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While round her'valiant squadrons stood,
And bade her awful tongue demand,
From vanquished John's reluctant hand,
The Deed Of Freedom purchas'd with their blood.*
The next Lyric compositions of Pope, are two choruses inserted in a very heavy tragedy 1 altered from Shakespeare by the Duke of Buckingham; in which we see that the most ac- < curate observation of dramatic rules without genius is of no effect. These choruses are extremely elegant and harmonious; but are they not chargeable with the fault which Aristotle imputes to many of Euripides, that they are foreign and adventitious to the subject, and contribute nothing towards the advancement of the main action? Whereas the
chorus Ought, "Mogw ttvui T» Oa», xai cucaJWi^fir
fl*»,"f to be a part or member of the one Whole, co-operate with, and help to accelerate the inF 3 tended
* Dodsley's Miscellanies, vol. ii. page 152. See also in the same volume, an excellent ode of Mr. Cobb. From another of whose odes Pope took the following line;
Thy stone, O Sisyphus, stands still.
tended event; as is constantly, adds the philosopher, the practice of Sophocles. Whereas these reflections of Pope on the baneful influences of war, on the arts and learning, and on the universal power of love, seem to be too general, are not sufficiently appropriated, do not rise from the subject and occasion, and might be inserted with equal propriety in twenty other tragedies. This remark of Aristotle, though he does not himself produce any examples, may be verified from the following, among many others. In the Phoenicians of Euripides, they sing a long and very beautiful, but ill-placed, hymn to Mars; I speak of that which begins so nobly, ,
Kai xalt^jj, BfOfc/a tset^amxaos tojlanij*
"O, direful Mars! why art thou still delighted with blood and with death, and why an enemy to the feasts of Bacchus?" And a still more glaring instance may be brought from the end of the third act of the Troades, in which
the story of Ganymede is introduced pot very artificially.* To these may be added that exquisite ode in praise of Apollo, descriptive of his birth and victories, which we find in the Iphigenia in Tauris.f
On the other hand, the choruses of Sophocles never desert the subject of each particular drama, and all their sentiments and reflections are drawn from the situation of the principal personage of the fable. Nay, Sophocles hath artfully found a method of making those poetical descriptions, with which the choruses of the ancients abound, carry on the chief design of the piece; and has by these means accomplished what is a great difficulty in writing tragedy, has united poetry with propriety. In the J Philoctetes the chorus takes a natu
F 4 ral
* Ve^/795. t "Ver 1235. etseq.
* . .
% The subject-and sceue^of this tragedy, so romantic and uncommon, are highly pleasing to the imagination. See particularly his description of' his being left in this desolate island, v. 280. His lamentation for the loss of his bow, v. 1140. and also 1135. and his last adieu to the island, 1508.
ral occasion, at verse 694,' to give a minute and moving picture of the solitary life of that unfortunate hero; and when afterwards, at verse 855, pain has totally exhausted the strength and spirits of Philoctetes, and it is necessary for the plot of the tragedy that he should fall asleep, it is then that the chorus breaks out into an exquisite ode to sleep. As in the Antigone, with equal beauty and decorum in an address to the god of love, at verse 791 of that play. And thus, lastly, when the birth of (Edipus is doubtful, and his parents unknown, the chorus suddenly exclaims, "T»r re, rcwov, Tw <r i1ntji Twx ^xk^imuvuv; &C From which, O my son, of the immortal gods, didst thou spring? Was it some nymph, a favourite of Pan, that haunts the mountains, or some daughter of Apollo, (for this god loves the remote rocks and caverns,) who bore you? Or was it Mercury, who reigns in Cyllene? or did Bacchus,
One may here observe by the way, that the ancients thought bodily pains, and wounds, &c. proper objects to be represented on the stage. See also the Tracbinias of Sophocles, and the lamentations of Hercules in it.
clius, ©tot vaiwK tir uxg&iv ogeuv, a god who dwells on the tops of the mountains, beget you, on any of the nymphs that possess Helicon, with whom he frequently sports?*
The judicious author of the Tragedy of Elfrida, hath given occasion to a kind of controversy among the more curious critics, concerning the utility of the chorus, which, after the model of the ancients, he hath endeavoured to revive. That the great Grecian masters retained it only out of respect to its antiquity, and from no intrinsic valuableness or propriety of the thing, can scarcely be imagined. The sentiments of the judicious Brumoy are moderate and rational, and seem to comprehend all that is necessary to be said on this subject, "I know (says he) the chorus is attended with inconveniences. Sophocles had the address to withdraw his chorus for a few moments, when their absence was necessary, as in the Ajax. . If the chorus, therefore, incommodes the poet, and puts him under difficulties, hemust charge it solely to his own want of dexterity.