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Com. The "joy of grief" I can readily conceive; and the true disciple of Melpomene must know it. "Laughter, holding both his sides," is now very rarely to be seen in the genuine productions of my school: for true humour, I must observe to you, is ever without vulgar grimace, while it excites in its auditors merriment. That, therefore, which is excessive, belongs, I repeat, to an inferior province of the drama; not that I would, at any time, affect the serious manners, or the studied sententiousness, of a Fontenelle, a Diderot, or a La Chaussée; but still it is my particular desire to maintain a suitable dignity in the sight of the world; and, while I am contributing to the pleasures of the public, I would not forget that it is the business of the dramatist
To set before 'em
A grace, a manner, a decorum.
Trag. This, indeed, is the real character and the distinguishing excellence of comedy,—but of which the common laughers in our theatres appear not to have the smallest idea. Low humour, and which, as you have well observed, should be peculiar to farce, was the great failing of the otherwise judicious Jonson: this, too, was the vice of Molière, the first comic poet among the French; he, however, will always be admired; but had the judgment and manners of Cæcilius, Afranius,* Terence, been united with his humorous talent, what an inimitable writer would he have been!
Mim. True: but these opposite perfections are very rarely to be found in one and the same writer. The ancients, whom you instance, on account of urbanity of manners, were wholly deficient in humour;—the true vis comica was utterly unknown to them all; even Aristophanes is more of a satirist than a comic poet. Smart and delicate raillery, too, has been entirely reserved for (comparatively speaking) modern times: I speak not altogether of the present day.
* This is advanced of these two writers on the authority of Cicero and Quinctilian,
Com. This true vis comica, this fine and delicate raillery, however, is not to be considered as a positive excellence or defect in either class. In earlier ages, the greater uniformity of the human character must necessarily occasion a kind of monotony in writers for the stage: the absence of humour, therefore, in their productions is not to be considered as a defect; neither, ast I have before observed, is the frequent recurrence of it, in our modern poets, to be held as real excellence,— luxury and refinement have principally produced it; these have long been in a progressive state, and may now be said to have attained to their utmost height. But sterling humour is now seldom to be found, it has lost its brilliancy, its naturalness-if I may apply such a phrase to the creations of Shakspeare.
Trag. The current of genius is not, however, wholly dry spectacles, pantomimes, and all these raree-shows of folly, are but the weeds that for a time impede its course: another age may remove these obstacles, and the stream again flow on, in its own deep melody, rippling and murmuring as of old. They who have so long sipped of the sluggish waters of the marsh, will then slake their thirst in the "well of English undefiled."
SCENE THE ELYSIAN FIELDS.
MERCHANT and SOLDIER.
Merch. So, then, you are at length returned unhurt from the dreadful field of Mars: let me congratulate you on your escape; let me rejoice with you on leaving the earth, with all its tumults, battle, bloodshed, and ambition.
Sold. You hold entirely the language of the peacemaker, and seem to have forgotten that I had no other employment but war.
Merch. And a terrible employment it is: "Bella! horrida bella!" exclaims the poet; but it is not the peaceful man alone who shrinks from the horrors of war, the sensation is common even to the soldier.
Sold. I always thought that glory was his great pursuit, the prize for which he so earnestly contended.
Merch. You understand not the military character aright; the most distinguished commanders of ancient times (the moderns, by the way, are absolute children in the science of arms), the greatest captains, have actually "wept at sight of a battalia," when they have viewed an army drawn up and ready for the fight.
Sold. How, say you, the moderns absolute children in the science of arms? this is a point which many will be inclined to dispute with you, and stoutly. Have you, then, forgotten the conqueror of Europe, the Charlemagne of the nineteenth century, he who is distinguished by the splendid titles of the great, the pious, the beneficent, and the just? the glorious conqueror, who
Merch. Prostituted titles!" Ill-weaved ambition" is every way undeserving of them. The dictator, to whom you allude, may rank, indeed, in the class of "heroes," "men," as is observed by a celebrated writer, "who can never enjoy quiet themselves until they have taken it from all the world." Engaged in battle, it is glorious to become the conqueror; but still humanity cries out loudly against an ignis fatuus which leads to the destruction of our kind.
Sold. You are of opinion, then, that there is no true glory to be derived from the exercise of war.
Merch. Unquestionably none, when prompted to it by the love of power, the hope of conquest, or the desire of revenge. An excellent moralist has said," The peace of the world is interrupted at one time by the
caprice of a tyrant, at another by the rage of the conqueror: the memory is stored only with vicissitudes of evil, and the happiness, such as it is, of one part of mankind is found to arise commonly from sanguinary success; -from victories which confer upon them the power, not so much of improving life by any new enjoyment as of inflicting misery on others, and gratifying their own pride by comparative greatness." Thus speaks Samuel Johnson, and so will ever speak the friend of man.— The greatness, however, which here is hinted at may be made a question: remember the ethical poet :
Look next on greatness; say where greatness lies;
Heroes are much the same, the point 's agreed,
Another poet also seems to have a just idea of real greatness:
Let high birth triumph; what can be more great?
Nothing, but merit in a low estate.
But to return to our theme:
"There are but two kinds
of just wars," says the president Montesquieu; which is waged to repel the attack of an enemy, and the other to succour an ally who is attacked."
Sold. It is, no doubt, highly proper that we should distinguish between the defensive war and the war of ambition; as also between that in which a nation may be interested, and the more frequent one occasioned by the disputes of princes,—which too often arise from some trivial grievance or point of honour; and which it would be more to the honour of either party, when the havoc made by war is considered, to pass without notice.
Merch. What painful reflections and miserable sensations must the page of history awaken in us, when we learn that, from the war of Troy to the beginning of the eighteenth century, there have fallen in battle five hundred and fifty-five millions, six hundred and fifty thousand men, to whom may be added women and
children, who have been destroyed in prodigious numbers by the sacking and burning of cities. How terrible is the retrospect! and when the motives, which so frequently urge to the destruction of our fellows are duly weighed and reflected on, the religionist, the philosopher, and the virtuous of every description, are astonished at the so easy perversion of our nature; and, were it not absolute impiety, we might, sometimes, be tempted to question the wisdom of the Deity, in bestowing the reasoning faculty on an animal, who, while he is styled human, shows himself, in many instances, inferior to the brute. A celebrated writer thus expresses himself on the incentives to war: "He asked me what were the usual causes or motives that made one country go to war with another; I answered, they were innumerable: sometimes the ambition of princes, who never think they have land or people enough to govern; sometimes the corruption of ministers, who engage their master in a war, in order to stifle or divert the clamour of the subjects against their evil administration; sometimes the quarrel between two princes is to decide which of them shall dispossess a third of his dominions, where neither of them pretend to any right; sometimes one prince quarrelleth with another for fear the other should quarrel with him; sometimes a war is entered upon because the enemy is too strong, and sometimes because he is too weak.—It is a very justifiable cause of war to invade a country after the people have been wasted by famine, destroyed by pestilence, or embroiled by factions among themselves: if a prince sends forces into a nation, where the people are poor and ignorant, he may lawfully put half of them to death, and make slaves of the rest, in order to civilize and reduce them from their barbarous way of living. It is a very kingly, honourable, and frequent practice, when one prince desires the assistance of another to secure him against an invasion, that the assistant, when he hath driven out the invader, should seize on the dominions himself, and