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ON THE OLD
ENGLISH DRAMATICK WRITERS.
To DAVID GARRICK, Esq.
Glance of your Eye over the Advertisement of a new Pamphlet, addrefied to yourself, you are apt to feel fome little Emotion ; that you beltow more than ordinary Attention on the Title, as it stands in the News-Paper, and take Notice of the Name of the Publisher.--- Is it Compliment or Abuse! --One of these being determined, you are perhaps eager to be satisfied, whether fome coarse Hand haslaid on Encomi. ums with a Trowel, or some more elegant Writer(such as the Author of The Actor for Inflance) bas done Credit to himself and you by his. Panegyrick; or, on the other Hand, whetherany offended Genius has employed those Talents against you, which he is ambitious of exercising in the Service of your Theatre; or fome common Scribehas taken your Character, as he would that of any other Man or Woman, or Minifter, or the King, if he durst, as a popular Topick of Scandal.
Be not alarmed on the present Occasion ; nor, with that Conscioufness of your own Merit, so natural to the Celebrated and eminent, indulge yourfelf in an Acquiescence with the Justice of ten thoufand fine Things, which you may suppose ready to
te faid to you. No private Satire or Panegyrick, but thie general Good of the Republick of Letters, and of the Drama in particular, is intended. Though Praise and Dilprailc ftand really on cach Side, like the Vefsels of Good and Evil on the Right and Leit Hand of Jupiter, I do not mean to dip into either: Or, if I do, it shall be, like the Pagan Godhead himself, to mingle a due Proportion of each. Sooretimnes, perhaps, I may fui Fauit, ani fometines bestow Commendation : But you must noi expect to hear of the Quickness of your Conceprion, the - Justice of your Execution, the Expreífion of your tye, the Harmony of your Voice, or the Variety and Excellency of your Deportment; nor ihall you be maliciously informed, that you are shorter than Barry, leaner than Quin, and less a l'avourite of .the. Upper Gallery than IV odward or Sputer.
The following pages are destined to contain a Vindication of the Works of Maljager, one of our old Dramatick Writers, who very feldon falls much beneath Shakespeare himself, and sometimes almoft rites to a proud Rivalship of his chiefet Excellencies. They are meant too as a laadable,
though faint, Attempt to rescue thee admirable „Pieces from the too general. Neglect which they now labour under, and to recommend them to the Notice of the Publick. To whom then can such ein Efiay be more properly inscribed than to you, when that Publick seems to have appointed, as its chief
Arbiter Deliciarum, to preside over the Amuenents of the Theatre?-But there is also, by the bye, a private Reason for addresing you. Your honelt Friend Davies, who, as is laid of the provident Comedian in Holland, spends his Hour of Vacation from the Theatre in his Shop, is too well acquainted with the Efficacy of your Name at the 'Top of a Piay-Bill, to ornit an Opportunity of prefixing it to a new Publication, hoping it may prove a Cbrın
to draw in Purchasers, like the Head of Shakespedra on his Sign... My Letter to being anonymous, your Name at che Head, will more than compensate for the Want of mine at the End of it. And our above-mentioned Friend is, no Doubt, too well versed in both this Occupations, not to know the Consequeniec of Secrecy in a Bookseller, as well as the Necessity of concealing from the Publick many Things that pass behind the Curtains on!!! "
There is perhaps no Country in the World more subordinate to the Power of Fashion than our own. Every Whim, every Word, every Vice, every Vir: tue, in its Turn becomes the Mode, and is followed with a certain Rage of Approbation for a Time. The favourite Stile in all the polite Arts, and the reigning Taste in Letters, are as notorioudy Objects of Caprice as Architecture and Dress. A new Poem, or Novel, or farce, are as inconsiderately extolled or decried as a Ruff or a Chinese Rail, a Hoop or a Bow Window. Hence it happens, that the publick Taste is often vitiated: Orif, by Chance, it has made a proper Choice, becomes partially attached, to one Species of Excellence, and remains dead to the Sense of all other Merit, however equal, or superior. 1 I think I may venture to assert, with a Confidence, that on Rellecion it will appears to be true, that the eminent Class of Writers, who flourished at the Ber. ginning of this Centurys have almost entirely superLeded their illustrious Predeceffarsair
. The Works of Congreve Vanbrugh, Steele, Addifone Pope, Swift, Gay, &c. &c, are the chief Study of the Million : say, of the Million ; for as to those few, who are not only familiar with all our own Authors, but are also con versant with the Ancients, they are not to be circumscribed by the narrow Liinits of the Fashion, Shakespeare and Milton fdem to stand alone, like fititrate Authors, amid the general Wreck of old Englise
Literaturel. Milton perhaps owes much of his prefont Fame to the generous Labours and good Tafte of Addifon. Shakespeare has been transmitted down to us with fucceffive Glories ; and you, Sir, have continued, or rather increased, his Reputation. You have, oin no fulsome Strain of Compliment; been stiled the Best Commentator on his Works : Bat have you not, like other Commentators, contracted a narrow, exclufive; Veneration of your Adihop? Has not nhe Contemplation of Shakespeare's Excellencies almost dazzled and extinguished your Judgement, when directed to other Objects, and made you blind to the Merit of his Cotemporaries? Under your Dominion, have not Beaumont and Flet. cher, nay even Jolmjon, fuffered a Kind of theatrical Difgrace? And has not poor Majlinger, whofe Cause I have now undertaken, been permitted to languish in Obscurity; and remained almost entirely unknown: * To this perbaps it may be plaufibly answered, nor indeed without some Foundation, that many of our old Plays, though they abound with Beauties, and are raised much above the humble Level of later Writers, are yet, on several Accounts, unfit to be exhibited on the modern Stage; that the Fable, instead of being raised on probable Incidents in real Life,ris generally built on some foreign Novels and attended with romancick Circumstances; that the Conduct of these extravagant Stories is frequently uncouth, and infinitely offensive to that dramatick Correctnefs prefcribed by låte Criticks, and practifed, as they pretend, by the French Writers; and that the Characters. exhibited in our old Plays, can have no pleasing Effect on a modern Audience, as they are fo totally different from the Manners of the prefent Age.
Thefe, and such as these, might once have appeared reasonable Objections : But you, Sir, of all
Perfons, can urge them with the least Grace, fince your Practice has so fully proved their Insufficiency. Your Experience must have taught you, that when a Piece has any striking Beauties, they will cover a Multitude of Inaccuracies į and that a Play need not be written on the feverest Plan, to please in the lepresentation. The Mind is foon familiarized to ir . regularities, which do not lin againil the Truth of Nature, but are merely Violations of that frict De. corum of late so earnestly inihed on.. What patient Spectators are we of the Inconfiftencies that conter
iedly prevail in our darling Shakesfeare! What critical Catcall ever proclaimed the Indecency of introducing the Stocks in the Tragedy of Lear. How quietly do we sve Glojier take his imaginary Leap from Dover Cliff! Or to give a fronger infance of Patience, with what a philosophical Caimnets do the Audience dofe over the tedious, and uninterefting, Love-Scenes, with which the bungling Hand of Tate has coarsely pieced and patched that sich Work of Shakespeare!-- Toinitance further from Shakespeare hiinfeli, the Grave-ciggers in Hamlet (not to men
tion Folonius) are not oniy, endured, but applauded; the very Nurse in Romeo and Juliet is allowed to be Nature; the Transactions of a whole History arc, without Offence, legun and compleated in less than three Hours ; and we are agrceably wasted by the Charus, or oftener without so much Ceremony, from one End of the World to another. . It is very true, that it was the general Practice of our old Writers, to found their l'ieces on some foreign Novel; and it seemed to be their chief Aim to take the Story, as it stood, with all its appendant incidents of every Complexion, and throw it into Scenes. This Method was, to be sure, rather inartificial, as it at once overloaded and einbarrailed the Fable, leaving it destitute of that beautiful dramatick Connection, which enables the Mind to take in ail