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Nec tarda senectus Debilitat vires atiimi, mutatque vigorem. VlEG. DON SEBASTIAN.
The following tragedy is founded upon the adventures supposed to have befallen Sebastian, king of Portugal, after the fatal battle of Alcazar. The reader may be briefly reminded of the memorable expedition of that gallant monarch to Africa, to signalize, against the Moors, his chivalry as a warrior, and his faith as a Christian. The ostensible pretext of invasion was the cause of Muly Mahomet, son of Abdalla, emperor of Morocco; upon whose death, his brother, Muly Moluch, had seized the crown, and driven his nephew into exile. The armies joined battle near Alcazar. The Portuguese, far inferior in number to the Moors, displayed the most desperate valour, and had nearly won the day, when Muly Moluch, who, though almost dying, was present on the field in a litter, fired with shame and indignation, threw himself on horseback, rallied his troops, renewed the combat, and, being carried back to his litter, immediately expired, with his finger placed on his lips, to impress on the chiefs, who surrounded him, the necessity of concealing his death. The Moors, rallied by their sovereign's dying exertion, surrounded, and totally routed, the army of Sebastian. Mahomet, the competitor for the throne of Morocco, was drowned in passing a river in his flight, and Sebastian, as his body was never found, probably perished in the same manner. But where the region of historical certainty ends, that of romantic tradition commences. The Portuguese, to whom the memory of their warlike sovereign was deservedly dear, grasped at the feeble hope which the uncertainty of his fate afforded, and long, with vain fondness, expected the return of Sebastian, to free them from the yoke of Spain. This mysterious termination of a hero's career, as it gave rise to various political intrigues, (for several persons assumed the name and character of Sebastian,) early afforded a subject for exercising the fancy of the dramatist and romance writer. "The Battle of Alcaaar•" is known to the collectors of old plays; a ballad on the
• " The Battle of Alcazar, with Captain Stukely's death, acted by the Lord High Admiral's servants, 1594," 4to. Baker thinks Drydcn might have taken the hint of " Don Sebastian" from this old play. Shakespeare drew from it some of the bouncing rants of Pistol, as, " Feed, and be fat; my fair Callipol'V
VOL. VII. S
same subject is reprinted in Evans's collection; and our author mentions a French novel on the adventures of Don Sebastian, to which Langbaine also refers.
The situation of Dryden, after the Revolution, was so delicate as to require great caution and attention, both in his choice of a subject, and his mode of treating it. His distressed circumstances and lessened income compelled him to come before the public as an author; while the odium attached to the proselyte of a hated religion, and the partizan of a depressed faction, was likely, upon the slightest pretext, to transfer itself from the person of the poet to the labours on which his support depended. He was, therefore, not only obliged to chuse a theme, which had no offence in it, and to treat it in a manner which could not admit of misconstruction, but also so to exert the full force of his talents, as, by the conspicuous pre-eminence of his genius, to bribe prejudice and silence calumny. An observing reader will accordingly discover, throughout the following tragedy, symptoms of minute finishing, and marks of accurate attention, which, in our author's better days, he deigned not to bestow upon productions, to which his name alone was then sufficient to give weight and privilege. His choice of a subject was singularly happy: the name of Sebastian awaked historical recollections and associations, favourable to the character of his hero; while the dark uncertainty of his fate removed all possibility of shocking the audience by glaring offence against the majesty of historical truth. The subject has, therefore, all the advantages of a historical play, without the defects, which either a rigid coincidence with history, or a violent contradiction of known truth, seldom fail to bring along with them. Dryden appears from his preface to have been fully sensible of this; and he has not lost the advantage of a happy subject by treating it with the carelessness he sometimes allowed himself to indulge.
The characters in " Don Sebastian" are contrasted with singular ability and judgment. Sebastian, high-spirited and fiery; the soul of royal and military honour; the soldier and the king; almost embodies the idea which the reader forms at the first mention of his name. Dorax, to whom he is so admirable a contrast, is oneof those characters whom the strong hand of adversi ly has wrested from their natural bias; and perhaps no equally vivid picture can befound, of a subject so awfully interesting. Bornwith a strong tendency to all that was honourable and virtuous, the very excess of his virtues became vice, when his own ill fate, and Sebastian's injustice, had driven him into exile. By comparing, as Dryden has requested, the character of Dorax, in the fifth act, with that he maintains in the former part of the play, the difference may be traced betwixt his natural virtues, and the vices engrafted on them by headlong passion and embittering calamity. There is no in