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Clelia : which opened of itself in the place that describes two lovers in a bower.
A Prayer-book; with a bottle of Hungary water by the side of it.
Dr. Sacheverell's Speech.
I was taking a catalogue in my pocket-book of these, and several other authors, when Leonora entered, and, upon my presenting her with the letter from the Knight, told me, with an unspeakable grace, that she hoped Sir Roger was in good health. I answered yes ; for I hate long speeches, and after a bow or two retired.
Leonora was formerly a celebrated beauty, and is still a very lovely woman. She has been a widow for two or three years, and being unfortunate in her first marriage, has taken a resolution never to venture upon a second. She has no children to take care of, and leaves the management of her estate to my good friend Sir Roger. But as the mind naturally sinks
into a kind of lethargy, and falls asleep, that is not agitated by some favourite pleasures and pursuits, Leonora has turned all the passions of her sex, into a love of books and retirement. She converses chiefly with men, (as she has often said herself,) but it is only in their writings; and admits of very few male-visitants, except my friend Sir Roger, whom she hears with great pleasure, and without scandal. As her reading has lain very much among romances, it has given her a very particular turn of thinking, and discovers itself even in her house, her gardens, and her furniture. Sir Roger has entertained me an hour together with a description
of her country-seat, which is situated in a kind of wilderness, about an hundred miles distant from London, and looks like a little enchanted palace. The rocks about her are shaped into artificial grottoes, covered with wood-bines and jessamines. The woods are cut into shady walks, twisted into bowers, and filled with cages of turtles. The springs are made to run among pebbles, and by that means taught to murmur very agreeably. They are likewise collected into a beautiful lake, that is inhabited by a couple of swans, and empties itself by a little rivulet which runs through a green meadow, and is known in the family by the name of The Purling Stream. The Knight likewise tells me, that this lady preserves her game better than any of the gentlemen in the country. Not (says Sir Roger) that she sets so great a value upon her partridges and pheasants, as upon her larks and nightingales. For she says that every bird which is killed in her ground, will spoil a concert, and that she shall certainly miss him the next year.'
When I think how oddly this lady is improved by learning, I look upon her with a mixture of admiration and pity. Amidst these innocent entertainments which she has formed to herself, how much more valuable does she appear than those of her sex, who employ themselves in diversions that are less reasonable, though more in fashion! What improvements would a woman have made, who is so susceptible of impressions from what she reads, had she been guided to such books as have a tendency to enlighten the understanding and rectify the passions, as well as to those which are of little more use than to divert the imagination !
But the manner of a lady's employing herself usefully in reading shall be the subject of another paper, in which I design to recommend such particular books as may be proper for the improvement of the sex. And as this is a subject of a very nice nature, I shall desire my correspondents to give me their thoughts upon it.
No. 39. SATURDAY, APRIL 14.
Multa fero, ut placem genus irritabile datum,
As a perfect tragedy is the noblest production of human nature, so it is capable of giving the mind one of the most delightful and most improving entertainments.
A virtuous man (says Seneca) struggling with misfortunes, is such a spectacle as gods might look upon with pleasure;' and such a pleasure it is which one meets with in the representation of a well-written tragedy. Diversions of this kind wear out of our thoughts every thing that is mean and little. They cherish and cultivate that humanity which is the ornament of our nature. They soften insolence, soothe affliction, and subdue the mind to the dispensations of Providence.
It is no wonder, therefore, that in all the polite nations of the world, this part of the drama has met with public encouragement.
The modern tragedy excels that of Greece and Rome, in the intricacy and disposition of the fable; but, what a Christian writer would be ashamed to own, falls infinitely short of it in the moral part of the performance.
This I may shew more at large hereafter ; and in the mean time, that I may contribute something towards the improvement of the English tragedy, I shall take notice, in this, and in other following papers, of some particular parts in it that seem liable to exception.
Aristotle observes, that the lambic verse in the Greek tongue was the most proper for tragedy ; because at the same time that it lifted up the discourse from prose, it was that which approached nearer to it than any other kind of verse. * For, (says he,) we may observe that men in ordinary discourse very often speak Iambics, without taking notice of it.' We may make the same observation of our English blank verse, which often
enters into our common discourse, though we do not attend to it, and is such a due medium between rhyme and prose, that it seems wonderfully adapted to tragedy. I am therefore very much offended when I see a play in rhyme; which is as absurd in English, as a tragedy of Herameters would have been in Greek or Latin. The solecism is, I think, still greater in those plays that have some scenes in rhyme, and some in blank verse, which are to be looked upon as two several languages; or where we see some particular similies dignified with rhyme, at the same time that every thing about them lies in blank verse. I would not, however, debar the poet from concluding his tragedy, or, if he pleases, every act of it, with two or three couplets, which may have the same effect as an air in the Italian opera after a long recitativo, and give the actor a gracefül exit. Besides that we see a diversity of numbers in some parts of the old tragedy, in order to hinder the ear from being tired with the same continued modulation of voice. For the same reason I do not dislike the speeches in our English tragedy that close with an hemistic, or half verse, notwithstanding the person who speaks after it begins a new verse, without filling up the preceding one; nor with abrupt pauses and breakings off in the middle of a verse, when they humour any passion that is expressed by it.
Since I am upon this subject, I must observe, that our English poets have succeeded much better in the style than in the sentiments of their tragedies. Their language is very often noble and sonorous, but the sense either very trifling, or very common. On the contrary, in the ancient tragedies, and indeed in those of Corneille and Racine, though the expressions are very great, it is the thought that bears them up and swells them. For my own part, I prefer a noble sentiment that is depressed with homely language, infinitely before a vulgar one that is blown up with all the sound and energy of expression. Whether this defect in our tragedies may rise from want of genius, knowledge, or experience in the writers, or from their compliance
with the vicious taste of their readers, who are better judges of the language than of the sentiments, and consequently relish the one more than the other, I cannot determine. But I believe it might rectify the conduct both of the one and of the other, if the writer laid down the whole contexture of his dialogue in plain English, before he turned it into blank verse ; and if the reader, after the perusal of a scene, would consider the naked thought of every speech in it, when divested of all its tragic ornaments; by this means, without being imposed upon by words, we may judge impartially of the thought, and consider whether it be natural or great enough for the person that utters it, whether it deserves to shine in such a blaze of eloquence, or shew itself in such a variety of lights as are generally made use of by the writers of our English tragedy.
I must in the next place observe, that when our thoughts are great and just, they are often obscured by the sounding phrases, hard metaphors, and forced expressions in which they are cloathed. Shakespear is often very faulty in this particular. There is a fine observation in Aristotle to this purpose, which I have never seen quoted. The expression (says he) ought to be very
much laboured in the unactive parts of the fable, as in descriptions, similitudes, narrations, and the like; in which the opinions, manners, and passions of men are not represented; for these (namely, the opinions, manners, and passions) are apt to be obscured by pompous phrases, and elaborate expressions. Horace, who copied most of his criticisms after Aristotle, seems to have had his eye on the foregoing rule, in the following verses:
Et tragicus plerumque dolet sermone pedestri.