« ZurückWeiter »
more troublesome than the neighbourhood of steeples. I have been favourable to myself in this expression ; a zealous fanatick would have gone farther, and have called me the serpent, who first presented the fruit of my poetry to the wife, and so gained the opportunity to seduce the husbar... Yet, I am ready to avow a crime so advantageous to me; but the world, which will condemn my boldness, I am sure will justify and applaud my choice. All men will join with me in the adoration which I pay you; they would wish only I had brought you a more noble sacrifice. Instead of an heroick play, you might justly expect an heroick poem, filled with the past glories
of your ancestors, and the future certainties of your own.
Heaven has already taken care to form you for an hero. You have all the advantages of mind and body, and an illustrious birth, conspiring to render you an extraordinary person. The Achilles and the Rinaldo are present in you, even above their originals; you only want a Homer, or a Tasso, to make you equal to them. Youth, beauty, and courage (all which you possess in the height of their perfection) are the most desirable gifts of heaven: and heaven is never prodigal of such treasures, but to some uncommon purpose. So goodly a fabric was never framed by an Almighty architect for a vulgar guest. He shewed the value which he set upon your mind, when he took care to have it so nobly, and so beautifully lodged. To a graceful fashion and deportment of body, you have joined a winning conversation, and an easy greatness, derived to you from the best, and best-beloved of princes. And with a great power of obliging, the world has observed in you a desire to oblige, even beyond your power. This, and all that I can say on so excel
lent and large a subject, is only history, in which fiction has no part; I can employ nothing of poetry in it, any more than I do in that humble protestation which I make, to continue ever
Your Grace's most obedient
And most devoted servant,
was moved to write this play by many reasons : Amongst others, the commands of some persons of honour, for whom I have a most particular respect, were daily sounding in my ears, that it would be of good example to undertake a poem of this nature. Neither were my own inclinations wanting to second their desires. I considered that pleasure was not the only end of poesy; and that even the instructions of morality were not so wholly the business of a poet, as that the precepts and examples of piety were to be omitted. For, to leave that employmenti altogether to the clergy, were to forget that religion was first taught in verse, which the laziness, or dulness, of succeeding priesthood, turned afterwards into prose; and it were also to grant (which I never shall) that representations of this kind may not as well be conducing to holiness, as to good manners. Yet far be it from me to compare the use of dramatick poesy with that of divinity: I only maintain, againsť the enemies of the stage, that patterns of piety, decently represented, and equally removed from the extremes of superstition and profaneness, may be of excellent use to
second the precepts of our religion. By the harmony
of words we elevate the mind to a sense of devotion, as our solemn musick, which is inarticulate poesy, does in churches; and by the lively images of piety, adorned by action, through the senses allure the soul; which, while it is charmed in a silent joy of what it sees and hears, is struck, at the same time, with a secret veneration of things celestial : and is wound up insensibly into the practice of that which it admires. Now if, instead of this, we sometimes see on our theatres the examples of vice rewarded, or, at least, unpunished; yet it ought not to be an argument against the art, any more than the extravagances and impieties of the pulpit, in the late times of rebellion, can be against the office and dignity of the clergy.
But many times it happens, that poets are wrongfully accused; as it is my own case in this very play; where I am charged by some ignorant or malicious persons, with no less crimes than profaneness and irreligion.
The part of Maximin, against which these holy critics so much declaim, was designed by me to set off the character of St Catharine. And those, who have read the Roman history, may easily remember, that Maximin was not only a bloody tyrant, vastus corpore, animo ferus, as Herodian describes him; but also a persecutor of the church, against which he raised the Sixth Persecution. So that whatsoever he speaks or acts in this tragedy, is no more than a record of his life and manners; a picture, as near as I could take it, from the original. If, with much pains, and some success, I have drawn a deformed piece, there is as much of art, and as near an imitation of nature, in a lazar, as in a Venus. Maximin was an heathen, and what he speaks against religion, is in contempt of that which he professed, He defies the gods of Rome, which is no more than
St Catharine might with decency have done. If it be urged, that a person of such principles, who scoffs at any religion, ought not to be presented on the stage; why then are the lives and sayings of so many wicked and profane persons, recorded in the Holy Scriptures? I know it will be answered, That a due use may be made of them; that they are remembered with a brand of infamy fixed upon them; and set as sea-marks for those who behold them to avoid. And what other use have I made of Maximin? have I proposed him as a pattern to be imitated, whom, even for his impiety to his false gods, I have so severely punished ? Nay, as if I had foreseen this objection, I purposely removed the scene of the play, which ought to have been at Alexandria in Egypt, where St Catharine suffered, and laid it under the walls of Aquileia in Italy, where Maximin was slain; that the punishment of his crime might immediately succeed its execution.
This, reader, is what I owed to my just defence, and the due reverence of that religion which I profess, to which all men, who desire to be esteemed good, or honest, are obliged. I have neither leisure nor occasion to write more largely on this subject, because I am already justified by the sentence of the best and most discerning prince in the world, by the suffrage of all unbiassed judges, and, above all
, by the witness of my own conscience, which abhors the thought of such a crime ; to which I ask leave to add my outward conversation, which shall never be justly taxed with the note of atheism or profane
In what else concerns the play, I shall be brief: For the faults of the writing and contrivance, I leave them to the mercy of the reader. For I am as little apt to defend my own errors, as to find those of other poets. Only, I observe, that the