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ON THE OLD
ENGLISH DRAMATICK WRITERS.
To DAVID GARRICK, Esq.
T is not unnatural to imagine that, on the first
Glance of your Eye over the Advertisement of a new Pamphlet, addrefied to yourself, you are apt to feel fome little Emotion ; that
beltow more than ordinary Attention on the Title, as it stands in the News-Paper, and take Notice of the Name of the Publisher..--Is it Compliment or Abuse ? One of these being determined, you are perhaps eager to be fatisfied, whether some coarse Hand haslaid on Encomi. ums with a Trowel, or some more elegant Writer(such as the Author of The Actor for Inflance) has done Credit to himself and you by his Panegyrick ; or, on the other Hand, whetherany offended Genius has employed thofe Talents against you, which he is ambitious of exercising in the Service of your Theatre; or fome common Scribe has taken your Character, as he would that of any other Man or Woman, or Minister, or the King, if he durst, as a popular Topick of Scandal.
Be not alarmed on the present Occasion ; nor, with that Consciousness of your own Merit, fo natural to the Celebrated and eminent, indulge yourfelf in an Acquicscence with the Justice of ten thoufand fine Things, which you may suppose ready to
te faid to you. No private Satire or Panegyrick, but llie general Good of the Republick of letters, an:) of the Drama in particular, is intended. Thoug! Praise and Dilprailc ftand rearly on cach Side, like the Vefsels of Good and Evil on the Right and Leit Hand of Jupiter, I do not mean to cip into either: Or, if I do, it fhall be, like the Pagan Godhead himself, to mingle a due Proportion of each. Sonnetiines, perhaps, I may fod Fauit, ani fometimes bestow Commendation : But you must not expect to hear of the Quickness of your Conception, the Justice of your execution, the Expreilion of your Eye, the Harmony of your Voice, or the Variety and Excellency of your Deportment'; vor ihall you be maliciously informed, that you are morter than Barry, leaner than Quin, and less a favourite of the Upper Gallery than IV odvard or Sputer,
The following pages are destined to contain a Vindication of the Works of Malja-zger, one of our old Dramatick Writers, who very feldon falls
much beneath Shakespeare himself, and fometimes -almost rites to a proud Rivallhip of his chiefcit Excellencies. They are meant too as a laadable, though faint, Attempt to rescue these admirable .Pieces from the too general Neglect which they now labour under, and to recommend them to the Notice of the Publick. To whom then can inch an Eliay be more properly inscribed than to you, when that Publick seems to have appointeł, as its chief Arbiter Deliciarum, to preside over the Amulements of the Theatre? But there is also, by the bye, a private kcafon for addresing you. Your honet Friend Davies, who, as is laid of the provident Comedian in Holland, spends his Hour. of Vacation from the Theatre in his Shop, is too well acquainted with the Líficacy of your Name at the Top of a Play-bill, to ornit an Opportunity of prefixing it to a new Publication, hoping it may prove a Churn
to draw in Purchasers, like the Head of Shakespedra on his Sign. My Letter to being anonymous, your Name at che Head, will more than compensate for the Want of mine at the End of it: And our above-mentioned Friend is, no Doubt, too well versed in both his Occupations, not to know thé Consequeriee of Secrecy in a Bookseller, as well as the Necessity of concealing from the Publick many Things that pass behind the Curtains
!! 11:13 There is perhaps no Country in the World more Subordinate to the Power of Fashion than our own. Every Whim, every Word, every. Vice, every Vir: tue, in its Turn becoines the Mode, and is followed wich a certain Rage of Approbation for a Time. The favourite Stile in all the polite Arts, and the reigning Taste in Letters, are as notorioufy Objects of Caprice as Architecture and Dress. A new Poem, or Novel, or Farce, are as inconsiderately extolled or decried as a Ruff or a Chinese Rail, a Hoop or a Bow Window. Hence it happens, that the publick Taste is often vitiated : Or it, by Chance, it has made a proper Choicey becomes i partially attached to one Species of Excellence, and remains dead to the Sense of all other Merit, however equals or superior.
I think I may venture to assert, with a Confidence, that on Reflection it will appears to be true, that the eminent Class of Writers, who flourished at the Bar ginning of this Centurys have almost entirely superfeded their illustrious Predeceffors. The Works of CongreveVanbrugh, Steele, Addifone Pope, Swift, Gray, &c. &c, are the chief Study of the Million : 1 say, of the Million ; for as to those few, who are not only familiar with all our own Authors, but are also con versant with the Ancients, they are not to be cir cumscribed by the narrow Limits of the Fanion, Shakespeare and Milton feen to stand alone, like firstrale Authors, amid the general Wreck of Old English
Literaturel. Milton perhaps owes much of his prefont Fame to the generous Labours and good Tafte of Addifon. Shakespeare has been transmitted down to us with fucceffive Glories ; and you, Sir, have continued, or rather increased, his Reputation. You have, oin no fulsome Strain of Compliment; been stiled the Best Commentator on his Works : Bat have you not, like other Commentators, contracted a narrow, exclufive; Veneration of your Adihop? Has not nhe Contemplation of Shakespeare's Excellencies almost dazzled and extinguished your Judgement, when directed to other Objects, and made you blind to the Merit of his Cotemporaries? Under your Dominion, have not Beaumont and Flet. cher, nay even Jolmjon, fuffered a Kind of theatrical Difgrace? And has not poor Majlinger, whofe Cause I have now undertaken, been permitted to languish in Obscurity; and remained almost entirely unknown: * To this perbaps it may be plaufibly answered, nor indeed without some Foundation, that many of our old Plays, though they abound with Beauties, and are raised much above the humble Level of later Writers, are yet, on several Accounts, unfit to be exhibited on the modern Stage; that the Fable, instead of being raised on probable Incidents in real Life,ris generally built on some foreign Novels and attended with romancick Circumstances; that the Conduct of these extravagant Stories is frequently uncouth, and infinitely offensive to that dramatick Correctnefs prefcribed by låte Criticks, and practifed, as they pretend, by the French Writers; and that the Characters. exhibited in our old Plays, can have no pleasing Effect on a modern Audience, as they are fo totally different from the Manners of the prefent Age.
Thefe, and such as these, might once have appeared reasonable Objections : But you, Sir, of all
Persons, Persons, can urge them with the least Grace, fince your Practice bas so fully proved their Insufficiency. Your Experience must have taught you, that when a Piece has any striking Beauties, they will cover a Multitude of Inaccuracies į and that a Play need not be written on the feverest Plan, to please in the lepresentation. The Mind is foon familiarized to ir . regularities, which do not on againil the Truth of Nature, but are merely Violations of that faict De. corum of late so earnestly inihed on.. What patient Spectators are we of the Inconfiftencics that contef
iedly prevail in our darling Shakesfeare! What critical Catcall ever proclaimed the Indecency of introducing the Stocks in the Tragedy of Lear. How quietly do we sve Glojier take his imaginary Leap from Dover Cliff! Or to give a fronger infance of Patience, with what a philosophical Caimnets do the Ziudience dofe over the tedious, and uninteresting, Love-Scenes, with which the bungling Hand of Tate has coarsely pieced and patched that sich Work of Shakespeare!-- Tonitance further from Shakespeare hiineli, the Grave-diggers in Hamitt (not to men
tion Folonius) are not oniy, endured, but applauded; the very Nurse in Romeo and Juliet is allowed to be Nature; the Transactions of a whole History are, without Offence, legun and compleated in less than three Hours ; and we are agrceably wasted by the Chorus, or oftener without so much Ceremony, from one End of the World to another.
It is very true, that it was the general Practice of our oid Writers, to found their ]'ieces on some foreign Novel; and it seemed to be their chief Aim to take the Story, as it stood, with all its appendant incidents of every Complexion, and throw it into Scenes. This Method was, to be sure, rather inartificial, as it at once overloaded and einbarrailed the Fable, leaving it deftitute of that beautiful dramatick Connection, which enables the Mind to take in ail