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PRINCIPAL DRAMATIC AUTHORS.
OF the plays here given to the world, two have been already published. In these I have now made considerable alterations, (thinking it advisable at the same time to change their names for others more appropriate) some of which were necessary on more serious grounds than those of taste. They were enforced by that regard to poetic justice, which is certainly so far a requisite of the drama, and indeed every other species of writing, that if the purpose or the effect of an author is beyond mere amusement, the lesson he conveys should assuredly be a lesson of virtue.
Before however, I endeavour to propitiate the reader to the contents of this volume, it will not perhaps be considered as time mispent to make some remarks upon
the drama as it exists amongst us, particularly with a view of classing under distinct heads the various styles of comedy, which have been exhibited on our stage. This purpose will be best accomplished by taking a brief survey of our principal authors, beginning from the remote age of Shakespeare. Tragedy is in it's nature more uniform than comedy, as it's object is passion rather than character, nor has the style adapted to it suffered much variation through a succession of ages. We might perhaps with much care and attention divide our tragedies into the sentimental or the pathetic, those remarkable for inspiring sorrow, or those where terror is the principal feeling of the audience, but still there is this grand distinction, that in tragedy the author is subservient to his subject, becoming tender or sublime according to characters and feelings already known and described, while in comedy, so extensive is his choice, the plot and the persons who figure in it, may be said to be equally his own, and he may manage both according to his own experience and fancy -Hence being more at ease in comedy than in tragedy, he marks out a style for himself decisively in the former, while in the latter he is probably a cold imitator, to be distinguished from his predecessors only by greater or less harmony of versification. The comic author has to do with the ever varying modifications and details of the feelings, as they actuate common men in every day's intercourse; the tragic author delineates them in the gross, as they are unchangeable, and as they make a durable and certain impression. Theinfrequency of their occurrence in the latter form only serves to mark them out the more strongly. In tragedy the rule of judging is derived from history, or a comparison with what has been already done, in comedy it is every man's own experience. The tragic and the comic paths terminate in the same point, but the latter branches out into a thousand byeways, some of which are seen and known by numbers, others by a few, others only by one, the former is a broad high road, so steep as to require much labour, and so elevated as to be visible to all men. The comic author may be compared to a man living upon his income, which he spends with moderation, but as whim or caprice actuate him; but the tragic author at once seizes upon the capital and lives for others more than himself. Splendor is his aim, and he can only be distinguished from those who have the same object in view, by exhibiting a greater or a less degree of it. The more violent and sublime emotions are not very numerous, and the tragic author, if he writes much, must aim at least to delineate all of them; the comic author has a field as wide as the infinite modifications of human character can supply. The tragic author becomes the creature of his employment, the comic author unrestrained pursues the original bent of his disposition. From these observations perhaps may be deduced the reason, why it would be difficult to ascribe any anonymous tragedy to it's author, or even to it's age, always excepting Shakespeare, while it would scarcely be possible to mistake in comedy the style of the times when Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger wrote, or to hesitate whether a certain play was Congreve's, or Steele's, or Foote's. It is chiefly then with a view of recommending a classification of our comedies that the following remarks are offered to the reader. At the same time I shall remember, that in these light pursuits as well as in graver and more weighty studies, there is not a more prolific source of error than the love of systém; and I doubt not, that after a perusal of these pages, many plays will occur, which cannot with propriety be marshalled under any of the heads I shall have proposed.
Of the merit of Shakespeare it is superfluous to speak. His plays in the public estimation still hold their superiority to those of any other writer, nor is it necessary to remind the reader of the judgment of Dryden, that he was prevented by errors of carelessness only from being the first of mankind; or of the labours of Pope and Johnson, who thought it honor enough to be his editors and commentators.
Johnson observes that Shakespeare's natural disposition led him to comedy. “In tragedy, continues this splendid and powerful critic, he often writes with great appearance of toil and study what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comic scenes he seems to produce without labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to be comic; but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. , In his tragic scenes there is always something wanting; but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases