Dryden Essay Of Dramatic Poesy Textfree

Discourses on Satire and Epic Poetry
John Dryden

Part 1 out of 4

This etext was prepared by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk
from the 1888 Cassell & Company edition.


by John Dryden


Dryden's discourses upon Satire and Epic Poetry belong to the latter
years of his life, and represent maturer thought than is to be found
in his "Essay of Dramatic Poesie." That essay, published in 1667,
draws its chief interest from the time when it was written. A Dutch
fleet was at the mouth of the Thames. Dryden represents himself
taking a boat down the river with three friends, one of them his
brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard, another Sir Charles Sedley, and
another Charles Sackville Lord Buckhurst to whom, as Earl of Dorset,
the "Discourse of Satire" is inscribed. They go down the river to
hear the guns at sea, and judge by the sound whether the Dutch fleet
be advancing or retreating. On the way they talk of the plague of
Odes that will follow an English victory; their talk of verse
proceeds to plays, with particular attention to a question that had
been specially argued before the public between Dryden and his
brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard. The question touched the use of
blank verse in the drama. Dryden had decided against it as a
worthless measure, and the chief feature of the Essay, which was
written in dialogue, was its support of Dryden's argument. But in
that year (1667) "Paradise Lost" was published, and Milton's blank
verse was the death of Dryden's theories. After a few years Dryden
recanted his error. The "Essay of Dramatic Poesie" is interesting
as a setting forth in 1667 of mistaken critical opinions which were
at that time in the ascendant, but had not very long to live.
Dryden always wrote good masculine prose, and all his critical
essays are good reading as pieces of English. His "Essay of
Dramatic Poesie" is good reading as illustrative of the weakness of
our literature in the days of the influence of France after the
Restoration. The essays on Satire and on Epic Poetry represent also
the influence of the French critical school, but represent it in a
larger way, with indications of its strength as well as of its
weakness. They represent also Dryden himself with a riper mind
covering a larger field of thought, and showing abundantly the
strength and independence of his own critical judgment, while he
cites familiarly and frequently the critics, little remembered and
less cared for now, who then passed for the arbiters of taste.

If English literature were really taught in schools, and the eldest
boys had received training that brought them in their last school-
year to a knowledge of the changes of intellectual fashion that set
their outward mark upon successive periods, there is no prose
writing of Dryden that could be used by a teacher more instructively
than these Discourses on Satire and on Epic Poetry. They illustrate
abundantly both Dryden and his time, and give continuous occasion
for discussion of first principles, whether in disagreement or
agreement with the text. Dryden was on his own ground as a critic
of satire; and the ideal of an epic that the times, and perhaps also
the different bent of his own genius, would not allow him to work
out, at least finds such expression as might be expected from a man
who had high aspirations, and whose place, in times unfavourable to
his highest aims, was still among the master-poets of the world.

The Discourse on Satire was prefixed to a translation of the satires
of Juvenal and Persius, and is dated the 18th of August, 1692, when
the poet's age was sixty-one. In translating Juvenal, Dryden was
helped by his sons Charles and John. William Congreve translated
one satire; other translations were by Nahum Tate and George
Stepney. Time modern reader of the introductory discourse has first
to pass through the unmeasured compliments to the Earl of Dorset,
which represent a real esteem and gratitude in the extravagant terms
then proper to the art of dedication. We get to the free sea over a
slimy shore. We must remember that Charles the Second upon his
death was praised by Charles Montague, who knew his faults, as "the
best good man that ever filled a throne," and compared to God
Himself at the end of the first paragraph of Montague's poem. But
when we are clear of the conventional unmeasured flatteries, and
Dryden lingers among epic poets on his way to the satirists, there
is equal interest in the mistaken criticisms, in the aspirations
that are blended with them, and in the occasional touches of the
poet's personality in quiet references to his critics. The
comparisons between Horace and Juvenal in this discourse, and much
of the criticism on Virgil in the discourse on epic poetry, are the
utterances of a poet upon poets, and full of right suggestions from
an artist's mind. The second discourse was prefixed in 1697--three
years before Dryden's death--to his translation of the AEneid.

H. M.


My Lord,

The wishes and desires of all good men, which have attended your
lordship from your first appearance in the world, are at length
accomplished, from your obtaining those honours and dignities which
you have so long deserved. There are no factions, though
irreconcilable to one another, that are not united in their
affection to you, and the respect they pay you. They are equally
pleased in your prosperity, and would be equally concerned in your
afflictions. Titus Vespasian was not more the delight of human
kind. The universal empire made him only more known and more
powerful, but could not make him more beloved. He had greater
ability of doing good, but your inclination to it is not less: and
though you could not extend your beneficence to so many persons, yet
you have lost as few days as that excellent emperor; and never had
his complaint to make when you went to bed, that the sun had shone
upon you in vain, when you had the opportunity of relieving some
unhappy man. This, my lord, has justly acquired you as many friends
as there are persons who have the honour to be known to you. Mere
acquaintance you have none; you have drawn them all into a nearer
line; and they who have conversed with you are for ever after
inviolably yours. This is a truth so generally acknowledged that it
needs no proof: it is of the nature of a first principle, which is
received as soon as it is proposed; and needs not the reformation
which Descartes used to his; for we doubt not, neither can we
properly say, we think we admire and love you above all other men:
there is a certainty in the proposition, and we know it. With the
same assurance I can say, you neither have enemies, nor can scarce
have any; for they who have never heard of you can neither love or
hate you; and they who have, can have no other notion of you than
that which they receive from the public, that you are the best of
men. After this, my testimony can be of no farther use, than to
declare it to be daylight at high noon: and all who have the
benefit of sight can look up as well and see the sun.

It is true, I have one privilege which is almost particular to
myself, that I saw you in the east at your first arising above the
hemisphere: I was as soon sensible as any man of that light when it
was but just shooting out and beginning to travel upwards to the
meridian. I made my early addresses to your lordship in my "Essay
of Dramatic Poetry," and therein bespoke you to the world; wherein I
have the right of a first discoverer. When I was myself in the
rudiments of my poetry, without name or reputation in the world,
having rather the ambition of a writer than the skill; when I was
drawing the outlines of an art, without any living master to
instruct me in it--an art which had been better praised than studied
here in England; wherein Shakespeare, who created the stage among
us, had rather written happily than knowingly and justly; and
Jonson, who, by studying Horace, had been acquainted with the rules,
yet seemed to envy to posterity that knowledge, and, like an
inventor of some useful art, to make a monopoly of his learning--
when thus, as I may say, before the use of the loadstone or
knowledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean without
other help than the pole-star of the ancients and the rules of the
French stage amongst the moderns (which are extremely different from
ours, by reason of their opposite taste), yet even then I had the
presumption to dedicate to your lordship--a very unfinished piece, I
must confess, and which only can be excused by the little experience
of the author and the modesty of the title--"An Essay." Yet I was
stronger in prophecy than I was in criticism: I was inspired to
foretell you to mankind as the restorer of poetry, the greatest
genius, the truest judge, and the best patron.

Good sense and good nature are never separated, though the ignorant
world has thought otherwise. Good nature, by which I mean
beneficence and candour, is the product of right reason; which of
necessity will give allowance to the failings of others by
considering that there is nothing perfect in mankind; and by
distinguishing that which comes nearest to excellency, though not
absolutely free from faults, will certainly produce a candour in the
judge. It is incident to an elevated understanding like your
lordship's to find out the errors of other men; but it is your
prerogative to pardon them; to look with pleasure on those things
which are somewhat congenial and of a remote kindred to your own
conceptions; and to forgive the many failings of those who, with
their wretched art, cannot arrive to those heights that you possess
from a happy, abundant, and native genius which are as inborn to you
as they were to Shakespeare, and, for aught I know, to Homer; in
either of whom we find all arts and sciences, all moral and natural
philosophy, without knowing that they ever studied them.

There is not an English writer this day living who is not perfectly
convinced that your lordship excels all others in all the several
parts of poetry which you have undertaken to adorn. The most vain
and the most ambitions of our age have not dared to assume so much
as the competitors of Themistocles: they have yielded the first
place without dispute; and have been arrogantly content to be
esteemed as second to your lordship, and even that also with a
longo, sed proximi intervallo. If there have been, or are, any who
go farther in their self-conceit, they must be very singular in
their opinion; they must be like the officer in a play who was
called captain, lieutenant, and company. The world will easily
conclude whether such unattended generals can ever be capable of
making a revolution in Parnassus.

I will not attempt in this place to say anything particular of your
lyric poems, though they are the delight and wonder of the age, and
will be the envy of the next. The subject of this book confines me
to satire; and in that an author of your own quality, whose ashes I
will not disturb, has given you all the commendation which his self-
sufficiency could afford to any man--"The best good man, with the
worst-natured muse." In that character, methinks, I am reading
Jonson's verses to the memory of Shakespeare; an insolent, sparing,
and invidious panegyric: where good nature--the most godlike
commendation of a man--is only attributed to your person, and denied
to your writings; for they are everywhere so full of candour, that,
like Horace, you only expose the follies of men without arraigning
their vices; and in this excel him, that you add that pointedness of
thought which is visibly wanting in our great Roman. There is more
of salt in all your verses than I have seen in any of the moderns,
or even of the ancients: but you have been sparing of the gall; by
which means you have pleased all readers and offended none. Donne
alone, of all our countrymen, had your talent, but was not happy
enough to arrive at your versification; and were he translated into
numbers and English, he would yet be wanting in the dignity of
expression. That which is the prime virtue and chief ornament of
Virgil, which distinguishes him from the rest of writers, is so
conspicuous in your verses that it casts a shadow on all your
contemporaries; we cannot be seen, or but obscurely, while you are
present. You equal Donne in the variety, multiplicity, and choice
of thoughts; you excel him in the manner and the words. I read you
both with the same admiration, but not with the same delight. He
affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous
verses, where Nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of
the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should
engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love.
In this (if I may be pardoned for so bold a truth) Mr. Cowley has
copied him to a fault: so great a one, in my opinion, that it
throws his "Mistress" infinitely below his "Pindarics" and his later
compositions, which are undoubtedly the best of his poems and the
most correct. For my own part I must avow it freely to the world
that I never attempted anything in satire wherein I have not studied
your writings as the most perfect model. I have continually laid
them before me; and the greatest commendation which my own
partiality can give to my productions is that they are copies, and
no farther to be allowed than as they have something more or less of
the original. Some few touches of your lordship, some secret graces
which I have endeavoured to express after your manner, have made
whole poems of mine to pass with approbation: but take your verses
all together, and they are inimitable. If, therefore, I have not
written better, it is because you have not written more. You have
not set me sufficient copy to transcribe; and I cannot add one
letter of my own invention of which I have not the example there.

It is a general complaint against your lordship, and I must have
leave to upbraid you with it, that, because you need not write, you
will not. Mankind that wishes you so well in all things that relate
to your prosperity, have their intervals of wishing for themselves,
and are within a little of grudging you the fulness of your fortune:
they would be more malicious if you used it not so well and with so
much generosity.

Fame is in itself a real good, if we may believe Cicero, who was
perhaps too fond of it; but even fame, as Virgil tells us, acquires
strength by going forward. Let Epicurus give indolency as an
attribute to his gods, and place in it the happiness of the blest:
the Divinity which we worship has given us not only a precept
against it, but His own example to the contrary. The world, my
lord, would be content to allow you a seventh day for rest; or, if
you thought that hard upon you, we would not refuse you half your
time: if you came out, like some great monarch, to take a town but
once a year, as it were for your diversion, though you had no need
to extend your territories. In short, if you were a bad, or, which
is worse, an indifferent poet, we would thank you for our own quiet,
and not expose you to the want of yours. But when you are so great,
and so successful, and when we have that necessity of your writing
that we cannot subsist entirely without it, any more (I may almost
say) than the world without the daily course of ordinary Providence,
methinks this argument might prevail with you, my lord, to forego a
little of your repose for the public benefit. It is not that you
are under any force of working daily miracles to prove your being,
but now and then somewhat of extraordinary--that is, anything of
your production--is requisite to refresh your character.

This, I think, my lord, is a sufficient reproach to you, and should
I carry it as far as mankind would authorise me, would be little
less than satire. And indeed a provocation is almost necessary, in
behalf of the world, that you might be induced sometimes to write;
and in relation to a multitude of scribblers, who daily pester the
world with their insufferable stuff, that they might be discouraged
from writing any more. I complain not of their lampoons and libels,
though I have been the public mark for many years. I am vindictive
enough to have repelled force by force if I could imagine that any
of them had ever reached me: but they either shot at rovers, and
therefore missed; or their powder was so weak that I might safely
stand them at the nearest distance. I answered not the "Rehearsal"
because I knew the author sat to himself when he drew the picture,
and was the very Bayes of his own farce; because also I knew that my
betters were more concerned than I was in that satire; and, lastly,
because Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson, the main pillars of it, were two
such languishing gentlemen in their conversation that I could liken
them to nothing but to their own relations, those noble characters
of men of wit and pleasure about the town. The like considerations
have hindered me from dealing with the lamentable companions of
their prose and doggerel. I am so far from defending my poetry
against them that I will not so much as expose theirs. And for my
morals, if they are not proof against their attacks, let me be
thought by posterity what those authors would be thought if any
memory of them or of their writings could endure so long as to
another age. But these dull makers of lampoons, as harmless as they
have been to me, are yet of dangerous example to the public. Some
witty men may perhaps succeed to their designs, and, mixing sense
with malice, blast the reputation of the most innocent amongst men,
and the most virtuous amongst women.

Heaven be praised, our common libellers are as free from the
imputation of wit as of morality, and therefore whatever mischief
they have designed they have performed but little of it. Yet these
ill writers, in all justice, ought themselves to be exposed, as
Persius has given us a fair example in his first Satire, which is
levelled particularly at them; and none is so fit to correct their
faults as he who is not only clear from any in his own writings, but
is also so just that he will never defame the good, and is armed
with the power of verse to punish and make examples of the bad. But
of this I shall have occasion to speak further when I come to give
the definition and character of true satires.

In the meantime, as a counsellor bred up in the knowledge of the
municipal and statute laws may honestly inform a just prince how far
his prerogative extends, so I may be allowed to tell your lordship,
who by an undisputed title are the king of poets, what an extent of
power you have, and how lawfully you may exercise it over the
petulant scribblers of this age. As Lord Chamberlain, I know, you
are absolute by your office in all that belongs to the decency and
good manners of the stage. You can banish from thence scurrility
and profaneness, and restrain the licentious insolence of poets and
their actors in all things that shock the public quiet, or the
reputation of private persons, under the notion of humour. But I
mean not the authority which is annexed to your office, I speak of
that only which is inborn and inherent to your person; what is
produced in you by an excellent wit, a masterly and commanding
genius over all writers: whereby you are empowered, when you
please, to give the final decision of wit, to put your stamp on all
that ought to pass for current and set a brand of reprobation on
clipped poetry and false coin. A shilling dipped in the bath may go
for gold amongst the ignorant, but the sceptres on the guineas show
the difference. That your lordship is formed by nature for this
supremacy I could easily prove (were it not already granted by the
world) from the distinguishing character of your writing, which is
so visible to me that I never could be imposed on to receive for
yours what was written by any others, or to mistake your genuine
poetry for their spurious productions. I can farther add with
truth, though not without some vanity in saying it, that in the same
paper written by divers hands, whereof your lordship's was only
part, I could separate your gold from their copper; and though I
could not give back to every author his own brass (for there is not
the same rule for distinguishing betwixt bad and bad as betwixt ill
and excellently good), yet I never failed of knowing what was yours
and what was not, and was absolutely certain that this or the other
part was positively yours, and could not possibly be written by any

True it is that some bad poems, though not all, carry their owners'
marks about them. There is some peculiar awkwardness, false
grammar, imperfect sense, or, at the least, obscurity; some brand or
other on this buttock or that ear that it is notorious who are the
owners of the cattle, though they should not sign it with their
names. But your lordship, on the contrary, is distinguished not
only by the excellency of your thoughts, but by your style and
manner of expressing them. A painter judging of some admirable
piece may affirm with certainty that it was of Holbein or Vandyck;
but vulgar designs and common draughts are easily mistaken and
misapplied. Thus, by my long study of your lordship, I am arrived
at the knowledge of your particular manner. In the good poems of
other men, like those artists, I can only say, "This is like the
draught of such a one, or like the colouring of another;" in short,
I can only be sure that it is the hand of a good master: but in
your performances it is scarcely possible for me to be deceived. If
you write in your strength, you stand revealed at the first view,
and should you write under it, you cannot avoid some peculiar graces
which only cost me a second consideration to discover you: for I
may say it with all the severity of truth, that every line of yours
is precious. Your lordship's only fault is that you have not
written more, unless I could add another, and that yet greater, but
I fear for the public the accusation would not be true--that you
have written, and out of a vicious modesty will not publish.

Virgil has confined his works within the compass of eighteen
thousand lines, and has not treated many subjects, yet he ever had,
and ever will have, the reputation of the best poet. Martial says
of him that he could have excelled Varius in tragedy and Horace in
lyric poetry, but out of deference to his friends he attempted

The same prevalence of genius is in your lordship, but the world
cannot pardon your concealing it on the same consideration, because
we have neither a living Varius nor a Horace, in whose excellences
both of poems, odes, and satires, you had equalled them, if our
language had not yielded to the Roman majesty, and length of time
had not added a reverence to the works of Horace. For good sense is
the same in all or most ages, and course of time rather improves
nature than impairs her. What has been, may be again; another Homer
and another Virgil may possible arise from those very causes which
produced the first, though it would be impudence to affirm that any
such have yet appeared.

It is manifest that some particular ages have been more happy than
others in the production of great men in all sorts of arts and
sciences, as that of Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and the
rest, for stage-poetry amongst the Greeks; that of Augustus for
heroic, lyric, dramatic, elegiac, and indeed all sorts of poetry in
the persons of Virgil, Horace, Varius, Ovid, and many others,
especially if we take into that century the latter end of the
commonwealth, wherein we find Varro, Lucretius, and Catullus; and at
the same time lived Cicero and Sallust and Caesar. A famous age in
modern times for learning in every kind was that of Lorenzo de
Medici and his son Leo the Tenth, wherein painting was revived, and
poetry flourished, and the Greek language was restored.

Examples in all these are obvious, but what I would infer is this--
that in such an age it is possible some great genius may arise to
equal any of the ancients, abating only for the language; for great
contemporaries whet and cultivate each other, and mutual borrowing
and commerce makes the common riches of learning, as it does of the
civil government.

But suppose that Homer and Virgil were the only of their species,
and that nature was so much worn out in producing them that she is
never able to hear the like again, yet the example only holds in
heroic poetry; in tragedy and satire I offer myself to maintain,
against some of our modern critics, that this age and the last,
particularly in England, have excelled the ancients in both those
kinds, and I would instance in Shakespeare of the former, of your
lordship in the latter sort.

Thus I might safely confine myself to my native country. But if I
would only cross the seas, I might find in France a living Horace
and a Juvenal in the person of the admirable Boileau, whose numbers
are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just,
whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed and whose sense is
close. What he borrows from the ancients, he repays with usury of
his own in coin as good and almost as universally valuable: for,
setting prejudice and partiality apart, though he is our enemy, the
stamp of a Louis, the patron of all arts, is not much inferior to
the medal of an Augustus Caesar. Let this be said without entering
into the interests of factions and parties, and relating only to the
bounty of that king to men of learning and merit--a praise so just
that even we, who are his enemies, cannot refuse it to him.

Now if it may be permitted me to go back again to the consideration
of epic poetry, I have confessed that no man hitherto has reached or
so much as approached to the excellences of Homer or of Virgil; I
must farther add that Statius, the best versificator next to Virgil,
knew not how to design after him, though he had the model in his
eye; that Lucan is wanting both in design and subject, and is
besides too full of heat and affectation; that amongst the moderns,
Ariosto neither designed justly nor observed any unity of action, or
compass of time, or moderation in the vastness of his draught: his
style is luxurious without majesty or decency, and his adventures
without the compass of nature and possibility. Tasso, whose design
was regular, and who observed the roles of unity in time and place
more closely than Virgil, yet was not so happy in his action: he
confesses himself to have been too lyrical--that is, to have written
beneath the dignity of heroic verse--in his episodes of Sophronia,
Erminia, and Armida. His story is not so pleasing as Ariosto's; he
is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times
unequal, and almost always forced; and, besides, is full of
conceits, points of epigram, and witticisms; all which are not only
below the dignity of heroic verse, but contrary to its nature:
Virgil and Homer have not one of them. And those who are guilty of
so boyish an ambition in so grave a subject are so far from being
considered as heroic poets that they ought to be turned down from
Homer to the "Anthologia," from Virgil to Martial and Owen's
Epigrams, and from Spenser to Flecknoe--that is, from the top to the
bottom of all poetry. But to return to Tasso: he borrows from the
invention of Boiardo, and in his alteration of his poem, which is
infinitely for the worse, imitates Homer so very servilely that (for
example) he gives the King of Jerusalem fifty sons, only because
Homer had bestowed the like number on King Priam; he kills the
youngest in the same manner; and has provided his hero with a
Patroclus, under another name, only to bring him back to the wars
when his friend was killed. The French have performed nothing in
this kind which is not far below those two Italians, and subject to
a thousand more reflections, without examining their "St. Louis,"
their "Pucelle," or their "Alaric." The English have only to boast
of Spenser and Milton, who neither of them wanted either genius or
learning to have been perfect poets; and yet both of them are liable
to many censures. For there is no uniformity in the design of
Spenser; he aims at the accomplishment of no one action; he raises
up a hero for every one of his adventures, and endows each of them
with some particular moral virtue, which renders them all equal,
without subordination or preference: every one is most valiant in
his own legend: only we must do him that justice to observe that
magnanimity, which is the character of Prince Arthur, shines
throughout the whole poem, and succours the rest when they are in
distress. The original of every knight was then living in the court
of Queen Elizabeth, and he attributed to each of them that virtue
which he thought was most conspicuous in them--an ingenious piece of
flattery, though it turned not much to his account. Had he lived to
finish his poem in the six remaining legends, it had certainly been
more of a piece; but could not have been perfect, because the model
was not true. But Prince Arthur, or his chief patron Sir Philip
Sidney, whom he intended to make happy by the marriage of his
Gloriana, dying before him, deprived the poet both of means and
spirit to accomplish his design. For the rest, his obsolete
language and the ill choice of his stanza are faults but of the
second magnitude; for, notwithstanding the first, he is still
intelligible--at least, after a little practice; and for the last,
he is the more to be admired that, labouring under such a
difficulty, his verses are so numerous, so various and so
harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he professedly imitated, has
surpassed him among the Romans, and only Mr. Waller among the

As for Mr. Milton, whom we all admire with so much justice, his
subject is not that of an heroic poem, properly so called. His
design is the losing of our happiness; his event is not prosperous,
like that of all other epic works; his heavenly machines are many,
and his human persons are but two. But I will not take Mr. Rymer's
work out of his hands: he has promised the world a critique on that
author wherein, though he will not allow his poem for heroic, I hope
he will grant us that his thoughts are elevated, his words sounding,
and that no man has so happily copied the manner of Homer, or so
copiously translated his Grecisms and the Latin elegances of Virgil.
It is true, he runs into a flat of thought, sometimes for a hundred
lines together, but it is when he has got into a track of Scripture.
His antiquated words were his choice, not his necessity; for therein
he imitated Spenser, as Spencer did Chaucer. And though, perhaps,
the love of their masters may have transported both too far in the
frequent use of them, yet in my opinion obsolete words may then be
laudably revived when either they are more sounding or more
significant than those in practice, and when their obscurity is
taken away by joining other words to them which clear the sense--
according to the rule of Horace for the admission of new words. But
in both cases a moderation is to be observed in the use of them; for
unnecessary coinage, as well as unnecessary revival, runs into
affectation--a fault to be avoided on either hand. Neither will I
justify Milton for his blank verse, though I may excuse him by the
example of Hannibal Caro and other Italians who have used it; for,
whatever causes he alleges for the abolishing of rhyme (which I have
not now the leisure to examine), his own particular reason is
plainly this--that rhyme was not his talent; he had neither the ease
of doing it, nor the graces of it: which is manifest in his
"Juvenilia" or verses written in his youth, where his rhyme is
always constrained and forced, and comes hardly from him, at an age
when the soul is most pliant, and the passion of love makes almost
every man a rhymer, though not a poet.

By this time, my lord, I doubt not but that you wonder why I have
run off from my bias so long together, and made so tedious a
digression from satire to heroic poetry; but if you will not excuse
it by the tattling quality of age (which, as Sir William Davenant
says, is always narrative), yet I hope the usefulness of what I have
to say on this subject will qualify the remoteness of it; and this
is the last time I will commit the crime of prefaces, or trouble the
world with my notions of anything that relates to verse. I have
then, as you see, observed the failings of many great wits amongst
the moderns who have attempted to write an epic poem. Besides
these, or the like animadversions of them by other men, there is yet
a farther reason given why they cannot possibly succeed so well as
the ancients, even though we could allow them not to be inferior
either in genius or learning, or the tongue in which they write, or
all those other wonderful qualifications which are necessary to the
forming of a true accomplished heroic poet. The fault is laid on
our religion; they say that Christianity is not capable of those
embellishments which are afforded in the belief of those ancient

And it is true that in the severe notions of our faith the fortitude
of a Christian consists in patience, and suffering for the love of
God whatever hardships can befall in the world--not in any great
attempt, or in performance of those enterprises which the poets call
heroic, and which are commonly the effects of interest, ostentation,
pride, and worldly honour; that humility and resignation are our
prime virtues; and that these include no action but that of the
soul, whereas, on the contrary, an heroic poem requires to its
necessary design, and as its last perfection, some great action of
war, the accomplishment of some extraordinary undertaking, which
requires the strength and vigour of the body, the duty of a soldier,
the capacity and prudence of a general, and, in short, as much or
more of the active virtue than the suffering. But to this the
answer is very obvious. God has placed us in our several stations;
the virtues of a private Christian are patience, obedience,
submission, and the like; but those of a magistrate or a general or
a king are prudence, counsel, active fortitude, coercive power,
awful command, and the exercise of magnanimity as well as justice.
So that this objection hinders not but that an epic poem, or the
heroic action of some great commander, enterprised for the common
good and honour of the Christian cause, and executed happily, may be
as well written now as it was of old by the heathens, provided the
poet be endued with the same talents; and the language, though not
of equal dignity, yet as near approaching to it as our modern
barbarism will allow--which is all that can be expected from our own
or any other now extant, though more refined; and therefore we are
to rest contented with that only inferiority, which is not possibly
to be remedied.

I wish I could as easily remove that other difficulty which yet
remains. It is objected by a great French critic as well as an
admirable poet, yet living, and whom I have mentioned with that
honour which his merit exacts from me (I mean, Boileau), that the
machines of our Christian religion in heroic poetry are much more
feeble to support that weight than those of heathenism. Their
doctrine, grounded as it was on ridiculous fables, was yet the
belief of the two victorious monarchies, the Grecian and Roman.
Their gods did not only interest themselves in the event of wars
(which is the effect of a superior Providence), but also espoused
the several parties in a visible corporeal descent, managed their
intrigues and fought their battles, sometimes in opposition to each
other; though Virgil (more discreet than Homer in that last
particular) has contented himself with the partiality of his
deities, their favours, their counsels or commands, to those whose
cause they had espoused, without bringing them to the outrageousness
of blows. Now our religion, says he, is deprived of the greatest
part of those machines--at least, the most shining in epic poetry.
Though St. Michael in Ariosto seeks out Discord to send her amongst
the Pagans, and finds her in a convent of friars, where peace should
reign (which indeed is fine satire); and Satan in Tasso excites
Soliman to an attempt by night on the Christian camp, and brings a
host of devils to his assistance; yet the Archangel in the former
example, when Discord was restive and would not be drawn from her
beloved monastery with fair words, has the whip-hand of her, drags
her out with many stripes, sets her on God's name about her
business, and makes her know the difference of strength betwixt a
nuncio of heaven and a minister of hell. The same angel in the
latter instance from Tasso (as if God had never another messenger
belonging to the court, but was confined, like Jupiter to Mercury,
and Juno to Iris), when he sees his time--that is, when half of the
Christians are already killed, and all the rest are in a fair way to
be routed--stickles betwixt the remainders of God's host and the
race of fiends, pulls the devils backward by the tails, and drives
them from their quarry; or otherwise the whole business had
miscarried, and Jerusalem remained untaken. This, says Boileau, is
a very unequal match for the poor devils, who are sure to come by
the worst of it in the combat; for nothing is more easy than for an
Almighty Power to bring His old rebels to reason when He pleases.
Consequently what pleasure, what entertainment, can be raised from
so pitiful a machine, where we see the success of the battle from
the very beginning of it? unless that as we are Christians, we are
glad that we have gotten God on our side to maul our enemies when we
cannot do the work ourselves. For if the poet had given the
faithful more courage, which had cost him nothing, or at least have
made them exceed the Turks in number, he might have gained the
victory for us Christians without interesting Heaven in the quarrel,
and that with as much ease and as little credit to the conqueror as
when a party of a hundred soldiers defeats another which consists
only of fifty.

This, my lord, I confess is such an argument against our modern
poetry as cannot be answered by those mediums which have been used.
We cannot hitherto boast that our religion has furnished us with any
such machines as have made the strength and beauty of the ancient

But what if I venture to advance an invention of my own to supply
the manifest defect of our new writers? I am sufficiently sensible
of my weakness, and it is not very probable that I should succeed in
such a project, whereof I have not had the least hint from any of my
predecessors the poets, or any of their seconds or coadjutors the
critics. Yet we see the art of war is improved in sieges, and new
instruments of death are invented daily. Something new in
philosophy and the mechanics is discovered almost every year, and
the science of former ages is improved by the succeeding. I will
not detain you with a long preamble to that which better judges
will, perhaps, conclude to be little worth.

It is this, in short--that Christian poets have not hitherto been
acquainted with their own strength. If they had searched the Old
Testament as they ought, they might there have found the machines
which are proper for their work, and those more certain in their
effect than it may be the New Testament is in the rules sufficient
for salvation. The perusing of one chapter in the prophecy of
Daniel, and accommodating what there they find with the principles
of Platonic philosophy as it is now Christianised, would have made
the ministry of angels as strong an engine for the working up heroic
poetry in our religion as that of the ancients has been to raise
theirs by all the fables of their gods, which were only received for
truths by the most ignorant and weakest of the people.

It is a doctrine almost universally received by Christians, as well
Protestants as Catholics, that there are guardian angels appointed
by God Almighty as His vicegerents for the protection and government
of cities, provinces, kingdoms, and monarchies; and those as well of
heathens as of true believers. All this is so plainly proved from
those texts of Daniel that it admits of no farther controversy. The
prince of the Persians, and that other of the Grecians, are granted
to be the guardians and protecting ministers of those empires. It
cannot be denied that they were opposite and resisted one another.
St. Michael is mentioned by his name as the patron of the Jews, and
is now taken by the Christians as the protector-general of our
religion. These tutelar genii, who presided over the several people
and regions committed to their charge, were watchful over them for
good, as far as their commissions could possibly extend. The
general purpose and design of all was certainly the service of their
great Creator. But it is an undoubted truth that, for ends best
known to the Almighty Majesty of Heaven, His providential designs
for the benefit of His creatures, for the debasing and punishing of
some nations, and the exaltation and temporal reward of others, were
not wholly known to these His ministers; else why those factious
quarrels, controversies, and battles amongst themselves, when they
were all united in the same design, the service and honour of their
common master? But being instructed only in the general, and
zealous of the main design, and as finite beings not admitted into
the secrets of government, the last resorts of Providence, or
capable of discovering the final purposes of God (who can work good
out of evil as He pleases, and irresistibly sways all manner of
events on earth, directing them finally for the best to His creation
in general, and to the ultimate end of His own glory in particular),
they must of necessity be sometimes ignorant of the means conducing
to those ends, in which alone they can jar and oppose each other--
one angel, as we may suppose (the Prince of Persia, as he is
called), judging that it would be more for God's honour and the
benefit of His people that the Median and Persian monarchy, which
delivered them from the Babylonish captivity, should still be
uppermost; and the patron of the Grecians, to whom the will of God
might be more particularly revealed, contending on the other side
for the rise of Alexander and his successors, who were appointed to
punish the backsliding Jews, and thereby to put them in mind of
their offences, that they might repent and become more virtuous and
more observant of the law revealed. But how far these controversies
and appearing enmities of those glorious creatures may be carried;
how these oppositions may be best managed, and by what means
conducted, is not my business to show or determine: these things
must be left to the invention and judgment of the poet, if any of so
happy a genius be now living, or any future age can produce a man
who, being conversant in the philosophy of Plato as it is now
accommodated to Christian use (for, as Virgil gives us to understand
by his example, that is the only proper, of all others, for an epic
poem), who to his natural endowments of a large invention, a ripe
judgment, and a strong memory, has joined the knowledge of the
liberal arts and sciences (and particularly moral philosophy, the
mathematics, geography, and history), and with all these
qualifications is born a poet, knows, and can practise the variety
of numbers, and is master of the language in which he writes--if
such a man, I say, be now arisen, or shall arise, I am vain enough
to think that I have proposed a model to him by which he may build a
nobler, a more beautiful, and more perfect poem than any yet extant
since the ancients.

There is another part of these machines yet wanting; but by what I
have said, it would have been easily supplied by a judicious writer.
He could not have failed to add the opposition of ill spirits to the
good; they have also their design, ever opposite to that of Heaven;
and this alone has hitherto been the practice of the moderns: but
this imperfect system, if I may call it such, which I have given,
will infinitely advance and carry farther that hypothesis of the
evil spirits contending with the good. For being so much weaker
since their fall than those blessed beings, they are yet supposed to
have a permitted power from God of acting ill, as from their own
depraved nature they have always the will of designing it--a great
testimony of which we find in Holy Writ, when God Almighty suffered
Satan to appear in the holy synod of the angels (a thing not
hitherto drawn into example by any of the poets), and also gave him
power over all things belonging to his servant Job, excepting only

Now what these wicked spirits cannot compass by the vast
disproportion of their forces to those of the superior beings, they
may by their fraud and cunning carry farther in a seeming league,
confederacy, or subserviency to the designs of some good angel, as
far as consists with his purity to suffer such an aid, the end of
which may possibly be disguised and concealed from his finite
knowledge. This is indeed to suppose a great error in such a being;
yet since a devil can appear like an angel of light, since craft and
malice may sometimes blind for a while a more perfect understanding;
and lastly, since Milton has given us an example of the like nature,
when Satan, appearing like a cherub to Uriel, the intelligence of
the sun, circumvented him even in his own province, and passed only
for a curious traveller through those new-created regions, that he
might observe therein the workmanship of God and praise Him in His
works--I know not why, upon the same supposition, or some other, a
fiend may not deceive a creature of more excellency than himself,
but yet a creature; at least, by the connivance or tacit permission
of the Omniscient Being.

Thus, my lord, I have, as briefly as I could, given your lordship,
and by you the world, a rude draught of what I have been long
labouring in my imagination, and what I had intended to have put in
practice (though far unable for the attempt of such a poem), and to
have left the stage, to which my genius never much inclined me, for
a work which would have taken up my life in the performance of it.
This, too, I had intended chiefly for the honour of my native
country, to which a poet is particularly obliged. Of two subjects,
both relating to it, I was doubtful--whether I should choose that of
King Arthur conquering the Saxons (which, being farther distant in
time, gives the greater scope to my invention), or that of Edward
the Black Prince in subduing Spain and restoring it to the lawful
prince, though a great tyrant, Don Pedro the Cruel--which for the
compass of time, including only the expedition of one year; for the
greatness of the action, and its answerable event; for the
magnanimity of the English hero, opposed to the ingratitude of the
person whom he restored; and for the many beautiful episodes which I
had interwoven with the principal design, together with the
characters of the chiefest English persons (wherein, after Virgil
and Spenser, I would have taken occasion to represent my living
friends and patrons of the noblest families, and also shadowed the
events of future ages in the succession of our imperial line)--with
these helps, and those of the machines which I have mentioned, I
might perhaps have done as well as some of my predecessors, or at
least chalked out a way for others to amend my errors in a like
design; but being encouraged only with fair words by King Charles
the Second, my little salary ill paid, and no prospect of a future
subsistence, I was then discouraged in the beginning of my attempt;
and now age has overtaken me, and want (a more insufferable evil)
through the change of the times has wholly disenabled me; though I
must ever acknowledge, to the honour of your lordship, and the
eternal memory of your charity, that since this Revolution, wherein
I have patiently suffered the ruin of my small fortune, and the loss
of that poor subsistence which I had from two kings, whom I had
served more faithfully than profitably to myself--then your lordship
was pleased, out of no other motive but your own nobleness, without
any desert of mine, or the least solicitation from me, to make me a
most bountiful present, which at that time, when I was most in want
of it, came most seasonably and unexpectedly to my relief. That
favour, my lord, is of itself sufficient to bind any grateful man to
a perpetual acknowledgment, and to all the future service which one
of my mean condition can be ever able to perform. May the Almighty
God return it for me, both in blessing you here and rewarding you
hereafter! I must not presume to defend the cause for which I now
suffer, because your lordship is engaged against it; but the more
you are so, the greater is my obligation to you for your laying
aside all the considerations of factions and parties to do an action
of pure disinterested charity. This is one amongst many of your
shining qualities which distinguish you from others of your rank.
But let me add a farther truth--that without these ties of
gratitude, and abstracting from them all, I have a most particular
inclination to honour you, and, if it were not too bold an
expression, to say I love you. It is no shame to be a poet, though
it is to be a bad one. Augustus Caesar of old, and Cardinal
Richelieu of late, would willingly have been such; and David and
Solomon were such. You who, without flattery, are the best of the
present age in England, and would have been so had you been born in
any other country, will receive more honour in future ages by that
one excellency than by all those honours to which your birth has
entitled you, or your merits have acquired you.

"Ne forte pudori
Sit tibi Musa lyrae solers, et cantor Apollo."

I have formerly said in this epistle that I could distinguish your
writings from those of any others; it is now time to clear myself
from any imputation of self-conceit on that subject. I assume not
to myself any particular lights in this discovery; they are such
only as are obvious to every man of sense and judgment who loves
poetry and understands it. Your thoughts are always so remote from
the common way of thinking that they are, as I may say, of another
species than the conceptions of other poets; yet you go not out of
nature for any of them. Gold is never bred upon the surface of the
ground, but lies so hidden and so deep that the mines of it are
seldom found; but the force of waters casts it out from the bowels
of mountains, and exposes it amongst the sands of rivers, giving us
of her bounty what we could not hope for by our search. This
success attends your lordship's thoughts, which would look like
chance if it were not perpetual and always of the same tenor. If I
grant that there is care in it, it is such a care as would be
ineffectual and fruitless in other men; it is the curiosa felicitas
which Petronius ascribes to Horace in his odes. We have not
wherewithal to imagine so strongly, so justly, and so pleasantly:
in short, if we have the same knowledge, we cannot draw out of it
the same quintessence; we cannot give it such a turn, such a
propriety, and such a beauty. Something is deficient in the manner
or the words, but more in the nobleness of our conception. Yet when
you have finished all, and it appears in its full lustre; when the
diamond is not only found, but the roughness smoothed; when it is
cut into a form and set in gold, then we cannot but acknowledge that
it is the perfect work of art and nature; and every one will be so
vain to think he himself could have performed the like until he
attempts it. It is just the description that Horace makes of such a
finished piece; it appears so easy,

"Ut sibi quivis
Speret idem, sudet multum, frustraque laboret,
Ausus idem."

And besides all this, it is your lordship's particular talent to lay
your thoughts so chose together that, were they closer, they would
be crowded, and even a due connection would be wanting. We are not
kept in expectation of two good lines which are to come after a long
parenthesis of twenty bad; which is the April poetry of other
writers, a mixture of rain and sunshine by fits: you are always
bright, even almost to a fault, by reason of the excess. There is
continual abundance, a magazine of thought, and yet a perpetual
variety of entertainment; which creates such an appetite in your
reader that he is not cloyed with anything, but satisfied with all.
It is that which the Romans call caena dubia; where there is such
plenty, yet withal so much diversity, and so good order, that the
choice is difficult betwixt one excellency and another; and yet the
conclusion, by a due climax, is evermore the best--that is, as a
conclusion ought to be, ever the most proper for its place. See, my
lord, whether I have not studied your lordship with some
application: and since you are so modest that you will not be judge
and party, I appeal to the whole world if I have not drawn your
picture to a great degree of likeness, though it is but in
miniature, and that some of the best features are yet wanting. Yet
what I have done is enough to distinguish you from any other, which
is the proposition that I took upon me to demonstrate.

And now, my lord, to apply what I have said to my present business:
the satires of Juvenal and Persius, appearing in this new English
dress, cannot so properly be inscribed to any man as to your
lordship, who are the first of the age in that way of writing. Your
lordship, amongst many other favours, has given me your permission
for this address; and you have particularly encouraged me by your
perusal and approbation of the sixth and tenth satires of Juvenal as
I have translated them. My fellow-labourers have likewise
commissioned me to perform in their behalf this office of a
dedication to you, and will acknowledge, with all possible respect
and gratitude, your acceptance of their work. Some of them have the
honour to be known to your lordship already; and they who have not
yet that happiness, desire it now. Be pleased to receive our common
endeavours with your wonted candour, without entitling you to the
protection of our common failings in so difficult an undertaking.
And allow me your patience, if it be not already tired with this
long epistle, to give you from the best authors the origin, the
antiquity, the growth, the change, and the completement of satire
among the Romans; to describe, if not define, the nature of that
poem, with its several qualifications and virtues, together with the
several sorts of it; to compare the excellencies of Horace, Persius,
and Juvenal, and show the particular manners of their satires; and,
lastly, to give an account of this new way of version which is
attempted in our performance: all which, according to the weakness
of my ability, and the best lights which I can get from others,
shall be the subject of my following discourse.

The most perfect work of poetry, says our master Aristotle, is
tragedy. His reason is because it is the most united; being more
severely confined within the rules of action, time, and place. The
action is entire of a piece, and one without episodes; the time
limited to a natural day; and the place circumscribed at least
within the compass of one town or city. Being exactly proportioned
thus, and uniform in all its parts, the mind is more capable of
comprehending the whole beauty of it without distraction.

But after all these advantages an heroic poem is certainly the
greatest work of human nature. The beauties and perfections of the
other are but mechanical; those of the epic are more noble. Though
Homer has limited his place to Troy and the fields about it; his
actions to forty-eight natural days, whereof twelve are holidays, or
cessation from business during the funeral of Patroclus. To
proceed: the action of the epic is greater; the extension of time
enlarges the pleasure of the reader, and the episodes give it more
ornament and more variety. The instruction is equal; but the first
is only instructive, the latter forms a hero and a prince.

If it signifies anything which of them is of the more ancient
family, the best and most absolute heroic poem was written by Homer
long before tragedy was invented. But if we consider the natural
endowments and acquired parts which are necessary to make an
accomplished writer in either kind, tragedy requires a less and more
confined knowledge; moderate learning and observation of the rules
is sufficient if a genius be not wanting. But in an epic poet, one
who is worthy of that name, besides an universal genius is required
universal learning, together with all those qualities and
acquisitions which I have named above, and as many more as I have
through haste or negligence omitted. And, after all, he must have
exactly studied Homer and Virgil as his patterns, Aristotle and
Horace as his guides, and Vida and Bossu as their commentators, with
many others (both Italian and French critics) which I want leisure
here to recommend.

In a word, what I have to say in relation to this subject, which
does not particularly concern satire, is that the greatness of an
heroic poem beyond that of a tragedy may easily be discovered by
observing how few have attempted that work, in comparison to those
who have written dramas; and of those few, how small a number have
succeeded. But leaving the critics on either side to contend about
the preference due to this or that sort of poetry, I will hasten to
my present business, which is the antiquity and origin of satire,
according to those informations which I have received from the
learned Casaubon, Heinsius, Rigaltius, Dacier, and the Dauphin's
Juvenal, to which I shall add some observations of my own.

There has been a long dispute among the modern critics whether the
Romans derived their satire from the Grecians or first invented it
themselves. Julius Scaliger and Heinsius are of the first opinion;
Casaubon, Rigaltius, Dacier, and the publisher of Dauphin's Juvenal
maintain the latter. If we take satire in the general signification
of the word, as it is used in all modern languages, for an
invective, it is certain that it is almost as old as verse; and
though hymns, which are praises of God, may be allowed to have been
before it, yet the defamation of others was not long after it.
After God had cursed Adam and Eve in Paradise, the husband and wife
excused themselves by laying the blame on one another, and gave a
beginning to those conjugal dialogues in prose which the poets have
perfected in verse. The third chapter of Job is one of the first
instances of this poem in Holy Scripture, unless we will take it
higher, from the latter end of the second, where his wife advises
him to curse his Maker.

This original, I confess, is not much to the honour of satire; but
here it was nature, and that depraved: when it became an art, it
bore better fruit. Only we have learnt thus much already--that
scoffs and revilings are of the growth of all nations; and
consequently that neither the Greek poets borrowed from other people
their art of railing, neither needed the Romans to take it from
them. But considering satire as a species of poetry, here the war
begins amongst the critics. Scaliger, the father, will have it
descend from Greece to Rome; and derives the word "satire" from
Satyrus, that mixed kind of animal (or, as the ancients thought him,
rural god) made up betwixt a man and a goat, with a human head,
hooked nose, pouting lips, a bunch or struma under the chin, pricked
ears, and upright horns; the body shagged with hair, especially from
the waist, and ending in a goat, with the legs and feet of that
creature. But Casaubon and his followers, with reason, condemn this
derivation, and prove that from Satyrus the word satira, as it
signifies a poem, cannot possibly descend. For satira is not
properly a substantive, but an adjective; to which the word lanx (in
English a "charger" or "large platter") is understood: so that the
Greek poem made according to the manners of a Satyr, and expressing
his qualities, must properly be called satirical, and not satire.
And thus far it is allowed that the Grecians had such poems, but
that they were wholly different in species from that to which the
Romans gave the name of satire.

Aristotle divides all poetry, in relation to the progress of it,
into nature without art, art begun, and art completed. Mankind,
even the most barbarous, have the seeds of poetry implanted in them.
The first specimen of it was certainly shown in the praises of the
Deity and prayers to Him; and as they are of natural obligation, so
they are likewise of divine institution: which Milton observing,
introduces Adam and Eve every morning adoring God in hymns and
prayers. The first poetry was thus begun in the wild notes of
natural poetry before the invention of feet and measures. The
Grecians and Romans had no other original of their poetry.
Festivals and holidays soon succeeded to private worship, and we
need not doubt but they were enjoined by the true God to His own
people, as they were afterwards imitated by the heathens; who by the
light of reason knew they were to invoke some superior being in
their necessities, and to thank him for his benefits. Thus the
Grecian holidays were celebrated with offerings to Bacchus and Ceres
and other deities, to whose bounty they supposed they were owing for
their corn and wine and other helps of life. And the ancient
Romans, as Horace tells us, paid their thanks to Mother Earth or
Vesta, to Silvanus, and their Genius in the same manner. But as all
festivals have a double reason of their institution--the first of
religion, the other of recreation for the unbending of our minds--so
both the Grecians and Romans agreed (after their sacrifices were
performed) to spend the remainder of the day in sports and
merriments; amongst which songs and dances, and that which they
called wit (for want of knowing better), were the chiefest
entertainments. The Grecians had a notion of Satyrs, whom I have
already described; and taking them and the Sileni--that is, the
young Satyrs and the old--for the tutors, attendants, and humble
companions of their Bacchus, habited themselves like those rural
deities, and imitated them in their rustic dances, to which they
joined songs with some sort of rude harmony, but without certain
numbers; and to these they added a kind of chorus.

The Romans also, as nature is the same in all places, though they
knew nothing of those Grecian demi-gods, nor had any communication
with Greece, yet had certain young men who at their festivals danced
and sang after their uncouth manner to a certain kind of verse which
they called Saturnian. What it was we have no certain light from
antiquity to discover; but we may conclude that, like the Grecian,
it was void of art, or, at least, with very feeble beginnings of it.
Those ancient Romans at these holy days, which were a mixture of
devotion and debauchery, had a custom of reproaching each other with
their faults in a sort of extempore poetry, or rather of tunable
hobbling verse, and they answered in the same kind of gross
raillery--their wit and their music being of a piece. The Grecians,
says Casaubon, had formerly done the same in the persons of their
petulant Satyrs; but I am afraid he mistakes the matter, and
confounds the singing and dancing of the Satyrs with the rustical
entertainments of the first Romans. The reason of my opinion is
this: that Casaubon finding little light from antiquity of these
beginnings of poetry amongst the Grecians, but only these
representations of Satyrs who carried canisters and cornucopias full
of several fruits in their hands, and danced with them at their
public feasts, and afterwards reading Horace, who makes mention of
his homely Romans jesting at one another in the same kind of
solemnities, might suppose those wanton Satyrs did the same; and
especially because Horace possibly might seem to him to have shown
the original of all poetry in general (including the Grecians as
well as Romans), though it is plainly otherwise that he only
described the beginning and first rudiments of poetry in his own
country. The verses are these, which he cites from the First
Epistle of the Second Book, which was written to Augustus:-

"Agricolae prisci, fortes, parvoque beati,
Condita post frumenta, levantes tempore festo
Corpus, et ipsum animum spe finis dura ferentem,
Cum sociis operum, et pueris, et conjuge fida,
Tellurem porco, Silvanum lacte piabant;
Floribus et vino Genium memorem brevis aevi.
Fescennina per hunc inventa licentia morem
Versibus alternis opprobria rustica fudit."

"Our brawny clowns of old, who turned the soil,
Content with little, and inured to toil,
At harvest-home, with mirth and country cheer,
Restored their bodies for another year,
Refreshed their spirits, and renewed their hope
Of such a future feast and future crop.
Then with their fellow-joggers of the ploughs,
Their little children, and their faithful spouse,
A sow they slew to Vesta's deity,
And kindly milk, Silvanus, poured to thee.
With flowers and wine their Genius they adored;
A short life and a merry was the word.
From flowing cups defaming rhymes ensue,
And at each other homely taunts they threw."

Yet since it is a hard conjecture that so great a man as Casaubon
should misapply what Horace writ concerning ancient Rome to the
ceremonies and manners of ancient Greece, I will not insist on this
opinion, but rather judge in general that since all poetry had its
original from religion, that of the Grecians and Rome had the same
beginning. Both were invented at festivals of thanksgiving, and
both were prosecuted with mirth and raillery and rudiments of
verses; amongst the Greeks by those who represented Satyrs, and
amongst the Romans by real clowns.

For, indeed, when I am reading Casaubon on these two subjects
methinks I hear the same story told twice over with very little
alteration. Of which Dacier, taking notice in his interpretation of
the Latin verses which I have translated, says plainly that the
beginning of poetry was the same, with a small variety, in both
countries, and that the mother of it in all nations was devotion.
But what is yet more wonderful, that most learned critic takes
notice also, in his illustrations on the First Epistle of the Second
Book, that as the poetry of the Romans and that of the Grecians had
the same beginning at feasts and thanksgiving (as it has been
observed), and the old comedy of the Greeks (which was invective)
and the satire of the Romans (which was of the same nature) were
begun on the very same occasion, so the fortune of both in process
of time was just the same--the old comedy of the Grecians was
forbidden for its too much licence in exposing of particular
persons, and the rude satire of the Romans was also punished by a
law of the Decemviri, as Horace tells us in these words:-

"Libertasque recurrentes accepta per annos
Lusit amabiliter; donec jam saevus apertam
In rabiem verti caepit jocus, et per honestas
Ire domos impune minax: doluere cruento
Dente lacessiti; fuit intactis quoque cura
Conditione super communi: quinetiam lex,
Paenaque lata, malo quae nollet carmine quenquam
Describi: vertere modum, formidine fustis
Ad benedicendum delectandumque redacti."

The law of the Decemviri was this: Siquis occentassit malum carmen,
sive condidissit, quod infamiam faxit, flagitiumve alteri, capital
esto. A strange likeness, and barely possible; but the critics
being all of the same opinion, it becomes me to be silent and to
submit to better judgments than my own.

But to return to the Grecians, from whose satiric dramas the elder
Scaliger and Heinsius will have the Roman satire to proceed; I am to
take a view of them first, and see if there be any such descent from
them as those authors have pretended.

Thespis, or whoever he were that invented tragedy (for authors
differ), mingled with them a chorus and dances of Satyrs which had
before been used in the celebration of their festivals, and there
they were ever afterwards retained. The character of them was also
kept, which was mirth and wantonness; and this was given, I suppose,
to the folly of the common audience, who soon grow weary of good
sense, and, as we daily see in our own age and country, are apt to
forsake poetry, and still ready to return to buffoonery and farce.
From hence it came that in the Olympic Games, where the poets
contended for four prizes, the satiric tragedy was the last of them,
for in the rest the Satyrs were excluded from the chorus. Amongst
the plays of Euripides which are yet remaining, there is one of
these satirics, which is called The Cyclops, in which we may see the
nature of those poems, and from thence conclude what likeness they
have to the Roman satire.

The story of this Cyclops, whose name was Polyphemus (so famous in
the Grecian fables), was that Ulysses, who with his company was
driven on the coast of Sicily, where those Cyclops inhabited, coming
to ask relief from Silenus and the Satyrs, who were herdsmen to that
one-eyed giant, was kindly received by them, and entertained till,
being perceived by Polyphemus, they were made prisoners against the
rites of hospitality (for which Ulysses eloquently pleaded), were
afterwards put down into the den, and some of them devoured; after
which Ulysses (having made him drunk when he was asleep) thrust a
great fire-brand into his eye, and so revenging his dead followers
escaped with the remaining party of the living, and Silenus and the
Satyrs were freed from their servitude under Polyphemus and remitted
to their first liberty of attending and accompanying their patron

This was the subject of the tragedy, which, being one of those that
end with a happy event, is therefore by Aristotle judged below the
other sort, whose success is unfortunate; notwithstanding which, the
Satyrs (who were part of the dramatis personae, as well as the whole
chorus) were properly introduced into the nature of the poem, which
is mixed of farce and tragedy. The adventure of Ulysses was to
entertain the judging part of the audience, and the uncouth persons
of Silenus and the Satyrs to divert the common people with their
gross railleries.

Your lordship has perceived by this time that this satiric tragedy
and the Roman satire have little resemblance in any of their
features. The very kinds are different; for what has a pastoral
tragedy to do with a paper of verses satirically written? The
character and raillery of the Satyrs is the only thing that could
pretend to a likeness, were Scaliger and Heinsius alive to maintain
their opinion. And the first farces of the Romans, which were the
rudiments of their poetry, were written before they had any
communication with the Greeks, or indeed any knowledge of that

And here it will be proper to give the definition of the Greek
satiric poem from Casaubon before I leave this subject. "The
'satiric,'" says he, "is a dramatic poem annexed to a tragedy having
a chorus which consists of Satyrs. The persons represented in it
are illustrious men, the action of it is great, the style is partly
serious and partly jocular, and the event of the action most
commonly is happy."

The Grecians, besides these satiric tragedies, had another kind of
poem, which they called "silli," which were more of kin to the Roman
satire. Those "silli" were indeed invective poems, but of a
different species from the Roman poems of Ennius, Pacuvius,
Lucilius, Horace, and the rest of their successors. "They were so
called," says Casaubon in one place, "from Silenus, the foster-
father of Bacchus;" but in another place, bethinking himself better,
he derives their name [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] from
their scoffing and petulancy. From some fragments of the "silli"
written by Timon we may find that they were satiric poems, full of
parodies; that is, of verses patched up from great poets, and turned
into another sense than their author intended them. Such amongst
the Romans is the famous Cento of Ausonius, where the words are
Virgil's, but by applying them to another sense they are made a
relation of a wedding-night, and the act of consummation fulsomely
described in the very words of the most modest amongst all poets.
Of the same manner are our songs which are turned into burlesque,
and the serious words of the author perverted into a ridiculous
meaning. Thus in Timon's "silli" the words are generally those of
Homer and the tragic poets, but he applies them satirically to some
customs and kinds of philosophy which he arraigns. But the Romans
not using any of these parodies in their satires--sometimes indeed
repeating verses of other men, as Persius cites some of Nero's, but
not turning them into another meaning--the "silli" cannot be
supposed to be the original of Roman satire. To these "silli,"
consisting of parodies, we may properly add the satires which were
written against particular persons, such as were the iambics of
Archilochus against Lycambes, which Horace undoubtedly imitated in
some of his odes and epodes, whose titles bear sufficient witness of
it: I might also name the invective of Ovid against Ibis, and many
others. But these are the underwood of satire rather than the
timber-trees; they are not of general extension, as reaching only to
some individual person. And Horace seems to have purged himself
from those splenetic reflections in those odes and epodes before he
undertook the noble work of satires, which were properly so called.

Thus, my lord, I have at length disengaged myself from those
antiquities of Greece, and have proved, I hope, from the best
critics, that the Roman satire was not borrowed from thence, but of
their own manufacture. I am now almost gotten into my depth; at
least, by the help of Dacier, I am swimming towards it. Not that I
will promise always to follow him, any more than he follows
Casaubon; but to keep him in my eye as my best and truest guide; and
where I think he may possibly mislead me, there to have recourse to
my own lights, as I expect that others should do by me.

Quintilian says in plain words, Satira quidem tota nostra est; and
Horace had said the same thing before him, speaking of his
predecessor in that sort of poetry, et Graecis intacti carminis
auctor. Nothing can be clearer than the opinion of the poet and the
orator (both the best critics of the two best ages of the Roman
empire), that satire was wholly of Latin growth, and not
transplanted to Rome from Athens. Yet, as I have said, Scaliger the
father, according to his custom (that is, insolently enough),
contradicts them both, and gives no better reason than the
derivation of satyrus from [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]
salacitas; and so, from the lechery of those fauns, thinks he has
sufficiently proved that satire is derived from them: as if
wantonness and lubricity were essential to that sort of poem, which
ought to be avoided in it. His other allegation, which I have
already mentioned, is as pitiful--that the Satyrs carried platters
and canisters full of fruit in their hands. If they had entered
empty-handed, had they been ever the less Satyrs? Or were the
fruits and flowers which they offered anything of kin to satire? or
any argument that this poem was originally Grecian? Casaubon judged
better, and his opinion is grounded on sure authority: that satire
was derived from satura, a Roman word which signifies full and
abundant, and full also of variety, in which nothing is wanting to
its due perfection. It is thus, says Denier, that we say a full
colour, when the wool has taken the whole tincture and drunk in as
much of the dye as it can receive. According to this derivation,
from setur comes satura or satira, according to the new spelling, as
optumus and maxumus are now spelled optimus and maximus. Satura, as
I have formerly noted, is an adjective, and relates to the word
lanx, which is understood; and this lanx (in English a "charger" or
"large platter") was yearly filled with all sorts of fruits, which
were offered to the gods at their festivals as the premices or first
gatherings. These offerings of several sorts thus mingled, it is
true, were not unknown to the Grecians, who called them [Greek text
which cannot be reproduced] a sacrifice of all sorts of fruits; and
[Greek text which cannot be reproduced], when they offered all kinds
of grain. Virgil has mentioned these sacrifices in his "Georgics":-

"Lancibus et pandis fumantia reddimus exta;"

and in another place, lancesque et liba feremus--that is, "We offer
the smoking entrails in great platters; and we will offer the
chargers and the cakes."

This word satura has been afterward applied to many other sorts of
mixtures; as Festus calls it, a kind of olla or hotch-potch made of
several sorts of meats. Laws were also called leges saturae when
they were of several heads and titles, like our tacked Bills of
Parliament; and per saturam legem ferre in the Roman senate was to
carry a law without telling the senators, or counting voices, when
they were in haste. Sallust uses the word, per saturam sententias
exquirere, when the majority was visibly on one side. From hence it
might probably be conjectured that the Discourses or Satires of
Ennius, Lucilius, and Horace, as we now call them, took their name,
because they are full of various matters, and are also written on
various subjects--as Porphyrius says. But Dacier affirms that it is
not immediately from thence that these satires are so called, for
that name had been used formerly for other things which bore a
nearer resemblance to those discourses of Horace; in explaining of
which, continues Dacier, a method is to be pursued of which Casaubon
himself has never thought, and which will put all things into so
clear a light that no further room will be left for the least

During the space of almost four hundred years since the building of
their city the Romans had never known any entertainments of the
stage. Chance and jollity first found out those verses which they
called Saturnian and Fescennine; or rather human nature, which is
inclined to poetry, first produced them rude and barbarous and
unpolished, as all other operations of the soul are in their
beginnings before they are cultivated with art and study. However,
in occasions of merriment, they were first practised; and this
rough-cast, unhewn poetry was instead of stage-plays for the space
of a hundred and twenty years together. They were made extempore,
and were, as the French call them, impromptus; for which the
Tarsians of old were much renowned, and we see the daily examples of
them in the Italian farces of Harlequin and Scaramucha. Such was
the poetry of that savage people before it was tuned into numbers
and the harmony of verse. Little of the Saturnian verses is now
remaining; we only know from authors that they were nearer prose
than poetry, without feet or measure. They were [Greek text which
cannot be reproduced] but not [Greek text which cannot be
reproduced]. Perhaps they might be used in the solemn part of their
ceremonies; and the Fescennine, which were invented after them, in
their afternoons' debauchery, because they were scoffing and

The Fescennine and Saturnian were the same; for as they were called
Saturnian from their ancientness, when Saturn reigned in Italy, they
were also called Fescennine, from Fescennia, a town in the same
country where they were first practised. The actors, with a gross
and rustic kind of raillery, reproached each other with their
failings, and at the same time were nothing sparing of it to their
audience. Somewhat of this custom was afterwards retained in their
Saturnalia, or Feasts of Saturn, celebrated in December; at least,
all kind of freedom in speech was then allowed to slaves, even
against their masters; and we are not without some imitation of it
in our Christmas gambols. Soldiers also used those Fescennine
verses, after measure and numbers had been added to them, at the
triumph of their generals; of which we have an example in the
triumph of Julius Caesar over Gaul in these expressions: Caesar
Gallias subegit, Nicomedes Caesarem. Ecce Caesar nunc triumphat,
qui subegit Gallias; Nicomedes non triumphat, qui subegit Caesarem.
The vapours of wine made those first satirical poets amongst the
Romans, which, says Dacier, we cannot better represent than by
imagining a company of clowns on a holiday dancing lubberly and
upbraiding one another in extempore doggerel with their defects and
vices, and the stories that were told of them in bake-houses and
barbers' shops.

When they began to be somewhat better bred, and were entering, as I
may say, into the first rudiments of civil conversation, they left
these hedge-notes for another sort of poem, somewhat polished, which
was also full of pleasant raillery, but without any mixture of
obscenity. This sort of poetry appeared under the name of "satire"
because of its variety; and this satire was adorned with
compositions of music, and with dances; but lascivious postures were
banished from it. In the Tuscan language, says Livy, the word
hister signifies a player; and therefore those actors which were
first brought from Etruria to Rome on occasion of a pestilence, when
the Romans were admonished to avert the anger of the gods by plays
(in the year ab urbe condita CCCXC.)--those actors, I say, were
therefore called histriones: and that name has since remained, not
only to actors Roman born, but to all others of every nation. They
played, not the former extempore stuff of Fescennine verses or
clownish jests, but what they acted was a kind of civil cleanly
farce, with music and dances, and motions that were proper to the

In this condition Livius Andronicus found the stage when he
attempted first, instead of farces, to supply it with a nobler
entertainment of tragedies and comedies. This man was a Grecian
born, and being made a slave by Livius Salinator, and brought to
Rome, had the education of his patron's children committed to him,
which trust he discharged so much to the satisfaction of his master
that he gave him his liberty.

Andronicus, thus become a freeman of Rome, added to his own name
that of Livius, his master; and, as I observed, was the first author
of a regular play in that commonwealth. Being already instructed in
his native country in the manners and decencies of the Athenian
theatre, and conversant in the archaea comaedia or old comedy of
Aristophanes and the rest of the Grecian poets, he took from that
model his own designing of plays for the Roman stage, the first of
which was represented in the year CCCCCXIV. since the building of
Rome, as Tully, from the Commentaries of Atticus, has assured us; it
was after the end of the first Punic War, the year before Atticus
was born. Dacier has not carried the matter altogether thus far; he
only says that one Livius Andronicus was the first stage-poet at
Rome. But I will adventure on this hint to advance another
proposition, which I hope the learned will approve; and though we
have not anything of Andronicus remaining to justify my conjecture,
yet it is exceeding probable that, having read the works of those
Grecian wits, his countrymen, he imitated not only the groundwork,
but also the manner of their writing; and how grave soever his
tragedies might be, yet in his comedies he expressed the way of
Aristophanes, Eupolis, and the rest, which was to call some persons
by their own names, and to expose their defects to the laughter of
the people (the examples of which we have in the fore-mentioned
Aristophanes, who turned the wise Socrates into ridicule, and is
also very free with the management of Cleon, Alcibiades, and other
ministers of the Athenian government). Now if this be granted, we
may easily suppose that the first hint of satirical plays on the
Roman stage was given by the Greeks--not from the satirica, for that
has been reasonably exploded in the former part of this discourse--
but from their old comedy, which was imitated first by Livius
Andronicus. And then Quintilian and Horace must be cautiously
interpreted, where they affirm that satire is wholly Roman, and a
sort of verse which was not touched on by the Grecians. The
reconcilement of my opinion to the standard of their judgment is
not, however, very difficult, since they spoke of satire, not as in
its first elements, but as it was formed into a separate work--begun
by Ennius, pursued by Lucilius, and completed afterwards by Horace.
The proof depends only on this postalatum--that the comedies of
Andronicus, which were imitations of the Greek, were also imitations
of their railleries and reflections on particular persons. For if
this be granted me, which is a most probable supposition, it is easy
to infer that the first light which was given to the Roman
theatrical satire was from the plays of Livius Andronicus, which
will be more manifestly discovered when I come to speak of Ennius.
In the meantime I will return to Dacier.

The people, says he, ran in crowds to these new entertainments of
Andronicus, as to pieces which were more noble in their kind, and
more perfect than their former satires, which for some time they
neglected and abandoned; but not long after they took them up again,
and then they joined them to their comedies, playing them at the end
of every drama, as the French continue at this day to act their
farces, in the nature of a separate entertainment from their
tragedies. But more particularly they were joined to the "Atellane"
fables, says Casaubon; which were plays invented by the Osci. Those
fables, says Valerius Maximus, out of Livy, were tempered with the
Italian severity, and free from any note of infamy or obsceneness;
and, as an old commentator on Juvenal affirms, the Exodiarii, which
were singers and dancers, entered to entertain the people with light
songs and mimical gestures, that they might not go away oppressed
with melancholy from those serious pieces of the theatre. So that
the ancient satire of the Romans was in extempore reproaches; the
next was farce, which was brought from Tuscany; to that succeeded
the plays of Andronicus, from the old comedy of the Grecians; and
out of all these sprang two several branches of new Roman satire,
like different scions from the same root, which I shall prove with
as much brevity as the subject will allow.

A year after Andronicus had opened the Roman stage with his new
dramas, Ennius was born; who, when he was grown to man's estate,
having seriously considered the genius of the people, and how
eagerly they followed the first satires, thought it would be worth
his pains to refine upon the project, and to write satires, not to
be acted on the theatre, but read. He preserved the groundwork of
their pleasantry, their venom, and their raillery on particular
persons and general vices; and by this means, avoiding the danger of
any ill success in a public representation, he hoped to be as well
received in the cabinet as Andronicus had been upon the stage. The
event was answerable to his expectation. He made discourses in
several sorts of verse, varied often in the same paper, retaining
still in the title their original name of satire. Both in relation
to the subjects, and the variety of matters contained in them, the
satires of Horace are entirely like them; only Ennius, as I said,
confines not himself to one sort of verse, as Horace does, but
taking example from the Greeks, and even from Homer himself in his
"Margites" (which is a kind of satire, as Scaliger observes), gives
himself the licence, when one sort of numbers comes not easily, to
run into another, as his fancy dictates; for he makes no difficulty
to mingle hexameters with iambic trimeters or with trochaic
tetrameters, as appears by those fragments which are yet remaining
of him. Horace has thought him worthy to be copied, inserting many
things of his into his own satires, as Virgil has done into his

Here we have Dacier making out that Ennius was the first satirist in
that way of writing, which was of his invention--that is, satire
abstracted from the stage and new modelled into papers of verses on
several subjects. But he will have Ennius take the groundwork of
satire from the first farces of the Romans rather than from the
formed plays of Livius Andronicus, which were copied from the
Grecian comedies. It may possibly be so; but Dacier knows no more
of it than I do. And it seems to me the more probable opinion that
he rather imitated the fine railleries of the Greeks, which he saw
in the pieces of Andronicus, than the coarseness of his own
countrymen in their clownish extemporary way of jeering.

But besides this, it is universally granted that Ennius, though an
Italian, was excellently learned in the Greek language. His verses
were stuffed with fragments of it, even to a fault; and he himself
believed, according to the Pythagorean opinion, that the soul of
Homer was transfused into him, which Persius observes in his sixth
satire--postquam destertuit esse Maeonides. But this being only the
private opinion of so inconsiderable a man as I am, I leave it to
the further disquisition of the critics, if they think it worth
their notice. Most evident it is that, whether he imitated the
Roman farce or the Greek comedies, he is to be acknowledged for the
first author of Roman satire, as it is properly so called, and
distinguished from any sort of stage-play.

Of Pacuvius, who succeeded him, there is little to be said, because
there is so little remaining of him; only that he is taken to be the
nephew of Ennius, his sister's son; that in probability he was
instructed by his uncle in his way of satire, which we are told he
has copied; but what advances he made, we know not.

Lucilius came into the world when Pacuvius flourished most. He also
made satires after the manner of Ennius; but he gave them a more
graceful turn, and endeavoured to imitate more closely the vetus
comaedia of the Greeks, of the which the old original Roman satire
had no idea till the time of Livius Andronicus. And though Horace
seems to have made Lucilius the first author of satire in verse
amongst the Romans in these words -

"Quid? cum est Lucilius auses
Primus in hunc operis componere carmina morem" -

he is only thus to be understood--that Lucilius had given a more
graceful turn to the satire of Ennius and Pacuvius, not that he
invented a new satire of his own; and Quintilian seems to explain
this passage of Horace in these words: Satira quidem tota nostra
est; in qua primus insignem laudem adeptus est Luciluis.

Thus both Horace and Quintilian give a kind of primacy of honour to
Lucilius amongst the Latin satirists; for as the Roman language grew
more refined, so much more capable it was of receiving the Grecian
beauties, in his time. Horace and Quintilian could mean no more
than that Lucilius writ better than Ennius and Pacuvius, and on the
same account we prefer Horace to Lucilius. Both of them imitated
the old Greek comedy; and so did Ennius and Pacuvius before them.
The polishing of the Latin tongue, in the succession of times, made
the only difference; and Horace himself in two of his satires,
written purposely on this subject, thinks the Romans of his age were
too partial in their commendations of Lucilius, who writ not only
loosely and muddily, with little art and much less care, but also in
a time when the Latin tongue was not yet sufficiently purged from
the dregs of barbarism; and many significant and sounding words
which the Romans wanted were not admitted even in the times of
Lucretius and Cicero, of which both complain.

But to proceed: Dacier justly taxes Casaubon for saying that the
satires of Lucilius were wholly different in species from those of
Ennius and Pacuvius, Casaubon was led into that mistake by Diomedes
the grammarian, who in effect says this:- "Satire amongst the Romans
but not amongst the Greeks, was a biting invective poem, made after
the model of the ancient comedy, for the reprehension of vices; such
as were the poems of Lucilius, of Horace, and of Persius. But in
former times the name of satire was given to poems which were
composed of several sorts of verses, such as were made by Ennius and
Pacuvius"--more fully expressing the etymology of the word satire
from satura, which we have observed. Here it is manifest that
Diomedes makes a specifical distinction betwixt the satires of
Ennius and those of Lucilius. But this, as we say in English, is
only a distinction without a difference; for the reason of it is
ridiculous and absolutely false. This was that which cozened honest
Casaubon, who, relying on Diomedes, had not sufficiently examined
the origin and nature of those two satires, which were entirely the
same both in the matter and the form; for all that Lucilius
performed beyond his predecessors, Ennius and Pacuvius, was only the
adding of more politeness and more salt, without any change in the
substance of the poem. And though Lucilius put not together in the

An Essay of
Dramatick Poesie

By John Dryden

Edited by Jack Lynch

The text follows the first edition of 1668; several obvious errors of spelling and punctuation have been silently corrected. I have rendered the Greek without accents and added paragraph numbers (they follow the paragraph numbers in the Toronto electronic edition of this text, which I have often consulted in preparing this one). If you spot any errors, please drop me a line at Jack Lynch.

Dramatick Poesie,
E S S A Y.


—— Fungar vice cotis, acutum
Reddere quæ ferrum valet, exors ipsa secandi.

Horat. De Arte Poet.

L O N D O N,
Printed for Henry Herringman, at the Sign of the
Anchor, on the Lower-walk of the New-
Exchange. 1668.

To the Right Honourable


My Lord,

As I was lately reviewing my loose Papers, amongst the rest I found this Essay, the writing of which in this rude and indigested manner wherein your Lordship now sees it, serv'd as an amusement to me in the Country, when the violence of the last Plague had driven me from the Town. Seeing then our Theaters shut up, I was engag'd in these kind of thoughts with the same delight with which men think upon their absent Mistresses: I confess I find many things in this discourse which I do not now approve; my judgment being a little alter'd since the writing of it, but whether for the better or the worse I know not: Neither indeed is it much material in an Essay, where all I have said is problematical. For the way of writing Playes in verse, which I have seemed to favour, I have since that time laid the Practice of it aside, till I have more leisure, because I find it troublesome and slow. But I am no way alter'd from my opinion of it, at least with any reasons which have oppos'd it. For your Lordship may easily observe that none are very violent against it, but those who either have not attempted it, or who have succeeded ill in their attempt. 'Tis enough for me to have your Lordships example for my excuse in that little which I have done in it; and I am sure my Adversaries can bring no such Arguments against Verse, as the fourth Act of Pompey will furnish me with, in its defence. Yet, my Lord, you must suffer me a little to complain of you, that you too soon withdraw from us a contentment, of which we expected the continuance, because you gave it us so early. 'Tis a revolt without occasion from your Party, where your merits had already rais'd you to the highest commands, and where you have not the excuse of other men that you have been ill us'd, and therefore laid down Armes. I know no other quarrel you can have to Verse, then that which Spurina had to his beauty, when he tore and mangled the features of his Face, onely because they pleas'd too well the lookers on. It was an honour which seem'd to wait for you, to lead out a new Colony of Writers from the Mother Nation: and upon the first spreading of your Ensignes there had been many in a readiness to have follow'd so fortunate a Leader; if not all, yet the better part of Writers.

Pars, indocili melior grege; mollis & expes
Inominata perprimat cubila.

I am almost of opinion, that we should force you to accept of the command, as sometimes the Prætorian Bands have compell'd their Captains to receive the Empire. The Court, which is the best and surest judge of writing, has generally allow'd of Verse; and in the Town it has found favourers of Wit and Quality. As for your own particular, My Lord, you have yet youth, and time enough to give part of it to the divertisement of the Publick, before you enter into the serious and more unpleasant business of the world. That which the French Poet said of the Temple of Love, may be as well apply'd to the Temple of the Muses. The words, as near as I can remember them, were these:

La jeunesse a mauvaise grace.
N' ayant pas adoré dans le temple d'Amour:
Il faut qu'il entre, & pour le sage
Si ce nest son vray sejour
C'est un giste sur son passage.

I leave the words to work their effect upon your Lordship in their own Language, because no other can so well express the nobleness of the thought; And wish you may be soon call'd to bear a part in the affairs of the Nation, where I know the world expects you, and wonders why you have been so long forgotten; there being no person amongst our young Nobility, on whom the eyes of all men are so much bent. But in the mean time your Lordship may imitate the course of Nature, who gives us the flower before the fruit: that I may speak to you in the language of the Muses, which I have taken from an excellent Poem to the King.

As Nature, when she fruit designes, thinks fit
By beauteous blossoms to proceed to it;
And while she does accomplish all the Spring,
Birds to her secret operations sing.

I confess I have no greater reason, in addressing this Essay to your Lordship, then that it might awaken in you the desire of writing something, in whatever kind it be, which might be an honour to our Age and Country. And me thinks it might have the same effect upon you, which Homer tells us the sight of the Greeks and Trojans before the Fleet, had on the spirit of Achilles, who though he had resolved not to ingage, yet found a martial warmth to steal upon him, at the sight of Blows, the sound of Trumpets, and the cries of fighting Men. For my own part, if in treating of this subject I sometimes dissent from the opinion of better Wits, I declare it is not so much to combat their opinions, as to defend my own, which were first made publick. Sometimes, like a Schollar in an Fencing-School I put forth my self, and show my own ill play, on purpose to be better taught. Sometimes I stand desperately to my Armes, like the Foot when deserted by their Horse, not in hope to overcome, but onely to yield on more honourable termes. And yet, my Lord, this war of opinions, you well know, has fallen out among the Writers of all Ages, and sometimes betwixt Friends. Onely it has been prosecuted by some, like Pedants, with violence of words, and manag'd by others like Gentlemen, with candour and ciuility. Even Tully had a Controversie with his dear Atticus; and in one of his Dialogues makes him sustain the part of an Enemy of Philosophy, who in his Letters is his confident of State, and made privy to the most weighty affairs of the Roman Senate. And the same respect which was paid by Tully to Atticus, we find return'd to him afterwards by Cæsar on a like occasion, who answering his Book in praise of Cato, made it not so much his business to condemn Cato, as to praise Cicero. But that I may decline some part of the encounter with my Adversaries, whom I am neither willing to combate, nor well able to resist; I will give your Lordship the Relation of a Dispute betwixt some of our Wits upon this subject, in which they did not onely speak to Playes in Verse, but mingled, in the freedom of Discourse, some thing of the Ancient, many of the Modern wayes of writing, comparing those with these, and the Wits of our Nation with those of others: 'tis true they differ'd in their opinions, as 'tis probable they would: neither do I take upon me to reconcile, but to relate them: and that as Tacitus professes of himself, Sine studio partium aut ira: without Passion or Interest; leaving your Lordship to decide it in favour of which part you shall judge most reasonable, and withall, to pardon the many errours of,

Your Lordships most obedient humble Servant,



The drift of the ensuing Discourse was chiefly to vindicate the honour of our English Writers, from the censure of those who unjustly prefer the French before them. This I intimate, least any should think me so exceeding vain, as to teach others an Art which they understand much better than my self. But if this incorrect Essay, written in the Country without the help of Books, or advice of Friends, shall find any acceptance in the world, I promise to my self a better success of the second part, wherein the Vertues and Faults of the English Poets, who have written either in this, the Epique, or the Lyrique way, will be more fully treated of, and their several styles impartially imitated.

Dramatick Poesie.

[1] It was that memorable day, in the first Summer of the late War, when our Navy ingag'd the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed Fleets which any age had ever seen, disputed the command of the greater half of the Globe, the commerce of Nations, and the riches of the Universe. While these vast floating bodies, on either side, mov'd against each other in parallel lines, and our Country men, under the happy conduct of his Royal Highness, went breaking, by little and little, into the line of the Enemies; the noise of the Cannon from both Navies reach'd our ears about the City: so that all men, being alarm'd with it, and in a dreadful suspence of the event, which we knew was then deciding, every one went following the sound as his fancy led him; and leaving the Town almost empty, some took towards the Park, some cross the River, others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of silence.

[2] Amongst the rest, it was the fortune of Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander, to be in company together: three of them persons whom their witt and Quality have made known to all the Town: and whom I have chose to hide under these borrowed names, that they may not suffer by so ill a relation as I am going to make of their discourse.

[3] Taking then a Barge which a servant of Lisideus had provided for them, they made haste to shoot the Bridge, and left behind them that great fall of waters which hindred them from hearing what they desired: after which, having disiingag'd themselves from many Vessels which rode at Anchor in the Thames, and almost blockt up the passage towards Greenwich, they order'd the Watermen to let fall their Oares more gently; and then every one favouring his own curiosity with a strict silence, it was not long ere they perceiv'd the Air break about them like the noise of distant Thunder, or of Swallows in a Chimney: those little undulations of sound, though almost vanishing before they reach'd them, yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first horrour which they had betwixt the Fleets: after they had attentively listned till such time as the sound by little and little went from them; Eugenius lifting up his head, and taking notice of it, was the first who congratulated to the rest that happy Omen of our Nations Victory: adding, we had but this to desire in confirmation of it, that we might hear no more of that noise which was now leaving the English Coast. When the rest had concur'd in the same opinion, Crites, a person of a sharp judgment, and somewhat too delicate a taste in wit, which the world have mistaken in him for ill nature, said, smiling to us, that if the concernment of this battel had not been so exceeding great, he could scarce have wish'd the Victory at the price he knew must pay for it, in being subject to the reading and hearing of so many ill verses as he was sure would be made upon it; adding, that no Argument could scape some of those eternal Rhimers, who watch a Battel with more diligence then the Ravens and birds of Prey; and the worst of them surest to be first in upon the quarry, while the better able, either out of modesty writ not at all, or set that due value upon their Poems, as to let them be often call'd for and long expected! there are some of those impertinent people you speak of, answer'd Lisideius, who to my knowledg, are already so provided, either way, that they can produce not onely a Panegirick upon the Victory, but, if need be, a funeral elegy upon the Duke: and after they have crown'd his valour with many Lawrels, at last deplore the odds under which he fell, concluding that his courage deserv'd a better destiny. All the company smil'd at the conceipt of Lisideius, but Crites, more eager then before, began to make particular exceptions against some Writers, and said the publick Magistrate ought to send betimes to forbid them; and that it concern'd the peace and quiet of all honest people, that ill Poets should be as well silenc'd as seditious Preachers. In my opinion, replyed Eugenius, you pursue your point too far; for as to my own particular, I am so great a lover of Poesie, that I could wish them all rewarded who attempt but to do well; at least I would not have them worse us'd then Sylla the Dictator did one of their brethren heretofore: Quem in concione vidimus (says Tully speaking of him) cum ei libellum malus poeta de populo subjecisset, quod epigramma in eum fecisset tantummodo alternis versibus longiuculis, statim ex iis rebus quæ tunc vendebat jubere ei præmium tribui, sub ea conditione ne quid postea scriberet. I could wish with all my heart, replied Crites, that many whom we know were as bountifully thank'd upon the same condition, that they would never trouble us again. For amongst others, I have a mortal apprehension of two Poets, whom this victory with the help of both her wings will never be able to escape; 'tis easie to guess whom you intend, said Lisideius; and without naming them, I ask you if one of them does not perpetually pay us with clenches upon words and a certain clownish kind of raillery? if now and then he does not offer at a Catecresis or Clevelandism, wresting and torturing a word into another meaning: In fine, if he be not one of those whom the French would call un mauvais buffon; one that is so much a well-willer to the Satire, that he spares no man; and though he cannot strike a blow to hurt any, yet ought to be punish'd for the malice of the action, as our Witches are justly hang'd because they think themselves so; and suffer deservedly for believing they did mischief, because they meant it. You have described him, said Crites, so exactly, that I am affraid to come after you with my other extremity of Poetry: He is one of those who having had some advantage of education and converse, knows better then the other what a Poet should be, but puts it into practice more unluckily then any man; his stile and matter are every where alike; he is the most calm, peaceable Writer you ever read: he never disquiets your passions with the least concernment, but still leaves you in as even a temper as he found you; he is a very Leveller in Poetry, he creeps along with ten little words in every line, and helps out his Numbers with For to, and Vnto, and all the pretty Expletives he can find, till he draggs them to the end of another line; while the Sense is left tir'd half way behind it; he doubly starves all his Verses, first for want of thought, and then of expression; his Poetry neither has wit in it, nor seems to have it; like him in Martiall:

Pauper videri Cinna vult, & est pauper:

[4] He affects plainness, to cover his want of imagination: when he writes the serious way, the highest flight of his fancy is some miserable Antithesis, or seeming contradiction; and in the Comick he is still reaching at some thin conceit, the ghost of a Jest, and that too flies before him, never to be caught; these Swallows which we see before us on the Thames, are just resemblance of his wit: you may observe how near the water they stoop, how many proffers they make to dip, and yet how seldome they touch it: and when they do, 'tis but the surface: they skim over it but to catch a gnat, and then mount into the ayr and leave it. Well Gentlemen, said Eugenius, you may speak your pleasure of these Authors; but though I and some few more about the Town may give you a peaceable hearing, yet, assure your selves, there are multitudes who would think you malicious and them injur'd: especially him who you first described; he is the very Withers of the City: they have bought more Editions of his Works then would serve to lay under all the Pies at the Lord Mayor's Christmass. When his famous Poem first came out in the year 1660, I have seen them reading it in the midst of Change-time; many so vehement they were at it, that they lost their bargain by the Candles ends: but what will you say, if he has been received amongst the great Ones? I can assure you he is, this day, the envy of a great person, who is Lord in the Art of Quibbling; and who does not take it well, that any man should intrude so far into his Province. All I would wish replied Crites, is, that they who love his Writings, may still admire him, and his fellow Poet: qui Bavium non odit, &c. is curse sufficient. And farther, added Lisideius, I believe there is no man who writes well, but would think himself very hardly dealt with, if their Admirers should praise any thing of his: Nam quos contemnimus eorum quoque laudes contemnimus. There are so few who write well in this Age, said Crites, that me-thinks any praises should be wellcome; then neither rise to the dignity of the last Age, nor to any of the Ancients; and we may cry out of the Writers of this time, with more reason than Petronius of his, Pace vestra liceat dixisse, primi omnium eloquentiam perdidistis: you have debauched the true old Poetry so far, that Nature, which is the soul of it, is not in any of your Writings.

[5] If your quarrel (said Eugenius) to those who now write, be grounded onely upon your reverence to Antiquity, there is no man more ready to adore those great Greeks and Romans than I am: but on the other side, I cannot think so contemptibly of the Age I live in, or so dishonourably of my own Countrey, as not to judge we equal the Ancients in most kinds of Poesie, and in some surpass them; neither know I any reason why I may not be as zealous for the Reputation of our Age, as we find the Ancients themselves in reference to those who lived before them. For you hear your Horace saying,

Indignor quidquam reprehendi, non quia crassé
Compositum, illepidève putetur, sed quia nuper.

And after,

Si meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit,
Scire velim pretium chartis quotus arroget annus?

[6] But I see I am ingaging in a wide dispute, where the arguments are not like to reach close on either side; for Poesie is of so large extent, and so many both of the Ancients and Moderns have done well in all kinds of it, that, in citing one against the other, we shall take up more time this Evening, than each mans occasions will allow him: therefore I would ask Crites to what part of Poesie he would confine his Arguments, and whether he would defend the general cause of the Ancients against the Moderns, or oppose any Age of the Moderns against this of ours?

[7]Crites a little while considering upon this Demand, told Eugenius he approv'd his Propositions, and, if he pleased, he would limit their Dispute to Dramatique Poesie; in which he thought it not difficult to prove, either that the Antients were superiour to the Moderns, or the last Age to this of ours.

[8]Eugenius was somewhat surpriz'd, when he heard Crites make choice of that Subject; For ought I see, said he, I have undertaken a harder Province than I imagin'd; for though I never judg'd the Plays of the Greek or Roman Poets comparable to ours; yet on the other side those we now see acted, come short of many which were written in the last Age: but my comfort is if we are orecome, it will be onely by our own Countreymen: and if we yield to them in this one part of Poesie, we more surpass them in all the other; for in the Epique or Lyrique way it will be hard for them to show us one such amongst them, as we have many now living, or who lately were so. They can produce nothing so courtly writ, or which expresses so much the Conversation of a Gentleman, as Sir John Suckling; nothing so even, sweet, and flowing as Mr. Waller; nothing so Majestique, so correct as Sir John Denham; nothing so elevated, so copious, and full of spirit, as Mr Cowley; as for the Italian, French, and Spanish Plays, I can make it evident that those who now write, surpass them; and that the Drama is wholly ours.

[9] All of them were thus far of Eugenius his opinion, that the sweetness of English Verse was never understood or practis'd by our Fathers; even Crites himself did not much oppose it: and every one was willing to acknowledge how much our Poesie is improv'd, by the happiness of some Writers yet living; who first taught us to mould our thoughts into easie and significant words; to retrench the superfluities of expression, and to make our Rime so properly a part of the Verse, that it should never mis-lead the sence, but it self be led and govern'd by it. Eugenius was going to continue this Discourse, when Lisideius told him it was necessary, before they proceeded further, to take a standing measure of their Controversie; for how was it possible to be decided who writ the best Plays, before we know what a Play should be? but, this once agreed on by both Parties, each might have recourse to it, either to prove his own advantages, or discover the failings of his Adversary.

[10] He had no sooner said this, but all desir'd the favour of him to give the definition of a Play; and they were the more importunate, because neither Aristotle, nor Horace, nor any other, who writ of that Subject, had ever done it.

[11]Lisideius, after some modest denials, at last confess'd he had a rude Notion of it; indeed rather a Description then a Definition: but which serv'd to guide him in his private thoughts, when he was to make a judgment of what others writ: that he conceiv'd a Play ought to be, A just and lively Image of Humane Nature, representing its Passions and Humours, and the Changes of Fortune to which it is subject; for the Delight and Instruction of Mankind.

[12] This Definition, though Crites rais'd a Logical Objection against it; that it was onely a genre & fine, and so not altogether perfect; was yet well received by the rest: and after they had given order to the Water-men to turn their Barge, and row softly, that they might take the cool of the Evening in their return; Crites, being desired by the Company to begin, spoke on behalf of the Ancients, in this manner:

[13] If Confidence presage a Victory, Eugenius, in his own opinion, has already triumphed over the Ancients; nothing seems more easie to him, than to overcome those whom it is our greatest praise to have imitated well: for we do not onely build upon their foundation; but by their modells. Dramatique Poesie had time enough, reckoning from Thespis (who first invented it) to Aristophanes, to be born, to grow up, and to flourish in Maturity. It has been observed of Arts and Sciences, that in one and the same Century they have arriv'd to a great perfection; and no wonder, since every Age has a kind of Universal Genius, which inclines those that live in it to some particular Studies: the Work then being push'd on by many hands, must of necessity go forward.

[14] Is it not evident, in these last hundred years (when the Study of Philosophy has been the business of all the Virtuosi in Christendome) that almost a new Nature has been revealed to us? that more errours of the School have been detected, more useful Experiments in Philosophy have been made, more Noble Secrets in Opticks, Medicine, Anatomy, Astronomy, discover'd, than in all those credulous and doting Ages from Aristotle to us? so true it is that nothing spreads more fast than Science, when rightly and generally cultivated.

[15] Add to this the more than common emulation that was in those times of writing well; which though it be found in all Ages and all Persons that pretend to the same Reputation; yet Poesie being then in more esteem than now it is, had greater Honours decreed to the Professors of it; and consequently the Rivalship was more high between them; they had Judges ordain'd to decide their Merit, and Prizes to reward it: and Historians have been diligent to record of Eschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Lycophron, and the rest of them, both who they were that vanquish'd in these Wars of the Theater, and how often they were crown'd: while the Asian Kings, and Grecian Common-wealths scarce afforded them a Nobler Subject then the unmanly Luxuries of a Debauch'd Court, or giddy Intrigues of a Factious City. Alit æmulatio ingenia (says Paterculus) & nunc invidia, nunc admiratio incitationem accendit: Emulation is the Spur of Wit, and sometimes Envy, sometimes Admiration quickens our Endeavours.

[16] But now since the Rewards of Honour are taken away, that Vertuous Emulation is turn'd into direct Malice; yet so slothful, that it contents it self to condemn and cry down others, without attempting to do better: 'Tis a Reputation too unprofitable, to take the necessary pains for it; yet wishing they had it, is incitement enough to hinder others from it. And this, in short, Eugenius, is the reason, why you have now so few good Poets; and so many severe Judges: Certainly, to imitate the Antients well, much labour and long study is required: which pains, I have already shown, our Poets would want incouragement to take, if yet they had ability to go through with it. Those Ancients have been faithful Imitators and wise Observers of that Nature, which is so torn and ill represented in our Plays, they have handed down to us a perfect resemblance of her; which we, like ill Copyers, neglecting to look on, have rendred monstrous and disfigur'd. But, that you may know how much you are indebted to those your Masters, and be ashamed to have so ill requited them: I must remember you that all the Rules by which we practise the Drama at this day, either such as relate to the justness and symmetry of the Plot; or the Episodical Ornaments, such as Descriptions, Narrations, and other Beauties, which are not essential to the Play; were delivered to us from the Observations that Aristotle made, of those Poets, which either liv'd before him, or were his Contemporaries: we have added nothing of our own, except we have the confidence to say our wit is better; which none boast of in our Age, but such as understand not theirs. Of that Book which Aristotle has left us περι της Ποιητικης, Horace his Art of Poetry is an excellent Comment, and, I believe, restores to us that Second Book of his concerning Comedy, which is wanting in him.

[17] Out of these two has been extracted the Famous Rules which the French call, Des Trois Vnitez, or, The Three Unities, which ought to be observ'd in every Regular Play; namely, of Time, Place, and Action.

[18] The unity of Time they comprehend in 24 hours, the compass of a Natural Day; or as near it as can be contriv'd: and the reason of it is obvious to every one, that the time of the feigned action, or fable of the Play, should be proportion'd as near as can be to the duration of that time in which it is represented; since therefore all Playes are acted on the Theater in a space of time much within the compass of 24 hours, that Play is to be thought the nearest imitation of Nature, whose Plot or Action is confin'd within that time; and, by the same Rule which concludes this general proportion of time, it follows, that all the parts of it are to be equally subdivided; as namely, that one act take not up the suppos'd time of half a day; which is out of proportion to the rest: since the other four are then to be straightned within the compas of the remaining half; for it is unnatural that one Act, which being spoke or written, is not longer than the rest, should be suppos'd longer by the Audience; 'tis therefore the Poets duty, to take care that no Act should be imagin'd to exceed the time in which it is represented on the Stage, and that the intervalls and inequalities of time be suppos'd to fall out between the Acts.

[19] This Rule of Time how well it has been observ'd by the Antients, most of their Playes will witness; you see them in their Tragedies (wherein to follow this Rule, is certainly most difficult) from the very beginning of their Playes, falling close into that part of the Story which they intend for the action or principal object of it; leaving the former part to be delivered by Narration: so that they set the Audience, as it were, at the Post where the Race is to be concluded: and, saving them the tedious expectation of seeing the Poet set out and ride the beginning of the Course, you behold him not, till he is in sight of the Goal, and just upon you.

[20] For the Second Unity, which is that of place, the Antients meant by it, That the Scene ought to be continu'd through the Play, in the same place where it was laid in the beginning: for the Stage, on which it is represented, being but one and the same place, it is unnatural to conceive it many; and those far distant from one another. I will not deny but by the variation of painted Scenes, the Fancy (which in these cases will contribute to its own deceit) may sometimes imagine it several places, with some appearance of probability; yet it still carries the greater likelihood of truth, if those places be suppos'd so near each other, as in the same Town or City; which may all be comprehended under the larger Denomination of one place: for a greater distance will bear no proportion to the shortness of time, which is allotted in the acting, to pass from one of them to another; for the Observation of this, next to the Antients, the French are to be most commended. They tie themselves so strictly to the unity of place, that you never see in any of their Plays a Scene chang'd in the middle of the Act: if the Act begins in a Garden, a Street, or Chamber, 'tis ended in the same place; and that you may know it to be the same, the Stage is so supplied with persons that it is never empty all the time: he that enters the second has business with him who was on before; and before the second quits the Stage, a third appears who has business with him.

[21] This Corneil calls La Liaison des Scenes, the continuity or joyning of the Scenes; and 'tis a good mark of a well contriv'd Play when all the Persons are known to each other, and every one of them has some affairs with all the rest.

[22] As for the third Unity which is that of Action, the Ancients meant no other by it then what the Logicians do by their Finis, the end or scope of an action: that which is the first in Intention, and last in Execution: now the Poet is to aim at one great and compleat action, to the carrying on of which all things in his Play, even the very obstacles, are to be subservient; and the reason of this is as evident as any of the former.

[23] For two Actions equally labour'd and driven on by the Writer, would destroy the unity of the Poem; it would be no longer one Play, but two: not but that there may be many actions in a Play, as Ben. Johnson has observ'd in his discoveries; but they must be all subservient to the great one, which our language happily expresses in the name of under-plots: such as in Terences Eunuch is the difference and reconcilement of Thais and Phædria, which is not the chief business of the Play, but promotes; the marriage of Chærea and Chreme's Sister, principally intended by the Poet. There ought to be one action, sayes Corneile, that is one compleat action which leaves the mind of the Audience in a full repose: But this cannot be brought to pas but by many other imperfect ones which conduce to it, and hold the Audience in a delightful suspence of what will be.

[24] If by these Rules (to omit many other drawn from the Precepts and Practice of the Ancients) we should judge our modern Playes; 'tis probable, that few of them would endure the tryal: that which should be the business of a day, takes up in some of them an age; instead of one action they are the Epitomes of a mans life; and for one spot of ground (which the Stage should represent) we are sometimes in more Countries then the Map can show us.

[25] But if we will allow the Ancients to have contriv'd well, we must acknowledge them to have writ better; questionless we are depriv'd of a great stock of wit in the loss of Menander among the Greek Poets, and of Cæcilius, Affranius and Varius, among the Romans: we may guess of Menanders Excellency by the Plays of Terence, who translated some of his, and yet wanted so much of him that he was call'd C. Cæsar the Half-Menander, and of Varius, by the Testimonies of HoraceMartial, and Velleus Paterculus: 'Tis probable that these, could they be recover'd, would decide the controversie; but so long as Aristophanes in the old Comedy, and Plautus in the new are extant; while the Tragedies of Eurypides, Sophocles, and Seneca are to be had, I can never see one of those Plays which are now written, but it encreases my admiration of the Ancients; and yet I must acknowledge further, that to admire them as we ought, we should understand them better than we do. Doubtless many things appear flat to us, whose wit depended upon some custome or story which never came to our knowledge, or perhaps upon some Criticism in their language, which being so long dead, and onely remaining in their Books, 'tis not possible they should make us know it perfectly. To read Macrobius, explaining the propriety and elegancy of many words in Virgil, which I had before pass'd over without consideration, as common things, is enough to assure me that I ought to think the same of Terence; and that in the purity of his style (which Tully so much valued that he ever carried his works about him) there is yet left in him great room for admiration, if I knew but where to place it. In the mean time I must desire you to take notice, that the greatest man of the last age (Ben. Johnson) was willing to give place to them in all things: He was not onely a professed Imitator of Horace, but a learned Plagiary of all the others; you track him every where in their Snow: If Horace, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter, Seneca, and Juvenal, had their own from him, there are few serious thoughts which are new in him; you will pardon me therefore if I presume he lov'd their fashion when he wore their cloaths. But since I have otherwise a great veneration for him, and you, Eugenius, prefer him above all other Poets, I will use no farther argument to you then his example: I will produce Father Ben. to you, dress'd in all the ornaments and colours of the Ancients, you will need no other guide to our Party if you follow him; and whether you consider the bad Plays of our Age, or regard the good ones of the last, both the best and worst of the Modern Poets will equally instruct you to esteem the Ancients.

[26]Crites had no sooner left speaking, but Eugenius who waited with some impatience for it, thus began:

[27] I have observ'd in your Speech that the former part of it is convincing as to what the Moderns have profitted by the rules of the Ancients, but in the latter you are careful to conceal how much they have excell'd them: we own all the helps we have from them, and want neither veneration nor gratitude while we acknowledge that to overcome them we must make use of the advantages we have receiv'd from them; but to these assistances we have joyned our own industry; for (had we sate down with a dull imitation of them) we might then have lost somewhat of the old perfection, but never acquir'd any that was new. We draw not therefore after their lines, but those of Nature; and having the life before us, besides the experience of all they knew, it is no wonder if we hit some airs and features which they have miss'd: I deny not what you urge of Arts and Sciences, that they have flourish'd in some ages more then others; but your instance in Philosophy makes for me: for if Natural Causes be more known now then in the time of Aristotle, because more studied, it follows that Poesie and other Arts may with the same pains arrive still neerer to perfection, and, that granted, it will rest for you to prove that they wrought more perfect images of humane life then we; which, seeing in your Discourse you have avoided to make good, it shall now be my task to show you some part of their defects, and some few Excellencies of the Moderns; and I think there is none among us can imagine I do it enviously, or with purpose to detract from them; for what interest of Fame or Profit can the living lose by the reputation of the dead? on the other side, it is a great truth which Velleius Paterculus affirms, Audita visis libentius laudemus; & præsentia invidia, præterita admiratione prosequimur; & his nos obrui, illis instrui credimus: That praise or censure is certainly the most sincere which unbrib'd posterity shall give us.

[28] Be pleased then in the first place to take notice, that the Greek Poesie, which Crites has affirm'd to have arriv'd to perfection in the Reign of the old Comedy, was so far from it, that the distinction of it into Acts was not known to them; or if it were, it is yet so darkly deliver'd to us that we can not make it out.

[29] All we know of it is from the singing of their Chorus, and that too is so uncertain that in some of their Playes we have reason to conjecture they sung more then five times: Aristotle indeed divides the integral parts of a Play into four: First, The Protasis or entrance, which gives light onely to the Characters of the persons, and proceeds very little into any part of the action: 2ly, The Epitasis, or working up of the Plot where the Play grows warmer: the design or action of it is drawing on, and you see something promising that it will come to pass: Thirdly, the Catastasis, or Counterturn, which destroys that expectation, imbroyles the action in new difficulties, and leaves you far distant from that hope in which it found you, as you may have observ'd in a violent stream resisted by a narrow passage; it runs round to an eddy, and carries back the waters with more swiftness then it brought them on: Lastly, the Catastrophe, which the Grecians call'd lysis, the French le denouement, and we the discovery or unravelling of the Plot: there you see all things setling again upon their first foundations, and the obstacles which hindred the design or action of the Play once remov'd, it ends with that resemblance of truth and nature, that the audience are satisfied with the conduct of it. Thus this great man deliver'd to us the image of a Play, and I must confess it is so lively that from thence much light has been deriv'd to the forming it more perfectly into Acts and Scenes; but what Poet first limited to five the number of the Acts I know not; onely we see it so firmly establish'd in the time of Horace, that he gives it for a rule in Comedy; Neu brevior quinto, neu sit productior actu: So that you see the Grecians cannot be said to have consummated this Art; writing rather by Entrances then by Acts, and having rather a general indigested notion of a Play, then knowing how and where to bestow the particular graces of it.

[30] But since the Spaniards at this day allow but three Acts, which they call Tornadas, to a Play; and the Italians in many of theirs follow them, when I condemn the Antients, I declare it is not altogether because they have not five Acts to every Play, but because they have not confin'd themselves to one certain number; 'tis building an House without a Modell: and when the succeeded in such undertakings, they ought to have sacrific'd to Fortune, not to the Muses.

[31] Next, for the Plot, which Aristotle call'd το μυθος and often Των πραγματων συνθεσις, and from him the Romans Fabula, it has already been judiciously observ'd by a late Writer, that in their Tragedies it was onely some Tale deriv'd from Thebes or Troy, or at lest some thing that happen'd in those two Ages; which was worn so thred bare by the Pens of all the Epique Poets, and even by Tradition it self of the Talkative Greeklings (as Ben Johnson calls them) that before it came upon the Stage, it was already known to all the Audience: and the people so soon as ever they heard the Name of Oedipus, knew as well as the Poet, that he had kill'd his Father by mistake, and committed Incest with his Mother, before the Play; that they were now to hear of a great Plague, an Oracle, and the Ghost of Laius: so that they sate with a yawning kind of expectation, till he was to come with his eyes pull'd out, and speak a hundred or two of Verses in a Tragick tone, in complaint of his misfortunes. But one Oedipus, Hercules, or Medea, had been tollerable; poor people they scap'd not so good cheap: they had still the Chapon Bouillé set before them, till their appetites were cloy'd with the same dish, and the Novelty being gone, the pleasure vanish'd: so that one main end of Dramatique Poesie in its Definition, which was to cause Delight, as of consequence destroy'd.

[32] In their Comedies, the Romans generally borrow'd their Plots from the Greek Poets; and theirs was commonly a little Girle stollen or wandred from her Parents, brought back unknown to the same City, there got with child by some lewd young fellow; who, by the help of his servant, cheats his father, and when her time comes, to cry Juno Lucina fer opem; one or other sees a little Box or Cabinet which was carried away with her, and so discovers her to her friends, if some God do not prevent it, by coming down in a Machine, and take the thanks of it to himself.

[33] By the Plot you may gues much of the Characters of the Persons. An Old Father that would willingly before he dies, see his Son well married; his Debauch'd Son, kind in his Nature to his Wench, but miserably in want of Money; a Servant or Slave, who has so much wit to strike in with him, and help to dupe his Father, a Braggadochio Captain, a Parasite, and a Lady of Pleasure.

[34] As for the poor honest Maid, whom all the Story is built upon, and who ought to be one of the principal Actors in the Play, she is commonly a Mute in it: She has the breeding of the Old Elizabeth way, for Maids to be seen and not to be heard; and it is enough you know she is willing to be married, when the Fifth Act requires it.

[35] These are Plots built after the Italian Mode of Houses, you see thorow them all at once; the Characters are indeed the Imitations of Nature, but so narrow as if they had imitated onely an Eye or an Hand, and did not dare to venture on the lines of a Face, or the Proportion of a Body.

[36] But in how straight a compass soever they have bounded their Plots and Characters, we will pass it by, if they have regularly pursued them, and perfectly observ'd those three Unities of Time, Place, and Action: the knowledge of which you say is deriv'd to us from them. But in the first place give me leave to tell you, that the Unity of Place, how ever it might be practised by them, was never any of their Rules: We neither find it in Aristotle, Horace, of any who have written of it, till in our age the French Poets first made it a Precept of the Stage. The unity of time, even Terence himself (who was the best and the most regular of them) has neglected: His Heautontimoroumenos or Self-Punisher takes up visibly two dayes; therefore sayes Scaliger, the two first Acts concluding the first day, were acted over-night; the three last on the ensuing day: and Eurypides, in trying himself to one day, has committed an absurdity never to be forgiven him: for in one of his Tragedies he has made Theseus go from Athens to Thebes, which was about 40 English miles, under the walls of it to give battel, and appear victorious in the next Act; and yet from the time of his departure to the return of the Nuntius, who gives the relation of his Victory, Æthra and the Chorus have but 36 Verses; that is not for every Mile a Verse.

[37] The like errour is as evident in Terence his Eunuch, when Laches, the old man, enters in a mistake the house of Thais, where betwixt his Exit and the entrance of Pythias, who comes to give an ample relation of the Garboyles he has rais'd within, Parmeno who was left upon the Stage, has not above five lines to speak: C'est bien employé un temps si court, sayes the French Poet, who furnish'd me with one of the observations; And almost all their Tragedies will afford us examples of the like nature.

[38] 'Tis true, they have kept the continuity, or as you call'd it Liaison des Scenes somewhat better: two do not perpetually come in together, talk, and go out together; and other two succeed them, and do the same throughout the Act, which the English call by the name of single Scenes; but the reason is, because they have seldom above two or three Scenes, properly so call'd, in every act; for it is to be accounted a new Scene, not every time the Stage is empty, but every person who enters, though to others, makes it so: because he introduces a new business: Now the Plots of their Plays being narrow, and the persons few, one of their Acts was written in a less compass then one of our well wrought Scenes, and yet they are often deficient even in this: To go no further then Terence, you find in the Eunuch Antipho entring single in the midst of the third Act, after Chremes and Pythias were gone off: In the same Play you have likewise Dorias beginning the fourth Act alone; and after she has made a relation of what was done at the Souldiers entertainment (which by the way was very inartificial to do, because she was presum'd to speak directly to the Audience, and to acquaint them with what was necessary to be known, but yet should have been so contriv'd by the Poet as to have been told by persons of the Drama to one another, and so by them to have come to the knowledge of the people) she quits the Stage, and Phædria enters next, alone likewise: He also gives you an account of himself, and of his returning from the Country in Monologue, his Adelphi or Brothers, Syrus and Demea enter; after the Scene was broken by the departure of Sostrata, Geta and Cathara; and indeed you can scarce look into any of his Comedies, where you will not presently discover the same interruption.

[39] But as they have fail'd both in laying of their Plots, and managing of them, swerving from the Rules of their own Art, by mis-representing Nature to us, in which they have ill satified one intention of a Play, which was delight, so in the instructive part they have err'd worse: instead of punishing Vice and rewarding Virtue, they have often shown a Prosperous Wickedness, and Unhappy Piety: They have set before us a bloudy image of revenge in Medea, and given her Dragons to convey her safe from punishment. A Priam and Astyanax murder'd, and Cassandra ravish'd, and the lust and murder ending in the victory of him that acted them: In short, there is no indecorum in any of our modern Playes, which if I would excuse, I could not shaddow with some Authority from the Ancients.

[40] And one farther note of them let me leave you: Tragedies and Comedies were not writ then as they are now, promiscuously, by the same person; but he who found his genius bending to the one, never attempted the other way. This is so plain, that I need not instance to you, that Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence, never any of them writ a Tragedy; Æschylus, Eurypides, Sophocles and Seneca, never medled with Comedy; the Sock and Buskin were not worn by the same Poet: having then so much care to excel in one kind, very little is to be pardon'd them if they miscarried in it; and this would lead me to the consideration of their wit, had not Crites given me sufficient warning not to be too bold in my judgment of it; because the languages being dead, and many of the Customes and little accidents on which it depended, lost to us, we are not competent judges of it. But though I grant that here and there we may miss the application of a Proverb or a Custom, yet a thing well said will be wit in all Languages; and though it may lose something in the Translation, yet, to him who reads it in the Original, 'tis still the same; He has an Idea of its excellency, though it cannot pass from his mind into any other expression or words then those in which he finds it. When Phædria — in the Eunuch had a command from his Mistress to be absent two dayes; and encouraging himself to go through with it, said; Tandem ego non illa caream, si opus sit, vel totum triduum? Parmeno to mock the softness of his Master, lifting up his hands and eyes, cryes out as it were in admiration; Hui! universum triduum! the elegancy of which universum, though it cannot be rendred in our language, yet leaves an impression of the wit upon our souls: but this happens seldom in him, in Plautus oftner; who is infinitely too bold in his Metaphors and coyning words; out of which many times his wit is nothing, which questionless was one reason why Horace falls upon him so severely in those Verses:

Sed Proavi nostri Plautinos & numeros, &
Laudavere sales, nimium patienter utrumque
Ne dicam stolidè.

[41] For Horace himself was cautious to obtrude a new word upon his Readers, and makes custom and common use the best measure of receiving it into our writings.

Multa renascentur quæ nunc cecidere, cadentque
Quæ nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus,
Quem penes, arbitrium est, & jus, & norma loquendi.

[42] The not observing this Rule is that which the world has blam'd in our Satyrist Cleveland; to express a thing hard and unnaturally, is his new way of Elocution: 'Tis true, no Poet but may sometimes use a Catachresis; Virgil does it;

Mistaque ridenti Colocasia fundet Acantho.

[43] In his Eclogue of Pollio, and in his 7th Æneid.

— Miratur & undæ,
Miratur nemus, insuetum fulgentia longe,
Scuta virum fiuvio, pictasque innare carinas.

And Ovid once so modestly, that he askes leave to do it:

Si verbo audacia detur Haud metuam summi dixisse Palatia coeli.

[44] Calling the Court of Jupiter by the name of Augustus his Pallace, though in another place he is more bold, where he sayes, Et longas visent Capitolia pompas. But to do this alwayes, and never be able to write a line without it, though it may be admir'd by some few Pedants, will not pass upon those who know that wit is best convey'd to us in the most easie language; and is most to be admir'd when a great thought comes drest in words so commonly receiv'd that it is understood by the meanest apprehensiions, as the best meat is the most easily digested: but we cannot read a verse of Cleveland's without making a face at it, as if every word were a Pill to swallow: he gives us many times a hard Nut to break our Teeth, without a Kernel for our pains. So that there is this difference betwixt his Satyres and Doctor Donns, That the one gives us deep thought in common language, though rough cadence; the other gives us common thoughts in abstruse words: 'tis true, in some places his wit is independent of his words, as in that of the Rebel Scot:

Had Cain been Scot God would have chang'd his doom;
Not forc'd him wander, but confin'd him home.

[45]Si sic, omnia dixisset! This is wit in all languages: 'tis like Mercury, never to be lost or kill'd; and so that other;

For Beauty like White-powder makes no noise,
And yet the silent Hypocrite destroyes.

[46] You see the last line is highly Metaphorical, but it is so soft and gentle, that it does not shock us as we read it.

[47] But, to return from whence I have digress'd, to the consideration of the Ancients Writing and their Wit, (of which by this time you will grant us in some measure to be fit judges,) Though I see many excellent thoughts in Seneca, yet he, of them who had a Genius most proper for the Stage, was Ovid; he had a way of writing so fit to stir up a pleasing admiration and concernment, which are the objects of a Tragedy, and to show the various movements of a Soul combating betwixt two different Passions, that, had he live'd in our age, or in his own could have writ with our advantages, no man but must have yielded to him; and therefore I am confident the Medea is none of his: for, though I esteem it for the gravity and sentiousness of it, which he himself concludes to be suitable to a Tragedy, Omme genus scripti gravitate Tragoedia vincit, yet it moves not my soul enough to judge that he, who in the Epique way wrote things so near the Drama, as the Story of Myrrha, of Caunus and Biblis, and the rest, should stir up no more concernment where he most endeavour'd it. The Master piece of Seneca I hold to be that Scene in the Troades, where Vlysses is seeking for Astyanax to kill him; There you see the tenderness of a Mother, so represented in Andromache, that it raises compassion to a high degree in the Reader, and bears the nearest resemblance of any thing in their Tragedies to the excellent Scenes of Passion in Shakespeare, or in Fletcher: for Love-Scenes you will find few among them, their Tragique Poets dealt not with that soft passion, but with Lust, Cruelty, Revenge, Ambition, and those bloody actions they produc'd; which were more capable of raising horrour then compassion in an audience: leaving love untoucht, whose gentleness would have temper'd them, which is the most frequent of all the passions, and which being the private concernment of every person, is sooth'd by viewing its own image in a publick entertainment.

[48] Among their Comedies, we find a Scene or two of tenderness, and that where you would least expect it, in Plautus; but to speak generally, their Lovers say little, when they see each other, but anima mea, vita mea; ζωη και ψυχη, as the women in Juvenal's time us'd to cry out in the fury of their kindness: then indeed to speak sense were an offence. Any sudden gust of passion (as an extasie of love in an unexpected meeting) cannot better be express'd than in a word and a sigh, breaking one another. Nature is dumb on such occasions, and to make her speak, would be to represent her unlike her self. But there are a thousand other concernments of Lovers, as jealousies, complaints, contrivances and the like, where not to open their minds at large to each other, were to be wanting to their own love, and to the expectation of the Audience, who watch the movements of their minds, as much as the changes of their fortunes. For the imaging of the first is properly the work of a Poet, the latter he borrows of the Historian.

[49]Eugenius was proceeding in that part of his Discourse, when Crites interrupted him. I see, said he, Eugenius and I are never like to have this Question decided betwixt us; for he maintains the Moderns have acquir'd a new perfection in writing, I can onely grant they have alter'd the mode of it. Homer describ'd his Heroes men of great appetites, lovers of beef broild upon the coals, and good fellows; contrary to the practice of the French Romances, whose Heroes neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, for love. Virgil makes Æneas a bold Avower of his own virtues,

Sum pius Æneas fama super æthera notus;

which in the civility of our Poets is the Character of a Fanfaron or Hector: for with us the Knight takes occasion to walk out, or sleep, to avoid the vanity of telling his own Story, which the trusty Squire is ever to perform for him. So in their Love Scenes, of which Eugenius spoke last, the Ancients were more hearty; we more talkative: they writ love as it was then the mode to make it, and I will grant thus much to Eugenius, that perhaps one of their Poets, had he liv'd in our Age,

Si foret hoc nostrum fato delapsus in avum (as Horace says of Lucilius)

he had alter'd many things; not that they were not as natural before, but that he might accommodate himself to the Age he liv'd in: yet in the mean time we are not to conclude any thing rashly against those great men; but preserve to them the dignity of Masters, and give that honour to their memories, (Quos libitina sacravit;) part of which we expect may be paid to us in future times.

[50] This moderation of Crites, as it was pleasing to all the company, so it put an end to that dispute; which, Eugenius, who seem'd to have the better of the Argument, would urge no farther: but Lisideius after he had acknowledg'd himself of Eugenius his opinion concerning the Ancients; yet told him he had forborn, till his Discourse were ended, to ask him why he prefer'd the English Plays above those of other Nations? and whether we ought not to submit our Stage to the exactness of our next Neighbours?

[51] Though, said Eugenius, I am at all times ready to defend the honour of my Countrey against the French, and to maintain, we are as well able to vanquish them with our Pens as our Ancestors have been with their swords; yet, if you please, added he, looking upon Neander, I will commit this cause to my friend's management; his opinion of our Plays is the same with mine: and besides, there is no reason, that Crites and I, who have now left the Stage, should re-enter so suddenly upon it; which is against the Laws of Comedie.

[52] If the Question had been stated, replied Lysideius, who had writ best, the French or English forty years ago, I should have been of your opinion, and adjudg'd the honour to our own Nation; but since that time, (said he, turning towards Neander) we have been so long together bad Englishmen, that we had not leisure to be good Poets; Beaumont, Fletcher, and Johnson (who were onely capable of bringing us to that degree of perfection which we have) were just then leaving the world; as if in an Age of so much horror, wit and those milder studies of humanity, had no farther business among us. But the Muses, who ever follow Peace, went to plant in another Countrey; it was then that the great Cardinal of Richlieu began to take them into his protection; and that, by his encouragement, Corneil and some other Frenchmen reform'd their Theatre, (which before was as much below ours as it now surpasses it and the rest of Europe;) but because Crites, in his Discourse for the Ancients, has prevented me, by touching upon many Rules of the Stage, which the Moderns have borrow'd from them; I shall onely, in short, demand of you, whether you are not convinc'd that of all Nations the French have best observ'd them? In the unity of time you find them so scrupulous, that it yet remains a dispute among their Poets, whether the artificial day of twelve hours more or less, be not meant by Aristotle, rather than the natural one of twenty four; and consequently whether all Plays ought not to be reduc'd into that compass? This I can testifie, that in all their Drama's writ within these last 20 years and upwards, I have not observ'd any that have extended the time to thirty hours: in the unity of place they are full as scrupulous, for many of their Criticks limit it to that very spot of ground where the Play is suppos'd to begin; none of them exceed the compass of the same Town or City.

[53] The unity of Action in all their Plays is yet more conspicuous, for they do not burden them with under-plots, as the English do; which is the reason why many Scenes of our Tragi-comedies carry on a design that is nothing of kinne to the main Plot; and that we see two distinct webbs in a Play; like those in ill wrought stuffs; and two actions, that is, two Plays carried on together, to the confounding of the Audience; who, before they are warm in their concernments for one part, are diverted to another; and by that means espouse the interest of neither. From hence likewise it arises that the one half of our Actors are not known to the other. They keep their distances as if they were Mountagues and Capulets, and seldom begin an acquaintance till the last Scene of the Fifth Act, when they are all to meet upon the Stage. There is no Theatre in the world has any thing so absurd as the English Tragi-comedie, 'tis a Drama of our own invention, and the fashion of it is enough to proclaim it so; here a course of mirth, there another of sadness and passion; a third of honour, and fourth a Duel: Thus in two hours and a half we run through all the fits of Bedlam. The French affords you as much variety on the same day, but they do it not so unseasonably, or mal a propos as we: Our Poets present you the Play and the farce together; and our Stages still retain somewhat of the Original civility of the Red-Bull;

Atque ursum & pugiles media inter carmina poscunt.

[54] The end of Tragedies or serious Playes, sayes Aristotle, is to beget admiration, compassion, or concernement; but are not mirth and compassion things incompatible? and is it not evident that the Poet must of necessity destroy the former by intermingling of the latter? that is, he must ruine the sole end and object of his Tragedy to introduce somewhat that is forced in, and is not of the body of it: Would you not think that Physician mad, who having prescribed a Purge, should immediatly order you to take restringents upon it?

[55] But to leave our Playes, and return to theirs, I have noted one great advantage they have had in the Plotting of their Tragedies; that is, they are always grounded upon some known History: accarding to that of Horace, Ex noto fictum carmen sequar; and in that they have so imitated the Ancients that they have supass'd them. For the Ancients, as was observ'd before, took for the foundation of their Playes some Poetical Fiction, such as under that consideration could move but little concernment in the Audience, because they already knew the event of it. But the French goes farther;

Atque ita mentitur; sic veris falsæ remiscet,
Primo ne medium, medio ne discrepet imum:

[56] He so interweaves Truth with probable Fiction, that he puts a pleasing Fallacy upon us; mends the intrigues of Fate, and dispenses with the severity of History, to reward that vertue which has been rendred to us there unfortunate. Sometimes the story has left the sucess so doubtful, that the Writer is free, by the priviledge of a Poet, to take that which of two or more relations will best sute with his design: As for example, the death of Cyrus, whom Justin and some others report to have perish'd in the Scythian war, but Xenophon affirms to have died in his bed of extream old age. Nay more, when the event is past dispute, even then we are willing to be deceiv'd, and the Poet, if he contrives it with appearance of truth; has all the audience of his Party; at least during the time his Play is acting: so naturally we are kind to vertue, when our own interest is not in question, that we take it up as the general concernment of Mankind. On the other side, if you consider the Historical Playes of Shakespeare, they are rather so many Chronicles of Kings, or the business many times of thirty or forty years, crampt into a representation of two hours and a half, which is not to imitate or paint Nature, but rather to draw her in miniature, to take her in little; to look upon her through the wrong end of a Perspective, and receive her Images not onely much less, but infinitely more imperfect then the life: this instead of making a Play delightful, renders it ridiculous.

Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi.

[57] For the Spirit of man cannot be satisfied but with truth, or at least verisimility; and a Poem is to contain, if not τα ετυμα, yet ετυμοισιν ομοια, as one of the Greek Poets has expres'd it.

[58] Another thing in which the French differ from us and from the Spaniards, is, that they do not embaras, or cumber themselves with too much Plot: they onely represent so much of a Story as will constitute one whole and great action sufficient for a Play; we, who undertake more, do but multiply adventures; which, not being produc'd from one another, as effects from causes, but barely following, constitute many actions in the Drama, and consequently make it many Playes.

[59] But by pursuing close one argument, which is not cloy'd with many turns, the French have gain'd more liberty for verse, in which they write: they have leisure to dwell upon a subject which deserves it; and to represent the passions (which we have acknowledg'd to be the Poets work) without being hurried from one thing to another, as we are in the Playes of Calderon, which we have seen lately upon our Theaters, under the name of Spanish Plotts. I have taken notice but of one Tragedy of ours, whose Plot has that uniformity and unity of design in it which I have commended in the French; and that is Rollo, or rather, under the name of Rollo, The Story of Bassianus and Geta in Herodian, there indeed the Plot is neither large nor intricate, but just enough to fill the minds of the Audience, not to cloy them. Besides, you see it founded upon the truth of History, onely the time of the action is not reduceable to the strictness of the Rules; and you see in some places a little farce mingled, which is below the dignity of the other parts; and in this all our Poets are extreamly peccant, even Ben Johnson himself in Sejanus and Catiline has given us this Oleo of a Play; this unnatural mixture of Comedy and Tragedy, which to me sounds just as ridiculously as the History of David with the merry humours of Golias. In Sejanus you may take notice of the Scene betwixt Livia and the Physician, which is a pleasant Satyre upon the artificial helps of beauty: In Catiline you may see the Parliament of Women; the little envies of them to one another; and all that passes betwixt Curio and Fulvia: Scenes admirable in their kind, but of an ill mingle with the rest.

[60] But I return again to French Writers; who, as I have said, do not burden themselves too much with Plot, which has been reproach'd to them by an ingenious person of our Nation as a fault, for he says they commonly make but one person considerable in a Play; they dwell upon him, and his concernments, while the rest of the persons are onely subservient to set him off. If he intends this by it, that there is one person in the Play who is of greater dignity then the rest, he must tax, not onely theirs, but those of the Ancients, and which he would be loth to do, the best of ours; for 'tis impossible but that one person must be more conspicuous in it then any other, and consequently the greatest share in the action must devolve on him. We see it so in the management of all affairs; even in the most equal Aristocracy, the ballance cannot be so justly poys'd, but some one will be superiour to the rest; either in parts, fortune, interest, or the consideration of some glorious exploit; which will reduce the greatest part of business into his hands.

[61] But, if he would have us to imagine that in exalting of one character the rest of them are neglected, and that all of them have not some share or other in the action of the Play, I desire him to produce any of Corneilles Tragedies, wherein every person (like so many servants in a well govern'd Family) has not some employment, and who is not necessary to the carrying on of the Plot, or at least to your understanding it.

[62] There are indeed some protatick persons in the Ancients, whom they make use of in their Playes, either to hear, or give the Relation: but the French avoid this with great address, making their narrations onely to, or by such who are some way interested in the main design. And now I am speaking of Relations, I cannot take a fitter opportunity to add this in favour of the French, that they often use them with better judgment and more a propos then the English do. Not that I commend narrations in general, but there are two sorts of them; one of those things which are antecedent to the Play, and are related to make the conduct of it more clear to us, but, 'tis a fault to choose such subjects for the Stage which will inforce us upon that Rock; because we see they are seldome listned to by the Audience, and that is many times the ruin of the Play: for, being once let pass without attention, the Audience can never recover themselves to understand the Plot; and indeed it is somewhat unreasonable that they should be put to so much trouble, as, that to comprehend what passes in their sight, they must have recourse to what was done, perhaps, ten or twenty years ago.

[63] But there is another sort of Relations, that is, of things hapning in the Action of the Play, and suppos'd to be done behind the Scenes: and this is many times both convenient and beautiful: for, by it, the French avoid the tumult, which we are subject to in England, by representing Duells, Battells, and the like; which renders our Stage too like the Theaters, where they fight Prizes. For what is more ridiculous then to represent an Army with a Drum and five men behind it; all which, the Heroe of the other side is to drive in before him, or to see a Duel fought, and one slain with two or three thrusts of the foyles, which we know are so blunted, that we might give a man an hour to kill another in good earnest with them.

[64] I have observ'd that in all our Tragedies, the Audience cannot forbear laughing when the Actors are to die; 'tis the most Comick part of the whole Play. All passions may be lively represented on the Stage, if to the well-writing of them the Actor supplies a good commanded voice, and limbs that move easily, and without stifness; but there are many actions which can never be imitated to a just height: dying especially is a thing which none but a Roman Gladiator could naturally perform upon the Stage when he did not imitate or represent, but naturally do it; and therefore it is better to omit the representation of it.

[65] The words of a good Writer which describe it lively, will make a deeper impression of belief in us then all the Actor can perswade us to, when he seems to fall dead before us; as a Poet in the description of a beautiful Garden, or a Meadow, will please our imagination more then the place it self can please our sight. When we see death represented we are convinc'd it is but Fiction; but when we hear it related, our eyes (the strongest witnesses) are wanting, which might have undeceiv'd us; and we are all willing to favour the sleight when the Poet does not too grosly impose upon us. They therefore who imagine these relations would make no concernment in the Audience, are deceiv'd, by confounding them with the other, which are of things antecedent to the Play; those are made often in cold blood (as I may say) to the audience; but these are warm'd with our concernments, which are before awaken'd in the Play. What the Philosophers say of motion, that when it is once begun it continues of it self, and will do so to Eternity without some stop put to it, is clearly true on this occasion; the soul being already mov'd with the Characters and Fortunes of those imaginary persons, continues going of its own accord, and we are no more weary to hear what becomes of them when they are not on the Stage, then we are to listen to the news of an absent Mistress. But it is objected, That if one part of the Play may be related, then why not all? I answer, Some parts of the action are more fit to be represented, some to be related. Corneille sayes judiciously, that the Poet is not oblig'd to expose to view all particular actions which conduce to the principal: he ought to select such of them to be seen which will appear with the greatest beauty; either by the magnificence of the show, or the vehemence of passions which they produce, or some other charm which they have in them, and let the rest arrive to the audience by narration. 'Tis a great mistake in us to believe the French present no part of the action upon the Stage: every alteration or crossing of a design, every new sprung passion, and turn of it, is a part of the action, and much the noblest, except we conceive nothing to be action till they come to blows; as if the painting of the Heroes mind were not more properly the Poets work then the strength of his body. Nor does this any thing contradict the opinion of Horace, where he tells us,

Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem
Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus. —

[66] For he sayes immediately after,

———— Non tamen intus
Digna geri promes in scenam, multaq; tolles
Ex oculis, quæ mox narret facundia præsens.

[67] Among which many he recounts some.

Nec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet,
Aut in avem Progne mutetur, Cadmus in anguem, &c.

[68] That is, those actions which by reason of their cruelty will cause aversion in us, or by reason of their impossibility unbelief, ought either wholly to be avoided by a Poet, or onely deliver'd by narration. To which, we may have leave to add such as to avoid tumult, (as was before hinted) or to reduce the Plot into a more reasonable compass of time, or for defect of Beauty in them, are rather to be related then presented to the eye. Examples of all these kinds are frequent, not onely among all the Ancients, but in the best receiv'd of our English Poets. We find Ben. Johnson using them in his Magnetick Lady, where one comes out from Dinner, and relates the quarrels and disorders of it to save the undecent appearing of them on the Stage, and to abreviate the Story: and this in express imitation of Terence, who had done the same before him in his Eunuch, where Pythias makes the like relation of what had happen'd within at the Souldiers entertainment. The relations likewise of Sejanus's death, and the prodigies before it are remakable, the one of which was hid from sight to avoid the horrour and tumult of the representation; the other to shun the introducing of things impossible to be believ'd. In that excellent Play the King and no King, Fletcher goes yet farther; for the whole unravelling of the Plot is done by narration in the fifth Act, after the manner of the Ancients; and it moves great concernment in the Audience, though it be onely a relation of what was done many years before the Play. I could multiply other instances, but these are sufficient to prove that there is no errour in choosing a subject which requires this sort of narrations; in the ill managing of them, there may.

[69] But I find I have been too long in this discourse since the French have many other excellencies not common to use, as that you never see any of their Playes end with a conversion, or simple change of will, which is the ordinary way our Poets use to end theirs. It shows little art in the conclusion of a Dramatick Poem, when they who have hinder'd the felicity during the four Acts, desist from it in the fifth without some powerful cause to take them off; and though I deny not but such reasons may be found, yet it is a path that is cautiously to be trod, and the Poet is to be sure he convinces the Audience that the motive is strong enough. As for example, the conversion of the Usurer in the Scornful Lady, seems to me a little forc'd; for being an Usurer, which implies a lover of Money to the highest degree of covetousness, (and such the Poet has represented him) the account he gives for the sudden change is, that he has been dup'd by the wilde young fellow, which in reason might render him more wary another time, and make him punish himself with harder fare and courser cloaths to get it up again: but that he should look upon it as a judgment, and so repent, we may expect to hear of in a Sermon, but I should never indure it in a Play.

[70] I pass by this; neither will I insist upon the care they take, that no person after his first entrance shall ever appear, but the business which brings him upon the Stage shall be evident: which, if observ'd, must needs render all the events in the Play more natural; for there you see the probability of every accident,in the cause that produc'd it; and that which appears chance in the Play, will seem so reasonable to you, that you will there find it almost necessary; so that in the exits of their Actors you have a clear account of their purpose and design in the next entrance: (though, if the Scene be well wrought, the event will commonly deceive you) for there is nothing so absurd, sayes Corneille, as for an Actor to leave the Stage, onely because he has no more to say.

[71] I should now speak of the beauty of their Rhime, and the just reason I have to prefer that way of writing in the Tragedies before ours in Blanck verse; but because it is partly receiv'd by us, and therefore not altogether peculiar to them, I will say no more of it in relation to their Playes. For our own I doubt not but it will exceedingly beautifie them, and I can see but one reason why it should not generally obtain, that is, because our Poets write so ill in it. This indeed may prove a more prevailing argument then all others which are us'd to destroy it, and therefore I am onely troubled when great and judicious Poets, and those who acknowledg'd such, have writ or spoke against it; as for others they are to be answer'd by that one sentence of an ancient Authour,

[72]Sed ut primo ad consequendos eos quos priores ducimus accendimur, ita ubi aut præteriri, aut æquari eos posse desperavimus, studium cum spe senescit: quod, scilicet, assequi non potest, sequi desinit; præteritoque, eo in quo eminere no possumus, aliquid in quo nitamur conquirimus.

[73]Lisideius concluded in this manner; and Neander after a little pause thus answer'd him.

[74] I shall grant Lisideius, without much dispute, a great part of what he has urg'd against us, for I acknowledg the French contrive their Plots more regularly, observe the Laws of Comedy, and decorum of the Stage (to speak generally) with more exactness then the English. Farther I deny not but he has tax'd us justly in some irregularities of ours which he has mention'd; yet, after all, I am of opinion that neither our faults nor their virtues are considerable enough to place them above us.

[75] For the lively imitation of Nature being in the definition of a Play, those which best fulfil that law ought to be esteem'd superiour to the others. 'Tis true, those beauties of the French-poesie are such as will raise perfection higher where it is, but are not sufficient to give it where it is not: they are indeed the Beauties of a Statue, but not of a Man, because not animated with the Soul of Poesie, which is imitation of humour and passions: and this Lisideius himself, or any other, however byassed to their Party, cannot but acknowledg, if he will either compare the humours of our Comedies, or the Characters of our serious Playes with theirs. He that will look upon theirs which have been written till these last ten years or thereabouts, will find it an hard matter to pick out two or three passable humours amongst them. Corneille himself, their Arch-Poet, what has he produc'd except theLier, and you know how it was cry'd up in France; but when it came upon the English Stage, though well translated, and that part of Dorant acted to so much advantage by Mr. Hart, as I am confident it never receiv'd in its own Country, the most favourable to it would not put in competition with many of Fletchers or Ben. Johnsons. In the rest of Corneilles Comedies you have little humour; he tells you himself his way is first to show two Lovers in good intelligence with each other; in the working up of the Play to embroyle them by some mistake, and in the latter end to clear it up.

[76] But of late years de Moliere, the younger Corneille, Quinault, and some others, have been imitating of afar off the quick turns and graces of the English Stage. They have mix'd their serious Playes with mirth, like our Tragicomedies since the death of Cardinal Richlieu, which Lisideius and many others not observing, have commended that in them for a virtue which they themselves no longer practice. Most of their new Playes are like some of ours, deriv'd from the Spanish Novells. There is scarce one of them without a vail, and a trusty Diego, who drolls much after the rate of the Adventures. But their humours, if I may grace them with that name, are so thin sown that never above one of them come up in any Play: I dare take upon me to find more variety of them in some one Play of Ben. Johnsons then in all theirs together: as he who has seen the Alchymist, the silent Woman, or Bertholmew-Fair, cannot but acknowledge with me.

[77] I grant the French have performed what was possible on the groundwork of the Spanish Playes; what was pleasant before they have made regular; but there is not above one good Play to be writ upon all those Plots; they are too much alike to please often, which we need not the experience of our own Stage to justifie. As for their new way of mingling mirth with serious Plot I do not with Lysideius condemn the thing, though I cannot approve their manner of doing it: He tells us we cannot so speedily recollect our selves after a Scene of great passion and concernment as to pass to another of mirth and humour, and to enjoy it with any relish: but why should he imagine the soul of man more heavy than his Sences? Does not the eye pass from an unpleasant object to a pleasant in a much shorter time then is requir'd to this? and does not the unpleasantness of the first commend the beauty of the latter? The old Rule of Logick might have convinc'd him, that contraries when plac'd near, set off each other. A continued gravity keeps the spirit too much bent; we must refresh it sometimes, as we bait upon a journey, that we may go on with greater ease. A Scene of mirth mix'd with Tragedy has the same effect upon us which our musick has betwixt the Acts, and that we find a relief to us from the best Plots and language of the Stage, if the discourses have been long. I must therefore have stronger arguments ere I am convinc'd, that compassion and mirth in the same subject destroy each other; and in the mean time cannot but conclude, to the honour of our Nation, that we have invented, increas'd and perfected a more pleasant way of writing for the Stage then was ever known to the Ancients or Moderns of any Nation, which is Tragicomedie.

[78] And this leads me to wonder why Lisideius and many others should cry up the barrenness of the French Plots above the variety and copiousness of the English. Their Plots are single, they carry on one design which is push'd forward by all the Actors, every Scene in the Play contributing and moving towards it: Ours, besides the main design, have under plots or by-concernments, of less considerable Persons, and Intrigues, which are carried on with the motion of the main Plot: just as they say the Orb of the fix'd Stars, and those of the Planets, though they have motions of their own, are whirl'd about by the motion of the primum mobile, in which they are contain'd: that similitude expresses much of the English Stage: for if contrary motions may be found in Nature to agree; if a Planet can go East and West at the same time; one way by virtue of his own motion, the other by the force of the first mover; it will not be difficult to imagine how the under Plot, which is onely different, not contrary to the great design, may naturally be conducted along with it.

[79]Eugenius has already shown us, from the confession of the French Poets, that the Unity of Action is sufficiently preserv'd if all the imperfect actions of the Play are conducing to the main design: but when those petty intrigues of a Play are so ill order'd that they have no coherence with the other, I must grant Lisideius has reason to tax that want of due connexion; for Coordination in a Play is as dangerous and unnatural as in a State. In the mean time he must acknowledge our variety, if well order'd, will afford a greater pleasure to the audience.

[80] As for his other argument, that by pursuing one single Theme they gain an advantage to express and work up the passions, I wish any example he could bring from them would make it good: for I confess their verses are to me the coldest I have ever read: Neither indeed is it possible for them, in the way they take, so to express passion, as that the effects of it should appear in the concernment of an Audience: their Speeches being so many declamations, which tire us with length; so that instead of perswading us to grieve for their imaginary Heroes, we are concern'd for our own trouble, as we are in the tedious visits of bad company; we are in pain till they are gone. When the French Stage came to be reform'd by Cardinal Richelieu, those long Harangues were introduc'd, to comply with the gravity of a Churchman. Look upon the Cinna and the Pompey, they are not so properly to be called Playes, as long discourses of reason of State: and Polieucte in matters in Religion is as solemn as the long stops upon our Organs. Since that time it is grown into a custome, and their Actors speak by the Hour-glass, as our Parsons do; nay, they account it the grace of their parts: and think themselves disparag'd by the Poet, if they may not twice or thrice in a Play entertain the Audience with a Speech of an hundred or two hundred lines. I deny not but this may sute well enough with the French; for as we, who are a more sullen people, come to be diverted at our Playes; they who are of an ayery and gay temper come thither to make themselves more serious: And this I conceive to be one reason why Comedy is more pleasing to us, and Tragedies to them. But to speak generally, it cannot be deny'd that short Speeches and Replies are more apt to move the passions, and beget concernment in us then the other: for it is unnatural for any one in a gust of passion to speak long together, or for another in the same condition, to suffer him, without interruption. Grief and Passion are like floods rais'd in little Brooks by a sudden rain; they are quickly up, and if the concernment be powr'd unexpectedly in upon us, it overflows us: But a long sober shower gives them leisure to run out as they came in, without troubling the ordinary current. As for Comedy, Repartee is one of its chiefest graces; they greatest pleasure of the Audience is a chase of wit kept up on both sides, and swiftly manag'd. And this our forefathers, if not we, have had in Fletchers Playes, to a much higher degree of perfection then the French Poets can arrive at.

[81] There is another part of Lisideius his Discourse, in which he has rather excus'd our neighbours then commended them; that is, for aiming onely to make one person considerable in their Playes. 'Tis very true what he has urged, that one character in all Playes, even without the Poets care, will have advantage of all the others; and that the design of the whole Drama will chiefly depend on it. But this hinders not that there may be more shining characters in the Play: many persons of a second magnitude, nay, some so very near, so almost equal to the first, that greatness may be oppos'd to greatness, and all the persons be made considerable, not onely by their quality, but their action. 'Tis evident that the more the persons are, the greater will be the variety, of the Plot. If then the parts are manag'd so regularly that the beauty of the whole be kept intire, and that the variety become not a perplex'd and confus'd mass of accidents, you will find it infinitely pleasing to be led in a labyrinth of design, where you see some of your way before you, yet discern not the end till you arrive at it. And that all this is practicable, I can produce for examples many of our English Playes: as the Maids Tragedy, the Alchymist, the Silent Woman; I was going to have named the Fox, but that the unity of design seems not exactly observ'd in it; for there appears two actions in the Play; the first naturally ending with the fourth Act; the second forc'd from it in the fifth: which yet is the less to be condemn'd in him, because the disguise of Volpone, though it suited not with his character as a crafty or covetous person, agreed well enough with that of a voluptuary: and by it the Poet gain'd the end he aym'd at, the punishment of Vice, and the reward of Virtue, which that disguise produc'd. So that to judge equally of it, it was an excellent fifth Act, but not so naturally proceeding from the former.

[82] But to leave this, and pass to the latter part of Lisideius his discourse, which concerns relations, I must acknowledge with him, that the French have reason when they hide that part of the action which would occasion too much tumult upon the Stage, and choose rather to have it made known by the narration to the Audience. Farther I think it very convenient, for the reasons he has given, that all incredible actions were remov'd; but, whither custome has so insinuated it self into our Country-men, or nature has so form'd them to fierceness, I know not; but they will scarcely suffer combats & other objects of horrour to be taken from them. And indeed, the indecency of tumults is all which can be objected against fighting: For why may not our imagination as well suffer it self to be deluded with the probability of it, as with any other thing in the Play? For my part, I can with as great ease perswade my self that the blowes which are struck are given in good earnest, as I can, that they who strike them are Kings or Princes, or those persons which they represent. For objects of incredibility I would be satisfied from Lisideius, whether we have any so remov'd from all appearance of truth as are those of CorneillesAndromede? A Play which has been frequented the most of any he has writ? If the Perseus, or the Son of an Heathen God, the Pegasus and the Monster were not capable to choak a strong belief, let him blame any representation of ours hereafter. Those indeed were objects of delight; yet the reason is the same as to the probability: for he makes it not a Ballette or Masque, but a Play, which is to resemble truth. But for death, that it ought not to be represented, I have besides the Arguments alledg'd by Lisideius, the authority of Ben. Johnson, who has forborn it in his Tragedies; for both the death of Sejanus and Catiline are related: though in the latter I cannot but observe one irregularity of that great Poet: he has remov'd the Scene in the same Act, from Rome to Catiline's Army, and from thence again to Rome; and besides has allow'd a very inconsiderable time, after Catilines Speech, for the striking of the battle, and the return of Petreius, who is to relate the event of it to the Senate: which I should not animadvert upon him, who was otherwise a painful observer of to prepon, or the decorum of the Stage, if he had not us'd extream severity in his judgment upon the incomparable Shakespeare for the same fault. To conclude on this subject of Relations, if we are to be blam'd for showing too much of the action, the French are as faulty for discovering too little of it: a mean betwixt both should be observed by every judicious Writer, so as the audience may neither be left unsatisfied by not seeing what is beautiful, or shock'd by beholding what is either incredible or undecent. I hope I have already prov'd in this discourse, that though we are not altogether so punctual as the French, in observing the lawes of Comedy; yet our errours are so few, and little, and those things wherein we excel them so considerable, that we ought of right to be prefer'd before them. But what will Lisideius say if they themselves acknowledge they are too strictly ti'd up by those lawes, for breaking which he has blam'd the English? I will alledge Corneille's words, as I find them in the end of his Discourse of the three Unities; Il est facile aux speculatifs d'estre severes, &c.


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