Chapter 10


Before we proceed any farther in this tragedy we shall leave Mr. Joseph and Mr. Adams to themselves, and imitate the wise conductors of the stage, who in the midst of a grave action entertain you with some excellent piece of satire or humour called a dance. Which piece, indeed, is therefore danced, and not spoke, as it is delivered to the audience by persons whose thinking faculty is by most people held to lie in their heels; and to whom, as well as heroes, who think with their hands, Nature hath only given heads for the sake of conformity, and as they are of use in dancing, to hang their hats on.

The poet, addressing the player, proceeded thus, “As I was saying” (for they had been at this discourse all the time of the engagement above-stairs), “the reason you have no good new plays is evident; it is from your discouragement of authors. Gentlemen will not write, sir, they will not write, without the expectation of fame or profit, or perhaps both. Plays are like trees, which will not grow without nourishment; but like mushrooms, they shoot up spontaneously, as it were, in a rich soil. The muses, like vines, may be pruned, but not with a hatchet. The town, like a peevish child, knows not what it desires, and is always best pleased with a rattle. A farce-writer hath indeed some chance for success: but they have lost all taste for the sublime. Though I believe one reason of their depravity is the badness of the actors. If a man writes like an angel, sir, those fellows know not how to give a sentiment utterance.”—“Not so fast,” says the player: “the modern actors are as good at least as their authors, nay, they come nearer their illustrious predecessors; and I expect a Booth on the stage again, sooner than a Shakespear or an Otway; and indeed I may turn your observation against you, and with truth say, that the reason no authors are encouraged is because we have no good new plays.”—“I have not affirmed the contrary,” said the poet; “but I am surprised you grow so warm; you cannot imagine yourself interested in this dispute; I hope you have a better opinion of my taste than to apprehend I squinted at yourself. No, sir, if we had six such actors as you, we should soon rival the Bettertons and Sandfords of former times; for, without a compliment to you, I think it impossible for any one to have excelled you in most of your parts. Nay, it is solemn truth, and I have heard many, and all great judges, express as much; and, you will pardon me if I tell you, I think every time I have seen you lately you have constantly acquired some new excellence, like a snowball. You have deceived me in my estimation of perfection, and have outdone what I thought inimitable.”—“You are as little interested,” answered the player, “in what I have said of other poets; for d—n me if there are not many strokes, ay, whole scenes, in your last tragedy, which at least equal Shakespear. There is a delicacy of sentiment, a dignity of expression in it, which I will own many of our gentlemen did not do adequate justice to. To confess the truth, they are bad enough, and I pity an author who is present at the murder of his works.”—“Nay, it is but seldom that it can happen,” returned the poet; “the works of most modern authors, like dead-born children, cannot be murdered. It is such wretched half- begotten, half-writ, lifeless, spiritless, low, grovelling stuff, that I almost pity the actor who is obliged to get it by heart, which must be almost as difficult to remember as words in a language you don’t understand.”—“I am sure,” said the player, “if the sentences have little meaning when they are writ, when they are spoken they have less. I know scarce one who ever lays an emphasis right, and much less adapts his action to his character. I have seen a tender lover in an attitude of fighting with his mistress, and a brave hero suing to his enemy with his sword in his hand. I don’t care to abuse my profession, but rot me if in my heart I am not inclined to the poet’s side.”—“It is rather generous in you than just,” said the poet; “and, though I hate to speak ill of any person’s production—nay, I never do it, nor will— but yet, to do justice to the actors, what could Booth or Betterton have made of such horrible stuff as Fenton’s Mariamne, Frowd’s Philotas, or Mallet’s Eurydice; or those low, dirty, last-dying-speeches, which a fellow in the city of Wapping, your Dillo or Lillo, what was his name, called tragedies?”— “Very well,” says the player; “and pray what do you think of such fellows as Quin and Delane, or that face-making puppy young Cibber, that ill-looked dog Macklin, or that saucy slut Mrs. Clive? What work would they make with your Shakespears, Otways, and Lees? How would those harmonious lines of the last come from their tongues?—

——No more; for I disdain
All pomp when thou art by: far be the noise
Of kings and crowns from us, whose gentle souls
Our kinder fates have steer’d another way.
Free as the forest birds we’ll pair together,
Without rememb’ring who our fathers were:
Fly to the arbors, grots, and flow’ry meads;
There in soft murmurs

  By PanEris using Melati.

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