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muscular motion: not less intimately acquainted with emotions and characters ought a writer to be, in order to represent the various attitudes of the inind. A general notion of the passions, in their grosser differences of strong and weak, elevated and humble, severe and gay, is far from being sufficient : pictures formed fo fuperficially have little resemblance, and no expreffion; and
1 yet it will appear by and by, that in many instances our reputed masters are deficient even in this superficial knowledge.
In handling the present subject, it would be endless to trace even the ordinary passions through their nice and minute differences. Mine shall be an humbler task; which is, to select from the best writers instances of faulty sentiments, after paving the way by some general observations.
To talk in the language of music, each passion hath a certain tone, to which every sentiment proceeding from it ought to be tuned with the greatest accuracy ; which is no easy work, espe. cially where such harmony ought to be supported during the course of a long theatrical representation. In order to reach such delicacy of execution, it is necessary that a writer assume the precise character and passion of the personage represented; which requires an uncommon genius. But it is the only difficulty ; for the writer, who, annihilating himself, can thus become another perfon, need be in no pain about the sentiments that belong to the assumed character : these will
flow without the least study, or even preconception; and will frequently be 'as delightfully new to himself as afterward to his reader. But if a lively picture even of a single emotion, require an effort of genius; how much greater an effort must it require, to compose a passionate dialogue with as many different tones of passion as there are speakers ? With what ductility of feeling must that writer be endued, who approaches perfection in such a work; when it is necessary to assume different and even opposite characters and pafsions, in the quickest fucceffion? And yet this work, difficult as it is, yields to that of composing a dialogue in genteel comedy, exhibiting characters without passion. The reason is, that the different tones of character are more delicate, and less in fight, than those of passion : and, ac, cordingly, many writers who have no genius for drawing characters, make a shift to represent, tolerably well, an orjinary passion in its simple inovements. But of all works of this kind, what is truly the most difficult, is a characteristical dialogue upon any philosophical subject : to interweave characters with reasoning, by suiting to the character of each speaker, a peculiarity not only of thought but of expression, requires the perfection of genius, taste, and judgment.
How hard dialogue-writing is, will be evident, even without reasoning, from the miserable compositions of that kind found without number in all languages. The art of mimicking any singularity in gesture or in voice, is a rare talent; though directed by sight and hearing, the acutest and most lively of our external senses : how inuch more rare must the talent be, of imitating characters and internal emotions, tracing all their different tints, and representing them in a lively manner by natural sentiments properly expressed? The truth is, such execution is too delicate for an ordinary genius; and for that reason, the bulk of writers, instead of expressing a passion as one does who feels it, content themselves with describing it in the language of a spectator. To awake passion by an internal effort merely, without any external cause, requires great sensibility: and yet this operation is necessary, not less to the writer than to the actor ; because none but those who actually feel a passion, can represent it to the life. The writer's part is the more complicated : he must add composition to passion; and must, in the quickest succession, adopt every different character. But a very humble flight of imagination, may serve to convert a writer into a spectator; so as to figure, in some obscure manner, an action as passing in his fight and hearing. In this figured situation, being led naturally to write like a spectator, he entertains his readers with his. own reflections, with cool description, and florid declamation; instead of making them eyewitnesses, as it were, to a real event, and to e
„very movement of genuine passion *. Ti us the bulk of our plays appear all to be cast in the same mould; personages without character, the mere outlines of paflion, a tiresome monotony, and a pompous declamatory style t.
t This descriptive manner of representing paffion, is a very cold entertainment : our fympathy is not raised by description; we must first be lulled into a dream of reality, and every thing must appear as passing in our sight I. Unhappy is the player of genius who acts a capital part in what may be termed a descriptive tragedy: after assuming the very passion that is to be represented, how must he be cramped in action, when he must utter, not the sentiments of the passion he feels, but a cold description in the language of a
* In the Æneid, the hero is made to describe himself in the following words : Sum pius Eneas, fama super æthera notus. Vir. gil could never have been guilty of an impropriety fo gross, had he assumed the personage of his hero, instead of uttering the senti ments of a spectator. Nor would Xenophon have made the following speech for Cyrus the younger, to his Grecian auxiliaries, whom he was leading against his brother Artaxerxes, “ I have
“ “ chosen you, O Greeks! my auxiliaries, not to enlarge my ar
my, for I have Barbarians without number; but because you “ surpass all the Barbarians in valour and military discipline.” This sentiment is Xenophon's; for surely Cyrus did not reckon his countrymen Barbarians.
+ Chiez Racine tout est sentiment; il a su faire parler chacun pour soi, et c'est en cela qu'il est vraiment unique parmi les auteurs dramatiques de la nation.
Rouflean. | See chap. 2. part 1. fcct. 6.
by-stander! It is this imperfection, I am persuaded, in the bulk of our plays, that confines our stage almost entirely to Shakespear, notwithstanding his many irregularities. In our late English tragedies, we sometimes find sentiments tolerably well adapted to a plain passion: but we must not, in any of them, expect a sentiment expressive of character; and, upon that very account, our late performances of the dramatic kind, are for the most part intolerably infipid.
Looking back upon what is said, I am in fome apprehension of not being perfectly understood; for it is not easy to avoid obscurity in handling a matter fo complicated: but I promise to set it in the clearest light, by adding example to precept. The first examples shall be of sentiments that appear the legitimate offspring of passion; to which shall be opposed what are descriptive only, and illegitimate: and in making this comparison, I borrow my instances from Shakespear and Corneille, who for genius in dramatic composition stand uppermost in the rolls of fame.
Shakespear ihall furnish the first example, being of sentiments dictated by a violent and perturbed passion :
Filial ingratitude !
In such a night,