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wise more frequent upon the English stage, than upon any other; for though the grief of the audience, in such performances, be not changed into another passion, as in tragi-comedies; it is diverted upon another object, which weakens their concern for the principal action, and breaks the tide of sorrow, by throwing it into different channels. This inconvenience, however, may in a great measure be cured, if not wholly removed, by the skilful choice of an under-plot, which may bear such a near relation to the principal design, as to contribute towards the completion of it, and be concluded by the same catastrophe..
There is also another particular, which may be reckoned among the blemishes, or rather the false beauties of our English tragedy: I mean those particular speeches which are commonly known by the name of rants. The warm and passionate parts of a tragedy are always the most taking with the audience; for which reason we often see the players pronouncing, in all the violence of action, several parts of the tragedy which the author writ with great temper, and designed that they should have been so acted. I have seen Powell very often raise himself a loud clap by this artifice. The poets that were acquainted with this secret, have given frequent occasion for such emotions in the actor, by adding vehemence to words where there was no passion, or inflanting a real passion into fustian. This hath filled the months of our heroes with bombast; and given them such sentiments, as proceed rather from a swelling than a greatness of mind. Unnatural exclamations, curses, vows, blasphemies, a defiance of mankind, and an outraging of the gods, frequently pass upon the audience for towering thoughts, and have accordingly met with infinite applause.
I shall here add a remark, which I am afraid our tragic writers may make an ill use of. As our heroes are generally lovers, their swelling and blastering upon the stage very much recommends them to the fair part of their audience. The ladies are wonderfully
pleased to see a man insulting kings, or affronting the gods, in one scene, and throwing himself at the feet of his mistress in another. Let him behave himself insolently towards the men, and abjectly towards the fair one, and it is ten to one but he proves a favourite of the boxes. Dryden and Lee, in several of their tragedies, have practised this secret with good success.
But to show how a rant pleases beyond the most just and natural thought that is not pronounced with vehemence, I would desire the reader, when he sees the tragedy of Oedipus, to observe how quietly the hero is dismissed at the end of the third act, after having pronounced the following lines, in which the thought is very natural, and apt to move compassion:
"To you, good gods, I make my last appeal;
And backward trod those paths I sought to shun;
Let us then recollect with what thunder-claps of applause he leaves the stage, after the impieties and execrations at the end of the fourth act; and you will wonder to see an audience so cursed and so pleased at the same time.
"O that, as oft I have at Athens seen,
[Where, by the way, there was no stage till
The stage arise, and the big clouds descend;
ENTHUSIASM AND SUPERSTITION.
Religentem esse oportet, religiosum nefas.
IT is of the last importance to season the passions of a child with devotion, which seldom dies in a mind that has received an early tincture of it. Though it may seem extinguished for a while by the cares of the world, the heats of youth, or the allurements of vice, it generally breaks out and discovers itself again as soon as discretion, consideration, age, or misfortunes, have brought the man to himself. The fire may be covered and overlaid, but cannot be eutirely quenched and smothered.
A state of temperance, sobriety, and justice, without devotion, is a cold, lifeless, insipid condition of virtue; and is rather to be styled philosophy than religion. Devotion opens the mind to great conceptions, and fills it with more sublime ideas than any that are to be met with in the most exalted science; and at the same time warms and agitates the soul more than sensual pleasure.
It has been observed by some writers, that man is more distinguished from the animal world by devotion than by reason, as several brute creatures discover in their actions something like a faint glimmering of reason, though they betray in no single circumstance of their behaviour any thing that bears the least affinity to devotion. It is certain the propensity of the mind to religious worship, the natural tendency of the soul to fly to some superior Being for succour in dangers and distresses, the gratitude to an invisible superintendent which arises in us upon receiving any extraordi. nary and unexpected good fortune, the acts of love and admiration with which the thoughts of men are so
wonderfully transported in meditating upon the divine perfections, and the universal concurrence of all the nations under heaven in the great article of adoration, plainly show that devotion or religious worship must be the effect of tradition from some first founder of mankind, or that it is conformable to the natural light of reason, or that it proceeds from instinct implanted in the soul itself. For my part, I look upon all these to be the concurrent causes; but whichever of them shall be assigned as the principle of divine worship, it manifestly points to a Supreme Being as the first author of it.
I may take some other opportunity of considering those particular forms and methods of devotion which are taught us by christianity; but shall here observe into what errors even this divine principle may sometimes lead us, when it is not moderated by that right reason which was given us as the guide of all our ac tions.
The two great errors into which a mistaken devotion may betray us, are enthusiasm and superstition.
There is not a more melancholy object than a man who has his head turned with religious enthusiasm. A person that is crazed, though with pride or malice, is a sight very mortifying to human nature; but when the distemper arises from any indiscreet fervours of devotion, or too intense an application of the mind to its mistaken duties, it deserves our compassion in a more particular manner. We may however learn this lesson from it, that since devotion itself (which one would be apt to think could not be too warm) may disorder the mind, unless its heats are tempered with caution and prudence, we should be particularly careful to keep our reason as cool as possible, and to guard ourselves in all parts of life against the influence of passion, imagination, and constitution.
Devotion, when it does not lie under the check of reason, is very apt to degenerate into enthusiasm. When the mind finds herself very much inflamed with
her devotions, she is too much inclined to think they are not of her own kindling, but blown up by something divine within her. If she indulges this thought too far, and humours the growing passion, she at last flings herself into imaginary raptures and ecstasies; and when once she fancies herself under the influence of a divine impulsc, it is no wonder if she slights human ordinances, and refuses to comply with any established form of religion, as thinking herself directed by a much superior guide.
As enthusiasm is a kind of excess in devotion, superstition is the excess not only of devotion, but of religion in general, according to an old heathen saying, quoted by Aulus Gellius, Religentem esse oportet, religiosum nefas; a man should be religious, not superstitious; for as the author tell us, Nigidius observed upon this passage, that the Latin words which terminate in osus generally imply vicious characters, and the having of any quality to an excess.
An enthusiast in religion is like an obstinate clown, a superstitious man like an insipid courtier. Enthusiasm has something in it of madness, superstition of folly. Most of the sects that fall short of the church of England have in them strong tinctures of enthu siasm, as the Roman Catholic religion is one huge overgrown body of childish and idle superstitions.
The Roman Catholic church seems indeed irrecoverably lost in this particular. If an absurd dress or behaviour be introduced in the world, it will soon be found out and discarded: on the contrary, a habit or ceremony, though never so ridiculous, which has taken sanctuary in the church, sticks in it for ever. A Go. thic bishop, perhaps, thought it proper to repeat such a form in such particular shoes or slippers; another fan. cied it would be very decent if such a part of public devotions were performed with a mitre on his head, and a crosier in his hand. To this a brother Vandal, as wise as the others, adds an antic dress, which he conceived would allude very aptly to such and such