The Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets
CHARLES CÆSAR, Esq;
Bonnington in Hertfordshire.
- Honoured Sir,
I Have long had an Ambition to lay something at your Feet that might be worthy your Protection, but despairing to produce any thing my self deserving of that Honour, and impatient of making known how Proud I am of being in the Crowd of your Admirers, I cou'd not but lay hold of this Opportunity, where the Merit of the Subject, and Assistants I have had, might in some Measure attone for what is deficient in my Performance. I offer, Sir, to your Protection this History of the Lives and Works of all the Dramatick Poets of your Native Country, of which few Nations have produc'd so great a Number under so very little Encouragements. But to shew them, Sir, the more Worthy your Patronage, I shall lay down a short Account of what Value their Art has been, in the most Polite and Politick, as well as most successful Government in the World.
Athens, Rome, and France will furnish me with the Proofs I want. Athens gave Birth and Perfection to the Art, and seems, like the true Mother, to have been most fond of it, and therefore gave its professors the greatest Encouragement. The Value that Government had for both is evident from these two Instances: Sophocles, as a Reward of his Antigone, had the Government of the City and Island of Samos confer'd upon him: And on the Death of Eupolis in a Sea-Fight, there was a Law publish'd, that no Poet for the Future shou'd go to the Wars; so great a Loss they thought the Death of one Poet to the Commonwealth.
Thus we see that Athens that was the most Populous and Trading City of Greece, and which produc'd braver, better, and more learned Men than all Greece besides, prove, by the Encouragement she gave Dramatick Poetry, that it was the Opinion of the Wisdom of that State, that Plays were so far from being destructive of Industry and good Morals, that they were equally conducive to the Honour and Advantage of its People.
To say nothing of the Care that was taken of the Poets, and the Esteem they were in among the Greatest and Bravest of the Old Romans; I shall only mention the Great Mæcenas, who laid the Foundation of the greatest Monarchy that ever was in the World; who form'd as Great and Politick Designs, did as Great Services to his Prince as any Man whatever; and and who indeed establish'd the greatest Emperor over the most Free and Polite People in the Universe; Mæcenas I say, thought Poetry so worthy his peculiar Care, that we owe the best of the Roman Poets to him, and his Name is pass'd from a Proper to a Common Name for all Generous Patrons.
'Tis yet fresh in our Memories what that Master in Politicks, the great Richelieu has done for these Politer Studies in France. The Theatres, the Academy remain a glorious Monument of it; and yet no Man could have fled with a better Pretence to the Multiplicity of Affairs, no Man ever dispatching more Business, or forming more Successful, and Serviceable Designs for his Master's Advantage, and the present and succeeding Glory and Grandeur of France; for to his Counsels the French Monarchy owes all that Terror and Power, with which we have seen all Europe so lately struggle with: And yet this great and busy Polititian could find a time in spight of the Weight of the whole Administration of France, to take Care of the Muses, and thought it an Honour to himself and Country for the lasting Advantage of learned Men and Poets. He took Care of the Reformation of the Stage, and by his Order the Abbe Hedeline, compos'd a Piece of the whole Art of the Stage.
But our Nation, alas! Furnish'd with as brave a People, and a greater Genius for Poetry than our Neighbours, has never yet been so happy, as to find in the Administration, any Man with Soul enough, to think the Care of the Muses worth their Thoughts; and yet the World will never be induc'd to believe, that they are wiser or greater Politicians than Mæcenas or Richelieu.
This Neglect of their Science has forc'd the Poets, who had nothing to expect from the Government, to make the most Noble and useful School of Vertue, degenerate into a meer Diversion; that they might Please an Audience, whence they cou'd only hope for their Support. And this has laid the Stage open to the weak Assaults of those whom either Biggottry, Interest, or Hypocrisy have made its Enemies.
'Tis not therefore the supine and criminal Neglect of the Great Men (I mean the Ministers) of our Nation, that we are to form the Esteem that is due to this Science by; but the Care and value the most refin'd and most successful Polititians in the World have Discover'd for it; If the English States-Men come short of this, 'tis to be look'd on by all Men of true Sense, as their Defect and Infamy, not their Wisdom.
Wherefore, tho' the Publick has not yet thought fit to take this into its Consideration and Protection, yet I had reason to think a Man of Mr. Cæsar's Qualifications, cou'd not but be pleas'd to extend his Protection to those, whose Business it is to celebrate the Vertues that gain you the general Esteem. You that forsook the lower Pleasures of Fortune and Youth, for the Pursuit of Honour and Glory in the War; You, Sir, that in your Actions have shown the Hero, have a nearer Reason than other Men, to take care of the Poets, whose task it is to celebrate the Heroes Deeds, and to transmit them in their most engaging Form to Posterity, for their Honour and Imitation.
Carmen amat quisq; carmina digna gerit.
From you therefore I hope, Sir, a favourable Reception, when I shelter all our Dramatick Writers under the Protection of your Name; for in you we shall find a Manly, yet Modest Merit
Worthy at once, and negligent of Fame.
Wit without Opiniatreture; but balanc'd with a true and penetrating Judgment; Bravery which has nobly distinguish'd you from the Remisness of the Inglorious Youth of the Age, witness your Voluntary Campaigns in Flanders; a Generosity that gets you the Esteem of all Men, while the sordid are the Contempt and Laughter of Men of Sense.
I need be no farther particular in the Enumeration of your Vertues, since where ever Generosity goes justly to the making up of a Character, there can be no Vertue wanting. On this Vertue, Sir, it is that I depend for your Pardon for the Presumption of this Dedication, which I hope I shall gain with the greater ease, because I have kept clear of the Crime of Dedications, Flattery, having confin’d my self much within the Compass of severe Truth, and the Sentiments of, Sir,
Your most Devoted, Humble,
and Obedient Servant, &c.
I Do not trouble the Reader with this Preface because 'tis the Mode to say something before ev'ry Book; but because there is a Necessity of premising a Word or two as to the following Treatises, and the other Essays of this Nature, that have already been seen. I shall take no notice of Mr. Winstanley's or Mr. Phillips's, for one I never saw, and the other I could not read, and Mr. Langbain has discovered their Defects sufficient to justify his undertaking a more perfect Work; and which he indeed in the last Edition he has pretty near accomplish'd. I must own that his Undertaking has sav'd me a great deal of Trouble, but then he is every where so partial, that he destroys the Character of a Critick and Historian at once, whose Object ought always to be Truth; whereas Mr. Langbain seems every where to gratify some private Pique, and seldom to regard the Merit of the Person he reflects upon. This I have every where avoided, and distinguish'd betwixt the Desert and Defect of the Author. Mr. Langbain is farther generally mistaken in his Censures as a Critick, he seems to have known nothing of the Matter, to have had little or no Taste of Dramatick Poetry: and a Stranger to our Stage wou'd from his Recommendation make a very odd and ridiculous Collection of our English Plays. He often commends, Shirley, Heywood, &c. and will scarce allow Mr. Dryden a Poet; whereas the former have left us no Piece that bears any Proportion to the latter; the All for Love of Mr. Dryden, were it not for the false Moral, wou'd be a Masterpiece that few of the Ancients or Moderns ever equal'd; and Mr. Shirley, and Mr. Heywood have not left enough in all their Writings to compose one tolerable Play, according to the true Model and Design of a Play.
Mr. Langbain has in many of the Lives, swell'd them out with interlarding them with tedious Copies of Verses little to the purpose in Hand, which I was obliged to avoid for Two Reasons; First I design'd to give the Reader as compendious an Account of our Dramatick Writers as I cou'd, and so to bring my Book to an easier Price than Mr. Langbain's. And therefore I was, Secondly, forc'd to leave out all that was Superfluous: And this the rather, because I had several Lives and Remarks to add to this Edition, which he cou'd give no Account of, some of the Authors having appear'd since his time, and others, by the Advantage of the ingenious Mr. Ash's admirable Collection of English Plays, I have met with, which he never saw; all which has render'd this more Perfect in its Kind than his cou'd be: besides, writing after him, I have endeavoured to avoid his Faults, and preserve his Beauties.
Next I have to inform the Reader, that the following Piece is not writ all by one Hand, as will, I believe, be perceived in the Reading. And lastly, I find on the perusal of it, something in the Book, which I must differ from in the Preface, and that is in the Account of Mr. Oldmixon's Amintas, where 'tis remark'd, that Pastoral is a Modern Invention, when in reality, the Ancients had a sort of Dramatick Performance not unlike it, that is, their Satyrs, which might be said to be something of a nature with our Pastoral; but if we may guess at what is lost by what remains of that kind, it was also something different. In the Cyclops of Euripides, we find the Shepherds were the major part of the Dramatis Personæ; for such was Polyphemus, Silenus, and the Chorus: But the Character of Ulysses hightned the Play, and gives a greater Force to the Passions; 'tis not the Love of Polyphemus, but his Cruelty we see; and the Dexterity and Wisdom of Ulysses. Of this sort of Poem, Mr. Dacier in his Preface to the Satyrs of Horace, will give you something a fuller Account. And as this takes its Rise from Antiquity, so Farce, in some Measure, may derive it self from the Pantomimi; at least that sort of Farce which the Italian Players in Paris us'd to act; tho' the Mimi and the Pantomimi were esteem'd for their admirable Expression of Nature in Action and Dancing; but our Farce is something beyond Nature, and Extravagant to a Degree of Nauseousness, to all good judges.
I have lately read Mr. Congreve's Love for Love over, and am of Opinion, that the Contrivance of the Marriage of Tattle and Mrs. Frail is highly probable, tho' the Reflections on that Play do seem not to admit it as absolutely so.
Lastly, I have to advertise the Reader, that on the Perusal of the last Sheets of this Book, I found that in the Remark on Beauty in Distress, one of my Assistants has seem'd to imply, that the Author is more a Comick than Tragick Poet; I cannot agree with him, for I think 'tis an extraordinary Effort for the first Undertaking in Tragedy, in which most have fail'd in their first Attempt: I say this, least any thing my Friend said, should seem a lessening of that Performance of the Author, which he assures me he never meant.
PAge 3. Line 12. put the Comma after she. p. 9. l. 7. for is read are. p. 16. l. 18. read Antiquary. p. 22. l. 40. for Nor read And. p. 39. l. 22. for Account read Action. l. 27. dele e. p. 41. l. 16. read Albianus. p. 45. l. ult. for first read last. p. 47. l. 20. read Lollius. p. 51. l. 3. read Victrix. l. 11. read Vandosme. l. 17 dele fairer. l. 33. dele Cinic. p. 90. l. 36. for adding read Address. p. 102. for Three read Four. p. 175. l. 3. read proboq;