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Rymer's Edgar is to fall in snow at the next acting of King Lear, in order to heighten, or rather to alleviate, the distress of that unfortunate prince ; and to serve by way of decoration to a piece which that great critic has written against.
I do not indeed wonder that the actors should be such professed enemies to those among our nation who are commonly known by the name of critics, since it is a rule among these gentlemen to fall upon a play, not because it is ill written, but because it takes. Several of them lay it down as a maxim, that whatever dramatic performance has a long run must of necessity be good for nothing : as though the first precepe in poetry were not to please.' Whether this rule holds good or not, I shall leave to the determination of those who are better judges than myself; if it does, I am sure it tends very much to the honour of those gentlemen who have . established it ; few of their pieces having been disgraced by a run of three days, and most of them being so exquisitely written, that the town would never give them more than one night's hearing.
I have a great esteem for a true critic, such as Aristotle and Longinus among the Greeks; Horace and Quintilian among the Romans; Boileau and
the French. But it is our misfortune that some, who set up for professed critics among us, are so stupid, that they do not know how to put ten words together with elegance or common propriety; and withal so illiterate, that they have no-taste of the learned languages, and therefore criticise upon old authors only at second-hand. They judge of them by what others have written, and not by any notions they have of the authors themselves. The words unity, action, sentiment, and diction, pronounced with an air of authority, give them a figure among unlearned readers, who
are apt to believe they are very deep because they are unintelligible. The ancient critics are full of the praises of their contemporaries; they discover beauties which escaped the observation of the vul. gar, and very often find out reasons for palliating and exercising such little slips and oversights as were committed in the writings of eminent authors. On the contrary, most of the smatterers in criticism, who appear among us, make it their business tó vilify and depreciate every new production that gains applause, to decry imaginary blemishes, and to prove, by far-fetched arguments, thạt what pass for beauties in any celebrated piece are faults and errors. In short, the writings of these critics, com, pared with those of the ancients, are like the works of the sophists compared with those of the old phi, losophers.
Envy and cavil are the natural fruits of laziness and ignorance; which was probably the reason that in the heathen mythology Momus is said to be the son of Nox and Somnus, of darkness and sleep,
Idle men, who have not been at the pains to accom. plish or distinguish themselves, are very apt to de. tract from others; as ignorant men are very subject to decry those beauties in a celebrated work which they have not eyes to discover. Many of our song of Momus, who dignify themselves by the name of critics, are the genuine descendants of these two illustrious ancestors. They are often led into those numerous absurdities in which they daily instruct the people, by not considering that, first, there is sometimes a greater judgment shown in deviating from the rules of art than in adhering to them; and, 2dly, that there is more beauty in the works of a great genius, who is ignorant of all the rules of art, than in the works of a little genius, who not only knows but scrupulously observes them.
First, We may often take notice of men who are perfectly acquainted with all the rules of good writing, and notwithstanding choose to depart from them on extraordinary occasions. I could give in. stances out of all the tragic writers of antiquity who have shown their judgment in this particular; and purposely receded from an established rule of the drama, when it has made way for a much higher beauty than the observation of such a rule would have been. Those who have surveyed the noblest pieces of architecture and statuary, both ancient and modern, know very well that there are frequent deviations from art in the works of the greatest masters, which have produced a much nobler effect than a more accurate and exact way of proceeding could have done. This often arises from what the Italians call the gusto grande in these arts, which is what we call the sublime in writing.
In the next place, our critics do not seem sensible that there is more beauty in the works of a great genius, who is ignorant of the rules of art, than in those of a little genius who knows and observes them. It is of these men of genius that Terence speaks, in opposition to the little artificial cavillers of his time;
Quorum æmuluri exoptat negligentiam
men's obscure diligence.'
A critic may have the same consolation in the ill success of his play as Dr. South tells us a physician has at the death of a patient, that he was killed secundum artein. Our inimitable Shakspeare is a stumbling-block to the whole tribe of these rigid Sitics. Who would not rather read one of his
plays, where there is not a single rule of the stage observed, that any production of a modern critic, where there is not one of them violated ! Shakespeare was indeed born with all the seeds of poetry, and may be compared to the stone in Byrrhus's ring, which, as Pliny tells us, had the figure of Apollo and the nine muses in the veins of it, produced by the spontaneous hand of nature, without any help from art.
N° 593. MONDAY, SEPT. 13, 1714.
quale per incertam lunam sub luce maligna
VIRG. Æn vi 27.
My dreaming correspondent, Mr. Shadow, has sent me a second letter, with several curious oba şervations on dreams in general, and the method to render sleep improving: an extract of his letter will not, I presume, be disagreeable to my readers.
"Since we have so little time to spare, that none of it may be lost, I see no reason why we should neglect to examine thosc imaginary scenes we are presented with in sleep, only because they have less reality in them than our waking meditations. A traveller would bring his judgment in question, who should despise the directions of his map for want of real roads in it, because here, stands a dot instead of a town, or a cypher instead of a city; and it must be a long day's journey to travel through two or three inches. Fancy in dreams gives us much such another landscape of life as that does of countries: and, though its appearances may seem strangely jumbled together, we may often observe such traces and footsteps of noble thoughts, as, if carefully pursued, might lead us into a proper path of action. There is so much rapture and ecstasy in our fancied bliss, and some thing so dismal and shocking in our fancied misery, that, though the inactivity of the body has given occasion for calling sleep the image of death, the briskness of the fancy affords us a strong intimation of something within us that can never die.
I have wondered that Alexander the Great, who came into the world sufficiently dreamed of by his parents, and had himself a tolerable knack at dreaming, should often say that sleep was one thing which made him sensible he was mortal. I, who have not such fields of action in the day-time to divert my attention from this matter, plainly perceive that in those operations of the mind, while the body is at rest, there is a certain vastness of conception very suitable to the capacity, and demonstrative of the force of that divine part in our composition, which will last for ever. Neither, do I much doubt but, had we a true account of the won. ders the hero last mentioned performed in his sleep, his conquering this little globe would hardly be worth mentioning. I may affirm, without vanity, that, when I compare several actions in Quintus Curtius with some others in my own noctuary, I appear the greater hero of the two.'
I shall close this subject with observing, that while we are awake we are at liberty to fix our