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be seen at all too near, than too far off the eye: but granting that a poem is a picture to be viewed at a great distance, the distance and the bigness ought to be so suited, as though the picture be much bigger than the life, yet it must not seem so; and what miserable mistakes some poets make for want of knowing this truly, I leave to men of sense to judge; and by the way, let us consider that dramatic poetry, especially the English, brings the picture nearer the eye, than any other sort of poetry.
But some will say after this, what licence is left for poets? Certainly the same that good poets ever took, without being faulty, (for surely the best were so sometimes, because they were but men,) and that licence is fiction; which kind of poetry is like that of landscape-painting; and poems of this nature, though they be not vera, ought to be verisimilia.
The great art of poets is either the adorning and beautifying of truth, or the inventing pleasing and probable fictions. If they invent impossible fables, like some of Æsop's, they ought to have such morals couched under them, as may tend to the instruction of mankind, or the regulation of manners, or they can be of no use; nor can they really delight any but such as would be pleased with Tom Thumb, without these circumstances. But there are some pedants, who will quote authority from the ancients for the faults and extravagancies of some of the moderns; who being able to imitate nothing but the faults of the classic authors, mistake them for their excellencies. I speak with all due reverence to the ancients; for no man esteems their perfections more than myself, though I confess I have not that blind implicit faith in them which some ignorant schoolmasters would impose upon us, to believe in
all their errors, and own all their crimes: to some pedants every thing in them is of that authority, that they will create a new figure of rhetoric out of the fault of an old poet. I am apt to believe the same faults were found in them, when they wrote, which men of sense find now; but not the excellencies which schoolmasters would persuade us: yet I must say now,
Nobis non licet esse tam disertis,
MARTIAL. Epigr. ix. 12.
HUSBAND HIS OWN CUCKOLD.
This play was written by John Dryden, our author's second son, and is said to have been founded on a real incident which happened at Rome. It was dedicated to Sir Robert Howard, the author's uncle, and acted in 1696, with the advantages of a Prologue from Congreve, and an Epilogue from our author. Sec Vol. X. p. 423.
I HAVE thought convenient to acquaint the reader with somewhat concerning this comedy, though perhaps not worth his knowledge. It was sent me from Italy some years since, by my second son, to try its fortune on the stage; and being the essay of a young unexperienced author, to confess the truth, I thought it not worthy of that honour. It is true, I was not willing to discourage him so far, as to tell him plainly my opinion, but it seems he guessed somewhat of my mind, by my long delays of his expectation; and therefore, in my absence from the town last summer, took the boldness to dedicate his play to that person of honour whose name you will find before his Epistle. It was re
ceived by that noble gentleman with so much candour and generosity, as neither my son nor I could deserve from him. Then the play was no longer in my power; the patron demanding it in his own right, it was delivered to him: and he was farther pleased, during my sickness, to put it into that method in which you find it; the loose scenes digested into order, and knit into a tale.
As it is, I think it may pass amongst the rest of our new plays: I know but two authors, and they are both my friends, * who have done better since the Revolution. This I dare venture to maintain, that the taste of the age is wretchedly depraved in all sorts of poetry; nothing almost but what is abominably bad can please. The young hounds, who ought to come behind, now lead the pack; but they miserably mistake the scent. Their poets, worthy of such an audience, know not how to distinguish their characters; the manners are all alike inconsistent, and interfering with each other. There is scarce a man or woman of God's making in all their farces, yet they raise an unnatural sort of laughter, the common effect of buffoonery; and the rabble, which takes this for wit, will endure no better, because it is above their understanding. This account I take from the best judges; for I thank God, I have had the grace hitherto to avoid the seeing or reading of their gallimaufries. But it is the latter end of a century, and I hope the next will begin better.
This play, I dare assure the reader, is none of those; it may want beauties, but the faults are neither gross, nor many. Perfection in any art is
* Probably, Southerne and Congreve.
not suddenly obtained: the author of this, to his misfortune, left his country at a time when he was to have learned the language. The story he has treated, was an accident which happened at Rome, though he has transferred the scene to England. If it shall please God to restore him to me, I may perhaps inform him better of the rules of writing; and if I am not partial, he has already shewn that a genius is not wanting to him. All that I can reasonably fear is, that the perpetual good success of ill plays may make him endeavour to please by writing worse, and by accommodating himself to the wretched capacity and liking of the present audience, from which heaven defend any of my progeny! A poet, indeed, must live by the many; but a good poet will make it his business to please the few. I will not proceed farther on a subject which arraigns so many of the readers.
For what remains, both my son and I are extremely obliged to my dear friend, Mr Congreve, whose excellent Prologue was one of the greatest ornaments of the play. Neither is my Epilogue the worst which I have written; though it seems, at the first sight, to expose our young clergy with too much freedom. It was on that consideration that I had once begun it otherwise, and delivered the copy of it to be spoken, in case the first part of it had given offence. This I will give you, partly in my own justification, and partly too because I think it not unworthy of your sight; only remembering you, that the last line connects the sense to the ensuing part of it.-Farewell, reader: if you are a father, you will forgive me; if not, you will when you are a father.
Time was, when none could preach without degrees,