Abbildungen der Seite

much; who think it a sign of weakness and stupidity to let any thing pass by them unattacked, and that the honor of their judgments (as some brutals imagine of their courage) consists in quarrelling with every thing. We are therefore wonderful wise men, and have a fine business of it, we who spend our time in poetry. I do sometimes laugh, and am often angry with myself when I think on it; and if I had a son inclined by nature to the same folly, I believe I should bind him from it by the strictest conjurations of a paternal blessing. For what can be more ridiculous, than to labour to give men delight, whilst they labour on their part more earnestly to take offence. To expose oneself voluntarily and frankly to all the dangers of that narrow passage to unprofitable fame, which is defended by rudemultitudes of the ignorant and armed troops of the malicious. If we do ill, many discover it, and all despise us; if we do well, but few men find it out and fewer entertain it kindly. If we commit errors, there is no pardon, if we could do wonders, there would be but little thanks, and that too extorted from unwilling givers.” It would be difficult, and not very useful, to examine the motives of an audience on the

night of a new play. They are no doubt sufficiently mixed, yet it must surely be confessed, that he who solicits a trial should bear the verdict with patience; and that those who pay their money upon your promise to amuse them, should be permitted to express their disappointment, particularly when without such an expression, they would have to dread a repetition. The remainder of the passage is the cant of a poetical coquette. The author evidently quarrels with his favorite art, through the abundance of his love for it. For myself, at least, had I a friend inclined to this pursuit, (I speak of poetry in general, including the dramatic, which is next to the epic in dignity, and superior to it in. utility) I would exhort him to encourage

it by all the means in his power, as softening the stiffened lines of a well regulated mind, by a pure, cheap, and independent amusement ; and affording the best consolation in those reverses which wait upon less fortunate tempers. If poets have been sometimes exposed to all the calamities of dissipation and error, it is not because they were poets, but because their passions were uncontrolable or their pursuits mean, and however we


be inclined to despise or detest those who had it in their power to succour them without great inconvenience to themselves, and yet forebore the exercise of the most liberal of the feelings, yet it cannot be expected, that in their behalf every moral law should be suspended, that error should have no failure and vice no sting. At the same time let us separate the man from his art, in order that a noble employment may suffer no degradation. If Tasso was a prisoner and in poverty, his inisfortunes are not to be ascribed to his “ Jerusalem Delivered," but to his servile attendance and sycophancy on a court. We lament over his calamities, but had he abounded in wealth or married the daughter of his patron, we should scarcely have rejoiced in a felicity, which would have rewarded the degradation of such uncommon talents. Otway would have died of hunger, if he had not written the “ Venice Preserved;" with this difference, that his life would have been far more wretched, and his death unlamented. It was not " The Cotter's Saturday Night,” or “ The Vision,” that condemned Burns to an untimely grave-it was the force of the passions, which are usually soften

ed rather than enflamed by the labours of the imagination. The profligate may endeavour to shelter themselves from disgrace by the example of men, whose unquestionable talents were accompanied with the most unfortunate irregularities of conduct; and may even dare to extend into a general rule, what is in truth a most unfounded palliation of themselves, but maturer reflexion must force upon them the conviction, that genius is darkened, not inspired, by the influence of the passions ; and they will recollect that Virgil and Milton sufficiently prove how entirely compatible the highest efforts of poetry are, even with the polish of a court, or the wide, various, and dignified utility of office. If the path of the poet is narrow and sometimes perilous, the reward of his success is proportionably glorious and lasting. If the poet often encourages a delicacy of feeling which renders him too sensitive to the approbation or disapprobation of the world, in his moments of weariness, when the balance is undecided, in the hour of his distress, when the storm bursts upon him, he has a proud, unbought, independent, magnificent resource, which

checks his disappointment and supports his benevolence; which, considered in itself and without any reference to applause or censure, is it's own great incalculable reward.


« ZurückWeiter »