網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

of a dedication; for where praise is undeserved, it is satire; though satire on folly is now no longer a scandal to any one person, where a whole age is dipt together. Yet I had rather undertake a multitude one way, than a single Atticus the other; for it is easier to descend than it is to climb. I should have gone ashamed out of the world, if I had not at least attempted this address, which I have long thought owing: and if I had never attempted, I might have been vain enough to think I might have succeeded in it. Now I have made the experiment, and have failed through my unworthiness, I may rest satisfied, that either the adventure is not to be atchieved, or that it is reserved for some other hand.

Be pleased, therefore, since the family of the Attici is and ought to be above the common forms of concluding letters, that I may take my leave in the words of Cicero to the first of them: Me, O Pom.> pom, valdl pcenitet vivere: tantum te oro, ut quon'wm me ipse semper amhsti, ut eodem amore sis; ego nimirum idem sum. Inimici mei mea mihi non meipsum ademerunt. Cura, Attice, ut valeas.

Dabam. Cal,

V

THE

PREFACE.

Whether it happened through a long disuse of writing, that I forgot the usual compass of a play, or that, by crowding it with characters and incidents, I put a necessity upon myself of lengthening the main action, I know not; but the first day's audience sufficiently convinced me of my error, and that the poem was insupportably too long. It is an ill ambition of us poets, to please an audience with more than they can bear; and supposing that we wrote as well as vainly we imagine ourselves to write, yet we ought to consider, that no man can bear to be long tickled. There is a nauseousness in a city-feast, when we are to sit four hours after we are cloyed. I am therefore, in the first place, to acknowledge, with all manner of gratitude, their civility, who were pleased to endure it with so much patience; to be weary with so much goodnature and silence; and not to explode an entertainment which was designed to please them, or discourage an author, whose misfortunes have once :iiOre brought him, against his will, upon the stage. While I continue in these bad circumstances, (and, truly, I see very little probability of coming out) I must be obliged to write; and if I may still hope for the same kind usage, I shall the less repent of that hard necessity. I write not this out of any expectation to be pitied, for I have enemies enow to wish me yet in a worse condition; but give me leave to say, that if I can please by writing, as I shall endeavour it, the town may be somewhat obliged to my misfortunes for a part of their diversion. Having been longer acquainted with the stage than any poet now living, and having observed how difficult it was to please; that the humours of comedy were almost spent; that love and honour (the mistaken topics of tragedy) were quite worn out; that the theatres could not support their charges; that the audience forsook them; that young men, without learning, set up for judges, and that they talked loudest, who understood the least; all these discouragements had not only weaned me from the stage, but had also given me a loathing of it. But enough of this: the difficulties continue; they increase; and I am still condemned to dig in those exhausted mines.

Whatever fault I next commit, rest assured it shall not be that of too much length: Above twelve hundred lines have been cut off from this tragedy since it was first delivered to the actors. They were indeed so judiciously lopped by Mr Betterton, to whose care and excellent action I am equally obliged, that the connection of the story was not lost; but, on the other side, it was impossible to prevent some part of the action from being precipitated, and coming on without that due preparation which is required to all great events: as, in particular, that of raising the mobile, in the beginning of the fourth act, which a man of Benducar's cool character could not naturally attempt, without taking all those precautions, which he foresaw would be necessary to render his design successful. On this consideration, I have replaced those lines through the whole poem, and thereby restored it to that clearness of conception, and (if I may dare to say it) that lustre and masculine vigour, in which it was first written. It is obvious to every understanding reader, that the most poetical parts, which are descriptions, images, similitudes, and moral sentences, are those which of necessity were to be pared away, when the body was swollen into too large a bulk for the representation of the stage. But there is a vast difference betwixt a public entertainment on the theatre, and a private reading in the closet: In the first, We are confined to time; and though we talk not by the hour-glass, yet the watch often drawn out of the pocket warns the actors that their audience is weary; in the last, every reader is judge of his own convenience; he can take up the book and lay it down at his pleasure, and find out those beauties of propriety in thought and writing, which escaped him in the tumult and hurry of representing. And I dare boldly promise for this play, that in the roughness of the numbers and cadences, (which I assure was not casual, but so designed) you will see somewhat more masterly arising to your view, than in most, if not any, of my former tragedies. There is a more noble daring in the figures, and more suitable to the loftiness of the subject; and, besides this, some newnesses of English, translated from the beauties of modern tongues, as well as from the elegancies of the Latin; and here and there some old words are sprinkled, which, for their significance and sound, deserved not to be antiquated; such as we often find in Sallust amongst the Roman authors, and in Milton's " Paradise" amongst ours; though perhaps the latter, instead of sprinkling, has dealt them with too free a hand, even sometimes to the obscuring of his sense.

[graphic]

As for the story, or plot, of the tragedy, it is purely fiction; for I take it up where the history has laid it down. We are assured by all writers of those times, that Sebastian, a young prince of great courage and expectation, undertook that war, partly upon a religious account, partly at the solicitation of Muley Mahomet, who had been driven out of his dominions by Abdelmelech, or, as others call him, Muley Moluch, his nigh kinsman, who descended from the same family of Xeriffs, whose fathers, Hamet and Mahomet, had conquered that empire with joint forces, and shared it betwixt them after their victory; that the body of Don Sebastian was never found in the field of battle, which gave occasion for many to believe, that he was not slain*;

•There was a Portuguese prophecy to this purpose, which they applied lo the expected return of Sebastian:

Vendra et Incubitrto,

Vendra cierto;

Entrera en el huerto, Per tl puerto,

Quetta mat a ca del mur<;

yjo que parexc ncu.ro,

Se t» a claro e abierto.

Two false Sebastians, both hermits, laid claim to the throne of Portugal. One was hanged, and the other died in the galleys. Vide Le Quicn's Histoire Generale de Portugal.—There arc two tracts which appear to regard the last of these impostors, and which may have furnished our author with some slight hints; namely, "The true History of the late and lamentable Adventures of Don Sebastian, King of Portugal, after his imprisonment at Naples until this present day, being now in Spain, at San Lucar de Barranicda.—Loudon, 1602;" and, " A continuation of the lamentable and admirable Adventures of Don Sebastian, King of Portugal, with a Declaration of all his time employed since the Battle in Africk against the Infidels, 1578, until this present year l603. London, 1603." Both pieces are reprinted in the Harleian Miscellany, Vols IV. and V.

« 上一頁繼續 »