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terity. What advantage, on the other hand, may he not reap from a body of actors that fill the stage; that render more lively, striking, and sensible, the continuity of the action, and give it the air of greater Probability? For it is not natural, or conceivable, that a great and illustrious action, such as a revolution in a state, should pass without witnesses. We perceive and feel a kind of void on the stage, on account of the absence of the choruses; and the successful attempt of Racine, who adopted and revived the use of them in his Athalia and Esther, were sufficient, one would imagine, to undeceive, and convince us of their importance and utility. The ancients treated only of such stories as were publicly transacted: now the banishment of the chorus has been the necessary consequence of the custom of the moderns, in taking for their representations all kinds of subjects, and in filling and overcharging the action with incidents and surprises. For how could these various crowded events and incidents have been possibly introduced in a public place, exposed to the view of courtiers and the people; while
1 the the generality of Our tragedies turn on particular and private affairs, removed from the view and notice of all men? The Athenian spectators were ever accustomed to concern themselves in all public affairs, and to be witnesses and judges of them. The modern stage, by its disuse of the chorus, may, perhaps, have gained a great number of fine subjects for tragedy; yet, in return, it is burthened with confidents, it loses the continuity of action, and is deprived of the magnificent spectacle that serves to support that continuity, and which is, if I may be allowed the expression, the accompagnient of the picture."*
I thought it more equitable, as well as more convincing, to quote at large the words of this admirable critic, whose work is one of the most valuable that his elegant nation has produced, than to adopt, as some have done, with small variations, his opinion, without acknowledging the debt. An apology would be
* Le Theatre de Grecs. Tom. i. 104. and 2H. and 198.
necessary for this digression,' if it was not my professed design, in this Essay, to expatiate into such occasional disquisitions as naturally arise from the subject: it has, however, kept us too long from surveying a valuable literary curiosity; I mean the earliest production of Pope, written when he was not twelve years old, his Ode On Solitude.
The first sketches of such an artist ought highly to be prized. Different geniuses unfold themselves at different periods of life. In some 'minds the ore is a long time in ripening. Not only inclination, but opportunity and encouragement, a proper subject, or a proper patron, influence the exertion or the suppression of genius. These stanzas on Solitude, are a strong instance of that contemplative and moral turn which was the distinguishing characteristic of our poet's mind. An ode of Cowley, which he produced at the age of thirteen years, is of the same cast, and perhaps not in the least inferior to this of Pope. The voluminous Lopez de Vega, is commonly, but perhaps incredibly, reported by the Spaniards, to have composed verses when he was * five years old; and Torquato Tasso, the second or third of the Italian poets, (for that wonderful origiual, Dante, is the first,) is said to have recited poems and orations of his own writing when he was seven. It is, however, certain, which is more extraordinary, that he produced his Rinaldo in his eighteenth year; no bad precursor to the Gierusalemma Liberata; and no small effort of that genius, which was, indue time, to shew, how fine an epic poem the , Italian language, notwithstanding the vulgar im- • putation of effeminacy, was capable of supporting, f
Those who are fond of biographical anecdotes, which are some of the most amusive and instructive parts of history, will be, perhaps, pleased with the following particulars in the life of Pope. He frequently declared, that the time of his beginning to write verses was so very early in his life, that he could scarcely recall it to his memory.
* It is a certain fact, that S. Bononcini composed and performed an opera when he was but nine years old.
f But the Italians, in general, prefer Ariosto to Tasso.
When he was yet a child, his father, who had been a merchant in London, and retired to Binfield with about twenty thousand pounds, would frequently order him to make English verses. It seems he was difficult to be pleased, and would make the lad correct them again and again. When at last he approved them, he took great pleasure in perusing them, and would say, "These are good Rhymes." These early praises of a tender and respected * parent, co-operating with the natural inclination of the son, might possibly be the causes that fixed our young bard in a resolution of becoming eminent in this art He was taught to read very early by an aunt; and of his own indefatigable industry, learned to write, by copying printed books, which he executed with great neatness and accuracy. When he was eight years old, he was put under the direction of one Taverner, a priest, who taught him the rudiments of the Latin and Greek tongues together. About this time he accidentally met with Ogilby's translation of Homer,
* Most of these circumstances were communicated by Pope himself to Mr. Spence,