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Then, crush'd by rules, and weaken'd as refind,
For years the power of Tragedy declin'd ;
From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,
Till Declamation roar'd whilst Passion slept ;
Yet still did Virtue deign the stage to tread,
Philosophy remain'd, though Nature fled.
But forc'd, at length, her ancient reign to quit,
She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of Wit;
Exulting Folly haild the joyful day,
And Pantomime and Song confirm'd her sway.
But who the coming changes can presage,
And mark the future periods of the Stage?
Perhaps, if skill could distant times explore,
New Behns, new Durfeys, yet remain in store;
Perhaps where Lear has rav'd, and Hamlet died,
On flying cars new sorcerers may ride :
Perhaps (for who can guess th’ effects of chance ?)
Here Hunt may box, or Mahomet* may
Hard is his lot that here by Fortune plac'd,
Must watch the wild vicissitudes of taste ;
With ev'ry meteor of caprice must play,
And chase the new-blown bubbles of the day.
Ah! let not Censure term our fate our choice,
The stage but echoes back the publick voice;
The drama's laws, the drama's patrons give,
For we that live to please, must please to live.
Then prompt no more the follies you decry,
As tyrants doom their tools of guilt to die;
'Tis Yours, this night, to bid the reign commence
Of rescued Nature and reviving Sense ;
To chase the charms of Sound, the pomp of Show,
For useful Mirth and salutary Woe;
Bid scenic Virtue form the rising age,
And Truth diffuse her radiance from the stage.
• Hunt, a famous boxer on the stage ; Mahomet, a rope-dancer, who had exhibited at Covent-Garden Theatre the winter before, said to be a Turk.
PROLOGUE. Ye glitt'ring train, whom lace and velvet bless, Suspend the soft solicitudes of dress ! From grov'ling business and superfluous care, Ye sons of Avarice, a moment spare ! Vot'ries of Fame, and worshippers of Power, Dismiss the pleasing phantoms for an hour ! Our daring bard, with spirit unconfin'd, Spreads wide the mighty moral for mankind. Learn here how Heaven supports the virtuous mind, Daring, though calm; and vig'rous, though resign'd, Learn here what anguish racks the guilty breast, In pow'r dependant, in success depress’d. Learn here that Peace from Innocence must flow; All else is empty sound and idle show.
If truths like these with pleasing language join;
Ennobled, yet unchang'd, if Nature shine;
If no wild draught depart from Reason's rules,
Nor gods his heroes, nor his lovers fools :
Intriguing Wits ! his artless plot forgive ;
And spare him, Beauties! though his lovers live.
Be this at least his praise, be this his pride;
To force applause no modern arts are tried.
Should partial cat-calls all his hopes confound,
He bids no trumpet quell the fatal sound.
Should welcome sleep relieve the weary wit,
He rolls no thunders o'er the drowsy pit.
No snares to captivate the judgment spreads,
Nor bribes your eyes to prejudice your heads.
Unmov'd though Witlings sneer and Rivals rail ;
Studious to please, yet not asham'd to fail.
He scorns the meek address, the suppliant strain,
With merit needless, and without it vain.
In Reason, Nature, Truth, he dares to trust :
Ye Fops, be silent: and ye Wits, be just!
DEMETRIUS and LEONTIUS, in Turkish habits. Leon. And is it thus Demetrius meets his friend, Hid in the mean disguise of Turkish robes, With servile secrecy to lurk in shades, And vent our suffạrings in clandestine groans ?
Dem. Till breathless fury rested from destruction, These groans were fatal, these disguises vain; But now our Turkish conquerors have quench'd Their rage, and pall’d their appetite of murder ; No more the glutted sabre thirsts for blood, And weary cruelty remits her tortures.
Leon. Yet Greece enjoys no gleam of transient hope, No soothing interval of peaceful sorrow; The lust of gold succeeds the rage of conquest, The lust of gold, unfeeling and remorseless, The last corruption of degenerate man! Urg’d by th' imperious soldiers' fierce command, The groaning Greeks break up their golden caverns Pregnant with stores that India's mines might envy, Th' accumulated wealth of toiling ages.
Dem. That wealth, too sacred for their country's use ! That wealth, too pleasing to be lost for freedom ! That wealth, which, granted to their weeping prince, Had rang'd embattled nations at our gates ! But, thus reserv'd to lure the wolves of Turkey, Adds shame to grief, and infamy to ruin. Lamenting Av’rice now too late discovers Her own neglected in the publick safety.
Leon. Reproach not misery—The sons of Greece,
Ill-fated race! so oft besieg'd in vain,
With false security beheld invasion.
Why should they fear?–That pow'r that kindly spreads
The clouds, a signal of impending showers
To warn the wand'ring linnet to the shade,
Beheld without concern expiring Greece,
And not one prodigy foretold our fate.
Dem. A thousand horrid prodigies foretold it.
A feeble government, eluded laws,
A factious populace, luxurious nobles,
And all the maladies of sinking states. -
When publick Villainy, too strong for justice,
Shews his bold front, the harbinger of ruin,
Can brave Leontius call for airy wonders,
Which cheats interpret, and which fools regard ?
When some neglected fabrick nods beneath
The weight of years, and totters to the tempest,
Must Heav'n dispatch the messengers of light,
Or wake the dead, to warn us of its fall?
Leon. Well might the weakness of our empire sink
Before such foes of more than human force;
Some Pow'r invisible, from Heav'n or Hell,
Conducts their armies, and asserts their cause.
Dem. And yet, my friend, what miracles were wrought
Beyond the pow'r of constancy and courage ?
Did unresisted lightning aid their cannon?
Did roaring whirlwinds sweep us from the ramparts?
'Twas vice that shook our nerves, 'twas vice, Leontius,
That froze our veins, and wither'd all our pow'rs.
Leon. Whate'er our crimes, ourwoes demand compassion. Each night, protected by the friendly darkness, Quitting my close retreat, I range the city, And, weeping, kiss the venerable ruins : With silent pangs I view the tow’ring domes, Sacred to pray’r; and wander through the streets, Where commerce, lavish'd unexhausted plenty, And jollity maintain'd eternal revels.