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Our author acknowledges, that this play of “ The Mock Astrologer” is founded on “Le feint Astrologue," by the younger Corneille, which he, in his turn, had imitated from “ El Astrologo fingido” of Calderon. But Dryden has also laid Moliere under contribution. Most part of the quarrelling scene betwixt Wildblood and Jacintha, in the fourth act, is literally copied from that betwixt Lucile Eraste, Marinette, and Gros René, in“ Le Depit Amoureux." The absurd loquacity of Don Alonzo, and his friend's mode of silencing him, by ringing a bell in his ears, is imitated from the scene betwixt Albert and Metaphraste, in the same play; and, it must be allowed, it is an expedient which might be more decently resorted to against an inundation of nonsense from a pedantic schoolmaster, as in Moliere, than to stop the mouth of a noble old Spaniard, the uncle of Don Lopez' mistress. The play itself is more lively than most of Dryden's comedies. Wildblood and Jacintha are far more pleasant than their prototypes, Celadon and Florimel; and the Spanish bustle of the plot is well calculated to keep up the attention. The character of Aurelia was perhaps suggested by the “ Precieuses Ridicules” of Moliere, but cannot, with any justice, be said to be copied from them. The Preface contains some excellent remarks on the old comedy. There is also an elaborate defence, the first our poet deigned to make, against the charge of plagiarism. On this point he quotes the words of Charles II., who had only desired, that they, who accused Dryden of theft, would steal him such plays as Dryden's: And he vindicates the right of an author to take his plot where he could best find it, in history or romance, providing that the conduct and disposition of the action, with the dialogue, character, and poetical ornaments, were original. Our author's use of the terms and technical phrases of judicial astronomy intimate his acquaintance with that pretended science, in which he is known to have placed some confidence.
The “ Mock Astrologer" appears to have been acted and published in 1668.
I had thought, reader, in this preface, to have written somewhat concerning the difference betwixt the plays of our age, and those of our predecessors, on the English stage: To have shewn in what parts of dramatic poesy we were excelled by Ben Jonson, I mean, humour, and contrivance of comedy; and in what we may justly claim precedence of Shakespeare and Fletcher, namely in heroic plays: But this design I have waved on second considerations; at least, deferred it till I publish The Conquest of Granada, where the discourse will be more proper. I had also prepared to treat of the improvement of our language since Fletcher's and Jonson's days, and consequently of our refining the courtship, raillery, and conversation of plays: But as I am willing to decline that envy which I should draw on myself from some old opiniatre judges of the stage, so likewise I am prest in time so much that I have not leisure, at present, to go through with it. Neither, indeed, do I value a reputation gained from comedy, so far as to concern myself about it, any more than I needs must in my own
defence : For I think it, in its own nature, inferior to all sorts of dramatick writing. Low comedy especially requires, on the writer's part, much of conversation with the vulgar, and much of ill nature in the observation of their follies. But let all men please themselves according to their sereral tastes : That which is not pleasant to me, may be to others who judge better: And, to prevent an accusation from my enemies, I am sometimes ready to imagine, that my disgust of 'low comedy proceeds not so much from my judgment as from my temper; which is the reason why I so seldom write it; and that when I succeed in it, (I mean so far as to please the audience) yet I am nothing satisfied with what I have done; but am often vexed to hear the people laugh, and clap, as they perpetually do, where I intended them no jest; while they let pass
the better things, without taking notice of them. Yet even this confirms me in my opinion of slighting popular applause, and of contemning that approbation which those very people give, equally with me, to the zany of a mountebank; or to the appearance of an antick on the theatre, without wit on the poet's part, or any occasion of laughter from the actor, besides the ridiculousness of his habit and his grimaces.
But I have descended, before I was aware, from comedy to farce; which consists principally of gri
That I admire not any comedy equally with tragedy, is, perhaps, from the sullenness of my humour; but that I detest those farces, which are now the most frequent entertainments of the stage, I am sure I have reason on my side. Comedy consists, though of low persons, yet of natural actions and characters; I mean such humours, adventures, and designs, as are to be found and met with in the world. Farce, on the other side, con
sists of forced humours, and unnatural events. Co medy presents us with the imperfections of human nature: Farce entertains us with what is monstrous and chimerical. The one causes laughter in those who can judge of men and manners, by the lively representation of their folly or corruption : The other produces the same effect in those who can judge of neither, and that only by its extravagances. The first works on the judgment and fancy; the latter on the fancy only: There is more of satisface tion in the former kind of laughter, and in the latter more of scorn. But, how it happens, that an impossible adventure should cause our mirth, I cannot so easily imagine. Something there may be in the oddness of it, because on the stage it is the common effect of things unexpected, to surprise us into a delight: and that is to be ascribed to the strange appetite, as I may call it, of the fancy; which, like that of a longing woman, often runs out into the most extravagant desires ; and is better satisfied sometimes with loam, or with the rinds of trees, than with the wholesome nourishments of life. In short, there is the same difference betwixt farce and comedy, as betwixt an empirick, and a true physician : Both of them may attain their ends; but what the one performs by hazard, the other does by skill. And as the artist is often unsuccessful, while the mountebank succeeds ; so farces more commonly take the people than comedies. For, to write unnatural things, is the most probable way of pleasing them, who understand not nature.
And a true poet often misses of applause, because he cannot debase himself to write so ill as to please his audience.
After all, it is to be acknowledged, that most of those comedies, which have been lately written,
have been allied too much to farce: And this must of necessity fall
out, till we forbear the translation of French plays: For their poets, wanting judgment to make or to maintain true characters, strive to cover their defects with ridiculous figures and gris
While I say this, I accuse myself as well as others : And this very play would rise
in judgment against me, if I would defend all things I have written to be natural : But I confess I have given too much to the people in it, and am ashamed for them as well as for myself
, that I have pleased them at so cheap a rate. Not that there is any thing here which I would not defend to an ill-natured judge; (for I despise their censures, who I am sure would write worse on the same subject:) but, because I love to deal clearly and plainly, and to speak of my own faults with more criticism, than I would of another poet's. Yet I think it no vanity to say, that this comedy has as much of entertainment in it, as many others which have been lately written : And, if I find my own errors in it, I am able, at the same time, to arraign all my contemporaries for greater. As I pretend not that I can write humour, so none of them can reasonably pretend to have written it as they ought. Jonson was the only man, of all ages and nations, who has performed it well; and that but in three or four of his comedies: The rest are but a crambe bis cocta ; the same humours a little varied and written worse. Neither was it more allowable in him, than it is in our present poets, to represent the follies of particular persons; of which many have accused him. Parcere personis, dicere de vitiis, is the rule of plays. And Horace tells you, that the old comedy amongst the Grecians was silenced for the too great liberties
of the poets :