« PoprzedniaDalej »
SCENE THE ELYSIAN FIELDS.
COMICUS, TRAGICUS, and MIMUS.
Trag. (meeting Com.) WHEREFORE that sorrowful countenance? From your look and manner, I might suppose that you had assumed my character and office, or entirely thrown aside the sock.
Com. I have, indeed, attempted, on particular occasions, to wear the buskin, but the privilege is absolutely denied to me. At the present day, comedy is not permitted, even in a single instance, to "raise her voice," though nothing could be more becoming in her. All is buffoonery, pantomime, and show.
Trag. Alas! the unfortunate day! The example of Terence and the precepts of Horace are then of no avail ?
Com. The example of nature and the precepts of reason are equally disregarded by the mauvais plaisans of the times, who affect a contempt for every thing that is serious or instructive, when delivered from the stage.
Trag. That I already know; for my productions have long been banished from the scene; nor have all the trappings of the theatre, the gorgeous attire, the most splendid decorations, and all the common allurements to which they have recourse in order to please the eye, been able to gain me a hearing for many years. "Salutary woe," which might well awaken the finest affections of the soul, is mocked at, and treated with a ridicule, at once disgraceful to our nature and our name.
Com. Such a conduct were inexcusable, even had it been to make place for "useful mirth." But nothing
of the kind is now to be found; for folly has usurped the dominion we once enjoyed, and obtained an almost universal sway.
[Mimus overhearing them, comes forward. Mim. Ha! and are there then no ingenuous spirits remaining on the earth, who will boldly insist on the rights of personages who partake of the essence of superior natures, and who, in many instances, teach men more than philosophy herself?
Trag. Hey-dey! shall Mimus, the protector, and tutelary deity of buffoons and jesters, become a reprover of the ways of man? Is it Mimus, I ask, who would throw aside the mask of mummery, and plead in favour of nature and sense?
Mim. The same: he who, weary of the follies and fopperies of the world, would willingly forget them all, nay even himself, in the society of beings formed, as you undoubtedly are, to improve and refine the age.
Com. Indeed! is this spoken in the sincerity of your heart, or are you but using the language of your profession, and, by an ill-timed pleasantry, endeavouring to raise a laugh against us?
Trag. Mimus, we feel your triumph over us, and confess the public has given a countenance and support to your licentiousness, of which you may perhaps be vain; and yet it is hoped that you can be generous in your exalted state; that you can look without contempt on fallen greatness; and do not come Ito mock our miseries."
Mim. Hold! your expressions savour too much of the mockery and ridicule you would condemn in me: on my part, however, you have nothing to fear, for I am not here in my mimetic capacity.-But if I am the protector of the droll and the mimic, you should remember that the performances of the modern farces are very different from the atellanes of the Romans, and more so from the mimes of the Greeks. These, we are told, were rude and intemperate satires, particularly the latter, which often exhibited a ribaldry of the grossest kind. But
nothing of this sort is to be found in the farces of the present day, and, consequently, they lie not open to
Trag. If the writers, whom you at present inspirit, are not so licentious as those of ancient times, they are equally at variance with nature and truth,—they are equally heteroclite in the dramatic art: their offspring, it is true, can boast of sufficient life and motion; but the motion is, unfortunately, retrograde: their deviations are many; but, alas! they never deviate into
Mim. Both Comicus and yourself are too severe; you are much too partial to your particular provinces: I, you may perceive, am of a liberal mind, and can freely acknowledge not only your excellencies, but my own defects; but, while you are thus satirical, you should recollect that there are different kinds and degrees of merit; whatever is not superlatively good, is not by a necessary consequence bad: "Tous les genres sont bons," says the judicious Voltaire, "hors le genre ennuyeux;" and an admirable critic has farther observed: "Pour bien juger d'une production, il ne faut pas la rapporter à une autre production. Ce fut ainsi qu'un de nos premiers critiques se trompa." These remarks, my friends, are deserving of attention; keep them, I pray you, in remembrance, and fancy not that every perfection is centred in yourselves.
Com. And art thou really displeased at our freedom of speech? Canst thou expect a different language from the admirers of the theatrical sisters,-the heaven-born Melpomene and Thalia? Thou who art of a base and degenerate stock,-an usurper of the Muses' seat?
Mim. From sneering, I find, you would willingly proceed to invective: the name of usurper, however, belongs not to me; but, if my consequence with the
* Others to some faint meaning make pretence,-
people excites your envy, you should consider that it has not been forced: if I am placed "high on a gilded chair," and my situation is loftier than my actual merits entitle me to, you should remember that I have been called to it by the public voice, from whose decision there is no appeal.
Trag. True; too true: capricious, infatuated public! "O, thou fond many!" thinkest thou that I have forgotten the "loud applause" with which thou wert wont to receive me? The poet has truly said—
An habitation giddy and unsure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.
Mim. You should ever bear in mind, that, in the world of letters, republican rules can alone be admitted; that the place of honour must ever belong to merit,-which, by the way, I do not assume to myself.
Trag. Admitted: both Comicus and myself, then, may surely lay claim to places of honour, on the score of merit; for to any other claim, a very Zany can scarcely pretend.
Mim. Your merits I readily acknowledge, whatever you may deny to me; for, as I before took occasion to observe, I look up to you as my superior natures. With respect to myself, I have been led into some vaunting expressions by reason of the contemptuous language with which you have been pleased to greet me, but which I shall never be provoked to return.--Your merit, I acknowledge, is manifest-for you have severally excelled in your art,—but that of your followers I have yet to find.
Trag. Strange that you should thus plead against yourself: not a follower of Thalia, too, and an humble imitator of her enchanting art?
Mim. I follow not the higher comedy, and, therefore, cannot properly be called an imitator in Thalia's art : the business of the queen of smiles is not only to amuse, but to instruct; while mine, with a due attention to les bienséances, is merely to awaken mirth; sometimes,
I must own, by dint of absurdities,—at other times by the force of humour, and, it may be, by wit.
Com. You speak with ingenuousness and candour: but, if you so frequently please by absurdities, the pretender to comedy is equally happy; for such, according to the modern nomenclature, is the designation of certain performances intended to rival mine.
Tray. Nay, that the authors are comical you will scarcely deny this, their pantomime tricks, by the help of closets, screens, and trap-doors, together with the grimace and contortion of visage required of their actors, will sufficiently prove.-Risum teneatis?—But the object proposed by the writer is obtained, and that, we may conclude, is enough.
Com. Extravagance of manner may occasionally provoke to laughter as much as either genuine humour or wit; but that is rather the merit of the player than of the poet. I have known the house in a roar at the assumed awkwardness of two of the characters of a play, who, on quitting the stage, have jostled each other with such seeming violence as to be in danger of meeting with the same disaster as that of Mr. Bayes, who, you may remember, in showing his antics, unfortunately fell and broke his nose. But many will, no doubt, tell you, with that gentleman," these are the little things that set you off a play;" and, we must admit, that his original device of improving a scene by means of a "petticoat and a colic," is comparatively trifling with what has since been introduced on the stage.
Trag. This degeneracy among your pupils, joined to the vitiated taste of the age, must afflict you greatly; and I no longer wonder at the air of melancholy which so frequently overshadows your brow.
Mim. The genius of comedy will, no doubt, droop under unmerited and repeated slights; but the powers of genius will again be felt and acknowledged: the "ecstasies of mirth," and the "luxuries of grief," can never wholly pass away.