« 上一頁繼續 »
the description of the approach of the Evil One, and the effect which his presence produces upon the attendants, the domestic animals, and the wizard himself, is an instance, amongst many, of the powerful interest which may lie produced by a judicious appeal to the early prejudices of superstition. I may be pardoned, however, when I add, that such scenes are, in general, unfit for the stage, where the actual appearance of a demon is apt to excite emotions rather ludicrous than terrific. Accordingly, that of Dryden failed in the representation. The circumstance, upon which the destruction of the wizard turns, is rather puerile; but there are many similar fables in the annals of popular superstition +.
Lee's part of this play is, in general, very well written, and contains less rant than he usually puts in the mouths of his characters.
The factions have been long at rest which were so deeply agitated by the first representation of this performance; yet some pains has been taken to trace those points of resemblance, which gave so much offence to one party, and triumph to the other.
♦ In truth, the devil and the conjuror did not always play upon the square, but often took the most unfair advantages of each other. There is more than one instance of bad faith in the history of that renowned enchanter, Peter label. On one occasion, he prevailed upon the devil, when he came to carry him otf, to repose himself in an enchanted chair, from which he refused to liberate him, until he had granted him an additional lease of seven years. When this term was also expired, he had the eloquence and art to prevail on the fiend to allow him a farther respite, till a wax taper, then nearly expiring, was burned out. This boon beiug granted, he instantly put out the light, and deposited the taper in the church at Edmonton. Hence, in Weivcr's " Funeral Monuments," he is thus mentioned: "Here (at Edmonton) lieth interred, under a seemly tombe without inscription, the body of Peter Fabcll, as the report goes, upon whom this fable was fathered, that he, by his wittie devices, beguiled the devill." p. 414. See also the Booh of his Mtrry Prankea. Another instance occurs, in the famous history of Friar Bacon, (London 1666) where that renowned conjurer is recorded to have saved a man, that had given himself to the devil on condition of his debts being paid. The case was referred to the friar. 'Deceiver of mankind, said he (speaking to the devil), it was thy bargain never to meddle with him so long as he was indebted to any; now how canst thou demand of him any thing, when he is indebted for all he hath to thee? When he payeth thee thy money, then take him as thy due; till then thou hast nothing to do with him; and so I charge thee to be gone.' At this the devil vanished with great horrour; but Fryar Bacon comforted the gentleman, and sent him home with a quiet conscience, bidding him never to pay the devil's money back, as he tendred bis own safety, which he promised for to observe." From these instances, Melanax might have quoted precedent for insisting on the literal execution of his stipulation with Malicorn, since, to give the devil his due, the strict legal interpretation appears always to have been applied to bargains of that nature.
Many must doubtless have escaped our notice; but enough remains to shew the singular felicity with which Dryden, in the present instance, as in that of " Absalom and Achitophel," could adapt the narrative of ancient or foreign transactions to the political events of his own time, and "moralize two meanings in one word." Altogether abstracted from this consideration, the " Duke of Guise," as a historical play, possesses merit amply sufficient to rescue it from the oblivion into which it has fallen.
The play was first acted 4th December, 16"82, and encountered a stormy and dubious, if not an unfavourable, reception. But as the strength of the court party increased, the piece was enabled to maintain its ground with more general approbation. It was performed by the united companies, and printed in 1683.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LAWRENCE, EARL OF ROCHESTER, &c*
The authors of this poem present it humbly to your lordship's patronage, if you shall think it wor
* Lawrence Hyde, created Earl of Rochester in 1682, was the second son of the famous Lord Clarendon, and affords a rare instance of the son of a disgraced minister recovering that favour at court, which had been withdrawn from his father. He was now at the head of the Commissioners for the Treasury, and a patron of our poet; as appears from the terms of Dryden's letter, soliciting his interest in very affecting terms, and from the subsequent dedication of " Cleomeries," where he acknowledges his lordship's goodness during the reign of two masters; and that, even from a bare treasury, his success was contrary to that of Mr Cowley j Gideon's fleece having been moistened, when all the ground was dry around it. The Earl of Rochester was the more .proper patron for the "Duke of Guise," as he was a violent opponent of the bill of exclusion. He was Lord High Treasurer in the reign of James II., and died in 17U.
thy of that honour. It has already been a confessor, and was almost made a martyr for the royal cause: but having stood two trials from its enemies,—one before it was acted, another in the representation,—and having been in both acquitted, it is now to stand the public censure in the reading: where since, of necessity, it must have the same enemies, we hope it may also find the same friends; and therein we are secure, not only of the greater number, but of the more honest and loyal party. We only expected bare justice in the permission to have it acted; and that we had, after a severe and long examination, from an upright and knowing judge, who, having heard both sides, and examined the merits of the cause, in a strict perusal of the play, gave sentence for us, that it was neither a libel, nor a parallel of particular persons*. In the representation itself, it was persecuted with so notorious malice by one side, that it procured us the partiality of the other; so that the favour more than recompensed the prejudice. And it is happier to have been saved (if so we were) by the indulgence of our good and faithful fellow-subjects, than y our own deserts; because, thereby the weakness of the faction is discovered, which, in us, at that time attacked the government, and stood combined, like the members of the rebellious League, against the lawful sovereign authority. To what topic will they have recourse, when they are manifestly beaten from their chief post, which has always been popularity, and majority of voices? They will tell us,—that the voices of a people are not to be gathered in a play-house; and yet, even there, the enemies, as well as friends, have free admission: but,,
Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, then Lord Chamberlain.