Obrázky na stránke

tage of, sometimes, the justest moral painting and sublimest imagery, but a very faint shadow of the old; as must needs appear to those, who have looked into the ancient models, or, divesting themselves of modern prejudices, are disposed to consult the dictates of plain sense. For the use of such I once designed to have drawn into one view the several important benefits, arising to the drama from the observance of this rule, but have the pleasure to find myself prevented by a sensible dissertation of a good French writer, which the reader will find in the VIII Tom. of the history of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres.-Or, it may be sufficient to refer the English Reader to the late tragedies of ELFRIDA and CARACTACUS; which do honour to modern poetry, and are a better apology, than any I could make, for the ancient chorus.

193. OFFICIUMQUE VIRILE] Heinsius takes virile adverbially for viriliter. But this is thought harsh. What hinders, but that it may be taken adjectively? And then, agreeably to his interpretation, officium virile will mean a strenuous, diligent office, such as becomes a person interested in the progress of the action. The precept is leveled against the practice of those poets, who, though they allot the part of a persona dramatis to the chorus, yet for the most part make it so idle and insignificant an one, as is of little consequence in the representation: by which means the advantage of probability, intended to be

drawn from this use of the chorus, is, in great measure, lost.

194. NEU QUID MEDIOS INTERCINAT ACTUS, QUOD NON PROPOSITO CONDUCAT ET HAEREAT APTE. How necessary this advice might be to the writers of the Augustan age cannot certainly appear; but, if the practice of Seneca may give room for any suspicion, it should seem to have been much wanted; in whom I scarcely believe there is one single instance of the chorus being employed in a manner, consonant to its true end and character. To support this general censure, which may seem to bear hard on the poet, let us examine, in this view, one of the best of his plays, I mean, the Hippolytus; whose chorus, throughout, bears a very idle and uninteresting part-hath no share in the action-and sings impertinently.

At the end of the first act, when Phædra had avowed her passion for Hippolytus, instead of declaiming against her horrid purpose, enlarging on the danger and impiety of giving way to unnatural lusts, or something of this nature, which was surely the office of the chorus, it expatiates wantonly, and with a poetic luxuriance, on the sovereign, wide-extended powers of love.

In the close of the second act, instead of applauding the virtuous obstinacy of Hippolytus, and execrating the mad attempt of Phædra, it coolly sings the danger of beauty.

The third act contains the false accusation of Hippolytus, and the too easy deception of Theseus.

What had the chorus to do here, but to warn against a too great credulity, and to commiserate the case of the deluded father? Yet it declaims, in general, on the unequal distribution of good and ill.

After the fourth act, the chorus should naturally have bewailed the fate of Hippolytus, and reverenced the mysterious conduct of Providence in suffering the cruel destiny of the innocent. This, or something like it, would have been to the purpose. But, as if the poet had never heard of this rule of coherence, he harangues, in defiance of common sense, on the instability of an high fortune, and the security of a low.

It will further justify this censure of Seneca, and be some amusement to the critical reader, to observe, how the several blunders, here charged upon him, arose from an injudicious imitation of Euripides.

I. There are two places in the Greek Hippolytus, which Seneca seems to have had in view in his first chorus. We will consider them both.

1. When the unhappy Phædra at length suffers the fatal secret of her passion to be extorted from her she falls, as was natural, into all the horrors of selfdetestation, and determines not to survive the confession of so black a crime. In this conjuncture, the nutrix, who is not drawn, as in modern tragedy, an unmeaning confidante, the mere depositary of the poet's secrets, but has real manners assigned to her, endeavours, with the highest beauty of character, to divert these horrid intentions, and mitigate in some


sort the guilt of her passion, by representing to her the resistless and all-subduing force of love. "Venus, this virtuous monitrix, is not to be withstood, "when she rushes upon us with all her power. Nor "is any part of creation vacant from her influence. "She pervades the air, and glides through the deeps.

We, the inhabitants of the earth, are all subject ❝to her dominion. Nay, ask of the ancient bards, " and they will tell you, that the Gods themselves are "under her controul." And so goes on, enumerating particular examples, from all which she infers at last the necessity of Phædra's yielding to her fate. Again,

2. Towards the close of the Greek play, when, upon receiving the tragical story of his son's sufferings, Theseus began to feel his resentments give way to the workings of paternal affection, and, on that account, though he was willing to conceal the true motive, even from himself, had given orders for the dying Hippolytus to be brought before him, the chorus very properly flings out into that fine address to Venus,

Σὺ τὰν θεῶν ἄκαμπτον φρένα, &c.

the substance of which is, "That Venus, with her 'swift-winged boy, who traverses the earth and 66 ocean, subdues the stubborn hearts of Gods and "men: inspiring into all, on whom her influence rests, whether inhabitants of the land or deep, and ແ more especially the race of man, a soft and sympathizing tenderness; demonstrating hereby, that "she alone extends her all-controuling dominion over

[ocr errors]


"universal nature." This song, as thus connected with the occasion, is apparently very proper, and, when reduced from the pomp of lyric eloquence to plain prose, is only an address of congratulation to the powers of love; confessing and celebrating their influence, in thus softening the rigors of a father's. hate, and awakening in his breast the soft touches of returning pity and affection.

Now these two places, taken together, are plainly the ground-work of that song,

[ocr errors]

Diva, non miti generata ponto, &c.

but how improperly applied, has appeared, in respect of the latter of them, from what has been observed concerning the occasion; and must be acknowledged of the other, from the different character of the person to whom it is given; and also from hence, that the chorus in the Greek poet expressly condemns the impiety of such suggestions in the nurse, and admonishes Phædra not to lend an ear to them. The chorus, when it comes to sing in him, is far otherwise employed; not in celebrating the triumphs, but deprecating the pernicious fury of this passion, and in lamenting the fatal miscarriages of Hymeneal love.

[ocr errors]

II. The second song, on the graces of the prince's person, and the danger of beauty, which follows on the abrupt departure of Hippolytus, rejecting, with a virtuous disdain, the mad attempts of Phædra and her confidante, is so glaringly improper, as not to admit an excuse from any example. And yet, I am

[ocr errors]
« PredošláPokračovať »