Imágenes de páginas

lavished in all ages, only for the preferment of new faces, with old consciences. There is too often a jaundice in the eyes of great men; they see not those whom they raise in the same colours with other men. All whom they affect, look golden to them ; when the gilding is only in their own distempered sight. These considerations have given me a kind of contempt for those who have risen by unworthy ways. I am not ashamed to be little, when I see them so infamously great ; neither do I know why the name of poet should be dishonourable to me, if I am truly one, as I hope I am ; for I will never do any thing that shall dishonour it. The notions of morality are known to all men: none can pretend ignorance of those ideas which are in-born in mankind: and if I see one thing, and practise the contrary, I must be disingenuous, not to acknowledge a clear truth, and base, to act against the light of my own conscience. For the reputation of my honesty, no man can question it, who has any of his own : for that of my poetry, it shall either stand by its own merit, or fall for want of it. Ill writers are usually the sharpest censors: for they, (as the best poet and the best patron said) when in the full perfection of decay, turn vinegar, and come again in play. Thus the corruption of a poet is the generation of a critic: I mean of a critic in the general acceptation of this age: for formerly they were quite another species of men. They were defenders of poets, and commentators on their works; to illustrate obscure beauties ; to place soine passages in a better light; to redeem others from malicious interpretations; to help out an author's modesty, who is not ostentatious of his wit; and, in short, to shield him from the ill-nature of those fellows, who were then called Zoili and Momi, and now take upon themselves the venerable name of censors. But neither Zoilus, nor he who endeavoured to defame Virgil, were ever adopted into the name of critics by the ancients : what their reputation was then, we know; and their successors in this age deserve no better. Are our auxiliary forces turned our enemies are they, who at best are but wits of the second order, and whose only credit amongst readers is what they obtained by being subservient to the fame of writers, are these become rebels of slaves, and usurpers of subjects; or, to speak in the most honourable terms of them, are they from our seconds become principals against us? does the ivy undermine the oak, which supports its weakness ? what labour would it cost them to put in a better line, than the worst of those which they expunge in a true poet? Petronius, the greatest wit perhaps of all the Romans, yet when his envy prevailed upon his judgment to fall on Lucan, he fell himself in his attempt: he performed worse, in his Essay of the Civil War, than the author of the Pharsalia : and avoiding his errours, has made greater of his own. Julius Scaliger would needs turn down Homer, and abdicate him after the possession of three thousand years : has he succeeded in bis attempt? he has indeed shown us some of those imperfections in him, which are incident to human kind: but who had not rather be that Homer than this ScaligerYou see the same hypercritic, when he endeavours to mend the beginning of Claudian, (a faulty poet, and living in a barbarous age) yet how short he comes of him, and substitutes such verses of his own as deserve the ferula. What a censure has he made of Lucan, that he rather seems to bark than sing? would any but a dog have made so snarling a comparison ? one would have thought he had learned Latin, as late as they tell us he did Greek. Yet he came off, with a pace tuả, by your good leave, Lucan;

he called him not by those outrageous names, of fool, booby, and blockhead: he had somewhat more of good-manners than his successors, as he had much more knowledge. We have two sorts of those gentlemen in our nation: some of them, proceeding with a seeming moderation and pretence of respect to the dramatic writers of the last age, only scorn and vilify the present poets, to set up their predecessors. But this is only in appearance; for their real design is nothing less than to do honour to any man, besides themselves. Horace took notice of such men in his age: Non ingeniis favet ille, sepultis ; nostra sed impugnat; nos nostraque lividus odit. It is not with an ultimate intention to pay reverence to the manes of Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Ben Jonson, that they commend their writings, but to throw dirt on the writers of this age: their declaration is one thing, and their practice is another. By a seeming veneration to our fathers, they would thrust out us, their lawful issue, and govern us themselves, under a specious pretence of reformation. If they could compass their intent, what would wit and learning get by such a change? if we are bad poets, they are worse ; and when any of their woeful pieces come abroad, the difference is so great betwixt them and good writers, that there need no criticisms on our part to decide it. When they describe the writers of this age, they draw such monstrous figures of them, as resemble none of us: our pretended pictures are so unlike, that it is evident we never sate to them; they are all grotesque, the products of their wild imaginations, things out of nature, so far from being copied from us, that they resemble nothing that ever was, or ever can be. But there is another sort of insects more venomous than the former. Those who manifestly aim at the destruction of our poetical church and state ; who allow nothing to their countrymen, either of this or of the former age. These attack the living by raking up the ashes of the dead; well knowing, that if they can subvert their original title to the stage, we, who claim under them, must fall of course. Peace be to the venerable shades of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson: none of the living will presume to have any competition with them: as they were our predecessors, so they were

We trail our plays under them; but (as at the funerals of a Turkish emperor) our ensigns are furled or dragged upon the ground, in honour to the dead; so we may lawfully advance our own, afterwards, to show that we succeed: if less in dignity, yet on the same foot and title, which we think too we can maintain agairtst the insolence of our own janizaries. If I am the man, as I have reason to believe, who am seemingly courted, and secretly undermined ; I think I shall be able to defend myself,

our masters.

when I am openly attacked; and to show besides, that the Greek writers only gave us the rudiments of a stage which they never finished: that many of the tragedies in the former age amongst us were without comparison beyond those of Sophocles and Euripides. But, at present, I have neither the leisure nor the means for such an undertaking. It is ill going to law for an estate, with him who is in possession of it, and enjoys the present profits, to feed his cause. But the quantum mutatus may be remembered in due time. In the mean while, I leave the world to judge, who gave the provocation.

This, my lord, is, I confess, a long digression from Miscellany Poems to Modern Tragedies: but I have the ordinary excuse of an injured man, who will be telling his tale unseasonably to his betters; though, at the same time, I am certain, you are so good a friend, as to take a concern in all things which belong to one who so truly honours you. And besides, being yourself a critic of the genuine sort, who have read the best authors in their own languages, who perfectly distinguish of their several inerits, and in general prefer them to the moderns; yet, I know, you judge for the English tragedies against the Greek and Latin, as well as against the French, Italian, and Spanish, of these latter ages. Indeed there is a vast difference betwist arguing like Perault in behalf of the French poets against Homer and Virgil, and betwixt giving the English poets their undoubted due of excelling Æschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. For if we, or our greater fathers, have not yet brought the drama to an absolute perfection, yet at least we have carried it much farther than those ancient Greeks; who, beginning from a Chorus, could never totally exclude it, as we have done, who find it an unprofitable incumbrance, without any necessity of entertaining it amongst us, and without the possibility of establishing it here, unless it were supported by a public charge. Neither can we accept of those lay-bishops, as some call them, who, under pretence of reforming the stage, would intrude themselves upon us as our superiors, being indeed incompetent judges of what is manners, what religion, and least of all, what is poetry and good sense. I can tell them in behalf of all my fellows, that when they come to exercise a jurisdiction over us, they shall have the stage to themselves, as they have the laurel. As little can I grant, that the French dramatic writers excel the English: our authors as far surpass them in genius, as our soldiers excel theirs in courage: it is true, in conduct they surpass us either way: yet that proceeds not so much from their greater knowledge, as from the difference of tastes in the two nations. They content themselves with a thin design, without episodes, and managed by few persons. Our audience will not be pleased but with variety of accidents, an underplot, and many actors, They follow the ancients too servilely, in the mechanic rules, and we assume too much licence to ourselves, in keeping them only in view, at too great a distance. But if our audience had their tastes, our poets could more easily comply with them, than the French writers could come up to the sublimity of our thoughts, or to the difficult variety of our designs. However it be, I dare establish it for a rule of practice on the stage, that we are bound to please those whom we pretend to entertain ; and that at any price, religion and good-manners only excepted; and I care pot much, if I give this handle to our bad illiterate poetasters, for the defence of their Scriptions, as they call them. There is a sort of merit in delighting the spectators ; which is a name more proper for them, than that of auditors: or else Horace is in the wrong, when he commends Lucilius for it. But these common-places I mean to treat at greater leisure: in the mean time, submitting that little I have said to your lordship's approbation, or your censure, and choosing rather to entertain you this way, as you are a judge of writing, than to oppress your modesty with other commendations; which, though they are your due, yet would not be equally received in this satirical and censorious age. That which cannot without injury be denied to you, is the easiness of your conversation, far from affectation or pride ; not denying even to enemies their just praises. And this, if I would dwell on any theme of this nature, is no vulgar commendation to your lordship. Without flattery, my lord, you have it in your nature, to be a patron and encourager of good poets, but your fortune has not yet put into your hands the opportunity of expressing it. What you will be hereafter, may be more than guessed, by what you are at present. You maintain the character of a nobleman, without that haughtiness which generally attends too many of the nobility; and when you converse with gentlemen, you forget not that you have been of their order. You are married to the daughter of a king, who, amongst her other high perfections, has derived from him a charming behaviour, a winning goodness, and a majestic person. The Muses and the Graces are the ornaments of your family; while the Muse sings, the Grace accompanies her voice: even the servants of the Muses have sometimes had the happiness to hear her; and to receive their inspirations from her.

I will not give myself the liberty of going farther; for it is so sweet to wander in a pleasing way, that I should never arrive at my journey's end. To keep myself from being belated in my letter, and tiring your attention, I must return to the place where I was setting out. I humbly dedicate to your lordship, my own labours in this Miscellany: at the same time, not arrogating to myself the privilege of inscribing to you the works of others, who are joined with me in this undertaking, over which I can pretend no right. Your lady and you have done me the favour to hear me read my translations of Ovid ; and you both seemed not to be displeased with them. Whether it be the partiality of an old man to his youngest child, I know not: but they appear to me the best of all my endeavours in this kind. Perhaps this poet is more easy to be translated than some others, whom I have lately attempted: perhaps too, he was more according to my genius. He is certainly more pa

I re

latable to the reader than any of the Roman wits; though some of them are more lofty, some more instructive, and others more correct. He had learning enough to make him equal to the best. But as his verse came easily, he wanted the toil of application to amend it. He is often luxuriant both in his fancy and expressions, and, as it has lately been observed, not always natural. If wit be pleasantry, he has it to excess; but if it be propriety, Lucretius, Horace, and, above all, Virgil, are his superiors. I have said so much of him already, in my preface to his Heroical Epistles, that there remains little to be added in this place: for my own part, I have endeavoured to copy his character what I could in this translation, even perhaps farther than I should have done; to his very faults. Mr. Chapman, in his translation of Homer, professes to have done it somewhat paraphrastically, and that on set purpose; his opinion being, that a good poet is to be translated in that manner. member not the reason which he gives for it; but I suppose it is, for fear of omitting any of his excellencies: sure I am, that if it be a fault, it is much more pardonable than that of those, who run into the other extreme of a literal and close translation, where the poet is confined so straightly to his author's words, that he wants elbow-room to express his elegancies. He leaves him obscure ; he leaves him prose, where he found him verse : and no better than thus has Ovid been served by the so much admired Sandys. This is at least the idea which I have remaining of his translation ; for I never read him since I was a boy. They who take him upon content, from the praises which their fathers gave him, may inform their judgment by reading him again, and see (if they understand the original) what is become of Ovid's poetry in his version ; whether it be not all, or the greatest part of it, evaporated. But this proceeded from the wrong judgment of the age in which he lived. They neither knew good verse, nor loved it; they were scholars, it is true, but they were pedants. And for a just reward of their pedantic pains, all their translations want to be translated into English.

If I fatter not myself, or if my friends have not flattered me, I have given my author's sense, for the most part, truly : for to mistake sometimes, is in. cident to all men ; and not to follow the Dutch commentators always, may be forgiven to a man who thinks them, in the general, heavy gross-witted fellows, fit only to gloss on their own dull poets. But I leave a farther satire on their wit, till I have a better opportunity to show how much I love and honour them. I have likewise attempted to restore Ovid to his native sweetness, easiness, and smoothness; and to give my poetry a kind of cadence, and, as we call it, a run of verse, as like the original, as the English can come up to the Latin. As he seldom uses any synalephas, so I have endeavoured to avoid them, as often as I could : I have likewise given him his own turns, both on the words and on the thought, wbich I cannot say are inimitable, because I have copied them; and so may others, if they use the same diligence: but certainly they are wonderfully graceful in this poet. Since I have named the

« AnteriorContinuar »