegance of their Mother-Tongue, and chose to use fuch Words as may be called Natives of the Language, rather than to harmonize their Verfes, and agonize the Audience with Latin Terminations. Whether the refined Stile of Addifon's Cat, and the flowing Verfification of Rowe, firft occafioned this Departure from ancient Simplicity, it is difficult to determine: But it is too true, that Southern was the
laft of our Dramatic Writers, who was, in any Degree, poffeft of that magnificent Plainness, which is the genuine Drefs of Nature; though indeed the Plays even of Rowe are more fimple in their Stile, than those which have been produced by his Succeffors. It muft not, however, be diffembled in this Place, that the Stile of our old Writers is not without Faults; that they were apt to give too much into Conceits; that they often pursued an allegorical Train of Thought too far; and were fometimes betrayed into forced, unnatural, quaint, or gigantick Expreffions. In the Works of Shakespeare himself, every one of these Errors may be found; yet it may be fafely afferted, that no other Author, antient or modern, has expreffed himself on such a Variety of Subjects with more Eafe, and in a Vein more truly poetical, unless, perhaps, we should except Homer: Of which, by the bye, the deepest Critick, most converfant with Idioms and Dialects, is not quite a competent Judge.
I would not be underflood, by what I have here faid of Poetical Dialogue, to object to the Use of Profe, or to infinuate that our modern Comedies are the worse for being written in that Stile. It is enough for me, to have vindicated the Ufe of a more elevated Manner among our old Writers. I am well aware that moft Parts of Falstaff, Ford, Benedick, Malvolio, &c. are written in Profe; nor indeed would I counfel a modern Writer to attempt the Ufe of Poetical Dialogue in a mere Comedy: A Dramatick Tale, indeed, chequered, like Life itfelf, with various Incidents, ludicrous and affecting, if written by a masterly Hand, and fomewhat more feverely than those abovementioned, would, I doubt not, ftill be received with Candour and Applaufe. The Publick would be agreeably furprised with the Revival of Poetry on the Theatre, and the Opportunity of employing all the best Performers, ferious
as well as comick, in one Piece, would render it ftill more likely to make a favourable Impreffion on the Audience. There is a Gentleman, not unequal to fuch a Talk, who was once tempted to begin a Piece of this Sort; but, I fear, he has too much Love of Eafe and Indolence, and too little Ambition of literary Fame, ever to complete it.
But to conclude:
Have I, Sir, been wafting all this Ink and Time in vain? Or may it be hoped that you will extend fome of that Care to the reft of our old Authors, which you have fo long beftowed on Shakespeare, and which you have fo often lavished on many a worfe Writer, than the moft inferior of thofe here recommended to you? It is certainly your Intereft to give Variety to the Publick Tafte, and to diverfify the Colour of our Dramatick Entertainments. Encourage new Attempts; but do Juftice to the Old! The Theatre is a wide Field. Let not one or two Walks of it alone be beaten, but lay open the Whole to the Excurfions of Genius! This, perhaps,, might kindle a Spirit of Originality in our modern Writers for the Stage; who might be tempted to aim at more Novelty in their Compofitions, when the Liberality of the popular Tafte rendered it lefs hazardous. That the Narrownefs of Theatrical Criticism might be enlarged, I have no Doubt. Reflect, for a Moment, on the uncommon Success of Romeo and Juliet, and Every Man in his Humour! and then tell me, whether there are not many other Pieces of as antient a Date, which, with the like proper Curtailments and Alterations, would produce the fame Effect? Has an induftrious Hand been at the Pains to fcratch up the Dunghill of Dryden's Amphitryon for the few Pearls that are buried in it, and fall the rich Treasures of Beaumont and Fletcher, Fonfon and Mafinger, lie (as it were) in the Ore, untouched and difregarded? Reform your Lift of Plays!
Plays! In the Name of Burbage, Taylor, and Petterton, I conjure you to it! Let the veteran Criticks once more have the Satisfaction of feeing The Maid's Tragedy, Philafter, King and no King, &c. on the Stage!-Reftore Fletcher's Elder Brother to the Rank unjustly ufurped by Cibber's Love Makes a Man! and fince you have wifely defifted from giving an annual Affront to the City by acting The London Cuckolds on Lord-Mayor's Day, why will you not pay them a Compliment, by exhibiting The City Madam of Maffinger on the fame Occafion?
If after all, Sir, thefe Remonftrances fhould prove without Effect, and the Merit of thefe great Authors fhould plead with you in vain, I will here fairly turn my Back upon you, and addrefs myself to the Lovers of Dramatick Compofitions in general. They, I am fure, will perufe thofe Works with Pleafure in the Clofet, though they lofe the Satisfaction of feeing them reprefented on the Stage: Nay, fhould they, together with you, concur in deter. mining that fuch Picces are unfit to be acted, you, as well as they, will, I am confident, agree, that fuch Pieces are, at leaft, very worthy to be read. There are many modern Compofitions, feen with Delight at the Theatre, which ficken on the Tafte in the Perufal; and the honeft Country Gentleman, who has not been prefent at the Reprefentation, wonders with what his London Friends have been fo highly entertained, and is as much perplexed at the Town-manner of Writing as Mr. Smith in The Rebearfal. The Excellencies of our old Writers are, on the contrary, not confined to Time and Place, but always bear about them the Evidences of true Genius.
Maffinger is perhaps the leaft known, but not the leaft meritorious of any of the old Class of Writers. His Works declare him to be no mean Proficient in the fame School. He poffeffes all the Beauties and
Blemishes common to the Writers of that Age. He has, like the reft of them, in Compliance with the Custom of the Times, admitted Scenes of a low and grofs Nature, which might be admitted with no more Prejudice to the Fable, than the Buffoonry in Venice Preferved. For his few Faults he makes ample Atonement. His Fables are, most of them, affecting; his Characters well conceived, and ftrongly supported; and his Diction, flowing, various, elegant, and manly. His two Plays, revived by Betterton, The Bondman, and The Roman Actor, are not, I think, among the Number of his belt. The Duke of Milan, The Renegado, The Picture, The Fatal Dowry, The Maid of Honour, A New Way to pay Old Debts, The Unnatural Combat, The Guardian, The City Madam, are each of them, in my Mind, more excellent. He was a very popular Writer in his own Times, but fo unaccountably, as well as unjustly, neglected at prefent, that the accurate Compilers of a Work, called, The Lives of the Poets, publifhed under the learned Name of the late Mr. Theophilus Cibber, have not fo much as mentioned him. He is, however, take him for all in all, an Author, whofe Works the intelligent Reader will perufe with Admiration: And that I may not be fuppofed to withdraw my Plea for his Admiffion to the modern Stage, I fhall conclude thefe Reflections with one more Specimen of his Abilities; fubmitting it to all Judges of Theatrical Exhibitions, whether the most mafterly Actor would not here have an Opportuity of difplaying his Powers to Advantage.
The Extract I mean to fubjoin is from the laft Scene of the firft Act of The Duke of Milan.Sforza, having espoused the Cause of the King of France against the Emperor, on the King's Defeat, is advised by a Friend, to yield himself up to the Emperor's Difcretion. He confents to this Mea