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and sublime, as the subject required. Those of Dryden contain general topics of criticism and wit, and may precede any play whatsoever, even tragedy or comedy. This of Pope is particular, and appropriated to the tragedy alone which it was designed to introduce. The most striking images and allusions it contains, are taken, with judgment, from some passages in the life of Cato himself. Such is that fine stroke, more lofty than any thing in the tragedy itself, where the poet says, that when Cassar, amid the pomp and magnificence of a triumph,
Shew'd Rome her Cato's figure drawn in state;
Such/ again, is the happy allusion to an old story mentioned in Martial, of this sage going into the theatre, and immediately coming out of it again:
Such plays alone should win a British ear,
From which he draws an artful panegyric on the purity and excellence of the play he was celebrating.
With respect to sprightly turns, and poignancy of wit, the prologues of Dryden have not been equalled. Many, and, indeed, the most excellent of them, were written on occasion of the players going to Oxford; a custom which was introduced by that polite scholar, and sensible governor, Dr. Ralph Bathurst, Dean of Wells, and President of Trinity College, while he was Vice-Chancellor of that University.* At this time Dryden was so famous for his prologues, that no piece was relished, nor would the theatres scarcely venture to produce it, if it wanted this fashionable ornament. To this purpose, an anecdote is recorded of Southerne; who, on bringing his first play on the stage, did not fail to bespeak a prologue of the artist in vogue. The usual price had been four guineas. In the present case, Drvden insisted that he must have six for his work; "which (said the mercantile bard^
* See the Life, &c. of Bathurst, lately published.
is out of no disrespect to you, young man; but the players have had my goods too cheap."
The tragedy of Cato itself is a glaring instance of the force of party ;* so sententious and declamatory a drama would never have met with such rapid and amazing success, if every line and sentiment had not been particularly tortured, and applied to recent events, and the reigning disputes of the times. The purity and energy of the diction, and the loftiness of the sentiments, copied in a great measure from Lucan, Tacitus, and Seneca the philosopher, merit
* When Addison spake of the secretary of state at that time, he always called him, in the language of Shakespeare, "That cunker'd Bolingbroke." Notwithstanding this, Addison assured Pope, he did not bring his tragedy on the stage with any party views; nay, desired Pope to carry the poem to the Lords Oxford and Bolingbroke for their perusal. The play, however, was always considered as a warning to the people, that liberty was in danger during that Tory ministry. To obviate the strong impressions that so popular a performance might make on the minds of the audience, Lord Bolingbroke, in the midst of their violent applauses, sent for Booth, who played Cato, one night, into his box, between the acts, and presented him with fifty guineas; in acknowledgment, as he expressed it with great address, for defending the cause of liberty so well against a perpetual dictator.
approbation. But I have always thought, that those pompous Roman sentiments are not so difficult to be produced as is vulgarly imagined ; and which, indeed, dazzle only the vulgar. A stroke of nature is, in my opinion, worth a hundred such thoughts as
When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
Cato is a fine dialogue on liberty, and the love of one's country; but considered as a dramatic performance, nay, as a model of a just tragedy, as some have affectedly represented it, it must be owned to want Action and Pathos; the two hinges, I presume, on which a just tragedy ought necessarily to turn, and without which it cannot subsist. It wants also Character, although that be not so essentially necessary to a tragedy as Action. Syphax, indeed, in his * interview with Juba, bears some marks of a rough African: the speeches of the rest may be transferred to any of the personages concerned. The simile drawn from Mount Atlas, and the deVol. i. S scription
Act. ii. Scene v.
scription of the Numidian traveller smothered in the desert, are, indeed, in character, but sufficiently obvious. How Addison could fall into the false and unnatural custom of ending his three first acts with similies, is amazing in so chaste and correct a writer. The loves of Juba and Marcia, of Portius and Lucia, are vicious and insipid episodes, debase the dignity, and destroy the unity, of the fable.
One would imagine, from the practice of our modern play-wrights, that love was the only passion capable of producing any great calamities in human life: for this passion has engrossed, and been impertinently introduced into, all subjects.* In the Cinna of Corneille, which the
* When the resolution of Medea to kill her children, is almost disarmed and destroyed by looking at them, and by their smiling upon her, she breaks out
Ti ntfotryt\oili rot weiwralot yiX«v;
Ai, tti-—ri Jfosow ;—xscfiix yaf ei^ilai.