INTRODUCED by a comparative and comprehensive review of the ASIATIC, the GRECIAN, the ROMAN, the SPANISH, the ITA­LIAN, the PORTUGESE, the GERMAN, the FRENCH, and OTHER THEATRES, and involving BIOGRAPHICAL TRACTS and ANECDOTES, instructive and amusing, concerning a prodi­gious number of AUTHORS, COMPOSERS, PAINTERS, ACTORS, SINGERS, and PATRONS of DRAMATIC PRODUCTIONS in all countries.

The whole written, with the assistance of interesting documents, col­lected in the course of five and thirty years, by MR. DIBDIN.




IN addition to the source of materials whence I derive this work, which were before large, complicate, and redundant; I have been, and no doubt shall continue to be, favoured with much anonymous and other advice, manifestly the result of either curiosity, or malignity, or else kindness.

As I mean to do my duty faithfully, firmly, and honestly; I do not, of course, set out with an expectation of pleasing every body, a task which would reflect no great reputation on him who should accomplish it. As I hold myself, however, responsible for the validity of those motives which may induce me to broach my opi­nions; I shall, after I have gone through the whole body of evidence, sum up, in the nature of a charge to a jury, all those collateral points which may have go­verned my conduct throughout the whole of this un­dertaking.

To an address of this kind which I shall place at the head of this history, by way of preface, I refer all those who have appeared, in any respect, to be solicitous about me or my work, taking, till then, a privilege to myself to postpone any public notice of their favours.

[Page ii]This, declaration, however, has nothing to do with the warm and zealous exertions of those whose kind­ness and attention have so largely swelled my subscrip­tion. I beg, even at this early period, they will accept my most sincere acknowledgements, as an earnest of that notice of their friendship which I shall consider myself under an obligation to take when to the last number will be added the names of the subscribers, the preface I have alluded to, and a dedication, by permission, to that nobleman under whose generous auspices and un­exampled liberality I have so often had the advantage and distinction of submitting my labours to the candour and indulgence of the public.




THREE questions suggest themselves on a consi­deration of this undertaking:

Whether the subject it treats be of sufficient moment, the characters it celebrates of sufficient im­portance, and the events it relates of sufficient authenticity to interest the public. To which may be added, by way of a fourth proposition—Whether, even should these points be incontrovertably made out, it can create interest to such a degree as es­sentially to serve the purposes of truth and morality.

Of this field for enquiry, over which I mean to [Page 2] go at large in my preface, I shall, at present content myself with taking a cursory review.

If of all the arts of imitation the most seducing, the most ingenious, the most expanded, and the most esteemed, that depicts nature by presenting man to man, and face to face; that teaches us to be friends, brothers, husbands, and fathers; that ac­celerates the progress of our ideas, perfects our rea­son and our sensibility, and induces us to blush at vice, and cherish virtue. If the stage exhibits this art, then is it of sufficient moment to interest the public.

The stage, to which denomination I shall beg to reduce all secular spectacles intended to inculcate morality, has maintained a commanding situation at all times, and in all countries. Of this religion has furnished us with many examples, mythology with more. Indeed, as mythology is no other than al­legorical religion, so are the doctrines promulgated from the stage allegorical morality; to which priests have ever and wisely lent their countenance and protection. Altars have been more thronged through the winning medium of poetry, music, and dancing, than through the attraction of religious or moral duty. Out of fiction springs truth. It is in human nature to love entreaties rather than commands, and [Page 3] that argument is the surest to prevail that awakens our pleasure while it conciliates our interest.

The most delightful fountain is the same by night as by day. Its waters are as pure, as clear, and as delicious; but, though necessity may, induce us to have recourse to it in the night, it is in the day alone that the draft is sweetened, through the medium of contemplation, by an idea of that heaven which is so beautifully reflects. So did man wander in a chaos of truth till the light of science taught him how to distinguish its beauty.

To the second proposition I shall answer, that if poets, warriours, philosophers, and legislators, if those who have united in themselves those various cha­racters, if all the promoters and protectors of the imitative arts, whose exertions have so nobly con­tributed to civilize the world, together with those men so peculiarly gifted by nature, as to command the passions of their auditors, to compel bursts of laughter, force torrents of tears, and so to transfuse the workings of their own sensibility into their hearers as to raise pity, excite terror, and inspire delight. If the stage exhibits these characters, then is it of sufficient importance to interest the public.

Tis little to say that the greatest men, both as to [Page 4] power and talents, that ever lived, have countenanced the stage. The greatest men, in different coun­tries, and in different times, have been not only au­thors and actors, but even dancers. Those great writers, AESCHYLUS and SOPHOCLES, were states­men and warriours. They wrote for their country, and combated for it; and the same hand that, to serve the cause of morality, held the pen; in the cause of GREECE, held the sword. The Seven Chiefs, before Thebes of AESCHYLUS, was said to inspire his audi­tors with all the fury of battle, and they compli­mented him with saying, that though AESCHYLUS wrote the piece, it was dictated by MARS.

This work will adduce a multitude of proofs to make out these assertions. In the mean time let us consider for a moment the real worth and value of a dramatic writer. To be at all a writer, of any eminence, is a proud distinction; men of letters, the bent of whose genius is worthily conducted, who form the public taste, who expose the de­formity of vice, and inculcate the true principles of virtue, merit from their fellow citizens the most honourable consideration; but a dramatic writer, he who puts speculative truth into action, who com­mands our richest faculties, who pervades the re­cesses of reason, who opens the treasures of the heart, excites its pity, and its commiseration, and [Page 5] teaches us to be men, and to be virtuous; to ac­quire this art, is to attain the noblest privilege of human nature.

The dramatic art is the most precious inherit­ance bequeathed us by the ancients. A dramatic poet is an honour to his fellow creatures. Let us see why the profession of an actor should be in­volved in unmerited obloquy; and why a man, who delights and instructs us in his counterfeit cha­racter, should be an object of indiscriminate re­proach in his real character.

It is extremely difficult to conceive upon what principle, or from what circumstance this unworthy prejudice took its rise. Is it that actors are men of stronger intellectual power and intelligence than the common herd of mankind? No. Individuals may be envious, the public are always generous. Is it that because actors are paid to amuse and instruct the world they ought to be considered as purchased slaves of the will? No. Barristers, par­sons, and senators, are treated with respect.

What is the cause? That an actor is the main spring of the dramatic art it is impossible to deny. Vainly shall the poet paint a faithful portrait of men and manners; his labour shall remain a lifeless lump [Page 6] till it receive a promethean touch from the fire of the actor. Nay, in this the public seem to ac­quiesce; for the last instrument, through the me­dium of which they immediately receive their plea­sures, will ever be more considered as the intimate and welcome object of their commendation than the author, to whose person they are perfect strangers, and to whose merits they would have remained so but for the actor.

ROSCIUS is said to have given a most perfect idea of all the impassioned variety contained in the celebrated orations of CICERO without uttering a word. What perfect materials then must have com­posed the extraordinary mind of this wonderful man. But how shall we have to admire the strength of his head, and the goodness of his heart, if we believe CICERO himself, who tells us that ROSCIUS not only knew how to disseminate virtue among his auditors better than any other man, but was more correct in his practice of virtue in private life.

I know it may be opposed to me that actresses, in all ages, have made terrible savages among the hearts of the spectators, and that the oeconomy of many families has been too often deranged by the influence of their charms. Women, ornamented prosessedly with an intention to captivate, will ever [Page 7] improperly attract the notice of the young and the irregular. The graces of beauty and talents, en­hanced by the inticements of dress, naturally beget admiration and pleasure, and too many husbands and fathers have certainly sacrificed their wives and children at this shrine of voluptuousness. Nay, I am afraid, the scene has been, in some instances, reversed; and that the actor, while recommending constancy and honour from the stage, has raised sen­sations, throughout the boxes, not perfectly consist­ent with virtue in the breasts of the matron and the vessal.

But admitting this argument in its fullest extent, why is this remarked in particular of actors and ac­tresses? I answer, because of the publicity of their situation. Were the private conduct of individuals in all other stations as well known, the world would be found to be a universal theatre no less in its particular then in its general manners. But there every irregularity is as much as possible hushed up or glossed over; and, but for the intervention now and then of Westminster Hall and Doctor's Com­mons, the great who look down on the stage would be considered as irreproachable and exemplary characters.

As to the Bar; as there certainly have been [Page 8] instances in the private conduct of its members of rapacity and, I am afraid, dishonour; it is not to be supposed that individuals, for I contend for no more, have been remarkable for a superior degree of propriety, in their families and connections, than their neighbours; and of the Pulpit I shall only say, that churches are notoriously places of assignation, and that three-fourths of those unhappy wretches, who have been driven to prostitution by the arts of some young rake, or, perhaps, the overbearing landlord of their fathers, always begin the wretched story of their misfortunes, by telling you that they are clergymens daughters.

I could go a great way into this, but that it would be foreign to my present purpose, and I shall have most powerful occasion to illustrate this point hereafter. I shall, therefore, only observe, that an object, however perfect, when placed upon a pina­cle, will appear to the purblind view of general ob­servation to have many deformities, while the most rickety piece of real deformity shall halt through the croud without attracting particular notice. In­dividuals, of all professions, deserve reprehension, actors as well as others. Are all professions, there­fore, to be stigmatized much less the profession of an actor exclusively? The idea is revolting, unworthy, and unjust. Perfection is not the lot [Page 9] of human nature. Let not any part of the public, therefore, become obnoxious to censure by acting a perpetual solecism themselves in decrying those with their tongues whom it is their greatest pleasure to applaud with their hands.

As to the third proposition I stand nearly upon the same ground with other historians; and I can freely answer, that, if credit may be given to the various authors who have admitted the merit, and pointed out the beauties of the ancient and modern dramatic poets; who, by relating the events of states and empires, have necessarily involved in their nar­rations a history of those arts which have forwarded the great work of civilization; if the fidelity with which men more correctly speak of what interests the imagination than what merely relates to their affairs, which is remarkably apparent in whatever can be collected of the theatres; if these can be re­lied on, then are the events contained in this history of sufficient authority to interest the public.

I am not to learn the prodigious difficulty of pronouncing any thing to be true; or, with what diffidence and caution men ought to explore the labrynth of events, which cannot be known to him but through the clue of the historian, often misled, and generally partial. Vague tradition may be true: apparent demonstration may be falible.

[Page 10]A biographer of Sir WALTER RALEIGH in­forms us, that when he had nearly finished the se­cond volume of his History of the World, being then a prisoner in the Tower, his attention was attracted by a dispute between an officer and a private cen­tinel under his window. It appeared to him that the officer had improperly treated the poor soldier, and that the man had, with equal firmness and mo­desty, remonstrared against the oppression. A mob crouded about the disputants, and this was all he could collect of the affair.

A friend soon afterwards came to visit him, to whom he related what he thought he had witnessed. It turned out, however, that this friend had not only been present at the dispute but a mediator in it, and had been, therefore, perfectly competent to ascer­tain exactly the fact; which was, that the soldier had behaved very ill, and that the officer, in consi­deration of a proper concession, had, with great manliness and forbearance, forgiven him, when he might, consistently with his duty, have punished him.

Having heard his friend patiently out, Sir WAL­TER, with great coolness and determination, is said to have seized the different papers which composed his work and thrown them behind the fire, ex­claiming; ‘"How should I dare to avouch the au­thenticity [Page 11] of facts which are supposed to have passed at such distant times, and in such remote parts of the world, when those in a common occurrence that passes under my window, are directly opposite to my comprehension of them."’

This circumstance is indeed doubted, for we are told by another writer, that Sir WALTER burnt the second volume of his work because the first sold so slowly as to ruin his bookseller; and we are told, by himself, that this second and a third volume were only in preparation, but, as it is admitted on all sides, that the materials for such a work existed but were destroyed, this chain of circumstances concur to render the above relation probable. Be it, there­fore, literally or virtually fact, it would be a lamen­table thing that every author should be actuated by the same delicate scruples. It would go to the anihilation of enquiry, and facts themselves, how­ever supported, would be supposed never to have existed. I own that circumstances, universally ad­mitted, have been differently attributed; but are we to infer from this that these circumstances never oc­curred at all? Seven towns are said to comend for the birth of HOMER. Are we, therefore, to believe that there was no such person as HOMER. Indeed this last has been strongly insisted on. The Fables of AESOP have been attributed to HOMER, to SO­CRATES, [Page 12] and even to SOLOMON. This does not prove they were not written, for by some means or other we are in possession of them, and a most won­derful work they are.

In these situations what are we to do? Since the certainty is so difficult to come at, we are to take the probability; which, in the business of AESOP, appears to be this: Fable was a poeticle vehicle at the time of HOMER and HESIOD; and, no doubt, was used by them; but AESOP, having perfected what others began, is considered as the Father of Fable, just as AESCHYLUS is called the Father of Tragedy.

It is not, therefore, that because the leading fea­tures of facts are difficult to ascertain, that facts themselves are actually to be rejected. The germ of truth seems to be planted in the minds of all in­tellectual beings; and, though uncertain history, and more uncertain tradition, may have involved great events in doubt and contradiction, yet, that very doubt, and that very contradiction, have often gone to establish unanswerable confirmation that those events did exist.

How very similar is the war of the giants with the gods, to the war of the malignant angels with [Page 13] the good. How remarkable is the resemblance of Deucalion and Pyrrha, to Noah and the Flood. So the universal admiration of a SUPREME BEING, ac­knowledged throughout creation even to the most ignorant idolaters—but the theme is endless; and, in the investigation of great truths, the wonder is not that falible human nature should err so much, but that it should err so little.

As to the auxiliary proposition, its existence is made out by establishing the three others; for, if the stage be a vehicle to instruct and amuse; if the primary and relative characters are of universal celebrity; if the truth of the events are virtually confirmed by as indisputable authority as the events of other histories: then the subject of this work is of sufficient moment, its characters of sufficient im­portance, and its facts of sufficient authenticity to interest the public; and, if, through this subject, these characters, and these facts, the sweetest emo­tions that penetrate the breast, are excited; if the dangerous passions of hate, envy, avarice, and pride, with all their inumerable train of attendant vices, are detected and exposed; if love, friendship, gra­titude, and all those active and generous virtues which warm and exalt the mind, are held up as ob­jects of emulation; if ignorance is scouted, genius [Page 14] encouraged, and a true polish set on that mirror which the wises men of all ages have selected as the most unerring vehicle to reflect the manners of mankind: then must this work create interest to such a degree as essentially to serve the purposes of truth and morality.


CHINA more than three thousand years ago cul­tivated that art which somewhat later contributed to the renown of GREECE. The early principle of the ancient drama was to present living portraits of the times and manners, to reprehend vice, and in­culcate morality and virtue, through the medium of action and dialogue. The drama, for a consi­derable time, was only held in honour throughout the vast country of CHINA, and the single town of ATHENS. ROME did not adopt it till four hundred years afterwards.

The tragedies represented by the Chinese were on moral subjects, supported by the examples of their heroes, and the maxims of their philosophers. The scenes and habits were prodigiously magnifi­cent: their pieces, however, had neither regularity, interest, nor probability. Angels and devils were indiscriminately introduced, and whatever could convey a mystic sense of moral duty was awkwardly enforced, no matter by what means. They had, [Page 16] however, performances of various kinds, calculated merely to entertain and surprise the spectators. An incredible number of extraordinary feats both of legerdemain and tumbling made up some of these, which they performed in so wonderful a manner, that if we credit the accounts we read, all we have ever seen of this species of amusement in EUROPE, cannot boast the smallest comparison of the most trifling of their tours in this way. These were per­formed, however, in still greater perfection by monkies and mice, the subtilties of which animals, it will easily be credited, have often made them pass for devils and sorcerers*.

We are told by different travellers, that, though the Persians and the Indians are said, to be the in­ventors [Page 17] of dramatic entertainments, owing, proba­bly, to their grotesque and fanciful dances, for which they are so famous, the Chinese claim an indis­putable right to be acknowledged as the original founders of this art, which, though the severity of their manners prevented them from authorizing, was exhibited at the palaces of their richest mandarines where regular theatres were fitted up.

On days of regaling it was the custom to invite friends and send for actors, who brought with them lists of such pieces as they were prepared to per­form. I have before me a history of one of those days of performance, which will shew, that though the Chinese never arrived to the regularity of the Greeks, at the time of AESCHYLUS, yet the drama, and all its best purposes, were as warmly felt then at CHINA as it was afterwards at Athens.

The piece, preceded by a prologue, was taking from history. An Emperor appeared sur­rounded by an admiring multitude on whom he had heaped benefits. His virtues became the subject of their eulogium, and they sometimes recited, and sometimes chanted orations to his praise.

This piece was followed by a farce full of in­trigue, but void of drift or regularity; and to their [Page 18] farce succeeded a pantomime, in which women, mounted on men's shoulders, went through a kind of exercise with fans following exactly the measure and movement of the music which accompanied them. Next came juglers with cups and balls, and then tumblers and posture masters; these were fol­lowed by a man who thrust a tube into the wall and drew from it twenty different liquors at the word of command; another threw three knives into the air, which he managed so dexterously as repeatedly to catch one of them by the handle while the other two were suspended.

They were after this entertained with conjurors, who came in with birds, snakes, mice, and mon­kies; which, as they were commanded, danced upon the ground and upon ropes, and formed themselves into all manner of figures relating to the sciences, and particularly to the mathematics, and to astro­nomy*.

[Page 19]At the palaces of the emperors the entertainments were of the same hetrogenious kind but much more grand. After some magnificent spectacle, founded, as usual, on history, a pantomime commenced by a Tartar, who sung a warlike song to the sound of a carillon, on which he performed with sticks of ivory. This was improved by the entrance of others into a duet, then into a trio, and at length into a chorus, accompanied, at last, by dancers, tumblers, wrestlers, and gladiators; with all which the theatre was filled, each performing his different part at the same time, with great vociferation, force, and agility. At length they were wrought into so violent a frenzy, that what commenced in jest finished in earnest; till it was with difficulty the prince himself could call off the performers, among whom several were often severely wounded.

[Page 20]Actors, though slaves, were held by the Chinese in a respectable light. THYNGH TI, emperor of CHINA, became enamoured of an actress, and repu­diated his wife to make her an empress. His mo­ther, however, shrewdly remarking that the lady having been so used to act different parts, would not probably content herself with that single one which he had now given her to perform, the emperor, with a quick sense of his own absurdity, answered he had only placed the actress in that situation to see how well she could sustain her part, and that having had enough of the comedy, he should now reduce her to her primitive obscurity.

The most celebrated men of study and science are said to have planned and assisted at these repre­sentations. The Gymnosophists, who entirely gave themselves up to the study of reason, among others encouraged, as far as the severity of their manners would permit dramatic exhibitions in Asia. Their principal, called Budda, is ranked among the Brach­mans, and the Brachmans are known to have culti­vated religious truth through the medium of scenic fiction.

PILPAY, the celebrated fabulist, is in particular supposed to have contributed towards the reputation of the dramatic art in Asia; and this conjecture is ex­tremely [Page 21] probable. He is well known to have go­verned a large kingdom in INDIA under a powerful emperor; and, as it might not have been safe to have uttered his political opinions to his master in the plain terms of unadorned truth—for in that case he might not have come off so well as the old woman who wished DIONYSIUS a long life lest there should come a worse tyrant in his stead; or the Visier who, pretending to understand the lan­guage of birds, informed his Sultan that the crows were croaking his praises for having massacred his subjects to provide them with carrion—it is not un­likely that PILPAY should endeavour to cheat his master into a love of virtue, by painting on the stage the hateful figure of vice. Indeed it was only one step further than what we know him to have done, for fables, as far as they go, are dramatic repre­sentations.

In JAPAN spectacles are followed with eager avidity, and the religion of the country, so far from condemning, authorizes and consecrates them. Their amusements are performed to celebrate feasts in honour of the divinities. They consist of sing­ing and dancing to music, if it may be so called, performed by flutes, drums, cymbals, and large bells. As for the machinery and decorations, we have not a conception how wonderful they are. [Page 22] Monstrous giants, floating cascades, moving moun­tains, peopled cities, and a variety of other objects as extraordinary, make up their pageants, and pro­cessions.

Their plays represent the adventures, both he­roic and amorous, of their gods. They are destri­buted like ours, into scenes and acts. The prologue announces the plan, but never touches on the de­nouement, which is always managed so as to sur­prize. The interludes and the farces, like those of the Chinese, are gross buffoonery; but their trage­dies and comedies have always a moral tendency, which the stronger to enforce, the priests, upon par­ticular occasions, sit in the most conspicuous places, and are the first to applaud.

The Persians also have a taste for these amuse­ments. There is scarcely a petty governor without his tumblers, his declaimers, his musicians, and his dancers. In this part of ASIA their pieces consist of indecent pictures of love, and the most unbridled libertinism. Their dances are not a whit behind hand in laciviousness.—For lightness, however, quickness, and variety, FRANCE is infinitely in­ferior, and the best dancers that ever graced our opera can boast no more comparison with the Per­sian girls, than can the worst figurante swim, slide, [Page 23] and posture with PARISOT. The young ladies alone are permitted to practice this harmless amuse­ment, and are on that account considered as in­famous.

It will evidently be seen that the drama flourishes best where morality is most inculcated. Among the softened and esseminate Persians we have seen the stage imitating all the unprincipled audacity of a stew. Of this the Jesuits who visited GOA were aware, and, therefore began their mission with teach­ing the inhabitants a play which they called The esta­blishment of the Christian faith in India. The spec­tacle itself, though little short of blasphemy, drew converts from all quarters; indeed, those who have been accustomed to Roman catholic countries will not find any thing extraordinary in this species of sanctified knavery: the farce performed on holy-thursday, in SPAIN and PORTUGAL, is full as im­pious as the mummery of the most subtle monk who pretends to convert Indian ignorance to a ve­neration of that faith of which he himself makes a jest.

ASIA, however, even to this hour can boast, nothing regular in the dramatic art; which, cer­tainly, under the influence of the priests, and particularly the Jesuits, spread itself into many [Page 24] countries, but no where with such enthusiasm as into SIBERIA; where, among other blasphemous repro­sentations, for the purpose of desseminating religion, they perform the redemption as a play, the baptism as a farce, and recite the commandments as an in­terlude.

The empress ELIZABETH, however, corrected in great measure these barbarisms by erecting an opera house at MOSCOW. After this another was built at PETERSBURGH, where an opera was performed in the Russian language. The author, the composer, and the performers were all Russians. At length CATHERINE the Second invited to her capital the charming GALLUPPI, surnamed BURANELLI, who was at that time master of music to the chapel of St. MARK at VENICE, and one of the most cele­brated composers of modern ITALY*.

[Page 25]This composer, like another ORPHEUS, charmed the rugged Russians by the power of his music. It is astonishing with what avidity it was relished. After the first representation of his Didone Abandonata, the empress gave him with her own hand a magnificent box filled with gold, and he was treated by all ranks with the most singular marks of favour and consideration.

To GALLUPPI succeed TRAETTA the Neapo­litan; a man certainly less celebrated, but capable of keeping up what had been so well established by his predecessor. Performers were invited of the best celebrity; till, at length, the opera at PE­TERSBURGH became one of the most brilliant in Europe*.


THOUGH we find traces of the dramatic art in all nations back to the remotest antiquity, even 'till its origin, is lost in the night of time, yet it seems to have attained no perfection till it became memora­ble in GREECE. Simplified there, it grew interest­ing and important. It celebrated among that peo­ple recent events of which their fathers had been witnesses. All the subjects of their theatre were comprized in the histories of a few families; no foreign heroes presumed to usurp those tears that deplored the misfortunes of their proper citizens.

In the theatre, as in the field, and in the areo­pagus the Greeks were possessed with the spirit of real patriotism. They acknowledged the represen­tative of no hero but in his true history, and a great action had no charms for them unless it was legi­timate, and as it were naturalized. Liberty con­verted every town into an empire, and the greatness [Page 27] of soul which inspired this fame inspired poets with the genius to celebrate it.

A tragedy was not merely art amusement, not an exhibition to beguile a moment of leisure, it was an affair of state; and the Athenian specta­tors saw their duty as men through the transparent veil of allegory: nor was there a Grecian sailor who did not taste the beauties of SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES.

Inclination to occupy time, with a view to des­troy that lassitude natural to man, begat in him a taste for those studies which are called the arts, and which are purely an imitation of nature. The Gy­mnastic and other exercises in GREECE were thus improvements of similar games, to which all people have been accustomed ever since the primitive union of man into society.

The Isthmian games instituted in honour of NEP­TUNE, and revived with particular attention by THESEUS, king of ATHENS, who reigned twelve hundred years before the christian aera, were the first, of which poetry and music made apart. In these games were introduced the sports of the chase, where were seen rare and scarce animals, purposely brought from all parts of the known world, and [Page 28] these games in the end fixed the epoch of all the inhabitants of the Isthmus of CORINTH.

Seven centuries after THESEUS, THEMISTOCLES instituted a new combat of poetry and music, which made a part of the Panathanean Feasts, in honour of MINERVA. In these feasts dramatic pieces were introduced. Each poet was permitted to bring forward, to the number of four, and this as­semblage was called Tetralogy. The prize of the victors was a crown of olive branches and a barrel of oil, which was considered as a present from the goddess whose glory these sports celebrated. We know not what these dramatic pieces were at that time; there were none of any particular distinction, the term Tragedy confounded every thing, and it was long after this period that the art had its divisions.

Tragedy, according to an ancient tradition, ge­nerally adopted, owed its origin to an accident. ICARIUS, the proprietor of a village in ATTICA, where it is said the vine was originally cultivated, having one day found a he-goat feasting on his grapes, killed it and divided it among his peasants; who, in their merriment, decorated themselves with branches of trees and danced round the animal destined for their banquet. This novelty attracted [Page 29] numbers of spectators, who were so struck with it, that, at length, it became a custom in several places during the wine harvest.

As these peasants grew intoxicated at their feasts, and the greatest part of them had reason to com­plain of such Athenians as had large possessions in the country, they abandoned themselves without reserve to their resentment, braved their oppressors, and called aloud at their doors for redress, to the great entertainment of the multitude that surrounded them. The chiefs of justice even authorized this annual remonstrance of an oppressed people, taking care, however, that the fear of chastisement and the danger of reproach should operate so as to prevent violence. This method became a remedy against public disorder, and the feast of the goat was at length introduced at ATHENS.

The peasants were invited from all parts to ap­pear at this spectacle, which was performed in a field near a grove of poplars called OEgyron, and the branches of the trees, interlaced, served as a sort of scaffold, from whence the performers amused the multitude. The field being near the Temple of Bacchus, this entertainment insensibly intro­duced itself as a part of the worship of the God of Wine.

[Page 30]During the sacrifice, the priests and the people sung hymns to the Deity in chorus, which, from the name of the victim, were called Tragedy; or Song of the Goat. These feasts became general, not only in the temples, but in the villages, where a man, in the character of SILENUS, rode on an ass, and was followed by a promiscuous troop of vo­taries, who, glass in hand, sung verses in honour of BACCHUS.

These monotonous hymns, however, grew very tiresome and disgusting till EPIGENE, a Sicyonian, conceived the idea of giving a new form to this species of spectacle. He produced a tragedy less objectionable, which he entitled Bacchus; but it was, however, so little to the honour of the god, that the spectators, at its first representation, cried put, ‘"What has this to do with BACCHUS?"’ This criticism proves that though they yet knew but little of the dramatic art, its germ, which afterwards burst forth and grew to perfection, existed at that time in the Greeks.

THESPIS, who, was born at Icaria, a town of Attica, fatigued like the rest with this barbarous nonsense that outraged the understanding of the people, and dishonoured the god it professed to idolize, determined to write pieces and introduce [Page 31] recitation. This novelty pleased. He produced several entertainments of this description, which he and others represented from village to village mounted on a cart, from whence they declaimed in grotesque dresses, and with faces frightfully painted.

BACCHUS was very soon after this left out of the party, for now both THESPIS and EPIGENE em­ployed themselves in exposing the vices and follies of their countrymen; and to as good a purpose as ICARIUS and his companions, who, as we have seen, brought their oppressors of ATHENS by the same method to reason and a sense of their duty as citizens.

These laudable attempts, however, were not long attended with success, for, though the people, when they became accustomed to them listened with great satisfaction, SOLON opposed them as a danger­ous innovation. He forbad THESPIS not only to write but to teach the art of composing tragedies at ATHENS, probably because he had at that time so many jarring interests to reconcile*. This prohi­bition [Page 32] seems, however, to be but little regarded, for THESPIS after this not only wrote tragedies but had for a scholar PHRYNICHUS, an Athenian. He is spoken of as the first who made history the subject of tragedy, who introduced the characters of wo­men on the stage, and who invented tetrametre verse.

PHRYNICHUS was condemned to pay a thou­sand drachms for having produced a piece called Miletus taken by Darius. He was considered by the Athenians the more culpable because he had forced tears from the spectators at the moment he painted in lively colours the desolation of that town; and thus he was at once the victim of their pride, and the object of their pleasure. Notwithstanding, however, his countrymen persecuted him for pleasing them, he afterwards became a general in the army, and to this was, probably, owing the vehemence which appeared to characterize his tragedies.

ALCEUS, another Grecian, held a high rank [Page 33] among the tragic poets of that time. There cannot be collected, however, more than the titles of two of his pieces.

CHOERILUS is said to have written a hundred and fifty tragedies, and to have been thirteen times crowned victor. The prize obtained upon these occasions still adverted to the feasts of BACCHUS, for it consisted of a goat and a measure of wine. Nothing is known of these pieces of CHOERILUS, except one of them, but he is memorable for be­ing the first who decorated the scene, and habited the actors like the persons they represented*.

CEPHISODORUS was among the number of the au­thors of the ancient tragedy. They attribute to him [Page 34] five pieces, which, like the rest, were nothing more than a sort of dithyrambic, begun as we have seen by THESPIS, and in some degree improved after­wards; but it remained for AESCHYLUS, to dispel this mist and eclipse these constellations which, at his appearance, receded like stars at sun rise.


AESCHYLUS, who was hailed the Father of Tragedy, soon simplified and regulated dramatic representa­tions. He divided his pieces into acts, or episodes, that contained the exposition of the subject, the conduct of the plot, and the development of the catastrophe. He reserved the primitive chorus, no otherwise, however, than as an auxiliary, for the pur­pose of rendering the subject more interesting*.

[Page 36]The degree of perfection to which AESCHYLUS brought the dramatic art in GREECE, procured him great respect and consideration, to which his public conduct, as a citizen, materially contributed. Born of one of the best families in ATTICA, he distinguished himself very early in the field. He was the pupil of Pythagoras, and at twenty-five disputed the poetic prize. He was the first who brought two characters forward on the stage at the same time; he invented the robe and the buskin, and considerably height­ened the effect of his pieces by appropriate deco­rations of the personages. His improvements were so rapid and so effectual that he was thought to have been inspired.

PAUSANIUS says, that while AESCHYLUS was asleep under the shadow of a vine, BACCHUS ap­peared to him in a dream, and commanded him to write tragedies. This fable arose, probably, from his fondness for wine, for he wrote as he drank; and upon all occasions, invoked APOLLO less than BAC­CHUS, if we believe CALLISTHENES and PLUTARCH. Whatever god inspired his verse, it is certainly full of nature, warmth, and energy. He is, however, [Page 37] reproached, and with reason, for introducing hard­nesses and crudeties; his images were gigantic and frightful, and the whole drift of his pieces was calculated to inspire terror rather than pity or delight*.

It must not be forgotten, however, that, tragedy, at the time of AESCHYLUS, was in its infancy, that; it was his offspring, and that he trusted it in the world that it might, by the fostering care of others, grow to maturity.

It has been warmly insisted on, and surely with good reason, that AESCHYLUS was less the perfecter of the works of THESPIS than the imitator of those of HOMER. The Epopoeia is a more natural assi­mulation to tragedy than those monstrous rhapsodies which were chanted in honour of BACCHUS; and, though the priests, upon this as upon all other oc­casions, were glad enough to beget an interest in [Page 38] favour of their Deity, in whose name they hood­winked the people; yet celebrating the atchieve­ments of kings and heroes among a nation of war­riors, was more likely to rouse their feelings as it brought them acquainted with conduct which it was both their inclination and their duty to emu­late. Of this, most probably, AESCHYLUS was aware, and as he imitated the heroes of HOMER with his sword, so did he HOMER himself with his pen.

AESCHYLUS served at the battle of Marathon, and at the sea fight of Salamis, where AMINIAS his brother commanded a squadron of ships and sig­nalized himself above all the Athenians. To this brother our poet, upon a particular occasion, was indebted for his life. In one of his pieces he made THETIS, speaking of APOLLO, utter some expres­sions which were considered as blasphemy, and in another he introduced some equivocal pleasantries in allusion to the mysteries of CERES. For these crimes he was chased from the theatre, and would have been stoned to death but for AMINIAS; who, throwing aside his cloak and shewing the slump of his arm, reminded the people of his gallantry at the fight of Salamis. This moved the spectators to pity, and they pardoned AESCHYLUS, who, however, could not stomach this indignity, and was, therefore, [Page 39] determined to withdraw from a place where his life had been in danger.

This determination was confirmed by the ne­glect of his pieces, and the rising success of SO­PHOCLES, who obtained the prize from him, though some say it was SIMONIDES in an elegy on the bat­tle of Marathon*. He, therefore, retired into SI­CILY, and was received into the court of HIERON, who was then building the city of AETNA, which our poet celebrated in a tragedy of the same name. Here he resided three years covered with honours, when his death was occasioned by a singular ac­cident.

An eagle having soared a great height with a tortoise in his talons, let it fall on the head of AESCHYLUS, of which blow he died, and by his death [Page 40] seemed to be verified a pretended declaration of the Oracle at DELPHOS, that a blow from heaven should accelerate the death of AESCHYLUS.

It has been said that the seats of the theatre broke down during the representation of one of the tragedies of AESCHYLUS; and SUIDAS tells us that it was the cause of his retiring into SICILY; but this is absurd, for the large croud necessary to break down the seats is a proof of the celebrity of AESCHYLUS; but he means to insinuate, that with the seats the reputation of AESCHYLUS which was eclipsed by SO­PHOCLES, fell to the ground.

The operation of this accident, however, pro­claims in very loud terms the fame of AESCHYLUS, for from these ruins sprung up those magnificent theatres, which were afterwards so nobly imitated by the Romans. They were built circular on one side, and square on the other, the semi-circle con­tained the spectators, who were ranged in seats, one above another, and in the quadrangle was exhibited the spectacle. They had machines of every sort for the conveyance of gods and goddesses, which they summoned at pleasure from the sea, from hell, or from heaven. Their scenes represented palaces, and temples, squares in perspective, and towns in the distance. They had transforma­tions, [Page 41] embellishments, and every species of decor­ation and ornament to be seen on the modern stage, but prepared at a much greater expence; and, of course, represented with infinitely more grandeur*.

Near that part of the building in which the spectators sat, there were three porticos where they might retire in case of bad weather; for it is re­markable that the ancient theatres were almost en­tirely uncovered. On the other hand, to prevent inconvenience from the heat of the sun, they ex­tended veils—some of which were very costly—by means of cords attached to the extremity of the building; and, that nothing might be omitted that could in the smallest degree contribute to their pleasure, statues of excellent workmanship were placed in regular order, supporting urns, beautifully ornamented; those urns receiving streams deli­ciously perfumed, which issued from picturesque fountains, the whole variously formed, and judici­ously arranged.

The theatre was so capacious that the actors [Page 42] were obliged to wear masks, which were perfectly a machine calculated to extend the voice, so that it might reach every ear in so vast a space; to faci­litate which, there were also vases of brass placed in the intervals of the amphitheatre with such art, in such a direction, and composed of such tempered materials, that they assisted the tones of the voice and instruments; and, by this consonance, ren­dered the sound stronger, more agreeable, and more distinct.

All these magnificent improvements sprung from the fall of AESCHYLUS, whose theatre, like ANTEUS, touched the earth only that it might rise with renovated strength*.

AESCHYLUS had two sons, and five nephews, all [Page 43] of whom wrote with various success for the theatre. BION, his second son, was ranked among the poets called Railers, and was, probably, one of those who wrote comedy. They are said to have written among them a prodigious number of pieces, some of which are yet to be seen; but, as AESCHY­LUS eclipsed his predecessors, so his imitators served only to raise the superior fame of SOPHOCLES.

SOPHOCLES was born at COLONOS, a town of ATTICA, in the first year of the seventy first Olym­piad, which place he rendered afterwards celebrated by his tragedy of Oedippus of Colonos.

SOPHOCLES operated a second revolution in tragedy. He introduced a third actor, and aug­mented the number of the chorus to fifteen instead of twelve, at which number AESCHYLUS had fixed it. He also allowed the chorus to have an interest in the main action, so that by this means every thing was of a piece, and all the performers had such parts allotted them as contributed to one uniform and regular design.

At the age of twenty-five he bore away the prize from his master, AESCHYLUS, in tragedy. An extraordinary occasion was the cause of this con­tention. CIMON, the Athenian general, had found [Page 44] the bones of THESEUS, and brought them in solemn pomp to the city, on which a trial of skill between the tragedians was instantly appointed. AESCHYLUS and SOPOHCLES strove nobly for pre-eminence, but, in spight of the acknowledged and admired merit of the master, the superior fire and eloquence of the scholar bore away the palm.

Before SOPHOCLES, the prize was disputed by four dramatic pieces comprized under the name of Tetralogy. The three first were tragedies, and the fourth called Satire, being a species of comedy; but this SOPHICLES altered, by opposing, in all contentions, tragedy to tragedy.

SOPHOCLES did not always appear in his trage­dies on account of the weakness of his voice. His [...]ame was not, however, diminished by this; for if AESCHYLUS merited the title of Father of Tragedy, SOPHOCLES might, with propriety be called the Master of it. The admiration and wonder with which all GREECE spoke of his wisdom induced an opinion that he was the immediate favourite and inti­mate of the gods. We are told that AESCHYLUS condescended to visit him at his house, and TULLY would have you believe that HERCULES had an equal respect for him. APOLLONIUS TYANENSIS, in his oration before DOMITIAN, tells the em­peror [Page 45] that SOPHOCLES, the Athenian, was able to check and restrain the impetuousity of the winds.

Certainly he was a genius of transcendant merit. His tragedies served as a model for ARISTOTLE's Art of Poetry, PLATO's advances in philosophy were compared with the improvements of SOPHO­CLES in tragedy; TULLY calls him the divine poet and VIRGIL has given him a marking pre­ference to all other writers of tragedy. So charm­ing was his poetry that he was called the Bee; and to transmit this eulogium to posterity, a hive was carved upon his tomb, not less to impress the world with an idea of the sweetness of his verse than the diligence of his industry.

SOPHOCLES, like his predecessor AESCHYLUS, was ranked among the defenders of his country. He commanded an army in conjunction with PER­ICLES to chastise the rebellious Samians; from which expedition he returned triumphant. His same followed him in every thing he undertook, even to old age, at which time, he is reported to have retained his faculties with all the fire and vi­gour of youth, and of this there is a remarkable instance.

SOPHOCLES had four sons; who, tired with so [Page 46] long a dependance on an old man, represented him to the judges as a drivler, and a person inca­pable of governing his family, or taking charge of his affairs, SOPHOCLES confounded them by a trait which they little expected. He had just finished his Oedipus of Colonos, and all his answer to this unjust accusation, was a request that the judges would read his tragedy. They did so, and found in it such strength of mind, such beauty, such truth, and such persuasion, that they dismissed him with an acclamation of praise, and his sons covered with confusion; nay LUCIAN, who tells the story, adds, that the sons were voted madmen for having accused him.

There are three different accounts of the death of SOPHOCLES. PLINY, and VALERIUS MAXI­MUS, say that he died of excess of joy in his ninety-fifth year, at the success of one of his tragedies. Others say, that in reciting his tragedy of Anti­gonus, he kept his breath so long that it stopt the action of his lungs; but LUCIAN tells us that he was choked by a grape stone*.

[Page 47]PLUTARCH says, that one of the sons of SO­PHOCLES was a cotemporary writer with his father, and from other authors we learn that another of his sons, and two nephews, wrote pieces both tragic and lyric. We know nothing, however, of these pieces, or even of their titles.

EURIPIDES, according to some, was born at PHYLA, a town of ATTICA, and according to others at SALAMIS, about the first year of the seventy-fifth Olympiad. He is said to have been the pupil of ANAXAGORAS, and intimately known to SOCRATES. He fortunately discovered the works of HERACLITUS, which were hid in the Temple of Diana; and from this commerce with these sages, and the advantage he reaped from con­sulting them, and reading their works, sprung that luminous moral which pervaded his tragedies.

SUIDAS says, that the mother of EURIPIDES was nobly descended; though ARISTOPHANES calls her a cabbage seller, and VALERIUS MAXIMUS, taking the assertion, which was probably a jest, for [Page 48] truth, gravely records it. It should seem, how­ever, that his parents were persons of some consi­deration, for they consulted the Oracle of Apollo concerning him before he was born; and, having received an ambiguous promise that the world should witness his fame, and that he should gain a crown, they bred up their son in a proper man­ner to qualify him for a wrestler, under an idea that the Oracle meant no more than that he should ob­tain the Athletic crown, which he actually did, at the feasts in honour of CERES.

The genius of EURIPIDES, however, soon im­pelled him to abandon the exercises of the body for the exercises of the mind; and first he studied painting, in which he is said to have made a consi­derable progress, but morality and philosophy were the studies most congenial to his mind, and as these, philosophy particularly, had not yet been so much the drift of dramatic representations as he wished, he determined to add this perfection to the stage.

This gift which he possessed in an eminent de­gree, though he improved the stage in no other re­spect, begat for him a most extraordinary portion of cotemporary fame. His pieces are not spoken so highly of as to perfectness as those of SOPHOCLES, but the verses they contained were in the mouths [Page 49] of all countries where the Greeks were known. If prisoners pleaded their cause in the language of EU­RIPIDES, their reward was life and liberty.

He was called the Philosophic poet. ALEX­ANDER is said to have admired him above all other writers; SOCRATES, who never had been accus­tomed to visit the theatre, went there to hear the tragedies of EURIPIDES; DEMOSTHENES learnt de­clamation from them, and CICERO was in the act of reading them when he was surrounded and assa­sinated.

Nevertheless it cannot be said that EURIPIDES did so much for the posthumous fame of the drama, or its real interest as SOPHOCLES. The chorus which SOPHOCLES had regulated, EURIPIDES al­tered and made it entirely independant of the main business. ARISTOTLE gives SOPHOCLES the pre­ference in manners, oeconomy, and style. DIONY­SIUS HARLICARNASSENSIS commends SOPHOCLES for chusing the most, generous and most noble pas­sions for his subjects, whereas EURIPIDES chose dishonest, abject, and essiminate passions; and, again, because SOPHOCLES never says any thing but what is exactly necessary, while EURIPIDES amuses the reader with oratorical deductions.

[Page 50]In short, the general agreement between all those who have written of these admirable authors is, that one amused, the other convinced; one ap­pealed to the passions, the other to reason; one had the peculiar gift of imposing any thing for truth, the other had no eloquence but what was derived from truth itself.

EURIPIDES, it is said, wrote ninety-two tragedies, but the general belief is, that he wrote no more than seventy-five, nineteen of which are extant, and the titles of fourteen others are recorded, but the pieces themselves are not known. Like AESCHYLUS and SOPHOCLES, he met with an extraordinary death.

About a year after the Sicilians were defeated he left Athens and went to reside at the court of Macedon, being invited by ARCHILAUS, who was accustomed to confer acts of munificence on learned men, and even to raise them to very high honours. EURIPIDES, if SOLINUS speaks truth, was made his prime minister.

One evening in a wood, whether he had wan­dered in deep contemplation, he was surrounded by dogs and torne to pieces. Different causes are assigned for this unfortunate death. Some say that [Page 51] the dogs were let loose upon him by his rivals, who had reason enough to be jealous of those high dis­tinctions paid to him by ARCHELAUS; others that the whole was purely an accident, for that having strayed while he was lost in meditation near a part of the palace, which was guarded by these dogs, as a security against depredators, he was there surprized and thus became their victim.

Exaggerated accounts go so far as to say that EURIPIDES was torn to pieces by women in re­venge for his having exclaimed against them in his tragedies*, but to this no credit has been given. Indeed the general belief is, that either by accident or design he met with the death above related.

With SOPHOCLES, who lived before and died [Page 52] after EURIPIDES*, died also every hope of advance­ment in tragedy. A great number of authors are said to have written tragedies, and to have borne away many prizes, but we know nothing of them of sufficient celebrity to render their names worthy of particular notice; for they grew at last into such disrepute that their productions only served as food for the insatiate appetite of ARISTOPHANES, by whom none of them were spared; and nothing can be so strong a proof of degeneracy in tragedy as its falling successfully under the lash of the co­mic muse.

DIONYSIUS, the tyrant of SICILY, was am­bitious to be ranked among the tragic poets. LU­CIAN says that he procured some tablets, on which AESCHYLUS had set down memorandums, that served as the ground work of his pieces, and, pos­sessed [Page 53] of these, he thought he had come at the whole mystery; but he was miserably deceived. No one gave him that credit which he flattered him­self he merited. To induce a general belief of his talents, he endeavoured to make the poet, PHILOX­ENUS*, whose pliability, as a courtier, he had reason to count upon, bolster up his fame, by testifying a full approbation of his verses. In this, however, he failed. The poet, flexible in all other things, was obstinate when touched on the side of his professional judgement. To requite his sincerity DIONYSIUS committed him to prison; but after a time, remanded him in hopes that his sufferings in confinement would make him something more accommodating. Being informed upon what condition he was released, ‘'Carry me back to prison,'’ said the poet. This firmness moved DIONYSIUS who pardoned PHI­LOXENUS, and treated him ever afterwards with consideration and respect.

[Page 54]He was not, however, cured of his poetic pro­pensity; for, though we know nothing of the pieces he wrote, it is allowed there were several of them; and, though no one has attempted to speak in fa­vour of them, PLINY says, that, like SOPHOCLES, he died for joy at obtaining a prize, the merit of which PLUTACRH attributes to ANTIPHON, one of the sons of SOPHOCLES.

GREECE rendered the most distinguished honours both to the works and the memory of her three tra­gic poets. An edict was issued to erect their statues. Their works were preserved, and the greatest part entered in the archives. PTOLEMY, king of EGYPT, was very anxious to be in possession of them, and above all of the works of EURIPIDES, to embellish his Alexandrian library; but they were refused, and he, in his turn, refused corn to the Athenians during a dearth. Necessity at length obliged the Athenians to comply with his request, and he, in return, nobly permitted the Athenian merchants to import as much corn as they pleased, without pay­ing the ordinary tribute.

It was a custom at ATHENS, in the lyric spec­tacles, [Page 55] to sing the great actions of their chiefs. THEMISTOCLES was one day asked which voice pleased him the best? ‘"That," replied he, "which sings my praises."’

SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES were set against each other by false friends, and their animosity be­came continual amusement for all the would-be­wits of GREECE.—Time, however, convinced these great men of their mutual error, as may be seen in the following letter from EURIPIDES.

‘"Inconstancy is not my character. I have re­tained every friend except SOPHOCLES; though I no longer see him, I do not hate him. In­justice has alienated me from him; justice re­proaches me for it. I hope time will cement our re-union. What mortal ill is not caused at times by those wicked spirits who are never so happy as when they sow dissention among those who by nature and reason are meant to promote the felicity of each other."’

As an instance how chaste and moral the Gre­cian poets were obliged to be, EURIPIDES having, in his tragedy of Belephoron, which is now lost, made one of his characters say, ‘"Riches are the sovereign good of mankind, and may well excite [Page 56] the admiration of men and gods,"’ the spectators rose, and would have banished the poet from the town had they not found, at the finish of the piece, that the panegyrist in favour of riches, by way of poetical justice, met with a miserable and merited death.

Ten judges were chosen at ATHENS to decide what pieces merited the preference. They had places set apart for them. They were men of well-known merit, and strict integrity. They took an oath to decide equitably, and without the smallest regard to solicitations from any quarter*. Their authority extended so far that they had a right not only to recompense men of merit, but to punish, even to whipping, those who were destitute of it. [Page 57] LUCIAN tells us of one EVANGELUS who was whipped, and it is said that SOPHOCLES was ad­judged, upon a certain occasion, the prefectorship of SAMOS.

But the incorporating national events with dra­matic poetry seems to have been the happiest and most meritorious perfection which the three tragic poets of GREECE attained. Sentiments of greatness attributed to one hero often spoke the eulogium of another. AESCHYLUS, in the Chiefs before Thebes, says, speaking of AMPHIARUS,

To be, and not to seem, is this man's maxim:
His mind reposes on its proper wisdom,
And wants no other praise.

When these lines were repeated on the stage, the eyes of the whole assembly were involuntarily fixed on ARISTIDES, to whom this great encomium appeared most applicable; and who, in his own conduct had modelled the man upon the sentiment of the poet.

In short, the Grecian tragedies were a patriotic concern, a public benefit, a bond between men and morals; and was, therefore, sanctioned by the legislature, and maintained at the expence of the nation.


THE real pleasure resulting from comedy, with­out doubt, is founded on that spurious pride which delights the human heart when human nature is hu­miliated. Strange paradox! Yet clear as light.

Who does not feel himself proud when the frail­ties of his neighbour are held up to derision? Who, that would choke with spleen at the exposition of his own folly, does not rejoice with all his soul when the follies of others are laid open to public view? Yet this ever was and is still considered as the true drift of comedy; falsely, however, for lash the manners how you may, you cannot correct them; on the contrary they will grow more callous at every stroke, and what is worse, every stroke will become more familiar and consequently more tolerable.

The fault seems to be that comedy has been given a latitude by much too extensive; and, as human frailties, up from the most pardonable folly [Page 59] to the most malicious vice, are a field immeasurable; all those dramatic productions which have traversed this prodigious space, according as customs and man­ners have varied, according as times and circum­stances have inclined the public pleasure, or policy, to tolerate them, and according to a number of other local and temporary circumstances, have been denominated comedies.

It will be no difficulty, however, even so early as when the theatre came to be regulated in GREECE, to shew that the particular province of each dramatic production was known and clearly understood; and, though in speaking of the pro­ductions of ARISTOPHANES, I shall be compelled to shew that comedy fluctuated and became irre­gular, it was only in conformity with those manners of which it was bound to be the faithful represen­tative, and without which no dramatic writer can be popular.

Although all dramatic representations were con­founded for a time in the word tragedy, which we have seen had not at all originally the signification which we now annex to it, nothing can be clearer than that the species of performance which the French call a drame, and we a play, was what the Greeks understood as the model and criterion of [Page 60] their theatrical productions. The word is derived from the Greek, and signifies, literally, action, the most honourable designation of a dramatic piece, for without action it could have neither interest nor life.

Plays represent mankind in their common and natural pursuits, tragedies and comedies call them into such actions as they are not accustomed to but upon extraordinary occasions. A play has the pa­thetic of tragedy, and the playfulness of comedy, and is, in a general acceptation, infinitely more use­ful, more true, and more interesting. The end of tragedy is to make you cry, the end of comedy to make you laugh*; but a play excites both sensa­tions [Page 61] without violating either of them. To start an involuntary tear, as a tribute of sympathy to do­mestic woe, is a greater luxury than to expand a torrent of tears at the death of a heroine; and a single benevolent smile excited by a benificent ac­tion, the result of nature and goodness, gladdens the mind more than a convulsion of laughter at the pe­culiarities of a fellow creature, who, though deformed in his manners, is, perhaps, perfect in his heart.

Plays then, as I shall have better opportunity to prove hereafter, are the parent stock of the drama; from which, on one side, sprung tragedy, which de­generated into bombast, and on the other side co­medy, which degraded itself into buffoonery.

Comedy certainly was attempted in GREECE at the time of THESPIS, and, perhaps, earlier. PHRY­NICHUS is sometimes called the Comic Poet, and there are appearances which justify this appellation. His pieces, very likely, were kind of Masques; and, [Page 62] if he was the inventor of the tetralogy, or if it was invented in his time, he, of course, wrote satire as well as tragedy, and in the original satires, which were the foundation of those comedies written by ARISTOPHANES, the names of persons were not spared*.

The satire in particular levelled at PERICLES will shew that they were not accustomed to use ceremony. CRATINAS, TELECIDES, EUPOLUS, and PLATO, all comic poets, were perpetually aim­ing their satirical shafts at this monarch; and as personal defects were always unmercifully turned into jest, so the head of PERICLES, which was dis­proportionably long, and which is, therefore, hid as much as possible in all the statues of him by an [Page 63] enormous Helmet, was the constant but of their ridicule*.

Comedy, however, though it was occasionally introduced, boasted no great reputation till after tragedy had grown to perfection, and it is not an unlikely conjecture that the fiat of SOPHOCLES, which had broken the tetralogy and kept tragedy apart as a separate province, having reduced co­medy to shift for itself, it, from necessity, resumed sufficient strength to go alone, for we soon after this see that it began to be exercised systematically.

Comedy having always been considered as a vehicle to hold folly up to ridicule, it took a dif­ferent bent according to the spirit of the times. When the supreme power was in the people, the [Page 64] poets, of course, were at full liberty to say un­sparingly what they pleased, and of whom they pleased. Neither quality, office, age or sex were spared; every one was reproached by name*; and his species of comedy was called the Ancient, or the Real, because it convinced by speaking truth.

When the people began to lose their power, and their liberties were vested in fewer hands, it was no longer safe to use so bold a license. The poets, therefore, had recourse to a second distinction of comedy where the subject was real, and the cha­racter [Page 65] were feigned; and this was called the Mid­dle Comedy, because, though it still contained truth, it could only wound by companion*.

At length truth, even by comparison, suited ill with the luxury of the times, and the poets were obliged to invent both names and circumstances; so that if an application hit ever so hard, no man was obliged to acknowledge the blow he had re­ceived; and this sort of comedy, the whole being fictitious, was called The New. This last, however, [Page 66] ill suited the temper of the Greeks and it grew into no repute till it was received among the Romans.

ARISTOPHANES, the boldness of whose writings spared neither friend nor foe, gave to the Middle Comedy all the force of the ancient, or real. The place of his birth is contested; his enemies, of which he had deservedly a great number, represent him as a stranger; and his advocates, who were more so out of fear than love, insist that he was an Athenian. His pieces were chiefly written during the Pelopennesian war, so that he was a cotem­porary of PLATO and SOCRATES. His reputation arose from his being an inveterate enemy to all those who wished to enslave their country. Though his style was by no means refined, his imagination was warm and lively, and his railery irresistably keen and cutting, which he laid on unsparingly, and with a spirit of unfeeling resolution.

ARISTOPHANES was remarkable for exposing the vices of men in power, which he did with uncommon wit and severity. CLEO was the first he attacked, for which purpose he wrote the comedy of the Equites. None of the actors, however, would venture to personate a man who possessed so much power, and, therefore, ARISTOPHANES de­termined to perform the part himself. This he did [Page 67] with so much success that the Athenians obliged CLEO to give a fine of five talents to the poet*.

His comedy of The Clouds seems to be the most celebrated of all his works, both on account of its severity and the mischief it occasioned.

It is by many believed that ARISTOPHANES, in a great measure, occasioned the death of SOCRATES. At any rate that poet was very culpable in pub­licly accusing the philosopher of impiety in his comedy of The Clouds . It was certainly his most [Page 68] celebrated piece, and, therefore, it is supposed he had some strong inducement to take so much pains with it. This is said to be the history of the trans­action.

ANYTUS and his party left no method untried to compass the destruction of SOCRATES. But they feared the Athenians, who loved him, would revolt at any ouverte measures; they, therefore, had re­course to stratagem, to execute which they em­ployed ARISTOPHANES. This artful and habile satirist, who knew so well to apply his arguments that they never failed of their full force, undertook the task. He had long looked on the austere manners of SOCRATES as a fit subject on which to employ the gall that distilled from his pen. He accused him in the open theatre of being an eloquent seducer, who, by the charms of his language and the witchery of his arguments, was speciously capable of reconciling every possible contradiction. That, through the medium of this winning deceit, he had deluded the people and broached the most dan­gerous doctrines; that he despised the gods, and in­spired all those who listened to him with errors, tending to produce the most serious and alarming consequences.

ARISTOPHANES played upon the subject with [Page 69] the same glare of false reasoning of which he had accused SOCRATES; and, while he laboured to make it appear that another had imposed upon them, his own imposition was but too successful. The Athenians had not the smallest expectation that any one would dare to broach such bold accusations, and, therefore, at first, felt some resentment; but being naturally distrustful of all distinguished and extraordinary men, this comedy began to gain ground; and at length, for prejudice knows not where to stop, became more celebrated than any thing that had been exhibited in GREECE.

It cannot, however, but be allowed, that though all the ancients admired ARISTOPHANES for the true attic elegance of his style, and though the moderns have in this, as in other things, very often they knew not why, yielded a blind obedience to the ancients, yet it were better that ARISTO­PHANES had never lived, or that he had employed his talents to worthier purposes; for, however he might have been admired by St. CHRYSOSTOM, who always laid him under his pillow when he went to bed; however SCALIGER may insist that no one ought to judge of the Attic dialect who had not ARISTOPHANES at his fingers ends; however FRIS­CHLIN may have entered the lists with PLUTARCH [Page 70] in his defence; however RYMER may have been euchanted with ‘"his strange fetches, his lucky starts, his odd inventions, his wild turns, returns and coun­ter turns,"’ finishing his rhapsody by the anti-climax of comparing him to the mad RABELAIS; and, to bring up the rear respectably, however MADAME DACIER might have affected to receive so much rapturous delight from that wit which had been the death of a man who was an honour to his country; yet the more poignant his wit, the more brilliant his genius, and the more consummate his judgment; his indiscriminate exercise of those talents; his wickedly and wantonly confounding SOCRATES with CLEO, and thereby preverting the principles of morality; his parodying SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES, turning into ridicule the works of those admirable writers, the study of whose lives had been to make their fellow citizens honest and honourable; and, thereby establishing, stampt with the consequence of his au­thority, to which the people were accustomed to look up to as a fiat, a criterion for meaner writers to ridicule every thing noble and worthy; these, however they may establish his reputation as a writer, must destroy it as a member of society; and, whatever opinion may be entertained of his wit, a most despicable one must be formed of his morals.

[Page 71]ARISTOPHANES is said to have written above fifty comedies, eleven of which are extant, and some of them are printed in different languages. MA­DAME DACIER, with all her admiration of him, seems to have thought only two worthy of selection, which are Plutus, and The Clouds; these she pub­lished with critical notes, and an examination of them according to the rules of the theatre.

We know nothing of when or where ARISTO­PHANES died, so that all his extraordinary fortune happened to him in his life time.

After ARISTOPHANES the middle comedy gra­dually declined; for as the wits that came after him had not the merit to imitate him in his bold and satirical style of writing, their minor abilities na­turally turned to the false and feeble parts of his works, in which he dishonoured his genius by pityful parodies of writings, infinitely more valuable to the cause of truth and literature than his own.

It was, however, the sate of GREECE that the stage should be once more rescued from barbarism. MENANDER, who was born at ATHENS, in the third year of the hundred and ninth Olympiad, intro­duced the new comedy, and thereby refined an [Page 72] art that had been exercised for fifty years with the most unbridled profligacy and licentiousness. His incomparable merit quickly spread his name to the remotest nations. PLINY says, that the kings of EGYPT and MACEDON gave a noble proof of their admiration of him, by sending ambassadors, and even fleets, to bring him to their courts; but MENANDER was too much of a philosopher to be tempted by the promises of the great.

The time continuing, however corrupt, his coun­trymen denied him that merit which he was allowed by strangers, and therefore, established, in his favour, the strongest possible proof of his superior genius. This contumely he pitied and forgave; and though, through the ignorance and partiality of the judges, he often saw the prize awarded to PHILEMON, a miserable cotemporary poet; he bore it with per­fect indifference, the only notice he ever took of it being when he asked PHILEMON whether he did not blush to wear the laurel.

MENANDER is said to have written above a hundred comedies, which are all unfortunately lost. We can only come at his works, therefore, through TERENCE, who borrowed four plays from him, [Page 73] though some say six, which are allowed to have lost much of their original spirit.

We know, therefore, but little of MENANDER, but that little may serve to give an exalted idea of his reputation. He seems to have been in comedy what EURIPIDES was in tragedy. The old rhe­toricians recommend his works as the true and per­fect patterns of every thing beautiful and graceful in public speaking. QUINTILIAN advises an ora­tor to seek in MENANDER for copiousness of in­vention, for elegance of expression, and all that uni­versal genius which is able to accommodate itself to persons, things and affections.

MENANDER's wonderful talent of portraying na­ture in every condition, and under every accident of life, occasioned that memorable question of AR­ISTOPHANES the grammarian: ‘"Oh MENANDER! Oh nature! which of you have copied the works of the other."’ OVID, and PLUTARCH, have paid the tribute of praise to his reputation, but CAESAR, in calling TERENCE a half MENANDER, has seemed to give a critical idea of his exellence by allowing him double the merit of the Roman poet, whose extraordinary value as a writer he is recording at the minute he makes the remark.

[Page 74]MENANDER died in the third year of the hun­dred and twenty-second Olympiad; and, after him there is nothing worthy to be related of the dra­matic art in GREECE.


ACTORS were held in honourable esteem in GREECE; but this is only saying that the Greeks honoured all those whose pursuits were stimulated by any merit­orious emulation.

I shall, however, pr [...]mise, that the arts which flourished in perfection at ATHENS were little known or relished in SPARTA, and it cannot but be considered as remarkable, that the Greeks, who were, in fact, but one people, should be divided into two kingdoms merely from manners, habits, and modes of thinking.

This, however, taken one way, may tell to the honour of the Spartans. Their manners were so austere, and their conduct so exact, that they re­jected every thing superfluous; and though amuse­ments, poetry and music in particular, were but little encouraged among them, yet, such as they had [Page 76] a taste for, consisted of pure simplicity and digni­fied expression. TERPANDER, who was both a poet and a musician, PINDAR and other eminent men, though not Spartans, were admired in SPARTA.

Any thing but the mere sentiment in music and poetry, and its force and influence on the mind, the Lacedemonians rejected. Even when LYCURGUS instituted the senate of thirty, including the two kings, they met in the open air, under an idea that a hall, or building of any kind, prepared for the purpose, might amuse the attention with such trifles as pictures, or statutes, and splendid ornaments, in­stead of occupying it on subjects relative to the ge­neral welfare.

Theatres, in like manner, were discouraged. AGESILAUS, who reigned in SPARTA forty-one years, held the theatre in contempt. One day CALLIPEDES, a celebrated Greek tragedian, ap­proached AGESILAUS and paid his respects to him, and having waited a considerable time in expectation that some honourable notice would be taken of him, said, at last, ‘"Do you not know me Sir?"’ The king looking at him with a contemptuous disdain said, ‘"Are you not CALLIPEDES the stage player?"’ Another time AGESILAUS was asked to hear a [Page 77] mimic who imitated the nightingale to perfection. ‘"No," said he, "I have heard the nightingale herself."’

Nay, this dislike, or rather severity of manners, extended even to their slaves. When the Thebans invaded LACONIA, they took prisoners a number of the Helotes, whom they ordered to sing the odes of TERPANDER, ALEMON, or SPENDON, the Lacedemonian; but they excused themselves, say­ing, that it was forbidden by their masters*.

But if the dramatic art was slighted in SPARTA, it was caressed with enthusiasm in ATHENS; and, indeed, in all the countries into which the Grecians penetrated. Every general of any eminence had in his camp his poets, his musicians, and his de­clamers. In the camp of ALEXANDER, HE­PHESTIAN gave to EVIUS, the musician, the quar­ters destined for EUMENES; who, thus affronted, complained to ALEXANDER, and said that he saw [Page 78] plainly the best way to acquire promotion would be to throw away their arms and learn to play upon the flute, or turn tragedian.

Indeed, ALEXANDER, proud as he was, con­sidered it no degradation to countenance actors, and even to place a confidence in them. Having an opinion of the wit and readiness, nay the discretion and honour of THESSALUS the actor, he sent him on an embasy to PEXODORUS, the Persian governor in CARIA, to break off a match between the eldest daughter of that chief and ARIDAEUS.

At ALEXANDER's return to PHOENECIA from EGYPT, the people at the sacrifices were entertained with music, and dancing; and tragedies were also performed with the greatest magnificence. Besides the persons usually chosen by lot from the tribes to conduct those exhibitions, NICOCREON, king of SALAMIS, and PASICRATES, king of SOLI, parti­cularly distinguished themselves upon this occasion. PASICRATES risked the victory upon ATHENODORUS the actor, and NICOCREON upon THESSALUS. AL­EXANDER interested himself most anxiously in be­half of the latter. He did not, however, lest the assembly should be biassed, declare in his favour till ATHENODORUS was proclaimed victor by all the suffrages; when he exclaimed, that he com­mended [Page 79] the judges for what they had done, but that he would have given half his kingdom rather than have seen THESSALUS conquered.

ALEXANDER had an opportunity afterwards of shewing how unprejudiced his mind was. When the same ATHENODORUS was fined by the Athenians, for not making his appearance on the stage at the feasts of BACCHUS, he entreated ALEXANDER to intercede for him; who, though he did not chose to write in his favour, paid the fine.

Another time LYCON, the actor, a native of SCARPHIA, finding that his performance delighted ALEXANDER, insinuated adroitly in his part, that he was in necessity for ten talents. ALEXANDER laughed at the conceit, and ordered the actor what he so ingeniously demanded.

But the instances of admiration in which the talents and conduct of the Grecian actors were held are innumerable. We have already seen that AESCHYLUS, SOPHOCLES, and EURIPIDES, were all actors, and, indeed, so were most of the Grecian dramatic writers. Had not ARISTOPHANES been an excellent actor, the world would have lost the hateful character of CLEO.

Thus declamation at ATHENS was the criterion [Page 80] of oratory. POLUS, an actor, had lost his only, child, whom he tenderly loved, and he was on that day to perform a part which had an incident similar to his own situation. To render his grief more lively and natural, he took an urn containing the ashes of his son, which so wrought upon his feel­ings that he drew tears from the whole assembly.

In short, declamation was esteemed a great re­quisite towards obtaining a rank in public life. The first men of ATHENS did not disdain to practise it. Nevertheless actors were not permitted to judge of the merit of public entertainments.

When DEMOSTHENES complained that the worst orators were heard in the rostrum in pre­ference to him, SATYRUS, the actor, to shew him how much, grace, dignity, and action add to the celebrity of a public man, repeated to him several passages from SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES, with which DEMOSTHENES was so captivated that he ever afterwards modelled his eloquence from the example of the best actors*.

We have now seen that the dramatic art is traceable in GREECE to THESEUS. That it gra­dually [Page 81] came forward till it was perfected by AESCHY­LUS; that the admirable talents of AESCHYLUS, SOPHOCLES, and EURIPIDES, were superior, when the infancy of the drama is considered, to any trium­virate since that time; that this great compact once broken, comedy, particularly in the hands of AR­ISTOPHANES, degenerated into licentiousness; and that the incomparable talents of MENANDER came too late to save the sinking interest of the stage.

It remains now only to say, that from the paro­dies of the tragic writers, began by ARISTOPHANES, and awkwardly imitated by his cotemporaries and successors, sprung mimes, farces, and the grossest buffoonery*; and, though the Grecian theatre still [Page 82] kept up an appearance of greatness, and there was often some brilliancy beamed across the hetroge­neous mass which obscured that truth and nature to which the people were no longer sensible; yet the grandeur and magnificence of public exhibitions, visibly decreased; till, at length, the fate of the stage too truly foretold the fate of the empire. So certain it is that where the arts are redundant they introduce luxury, and sap the foundation of a state.


WHAT nature was to the Greeks the Greeks were to the Romans*, and the resemblance is remarkably perfect; for, as the Greeks attained a splendid degree of perfection by a close imitation of nature, the Romans never arrived to any distinguished per­fection because they imitated man. But, indeed, in greatness of soul and strength of mind they were in every thing infinitely below the Greeks. A peo­ple whose luxury was to enjoy a spectacle of gla­diators were little calculated to listen to lectures of [Page 84] truth and morality. The ferocious Romans were always rather terrible than great; and the mind ac­commodates itself ill to a belief that the same men could attend with any degree of pleasure, or in­terest, to whatever inculcated the mild duties of clemency and beneficence; who, in cold blood, could murder their defenceless sovereign at the foot of the capitol.

All writers agree that the Romans arrived to no degree of perfection in either literature or the arts, and, in particular, the stage, but as they copied the Greeks, and that even of the stage, their copies are faint indeed. The pompous and phlegmatic SENECA, falsely called the Tragic Poet, with his fettered and dependant style, lagged far behind the Greek triumvirate. The cold TERENCE, though full of nature and grace, imprinted nothing on the mind congenial to the Roman character. The sub­jects were Greek, but they were enfeebled and spiritless; and only served to excite regret in those who knew how to taste the muse of MENANDER.

The Romans were nearly four hundred years without any scenic representations; but it is not to be supposed that they were so long without any sort of poetry, or that some self-born amusement did not manifest itself with them as it did with the Greeks; [Page 85] on the contrary monsters of this description were born and nursed by feasts and debauches. Their first poetry, which was called Saturnine and Fesci­nine was hard and crude, resembling rather prose in cadence than measured verse. In other respects it was full of gross raillery, and sung by persons who accompanied it with gestures and postures the most indecent and lascivious.

This barbarous stuff gave place to raillery more refined; but which, however, became so severe and sarcastic, that those at whom it was levelled not liking these sort of jests, retorted the kindness manually; till, at length, it caused so much mischief that a law was made which condemned to death any person who in their verses should wound the reputation of his neighbour. This law was made in the three hundred and second year of ROME; a certain proof that this licentiousness had obtained and that they had grown sufficiently civilized at that time to suppress it.

This reform lasted a hundred years, at the end of which time a public calamity induced them to seize every opportunity to appease the anger of Heaven; and thus feasts in honour of the gods be­came, after a time, theatrical performances.

[Page 86]These were, however, according to TITUS LIVY, irregular sketches made up wholly of imitation. BALADINES, who came from TUSCANY, danced to the sound of the flute, and exhibited a number of rude gestures and attitudes in the manner of that country. This amusement was received with the warmest applause, and after repeated trials and im­provements it became more endurable. Regular troops named Histrions, because in the Tuscan language a baladine is called Hister, performed complete pieces entitled Satires, in which the ac­tors and the spectators joined promiscuously.

These kind of farces continued about a hundred and twenty years; when the poet ANDRONICUS, about the time ARATUS called in ATICONOUS from MACEDONIA, which proved the ruin of GREECE, about two hundred and forty years after the death of AESCHYLUS, and about a hundred and eighty years after the death of SOPHOCLES and EURI­PIDES, brought forward the first perfect dramatic piece in Rome.


ANDRONICUS, surnamed LIVIUS, because he ob­tained his freedom through LIVIUS SALINATOR, to whose children he was preceptor, was a native of GREECE. It is said, that, despairing of any im­provement in the Roman Theatre, he sung his pieces in the manner of his predecessors; but one day as he was surrounded by the populace, be­ing extremely fatigued, he called in the assistance of a slave, who relieved him while he fetched breath. The slave, however, not acquitting him­self to the satisfaction of his master, he expostulated with him; upon this the spectators, supposing their altercation to be a part of the piece, were so en­tertained with it that from thence dialogue was adopted.

[Page 88]It is much more probable that being himself a Greek, and having escaped from the wreck of the Grecian theatre, LIVIUS bore away with him such part of its treasure as the storm had spared; and, as a fit opportunity for his purpose occurred at the end of the first Punic war, when the Temple of JANUS was shut for the second time since the foundation of ROME, and when the Romans were in friendship with all the world, he took his mea­sures; and, in pity to the wretched state of their dra­ma, ventured to innovate upon a more rational taste.

This he did to so good a purpose, that, certainly, for a time, the Romans rejected all their former rude and impure dramatic customs; and, under the tuition of ANDRONICUS, determined to regulate their taste on the Grecian model; indeed it will be difficult to controvert, that through ANDRONICUS and ENNIUS, whom SUETONIUS tells us were half Greeks, the cause of literature at this favour­able period became completely established.

Whatever the merit of ANDRONICUS might have been, except giving to Roman taste Grecian refinement, is very uncertain. He is spoken of in general only collaterally; and but for ENNIUS, with whom he is often coupled, and who, some tra­gedies translated from the Greek excepted, has no [Page 89] right to be considered as a dramatic poet, we should know very little about his particular talents. 'Tis certain, however, that ANDRONICUS turned the tide of opinion for a time, but the Romans, ever changeable, at last grew tired of tragedy; which, having for some time undergone a suspension, was at last restored by PACUVIUS.

It is not exactly ascertained when PACUVIUS was born, but he flourished, as a tragic poet in ROME, about sixty years after ANDRONICUS first began to be known; and, if it be true, what some contend, tragedy had still a smack of its parent stock, for he is said to have been the grandson of ENNIUS.

PACUVIUS, however, though he restored tra­gedy, as far as the fluctuating manners of the Ro­mans would admit, certainly did little more, for we know of nothing he produced of any celebrity; and, though he successfuly kept, the Grecian taste afloat, and thus regulated the wild and extravagant sallies, which, in spight of the best care pervaded the Roman spectacles; yet, ACCIUS seems to have reaped that harvest of reputation which ANDRO­NICUS and PACUVIUS had so carefully sown*.

[Page 90]ACCIUS was born in the five hundred and eighty-third year of ROME. He became a sort of disciple of PACUVIUS, who brought his last piece on the stage in the very year that ACCIUS produced his first. By the advice of PACUVIUS he kept to those subjects which had been already brought forward on the Athenian stage. Not that he confined himself entirely to these, for he wrote one piece, the story of which was Roman, and it related to the expulsion of the Tarquins. It was called Brutus. We are also informed that he wrote comedies, but we know nothing of their titles.

What, however, seems to have given ACCIUS more reputation and consequence than any thing else, was the verses he wrote in praise of DECIMUS BRUTUS, who was honoured with a triumph for his victories in SPAIN; and, who was so charmed upon this occasion with ACCIUS, that he had the verses in­scribed at the entrances of those temples which he caused to be erected out of the spoils of the van­quished; and thus we have BRUTUS's word, so flattered, that ACCIUS was an excellent poet.

As ACCIUS passed through Tarentum, in his way [Page 91] to ASIA, he paid a visit to PACUVIUS, and read to him his tragedy of Atreus, which, by the advice of his old master, he had copied from the Greek. PA­CUVIUS told him that his style was elevated, but that it was rude. ‘"I dont blush at that,"’ said ACCIUS, ‘"it will teach me to write better hereafter; for it is with genius as it is with fruit. Apples that are at first four become sweet as they ripen, while those which are unseasonably soft and discoloured rot before they come to maturity."’

Certainly ACCIUS has been censured for writing harsh and crude, but in other respects he was al­lowed to have had considerable merit. He was held in such respect that an actor was punished for only mentioning his name on the stage, and VA­LERIUS MAXIMUS tells us, that when JULIUS CAESAR entered the assembly of poets ACCIUS never paid him the homage of rising to receive him; not that he meant to fail in respect, but be­cause he considered that the superiority lay on the side of literature; and because, in such an as­sembly, the question was not whose title was the most illustrious but who was the best writer.

ACCIUS was asked why he who knew so well how to enforce sentiment and eloquence in his tra­gedies did not plead. ‘"Because," said he, "at [Page 92] the theatre I make them say what I please, at the bar my adversaries would say what I should dislike."’

I shall sum up PACUVIUS and ACCIUS in the words of QUINTILIAN; who says that those il­lustrious authors united in their tragedies, greatness of thought, and energy of style; and, for the rest, if they have not expanded more grace through their works, and carried them to a higher degree of perfection, the fault was in the time when they wrote and not in them.

It is not at this moment decided whether the best Roman tragedies, which are attributed to an author of the name of SENECA, are written by SENECA, the philosopher, or him, who for dis­tinction, is called SENECA the Tragic Poet. JUSTUS LIPSIUS, and ERASMUS, give it in favour of the philosopher. ENNIUS, however, insists that he wrote only the first four, his brother, the tragic poet, three, and that the other three are written by three different authors; but this dispute has given rise to a hundred conjectures, till, at length, ga­thering as it has gone, FATHER BRUMOY will have it that neither of the SENECAS had any hand in these pieces, but that they were written by an anonymous author, who concealed his own name to substitute one much more celebrated in literature.

[Page 93]The probability is, that they had both a con­cern in them. All the biographers of SENECA, the philosopher, agree that he wrote four tragedies; these his brother might have fathered, and he might also have been assisted in the composition of the rest; but the other, being occupied in studies of a more sublime nature, he might have conceived it improper to enter the lists on a subject that would not only have enticed him from his other pursuits, but have involved him in inconvenient con­troversies.

Leaving this point, however, as it ever will remain undecided, let us examine the tragedies them selves; which, though they were in places heavy, turgid, and inflated, have many true beau­ties; proving that if taste was sacrificed in them, it was as in others, a sacrifice to the times.

NERO, whose ridiculous pretensions to works of merit, were as vain as his genius was contempti­ble, gave a monstrous and fantastic air to all objects around him. The poets took the same tone, and SENECA was obliged to conform. Again. The extravagance and false dignity with which pieces were at that time represented to impose upon the people. The subject was always taken from re­ligion; gods were brought on the stage; and it was [Page 94] impossible to insert too much bombast in their ex­pressions. The eclat introduced into the music of the chorus, the marvellous magnificence of the scenes, all, to be of a piece, went prodigiously be­yond nature.

It was necessary in every way to strike the pub­lic with astonishment. In proportion as the thea­tres were enlarged, so they enlarged the figures of the actors. They walked upon stilts, they used a porte-voice, and covered their faces with masques which resembled those characters they represented. All this was necessary to delude a nation who panted to turn now and then from the horrible pic­tures presented every day to their sight by that un­natural and insatiable monster their sovereign; who not content with destroying an infinite number of the most illustrious citizens of ROME, conniving at poisoning his father, attempting to drown his mo­ther, and assasinating his wife and his brother, to heap up the measure of his abominable crimes, sacrificed the very man whom he had compelled to throw this veil over the eyes of his subjects, that they might be diverted from the just and equita­ble revenge which at length, to save their sink­ing honour, became the reward of his ignorant pride, his despicable cowardice, and his diabolical cruelty.

[Page 95]NERO incorporated the natural cruelty of his character with the artificial subjects on the stage. If a poet would write a piece to please him it was impossible to shed too much blood. This monstrous mixture of barbarity and love for theatrical re­presentations carried him to the most extravagant lengths. He instituted the feasts Juvenalia, which were celebrated in honour of his mother, at the very moment that he meditated her destruction. The pomp introduced in these is inconceivable. Nothing could go beyond the parade except the vanity with which he exposed his incorrigible folly. Among the rest he offered the produce of his chin, when he was shaved for the first time, to JUPITER CAPITO­LINUS. He obliged persons of the first dis­tinction to perform different parts. He himself sung the fable of Atis, and the Bacchantes, while BURRHUS and SENECA were commanded to ex­cite the spectarors to applaud.

SUETONIUS informs, us, that when NERO per­formed on the stage, he filled his hair with golden powder to resemble APOLLO; and while he sung and accompanied himself with the lyre, the sol­diers with the point of the sword extorted ap­plause from the people.

All this serves to induce a belief that however, the stoical austerity and gravity of SENECA might [Page 96] incline him to be silent as to the hand he had in those tragedies, they were either written or con­nived at by him; and that whatever there is amiss in them he was compelled to admit, and whatever ex­cellent sprung from his own genius.

It must be allowed that they contained, in places, some most admirable morality. In the choruses, in particular, there are brilliant sentences, filled with superb images, and expressed in beautiful verse. Upon the whole, though taken altogether, they can­not serve as patterns for dramatic writing; though the admirers of the great stoic philosopher, may feel there being attributed to him as degrading to the me­mory of their favourite; yet, with all their faults, and with all his high reputation, they contain, clogged, perhaps, and fettered with unworthy and disgraceful passages impelled by the glare of a tyrant's fal­chion, sentiments which might legitimately emanate from the soul of SENECA.

There were other tragic poets among the Ro­mans, but we know very little of them. MARCUS ATTILIUS wrote tragedies, but his style was bar­barous, for so CICERO tells us, and LUCINIUS calls him the Iron Poet.

PUBLIUS POMPONIUS, who was the relation and intimate friend of PLINY, wrote tragedies at [Page 97] the time of the emperor CLAUDIUS who very much admired them. PUBLIUS seems to have written with a more independant spirit than SENECA; for, FABIUS says, that being desired by the emperor to take certain passages out of his pieces, he an­swered, ‘"I shall appeal to the people."’ He was not less distinguished in the army than on the the­atre; for TACITUS tells us, that he was once re­warded with the honour of a triumph.

SULPITIUS is spoken of as an author of merit CICERO calls him the tragic orator. STRABO speaks of DIODORUS of Alexandria, who acquired con­siderable reputation in his tragedies. ATHENAEUS tells us of LEONTINE, OVID of TURANIUS, AC­RON of ARISTIUS FUSCUS, and PROPERTIUS of PONTHICUS; but, indeed, there was scarcely an eminent man among the Romans but had something to do with the theatre. The ancient grammarians have given an account of the Thyestus of GRAC­CHUS, the Alcmeon of CATULLUS, the Adrastus of CAESAR, the Ajax of AUGUSTUS, the Octavio of MAECENAS, and the Medea of OVID; but they say that these tragedies are all lost, and that the loss is not worthy to be regretted.


TO this moment, perhaps, comedy has not been critically defined. It is not the ancient, or the comedy of PHRYNICHUS and his followers, because there is something shockingly revolting in holding up men by their names and proclaiming their vices and follies to the world, and comedy ought not to revolt an audience. It is not the middle, or the comedy of ARISTOPHANES and his followers, be­cause, though the man is not named, if he be not so represented as to be known to all the world, the audience cannot be satisfied; if he be so known, they must be shocked on the side of humanity, and comedy ought not to excite either of these conse­quences. It cannot be the new, or the comedy of MENANDER and his followers, because, though in this species of comedy both names and circum­stances are feigned, yet the licence is so wide and diffusive, that there is scarcely any province in the [Page 99] whole circle of the drama that it might not em­brace, and comedy should neither soar nor de­generate.

Comedy appears then to be the essence of ME­NANDER's plan applied by an ingenious poet to man­ners, time, and place; and so managed as to repre­sent common life so exact, so animated, and so faith­ful, that the author, the actors, and the spectators, may go away satisfied with one another. Not a portrait, but a picture; not the likeness of an individual, but a resemblance of the whole audience; nay, of the whole world, of human nature. Every thing above this trenches upon tragedy, every thing below it sinks into farce.

Merely to laugh and to cry, is to indulge two emotions of the mind derived from the same origin, and which have so very little to do with the heart that one is not always a sign of joy, nor the other of grief. When I see a character put into all situations but those which are natural to it, I think of a groom exercising a managed horse; and after be­coming fatigued with his bounds, his leaps, and his caprioles, I long to see him walk. In short let no poet expect to produce a real comedy who cannot excite every emotion of the soul without unworthily [Page 100] surprising the heart, or reproaching the under­standing.

If this be any thing like the true definition of comedy, we must despair of finding it in any re­pute among the Romans; for TERENCE came very far short of it in one respect, and PLAUTUS went very far beyond it in the other; and as to any comic writers but those, what did they produce but pityful farce, and contemptible buffoonery.

Comedy, in ROME, did not establish itself syste­matically and by degrees as it did in GREECE; for PLAUTUS wrote for the theatre during the time of LIVIUS ANDRONICUS, and TERENCE, who was nine years old when PLAUTUS died, must of course have been cotemporary with PACUVIUS and ACCIUS; so that every thing serious and comic, good and bad, came at once; and so it was but Grecian, found a kind welcome among the Romans. On this account their theatre adopted indiscriminately every species of dramatic amuse­ment, from the loftiest tragedy to the most miserable farce, and that which was absurdest was the most admired.

Had the taste of the Romans admitted of re­gularity, PLAUTUS and TERENCE might certainly [Page 101] have gone a great way towards establishing a cri­terion for comedy; but PLAUTUS, in compliance with the times, prostituted that real wit which he certainly possessed, and which, properly and reso­lutely exercised, might have shamed the people out of those monstrous satires and gross farces, which disgraced the stage; and TERENCE, determined upon a reform, went to the other extreme and ex­hibited, as an object of public admiration, a muse, correct indeed, in perfect proportion, measured and compassed to a nicety; but which wanted warmth, animation, and spirit; serious without interest, good without a motive, and virtuous without in­ducement.

It was said that the impures of TERENCE spoke more modestly than the honest women of PLAUTUS; therefore both were out of place. It must he al­lowed, however, that the praise of the candid and the sensible is eminently due to both these poets; but the manners were too corrupt for any reasonable hope of reformation. The task was Herculean; and if ARISTOPHANES, who laid about him soundly, sparing neither friend nor foe, could work no reform in polished GREECE, but on the contrary much mischief, how should PLAUTUS, without the same club, or the strength to wield it, expect a reform in barbarous ROME; and if MENANDER, with the [Page 102] grace of eloquence, the purity of reason, and the beauty of truth, could make no impression on re­creant minds, once accustomed to love virtue, how should TERENCE hope that cions from these exo­tics, which had drooped and died at home, should flourish into strength and beauty in an uncongenial foil.

PLAUTUS has been warmly praised and severely censured. VARRO says, that if the Muses were to speak Latin they would certainly speak in the lan­guage of PLAUTUS*. It is the opinion of CICERO, GELLIUS, MACROBIUS, LIPSIUS, and others, that his genuine ridicule, the truth of his characters, the pleasantry and poignancy of his wit, and the force of his satire, have set him far beyond all the other Roman comic writers. On the contrary, another troop of critics, headed by HORACE, censure his wit in the severest terms, as unintelligible, gross, ob­scene, and void of that beauty and truth so essential in the composition of comedy.

[Page 103]PLAUTUS, not being able to do what he wished, did what he could. 'Tis a constant, but lamentable excuse, to say all this must be done to comply with the taste of the times. In this case an author does not write for the instruction of the world, the world instruct him what to write. PLAUTUS thus tired out, very soon, by the bye, of instructing others, was willing enough to take these instructions himself, preferring profit to fame; for which poetic sin he is said to have been severely punished; for, being a covetous man, after he had amassed a fortune by his works, he became a bankrupt, and worked as a jour­neyman miller to procure himself a subsistance.

As to TERENCE, though PLAUTUS had cer­tainly a stronger genius, and a more fervid imagina­tion, he will long continue to live in the knowledge and estimation of all nations with a certain and decided reputation; and yet it is a reputation that does not excite much envy. It is in vain to deny that without MENANDER there could have been no TERENCE; but yet MENANDER having written plays on a plan which exposed vice without exposing individuals, having attempted to simplify comedy in GREECE as AESCHYLUS had simplified tragedy; the good sense of TERENCE in preserving this treasure which he had the fortune to find, and the modesty to give to the world as free from alloy as possible, [Page 104] cannot be enough commended; and it is not because he has laboured to transmit to posterity the reputation of MENANDER that we must deny reputation to him.

It is said, that though HOMER ought most to be admired, VIRGIL ought most to be copied, for, though VIRGIL is an imitator of HOMER, yet the style of VIRGIL will ever beget him a higher degree of literary reputation; and yet who would not, after all this, rather be HOMER than VIRGIL? And so of TERENCE; his dialogue is full of beauty, polish, and regularity; his characters are natural, exact, and finished; and his conduct chaste, proper, and decorous; but he has no variety, his plots have a tiresome sameness, and his scene and his characters have nothing to do with one another; all which forces his very admirers to remark that he is only perfect as far as he goes. The fact is, that every thing in TERENCE is Greek except the language.

On the other hand, as TERENCE was not original like MENANDER, and had not the genius, the wit and the fire of MENANDER, though his style, and the merit of having conveyed the resemblance of that admirable poet to posterity, will be gratefully acknowledged by every admirer of diligent industry; yet I would rather be MENANDER with all his [Page 105] obligations to TERENCE, than TERENCE with all his obligations to MENANDER.

The distinction between PLAUTUS and TE­RENCE seems to be this. PLAUTUS gave an un­bridled licence to his wit, TERENCE curbed his too tightly; censurable this in either case. CAESAR wishes that TERENCE had possessed the vis comica of PLAUTUS, and yet he acknowledges that it was indelicate and coarse. QUINTILIAN, PATER­CULLUS, and others of the ancients have wished PLAUTUS to have had the urbanity and purity of TERENCE, which ERASMUS says may be considered as a criterion of the Latin language, and yet this urbanity is allowed to be cold and tame.

Both English and French critics, supporting their opinions by ancient authorities, have written as oppositely on this subject as frost is to fire; some maintaining that PLAUTUS is neglected, for that he possessed every necessary requisite of a first rate dramatic genius; others that he is a miserable farce-writer, and beneath contempt or criticism; and, as to TERENCE, scarcely have you shut up one au­thority by which you learn that no true beauty or refined elegance can go beyond him, but you open another where he is said to have been so dull, that [Page 106] there are but two passages in his six plays that stand the smallest chance of provoking a smile.

Justice, therefore, I think, will take a middle course, and incline us to believe that though the reputation of PLAUTUS and TERENCE, as imitators of ARISTOPHANES and MENANDER, may admit of a considerable deduction; yet had they not been fettered by the false taste of that country in which they wrote, and which would admit of no innovation but what was Greek, they might, from their own in­trinsic merit, have established a much more brilliant reputation.


OF ROME, where the dramatic art did not come forward in its natural gradation, but where a taste for tragedy, comedy, farce, pantomime, satire, masque, tragic-comedy, and every thing regular and irregular prevailed, just as whim or caprice governed the moment, it is difficult to give a di­gested account of the stage.

We have seen that gross satires and buffoonery originally prevailed, and that these satires and this buffoonery were born from drunken feasts, and, therefore, full of indecency and licentiousness; and that after a time they assumed the form of invectives of a most vehement kind against the supposed vices of particular persons. In this state we have seen them prohibited; but their spirit, however, was never lost, for in proportion as they were admitted by different legislators, so they were, at different [Page 108] times, the leading favourites of the people*, to the rejection, at intervals, of the works of those poets who had, as we have seen, laboured with so much industry, and to so little purpose to amend a bad taste.

Pantomimes were also, at times, prodigiously followed. These flourished in ROME during the reign of AUGUSTUS. Some say they originated at that time, but this is not the truth; for there can be no doubt but they were antecedent even to the [Page 109] Grecian Chorus*. They were introduced at ROME by PYLADES and BATHYLLUS. PYLADES was celebrated for serious subjects, and BATHYLLUS for comic.

What we are told of these pantomimes is beyond measure astonishing. SENECA confesses he had a real taste and passion for them. LUCIAN tells us, that though mute and unassisted by either poetry or music, they were as affecting as the tragedies and comedies of their best writers; but as pantomimes, the only part of the drama in which the Romans im­proved on the Greeks, were the last and most se­rious innovation, and as they led to all those factions and dissentions, struggling with which the theatre received its death wound, they shall rest till we have seen in what manner poor tragedy and comedy were tossed about in that agitated sea of swelling, broken, and jarring interests, the Roman theatre.

Soon after regular pieces were introduced, sa­tires were neglected, and continued to be so during the time the poets themselves performed in their [Page 110] own dramas. But the youths of ROME, tired of tragedies, at length took possession of the theatre, where they performed satires by way of interlude, in the place of the chorus. To conciliate also the suff­rages of the Romans for this innovation on dramatic regularity, they produced pieces in imitation of the Greek satires, which were partly serious and partly comic.

To such a pitch was this carried, that the com­mon people, who relished nothing but grossness and buffoonery, in the midst of the regular performances were continually calling for athletic feats, tumbling, and bear dancing. One of the comedies of TE­RENCE is said to have been thus interrupted several times during the two first representations, and the performers were obliged to quit the theatre, to make place for rope-dancers and gladiators; for, had this not been complied with, a further repre­sentation of the comedy would never have been permitted*.

[Page 111]The tragi-comedies, however, in a great mea­sure reconciled this; and as the performers were freed men, the citizens considered them in as re­spectable a light as the poets. Thus an amnesty was at length agreed on, the chorus was permitted in its place, and they were contented to perform the satires by way of after-pieces.

Before the time of SCIPIO, the African—who some believe to have had a hand, together with LELIUS his friend, in the comedies of TERENCE—the senators and the Roman knights assisted at the spectacles promiscuously with the plebeians: the only distinction paid to the patricians was, the ple­beians were obliged to find every thing in prepara­tion for them. Afterwards, however, there was a considerable difference made between them, and it was from this time that the theatres grew into regu­larity, which ended in the building of amphitheatres in a style prodigiously large and astonishingly mag­nificent. In the amphitheatre built by JULIUS CAESAR we are told that a hundred thousand persons could be commodiously seated. In these buildings were placed orchestras where the senators sat; and, in a distinguished eminence, the emperor and his family: the patricians had also places set apart for them, and the plebeians occupied the remaining space.

[Page 112]AUGUSTUS added a superb covering of purple to the theatre for the convenience of the spectators: he also built porticos; and finding that JULIUS CAESAR had lost some of his popularity by not pay­ing that attention to their amusement expected by the public, he himself made it his study to apply very closely to whatever could engage their interest through the medium of promoting their pleasures. He was very exact in his attendance at the theatre; and when indisposition, or affairs of state prevented his personal appearance, he never failed to send some of his family to represent him and make his excuses to the people. In this manner, mingling policy with their enjoyments, he insinuated himself with greater certainty into their affections, and carried all his points so well by this ingenious and sensible conduct, that he never found it difficult to broach measures which, had they been introduced in a mode less enticing, might have been considered as dangerous novelties*.

The Romans had in their entertainments the most superb machines, in some of which chariots traversed the theatre; in others gods descended [Page 113] through the roof; and a third sort were so constructed so as to support characters which appeared to be flying. On these they ventured so much at hazard, that many dreadful accidents befel them. We are told in SUETONIUS that an actor who was perform­ing the part of Icarus, in the presence of NERO, so exerted himself that though he fabled the charac­ter, he realised the catastrophe; for falling from a prodigious height, he was dashed to pieces, and the emperor was covered with his blood*

Among the Romans it was very frequently the custom for two actors to perform the same part in conjunction, that is to say, one spoke and another acted. The following circumstance is said to have given rise to it.

LIVIUS ANDRONICUS, who has been already mentioned as the first regular poet, and who per­formed in his own pieces, gave the audience such satisfaction that they frequently obliged him to re­peat the most pleasing passages. One day he was encored so often that, by mere dint of exertion, he became extremely hoarse. Rather than fail of their [Page 114] entertainment, the audience made another actor re­cite the words, and entreated ANDRONICUS to sup­ply the action. This he did so much to their con­tent, that they immediately adopted this mode as an improvement on their former plan; for, having now nothing to attend to but the action, they found that the performer was much more animated; which, it will be seen, was extremely necessary when we consider how vast their theatres were, that they performed in masks, and that the movement of their mouths and muscles could not be so accurately distinguished as to ascertain whether they spoke or not.

When this custom came to be more perfect, a singer was chosen whose voice had the nearest resemblance to that of the actor. This singer was placed in a convenient situation towards the back of the stage. He always spoke in a certain measure regulated upon fixed musical principles, which measure also regulated the gesticulation and deportment of the actor. In addition to this, when several performers sung together, a man with iron shoes beat time with his feet, which could not fail to be heard by all those who bore a part.

This extravagant propensity for action intro­duced, as we have seen, pantomimes. These were found, however, alarming and dangerous. The ex­treme [Page 115] passion the people had for these sort of enter­tainments gave rise to cabals, and cabals begat fac­tions. They even wore uniforms to distinguish the different species of pantomime each espoused in imitation of those who conducted the race-chariots at the CIRCUS. They called themselves the blues and the greens; and, at length, these factions ex­cited the most dangerous tumults.


THE manner in which the Romans paid attention to any thing was of so rude a kind, that the compli­ment was seldom either an honour, or an advantage; whereas the Greeks knew how to render a distinction more welcome by the mode of conferring it. It is on this account, perhaps, we have been told that the profession of an actor was disreputable at ROME, though honourable in GREECE*, for there is no­thing else that seems to lend probability to this report.

The actors in ROME were freed men, and en­joyed all the immunities of other citizens; but there were two circumstances which seemed to place them differently in rank to the actors in GREECE. In GREECE, the best authors were the best actors, [Page 117] and they were besides, as we have seen, very ho­nourably employed; whereas few of the Roman authors were actors; and, except in one or two in­stances, nothing can be said of their rank, for PLAUTUS was a miller's man, and TERENCE was a slave*. The other circumstance is, that though men of high rank and considerable employment, from ediles to emperors, were actors, yet they were not professionally so, but in the nature of amateurs; and on this account they could not have kept up their distinction off the stage had they not affected to look down on those, without whose assistance they would have cut a despicable figure on it.

Thus acting in ROME was a profession by itself; and it is on this account, probably, it grew into such astonishing repute. In GREECE it was no un­common thing for authors to teach actors their man­ner; to note, measure, and point the cadence, that the actors might be tutored into reciting and singing, as regularly as boys are in a cathedral. In ROME [Page 118] all this was unnecessary; actors, as to representation, could teach authors.

What astonishing things we are told of AESOP and ROSCIUS, who were preceptors in eloquence, AESOP in particular, to CICERO. The action of this great man, like that of DEMOSTHENES, was de­fective, 'till with unwearied attention he had studied under these actors; from whom he imbibed such commanding powers of attracting and persuading his hearers by the force of his gesture, the modu­lation of his voice, and the grace of his action, as to be acknowledged the greatest orator of an­tiquity*.

AESOP performed tragedy, and ROSCIUS come­dy; therefore, just as we say tragedy and comedy, or GREECE and ROME, giving the ancient title the first distinction, so we say AESOP and ROSCIUS, but there can be no doubt but ROSCIUS had more uni­versal merit than AESOP. Of this his rendering CICERO's oration not only perfectly intelligible [Page 119] but greatly interesting by gesture alone is a most astonishing proof. His judgment is spoken of in terms of wonder. He taught acting to all ranks, by which he amassed prodigious riches, and never failed at first sight to predict the degree of progress his scholar would make. He had such strength of mind, and such acute perception, that he penetrated the very recesses of the heart. No wonder such a man should command the passions of his audience*.

ROSCIUS certainly was immensely rich. His salary was equal to three thousand pounds a year; and as he performed very late in life, as he made incredible sums by teaching, and as he had led a pretty regular life, a few freaks with SYLLA and others excepted, by which he was rather likely to gain than to lose, by the time he arrived to eighty-one, at which age he died, he must have realized a monstrous sum.

All the great men, who were cotemporary with ROSCIUS and survived him, pay the most enthu­siastic tributes of love and esteem to his memory. CICERO regreted him most servently. ‘"Where,"’ [Page 120] said he, in one of his most celebrated orations, ‘"is the man among us who has so hardened a mind, and so unfeeling a heart, as not to be deeply af­fected at the death of ROSCIUS!"’ CATULLUS compares his form, with all its imperfections, to the refulgent beauty of the rising sun. Indeed he might have gone on through the splendor of all the stages of that luminary; for, if we may credit the nu­merous eulogiums on his merit and virtues, he was glorious even in his decline.

The character of AESOP was in every respect different. As an actor he confined himself to tra­gedy, which by this time had gone far beyond de­clamation, almost the only distinction it attained in GREECE; he seems to have perfected the acting of tragedy by infusing into his very soul the sentiments and feelings of the character he had to represent. PLUTARCH tells us, that, one day, he performed Atreus; and in that part in which he considers how he may best kill THYESTES, he worked himself into such a pitch of ungovernable anger, that a servant happening to pass by, he struck at him with his sceptre and laid him dead at his feet.

AESOP was one of the greatest voluptuaries of his time, and this may serve to give an idea of the prodigious riches which were the reward of thea­trical [Page 121] talents in ROME. If an actor could have emulated the extravagance of LUCULLUS and others, and refined upon gluttony till the value of a single dish should amount to five hundred pounds; what must have been his emoluments? AESOP is said to have gone on in this profusion during a long life; and, at length, so far from dying insolvent, to have left his son enough to enable him to play the same game over again with additions and improve­ments; for not content with costly dishes, he added costly beverage, presenting his guests with dissolved pearls* to wash down stewed tongues of speaking and singing birds.

AESOP, owing, perhaps, to his profligate way of living, fell off greatly towards the latter part of his life. This failure of his powers induced him to re­tire from the stage, and when, with the vanity of a veteran, instead of listening to prudence, and con­tenting himself with the well earned laurels he wore, he rashly exposed himself, many years after he had [Page 122] retired, on the opening of POMPEY's theatre. The Romans received his ineffectual efforts to please with a mixture of pity and contempt.

What has injured the consequence of the Roman actors, and, indeed, most of their men of genius, is their having so far let down their pride as to mix with great men who treated them merely as buffoons. SYLLA could go no where without his herd of poets, musicians, actors, and mimics; in which frolics ROSCIUS is reproached with having joined in the mummery of SOREX and MATROBIUS.

ANTONY is said to have come reeling to the Senate after sitting up all night at the wedding of HIPPIAS. The actor SERGIUS had such interest with him as to get rewards from him, and make him confer favours; and CYTHERIS, an actress, had the address to manage his heart at her capricious will. She attended him in his excursions; her equipage was prodigiously expensive; till, at length, she be­came the mimic representative in ROME, of what CLEOPATRA was afterwards the reality in Egypt*.

[Page 123]After all, though the merit of the Roman actors must have been very great and extraordinary, yet there is something extremely revolting in the strange and inconvenient mediums by which the pieces were represented to the audience. One of the actors spoke while another accompanied him with proper gestures. The voice of the reciter was conveyed through a tube of brass, for other­wise how could it have been heard by so large an assembly. In order to give a stronger idea than mere muscular gesticulation could do of the passion to be expressed, monstrous masks were worne, ex­pressing joy on one side of the face, and grief on the other; so that if the gesticulator did not take [Page 124] good care he might have congratulated his friend with a sad countenance, or murdered him with a merry one.

Much has been said by various authors concern­ing these masks; more, indeed, than the subject seems worthy of. It has been contended by some, that the mask covered the head and shoulders, un­der an idea, I presume, that the head, thus en­larged, would throw the whole frame into sy­metry, when the body was raised upon stilts; but this would have been a miserable shift, because in proportion as the mask enlarged the head, and the stilts lengthened the legs, the arms unfortunately would have been ridiculously too short. Others are of opinion that the mask was hollow from the face; and, by taking a greater circumference, ap­peared to enlarge it, to which the helmit gave as­sistance; but this expedient, when we add the stilts, will put the arms in the same awkward predica­ment they were in before. The most probable ac­count, therefore, we have is, that the mask was like gold beaters skin, so transparent, and so artfully pre­pared and fixed, that the play of the muscles was plainly seen through it, and that the eyes, the mouth, and the ears, were not concealed at all.

On these masks they delineated carefully the features of the very character that was to be repre­sented. [Page 125] In other respects, as by the mouth and the eyes are expressed the vivacity and disorder of the passions, the movements of the mind were disernable through this thin veil, and by this means the actor was never before the audience but the character.

Thus, by the help of these masks, age became youth, and ugliness beauty. PLINY tells us of an actress who performed comedy to admiration at a hundred years old, at which age one should suppose her whole form would need a mask.

We are, however, far to seek in this business, and the farther we seek the less we shall be satisfied. It is probable that masks of each of these descrip­tions were used both in GREECE and in ROME; but it must have been entirely to enforce expression on account of the great distance of the actor from the remote part of the spectators; an expedient, how­ever, to remedy an inconvenience is not a per­fection; and, in spight of numberless historians, who unanimously agree that the effect of these masks was beyond conception astonishing, in spight of our conviction, as far as it relates to pantomimic characters, the gestures of which were, at the time of RICH, wonderfully expressive; masks that co­vered the shoulders, must have been frightful and gigantic, masks which extended the size of the [Page 126] face fantastic and grotesque, and transparent masks, by the impossibility of leaving the apertures cor­rect, and of stretching them so as to play in unison with the muscles, must have exhibited an effect paralytic and ludicrous; and, in spight of the pain­ter, who on these masks laboured so ingeniously to portray the mind, the more he came up to the truth and correctness of nature, the more we should be induced to say, ‘"draw the curtain and let us see the picture."’

But there are stronger objections than these, the best acting of AESOP and ROSCIUS was without masks, and when they came to mere pantomimes, of which we are told such wonderful things, it is im­possible to have conveyed a thousandth part of the expression they are reported to have contained, ex­cept by an undisguised exertion of the features*.

In short, every exaggerated expedient, invented [Page 127] by art, and substituted by necessity, must have been a departure from nature; and the answer of a child might be anticipated, who should be asked whether so gross a violation could be the perfection of that art which can derive no merit but from its fidelity as a representative of nature.

The vagaries of NERO would claim no right to he mentioned here, being no more than the frantic acts of a magnificent madman, by profession an em­peror not an actor, had they not degraded the dra­matic taste, and hastened the theatre to its dissolution. Happy had it been, however, for his country, and for humanity, had he contented himself with a dis­play of mimic greatness on the stage; if, for every murder in tragedy he had not perpetrated a hundred murders among his subjects; if, with a love of those arts that humanize and correct the heart, he had not unnaturally blended every detestable and sanguinary passion that can debase and corrupt it.

Possessed as he was, without the faintest shadow of [Page 128] either poetical, musical, or theatrical abilities, he would be considered as the most consummate prac­titioner in all; and woe to those who did not une­quivocally acknowledge his claim. It was enough that it was his fiat, and that he had proclaimed himself the first artist; 'till, in this career of alternate folly and wickedness, and growing satiated with extorted applause at home, he determined not only to make a musical and theatrical tour of his own empire, but to extend his visit to GREECE.

Applause extorted at the point of the sword, attended him wherever he went. No one was per­mitted to leave the theatre during the time of his performance, and, to manifest the indignation that his performance naturally inspired would have been instant death. It is said that the novelty of an em­peror on the stage had at first such an effect, that the audience did not perceive an earthquake which really happened while he was singing; yet, when the first movements of their curosity had subsided, men leaped privately from the walls to escape from such an absurdity; and women pretended to fall into fainting sits as an excuse to be carried out; while the soldiers were so vigilant in enforcing applause that the looks and actions of men were not their own. An old senator named VESPASIAN, who had fallen asleep during one of these per­formances, narrowly escaped with his life.

[Page 129]The arts he used to obtain the victory over the performers were truly contemptible. He bribed the judges, ordered his followers to prepare the public mind in his favour, and decry the merit of his competitors. One inconsiderate singer who had great vanity, greater abilities, and more indiscretion than either, sung so much to the satisfaction of the people, that NERO ordered him instantly to be put to death.

Among the Greeks, however, now effeminated, profligate, and artful, so much precaution was un­necessary. NERO proclaimed himself an APOLLO wherever he went; and, though he was thrown out at the Olympic games, he not only obtained the crown, but afterwards at the Isthmean, Pythian, and the Nemean games, where he performed still worse. In short, he remained a whole year in GREECE, where all was feigned extacy, and hypocritical rap­ture at his different performances; nay, he bore off from thence eighteen hundred crowns earned by his extravagant folly, and given by their political cun­ning; and, so far was this from softening his mind, the remainder of his life was a studied climax of cruelty.

Dramatic representations became from this period more and more licentious. The panto­mimes, which had long prevailed, and which had [Page 130] caused so much tumult and mischief, at length fell off and tragic-comedy gained ground. This hetro­geneous representation, admitting of every thing monstrous and ridiculous, destroyed by degrees all regularity and order; and, as it grew ruder and ruder, it partook of all the bitterness and malignity of personal and pointed satire*.

At length the courage of Romans was visible only in their dramas, for in these they boldly ventured to introduce under the mask of fiction, accusations which for their lives they dared not openly to broach. Strong genius, however, true wit, and genuine humour, having gradually withdrawn from the stage, after a time it became deplorable; and, as it followed the example of GREECE in its rise, so did it in its dissolution.


AS the theatre in SPAIN, even to this moment, has never had to boast of any thing regularly dramatic, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to give a methodical account of it. The wit and humour that have so lavishly pervaded it, manifest the most luxuriant fertility in the genius of their dramatic writers; whose works, crude and irregular as they are, have served like a rich mine for the French, and, indeed, the English at second hand to dig in. Their wit, however, like their hard dollars, can never be considered as staple, but a useless mass of no intrinsic value till manufactured into literary merchandize by the ingenuity and labour of other countries.

The Spaniards had some knowledge of dramatic entertainments, even when the Romans began first to be celebrated for good poetry. The ruins of so many ancient theatres—the vestiges of which are [Page 132] yet to be seen in their principal towns—give incon­testible proofs how much they were delighted with this species of amusement; but the Goths, and other Barbarians that overrun the kingdom, drove out the Muses, and consequently among them THA­LIA. As for MELPOMENE she never even to this hour resided in SPAIN.

The Arabs, however, brought THALIA back again, and by introducing a rude sort of supersti­tious drama, which was intermingled with grotesque provincial farce, established the foundation of the first Castilian plays. The subjects were sometimes the loves of shepherds, and sometimes different points of religion; such as the birth of our Sa­viour, the Passion, the Temptation in the Desert, and the Martyrdom of some of the Saints. These sacred pieces were played as intermezzos, and the decorations consisted of views of Paradise, Hell, the Trinity, the Sacrament, and to make the re­semblance more interesting, it was no unusual thing, in this strange jumble of sacred and pro­phane, to administer benedictions, and sing Te Deum *.

[Page 133]In one of these pieces entitled The Creation, ADAM enters on one side, and the CREATOR, on the other: CHAOS stands in the middle. ADAM entreats GOD to destroy CHAOS, and create MAN. In another piece the DEVIL tempts the Chevalier St. JAMES—who is described to be of a good fa­mily [Page 134] —to reject our SAVIOUR because he is only the son of a carpenter, and cannot produce letters of nobility. In short, it is impossible to imagine a thousandth part of the insufferable ignorance and absurdity these strange farragoes contained, which are not to this day entirely abolished.

What astonishes one most is the ludicrous and blasphemous applications they continually make of the texts of scripture. There is scarcely any passage in the prayers of the church, or in holy writ, but is employed in these burlesque scenes in the most in­decent manner. A valet asks a girl if she be a vir­gin. ‘'Yes indeed I am,'’ says the girl, ‘'but don't you think so yourself.'’ The valet with great se­riousness quotes St. THOMAS, and says, ‘'Nisi vi­dero, non credam.'’

These extraordinary jumbles, however, are now little performed, except in the remote parts of the kingdom, where prejudice still reigns in all its in­fluence;—whereas, at CADIZ, BARCELONA, VA­LENCIA, and MADRID—which places are fre­quented by strangers, and consequently more po­lished—the dramatic entertainments are better re­gulated.

At the early period of the Spanish drama, while [Page 135] buffoons, jugglers, and histrions, who found their way to SPAIN as well as to ROME, amused the peo­ple with these heterogeneous representations, men of good sense, who noticed the regularity and nature which characterised the best works of antiquity, be­held with displeasure how much these monstrous farces were beneath the wisdom and the taste of the ancients.

A strong desire to remedy this, induced them to compose dialogues, which they called comedies; yet these were too tedious and unconnected to ad­mit of representation. Their tendency, however, was meritorious, but they made little progress to­wards the cure of the licentious manners of the times. At length these plays began to be mixed with that very libertinism they were originally written to explode.

Such is the famous comedy of Calixtus and Melibeus, where the descriptions are so lively, the characters so loose, and the circumstances so lasci­vious, that it was considered as dangerous to expose them to public representation. In other respects these plays were much too long to be patiently heard to an end; yet as they ardently wished for some­thing on the stage less reproachable, some transla­tions in prose from the Greek and Latin drama ef­fected [Page 136] in time a considerable reform in the Spanish theatre.

LOPES DE RUEDA, a native of SEVILLE, was the first who gave reputation to the drama in SPAIN. He was both a poet and a player. CERVANTES says that he excelled in pastoral poetry, which he worked as episodes into his dramatic pieces—but the theatre was yet a rude piece of building, con­taining only four very long seats. The actors were habited in skins fringed with gold, and in a large piece of tapestry, drawn aside by two cords, con­sisted the whole of their scenery, machinery, and decoration; but yet they were greatly followed, and RUEDA acquired incredible reputation in parts of simplicity, braggadocia, and vulgarity.

The famous author of Don Quixote, started as a comic writer. With a happy and fertile invention, he wrote several admirable pieces which might have served as a model to his country. LOPES DE VEGA, on the contrary, despised the rules of the ancients, and banished probability, regularity, and decency from the stage. His heroes came into the world, grew up, became old, and died in the same representation. They ran all over the earth; they slept in the east, dined in the north, and when he found the world too small for their pranks, he conducted them into [Page 137] the air, to go to bed. His valets spoke the lan­guage of courtiers, his princes of coxcombs, and his ladies of quality that of fish women. His actors made their entrance in a mob, and their exits in confusion. In one piece probably you have sixty principal characters*.

The rules of art were not much better observed in CALDERONE. A play is the history of a man's whole life, which he sometimes contrives to spin out for sixty years, without plan, preparation, or probability; and, to add to all this barbarous ab­sence of taste, the more affecting scenes are filled with the grossest buffoonery. A Prince, in a situa­tion of inexpressible wretchedness, is interrupted by the senseless pleasantry of some impertinent servant: and yet, in spight of these defects, CALDERONE is the idol of the Spanish theatre; and after all it must be confessed that you admire in his style a nobleness of diction, an elegance without obscurity, while his artful manner of keeping the spectators in [Page 138] a pleasing yet continual suspence, has a truly in­genious and comic effect.

SOLIS, MORETO, ZAMORA, CANDAMO, and CANIZAREZ, merit praise for having approached nearer to regularity. That, however, which we find most wonderful in the dramatic authors of this nation is the prodigious, the immense quantity of their works. It is impossible to hear without ado­nishment that LOPES DE VEGA composed two thousand different pieces for the stage; yet, when we consider the nature and the form of these works, the phenomenon is more easy to be conceived. The Spaniards have a great number of rhapsodies under the titles of chronicles, annals, romances, and legends. In these they find some historical anecdote, some entertaining adventure, which they transcribe without choice or exception. All the details they put into dialogue and to this compilation is given the dis­tinction, PLAY: thus one can easily imagine that a man in the habit of copying with facility, could write forty of these plays in less time than an author of real genius and regulated habitude could put out of his hands a single act; for the latter is obliged to design his characters, to pre­pare, graduate, and develope his intrigue, and to reconcile all this to the rules of decency, taste, probability, and, indeed, custom.

[Page 139]It is curious that the Spanish plays, which are no more than romances in dialogue, have been frequently re-transformed into romance. The task cannot be difficult: it is only to render the dia­logue again into recital. LE SAGE has done this several times in Gil Blas, and this is not the worst part of the work. His history of AURORA DE GUZMAN is translated from a play of MORETO*. Nor has LE SAGE been the only one who has built a reputation on the plunder of Spanish dramatists. Madam GOMEZ, SCARRON, and others have done the same; and it may be fairly averred, that most [Page 140] of the novels which had such success in the last century in FRANCE, and part of this century in ENGLAND, are nothing more than Spanish dramas metamorphosed into French and English narrations.

It must be allowed that no nation was ever so fertile in invention, or so wide of regularity as SPAIN: the reason is evident. Spanish gallantry consists entirely of stratagem; and fancy is per­petually upon the stretch to bring about natural events by extraordinary means. Their manners are derived originally from the Moors, and are tinged with a sort of African taste, too wild and extra­vagant for the adoption of other nations, and which cannot accommodate itself to rule or precision.

Impressed with an idea of that knight errantry which CERVANTES so successfully exposed, Spanish lovers seem as if they took a gloomy pleasure in disappointment. They enter the lists of gallantry as if they were more pleased with the dangers of the tournament than the enjoyment of the reward; and, at length, when they arrive at the possession of that object with which they were originally smitten with a glance from a lattice, or a regard in a cloister through a thick veil; disappointment suc­ceeds to admiration, and they grow jealous and outrageous to find that love is the very reverse of [Page 141] caprice, and that happiness cannot be ensured but by a long and intimate acquaintance with the heart.

On the other side, the lady, immured from the sight of men, reads romances, and heroically re­solves to consider, as her destined lover, the first who has the address and the courage to rescue her from her giant father, and her monster duenna. Reason, prudence, mutual intelligence, purity of sentiment, and affection; these have nothing to do in the affair. Fate settles the whole business and her deliverer, be he ugly or handsome, clownish or accomplished, is sure to carry her with a coup de main at the very first interview*.

We have no account of even one Spanish tra­gedy. The authors chose their characters indis­criminately; [Page 142] criminately; and it is very common to hear kings, princes, ministers, peasants, valets, bravoes, and hangmen trying which shall be loudest at the same scene; nay sometimes the latter class have all the interesting situations, while kings and nobles are the buffoons of the piece. It is not that the Spaniards want genius to arrive to this species of dramatic writing: on the contrary, there is an elevation in their minds, a grandeur in their ideas, and a noble­ness in their sentiments; but they know little of judgment and taste, nor can their redundant imagina­tions conform to the rules of art.

Except the spectacles of the court, the Spanish theatres are equally indecent on occount of their obscenity and their dirtiness. There are two the­atres at MADRID which seem to vie with each other which shall be the worst. Their best acting is low comedy, their declamation being insupportably tiresome, and their speaking through the nose, espe­cially the women, disgusting beyond expression. Between the acts they have grotesque intermezzos, which they play extempore. They are naturally performed, but they exhibit a strange mixture of joy, sentiment, reflection, and satire, and sometimes finish with songs composed in the Italian taste.—The instrumental performers are passible, but the singers detestable.

[Page 143]Although it is not intended to speak of opera as a branch of the dramatic art till it shall make a se­perate article in the French theatre, at which time its origin and progress will be particularly traced and followed up; yet it is impossible to refrain from noticing here the prodigious avidity with which this species of amusement, though by no means excellent, was followed not sixty years ago under FARINELLI*, whose extraordinary and facinating talent of im­posing upon credulity, will hereafter be enlarged upon in the history of the English theatre.

Fortunately for this strange adventurer, after he had gulled the English to their eternal reproach, and received such a reception from the French, as convinced him they were as well versed in trick as himself, the king of SPAIN happened to languish under a complaint for which, according to his physi­cians there could be no cure but music.

This intimation FARINELLI took the advan­tage of to some tune; for, being sent for by the [Page 144] queen, he so ingratiated himself at court that he presently had a pension settled on him of about three thousand two hundred pounds a year, and a coach and equipage kept at the king's expence.

Presents were made him of immense value. The king gave him his picture richly set with diamonds; the queen presented him with a snuff box with two diamonds of high price in the lid; the prince of ASTURIAS prevailed on him to accept of a diamond button and loop worth a prodigious sum; and he condescended to permit persons of all ranks to follow in proportion to their situations these very noble and meritorious examples of their betters.

The length of time that this folly existed is incre­dible; FERDINAND continued FARINELLI in his situation after the death of PHILIP; and, still to go beyond his predecessor in liberality, honoured him with a cross of Calatrava, one of the most an­cient orders of knighthood in SPAIN*. This was about the year 1750, and we find that after this, he [Page 145] continued to conduct the opera till the year 1761, when he retired to ITALY with his pension from the court of SPAIN settled on him for life.

We have now seen all that is remarkable or worthy to be related of the Spanish theatre, which, though a strange hetrogeneous jumble of jarring atoms, will be sound hereafter to have furnished some very rich materials which the French and En­glish theatrical chymists have ingeniously extracted to ornament their own productions.

They certainly prepared the French to receive a true taste for the dramatic art; who, without them, would probably never have imitated SOPHOCLES and TERENCE. The very name of the Cid shews whence CORNEILLE drew the original; and MO­LIERE, who is considered as the creator of the French comedy, derived much of his excellence from the same source.

This subject will be hereafter more fully dis­cussed, when many of the English dramatic writers, with BEAUMONT and FLETCHER at their head, will be shewn to have had obligations to the same quar­ter, and will serve to prove that the dramatic is truly an imitative art in a larger latitude than its [Page 146] general acceptation warrants; for, though nothing more is meant by the naked expression than that poets should produce a faithful imitation of nature, they have clothed it and very often disguised it by servilely imitating one another.


THE most celebrated dramatic poet among the Portuguese was BALTHAZAR, of the island of MA­DEIRA, who wrote ancient dramas called Auto, of which the greatest part was made up of pious sub­jects—like the ancient mysteries in FRANCE.—HENRY DE GOMEZ wrote twenty-two comedies, and GIL VINCENT, whom they looked upon as the PLAUTUS of PORTUGAL, served as a model for LOPES DE VEGA and QUIVEDO. It is said that ERASMUS learnt the Portuguese language on pur­pose to read the comedies of GIL VINCENT.

Spanish pieces, however, are those which are ge­nerally performed at LISBON; but the theatre be­ing extremely discouraged, has long languished there. Had it not been for the king's order, no opera would ever have been established in that capital; and, perhaps, it might as well have been let alone, for when they had their theatre, they had nothing to perform in it; whereas, at that time in [Page 148] FRANCE, they were full of good things without a theatre*.

The theatre, however, which is said to have been very superb, was overthrown by the famous earth quake, which, by some, was considered as a public benefit, for they performed in it so seldom, and at such an expence, that they estimated every representation at nearly four thousand dollars.


DRAMATIC entertainments had birth in modern ITALY under LEO the tenth.—The Sophonisba of the celebrated Prelate TRISSINO, the pope's nuncio, was the first regular tragedy known in Europe after those barbarous ages of which I have already given an account; as was the Calandra of Cardinal BIBIENA, the first comedy.

The Italians, however, seem to have had as in­different a taste for theatrical representations as the ancient Romans; as may be gathered from the fol­lowing account of Radamistus and Zenobia. The piece begins with a combat between more than a hundred persons. They fight on the stage, besiege a place, and carry it by assault, and, though the whole drift of the tragedy is intended to be as affect­ing as possible, Punchello is one of the warriors who frightens the combatants, parodies the best speeches, makes a jest of the hero, and behaves with all the ridiculous buffoonery of a puppet; and that the [Page 150] heroine may not want as striking a contrast as the hero, Zenobia's nurse is represented by a man with a black beard, and a wig made out of a lamb's skin with the wool on. This tender female talks of vir­tue and delicacy, is frightened lest some one should offer violence to her charms, and gives herself a thousand childish and coquettish airs.

ARIOSTO wrote for the stage. It is said that his father one day was, on some occasion, extremely angry with him. ARIOSTO listened to him with the most steady patience, and most profound attention. He neither said a single word in contradiction of his father, or justification of himself; but on the con­trary, heard him to an end with an impatient cu­riosity, and seemed to wish that the lecture had con­tinued longer. A friend who was present asked him after his father was gone why he had not said something in his own defence. ARIOSTO answered that he had been for some days working at a comedy, and on that very morning had been at a loss how to write a scene of a father reprimanding his son, that at the moment his father first opened his mouth, it struck him as an admirable opportunity to examine his manner with attention, that so he might paint his picture after nature, and being thus employed, he had noticed only the voice, the face and the action [Page 151] of his Father, without in the least regarding the truth or falsehood of what he laid to his charge.

In the time of RANUSE FARNESE, duke of Parma, a prince of uncommon understanding, an old nobleman blindly gave himself up to the arts of an infamous woman. The duke, who had a great regard for his courtier, was touched that he should be a victim to so shameful a passion, and did every thing in his power to cure him of his folly, without informing him of it in direct terms. At length, having made several attempts without success, he caused a comedy to be written, wherein the old no­bleman's absurdity was so strongly drawn, that it could not be mistaken; and yet so artfully, that it might be known for personality only by him whom it was intended to reclaim. The duke took the nobleman to the play, who struck with the reproach, not only turned off his mistress, but privately thanked the duke for a lesson by which he benefitted as long as he lived.

The Italian tragedies are miserable indeed. They are languid, verbose, and uninteresting, unless the human mind can be interested by subjects of hor­ror. St. EVREMOND instances this, speaking of The Feast of the Statue, from which MOLIERE took his singular but celebrated piece of Don John; [Page 152] ‘"The most patient man,"’ says he, ‘"would die with langour at that stupidest of all dull things the Feast of the Statue, and I never see it without wishing the abominable author thunderstruck with his abominable atheist."’

The Italian opera had some resemblance of the theatre in ATHENS. Italian recitative, like ancient declamation, was noted, and sustained ad libitum by m [...]cal instruments. The chorusses, which were added after a time, and which belonged to the body of the piece, and made a part of the general subject, were, and indeed are yet, expressed by a species of music different from the recitative, in the same man­ner as the strophe, the epode, and the antistrophe of the Greeks [...] sung in a manner totally different from the declamation. This was yet more closely adhered to as these spectacles became more perfect, for in many of the serious operas of the Abbe METASTASIO the unity of time, place, and action, are observed; and to this we may add, that these pieces are full of that poetic expression and fi­nished elegance, which embellish a natural subject without confusing it, and which the French say AD­DISON only attained among the English, and we that RACINE alone arrived to among the French.

TASSO, GUARINI, and others have also writ­written [Page 153] written comedies, as they were called, which in their way had great beauty and poetical me [...], but they were merely pastoral, and, therefore, [...] to do with what ought to be considered as comedy. The very names of AMINTA, and PASTOR [...]DO, with which pieces every reader of taste is well ac­quainted, will bear me out in this assertion*.

Other writers, however were not of opinion that pastorals were true comedy; for they acknow­ledged nothing under that title that was not a jum­ble of every species; and, as it were, GOLDONI, MACHIAVEL, TASSO, and GUARINI, all beat up together. Thus you had in one piece, in mo­dern ROME, all those subjects united, which, in an­cient ROME, it required so many quarrels to keep separate.

Haughty tyrants, languishing lovers, bears, devils, [Page 154] cupids, and scaramouches were presented you all in the same piece; and every thing was conducted in a manner so truly ridiculous, that if their intention was that comedy from that time should be considered as nothing more than a dramatic exhibition to excite laughter, they fairly succeeded; for, what with the stupidity, the absurdity, or the humour it was im­possible to avoid laughing throughout the piece. Unfortunately, however, as much as they gained on the side of the senses they lost on the side of the heart; for whatever these might be to create mirth, there was nothing to create interest.

I very much question, however, whether these very comedies did not go a great way towards per­fecting that species of dramatic production; for when they come to be incorporated into the French theatre, the history of which circumstance will be hereafter particularly related, they diffused a light­ness into the French taste, which had long languished under the verbosity and dullness of their comedies, as they were called, consisting of some single unin­teresting action drawled on through five acts of monotonous verse.

This lightness, infusing itself into general taste, obliged dramatic writers to become conformists; and as it approached nearer to nature than the old [Page 155] system, as it became adopted by men of real merit who knew what to preserve and what to reject, comedy, by degrees, became interesting as well as amusing.

It is certain, however, it never attained per­fection, a distinction it certainly once knew in this country, till we improved, in that as we have done in every effort of genius, on the French; and I shall instance VANBRUGH's comedy of the Con­federacy, which he translated from REGNARD, to prove this assertion.

In short, though the Italians continued to breathe the same air, and enjoy the influence of the same sun which warmed the Romans, they were no longer distinguished by their talents, nor animated with their virtues, for there was nothing left in ITALY of ROME but its vices. Greatness, courage, and manliness were gone, and nothing but effeminacy, voluptuousness, and licentiousness remained, and thus, if the Roman theatrical representations, by reflecting themselves, were a mixture of virtue and vice; those of the Italians, through the same mirror, were a mass of vice without the relief of any virtue at all.

ITALY has been famous for the comedies of [Page 156] GOLDONI, though they are the wildest rhapsodies that can be conceived. Those of MACHIAVAL have more merit.—In short, ITALY has to boast of no theatrical spectacles of consideration, but its operas, which, upon some particular occasions, have been most superb and magnificent. All this may be in a great measure attributed to the French, who brought the productions of the Italians into greater perfection by incorporating them with their own, of which I shall hereafter speak more at large, when I shall also speak of what was called the Italian can­vasses, planned by RICOBONI and others, which were imported into FRANCE, and begat the original celebrity of their petit pieces.


THE German theatre is about as ancient as the French, and till the times of CORNEILLE and MO­LIERE was as brilliant, and abounded as much in good authors. But as the French theatre improved, the German theatre degenerated. GOTTSCHED, of the academy instituted at BOLOGNE, and professor of the Belles Lettres, at LEIPSIC, re-established and entirely changed the scene, about the year 1700. He formed young actors, and excited young poets to write*. CATO, of UTICA, gave, as one may say, the signal for this revolution.

Finding, however, they were cultivating an un­grateful soil, they soon saw nothing of consequence could be produced original; they, therefore, set themselves down to translations, and ever since CORNEILLE, RACINE, VOLTAIRE, MOLIERE, and [Page 158] DESTOUCHES have been the support of the Ger­man theatre.

The German opera, so much esteemed in the last century, particularly in HAMBURG, BRUNOWIG, WEIFFENFELS, and LEIPSIC, is no more, the Ita­lian opera has taken its place.

The theatre at AMSTERDAM owes its origin to two societies of rhetoricians*, composed of an in­finite number of distinguished persons, men of let­ters, jurisconsults, and magistrates. BARDEZIUS, burgomaster and counsellor, P. C. HOOFT, the cele­brated [Page 159] poet, and the famous JOOST VAN VONDEL, were at the head of the confederacy.

These two societies began to dispute on dif­ferent subjects about 1584. Their pieces at first were only dialogues in verse on the news of the time, the events of the nation, or mithological fic­tions; and served very meritoriously as a school to regulate the manners and furnish the amusement of a laborious and industrious people.

In time, however, they disagreed. Each so­ciety ridiculed the proceedings of the other, and their former eloquence degenerated into severe in­vective and bitter satire; till, at length, to obtain order, the magistrates came to a determination to suppress them both. The people were, however, unwilling to give up their favourite pleasure; and after a variety of difficulties, it was finally agreed that they should unite. This gave satisfaction to all parties, and, about 1635, a physician of the name of SAMUEL KOSTER, built a theatre where both the societies were incorporated into one body.

KOSTER, however, could not support the ex­pence of this theatre, and it was bought of him by the guardians of the orphans and the aged, to whose use the profits were charitably appropriated; and thus, by converting it into an institution so lauda­ble, [Page 160] the theatre began to have considerable ce­lebrity.

The performances, however, with the exception of a very few, were gross and beastly. In one of them, which is a representation of ABRAHAM offer­ing up his son ISAAC, ABRAHAM having tied ISAAC to a stake, very leisurely takes out an old rusty horse pistol, and measuring six paces with great de­liberation, presents his piece; when, all of a sudden, finding some wet descend into the pan, he looks up and sees an angel in a certain attitude, who had oc­casioned what he had mistaken for rain. ABRAHAM is in the greatest consternation, when the angel cries out, ‘"Der taiple ABRAHAM will ta te younker slauken?"’

These brutal representations made up for a consi­derable time the delight of the Mynheers; till, at length, they improved the stage by translations of Spanish comedies, and French tragedies, originally introduced by a society of Portuguese Jews, who established a theatre, to which the Hollanders were invited gratis, the better to keep up a good under­standing between the Portuguese and the Dutch in commercial negociations.

Their first efforts, however, were clumsy enough. If CALDERONE was full of extravagance on the [Page 161] Spanish theatre, his curvettes, and his caprioles, were, of course, imitated, as awkwardly on the stage of AMSTERDAM, as a guinea pig imitates a squirrel; and, as for CORNEILLE I cannot re­frain from giving one instance how adroitly he was rendered into Dutch.

There is a well known passage in the Cid, where the father of RODORIGO stimulates his son to re­venge; and, not satisfied with the assurance he had before given him, stopping him short he says, ‘"a tu un coeur RODRIGUE?"’ He replies, pointedly, ‘"tout autre che mon pere le trouvera sur l'heure."’ The Dutchman, determined to be as phlegmatic as the Frenchman was brilliant, has rendered it thus: ‘"Ap ye a hart RODRIGUE."’ ‘"Yaw, papa,"’ cries RODRIGUE.


PREPARATORY to the French theatre, which will be the next article, it may not be immaterial to ga­ther up, by way of gleanings, all those minute par­ticulars which will serve to confirm and perfect the crop of intelligence already housed, and also leave a clear field for the harvest that is to succeed it.

Nor can a better figure be devised as an object to symbol theatrical productions; which smack of the country where they are produced as faithfully as corn or wine: not reflecting general truth, but particular manners;* not holding up the mirror to nature, but to the times; not appealing to the per­fection of the human mind, but to its caprice.

[Page 163]It is on this account that the theatre will have arisen to the truest perfection in that country where the principles of the people are an emanation of true virtue, and real patriotism; where the public mind is informed and enlightened, and where taste knows every thing of reason and nothing of re­proach; but, critically speaking, where is this coun­try to be found?

We have seen then, as far as we have gone, that the theatre has arisen to no real perfection; for, whether we take it from that reproach to GREECE, the death of SOCRATES, or the combination of every thing worthy and vile, just as caprice hap­pened to dominate in ROME, confirmed by the ac­commodating disposition of PLAUTUS, and the de­claration of AUGUSTUS; or the mad frolics of the Spaniards, countenanced by the answer of LOPES DE VEGA to CERVANTES, the theatre has hitherto been little more than a pander to the times. With­out the theatre, nevertheless, those nations we have traversed, and those manners we have witnessed, would have lamented a mortifying and uncomfort­able chasm in their time, and a considerable defi­ciency in their civilization.

What then would have been the theatre had it [Page 164] nobly asserted its privilege, had it resolutely assumed its legitimate right, and possessed itself of its real province? It would then have purified those man­ners which it too often corrupted, it would have re­fined that bad taste it too frequently tolerated, and have given to literature an active example of having planted reason in the human mind.

But how was this to be accomplished? Poets did not write for reputation but for hire; they did not chuse to undertake the romantic task of teach­ing virtue such as it ought to be and starve, they rather contented themselves with describing it, such as the people wished it to be, and live voluptuously.

Yet we have seen the theatre in GREECE an ob­ject of real importance; for it is difficult to con­ceive a truer picture of exalted greatness than that meritorious distinction which could at once cor­rect dissipation and conciliate ferocity; and this was exactly the operation of the theatre in its influence over ATHENS and SPARTA immediately before ARISTOPHANES.

But the times were to be thanked for this, and not the poets. The famous saying in the theatre of the old Spartan, ‘"that the Athenians knew what virtue was, but that the Lacedemonians practiced [Page 165] it;"’ gives a picture uncommonly beautiful of the effect of a theatrical production at GREECE. The instance of ARISTIDES being admired for his vir­tues, by implication, in a play, and that so delicately as not to wound his feelings although he was present, is one fortunate proof among thousands that the the­atre, worthily conducted, is the true medium to promulgate honourable emulation.

But as the manners grew corrupted, the theatre, at the very time it was the post of honour, at the moment it was its particular province to stem the torrent of licentiousness, cowardly deserted its sta­tion and was hurried away with the stream. It would have been a glorious thing that some ME­NANDER had started up at the time of ARISTO­PHANES, if it had been only to shew, while yet the Greeks retained a recollection of those virtues for which they will ever be quoted as a great example, that the human heart is easier moved by conci­liation than by menace*.

[Page 166]From the parodies of SOPHOCLES and EURI­PIDES by ARISTOPHANES, may fairly be dated the fall of the stage which improved upon from AES­CHYLUS under those wonderful authors, wonderful surely, considering the time in which they wrote, had it gone on to the perfection it was capable of, would certainly have given laws to literature. In­stead of which it gradually degenerated, and though we have witnessed many lucid intervals through which it has struggled, it could not be considered in any thing like a state of convalescence till SHAKE­SPEAR* gave to ENGLAND a more brilliant fame than AESCHYLUS had given to GREECE.

[Page 167]As to the Romans they were too turbulent a people to encourage a real and decided taste for theatrical productions; besides there was always a policy among them mixed with every thing public just as it served to promote some innovation, in­trigue, cabal, insurrection, or assassination; and thus dramatic representations were a specious lure, a tub to the whale, to divert the minds of the people from some impending treachery, and not an excite­ment to excellence in paths of true glory and un­fullied honour.

It was through this that their dramatic poets held a station below the level of their gladiators, their mimics, and their rope dancers; which the great AUGUSTUS professedly promoted, rather than re­strained instead of stimulating writers of acknow­ledged merit by means of the stage, to admonish the people out of their irregularities.

The Spanish theatre, though more irregular than the Roman, was less mischievous, for it corrupted nothing of the nation but its taste; and I would ra­ther see twenty FARINELLI's tickle the ears of the Spanish nobility till they were gulled out of their money, than one NERO inuring his mind to fictitious murder on the stage that it might render him more expert in the murder of his subjects. Besides the [Page 168] Spaniards have left something behind worth imi­tating, whereas from the Roman authors we have nothing but a Greek filtration, tasteless and insipid, from the flatulent SENECA to the tame TERENCE, whose works a celebrated critic calls comedies for mathematicians.

The Portuguese theatre is swallowed up in the Spanish, and the German in the French; so that ad­mitting, which it is perfectly right to do, the theatres in all countries are not only useful but materially essential, the stage, according to its meritorious esta­blishment at the time of AESCHYLUS, and its im­provement under SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES, de­generated, both as to tragedy and comedy in ROME; and, though the Spanish comedies have supplied a large fund of admirable materials, yet, in proportion as the theatre lost sight of GREECE, is lost sight of regularity,

There cannot be a properer time than this to enter into a fair examination of the true value of what is called dramatic regularity, and to shew how far, rationally, the unities ought to be preserved, or may be occasionally broken.

What are these rules but a recommendation of what was considered as perfection in GREECE? [Page 169] ARISTOTLE has added nothing to this; he has only repeated word for word the methods which regu­lated the writings of SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES, without adding a single idea to theirs but what has confounded the thesis on which he rests his argument.

He recommends the unity of action, certainly an important precept, but already put in practice before he suggested it. He excludes from the the­atre, as a remark from himself, characters purely vir­tuous, which are precisely, not only according to SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES, but according to reason, the very characters that ought to be intro­duced into a dramatic piece.

It was ARISTOTLE who consecrated that nonsensi­cal opinion that to form an interesting action it is ne­cessary to introduce some great and celebrated per­son. This idea is little worthy a philosopher, who should be the first to feel and to acknowledge that private life, or even obscurity, frequently furnishes instances of exalted virtue and genuine magnanimity unmixed with the remorse that attends the extermi­nation of nations to add to the celebrity of a hero*. [Page 170] But the preceptor of ALEXANDER was obliged to square his dramatic rules by those which were most likely to flatter his disciple. He, therefore, in this instance deserts his original plan, probably because he trembled under the hand that had strangled CA­LISTHENES and PARMENIO, in whose plot against the life of ALEXANDER he was by the way sus­pected to have had a hand.

The sublime genius of ARISTOTLE made the wonderful discovery that there are but four sorts of tragedy. There are as many sorts as there are sub­jects, just as there are as many faces as there are men. Nature is infinite, and it is sterility alone that searches for excuses in the absence of invention.

He insists that tragedy ought to be confined to a small number of families, a reflection evidently that comes from ancient GREECE, very proper for the observance, at that time, of that republic, but which, held out to other nations, would restrain the art rather than extend it. Thus the inviolable rules of ARISTOTLE, which it is ridiculous to apply ge­nerally to other nations, are no more than an enu­meration of the beauties he found in the Greek poets; and, as to the faults which he has held up as proper to be exploded, he might as well have been silent on the subject, for as they are gross and palpa­ble, [Page 171] and such as no man of genius could possibly have stumbled on.

Thus ARISTOTLE has written nothing new on this subject. He has only transcribed a notice, and stuck it up, one would think by way of a pasqinade by anticipation on his commentators*; who, enve­loped in ancient manners, are lost in a circle, out of which they have not, even in imagination, been able to extricate themselves; till, thus bewildered, they have rendered him unintelligible to us, whose beauties they fancy they have elucidated, which beauties they falsely conceive were intended for the advantage of posterity.

I shall be told, however, that there are many luminous traits in the poetics of ARISTOTLE; and, among the rest, that admired precept will be quoted that ‘"the beauty of poetry consists in order and grandeur;"’ but, good heaven! what is this more than a self evident truth which was known long be­fore ARISTOTLE was born, and which will be as plain as day light for ages after every present in­habitant [Page 172] of the world shall have perished? Are men to have rules to know when the sun shines? But it is not the fault of ARISTOTLE, who little dreamt that, while he was endeavouring to regulate the poetics of a small commonwealth long since anihi­lated, his rules would beget so much controversy in so many countries, to whose manners most of them were uncongenial, and whose men of genius would have been better employed, instead of adopt­ing dogmatic opinions, in following universal truth, and erecting rules for themselves*.

But I shall leave ARISTOTLE, at present, with a declaration, that since his rules, hitherto known to us, which have only extended to tragedy, have set so many learned men together by the ears, as a lover of harmony and good order, I am not one of those who lament that his precepts for co­medy did not descend to posterity.

[Page 173]The poetics of HORACE appear to be still in­ferior to those of ARISTOTLE; nay, it is doubtful to me whether he ever intended them as that universal lesson for which they have been received. But this with his advocates will be an argument in his favour; for, if what he considered merely as private instruction has been, by the consent of mankind, generally adopted, it will argue a proof of its intrinsic merit; and this I should willingly consider as a decision that ought to be final were it not that the premises will not bear out the fact; but, on the contrary, the more we examine, the less reason we shall have to allow HORACE that same which he really did not seek, but which the world, or rather public clamour [Page 174] as in the case of ARISTOTLE, has been so ready to award him.

When HORACE says that we ought not to couple serpents with birds, or lambs with tygers, or that comic subjects should never be mixed with tragic, he clearly addresses himself to the elder of the PISONS, and not to poets. Where he seriously affirms that it is wrong to roast human entrails on the stage, he cannot have had an idea that he held out universal instruction, because no writer wants to be told that such monstrous circumstances are revolting and detestable; but no such thing was in his mind; he only in addressing the PISONS took an opportu­nity, by a side wind, of rebrobating the licentiousness of the Roman theatre, which we have seen was at that time both censured in private and encouraged in public by AUGUSTUS, and which is evidently the reason why HORACE was too politic to speak out*.

[Page 175]These puerilities, added to the grave assertion that there is a great difference between a slave who speaks and a hero, fairly fatigue us; and shew that, however, they may serve as instruction for youth, they can never be considered as a literary treasure except by pedagogues, who from their own imbe­cility will always be happy to find precepts for their pupils ready cut and dried to their hands.

But the most curious part of HORACE is his no­table discovery that art is as necessary as genius to form a poem. This narrow maxim, perhaps, might have been advantageous to him, who never gave the world any grand, or solid work, but merely in­genious, elegant, and finished trifles; but it would be highly absurd in speaking of poetry in its ex­tended sense, the offspring of intuition, the emanation of the soul. Where is the poetic art that can form a HOMER, a SOPHOCLES, a EURIPIDES? These created those very rules which ARISTOTLE and HORACE fondly dreamt had been invented by them; in which delusion HORACE wraps himself up; and, instead of examining poetic genius as a question of sublimity that soars above all art, he yawns out a declaration that ‘"the union of nature and art pro­duces a happy effect."’ This precept becomes a fiat, and every school boy acknowledges with asto­nishment the rare sagacity of HORACE.

[Page 176]VIDA, who is preferred by SCALIGER, to HORACE*, has certainly method, art, and per­suasion. He loves poetry, and speaks of it with transport, yet his sentiments, though enthusiastic, are profound as well as lively. He gives his pre­cepts not with a biting and dogmatic air, but in a tone, easy and persuasive, and with all that amiable gaiety which HORACE has every where but in his art of poetry, and which, after all, is an argument both against VIDA, and in favour of HORACE, for it proves that VIDA was the best critic, and HORACE the best poet; and, at last, to shew how difficult it is to find fetters for the mind, VIDA's poem is but a repetition of what VIRGIL had copied before; and, therefore, a proof that poetic rules cannot be an in­vention to ensure future success, but only an invi­tation to emulate what has succeeded already.

As to those rules which more particularly re­late to the construction of plays, all countries at all times have occasionally violated them to ad­vantage; and the plain answer to those cavillers who have condemned this conduct in the lump, is short and incontrovertible. Let the unities be re­gulated by the nature of the subject.

[Page 177]This position had better rest till it be exemplified by the works of authors which will be hereafter spoken of; in the mean time I shall detain the reader from the French theatre no longer than just to say, that it is easier to give your neighbour advice than to take it yourself*; for, notwithstanding the peremptory [Page 178] mandates of these law givers to literature, I don't find that ARISTOTLE, HORACE, VIDA, BOILEAU, or any other of the critics ancient or modern, who have measured and cut out plays, have appeared able, however they might have been willing, to write any thing dramatic themselves.



THE dramatic entertainments of FRANCE, origin­ally, and for a length of time, so rude, so mon­strous, and so ferocious, came in a direct line from the Romans, and were nothing more than a feeble copy of those brutal games which disgraced the amphitheatres of those conquerers of the world.

If various authorities that corroborate each other may be depended upon, histrions, farcers, dan­cers, and cudgelers overrun FRANCE as early as the seventh century, who imitated the pieces of the Romans in the infancy of the art, exactly as the Romans in the same manner had imitated the Greeks, representing nature in its rudest and grossest state.

[Page 180]It is plain that these performances, whatever they were, though intended to promote civilization had an effect exactly the reverse; for they grew to such a licentious height that, in the eighth century, CHARLEMAGNE was obliged to suppress them; vainly, however, for the habitude had obtained, and the people would not be diverted from their amuse­ment; and since they had lost their pleasure, because it was considered as irreligious, they were determined to make religion itself the means of restoring it. To this the priests had no objection, for in multiplying religious ceremonies they multiplied their own emo­luments; till, as the priests of BACCHUS encouraged these early representations in GREECE, so the priests of FRANCE willingly turned the churches into the­atres, where they permitted ridiculous farces, in­decent dances, and sacriligious buffooneries. The very vaults where the saints were deposited echoed with scandalous and impious songs.

Upon these occasions the priests often turned actors, and sometimes actresses; hiding their sanctity and their sacerdotal robes under grotesque habits and ridiculous masks; in which disguises they very frequently got drunk, quarrelled, and sought.

These disgraceful spectacles continued more or less, according to circumstances, till about the middle [Page 181] of the twelfth century, when EUDES DE SULII, bishop of PARIS, thundered his anathemas against these sacred farces; which, however, were but little suppressed till the Crusades, when, the spirit of the nation leaning towards every thing religious, the French checked whatever served to render religion ridiculous; besides it now became meritorious to consorm to religion and yet act farces. Pilgrimages, and wars with the cross as their ensign were good theatrical matter. Troops of these devout itin­erants were constantly appearing in the squares and in the market places, and no one was considered as a capital actor who had not noviciated at NOTRE­DAME DU PUY, St. JAMES OF COMPOSTELLA, or JERUSALEM.

These pilgrims, mounted upon scaffolds, sung spiritual canticles, which they had composed on their journies, and exhibited scenes in which they represented some mystery of religion, or the life of some Saint, till, at length, they formed a society, the particulars of which we shall see in its place.

In the mean time we will return to the time when SULLI began to anathematize holy bussoonery, at which epoch it appears that the people, beginning to be disappointed of their amusement through the medium of the church, invited writers and performers [Page 182] to continue it through the medium of those savage feasts in which FRANCE was so fond of emu­lating the Romans.

The Cours plénieres, the Tournois, and the Ca­rousels were an imitation of the sanguinary amuse­ments of their ancient masters, and offered to the eyes of the spectator a frightful image of war and all its horrors. By degrees, however, still like the Romans, the French united in their exercises, ob­jects less shocking and offensive, in which they in­troduced poetry, which was sung at their repasts during the intervals of serving the different courses, and therefore called entremets.

The provincial poets, that is to say, those born in the southern provinces of FRANCE and who spoke a language derived from the Romans, and called Romane provencale and the French poets born in the northern provinces, whose language came from the same source, but was pronounced differently, and, therefore, called Romane Franscoise, these two sorts of poets were the original authors and per­formers of all the spectacles which, though bar­barous enough in themselves, relieved those savage seasts called the Cours Plenieres.

They chose such grand circumstances as the [Page 183] marriages of sovereigns, or the celebration of cer­tain days in the year, either appointed to comme­morate great national events, or consecrated to re­ligious purposes. The provincial poets were called Troubadours, and the French Trouverres, which word in both dialects signifies discoverers, finders, in­ventors.

Their inventions were called Jeux partis, and were divided into what they called Sirventes and Tensons. Those called Sirventes were satires le­velled at all sorts of people, something resembling the Saturnines and Fescenines of the Romans be­fore LIVIUS ANDRONICUS, and the Song of the Goat among the Greeks before THESPIS.

In these performances called Tensons the sub­ject was love. They were written in dialogue and executed by several interlocutors. Furnished with a number of these pieces, which were lighter, easier to perform, and capable of affording more general amusement than the Sirventes, the Troubadours and Troverres of the eleventh century, went about from town to town, and villa to villa, accompanied by their minstrels, their juglers, their posture masters, and their rope-dancers; who, uniting their different talents, performed entremets, or entertainments, to amuse large companies.

[Page 184]By degrees these spectacles were varied and ex­tended. Farces and pantomimes were introduced re­presenting subjects from history, and in those pieces were brought forward terrestrial and aquatic animals, and scenes, machinery, and decorations of most ingenious execution, and upon an immense scale.

It is difficult to say what were the dimensions of those buildings where these amusements were per­formed, or to estimate the prodigious expence they incurred. The mechanic art at that time must have arrived to great perfection, and the resources of those who encouraged it have been immense, to have executed such ingenious and extraordinary concep­tions, and have defrayed the consequent expence, especially when we consider that they were per­formed but a few days in one place.

The dramatic art, however, was yet unknown. This itinerant poetry, like those who cultivated it, knew nothing of any fixed rule. It consisted of irregular songs on the subjects of love and arms, or personal praise or satire, performed by troops of vagabonds, who united poets, composers, actors, singers, and orchestra, all, perhaps, in one family.

FONTENELLE says pleasantly enough,

"Song begat poetry, or at least was born with it. The [Page 185] poetry of Trouverres was made to be sung. During the repast of a prince, a trouverre would arrive with his minstrels, and his juglers, who began to sing to their harps and viols some curious verses that were comoposed for the occasion. Those who both sung and wrote were most esteemed. Among the ancient trouverres we find a great number who boasted such exalted names, that there is scarcely at this time a noble­man that would not have been very happy to have descended from them. Every one who could claim a right to half, or even a quarter, of a family castle, though the remainder were mort­gaged, ran about the world rhiming, with a view to redeem his pawned patrimony. Nor did he want encouragement. From some he received arms, from others flags; here cloaths, and there horses; nay, very often, money; and to render the recompense of persons of quality more wor­thy the acceptance of the nobleman disguised as a stroller, the great ladies, even to princesses, joined their favours.

"But if we are astonished that, in a nation like FRANCE, where letters have ever been despised, and where we are not yet emancipated from this barbarity, gentlemen and noblemen have for­merly amused themselves with writing poetry, I [Page 186] don't know what else to answer but that it was poetry written without genius, without study, without science, and, therefore, such as will not dishonour nobility."

Notwithstanding this pleasantry of FONTENELLE, and his kind concern lest the ancestors of the FRENCH nobility should have written good poetry, and, therefore, dishonoured their successors, no­thing can be more certain than that persons of the first rank, in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, made this amusement their principal occupation.

We find among the number, so early as the year 1100, WILLIAM the Ninth, Count of POITOU, who knew not only how to write verses, but to sing them afterwards; and who was so witty and so pleasant a companion as constantly to keep the table in a roar. This talent was so natural to him that at his return from the first crusade, in which he was far from being fortunate, he sung the fatigues and dangers of that expedition in a poem so full of vivacity that it was considered both as a just ridicule of that strange war, as far as he had witnessed it, and a deprecation of its disgraceful, catastrophe. In 1102, the famous father ABELARD, who was of a noble family, and whose talents and [Page 187] misfortunes have excited so much admiration and compassion, is said to have written and exhibited as a trouverre *.

In 1152, BERTRAND—who was attached to the COUNT DE VENTADOUR, and afterwards to ELEO­NORE DE GUIENNE wife of LOUIS the Seventh of FRANCE, who married and was divorced from the duke of NORMANDY, since king of ENGLAND by the name of HENRY the Second—This BERTRAND, whose elogium has been given us by PETRARCH, was one of the most celebrated poets of his time. He encouraged the trouverres and wrote for them.

From this period to the year twelve hundred we find a long list of noble personages, who both coun­tenanced these sort of performances and assisted them as authors and actors. Among these are the names of the emperor FREDERIC, the dauphin [Page 188] D'AUVERGNE, the Dominican Missionary, and Inqui­sitor IZARN, the chevalier SORDEL, who was over­whelmed with benefits by St. BONIFACE, and mar­ried BEATRICE, through which marriage he was con­nected with a string of Italian nobility, the count of VENTADOUR, the countess DE DYE, and RICHARD COEUR DE LION, who all composed and cultivated poetry.

During the next century the number of poets were still more numerous, and not less respectable. Among these were FOUQUET, bishop of MAR­SEILLES, and afterwards archbishop of TOULOUSE, GUILLAUME DE CABESTAN, who perished a victim to the jealousy of RAYMOND CASSEL DE ROUS­SILLON DE SEILHANS, to whom he was page, ANSELME FAIDIT, an author and composer, of whose writings and emoluments BEAUCHAMP en­larges a good deal, RAIMOND BERENGER, count of PROVENCE and of FORCALQUIER, son of AL­PHONSO, king of ARRAGON, who married BEA­TRICE, sister of THOMAS, count of SAVOY, by whom he had four daughters, who were all married to kings. MARGARITE to LOUIS the Ninth, king of FRANCE, ELENORA to HENRY the Third, king of ENGLAND, SANCHE to RICHARD, king of the Romans, and BEATRICE, declared by her father heiress to the county of PROVENCE, to CHARLES, [Page 189] brother to St. LOUIS, who was crowned king of NAPLES and the two SICILIES; GASPER DE PUYCIBOT, a great musician, and who performed on many sorts of instruments in great perfection; SORDEL MANTOUAN, in whose works was mixed much moral instruction; PIERRE AUVERGNE, a musician and a poet; ALBERT, marquis of MALA­SPINA; and LE SEIGNEUR BERTRAND D'ALLA­MANON, one of the most learned men of those times, who dedicated his works to ESTEPHANETTE DE ROMANIN, of the family of GANTELME, and aunt to the celebrated LARUA SADO, mistress of PETRARCH. BERTRAND was greatly esteemed and patronized by ROBERT, king of NAPLES, and count of PROVENCE, who was called the Father of the provincial poets.

In the 1306, appeared PIERRE CARDINAL, a man of great talents, who wrote poetry in several languages. The town of TARASCAN assigned him several considerable appointments for his trouble in instructing youths, who, under him, made great progress in learning. He was considered by the great as a man proper to be trusted with commissions of consequence, and, among the rest, by BER­TRAND to prevail upon the princess BEATRICE, who had retired to the convent of NAZARETH at AIX, to quit her religious habits and appear like the [Page 190] daughter of a king; in which undertaking he ac­quitted himself so well that he conducted her to NAPLES where she married the marquis of EST.

During the next ten years many others made their appearance; and, in the year 1321, PHILIP the Long, count of POITOU, and afterwards king of FRANCE, became celebrated as a votary of the Muses. He was a prince of a most enlightened un­derstanding; his principal delight was to cultivate and protect literature, and, as a remarkable instance of it, he gave considerable appointments in his household to ten of his dependants because they were poets.

GEOFREY DE LUC, who established an aca­demy, MADAME DE MARCHEBRUC, and her son, ANSELME DE MOUSTIER, a great favourite of ROBERT, king of NAPLES, BERNARD ROSCAS, related to the Popes, CLEMENT, and INNOCENT the Sixth, and esteemed a greater man than either, ARNAUD DE COUTIGNAC, who was esteemed for his rare prudence, and remarkable for quelling a rebellion for the king of NAPLES, and many others made up the interval from 1320 to 1355, when LE MONGE appeared, who was called the scourge of the Troubadours on account of his writings. He fell most unmercifully on the poets of his time, [Page 191] sparing neither friend, nor foe, nor persuasion, nor condition; till, at length, he exposed the tyranny of some of the rulers in the provinces, and was assassinated for his pains.

LE MONGE, however did service both to the cause of poetry and his country; so much that TARAUDET, who succeeded him, and who wrote with equal severity, but more policy, completely effected that reform his predecessor had only medi­tated. TARAUDET was born a gentleman, and was bred a warrior as well as a poet. Being in treaty with FOULQUES DE PONTENAS for an estate, FOULQUES, being a great admirer of poetry, con­tented himself with giving him an easy bargain in consequence of his dedicating to him a work called, A method to guard the heart against the treachery of love.

TARAUDET being now rich and a nobleman, assembled the neighbouring nobility and purged PROVENCE of all those petty tyrants that had so long desolated it.

After these, BOYER, a mathematician, and who as well as poetry wrote on natural history, meteoro­logy, hydraulics and botany, JEAN DE MEUN, a famous theologist, philosopher, astronomist, chymist, [Page 192] arithmetician, and, above all, a poet, and the il­lustrious LOUIS DE LASCARIS, count DE VINTI­MILLE, celebrated for his talents and his valour when the Normands and the English ravaged PRO­VENCE, were at the head of literature in FRANCE; till, about 1375, when BERENGER DE PARASOLS gave a new turn to dramatic poetry, having, it is said, composed five regular tragedies.

Of these tragedies there is so particular an ac­count that it is difficult to suspect the truth of his having written them. They have all appropriate names, and the matter of which they are composed con [...]sts of satyric particulars relative to the mar­riages of princes and princesses of those times. BERENGER, according to these authorities, dedi­cated his tragedies to Pope CLEMENT the Seventh, who recompenced him with a prebendary of PARA­SOL, where BEAUCHAMP tells us he ended his days, but PARFAICT says he was poisoned on account of the truths contained in his tragedies, which FON­TENELLE seems to confirm by hinting that JOAN of NAPLES, hated PARASOLS for having exposed, in one of his pieces, the circumstance of her strangling her husband that she might marry one she thought more amiable.

There is reason to believe, that though these [Page 193] pieces were called regular they approach very little towards that distinction in the sense we understand it now, being no more than satires in dialogue, and distinguished in nothing from those of DANIEL in 1189, and FAIDIT, in 1220, except in their style.

These poets, together with RICHARD DE BAR­BEZIEUX, who joined to poetry rhetoric, theology, and mathematics, and Father BONIFACE, related to the most ancient nobility in PROVENCE, and re­markable for his attachment to JOAN of NAPLES, and consequently an enemy of PARASOLS, were the principal among a very large number that made up the literati of the fourteenth century.

In 1408 lived another LE MONGE, from whose information, through different channels, are fur­nished the preceding particulars. He was made librarian of the monastery of LERINS, of which so­ciety he was a member. In the library under his care, which it is said contained a prodigious number of books, he carefully collected the lives and la­bours of the provincial poets. These materials he was so particular in arranging and digesting, that his authority has been constantly considered as au­thentic, especially that edition of it corrected and improved by St. CEZARI in 1435.

[Page 194]After this period, to enumerate all those poets that pass in review upon enquiry, would give this work the air of a catalogue rather than a history. More than three hundred names might be set down that different authors have thought it worth while to celebrate.

Many of these lived in the court of TIBALD, where they formed an assembly for the purpose of examining one anothers works after the manner of that school of poetry first instituted by GEOFREY DE LUC in 1340, and carried into greater perfection by BERTRAND DE PEZARS in 1348; and which may be considered as the foundation of the French academy, afterwards so celebrated; though not its origin, for CHARLEMAGNE established an academy for science and literature in general on his return from ITALY in 781.

These names make but a part, as we are told, though one should suppose a considerable part of the principal inventors, as they are called, or poets in FRANCE; and the surrounding nations and pro­vinces, where the French language was either cor­rectly or imperfectly spoken. The principal service these authors have rendered to the cause of literature is in leaving us an idea of the manner of those [Page 195] times in which they lived; but these were so bar­barous and unpolished, that their labours serve more to point out what ought to be avoided than what ought to be imitated as far as it relates to their choice of subjects; and, if we should go further and fairly look into their works as an object of criticism, though we should find anecdotes and short histories recounted with neatness and simplicity, and remarka­ble for the truth of their images, and the elegance of their style; yet the gross indecency, the barbarity, and crudeness of the rest, would render the task of selection scarcely worth the pains; of so little value would be the gold, after it were extracted from the filthy concrete in which it is enveloped.

This chapter ought not to be finished without a notice that it is impossible, from the contradictions of various authors, to be correct to a year, or, per­haps, to twenty years, as to when these poets wrote. The same circumstance is frequently related dif­ferently, and sometimes one circumstance is mistaken for another. For one instance, among many others, the four daughters of BERENGER, Count of PRO­VENCE, it is agreed upon on all hands, married four kings, but one author will insist upon it, that one of the husbands was RICHARD COEUR DE LION, who, by the way, was dead before the thirteenth century, [Page 196] and another fixes the time of the birth of BEREN­GER at the year 1245, which is impossible, because HENRY the Third married his daughter in the year 1536. The first mistake originates, perhaps, from the name of BERENGARIA the wife of RICHARD, and the other from making 1245 the time of BE­RENGER's birth, instead of the time he was cele­brated as a poet.

As these circumstances concern literature itself but very little, I shall always, where I find no ma­terial contradiction, set down events, as they are related, leaving it to the discretion and good sense of the reader to distinguish between what appears to be merely probable and what positively authentic.


AS the amusements called Entremets, because they relieved the different courses of feasts, had some­thing in them very extraordinary it would be highly improper to pass by this opportunity of describing them.

Though we have accounts of magnificent spec­tacles under this title which were performed so early as the year 1200; and, again, from the chronicle of ALBERIC of an astonishing one in 1237. on the marriage of ROBERT, brother of St LOUIS, with MAHAUT, Countess of ARTO [...], and daughter of the Duke of BRABANT, besides many others, I should exceed the bounds I have prescribed for myself did I particularly notice more than two or three of the most remarkable.

I shall, therefore, carry the attention of the reader to that magnificent and extraordinary specta­cle performed in honour of ISABELLA of BAVARIA, [Page 198] queen to CHARLES VI. which was solemnized at PARIS with the utmost splendor, in October 1385. Among the setes upon this occasion was a combat performed before the trinity, illustrative of the holy war. The French and English fought against, and, of course, beat the Saracens, in presence of the queen. All the streets were laid with carpets, several fountains were placed in different situations, which ran with wine and other delicious liquors, and upon lofty stages erected for the purpose, were placed choirs of musicians, organs, and youths who represented different parts of the ancient testa­ment.

Machines were contrived, by means of which infants, dressed to represent angels, descended and placed flowers and ornaments on the head of the queen; but the most astonishing part of the spec­tacles was the intrepidity of a man who glided down by a cord from the spire of NOTRE DAME to the bridge where the queen was to pass, and placed a crown upon her head, which having ef­fected, he returned by the way he came, as if ascend­ing to heaven. This extraordinary tour was the invention of a Genoese, who had been a long time contriving it; and what contributed to render it the more remarkable, even at a distance from PARIS, being very late in the evening, the man [Page 199] carried a flambeau in each hand, that both the beauty and the temerity of the action might be the more striking.

In 1453, according to the accounts of MATHIEU DE COUCI, and OLIVER DE LA MARCHE, ADOL­PHUS, Count of CLEVES, gave a spectacle of this kind at LISLE, in FLANDERS, in an immense hall filled with tables, or rather with vast theatres. In one of these was placed a bark with the sails furled, in which was seen a chevalier armed cap a pie. Be­fore the bark was placed a silver swan with a golden collar and chain, with which it seemed to tow the vessel along, and near at hand a castle appeared to rise out of the waves on which a falcon was perched.

These different objects were emblematic of a trait of ancient history relative to the house of CLEVES, in which it is reported that a swan tra­versing the RHINE, led, miraculously to the castle of that family, a chevalier, celebrated by his ex­ploits, who became the husband of the princess of the country, and gave an heir to that ancient and illustrious house, whose title would otherwise have become extinct.

The same year, when MAHOMET the Second, menaced CONSTANTINOPLE, the emperor CON­STANTINE, [Page 200] the last christian prince that reigned in the East, demanded succour from all the princes of his religion; and, among others, from PHILIP the Good, then duke of BURGUNDY. PHILIP flattered with this attention, replied ostentatiously to CON­STANTINE, that he should prepare a crusade him­self. And to effect this he instantly assembled his provincial generals, and the commanders of his vessels, to whom he gave a grand feast, at which was performed a magnificent entremets.

Among the different objects introduced in this astonishing entertainment was a church filled with singers, whose voices were accompanied by bells; a vessel fitted with all sorts of merchandise; a superb fountain, with ornaments in glass and lead so wonderfully constructed as to represent trees, flowers, verdure, stones of all colours, and a figure of St. ANDREW with his cross, from which issued a fountain which fell at his feet and lost itself in a beautiful declivity covered with flowers; and an enormous pie which represented a castle and con­cealed eight musicians. On the battlements of the castle was seen a serpent, and at the base were two fountains, from which issued orange flower water which filled the fosses.

After this was seen a wind-mill with a magpie [Page 201] perched on it; two tuns, from one of which flowed a sweet liquor, and from the other a bitter one; on each of these as placed a statue holding a label with these words, ‘"Take your choice."’

Then came a view of a desert; a tyger sight­ing with a serpent; a savage upon a camel; a peasant beating the bushes from which flew a thousand birds; a chevalier entertaining his dulcinea under a hedge of roses; a satyr mocking a shepherdess crossed in love; a madman upon the back of a bear; and a number of other strange and in­congruous objects.

In another place was a lake surrounded with villages and castles; and further off an impervious forest embellished with oriental trees, and filled with a croud of animals of every kind so natural that they seemed alive. In a niche were placed vases of gold enriched with precious stones, where sat the figure of a woman made out of the same ma­terials, from whose nipples issued a delicious be­verage; a lion was placed by her side chained to a column, on which was written, ‘"Touch not the lady.’

After this the company were entertained with [Page 202] the exploits of JASON, who drenched the bulls that guarded the golden fleece with the contents of MEDEA's vial, and employed her marvellous ring to cut off the head and draw the teeth of the serpent; after which, he sowed the teeth in the earth; armed men instantly rose up cap a pie, who massacred one another, and all these scenes were accompanied, sometimes, by the singers in the church, and some­times by the instruments in the pie.

But this was not all. A giant now appeared dressed and armed like a Sarcaren conducting an elephant who carried on his back a castle, in which sat a lady dressed like a devotee, and appearing most deplorable and wretched. She thundered an ana­thema against the giant, which obliged him to stop. This lady represented religion. She complained most bittterly of the ills she had sustained through the tyranny of the infidels, and lamented the tardi­ness of those who ought to have flown to deliver her.

This lamentation finished, an armed chief pre­ceeded by a long string of knights of the golden fleece, and bearing upon his fist a pheasant ornamented with a collar of gold enriched with diamond [...] and pearls, advanced to the Duke of BURGUNDY [Page 203] and presented two ladies, one of whom represented YOLANDE, his natural daughter, and the other ISABELLA of NEUFCHATEL, daughter of the Seigneur DE MONTAIGN. Each of these ladies was accompanied by a knight, and the armed chief offered the bird to the duke in the name of the ladies, whom he recommended to the protection of their sovereign*.

The duke of BURGUNDY, after listening atten­tively to the request of the armed chief, held out to him a scroll, which was immediately read aloud, and contained a solemn vow to GOD, to the VIRGIN, to the ladies, and to the pheasant, that he would carry war into the territory of the infidels in defence of the oppressed church. The duke's vow became [Page 204] immediately a signal for his whole court, every member of which, to an infinite number, instantly vowed the destruction of the Turks, all which ac­clamation was accompanied as before by the in­habitants of the steeple and the pie, and when this ceremony was over a new groupe of characters pre­sented themselves.

A lady dressed in white, in a religious habit, and carrying on her shoulder a scroll, on which was written, ‘"Thank GOD,"’ entered and paid her acknowledgements to the assembly; which done she introduced twelve other ladies, repre­senting different virtues, who were to accompany these knights of the cross to the holy war as their tutelary guardians. Their names, which they bore on their shoulders, were Faith, Cha­rity, Justice, Reason, Prudence, Temperance, For­titude, Truth, Liberality, Diligence, Hope, and Vigilence.

These passed in review; and, after they had been acknowledged by the knights as the com­panions of their voyage, a most extravagant dance, full of mummery, and accompanied by musical in­struments, bells, drums, clashing of swords, and other monstrous and deafening sounds finished [Page 205] the entertainment; after which they grew intoxi­cated at the feast, where many of the valorous knights who had sworn to massacre the Saracens at the gates of JERUSALEM, were either killed or wounded in this drunken frolic at PARIS.


IN proportion as chivalry left FRANCE for the HOLY LAND, so a taste for the entremets sell off; and, when the knights of the cross returned from JERUSALEM, they were so full of adventures that the priests thought they could not do better than turn those adventures to the advantage of the church, or rather of themselves.

Conscious, however, that a mere relation of that mad business would have but a disgracious effect, they soon ceased to sing the exploits of kingly priests and sacerdotal generals, and contented themselves with acting sacred history, and personifying divine characters.

For this purpose they formed themselves into a society, but not being rich enough to buy ground, much less to build a theatre on it, they first made proselytes of some of the most opulent tradesmen [Page 207] in PARIS, and afterwards had the condescension to accept of their money and property, by which means they carried their scheme into execution.

They chose for their scene of action the Bourg of St. MAUR DES-FOSSES near PARIS, which had been rendered celebrated by the number of pulgrims who resorted there from motives of devotion. The first mystery that was performed by this society was called The History of the Death of our Saviour, and from this circumstance they gave themselves the name of The Confraternity of the Passion.

The followers of this species of amusement were, as we are told, in number beyond all belief. Busi­ness was so at a stand, and every public concern neglected for the pleasure of running after this no­velty to such a degree, that, in 1298, the prévôt of the capital issued an interdiction to suppress the pious farces of these holy actors. The interest of the priests however was paramount to that of the prévôt; nay the interference of that magistrate was ultimately of service to them; for, upon petitioning the king to take off the interdiction, they were invited to per­form before him, and he was so delighted with the poetry and the acting, that, in 1402, he established them at PARIS by his own letters patent, after which it was even fashionable to become members [Page 208] of this fraternity; for we find that several of the king's household, nay, the king himself, did not disdain to make a part of the company.

The hospital of the trinity, which had been founded in 1100 for the reception of pilgrims, was now converted into a theatre for the represen­tation of these mysteries. The theatre was won­derfully well constructed for the purpose of giving effect to the performances. The front was much in the style of ours, but the stage was upon a very dif­ferent principal, being intended to convey an idea of all objects as truly as it was possible to exhibit them. Heaven, earth, and hell were their three principal objects, which they contrived to represent with great facility. If the scene was to be heaven, convolutions of clouds to an immense height and ex­tent surrounded the stage, on which angels appeared flying or walking as it best suited to carry on the amusement; if earth, the extremity of the theatre seemed an immense expanse, on which, at proper distances, objects appeared as in nature; and, if hell, the whole stage was lifted up like the jaw of a monstrous dragon representing a tremendous abyss, and out of the mouth, which vomited fire, came le­gions of devils.

Though the Passion of our Saviour was the first [Page 209] piece performed by this fraternity, which very possibly was originally written many hundred years before, for no one has pretended to name the author of it, three cotemporary poets of the thirteenth century, whose writings were deposited among the manuscripts of CHARLES the Sixth, seem to have furnished the materials for this brotherhood to work upon.

Those poets were called RUTEBEUF, BODEL, and ADAM DE LA HALLE; and, among the most celebrated of their pieces, which were all mysteries, we find The Prodigal Son, The Miracle of Theophilus, The Crusades, and St. Nicholas, and The Children in the Tub. These three poets had their imitators to the number of fifty or sixty, some vestiges of whose works we have imperfect accounts of. They con­sist of subjects from scripture put into action, and contain, among a heap of rubbish, some literary jewels of considerable value.

It is impossible to deny that these writers were strongly possessed with a true knowledge of the dra­matic art; for, where the subjects, though scriptural, are purely domestic and simple, and have no re­ference to religion beyond fair and naked morality, we find for such times many of the requisites that [Page 210] compose a regular piece calculated to convey amusement and instruction.

One of these is, The Prodigal Son, written by RUTEBEUF, so early as 1240. A story, which if we divest ourselves for a moment of having read it in the New Testament as a parable, has nothing to do with religion in any other respect than as it is a beautiful lesson of morality.

RUTEBEUF chuses to throw into, his piece all the nature and simplicity he possibly can; and, therefore, feigning to forget, or really forgetting that his business was to write a religious mystery, he places his scene in a beautiful country, and makes his characters opulent labourers, a people of all others, who are naturally strangers to artificial as well as real want.

Thus in the Prodigal Son has he given a most beautiful picture of the restlessness of human nature. Blest with health and strength, and assured of every rational blessing for only the trouble of earning it—and what bread is so sweet as that we earn—He makes it the business of his life to run counter to reason. He torments his father in return for his unbounded indulgence, and hates his brother be­cause [Page 211] he is good and dutiful; till, at length, he demands his patrimony and determines to seek his fortune.

Turned loose in that world of whose inhabitants and manners he has no knowledge, the prodigal son is not more delighted and astonished than he is ashamed and confounded. The compliments he re­ceives on his wit, his grace, and his good sense, though he knows them to be false he admits as if they were true. Nay, he begins at last to fancy him­self perfectly accomplished; and, under this idea, is more angry with his father and his brother than ever, who wanted him to consider himself as a clown and to linger out his life in obscurity. But the de­lusion does not last long. He goes to an inn where the landlord and waiters fly at his orders. A lady enters, he falls in love with her, the dinner is served, wine and music succeed, in the midst of which an­other lady is introduced, and he has the inexpressi­ble pleasure of seeing himself an object of con­tention between the two ladies. He appeases them, and assures them he is in love with them both. By this time they, beginning to be tired with their farce, or rather interested in bringing on the de­nouement, make him drunk as fast as possible, pick his pockets, share the booty with the landlord, and [Page 212] decamp, leaving him asleep. He afterwards wakes, discovers his loss, and while he is raving about like one distracted, the landlord brings the bill, and finding his guest has no money kicks him out of the house.

We next see the prodigal son a beggar on the highway. His miseries have now made him contrite, and he recals to his mind with tears the indulgence and the advice of his father. He thinks of his bro­ther, who by industry and frugality is in abundance, while he through his profligacy is starving for want. In this wretched plight a peasant touched with his misfortunes takes him to his hovel and sets him to take care of his pigs. In this situation he has time for reflection, and at length his repentance is con­firmed, when he resolves to return to his father, who receives him with tenderness, and the reconciliation takes place exactly as in the parable.

We have here a regular piece. This is no mystery from scripture. It is plain self evident morality. It is a picture of human life such as it ever has been and ever will be; and, as to the poetical requisites, it is full of them. It consists of a single fable, simple, and grand. It has beginning, middle, and end; and there is not a circumstance throughout the whole but inculcates some moral [Page 213] instruction. It is true RUTEBEUF does not seem to have read ARISTOTLE, but he had read nature, which answered his purpose better; and, if other authors had paid the scripture no worse a compli­ment than bringing it on the stage with so fair and so honest a motive—for what store can we so properly search to find moral instruction—the mysteries so far from profaning scripture, would have honoured it.

As far as these mysteries were considered as a vehicle for poetry, there is something in them awful and majestic. To give an idea of this let us turn our thoughts to MILTON's Paradise Lost, and then suppose this poem put into dialogue, and acted on the stage; which is the strongest case in point that can be imagined. What would be the consequence? The characters, which, while the reader's fancy is fired with the glowing imagery of the poet, are sa­cred and sublime, would sink into the most miserable burlesque if attempted to be personified; and this bathos would be still more complete in proportion to the beauty of the poetry.

Fortunately, though to be sure it is a left handed advantage, there was very little in the poetry of these mysteries to drive it into any such predicament. It was miserable enough, GOD knows; but, in return, that the priests might be sure to incur their rightful [Page 214] portion of reprehension, the matter was not only the most sacred that could be chosen, but the most dangerous to expose to ridicule; for when we con­sider that such subjects were performed on the stage as the Conception of the Virgin MARY, the Passion of CHRIST, and the Resurrection, the mind is of­fended to a degree of outrage, and we condemn that country where such an impiety was tolerated, and those priests who connived at it.

The mystery of the Conception is composed in fifty three acts, distributed historically, and traced all the way from the prophecy of ISAIAH, to the death of the Innocents; and, without mentioning the chorusses, has at least a hundred characters.

To go over the plot would be to reiterate all we have read on the subject in the New Testament, which is on the stage tediously spun out in four feet verse, with now and their a few awkward Alexan­drines, perpetually fishing for the sublime, and catching the bathos. The joy of the human race on the coming of the MESSIAH is truly poetical; so is the discomfiture of the devils; but if it had not been larded with the jokes of the landlord of the inn at BETHELEM, who is very facecious with MARY about the groaning, and the devils putting new bolts and bars upon limbo for fear our SAVIOUR should [Page 215] let out ADAM and EVE, it would not have been seasoned to the palates of the priests.

The jests also of those who are employed by HEROD to murder the Innocents with the leave of the holy fathers, might as well have been spared; nor can we forgive the devils, after they have tempted HEROD with so many flattering promises of reward, for instigating him to cut his throat, and afterwards kicking his soul about till they are tired, and then enjoying the pleasure of seeing it bubble in a surnace of molten lead.

There are a hundred other absurdities, the mildest epithet that can be given them, and yet this strange incongruous farago is excelled in point of impiety, meant for sanctity, in the Passion, which begins with a sermon by way of prologue; and yet more in the Resurrection, which finishes with a figure dance between ADAM, EVE, ISAIAH, JERE­MIAH, JOHN the Baptist, the Good Thief crucified with CHRIST, and an immense number of other souls, whom the coming of the MESIAH had li­berated from limbo.

These mysteries, having obtained incredible re­putation in the capital, were very soon spread throughout the kingdom. ROUEN, ANGERS, LE [Page 216] MANS, METZ, and almost every principal town had to boast a company of strollers deputed from the confraternity. VILLON, the poet, who is said to have written several mysteries, became very busy upon this occasion as an itinerant. We are told by RABELAIS, that having retired to his friend the Abbe St. MAIXENT, near POITOU, VILLON was very anxious to amuse the inhabitants of that place with the Passion of Our SAVIUOR in the Poitevin dialect*.

[Page 217]The prodigious number of these entertainments it will be here impossible to give a correct account of. It may not be amiss, however, to notice yet some few particulars concerning them.

ARNOT GREBAN, canon of MANS, wrote the mystery of the Acts of the Apostles. The title ran thus: ‘"The Triumphant Mystery of Catholic Works in the Acts of the Apostles taken from St. LUKE, evangelist and historiographer."’ Another of these curious pieces was called the History of the Old Testament—This was the title, ‘"The Old Testament, in which is shewn how the children of ISRAEL passed the Red Sea and reached the Land of Promise, with several other histories such as JOB, TOBIT, DANIEL, SUSANNAH, and HESTER."’

A third has, for its title, ‘"The Vengeance of CHRIST in the destruction of JERUSALEM, ex­ecuted [Page 218] by VESPASIAN and his son TITUS; contained in several Roman chronicles in the reign of NERO, and other fine histories in honour of our SAVIOUR and the court of Paradise."’ A fourth is called ‘"The Mystery of the Patience of JOB, and how he lost all his wealth by war, and by fortune; how he was reduced to the greatest poverty, and how every thing was rendered back again by the grace of GOD."’

A fifth was entitled ‘"The Sacrifice of ABRA­HAM."’ I take the literal words. It is thus recom­mended: ‘"This is a French tragedy, necessary to all christians that they may find consolation in times of tribulation and adversity."’

This piece no more resembled a tragedy than any of the preceding ones; but it appeared at a time when the mysteries began to tire. There­fore the author, though he could no farther inno­vate than to change the description of the piece, was determined to do what he could. The myste­ries, which formerly took each of them four days in the performance, began now to be considerably compressed; and, wherever any familiar circum­stances occurred, they were considered as properer for the stage than those more sacred subjects which were profaned enough by the ceremonies of the [Page 219] church. Nay, it is not very clear that the authors, who were now principally laical, did not attempt as far as they safely could to burlesque these holy sub­jects, by way of bringing them into contempt; for we find about this time such titles as The Joyous Mystery of the Three Kings; and The Pleasant con­ceit of the Apocalypse of St. John of Zebadee, ‘"in which are contained the visions and revelations of the said St. JOHN in the island of PATMOS."’

Thus much has been said to give an idea of the genius, the manners, the art, and the language of French poetry in those times. I shall now, as briefly as possible, go on to those amusements called mo­ralities which succeeded the mysteries.


THE tragedy of Abraham, and another called The Discomfiture of the Giant Goliah, seem to have struck hard at the mysteries in FRANCE; for, en­couraged by the first effort at innovation, there shortly appeared a piece with the following title: The Mystery of the Destruction of Troy the Great. ‘"The Rape of HELEN, done by PARIS, and com­posed in good French rhime; together with the prowess, the virtues, and the nobleness of the va­liant HECTOR; the damnable treason committed by the Greeks, and many other histories con­taining all the transactions between the Trojans and the Grecians."’

This heathen mystery excited as much curiosity as had the religious tragedy: Curiosity begat con­troversy; and, the schism once sown, especially as it had reason to nourish it, the mysteries were quite at a stand. At last the priests yielded with the best grace they could, and the general title of pieces for [Page 221] the theatre no longer assumed the term mystery, but morality.

It was difficult, however, to draw a line as a cri­terion for the regulation of so wide a field; and, therefore, the subjects were sometimes holy, and sometimes profane; but, as their general tendency was morality, every thing was permitted.

A Pilot, by name JOHN PARMENTIER, sup­posed to be the first european who ever set foot in AFRICA, wrote a morality in honour of the As­sumption; a Cardinal wrote a choice morality called The Reformation of Taverns and Alehouses, and the Destruction of Gluttony; and the Valet de Chambre of LOUIS the Twelfth, wrote a morality which he called The Just Man, and the Man of this World, by which he meant the personification of virtue and vice; and he so completely wound up his plot, that the just man was sent first to purgatory and afterwards to heaven, while the devils ran away with the soul of the man of this world.

A physician, of an honester cast than the phy­sicians afterwards ridiculed by MOLIERE, wrote three moralities, entitled, The Road to Health, The Government of the Human Frame, and A Prohibition of an Indulgence of the passions.

[Page 222]LOUISA L'ABBÉ, born at LYONS, and called the French Sappho, at the age of fifteen followed her lover in men's cloaths to the siege of PE PIG­NAN; and, afterwards, when she had returned and married the man of her heart, wrote a morality called The Folly of Love. She is said to have written poetry in four languages, and her house was a sort of academy for the literati of her time.

But the Prodigal Son of RUTEBEUF became now the great object of imitation. It was per­formed with material alterations, and it produced as many imitations of it as there were in ENGLAND of the Beggar's Opera. Scarcely an instance of filial piety or ingratitude could be invented but pre­sently it was brought on the stage in the shape of a morality. The subjects of one or two are worth attending to.

The Poor Villager, ‘"written in praise and honour of honest girls,"’ made its appearance the year after the Prodigal Son was revived. The story is brief. A seigneur of a village endeavours to corrupt his vassal's daughter; and finding all his arts useless, is determined to have recourse to vio­lence. In this situation, the poor girl promises to consent upon condition previously of speaking to her father. The lord suspicious of every thing is [Page 223] determined to overhear the conversation, and hav­ing effected his scheme without her knowledge, he is witness to her imploring her father, in the most earnest manner, to cut off her head rather than let her chastity be violated. Struck with remorse the lord entreats her forgiveness, gives her and her fa­ther their freedom, and loads them with benefits.

Another has for its title, The Ungrateful Son, who is so completely the darling of his parents that they absolutely ruin themselves to make his fortune. After a time they are overwhelmed with poverty, and he is rolling in riches; and, when they have recourse to him as the only benefactor they know where to fly to, he treats them most wantonly unnatural, not even permitting them, though they are starving, to eat of a repast on which he is feasting. The father, seeing him treat the mo­ther contemptuously, can forbear no longer; but, lifting his hands and eyes to heaven, curses him and implores the vengeance of GOD upon his head. Scarcely has he uttered this curse but a monstrous toad comes out of a pye and flies at his face which it completely covers, attaching itself so closely that no human art can remove it. The unnatural son begins now to relent, and the parents, too ready to forgive, listen to his contrition. He is, however, in­formed that prayer alone can expiate his guilt; [Page 224] they, therefore, send him about from priest to priest, afterwards to the bishop, and at last to the pope; and, by the time he has expended almost his whole fortune, he is relieved by exorcism and exhortation from the frightful reptile and reconciled to his parents.

This piece was followed by another called The Morality of the Child of Perdition, ‘"who killed his father, hanged his mother, and afterwards went mad."’ But these instances are enough to shew the dis­tinction between the mysteries and the moralities; which were the only regular dramatic attractions of the times. We are erroneously informed that the clerks of the Bazoche established a theatre where the beauty of virtue, and the hideousness of vice were personified; but the fact is that these clerks were no more than the laymen who gave the first blow to the mysteries, and who afterwards, in con­junction, or rather by the connivance of the priests, performed the moralities at the established theatre, the priests being too cunning to shut out any op­portunity of bolstering up their own reputation, which at that time began to decline.

We are told of a theatrical society called Les Ensans de Sans Souci; but these cannot be re­gularly classed, being no more than a number of [Page 225] young men of fortune and family who ran after pleasure, and stuck at nothing to procure it. In consequence of pursuing this career many of them were ruined; and, having talents, they turned their thoughts to the stage for a livelihood. They were many of them scholars; and, being out of humour with the world, they walked in the footsteps of ARISTOPHANES, and in their pieces lashed the manners of their time.

This new species of amusement succeeded, and the interest of the Confraternity began again to be menaced. These children of Sans Souci were, therefore, invited to join the regular theatre in the same manner as the brotherhood had invited the moralists; and thus, this insatiate vortex, from which, perhaps, originated the idea of the Parson's Barn, swallowed up every thing that came in its way. The stage, however, having gradually gone from mysteries to moralities, from moralities to farces, from farces to the grossest buffooneries, and very frequently a mixture of them all, the government took away the theatre from the confraternity, and in the year 1539, the house of the trinity became an hospital according to its original institution.

FRANCIS the First having accorded the bro­therhood, letters patent confirming all the privileges they enjoyed under CHARLES the Sixth, they now [Page 226] sought for some new place of establishment; and, for that purpose, hired the Hotel de Flandres, where they performed four years; but the king ordered the demolition of this hotel, and several others near it, and our holy actors were as far to seek as ever.

Tired with the considerable expences they had incurred by transporting their theatrical trappings from place to place, they resolved to build upon their own foundation. They, therefore, bought some ground on which had stood the hotel of the duke of BURGUNDY, and there they erected their fourth theatre, which consisted of a hall and other edifices, many of which are now to be seen.

The parliament, upon strong solicitation, gave them permission to establish themselves there upon condition they performed none but profane sub­jects; but nevertheless, such as tended to promote the practice of morality.

The Confraternity of the Passion, who professed piety, could not content themselves with performing subjects purely profane, and, therefore, in the year 1588, they let their theatre to a troop of French comedians who had just then formed, with a view of performing under the permission of the king. The pieces, now exhibited, began to be a little more [Page 227] supportable than those of the Confraternity of the Passion. By degrees the public taste became more extended and more pure. Printing being invented in the reign of LOUIS the Ninth, and literature considerably more established under FRANCIS the First, books, of course, became common, different languages were generally learnt, and these improve­ments introduced translations of the tragedies and comedies of the ancients.


THOUGH JODELLE is generally considered as the AESCHYLUS and the LIVIUS ANDRONICUS of FRANCE, yet the introduction of tragedy is cer­tainly owing to LAZARE BAIF, a gentleman of ANGEVIN, who was educated by the celebrated BUDÉ. BAIF travelled to form his heart and his understanding. At ROME he studied Greek under the learned MUSURUS; and after he had accom­plished every intelligence he thought necessary for his purpose, he retired to his estate at ANJOU to lose himself in study.

FRANCIS the First, however, unwilling that such talents should be lost to the world, drew him from obscurity and sent him ambassador to VENICE, where he fell in love with a young lady of condition, by whom he had several children. Returned to PARIS, he was promoted by the king to some honourable and lucrative situations, and the first use [Page 229] he made of his learning was to translate such works as might be serviceable to the state.

The task, however, in which he most delighted was translating SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES. The tragedy of Electra containing, according to its title, the inhuman and truly piteous death of AGAMEM­NON by his wicked wise CLYTEMNESTRA, and his cruel adulterer EGYSTHUS, was published at PARIS in the year 1537.

This tragedy that the French might clearly com­prehend the nature of Greek poetry, BAIF translated verse for verse; consequently the style is barbarous enough. But he translated afterwards the Hecuba of EURIPIDES in a more liberal manner, intending it for the edification of his children. It was printed in 1550, dedicated to HENRY the Second, and it is spoken of as an ingenious work.

THOMAS SIBILET, about the same time, pub­lished a translation of the Iphigenia of EURIPIDES, and other authors are spoken of who emulated BAI [...]. The French, nevertheless, consider JODELLE as the founder of tragedy; for they say that these translations only serve to point out, at a distance, the road that dramatic writers ought to follow. But this is only general opinion. ‘"JODELLE,"’ says the [Page 230] duke de VALLIERE, ‘"was the first who had the boldness to bring forward a tragedy of his own invention. It was called Cleopatra Captive, and published in 1552; but it was a servile imitation of the cut and form of the Greek theatre, and yet he has the glory to pass for the inventor of French tragedy."’ But let us examine him.

ETIENNE JODELLE, lord of LIMODIN, was born at PARIS in 1532, of a family illustrious both by birth and by talents. The delight he took in studying the works of the Greeks and the Romans, induced him to lament that the stage had remained so long in a barbarous state, and that some superior genius had not introduced SOPHOCLES and MENAN­DER, SENECA, and TERENCE, into FRANCE. But how to manage? The confraternity were too intent upon deceiving the people to consent to such a dra­matic revolution. JODELLE had influence, and having constructed his Cleopatra upon the Greek model, he procured a theatre to be prepared in the court-yard of the hotel of RHEIMS, where his tra­gedy was performed before HENRY the Second, and a large concourse of spectators, with the most extra­vagant applause.

JODELLE, being then only twenty, and remarka­bly handsome, undertook to perform the part of [Page 231] Cleopatra. He also spoke the prologue, which was a compliment to the king, and in it he adroitly in­sinuated that the Muses, having flown from GREECE to FRANCE, implored the protection of so great a monarch.

This piece is opened by the ghost of ANTONY, who complains that the gods, jealous of his valour and glory when living, had connived with CUPID to render him a slave to a passion that terminated his life; and, not contented with this, they had made him become odious to the Romans by pro­voking him to turn his wife and children out of doors. Since, however, matters are so, this ghost seems determined to keep up the idea of all for love; and, therefore, appears to CLEOPATRA in a dream and advises her rather to kill herself than be led in triumph and chained to the chariot of CAESAR. The ghost, out of regard, probably, to the rules of ARISTOTLE, enjoins her to meet him in the shades in less than twenty-four hours.

The chorus, at the end of the first act, sing the instability of human wishes, the fall of TROY once so glorious, the wretchedness of MEDEA at the loss of JASON; and, at length, advert to the rose that lasts but a day, and apply their remarks to the unhappy fate of ANTONY and CLEOPATRA.

[Page 232]In the second act, CAESAR enjoys the idea of CLEOPATRA's captivity. In the third he has an interview with CLEOPATRA, who threatens to kick him and he runs away. In the fourth she kills her­self; and in the fifth they deplore her death. PRO­CULLUS exclaims ‘"Never did the light of heaven discover so frightful a day for EGYPT. I found her,"’ says he, ‘"in her royal habit and her crown, stretched dead and pale, on a rich bed painted and gilt. ERAS, her woman, lay dead at her feet, CHARMION yet breathed, but life was leav­ing her. Was this nobly done?"’ said I. ‘"Yes,"’ cried the faithful CHARMION, ‘"it was nobly done; and every succeeding king of EGYPT shall bear testimony of it. This said, she staggered, sell, and died."’

I considered it necessary to say so much of this tragedy as it was looked up to as the chef d'oeuvre of its time, and a model for every thing that was to succeed it. Its reception encouraged JODELLE to go on, and he soon after produced The Sacrifice, of Dido, taken as closely as possible from the Aeneid of VIRGIL, which had considerable success; and after that a comedy called Eugene; or the Rencoun­ter, which are supposed to make up the whole of his dramatic works, for they are printed, together with some miscellanies of his, in one volume in 1574.

[Page 233]He appears, however, to have left behind him something more in manuscript; for DE LA MOTTE says, ‘"I have the tragedies and comedies of JO­DELLE in my possession, some finished, some hung upon the hooks; these were commanded either by the queen, or madame, the king's sister; but were deferred on account of the troublesome times."’ DE LA MOTTE also speaks of him as a man of universal knowledge, and greatly esteemed by all ranks of people.

A number of dramatic authors followed JODELLE with various success; but no single effort proved any thing equal to the model from which they copied, till, in GARNIER, JODELLE found a most powerful rival. There is something so very extra­ordinary in the particulars of that man's life that I shall briefly relate them.

ROBERT GARNIER was born at FERTE BER­NARD, in LE MAINE. He was intended for the law, the study of which profession he very little re­garded, his inclination leading him wholly to elegant and classical literature. It was not, however, till after JODELLE had obtained considerable repu­tation that GARNIER was known as a poet; but as soon as his name came fairly before the public, he [Page 234] was considered as a French SOPHOCLES, born to eclipse their AESCHYLUS, JODELLE*.

The report of his fame soon reached the court, and CHARLES the Ninth was very anxious to attach him to his service; but he preferred the comfort and tranquility he enjoyed in the bosom of his fa­mily, to the anxiety and uneasiness attendant on the followers of kings. HENRY the Second made an­other attempt to entice him to court, alluring him with large offers to forward his fortune. He had, however, the courage to resist this second tempta­tion, and pronounced upon this occasion as he had upon the other, a harangue of thanks which proved him a good orator, a true philosopher, an excellent poet, and a zealous citizen.

He was, nevertheless, prevailed upon by his friends for the good of his country, which stood in need at that time of every honest man's assistance, to accept a charge in the grand council of the na­tion; and, for this purpose, he established himself at PARIS. He had not been long in the capital with his wife and his children, whom he tenderly [Page 235] loved, when the plague almost desolated that city by its ravages. This was about 1580; and, in ad­dition to the danger he had to apprehend to himself and his family, a most horrible plot was devised against him by his servants, who formed the mon­strous and dreadful project, for the purpose of plun­dering the house, of poisoning him, his wife, and his children, under an idea that their several deaths might be lain upon the plague.

This shocking plot was detected and its perpe­trators convicted and punished; but it operated on poor GARNIER and his family, only as a lingering death instead of an instant one; for, no sooner had the wife of GARNIER lifted the poison to her lips, by which means the discovery was made, but she felt its cruel effects; and though every assistance was given her she fell into a weakness and a langour that at length terminated her life. GARNIER survived her but a short time, leaving his inconsolable children to the care of friends indeed, but without a father or a mother.

His tragedies, eight in number, are evidently imitations of the Greek and Latin poets. He has chosen subjects suitable to the times in which he wrote, and calculated to inspire horror at those civil wars with which FRANCE was convulsed during [Page 236] his life. This he considered to be his duty as a poet and a patriot; and while his zeal in the cause of his country added animation to his genius, he at once wrote lessons for the conduct of his country­men, and examples for the enlargement of their un­derstandings.

‘"No pieces,"’ says his biographer, ‘"were at that time equal to those of GARNIER. His sub­jects are noble, his personages are great charac­ters, his style is harmonious, and sometimes energetic. The critics, however, have reproached him with preferring the manner of SENECA to that of SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES, and to have given in dialogue, which should be as near to nature as possible, sometimes the familiarity of epistle, sometimes the epic pomp of the epopoeia, sometimes the pindaric flights of ode, and some­times the pastoral images of eclogue. In a word, to have forged new expressions, chequered with Greek and Latin; but, in spight of these faults,"’ continues this writer, ‘"GARNIER will always hold a considerable rank as a dramatic poet."’


FROM GARNIER to HARDY, comprehending al­most the last half of the sixteenth century, FRANCE produced many authors, some of whom were men of original invention; but far the greatest part were either translators, or imitators of the ancients, or else of their cotemporaries in other countries. I shall not, therefore, speak particularly of any of these, for they were remarkable for nothing but their strict conformity to the bad taste and puerility of many of those who had gone before them.

To keep this matter, therefore, as interesting as possible, it will be better altogether to pass by this dramatic chasm, and come at once to HARDY; who, by his astonishing secundity, by the new character and particular conduct of his tragedies, some of which are now to be procured, certainly wrought a remarkable epoch in the history of the French drama.

[Page 238]ALEXANDER HARDY was born at PARIS, but it is very uncertain in what year, who were his parents, or how he passed his youth. All we cer­tainly know is, that about the year 1600, he was cele­brated for his dramatic talents, and at that time we find him a retainer to a strolling company, whom he, in an astonishing manner, perpetually supplied with novelty*.

His reputation, however, soon attracted the at­tention of the comedians of PARIS, who, at their establishment, when they came to a resolution of performing three times a week, found they could not carry their scheme effectually into execution without the association of this poet, who appeared to be so capable of furnishing continual novelty. HARDY undertook the task, and performed it with such success, that he continued their almost ex­clusive writer to his death, which happened some­time between 1628 and 1632; for, at the first of those dates, he was certainly alive, having at that time published himself the sixth volume of his works; and, at the latter, he was dead, for his widow was then obliged to commence a law suit against [Page 239] the managers for having shamefully rejected to fulfil their contract with him.

HARDY is said to have written eight hundred pieces. This is extremely improbable, and indeed it is very much doubted. Many authors of repu­tation, however, for though they seem very little to regard him, are yet anxious about his works, agree that he had an invention incredibly fertile; and, in­deed, if it be true, that he almost wholly supplied the theatre for nearly thirty years; his productions must have been immense in point of number, what­ever they were in point of merit.

SCUDERY, who insists that HARDY wrote eight hundred dramatic pieces, adds that he was a great man in spight of the envy that pursued him*; that, had he worked for his amusement instead of through necessity, his productions would have been inimita­ble, but as he unfortuaately struggled with poverty, too often to the reproach of the world, an attendant on poetry, in neglecting HARDY, the age in which he lived has subscribed an indelible record of its own ignorance.

[Page 240]PERFAICT says*, that if SCUDERY for inimi­table had substituted the word passable, this eulo­gium on HARDY would have been literally truth; adding, that one proof, not only of his merit but his influence was, that he established a regular price for dramatic pieces, which no author had ever been able to accomplish before him. ‘"For the rest,"’ continues PERFAICT, ‘"it is very easy to see that his subjects are without choice, or disernment, that his versification is poor and low, and that he has ill observed the rules of decency and decorum, so essentially necessary in dramatic poetry; but, with all his faults, it cannot be de­nied that he was born with distinguished talents; which, it is to be lamented, his miserable situation and his unfortunate propensity to write verse so rapidly, almost deprived him of the power to make an anvantageous use of. It may be said further, that he certainly understood effect on the stage more naturally, and in a manner more per­fect, than any of the poets who preceded him; and he gave so new a form to the theatre at PARIS, that those spectacles, which began with him to be [Page 241] performed three times a week, before his death were performed every day."’

GUERET, in a work, entitled The War of the Authors, says that HARDY wrote verse with such facility, that he would often produce two thousand lines in twenty-four hours, and that, in three days, he would write a comedy, the comedians would get perfect in it, and it would appear before the public*.

FONTENELLE, speaking of HARDY, writes more soberly, ‘"His fecundity,"’ says he, ‘"cer­tainly is marvellous; but then neither his verses nor the disposition of his pieces have cost him much pains. Nothing comes amiss to him. Every subject is good. Whether it is the death of ACHILLES, or a tradesman's wife that the husband catches in adultery, it is all the same to HARDY. [Page 242] Every thing is equally tragedy. Nor have man­ners or decorum any thing to do in the business. Now we see a prostitute in her bed who supports her character very naturally; now we are enter­tained with a rape; and, now, a married woman meets her lover at the place of assignation, and they fairly tell the audience that they are going to bed together."’

FONTENELLE is also very angry with HARDY for the immorality of his expressions, which, he says, not only hurt his cause but his reputation. To call a woman a saint, is not only irreligious, but unpoetic. ‘"If he called her a goddess,"’ said FONTENELLE, ‘"it would be perfect poetry, and the very fiction that is permitted to lovers. It is too serious to sport with truth. There are saints but there are no goddesses*."’

‘"However,"’ continues FONTENELLE, ‘"it must be confessed that the pieces of HARDY have not that tiresome and unsupportable tame­ness [Page 243] of the greatest part of those that have gone before them. But this is all the merit we can allow them; for, though the subjects give them sometimes greater strength and interest, the poetry is not written with proportionable force."’

The reader will very readily, from these re­marks, form a pretty correct judgment of HARDY. Certainly the French stage has singular obligations to him; but it is prudent, however, to observe that, though he has general merit he has particular faults; which, to do him justice, no one was more ready to point out than himself; endeavouring, at all times, in very laudable self defence, to throw the odium on his unfortunate situation, which obliged him to write more than he had an opportunity to correct; and this should seem, really, to prove that his ge­nius and his talents were superior to what the world had a right to suppose them*.

[Page 244]As to the number of pieces written by HARDY, we know by name but of forty-one. SCUDERY, as we have seen, insists that he wrote eight hundred, and GUERET has a much higher notion of the matter; but SCUDERY is a writer who was remarka­ble for exaggeration, and GUERET, very probably, as his Battle of the Authors, like SWIFT's Battle of the Books, is a satire, only meant to ridicule what he did not believe.

HARDY himself, in his preface to his works, speaks of six hundred and more; which FON­TENELLE pleasantly observes, was no number at all when it is considered that his cotemporary, LOPES DE VEGA, had given to SPAIN two thousand. It should seem, as he himself printed an edition of his works, that over and above the forty-one pieces that edition contained, his productions were, per­haps, irregular, or unfinished, or written to serve some local or temporary purpose, or of some other description that rendered them unfit for publication, and, therefore, whatever might have been their number, he thought none of them worthy of se­lection.

[Page 245]Certainly HARDY must have paved the way for that reputation the French stage so soon afterwards experienced; for we see, in his life time, not only so great an avidity in the public to frequent the the­atre that from three times a week plays were per­formed every day; but soon after he got almost an exclusive possession of the drama, on account of the prodigious concourse of spectators, the comedians, for the accommodation of the public, seperated into two companies, one continuing in their old theatre, Le Hotel de Burgogne, and the other removing to a new one au Marais *.

Indeed, the more we consider the circumstance, the more we shall have to admire that HARDY single handed could sustain the prodigious task of furnish­ing novelty to the theatre with improved success for nearly thirty years, when we shall see that it re­quired not less than twenty celebrated men to keep it up to any pitch of excellence for the following fifty years, during which period the stage flourished under the great CORNEILLE.

[Page 246]On taking leave, therefore, of JODELLE, GAR­NIER, and HARDY, it may be remarked, that JO­DELLE merited all the praise he received for emu­lating BAIF, and, thereby, rescuing the French stage from barbarism by introducing the ancients; for though he must have found insurmountable dif­ficulties in attempting to suit the harmony of the Greek language, and the majesty of the Roman, to tierceness of the French; yet those traits of na­ture and simplicity to which he was able to give force and effect, were not only admirable in them­selves, but served as a model for his successors, which foundation for fame ought not to be denied him; for though it was only sowing a harvest for others to reap, yet it must be allowed that his la­bours, though not perfect, were highly meritorious, and that had he lived a century later he would cer­tainly have been a celebrated writer.

To GARNIER another species of praise is due, which places his character, as a great genius, even above that of JODELLE; for, though he took his subjects from the ancients, his applications were all at home, certainly the first and most perfect pro­vince of tragedy; and which gives a writer oppor­tunity to blend the patriot with the poet. He in­spired FRANCE with a just horror of domestic dis­sentions, by representing the entrails of ROME torne [Page 247] by her proper citizens. He combatted pride, envy, and cruelty in the Romans, that they might be de­tested by the French. A pen like this is the club of HERCULES, and does more towards establishing domestic tranquility than a thousand armies. These destroy men, the other destroys monsters.

The praise of a bold and successful attempt at this reformation is due to GARNIER; who, had he been able to have accomplished that extreme diffi­cult task of imitating without becoming a mannerist, would, to the force of his writings, have added taste and style; but the French language had not at that time been sufficiently filtered to be limpid. It required that JODELLE and GARNIER should be perfected by CORNEILLE, and RACINE; who, admirable as they were, experienced advantage in finding the source already explored to their hands.

As to HARDY, we can add no more than that, had he given himself time he must have greatly eclipsed his predecessors; and, taking in the idea, that there was no competitorship, nothing to excite emulation in him; but, on the contrary, that his invention was constantly on the stretch, and that his whole employment was to exhaust his fertile and [Page 248] productive mind, and all this for no induce­ment but general applause, for he was always poor, it is impossible to deny that his genius was inexhaustible, his industry meritorious, and his patience exemplary.


WE are now come to the time when the dramatic art in FRANCE began to look proudly forward to­wards perfection; an era which, in any country, cannot be expected but from a grand association of talents. This event nature seems at that time to have considered herself indebted to FRANCE, for the fifty years during which CORNEILLE adorned literature, produced a larger list of eminent dra­matic writers than any other country in the same period ever had to boast.

As this great luminary was surrounded with many satelites at his birth, who shone with some brilliancy as they followed him through his career, it will not be improper, in a summary manner, to speak of their merits the better hereafter to il­lustrate his.

GEORGE SCUDERY, who we have already known [Page 250] as the panegryist of HARDY, seems to have been in need of a similar panegyrist himself; for, in endea­vouring to out-do his favourite, he fell into much more unpardonable errors himself. He was not con­tented with writing very fast, and consequently very imperfect, but he thought proper to chuse subjects that were uninteresting, and plots that were inex­plicable. His scenes are, therefore, alternately wonderful and tiresome, and his style beautiful and bombastic.

His dramatic pieces, eight in number, were pub­lished at various times, as well as a variety of other productions, all which are said to have had a great sale*.

SCUDERY was born of a noble family, in 1601, at HAVRE DE GRACE, and died at PARIS in 1667. He served in the army, obtained a high rank, and was admitted of the French academy.

[Page 251]FRANCIS TRISTAN, surnamed the Hermit, and supposed to have sprung from the famous PIERRE LE HERMITE, author of the first crusade, was born in the Chateau de Souliers, in the provence DE LA MANCHE, in 1601. His character seems to have been something similar to our SAVAGE the poet, for he possessed similar merit, laboured under simi­lar misfortunes, and endured similar poverty.

TRISTAN was placed near the person of the marquis DE VERNEUIL, natural son of HENRY the Fourth; but, having had the misfortune to kill an officer in a rencounter, he fled to ENGLAND, where he first imbibed a taste for letters. After a time he returned, and marshal DE HUMIERES see­ing him at BOURDEAUX, presented him to LOUIS the Thirteenth, who granted him a pardon, and GASTON D'ORLEANS took him for one of his gen­tlemen in ordinary.

Gaming, wenching, and poetry filled the time of poor TRISTAN, but not his pockets. His po­verty was extreme. BOILEAU tells us that he passed his summers without a shirt, and his winters without a coat. He died in 1655, after having led a life agitated and full of events, which he himself has given an account of in his romance called The Disgraced Page.

[Page 252]TRISTAN wrote a great variety of things, but he is chiefly spoken of for his dramatic productions, of which there are eight known to be his, and two attributed to him. His merit was of a superior stamp to SCUDERY and others. His tragedy of Mariamne has certainly considerable merit. Indeed this piece, as well as some others of his writings, furnished matter for the imitation of more cele­brated men, and there can be no doubt, had not his life been chequered with so much madness and folly, had he not neglected his friends, trifled with his reputation, and disgraced his situation, for he was noble by birth, and had the distinction of a seat in the French academy, TRISTAN would have made a distinguished figure in literature*.

Of MAIRET there is very little to say. He was born two years before CORNEILLE, and died [Page 253] two years after him. He seems as if he had kept his reputation by his connections; for being at­tached to the admiral MONTMORENCY, he was created a nobleman for his valour. As to any pre­tentions to rank as a poet he had none but what were very slender indeed. His pieces, which amount to twelve, are in general tragi-comedies, and clothed in very indecent language. They are bold and broad, but have neither conduct, nor regularity. His Sophonisba, however, in which he has observed the rule of twenty four hours, excited some curiosity; nay it is even said that VOLTAIRE, on that account, attempted to repair it; but he desisted, saying, that it was like an old house; it might be pulled down and rebuilt with the assistance of better materials, but that it was impossible to repair it.

DU RYER, who was born in PARIS, of a noble family, in 1605, was admitted into the academy in 1656. He was secretary to the duke DE VENDÔME, and obtained late in life the brevet of historiogra­pher of FRANCE with a suitable pension. A dis­proportionate marriage reduced him to work by the sheet as a poet. This is enough to prove that what­ever his merit might have been it had not fair play. He left behind him nineteen dramatic pieces, and five more are attributed to him. Alcionée, Saul, and Scevole, are said to have considerable merit. L'Abbe [Page 254] D'Aubignac, says Alcionée, is full of beauty and grandeur; MENAGE considers it as a chef d'oeuvre, and CHRISTIAN, queen of SWEDEN, was so en­amoured of it, that she had it constantly read to her three times a day*.

DU RYER is generally allowed a considerable share of reputation; which, if it was his due, shackled and trammelled as it was, must have been much greater had he written up to his feelings and not at the command of a task master.

ROTROU was born at DREUX, in 1609, three years after CORNEILLE; but, as he died thirty years before that great poet, it will be proper that he should be spoken of here. ROTROU would have been invited to become a member of the French academy had he been a resident in PARIS, which regulation, except to honorary members, was in­dispensible. As it was he was obliged to decline this distinction, considering it his duty to write at DREUX, where he had several honourable em­ployments, to the duties of which he fell a sacrifice; for, conceiving his presence necessary for the better regulation of the inhabitants during a pestilential [Page 255] fever, he was himself carried off by the disorder he had been so solicitous to avert.

In nineteen years ROTROU produced thirty-six pieces; in which, as his labours were entirely de­voted to the valuable purpose of rendering tragedy natural and interesting, and as there are a great number of poetic beauties to be found in his pro­ductions, there can be no doubt but he may be fairly considered as the nearest at that time, in point of intrinsic merit, to CORNEILLE.

ROTROU, nevertheless, wrote too fast. His soible was gaming, and whenever he had a bad chance he repaired it by writing a play. Thus his pieces have not all the same force and beauty. It cannot, however, be denied that in most of them there is an elevation in the designs; the ideas are novel, grand, and bold; and the conduct announces a judicious taste, and a well informed mind.

His errors are the errors of the times, from which even CORNEILLE was not free. His sources, like the sources of other poets, were, as occasion served, Greek, Roman, Italian, Spanish, and En­glish. Tragi-comedies were at that time the pre­vailing taste, and these were taken from romances, ill constructed, stuffed with trisling characters, frivo­lous [Page 256] episodes, and every thing unnecessary and ex­traneous. Combats, meetings, partings, disguises, and other fantastic and extravagant circumstances, outraged common sense and propriety, destroyed sober and rational expectation, and gave the piece more an air of knight errantry than nature.

In this extravagance, perhaps, ROTROU too much indulged himself; but it was only going with the herd, and it does not preclude him from the honest share of praise due to his real merit, which was great and commanding, and which, had he lived to have curbed the mettle of his volatile muse, might have confirmed him a reputation, perhaps, but little inferior to his great cotemporary.

It will be proper to follow ROTROU with some account of DASMARETS, COLLETET, and BOISRO­BERT, which sour, together with CORNEILLE, assisted cardinal RICHELIEU in the fabrication of several miserable performances, in which it is al­lowed he had a hand, but which were most probably originally written by him and retouched by those five poets, who fathered these plays that the repu­tation of the cardinal as a great statesman might not be scandalized.

DESMARETS, who was born in 1595, seems to [Page 257] have had some wit, but much more cunning. He was called Le Bel-esprit of visionaries, and the visionary of Les beaux-esprits. He managed, however, his visions so well that they realized for him several lucrative situations under cardinal RICHELIEU, through whose solicitation he was also one of the first members of the French academy. He published ten very indifferent dramatic pieces, in many of which the cardinal is supposed to have had a hand, particularly those under the titles of Europe, and Mirame.

COLLETET, counsellor, and one of the forty members of the French academy, was neither so fortunate, nor so prudent as DESMARETS; for, though he was a great favourite of the cardinal, and condescended to take his share of the odium which attached to him and his colleagues in conse­quence of the folly of RICHELIEU, who vainly fan­cied it was as easy to become a poet as a statesman, he had not wherewithal to bury him when he died.

BOISROBERT, who, being one of RICHELIEU's favourites, was given a considerable place, and also introduced among the members of the French aca­demy, seems to have had a fertile genius, and less servility than DESMARETS and COLLETET. He published twenty dramatic pieces, some of which re­ceived [Page 258] no advantage from the assistance of the cardinal.

There was also a man of very inconsiderable merit, of the name of CHAPELAIN, who seems to have been the servant of all work in his business. He was compiler, amanuensis, prompter, in short any thing; but the most convenient among his ac­commodating qualities was his fathering all such miserable passages of the cardinal as the rest of the fraternity thought would disgrace them.

RICHELIEU, no doubt had a hand in many of the writings of DESMARETS and BOISROBERT; but the pieces supposed to have been first written by him, and afterwards fitted to the stage by the five poets, as they were then called for distinction, were Europe, Mirame, and the Tuilleries; some particu­lars relative to which pieces it may not be unenter­taining to relate.

After the cardinal had written Europe, he sent it by BOISROBERT to the French academy, composed principally of his creatures, and entreated their opinion without flattery; begging also they would honestly correct any thing that militated against the rules of the theatre, or poetry in general. The academy flattered by the unlimited conditions [Page 259] given them, and, perhaps, pleased at an opportu­nity of vaunting their own consequence, forgot the deference due to the cardinal's patronage, and dis­figured the manuscript with so many alterations that it was all one blot, like the picture of PRA­XITELES.

BOISROBERT having with extreme difficulty and caution made his report to his principal, the poor cardinal, who could stand unmoved when any disaster happened to the state, fairly sunk under this disaster that had happened to his play; and, in the first paroxysm of his despair, he tore the copy to pieces, threw it into the chimney, and in a state of the greatest despondency went to bed.

Happily, being summer, there was no fire on the hearth, and this the wretched cardinal, with the true tenderness of a father for his dear offspring, re­collected. He got up, sent for CHEREST, his secre­tary, ordered him to collect all the scraps that had been thrown into the chimney, and asked him to get some paste, or if there was none in the house, to go to the laundry and fetch some starch. CHEREST in­stantly obeyed his master's orders, produced the starch, and they passed the greatest part of the night [Page 260] together starching and patching the play till, at length, it wore a pretty legible form.

Next morning the play was copied in the car­dinal's presence, who ordered the corrections made by the academy to be changed, except some few of the most immaterial; and, in this state, he sent it back by BOISROBERT, with directions to inform the academy that they might see he had profited by their advice; but, as it was possible they might not be more infallible than him, he had not altogether abided by their alterations.

This proceeding had the desired effect; for the academy, perhaps at the instance of BOISROBERT, DESMARETS, and the rest, having by this time con­sidered, that, however, scouting the cardinal's play might, as a set of literary characters add to their reputation, yet applauding it would as politicians add more to their interest, they thought proper to return it without any further correction, together with a letter expresling their unanimous approbation.

The cardinal, however, had a more impartial and, certainly, a more just ordeal to pass than the academy. The public, awed by no consideration of interest, damned the piece; and both the car­dinal [Page 261] and the academy were so ashamed of them­selves that, not prevailing upon any of the five to acknowledge a concern in the play, it was attributed by consent to a man of the name of St. SOURLIN, a creature of the cardinal.

As for Mirame, the cardinal gave a sensible proof that he was its author, for it cost him a hun­dred thousand crowns to bring it on the stage. He assisted at the first representation, and was in an agony of despair at finding it did not succeed. When he went home he ordered DESMARETS to attend him. Poor DESMARETS fearing to face his patron alone, took with him a friend, whose name was PETIT, and who had some humour, and more presence of mind.

The moment the cardinal saw them, ‘"Well,"’ said he, ‘"will the French, do you think, ever have any taste? Do you know they were not de­lighted with Mirame."’ DESMARETS was con­sounded, but PETIT knowing better how to humour the cardinal, ‘"It was not I assure you monseigneur,"’ said he, ‘"the fault of the play, which is admirable, It was the fault of the actors. Your eminence must have perceived that they were not only imperfect in their parts, but they were all drunk."’ ‘"I thought so,"’ said the cardinal; ‘"well, we [Page 262] shall see what is to be done on the next repre­sentation."’

DESMARETS and PETIT, were so satisfied by this hint, that they packed an audience, who were not only admitted gratis*, but paid for going; and we [Page 263] are told by PELISSON that the cardinal enjoyed this hired applause with the most enthusiastic rap­ture, sometimes shewing himself to the audience, that they might be induced to applaud, sometimes loudly applauding himself, and sometimes com­manding silence, that his favourite passages in the play might be the better attended to. Poor BOIS­ROBERT, however, with all his zeal, suffered se­verely [Page 264] upon this occasion; for, not being able in so much hurry and bustle to discriminate as to the characters of those volunteers for whom he, toge­ther with his colleagues, had beat up under the banner of the cardinal, he unfortunately introduced some ladies of equivocal character into the box where sat the duchess of AIGUILLON, who was so outraged and offended at this conduct, that RICHE­LIEU most ungratefully banished him at her request. The academy, however, who knew, to their shame, how little reason the cardinal had really to be dis­pleased with BOISROBERT, sent a deputation to de­mand his recall; which, however, was not effected till RICHELIEU, being ill, principally from chagrin, asked his physician for a recipe, who answered that his best recipe would be the presence of BOIS­ROBERT.

The comedy of The Tuilleries was performed in the cardinal's palace, who arranged all the scenes himself. CORNEILLE, who, perhaps, felt himself a little awkward upon this occasion, wanted to alter something in the third act; but RICHELIEU told him qu'il falloit avoir un esprit de suite, meaning that the genius for him must be one subservient and accommodating.

The prologue of this comedy, which was written by the cardinal, but fathered by CHAPELAIN, [Page 265] praised all the authors, who were seated upon this occasion very conspicuously among the audience. COLLETET, after the manu [...]pt of the comedy was finished, read it to the [...]al; who, having heard four lines, was so en [...]d that he imme­diately laid him down fifty pi [...]es, bidding him stop there, for that the king's revenue could not furnish enough to pay for the rest in proportion. The fol­lowing are the lines which so enchanted the cardinal:

En meme temps j'ai vu, sur le bord d'un ruisseau,
La canne s'humecter de la bourbe de l'eau;
D'une voix enrouee, et d'un battement d'aile,
Animer le canard qui languit aupres d'elle*.

RICHELIEU, when he became more acquainted with these lines, thought he could improve them, [Page 266] and sent for COLLETET to talk to him upon the subject. COLLETET wished to know what alter ation he thought proper to make, and the cardinal said the second line, La canne s'humecter de la bourbe de l'eau, ought to run La canne barboter dans la bourbe de l'eau; barboter, which means to muddle, being a better phrase than humecter, which means to moisten. COLLETET affected to think the mat­ter worthy mature consideration, and promised to write to the cardinal upon the subject. This pro­mise he performed, submitting to his patron whether the word muddle was not too low and unworthy an application for the chaste passion of a duck and a drake*.

The cardinal, who was extremely angry with this letter, had scarcely read it, when he was waited on by several courtiers, who came to announce to him a brilliant victory, the measures of which had been taken by his advice and the whole conducted under his direction. They addressed him in a style full of flattery, saying nothing could resist the au­thority of his eminence. ‘"You are mistaken,"’ said the cardinal, ‘"that scoundrel COLLETET resists me. [Page 267] I did him the honour to alter a line in his verses, and he has the impudence to write me a long letter, in which he endeavours to prove I am in the wrong."’

It can be easily understood how such men as DESMARETS, COLLETET, and BOISROBERT, came to be RICHELIEU's poetic drudges; but it is ex­traordinary that CORNEILLE, or even ROTROU, should notoriously join such a confederacy. It appears, however, that they consented to it with extreme reluctance, for they were by no means active in the business, and withdrew themselves as soon as they could. Nay, it should seem that RICHELIEU felt this poignantly, for he did every thing in his power to injure CORNEILLE; and, indeed, meditated a revenge which he thought would accomplish his ruin.

It, however, disgraced the cardinal most signally, which the reader will easily allow when it is known that this meditated revenge was no less than ven­turing a second representation of Europe, which had been damned, in opposition to CORNEILLE's popular tragedy of The Cid. Europe was thus performed under the influence of the cardinal; but when the actor came to give it out again he [Page 268] was hissed off, and nothing further was suffered till the performers promised the Cid for the next night's representation.

RICHELIEU is excused by his biographer for all this absurdity under an idea that he patronized these poets, but the reverse happens to be the fact; for, according to what we have read, they patro­nized him. Instead of allowing to them the in­fluence of his name, and protecting every valuable line they wrote, he made them his tools that he might vaunt under their sanction every miserable line written by him. Is this patronage? No. Give me that spontaneous disinterested patronage that, without any selfish views or pretentions, distin­guishes merit, fosters it, brings it to light, sanctions it, recommends it; and, thereby, confers an ho­nourable pleasure on the patron, and proves a mu­tual advantage to the poet and the public.

But, putting every other consideration out of the question, there cannot be any thing so silly as the idea of several men writing in conjunction*. [Page 269] Here the application is particularly in point; for though every one of these men, except the cardinal, produced, single handed, plays which had success; yet, when they worked together, nothing could be more contemptible than the issue of their labours.


THE great CORNEILLE, an appelation that ad­mirable writer very honourably merited, was born at ROUEN, the twenty-sixth day of June, 1606. He brought out his comedy of Melite in 1625, at the age of nineteen, and he died the first of October, in 1684.

He was intended for the bar, but his genius was too elevated for that profession; at the same time it was difficult to divine what bent his mind would take, as he manifested no extraordinary gifts of na­ture. The spark, however, only lay dormant. It remained to be roused into action by love. A young man took his friend with him to visit his mistress; the lady chose the friend and rejected the lover; the friend, charmed with this preserence, be­came a poet upon the spot. Hence the comedy of Melite, and hence the emancipation of the great CORNEILLE.

[Page 271]There was treachery in the case certainly; but the lady, who was the subject of the comedy, and who went a long time in ROUEN by the name of MELITE, was principally to blame; yet, whatever anger the lover of this lady might harbour against his mistress, the public were willing to acknowledge the highest obligations to her, for they seemed from that moment to have a taste for dramatic entertain­ments unknown to them before.

The particulars of this great man's life, which for such a man are rather confined, will gradually come in with the accounts of his dramatic success; which, for a time, I shall now uninteruptedly follow. His second piece was a tragi-comedy called Cli­tandre, which he wrote to correct the too great simplicity that, with all its merit, the public com­plained of in Melite. This effort, however, had better have been let alone; for, if Melite was too simple, Clitandre was too extravagant; and RO­TROU having two years before brought out his first comedy, The Bague de L'oubli, with success, and soon after his comedy of The Hypocondriaque, the public had paused upon the merit of CORNEILLE, which doubt Clitandre unfortunately did not serve to clear up.

His third piece called La Veuve, which was a [Page 272] comedy, did not make its appearance till 1634, and in the interval between Clitandre and that, RO­TROU had brought out Doristée et Cléagénor, l'Hereuse Constance, Les Occasions Perdues, Les Ménechmes, which served afterwards as a subject for REG­NARD, and Celemene, which was again retouched by TRISTAN, and at length written anew and brought out by ROTROU, with prodigious success, under the title of Vencestas in 1647*.

Thus ROTROU had by this time made a for­midable stand against CORNEILLE, which circum­stance neither La Veuve nor, La Galerie du Palais, a comedy performed the same year, had power ma­terially to affect; nor even another comedy called La Suivante, the principal merit of which is, if we [Page 273] believe a French author, that the five acts are so exactly of a length that there is not a single line in any one more than any other.

It is very possible that this extraordinary effort of bringing out three pieces in one year, evidently excited by the success of his rival, and, after all, meeting with but indifferent success himself, in­duced CORNEILLE to join the cardinal's confederacy, for it was on the following year that The Tuilleries was performed, in which our author notoriously assisted as one of the five. We must, however, do him the justice to believe that he very soon grew sick of the connection, for Europe did not appear till 1637*, and, for Mirame, it was not performed till 1639; and as we know that the cardinal and CORNEILLE were at enmity when the Cid was pro­duced, which was in 1636, it is almost reduced to a certainty that this coalition, as far as our poet was concerned in it, did not last much more than a year, and that he would never have joined it at all but under the expectation of meeting with a liberal pa­tron, [Page 274] in which expectation he was completely dis­appointed.

In 1635 appeared, written by CORNEILLE, a comedy called La Place Royale, and his first tra­gedy called Medée, neither of which had by any means capital success; and early in 1636, came out a comedy called L'Illusion, which CORNEILLE him­self confesses he wrote by way of diverting his mind from the gloom of having written Medée, and, there­fore, he declares it deserves but little notice. In the interim ROTROU, always at work, had surprized the public with L'Heureuse Naufrage, and four or five other pieces, so that their success was hitherto upon the whole pretty nearly equal, but it was very soon decreed that the genius of CORNEILLE should gain so complete a triumph as to leave all his com­petitors at an immense distance, for in two months after the appearance of L'Illusion came out that admirable performance. The Cid.

This piece, which has many striking beauties, and many glaring faults, is nevertheless, upon the whole, a most extraordinary effort. The Cid was celebrated before CORNEILLE brought it out. He himself acknowledges that he is much indebted upon this occasion to GUILLIN DE CASTRO, a Spanish poet, and FONTENELIE says that there was [Page 275] no nation, however barbarous, where the Cid was unknown. It must be confessed, however, the Cid itself must have been as barbarous as those people who cherished it, till it came polished from the hands of CORNEILLE, who alone was intended as the lapidary to shew the lustre of this diamond.

Never had a tragedy more celebrated success. It was repeated by heart, taught to children, and it was the custom to say beau comme le Cid. Cardinal RICHELIEU, we are told, had an ambition to be known as the author of it; but CORNEILLE, fonder of fame than fortune, rejected the proposal with contempt. That all powerful minister in other things, defeated in this, insisted that the academy should examine it, who presently, in their officious zeal to oblige their principal, found out that all the rules of the drama were violated. CORNEILLE's partizan agreed to this, but drew from these pre­mises a most powerful conclusion in its favour.

All the poets, however, influenced by either the bribes or menaces of the cardinal, joined in this hue and cry against the Cid, with the single exception of ROTROU, who with a generous disdain refused to join the league. ROTROU called CORNEILLE his father, his instructor, and never ceased to manifest [Page 276] the highest veneration for his character, which gives no little lustre to his own when we consider how long he had been his powerful rival, and how nobly generous it was to place himself the palm upon the head of his competitor.

It is hardly possible, and if it were possible it is almost ridiculous, to enumerate the nest of envious hornets which were roused by the extraordinary merit and success of this piece. The academy, through the influence of the cardinal, sat as gravely and as solemnly to examine its merits as if the wel­fare of the nation had depended upon the issue of their deliberation; but, as if they feared the ill consequence of this officiousness, they affected to proceed with all possible caution and delicacy.

It is thought that the cardinal's aversion to this piece proceeded from some sentiments it contained which exposed the undue influence of ministers, and reprobated their injustice and rapacity; it was impossible, therefore, for him to act too warily. He first procured SCUDERY to abuse the work, and then represented, through BOISROBERT, to COR­NEILLE that it would be a high advantage to permit his piece to pass through an examination by the aca­demy, by way of silencing every clamour; to which CORNEILLE, seeing the drift of the application, an­swered, [Page 277] that if the judgment of the academy would give the cardinal the smallest amusement he cer­tainly should not oppose it.

This was construed into a full consent on the part of CORNEILLE. Commissioners were imme­diately appointed to examine the Cid, and, that every thing might wear an appearance of impartiality, SCUDERY's remarks were also to be examined. After this the observations of the commissioners were re­ported and deliberated on in full assembly. It was a long time, however, though they had several de­bates before they came to a conclusion, but at length they agreed on reducing the Cid to that form in which they thought it ought to have been repre­sented. It was in this state given to a printer, and the first sheet was sent to the cardinal for his opinion, who found they had gone from one extreme to the other; for, instead of pointing out the faults and amending them, they had taken out the beauties and rendered the faults still more glaring than ever.

RICHELIEU, finding he should only expose himself, sent to stop the impression, because what but blind malice could prompt a step at which the indignant public must naturally revolt. Being, therefore, a better politician than those he em­ployed, he contented himself with a few inconsi­derable [Page 278] alterations, which CORNEILLE had too much good sense to oppose, and thus the matter was compounded, and the piece has remained in that state to this hour.

This play, however, though one of the most celebrated that has even to this moment appeared upon the French stage, underwent a thousand com­ments. The academy set the example, and it be­came the mode to censure the Cid. SHAKESPEAR himself, and that is a bold word, never was more roughly handled. Some lines were said to be im­moral, others puerile, others bombastic, and others ridiculous. Even RACINE when he came for­ward as a poet, did not fail to turn the Cid into ridicule. He parodied in his piece called Les Plai­deurs, the following line spoken in the Cid by DON DIEGO.

Ses rides, sur son front, ont grave ses exploits:

RACINE's line runs thus:

Ses rides, sur son front, gravoient tous ses exploits.

‘"How is this,"’ said CORNEILLE, ‘"is it permitted to a young man to ridicule people's best verses?"’ But in this RACINE only took up the idea of the academy, whose remark was, that wrinkles do not mark exploits, they only mark years.

Poor BARON, as I have already noticed, like [Page 279] AESOP, quitted the stage and appeared on it thirty years afterwards. He was then very infirm, but had been so great a favourite that the public suffered any thing from him. One evening, however, when he repeated the following lines, they burst into an involuntary laugh.

Je suis jeune, il est vrai: mais aux ames bien nees,
La valeur n'attend pas le nombre des annees.

BARON disregarded the risible effect this had upon the audience, and gravely repeated the passage, when they laughed louder than before; upon which he came forward and seriously addressed the paterre. ‘"Gentlemen,"’ said he, ‘"I shall now begin for the third time; but if I hear any one laugh, I shall quit the theatre immediately, never to return."’ This had its effect, and they took particular care to offend him no more, although the same evening when kneeling at the feet of his mistress, she bid him rise, he was obliged to entreat the assistance of two scene shifters before he could get on his legs.

But the famous expression, ‘"A tu du coeur,"’ has been more cavilled at than any thing in the piece. It has, which is saying a great deal, been twisted and turned as many ways as SHAKESPEAR's ‘"put out the light*."’ This expression has been [Page 280] contended was altered by the academy from ‘"a tu un coeur;"’ and to confirm this, some of the edi­tions have it so; and I myself heard it used to LE KAIN. The arguments in savour of this last reading are shrewd and sensible. A tu du coeur is simply, ‘"Hast thou courage?"’ Which is a tame question indeed to be put to the valorous RODRIGUE, from his father too. A tu un coeur is, ‘"Hast thou a heart?"’ Which may be construed, Hast, thou na­ture, affection, family pride, hast thou, in short, resolution, dear as the daughter is to thee, to avenge the wrongs of thy father by destroying her's? Is thy affection to thy father proof against thy love for her to this degree? And his answer begining ‘"Tout autre que mon pere,"’ is heightened by giving it this turn.

But vainly were the tongues and pens of so many writers and critics at work to decry the merit [Page 281] of this piece. It triumphed over all its enemies. This DESPREAUX notices in the following lines:

En vain contre le Cid un ministre se ligue;
Tout PARIS pour CHIMENE, a les yeux DE RODRIGUE.
L'Academie en corps a beau le censurer:
Le public revolte s'obstine a l'admirer.

The only hope that now remained with the cardinal of crushing CORNEILLE was that his following pro­ductions might be so inferior to the Cid as to lower his reputation; but he was completely baffled in these very charitable expectations; for Horace, which was his next performance, confirmed that fame the Cid had acquired; and, in spight of the in­trigues of the academy, who again sat in judgment on him, the public laughed their puny attempts to scorn; and, in proportion as their favourite was calumniated, they strove to render him the justice his merit deserved*.

Horace appeared early in 1639, and a few months afterwards CORNEILLE brought out Cinna, a tra­gedy of considerable celebrity; some say it is his best work, others have declared for Polieucte, and he himself preferred Rodogune.

[Page 282] Cinna wrought an effect on LOUIS the Four­teenth, very honourable for its author, and to the dramatic art. The Chevalier de ROHAN had con­spired against the state, and the king had constantly refused to grant his pardon to the most powerful and pressing solicitations. The night before the exe­cution of the chevalier, LOUIS was at the represen­tation of Cinna; many passages of which piece struck him so forcibly, particularly the speech of AUGUSTUS in the fifth act, where he congratulates himself on having obtained a conquest over his passions, that though, from pride, or some political considerations, he did not revoke the sentence of ROHAN, yet he frequently afterwards declared that if, at that moment, he had been solicited to save his life under any colourable pretext, he certainly should have consented.

This tragedy drew tears from the eyes of the great CONDE at the age of twenty, of which LOUIS augured so well that he considered it as a presage of his future greatness.

Polieucte, which was the next production of CORNEILLE, came out in 1640. This piece had very nearly been consigned to oblivion, or rather smothered in its birth. CORNEILLE sent it to the theatre for the approbation of the actors, who re­fused [Page 283] to perform it. One of the performers, who was entrusted to return it to the author, one day re­perused a part of it as he walked about in his lodg­ings, but being displeased with a passage he met in it, he threw it carelessly from him, and the copy fell upon the tester of the bed. He gave himself no further trouble about it, and nobody knew for a considerable while, what was become of the play. After it had been mislaid eighteen months an up­holsterer took down the bed, and rescued Polieucte from oblivion.

Previous to the representation of Polieucte on the stage, CORNEILLE read that piece at the Hotel de Rambouillet, which was then the sovereign tri­bunal in all literary matters. The piece was ap­plauded in the presence of CORNEILLE, out of that respect which they thought due to the merit of so great a man, but VOITURE was privately en­joined to inform CORNEILLE, which he did in the most delicate manner, that Polieucte had not found that warm encouragement that might have been ex­pected, and that in particular those passages which concerned religion had most displeased. COR­NEILLE, alarmed at this, would have withdrawn his piece, but was at length persuaded to leave it in the hands of the actors, which, however, he would [Page 284] not do till one of them promised that it should not be performed. This promise was broke, which, probably, gave no displeasure to the author, and Polieucte made its public appearance.

In the fourth act of Polieucte, there is a scene where SEVERUS, struck with the unity of GOD, dis­covers to FABIAN his doubts concerning the Pagan religion, which admits of many deities at once. BELLEROSE, who performed SEVERUS, in convey­ing these sentiments, adopted a tone of such mo­deration and good sense, that the public, who had before seen nothing but extravagance and bombast, were greatly struck with this new manner, so much more like nature; and, as the subject was very awful on which BELLEROSE exerted himself, it was not only prodigiously admired, but begat a respect and consideration for actors which had not before been attached to their characters.

What SEVERUS says is no more than the vague doubt of a Pagan, to whom the extravagance of his religion rendered it an object of suspicion, but who had not the smallest knowledge of those proofs which render the christian religion more respectable than paganism. On this account CORNEILLE was very much blamed for printing it, for it was said [Page 285] that notwithstanding his delicate and proper inten­tions, they might be misinterpreted.

Polieucte, however, as I have already said, be­gan to open the eyes of the public as to the respec­tability of dramatic entertainments, considered in a moral light.—This circumstance, joined to another altogether as extraordinary, no less than that the actors, from the moment they were considered as more respectable, actually became so procured, on the sixteenth of April, 1641, the following favour­able arret.

‘"In case the said comedians regulate the action of their performances, so as to be entirely ex­empt from impurity, we will that their exhibitions—as by this means they will innocently amuse the public—be considered as void of blame and reproach, and also that their occupation shall not be pleaded as an impediment to the exercise of any business, or connection in public commerce."’

In 1641, CORNEILLE produced Pompée, and in 1642, in which year cardinal RICHELIEU died, ap­peared Le Monteur, certainly CORNEILLE's best comedy, so that the cardinal lived long enough to see the man against whom he had shewn so much rancour, merely because he was possessed of su­perior [Page 286] talents to himself, which talents he disdained to prostitute for patronage, secure in a firm and per­manent reputation, which all his infidious arts had not been able to deprive him of.

As to other dramatic events from the birth of CORNEILLE to the death of RICHELIEU, they consist principally of contentions for fame between different poets, among whom there were a great variety of pretenders, indeed so many that the re­gular theatres could not entertain their productions; in consequence of this, several attempts were made to establish a third theatre, one of which in 1632 partially succeeded.

A party of these disappointed poets, through various interests, prevailed on the lieutenant civil to grant them permission to open a theatre at the Ten­nis-court in the street Michel-de-comte for two years. This theatre being situated in a part of PARIS where the streets were very narrow, and the sur­rounding inhabitants of the lowest order it became a nest for all manner of thieves and sharpers, and also a market for the vent of the most execrable literary trash. It was, therefore, represented to the parliament as a nusance, and in less than a twelve-month from its establishment it was shut up by au­thority.

[Page 287]Of the confederacy who wrote in the pay of RICHELIEU, we have partly seen the success; it may not, however, be improper to go over such particulars as may serve to shew the complexion of the times as to the encouragement of the drama during that period.

SCUDERY between the birth of CORNEILLE and 1642, brought out fifteen pieces with various success. His first performance was a tragi-comedy called Ligdamon et Lidias, for which he thus apo­logizes: ‘"I have passed,"’ says he, ‘"more years among armies than hours in my closet, and have used more matches to fire guns than to light lamps. I can range soldiers better than words, and know more adroitly to halt a battalion than to round a a period."’ Of these truths this piece gives abundant proof, for it is certainly a most miserable performance, and should not have been mentioned here but for the opportunity of noticing what dwarfish seconds RICHELIEU had recourse to when he combatted the giant CORNEILLE.

When SCUDERY produced his L'Amour Tyran­nique, a very indifferent performance, the cardinal fought knee deep for it. He declared that this piece spoke its own eulogium; and SARRAZIN, to curry savour, printed a discourse at the head of it [Page 288] addressed to the French academy, where he endea­voured to point out the beauties of the play, and the talents of the author. In consequence of this all PARIS crouded to it, and at their return home laughed at themselves for their credulous folly. Upon the whole his Mort de César seems to have been his best play, and VOLTAIRE was so much of that opinion that he certainly borrowed many pas­sages from it.

The pieces of DU RYER, during this period, eight in number, are of a better kind than those of SCUDERY; but they give proof in how very barbarous a state the stage still continued. We have seen FONTENELLE incensed against HARDY for the proflgacy of his muse and the indecent situations into which he has thrown his characters, but the Lucrece of DU RYER will shew that even the commanding genius of CORNEILLE had not been able to give the theatre that polish without which it cannot be considered in a state of per­fection.

The plot of this piece is simply the Roman story. TARQUIN, with a poignard in his hand, demands of LUCRETIA the sacrifice of her virtue. She struggles and escapes behind the scenes, the audience presently hear her cries, and soon after [Page 289] she comes on in the utmost disorder and fairly tells the spectators that her honour is violated*.

To MAIRET certainly very little praise can be due, if we are to credit, which is generally admitted, that Sophonisba, which as we have seen VOLTAIRE thought it worth his while to retouch, was written by THEOPHILUS VIAUT, and the Viosinaries by DESMARETS, with the assistance of RICHELIEU; but this last may be a mistake, owing to the simi­larity of the names.

There is something in the story of VIAUT, that it may be worth while to relate. His manners were [Page 290] so licentious that he was banished FRANCE. He had, nevertheless, some friends; and after he had resided a few years in ENGLAND, where he im­bibed an inclination for the dramatic art, he was re­called. He was always of the persuasion of the country where he happened to live. In GERMANY he was a Calvinist, in England a Protestant, and in FRANCE a Roman Catholic. He was, neverthe­less, in every place a libertine; and as he wrote poetry with great facility, he never failed to lash the roguery of priests with great asperity. On his re­turn to FRANCE he wrote a severe poem called Parnasse Satyrique, which work was considered so very licentious that he was condemned to be burnt. He escaped and was burnt in effigy. As he was wandering, however, from one retreat to another, he was arrested at CATELET, and shut up in the same dungeon with RAVAILLAC. The parliament commenced anew their process against him, and he had such address that his trial was alternately put off and renewed until the expiration of two years; when, through the great interest made for him, his sentence was meliorated to perpetual banishment.

He retired to the estate of the duke of MO­MORENCY, where he lived in a more reasonable manner, and declared to his last hour that he was [Page 291] innocent of the charge that had been brought against him.

He was intimate with MAIRET, who was also protected by MOMORENCY; and if DESBARREAUX is to be credited, who was the friend and intimate of them both, THEOPHILE left behind him in the possession of MAIRET his tragedy of Sophonisba; which, with the deduction of the Visionaires, sinks MAIRET's fame materially.

Of the productions of ROTROU I have spoken more at large, that poet's reputation having been the nearest to that of CORNEILLE. In 1642, he had brought out twenty-six of his plays, many of which had considerable merit, and nothing can give stronger proof of this fact than that, though he is at present very little known on the stage by his own proper writings, yet the materials that composed them are so good, the characters so natural, and the subjects so dramatic, that the most celebrated writers since his time have not disdained to take him for their model; witness The Thébaide of RACINE, which is an imitation of his Antigone, The Inès of DE LA MOTTE, taken from his Laure Persecutée, and Les Soeurs Rivales of QUINAULT, which is but little more than a copy of his Deux Pucelles.

[Page 292]It would be prolix and tiresome to notice any thing further concerning the theatre during the time it was patronized, if I may so call it, by RICHE­LIEU. A man, as SHAKESPEAR says, speaking of his brother cardinal, of an unbounded stomach; who, not content with governing FRANCE almost absolutely, with lowering the pride of AUSTRIA, and regulating the movements of Europe at his own will, added, to all this desire of stirring up na­tional commotions, a perpetual wish of fomenting commotions in the theatre. When the Cid came out, he was as much alarmed as if the Spaniards had been at the gates of PARIS. What then must have been his miserable condition, if FONTENELLE is to be believed, who says, ‘"that after the Cid, CORNEILLE became more elevated in Horace, still more in Cinna, and still more in Polieucte; beyond which no merit can reach."’

It cannot be denied that this struggle of RICHE­LIEU to attain dramatic fame certainly ascertained what dramatic fame was. The cardinal's favour being naturally sought after, all those who fancied they had literary talents put what little merit they had to the test, all those who really had genius, strained every nerve to excel one another. This emulation in a short time did wonders. It purified [Page 293] the taste, mended the style, and regulated the con­duct of dramatic entertainments.

The choruses, which had been introduced by JODELLE, and scrupulously observed by the dra­matic poets till 1629, were afterwards banished from the theatre. Instrumental performers were substi­tuted in their place, who were first situated between the wings on the stage, afterwards in the upper boxes, after that in the lower boxes, till, at length, it was thought proper to situate them between the audience and the stage, where they are now con­stantly seated.

For these and other circumstances, which con­tributed to perfect the theatre, and which could not in so short a space as twelve years have wrought such a reform without the assistance of some high and commanding influence, the French nation are certainly indebted to RICHELIEU; who, though he in himself found a wide difference in the talents ne­cessary to form a great writer and a great statesman, was certainly the cause of bringing forward to pub­lic notice that merit in others which he envied but could not imitate.

All this FONTENELLE, though his best apologist, allows; but he adds, that ‘"he recompensed as a [Page 294] minister that merit of which he was jealous as a poet; and that, however, his great mind might have had weaknesses, he seldom failed to repair his faults by something noble."’ Surely when FONTENELLE made this remark he forgot that he was writing the life of CORNEILLE.


THOUGH the great reputation of CORNEILLE, at the death of RICHELIEU, could not have received much additional celebrity, for nothing is so fair an object of public encouragement as that which is pri­vately oppressed, yet after that period, by being more unrestrained, it grew more commanding. His pieces, in the opinion of the public, threw all others at a distance, and those four tragedies which FONTE­NELLE declared nothing could exceed, continually occupied the theatre, adding at each performance a new trophy to his well earned fame.

The success of the Menteur induced CORNEILLE to follow it up with a sequel, which like the original was an imitation of Lopes de Vega. This sequel seems to have shewn its author that, however he might be capable of writing comedy, it was either not his forte so properly as tragedy, or that comedy was not in FRANCE arrived at that perfection to which [Page 296] he and others had brought tragedy. Indeed this task remained to be performed by MOLIERE.

The Suite du Menteur, though it received ap­plause, not, however the applause to which COR­NEILLE had been accustomed, and though, when it was better understood upon a revival, it had still greater success, determined CORNEILLE to return to tragedy. He paused, however, probably that he might do nothing unworthy the fame he had so ho­nourably acquired, and did not venture to produce another play until 1646, when the public testified the highest satisfaction at his tragedy of Rodogune.

I have noticed already that CORNEILLE rather inclined to think this his best work. Let us see what he says himself on the subject. ‘"I have been often asked,"’ says he, ‘"which of all my dramatic poems I esteem the most, and I have generally found that those who have put the question to me were prejudiced either in favour of Cinna, or The Cid. I have, therefore, been cautious of declaring my real sentiments, which are certainly in favour of Rodogune. This pre­ference is, perhaps, in me the effect of that blind partiality which parents sometimes entertain for one child rather than another; perhaps it may be tainted with a little self love because this [Page 297] tragedy is more properly my own than any thing that has preceded it, on account of the incidents being new, original, invented, and such as had never before been placed on a theatre; and, if this reason should be just, it establishes a fact which confirms the propriety of my partiality."’ I shall have good opportunity to prove that COR­NEILLE was not singular in this opinion.

This preference for Rodogune seemed a presenti­ment to CORNEILLE that his reputation was at its height; for, from the time that tragedy was pro­duced till 1653, when CORNEILLE left the theatre in disgust the particulars of which we shall see here­after, though his general fame kept an honourable stand, his productions were reviewed with less warmth than he had been accustomed to experience. His tragedy of Theodore, produced the latter end of 1646, had very indifferent success, considering it was the production of the great CORNEILLE. Her­aclius, brought out in 1647, though admired by the judicious, the world affected not to understand, and Andromede was obliged for the astonishing reception it met with to scenery, machinery, and a living Pegasus, the best performer, according to public opinion, in the whole piece.

The fact is that CORNEILLE was born to be the [Page 298] sport of cardinals. RICHELIEU endeavoured to overwhelm him by turning the tide of prejudice one way, and MAZARINE endeavoured to leave him aground, and the theatre with him, by diverting it another*.

I have noticed that Theodore was cooly received. Heraclius was of itself a singular production; but by the inattention of the public, who began to be tired of every thing regular and striking, it was con­sidered as a very heteroclite performance, and in­capable of affording pleasure equal to the pains it took to pay it proper attention.

The fact is, CORNEILLE had been so charmed with that originality on which he so warmly congratu­lates himself in Rodogune, that he was determined to be still more original in Heraclius. In consequence of this he has certainly in places obscured what he meant to elucidate. The Abbé PELEGRIN whim­sically [Page 299] calls Heraclius the despair of all the tragic authors, and DESPREAUX archly says it is not a tra­gedy but a logogryphe *.

Let us see what CORNEILLE himself says upon this subject. ‘"This tragedy,"’ says he, ‘"is more an effort of invention than Rodogune, and I may dare say that it is a happy original, of which there will be many copies."’ He then goes on, ex­plaining the nature of the incidents, in what manner they are knit together, how involved in difficulty and intricacy, and, at length, says that they certainly cannot be comprehended but by reflection after the finish of the piece, and, perhaps, they are not to be enjoyed with taste till the spectators have witnessed a second representation. Certainly this, however it may recommend the piece to a perusal in the closet, [Page 300] cannot be in its favour as a dramatic production, where every thing should be comprehended at once. But this piece has given his enemies a handle, as well as some scenes in Pompée, to cavil at COR­NEILLE, under the idea of comparing his writings to the turgidness, the flatulency, and the obscurity of SENECA, rather than the nature, the simplicity, and the beauty of SOPHOCLES and EURIPIDES, which opinion FONTENELLE does not altogether contradict.

It was not, however, so much the fault of Hera­clius as the times, that the public attention, which had been so unremittingly paid to CORNEILLE, began to waver. MAZARINE, who found that his predecessor had been indebted, if not for his po­pularity at least for his notoriety, to poets and ac­tors, was determined to see what fame he could derive from composers and singers. In short it was in 1647 that MAZARINE established the opera in FRANCE, the particulars of which, how­ever, I shall defer till I have gone on with the French theatre to the death of ROTROU.

[Page 301]It was necessary, however, to introduce the opera here, because it immediately became the rage to such a degree that no dramatic spectacle from that time stood the smallest chance of success that was not recommended to the public by splendid scenery, machinery, and decorations; by which tide of folly we see CORNEILLE borne away as well as the rest; for in 1650, came out Andromede ushered to the public by all the foppery of the Venetian opera.

It would be pityful and unworthy to describe all the particulars of that puppet shew through which the public were now to admire the brilliant talents of the great CORNEILLE. One principal object of admiration was a living pegasus, slung in a way so peculiar, that he sprung into the air and seemed lost in the clouds. The poor horse it seems was kept without food till he was almost starved, and in that condition fastened in the flies to a cord with pullies so constructed that by a counterpoise his own weight could carry him to the other side of the stage. When it was the proper time for this pegasus to exhibit, a man on the other side, so concealed as not to be seen by the audience, held in sight of the famished animal a sieve of oats. The creature in­stantly began neighing and pawing; and when he had been sufficiently irritated, the rope that had re­strained [Page 302] him was loosened and the effort threw him into the air till he arrived at his stable in the clouds where he was recompensed by a good supper for his dexterity.

‘"'Tis true."’ says the author of this article, ‘"we have seen living horses in the Italian opera, but none of them had to boast the warlike ardour of the pegasus in CORNEILLE's tragedy of An­dromede, his movements were admirable, and cer­tainly contributed very materially to the success of the piece."’ Having settled CORNEILLE so comfortably upon his pegasus, or rather upon the hobby horse of cardinal MAZARINE, I shall now go over such circumstances as passed from 1642 to 1650, and particularly numerate the various success of ROTROU.

TRISTAN during this interval produced four plays, which had tolerable success, but not equal to his Mariamne, which I have already mentioned as a celebrated piece. SCUDERY brought forward only one, which was his last. It was a tragi-comedy called Axiane, and written in prose*. This piece was pro­duced [Page 303] in 1643, and though SCUDERY lived till 1667, we hear no more of him as a dramatic writer.

SCARRON, who was born in 1610, and died in 1660, brought out his first piece called Jodelet; or the Maître Valet, in 1645; and four others before 1650. The last of these, L'Heritier Ridicule, pleased LOUIS the Fourteenth, when he was young, to such a degree that he had it performed three times in one day. It will be necessary hereafter to speak of this extraordinary man and his productions.

L'ETOILE, a very laboured writer, brought out one piece in 1643, and another in 1647. He is said to have assisted RICHELIEU, and some authors will have it that he was one of the five who sat as the ostensible authors of Les Tuilleries, by which it should appear that CORNEILLE did not sustain that disgrace; but I am afraid that we must not flatter [Page 304] ourselves with any such hopes, for VOLTAIRE, and many other authors have taken so much pains to as­certain the fact, that it is my unwilling duty, as a historian, to set it down for truth.

LA SERRE, a curious author, and a whimsical character, brought out in 1643, a tragedy called Sainte Catherine, and another the following year called Thésée. He wrote five other wretched plays, some of which, however, through the influence of RICHELIEU, had great success; in particular Thomas Morus, first performed about six months before the cardinal died. It was represented at the Palais Royal, and seems to have been one of the cardinal's last efforts to injure the reputation of CORNEILLE*.

[Page 305]LA SERRE was librarian to Mounsier, brother of LOUIS the Thirteenth, and had a superficial knack, in consequence of his acquaintance with catalogues and the names of authors, of writing a great deal without method or coherence. Nobody, however, felt or acknowledged this more readily than he did himself; for, being totally without disguise, he al­lowed that his propensity was the cacoethes scri­bendi and nothing more; which, as it turned to such good account, he indulged in order to catch the at­tention of so profitable a patron as the cardinal. Having attended one day to a very long and tire­some public discourse, he embraced the orator as he descended from the rostrum. ‘"My dear friend,"’ said he, ‘"I did not think such a thing was possible."’ ‘"What?"’ said the other. ‘"What!"’ replied LA SERRE, ‘"why you have uttered more nonsense in an hour than I have been able to write in twenty years, and yet I have tried hard too."’

LA SERRE used to say that he boasted one ad­vantage that no author had ever done before him; ‘"for,"’ said he, ‘"I get rich by writing wretched productions, while men of merit are dying of hunger*."’ When he was reproached with the [Page 306] promptitude with which he wrote, he answered that his pegasus had golden wings and would not be re­strained, ‘"So I even,"’ said he, ‘"throw the rein over his neck for I have so little relish for what is called fame that I would rather get a fortune and spend it merrily than be miserable in this world and save up money to build a monument for me after I die*."’

This strange character, who appears to be more knave than fool, but who certainly was the in­different writer he himself represents, would never have examined books any further than to dust them, if he had not been induced to try his hand at the instance of RICHELIEU.

LA CALPRENEDE, who enjoyed, in some degree, the favour of RICHELIEU, and who was, as report goes, much indebted to the great CONDE for some episodic parts of his pieces, was a native of GAS­CONY, and a dramatic poet. He produced in all thirteen pieces, four or five of which appeared be­tween 1642 and 1650. To his patrons, however, he is indected for his reputation, if it may be said [Page 307] that he had any. He read his comedy of Clariente one day to RICHELIEU, who told him that the piece was tolerably good upon the whole, but that the expressions were lache; a word signifying, as to writings, loose, careless, negligent, and, as to men, cowardly. ‘"Cadesis,"’ said the author, in the true gasconade style, ‘"I would have your eminence know that nothing lache ever belonged to the house of CALPRENEDE."’

GOMBAULT, of whom there is nothing re­markable but that he was one of the members of Beaux-esprits, formed under CONRADE, which gave rise to the French academy, brought out two pieces during the intermediate period at which we are arrived. He was certainly a man of talents, but he was rather a general poet than a dramatic writer.

I come now to speak of THOMAS CORNEILLE, who was born at ROUEN, it has been said on the very day, certainly in the same year, that his bro­ther brought out his comedy of Melite.

He followed the same career of his brother, but with less success, though some think he ad­hered more strictly to the rules of the theatre, a [Page 308] negative merit which, upon proper occasions, the great CORNEILLE knew how to despise. ‘"DES­PREAUX,"’ says a French author, ‘"did right to call him the Norman younger brother, but wrong to say he has written nothing reasonable. This satirist had, perhaps, forgotten that many of his pieces keep the stage with reputation*."’

As these brothers go on hand in hand, I shall have plenty of opportunity to notice their different merits. At present I shall only speak of such pieces as T. CORNEILLE brought out before the year 1650. His first piece a comedy, called Les Engagements du Hazard, came out in 1647, it was taken from two pieces of CALDERONE; one hav­ing the same title, and the other The house that has two doors it is difficult to guard. His next comedy produced in 1649 called Les Feint Astrologue, is also taken from a play of CALDERONE under the same title, El Astrologo Fingido; which, two years before, had however been brought forward at the theatre by D'OUVILLE, brother of BOIS­ROBERT, whom I shall presently have occasion to mention.

These pieces, and Don Bertrand de Cigarral, [Page 309] which came out early in 1650, are all I shall speak of at present from T. CORNEILLE, which as the first and second were taken from CALDERONE, and the other from DON FRANCISCO DE ROXAS, and after all was a mere farce, though in the minority of LOUIS the Fourteenth, it was certainly performed at court more than twenty times, amount yet to no­thing that promises for him a reputation likely to keep pace with his brother.

D'OUVILLE was an author of inconsiderable merit, and it well might be so if he was as he is re­presented to have been much inferior to his brother. The pieces he brought out from 1642 to 1650, were Jodelet Astrologue, almost copied as abovementioned by T. CORNEILLE, The Coeffeuse a la Mode, and Les Soupçons sur les Apparence, in all which he is supposed to have been assisted by BOISROBERT.

BOISROBERT in 1646 brought out L'Inconmic, which was taken from CALDERONE, and almost in the same manner with T. CORNEILLE's first piece Les Engagemens du Hazard. This did T. COR­NEILLE but little service, but he excused himself by saying that he had long written it but had reasons for keeping it back. BOISROBERT brought out be­fore 1650 also La Jalouse D'elle Méme, translated from Lopes de Vega.

[Page 310]BENSERADE, a writer of merit, about this time produced two or three plays. He was born of a no­ble family in NORMANDY, in 1612, and intended for the church, of which body he was expected to have made a very respectable member, but his destiny decided otherwise; for having seen Madamoiselle BELLEROSE, a beautiful woman, and a favourite ac­tress, he soon exchanged his breviary for a cast book, and his saints for the muses. It is astonishing with what avidity he cultivated his theatrical employments. Nothing came amiss, as we shall see when we find him composing Ballets in conjunction with QUIN­AULT and LULLY. By the liberality of the queen, cardinal MAZARINE, and several other persons of rank, he acquired a large fortune, which he enjoyed uninteruptedly till his death, which happened, at the age of eighty, in an extraordinary manner.

He had suffered some time the greatest agonies from the stone; which, notwithstanding his advanced age, he was determined to get rid of by cutting. His courage, however, was put to a proof still more extraordinary, for a surgeon, who by way of pre­paration had been instructed to bleed him, wounded an artery and was so alarmed for fear of the conse­quences that he fled without binding up the arm. BENSERADE, therefore, bled to such a degree that assistance came too late, and they had just time to [Page 311] call in a confessor when he expired with great firm­ness in the arms of his friends.

When we have seen the success of ROTROU's re­maining pieces, we shall have before us every thing of any material consequence that was opposed to CORNEILLE from the death of RICHELIEU till 1650. PARIS at that time swarmed with authors, and so indeed it has from that time to this; but my limits will not permit me to give more than the lead­ing features of dramatic productions and events.

ROTROU brought out ten pieces during the in­terval we are speaking of, and all with a considerable degree of reputation particularly Cosroes, which has been often revived with success, Don Lopes de Cardonne which was proclaimed worthy the pen of CORNEILLE, and Vencestas; which, in addi­tion to what has been said of it already, was re­vived by MARMONTEL, and begat a literary dis­pute, that I shall notice in its place, highly honour­able to the reputation of ROTROU.

In short, taking in all the circumstances, we must certainly place ROTROU as a dramatic writer of eminence. He possessed all the requisites of a poet of this description. He knew character, con­duct, and discrimination; he had the good sense to [Page 312] reject, as much as the times would permit him, that barbarity which characterised the French stage; and, though his own talents were not of weight and consequence enough to attempt the Herculean task of cleansing this augean stable, yet when he found CORNEILLE had resolutely undertaken this labour, he certainly lent him a respectable helping hand. So that we may fairly say, if CORNEILLE had never lived, ROTROU would have enjoyed the first rank in his time as a dramatic poet; but CORNEILLE having lived, ROTROU moved only in a secondary sphere, although his reputation derived more splen­dour from the reflection of this luminary than it ever could have boasted from its own proper power. At the same time it must be acknowledged that the reputation of CORNEILLE derived no mean ad­dition from the literary race, in which he was very often hard run, that with strenuous exertion he gained from ROTROU.


AS the opera very materially deranged the state of the theatre about this period, it is necessary it should be mentioned here, but I shall defer the account I mean to give of its origin till I have brought the French stage forwarder, lest it should prove too much a digression, and so cool the interest that na­turally rises from a progressive account of tragedies and comedies.

I shall, therefore, content myself with intro­ducing this species of entertainment, which ren­dered the French stage a model for scenery to the neighbouring nations, which has been the source from whence our opera has been supplied with dan­cers; and which first conquered sense in favour of sound, and afterwards sound in favour of agility, by quoting the words of VOLTAIRE.

‘"It is to two Cardinals,"’ says he,

"that tragedy [Page 314] and opera owe their existence in FRANCE. COR­NEILLE served an apprenticeship under RICHE­LIEU with other authors, who worked as amanu­ensises at those dramatic plans which were in­vented by the cardinal, and in which he intro­duced some very bad lines.

"Cardinal MAZARINE was the first who intro­duced operas, which was a bungling business, however, a circumstance the more extraordinary as that minister did not write any part of them.

"In 1647 arrived from ITALY a troop of Ita­lian singers, decorators, and an orchestra. They performed in the Louvre the tragi-comedy of Orpheus, in Italian verse, set to music. The per­formance set all PARIS asleep. Very few un­derstood Italian, fewer had a taste for music, and every body hated the cardinal.—The piece was hissed, the cardinal ridiculed, and the French grew outrageous against a man who had pre­sumed to use an endeavour to please them.

"In the beginning, however, of the sixteenth century, they had ballets in FRANCE, and in these ballets some vocal music, relieved by cho­ruses, which, indeed, were little more than the plain gregorian chant. Nay, there are accounts [Page 315] of Syrens who sung at the wedding of the DUC DE JOYEUSE, so early as the year 1582, but I am afraid they were strange Syrens.

"Cardinal MAZARINE was so little discouraged at the bad success of his Italian opera, that as soon as he came into full power, he sent again for a troop from his own country, who performed Le Nozze de Peleo et de Thetide, in three acts, and, to make all sure, LOUIS XIV. danced at this wed­ding. The French were charmed to see their king young, graceful, and of a figure both no­ble and amiable, after he had been hunted from the capital, dancing in it as if nothing had hap­pened.

"Notwithstanding the cardinal and his Italians pleased as little on repetition as at first, MA­ZARINE still persisted. He sent for signor CA­VALLI, who brought out in the gallery of the Louvre the opera of Xerxes, in five acts, but unfortunately the French went faster asleep than ever, and all their consolation was that they should be relieved from the opera by the death of the cardinal, who, indeed, drew on himself a thousand ridiculous sarcasms, and gave place to [Page 316] almost as much satire after his death as had been levelled at him during his life.

"The French had some taste for opera, but they were determined it should be their own language, and performed by their own country­men. The last, however, was pretty difficult, for there was but one passable violin in PARIS. However, in 1659, a certain Abbe PERRIN, who took it into his head he could write poetry, and one CAMBERT, leader of the queen's twelve fidlers, which were called the Music of FRANCE, produced a tiresome pastoral, which however stole the palm from L'Hercole and Le Nozze de Peleo. In 1669, the same PERRIN and the same CAM­BERT associated themselves with the Marquis DE SOURDEAC, a great mechanist, not absolutely mad, but very little short of it, for he ruined himself in this enterprize.

"Their first opera was Pomona, in which they in­troduced a great deal about apples and artichokes. After this they represented the Pains and Plea­sures of Love;. and at length LULLY, who now became superintendant of the king's music, re­paired the Tennis-court which had ruined the Marquis DE SOURDEAC. The Abbe PERRIN, [Page 317] who did not chuse to be ruined, consoled himself with writing elegies and sonnets, and translating the Eneid of Virgil in what he called heroic verse. As for CAMBERT, he quitted FRANCE in dud­geon, and went to perform his detestable music among the English, who thought it excellent*.

"LULLY, in conjunction with QUINAULT, brought out the Fetes de L'Amour et de Bacchus, but neither the words nor the music was worthy the reputation the piece acquired. Connoisseurs greatly admired however a translation of that charming Ode of Horace, Donec gratus eram tibi, &c. This ode is, to say the truth, finely rendered into French, but the music is extremely dull. There were bussooneries in plenty in these operas, and indeed they were full of harlequin­ades; and QUINAULT, to his shame, did not dis­dain, as a man of his genius ought, to lend assist­ance to these puerilities; though in those very operas—part of which were a reproach to him, were many choice and beautiful passages.

[Page 318]"As for LULLY, he knew pretty well how to accommodate his music to the French language, and as he was a pleasant companion, very de­bauched, and an excellent flatterer, and in con­sequence admired by the great, he found no dif­ficulty in carrying away all the applause from QUINAULT, who was a very contrary character, being naturally modest, diffident, and unassuming. He made the world believe that QUINAULT was his amanuensis, for that all the ideas were his, and that QUINAULT clothed them in better French than he could; in fact, that but for him this admirable poet would only have been known by the satires of BOILEAU: and thus QUI­NAULT, with all his merit, became a prey to an ill-natured satirist, and an impudent musician.

"Thus the beauties, whether simple, delicate, or noble, which were spread through Attis, and his other pieces, which ought to have established the reputation of QUINAULT, procured no credit to any person but LULLY, who was considered as another APOLLO*.

[Page 319]We have here from VOLTAIRE a pretty, lively picture, generally taken, of the opera, which I shall take leave of for the present, to release CORNEILLE from the ungracious situation in which we left him, and see what became of Thalia and Melpomene.

The extraordinary success of Andromede, so little to the taste or the reputation of its author, gave an entirely new complexion to tragedy, and it seemed no longer to rely on its intrinsic merits. Simplicity, beauty, strength in the style, art, ma­nagement, and conduct in the situations, and nature, force, and interest, in the incidents had nothing to do with the matter; the machines were the object, and the play was only a vehicle to introduce them.

What then must become of CORNEILLE, who could neither paint flying dragons, nor mount a pasteboard mermaid upon the back of a leathern [Page 320] dolphin. He seemed so astonishing with his prance in the air that when he came upon the ground he forgot how it was to walk naturally.

It is wonderful how men of the first abilities will conform to bad taste. At that moment; alone, independent, adored by the public, and his re­putation at its summit, if CORNEILLE had met this innovation half way, if he had acknowledged that scenery in FRANCE had been defective, that it was a grand, a sober, a decorous appendage to tragedy, giving assistance to the action of the piece, and, therefore, proper to be encouraged, but that, nevertheless, he should resist with all his influ­ence the introduction of machines and other me­chanical operations, which, though ingenious in themselves, disgraced tragedy, and lowered it to the level of pantomime; he would not only have kept his own same up to its legitimate standard, but all other writers, who seeing CORNEILLE misled, were glad enough to have recourse to this new ve­hicle to same to bolster up their own rickety re­putation, would have remained at their posts. By this means tragedy would have kept within the pale of its own province.

As it was, did CORNEILLE do this? No. If the Mountain had refused to go to Mahomet, Mahomet [Page 321] would have been glad enough as formerly to have gone to the Mountain. But this was not the case, CORNEILLE, immoveable, had he chose to have remained so, fluctuated, trimmed, and accommo­dated himself to the caprice of the times.

Andromede was followed up in 1651, by a heroic comedy called Don Sanche D'arragon; which, by the usual assistance of machines, had some eclat, but was soon withdrawn and performed only in the provincial towns. This piece was not in the style of CORNEILLE, being taken from two Spanish plays, which had been first romances, and it would have been better for his reputation if it had never been produced.

CORNEILLE himself attributes the want of suc­cess in this piece to its having been prohibited. Why he does not tell us. His excuses, however, are but lame, for he confesses that by his taking his piece from the Spanish stories he was entangled in the last act, that he was obliged to bring a man from the clouds to make the necessary discovery for the catastrophe. The fact is, CORNEILLE giv­ing into the new taste turned projector. The piece is properly neither tragedy nor comedy, and, there­fore, heterogeneous and unworthy CORNEILLE.

[Page 322] Nicomede, which came out in 1652, was another experiment. CORNEILLE seems at this time to have grown tired. He owns that this piece is upon an extraordinary construction. ‘"But,"’ says he, ‘"it is my twenty-first production; after having written forty thousand verses, it was not very easy to find any thing new without going out of the high road of nature to search for such ideas as are excited by extraordinary objects."’ This decla­ration might have served BOISROBERT, or RICHE­LIEU, but CORNEILLE should have disdained it.

‘"Tenderness, and the passions,"’ continues he, ‘"which are the soul of every tragedy, has nothing to do with this."’ Upon what then could he ground his success? ‘"Grandeur and courage only are to be found here, such grandeur and such courage as have no other support than that love of virtue which is imprinted in the heart of nations."’ Without tenderness! Strange doctrine.

This piece, but for some applications to a popu­lar event, which parts of it contained, would have had but indifferent success. CORNEILLE, how­ever, was at all times so idolized by the people, that some time after when BARON, who was con­sidered as the French Roscius, and almost permitted [Page 323] to do any thing, attempted to alter some passages in a way as he thought more to the public taste, the house, as with one voice, insisted that the diction of CORNEILLE should not be violated, and obliged him to repeat his part exactly as it had been origi­nally written.

Pertharite, his next piece, produced in 1653, was literally damned, and CORNEILLE immediately retired from the theatre, with a declaration that he would never return to it. This resolution he kept six years, which time I shall take to speak of MO­LIERE, who brought out his first play in the very year when CORNEILLE had declared he had brought out his last.


JEAN BAPTISTE POQUELIN, so celebrated under the name of MOLIERE, was born at PARIS in 1620. He brought out his first piece in 1653, and died in 1673*. Birth, which in no instance that ever was read of either conferred or precluded ta­lents, was not among the advantages MOLIERE had to boast. Both his grandfather and his father were valets des chambres and tapestry-makers to LOUIS the Thirteenth, and his fate would have been to cut up tapes and bindings, and hang parlours and bed-chambers, had not his genius induced him to con­sider these only as secondary objects, and such as might humbly serve to decorate those better repre­sentations of nature with which she had given him the talent of ornamenting his country.

MOLIERE for the first fourteen years followed [Page 325] the business of his father, and a patent was even taken out for him as successor to his father's charge, but he would neither yield to this nor would those friends, many of whom was celebrated characters about the court, who witnessed the growing merit of this youth, consent to his remaining uninstructed in those studies by means of which they were sa­tisfied he would arrive to some extraordinary re­putation in either literature or the sciences.

He was in consequence sent to a college at CLERMONT, where he got intimate with CHA­PELLE, BERNIER, and CYRANO*, who were all pupils of the famous GASSENDI, from whom the young POQUELIN imbibed with great avidity those precepts of philosophy which taught him after­wards so well to reason, and which served as the [Page 326] foundation of that reputation which guided him through the greatest part of his works.

A taste for dramatic entertainments having per­vaded all FRANCE in consequence of RICHELIEU's patronage of the stage, many societies in the nature of our private theatricals, a little upon the principal of the old title of Les Enfans Sans Souci, united in domestic parties to perform plays. POQUELIN made one in a society of this description, which was called the Illustrious Theatre.

Here he changed his real name for that of MO­LIERE, which circumstance of changing names was extremely common in FRANCE among the poets and actors, but in MOLIERE is said actually to have arisen from a fear of contaminating the race of valets des chambres and tapestry-makers, who thought it a greater honour to remain blockheads and receive christian burial, than to amuse and en­lighten mankind and be rewarded with a sentence of excommunication*.

[Page 327]In this society MOLIERE became acquainted with a woman of the name of LE BEJART, who had been a country performer; and as he found her sentiments of the same cast as his own, he agreed that they should form a company and go to LYONS, where L'Etourdi was first performed. This was in 1653, and its success was so prodigious that it fairly ruined the other company of comedians established in that town; many of whom begged leave to join MOLIERE, who, with his company thus strengthened, went to LANGUEDOC, and offered his services to the Prince of CONTI, who then held his court at BEZIERS*.

This prince had known MOLIERE at college, and had not only been present when he performed at PARIS, but had very often invited him to his palace. L'Etourdi, with the protection of this prince, experienced at BEZIERS new success. He [Page 328] brought out also some farces, one of which was called Le Docteur Amoreux, and another Les Trois Docteurs; which, being trifles, he very properly afterwards suppressed.

Having travelled with his company to GRENO­BLE, he went first to ROUEN, and afterwards to PARIS, where he determined, if possible, to fix. By his connections he got access to Monsieur, who presented him to the king and the queen-mother; they saw him and his company perform, and granted him permission to exhibit in the Guards of the old Louvre, and afterwards in the Palais Royal. At length his company was retained in the service of the king, in 1665, and this was the commencement of a real taste for comedy in FRANCE.

Le Depit Amoureux, which had been performed at BEZIERS in an imperfect state, was brought out at PARIS in 1658, with great success; but Les Preci­èuses Ridicules was the first comedy that permanently fixed the reputation of MOLIERE. At the finish of the first nights representation of this piece, a crony of his, took our old acquaintance CHAPELAIN by the hand, ‘"You and I,"’ said he, ‘"approved all those subtle criticisms which abounded formerly in compliment to our old friend the cardinal; but believe me we have been taught to night so much [Page 329] real taste, that we ought to burn all we have ad­mired, and to admire all we have burnt."’

The success of this piece fairly shewed MO­LIERE upon what ground he stood. ‘"I will no longer be reproached,"’ said he, ‘"with copying PLAUTUS, and TERENCE, and studying ME­NANDER. In future I have nothing to do but study the world."’

The Precièuses Ridicules was performed at court, though the royal family were at that time on a journey to the PYRENEES. On their return the price to MOLIERE's theatre was doubled. Ad­mission to the parterre before that time had been only six sols.

I shall now speak of QUINAULT, who for a con­siderable time was not allowed that share of merit he certainly possessed; nay, to this moment, such is the force of prejudice, that his name in the ge­neral idea of French literature is seldom classed respectably, though there can be no doubt but that upon the whole he was the best lyric poet FRANCE ever knew*; a specious of merit surely that stands very high in the gradation of literary fame.

[Page 330]We have seen already that VOLTAIRE con­sidered QUINAULT as a man of abilities. This opinion many other French writers have unequivo­cally confirmed, but a better proof, a perusal of his works, will establish for him that reputation which has been so often denied him; for, in those works, among a great deal of trash written to hu­mour LULLY, is to be found great and striking poetical beauties, such as BOILEAU, with all his bitterness and invective against a man who had never offended him, had neither the soul nor the capacity to write.

QUINAULT, however, in great measure deserved every syllable that has been said against him. His permitting an arrogant, impudent musician to appro­priate to himself quietly and comfortably that ge­nius and those talents which were legitimately in the poet and not in him, was as unpardonable as it is inconceivable. But it should seem that if LULLY laughed at QUINAULT, QUINAULT laughed at LULLY; for, pardoning every advantage the mu­sician took on the side of reputation, the poet had [Page 331] his revenge on the side of profit, or rather prudence, for while LULLY dissipated his emoluments, QUIN­AULT took care of his affairs. He married the widow of a merchant, who had been his kind friend, with a fortune of forty thousand crowns; he bought a considerable charge in the auditory of accounts; he was admitted into the French academy; he was honoured with the Cordon de St. Michel; and died in PARIS in 1688, at the age of fifty three, with a fortune of more than a hundred thousand crowns.

As QUINAULT employed his talents more for the opera than the theatre, we shall have but little to say of him at present. His tragedies, except L'Astrate, and L'Agrippa, have disappeared from the theatre, and even those are weakly written: his heroes are no more than gallants, and his subjects are no higher than pastoral and romance. His comedies are superior to his tragedies, and his Mere Coquette, and one or two others, give good expectation that if he had pursued this style of writing he would not have cut an inconsiderable figure even by the side of MOLIERE.

QUINAULT's first piece for the regular theatre was a tragi-comedy called Les Rivales. It came [Page 332] out in 1653, and caused a considerable change in the mode of recompencing dramatic authors for their labours. It had been the custom to buy per­formances of authors for such prices as should be agreed upon, which was sometimes regulated ac­cording to the merit, but oftener according to the reputation of the writer, for the merit and the re­putation are now and then distinct things. In ge­neral, however, these productions were sold low enough, the actors at that time having had the same hold of the authors in FRANCE as the booksellers have now in ENGLAND.

This comedy of Les Rivales, which was little more than a copy from ROTROU, TRISTAN, of whom QUINAULT was the eleve, undertook to read to the ac [...]ors under an idea that he could make a better bargain for his pupil than his pupil could have done for himself. The actors charmed with the piece, and upon a supposition that it was written by TRISTAN, offered a hundred crowns for it. Being undeceived, however, they told TRISTAN, that though QUINAULT appeared to have talents, yet as he had no established reputation, they could not risk that sum for the piece, but would, at all ad­ventures, give fifty crowns; TRISTAN would not suffer QUINAULT to accede to this, and the matter was compounded by an agreement to give the au­thor [Page 333] a ninth of every night's receipt during the run of the play, provided that afterwards it should be­long exclusively to the actors.

These terms were accepted, and the proposal appeared so fair and judicious, both on the part of authors and actors, that it has been strictly observed ever since; after-pieces, by way of proportion, bearing only the value, those in two acts of a twelfth, and those in one of an eighteenth.

QUINAULT after producing three plays with passable success, brought out, in 1656, a piece called Les Coups de L'amour and de Fortune; but SCAR­RON tells us that this play is not at all attributable to QUINAULT, for that TRISTAN wrote the first four acts, and that he himself wrote the fifth after TRISTAN died.

SCARRON's pieces, from 1653 to 1659, were Don Japhet D'Arménie, L'Ecolier de Salamanque, and two others. The first he introduced by the following burlesque dedication to the king:



ANY other Bel-esprit but myself would have [Page 334] began with telling your majesty that you are the greatest king upon earth; that you were more knowing in the art of reigning at fourteen years old than the oldest greybeard; that you are the best made among men much less among kings; and, in short, that you have nothing to do but to stretch out your arms and touch the top of Mount Lebanon and as much farther as you please. All this is very handsome and virtually true; but I shall say nothing of it here. I shall only say, that since your power is so great I entreat you to use it to do me a little good; for if you were to do me a little good, I should be much merrier; if I were much merrier, I should write merrier comedies; if I were to write merrier comedies, you would be more diverted; and if you were more diverted, your bounty would not be thrown away. All this seems so reasonable that I am persuaded I should think the conclusion fair, even were I as great a king as your majesty, instead of a poor miserable devil as I really am, but nevertheless

Your majesty's Very obedient, And very faithful subject and servant, SCARRON.

L'Ecolier de Salamanque, which came out in [Page 335] 1654, gave rise to a most bitter quarrel between SCARRON and BOISROBERT. SCARRON had a custom of reading his works to his acquaintance, one of whom was BOISROBERT, who was so struck with the circumstances of this play as he heard it piece meal, that he did not scruple to build his Genereux Ennemis upon this foundation; which, indeed, was not all, for T. CORNEILLE worked The Genereuse Ennemis into The Illustres Ennemis, and both these copies of SCARRON's play came out before the play itself; so that it had to encounter all the disadvantage of the first and second impression of it. But it did not stop here, for BOISROBERT did his utmost to decry the merit of L'Ecolier de Salamanque, and abused SCARRON for stealing it from him, whereas he knew the contrary to have been the fact.

This treatment SCARRON never pardoned; and, being a much better writer than BOISROBERT, he threw out his invectives against him in a strain of such severe and bitter satire that BOISROBERT felt their effects as long as he lived.

T. CORNEILLE during his brother's absence ac­quired some celebrity. From my last accounts of him to 1659, he produced eight pieces. The first three had merely passable success, and the fourth [Page 336] called Les Illustres Ennemis, was even less att [...]ended to on account of its being borrowed, as I have al­ready said from BOISROBERT, who stole it from SCARRON. His fame from thence, however, be­gan to rise, and, indeed, to wear so new an aspect that he no longer seemed to be the same writer*.

The tide of T. CORNEILLE's reputation took a a most extraordinary turn in 1656, when he pro­duced, [Page 337] Au Marais, Timocrate, which piece, though its merit is indisputable, was so eagerly followed and so suddenly dropt that the circumstance will ever re­main a monument of French capriciousness. This tragedy was performed eighty times in regular suc­cession without the intervention of a single per­formance. For the last twelve or fourteen nights the actors attempted to announce other plays. The audience would not hear a single syllable. Timocrate was called for, and Timocrate they were ob [...]iged to perform. At last an actor came forward and said, ‘"Ladies and gentlemen, if you are not tired of seeing Timocate, we are really tired of performing it. We run the risque of forgetting all our other pieces, and the stage will sustain the greatest in­jury. Permit us to represent something else."’ This permission was granted, and Timocrate was never afterwards performed at that theatre*.

Nay, the circumstance is stronger yet. When [Page 338] this piece was in this extraordinary manner laid by at the theatre Au Marais. The company of the Hotel de Bourgogne, by infinite degrees the best per­formers, took it up; but there seems to have been facination in the stupid and impolic speech of the actor just mentioned; for after two or three inef­fectual attempts to attract the audience they totally withdrew it.

Nevertheless Timocrate is well spoken of. T. CORNEILLE's friends advised him to stop there, for that his reputation was ratified. The king went to the theatre on purpose to see it, and spoke of it in the highest terms; and people in general began to declare that the retirement of the great CORNEILLE was no longer a loss to the theatre. By what I can learn it was a cold regular piece, and owed half its success to the idea that the great CORNEILLE was concerned in it; for so little did his friends con­tinue in opinion that it was his best production, that it is not among his works now printed, and I am told that it was lost to the world soon after it was lost to the theatre.

T. CORNEILLE's next piece, Berenice, a tra­gedy, was brought out in 1657; he brought out Commode in 1658, and Darius in 1659. Commode was the greatest favourite of these three but they [Page 339] all received a reputable degree of applause. The theatre, however, seemed at this time to want a counter balance in tragedy to the strides that MO­LIERE was taking in comedy, and every interest was made, and at last effectually, to prevail on the great CORNEILLE to resume his situation as su­preme director in the empire of MELPOMENE.


AFTER Pertharite, CORNEILLE, as we have seen, retired from the stage; and as every material trait in the character of so great a man is of conse­quence to the public, I hope it will not be con­sidered as extraneous if we see how he employed his time.

Having been all his life a devout christian, and particularly intimate with some Jesuits, which body were ever remarkable for profound erudition and classical taste, he undertook at their particular instance to translate a celebrated work called The Imitation of Jesus Christ, which he is allowed to have rendered very finely. It had prodigious success, and made him ample amends in point of profit for the loss he had sustained by quitting the theatre. But the best judges agree that it was not a work properly in his style, and the nature, the simplicity, and the truth of the original, was lost in that pomp and grandeur [Page 341] that every where pervaded the great mind of COR­NEILLE.

FONTENELLE says, in the true style of a writer properly skilled in literary beauty, ‘"This book, though for grandeur and force the finest that ever came from the hand of man, has so little of the Evangelist that it cannot, like that, penetrate im­mediately to the heart, nor seize the mind with that force, so natural and tender, which some­times is greatly assisted by a negligence of style*."’ I hardly know if FONTENELLE complimented most himself, by the candour, or CORNEILLE by the truth of this observation.

It is not known whether it was by the persuasion of his friends, or through the bent of his own pro­pensities, which after all must have inclined him to­wards the stage, that CORNEILLE was induced once more to take up the pen as a theatrical writer. Both these considerations might probably have had some [Page 342] weight, of which it is not impossible but MOLIERE's rapid progress towards dramatic fame in some de­gree accelerated the preponderance.

It is certain, however, that FOUQUET, superin­tendant of the finances, applied very warmly to COR­NEILLE upon this occasion, and that his application was backed by others in power; nay, when the poet complained that he should find himself awkward in an employ to which he had been sometime unac­customed, and remarked that he had not even thought of a subject, the financier, fertile in expe­dients, proposed three subjects; the first of which he agreed to treat, the second he recommended to his brother, and we have no account of what the third was, or whether it was adopted or not.

Oedipe, which had prodigious success, completely reconciled CORNEILLE to the theatre and the pub­lic. La Toison D'or was performed in 1660; and here I am obliged already to remark that COR­NEILLE could not with all his merit resist that furor for machinery and decoration which then raged in FRANCE; for on the contrary he allied himself with the very marquis DE SOURDEAC, of whom we have heard VOLTAIRE speak with such contempt.

The Toison D'or was performed originally at the [Page 343] Chateau de Neubourg, in NORMANDY, at the seat of the marquis DE SOURDEAC, in honour of the mar­riage of LOUIS the Fourteenth, and the peace with SPAIN. This nobleman, besides the persons ne­cessary to execute the different departments of this spectacle, entertained five hundred gentlemen of that province for two months at his own expence, during which time the Toison D'or was represented every day.

In Sertorius, performed in 1662, CORNEILLE appeared more himself. It was greatly admired and deservedly. It displays a magnificent portrait of Ro­man grandeur, in which the sentiments, the manners, the very minds of those ferocious heroes are de­picted in a style peculiarly vernacular; but, in­deed, in treating Roman subjects, CORNEILLE is every where at home. Marshal TURENNE is said to have exclaimed at the representation of this piece, ‘"Where could CORNEILLE have learnt so per­fectly the art of war."’

BOILEAU, however, never contented, will have it that the scene between POMPEY and SERTORIUS, which FONTENELLE, who by the by was a better writer and a more sensible man, thinks one of the finest in the French language, did not deserve to have been so much applauded. ‘"It is full of [Page 344] spirit,"’ says he, ‘"I grant; but it has neither reason nor nature to support it, for who to SERTORIUS, an old and experienced captain, would compare POMPEY, who is hardly man enough to have a beard*."’

Sophonisba was the next tragedy produced by CORNEILLE; it came out in 1663. This subject had been treated frequently on the French theatre, and there can be no doubt but the original model was a tragedy, under the same title, written in Ita­lian by the Prelate TRISSINO, so early as 1514, af­terwards [Page 345] imitated by MARMET, MONCHRETIEN, DE MONTREUX, and MAIRET, or, as has been already explained, VIAUD THEOPHILE, which last piece kept the stage with celebrity.

On this account CORNEILLE has been blamed for bringing out a tragedy on the same subject, and, indeed, envy, at the success of MAIRET, has been kindly considered as his motive; but not only the known character of CORNEILLE contradicts this invidious report, it is completely refuted by his own declaration, in which he pays a compliment to his predecessor more flattering to his reputation than the play was capable of procuring him, and which he ought to have been very proud of, even van­quished as he was by his more able competitor.

But let us look after MOLIERE. It should be known that MOLIERE occupied with his company, a third theatre Au Petit Bourbon, with the permission of the king, where he performed alternately with the Italians, of whom I shall at a proper time give the history. This theatre was afterwards pulled down to build the grand entrance to the Louvre, and the king then took him into the Palais Royal, first called his company La Troupe de Monsieur, and afterwards La Troupe du Roi.

[Page 346] La Cocu Imaginaire came out in 1660. This little piece is taken from an Italian comedy callled It Cornuto per Opinione. It was performed forty times in succession, though in summer and during the absence of the court*.

Don Garcia de Navarre was produced in 1661, MOLIERE performed the part of DON GAR­CIA; and finding that serious acting was by no means his forte, had the good sense to make a re­solution not to perform any but comic parts from that time. This piece, which was a heroic co­medy, though chastely written, did not succeed; and the reputation of MOLIERE, through the in­dustry of his enemies, of whom he had at all times undeservedly a plentiful number, suffered for a time from this disgrace. A short time, however, for the success of his next piece amply consoled him for the mortification he had sustained by the fall of this.

[Page 347] L'Ecole des Maris made its appearance in 1661. It was the first piece that MOLIERE brought out at the theatre du Palais Royal, and the first that he printed. In quality of chief of the company of Monsieur, he, therefore, dedicated it to that prince.

This comedy, which served as a model for English and other authors, is taken from a Tale by BOCACE, which every body knows. The only dif­ference in the two plots is that, in BOCACE, a wo­man in love with a young man makes her confessor the go-between, who carries letters and presents un­der an idea that he serves the purposes of devotion; and, in MOLIERE, an old man is substituted for the confessor, who is duped in the same manner by a girl he is in love with and to whom he is the tutor.

L'Ecole des Femmes, MOLIERE's next comedy, was performed for the first time in 1662. So di­vided began to be the French at this time as to MOLIERE; that under the idea, probably, of his commencing ARISTOPHANES, and issuing person­alities from the stage, whereas he in fact personated men only by personating manners, he sustained all sorts of affronts. The public were extremely di­vided as to the merit of this play. It gained ground, however, and brought a great deal of money. These [Page 346] [...] [Page 347] [...] [Page 348] cabals induced MOLIERE in the following year to write a piece which he called L'Critique de L'Ecole des Femmes.

This piece was the first of the kind that ever appeared on the French theatre. It is rather a dialogue than a comedy; MOLIERE, however, is to be commended for having written it, for he very happily, while he points out the faults of his play, turns its enemies into ridicule. The Mercure Galant, conducted by a man of the name of VISE, who was constantly sticking in MOLIERE's skirts, has the kindness thus to criticise this piece by anticipation.

‘"We are to see in a short time a piece entitled La Critique de L'Ecole des Femmes, where the au­thor, soi disant, is to enumerate all the faults in his piece, and to excuse them at the same time. Curious, that a man should take so much pains to defend a piece which is not his own, but written by the Abbé du BUISSON, who is one of the most gallant men of the age. But MOLIERE has the audicity to deny this. He says that the Abbé certainly did write a piece on this subject and bring it to him, and that he could not help allowing it considerable merit, though he had his reasons for not performing it. What does all this say? That this cunning comedian, whose best merit is to know how to take advantage, dis­cerned [Page 349] in the Abbé's piece something that could please the public, and so palmed it upon them as his own."’

The Abbé might have written a piece upon this subject, but it was perfectly unnecessary that MO­LIERE should copy that piece, for he had only to go to the same source where the Abbé derived his ma­terials, which was a book entitled Le Nuits facetieuses du Seigneur Straparole; which is a history of a man who communicates to his friend all that passes be­tween him and his mistress, not knowing that his friend is his rival.

But it now became pitiable to see pieces on the theatres in the shape of disjointed critiques; and really it is to be regretted that MOLIERE, in imi­tation of the sun when the flies wanted to put him out, did not shine on instead of condescending to notice the swarm of tiny critics that surrounded him. As it was, the cabal against him, though it did not injure him, gave him great inconvenience, and more than one critique, which would have died away forgotten, became noticeable to the public by his pointing it out.

BOURSAULT, a writer of real merit, and who was now coming forward, took occasion to render [Page 350] himself popular by bringing out at the Hotel de Bourgogne, a piece called Le Portrait du Peintre, which was not only a critique of L'Ecole des Femmes, but produced at the same time; and contained, as far as he could learn or imagine, the same matter of MOLIERE's piece under that title*.

MOLIERE now began really to be piqued, and he brought out in the same year his Inpromptû de Versailles, levelled directly at BOURSAULT, whom he treated with the greatest contempt and derision; reserving to himself, however, a degree of nobleness; for this contempt, and this derision went no further than the genius and talents of BOURSAULT, whereas BOURSAULT has descended in his strictures on MO­LIERE to attack his private character.

This piece also is a most severe and successful satire on the performers at the Hotel de Bourgogne, whom MOLIERE considers as having instigated BOURSAULT to ridicule him; and, indeed, though [Page 351] no one could commend this spirit of party between two bodies whose business was only to entertain the public, yet MOLIERE received and deserved great praise for the able manner in which he conducted this controversy; for, in answer to their pityful invec­tives which he scorned to imitate, he contented him­self with pointing out their faults as performers, par­ticularly the sleepy monotony of their declamation, which he did with such judgment that the ridicule which followed this discovery drove them into a cor­ner and they were obliged to correct their faults or be laughed at; and thus MOLIERE, in resenting a private injury, did a public benefit.

BOURSAULT, whom I shall now introduce, was one of those extraordinary proofs that shew us how infinitely genius ranks before education. He was born at BOURGOGNE in 1638, and died in PARIS in 1701. We find him at the age of twenty-three bringing out successful comedies, and two years afterwards entering into a controversy with a man of MOLIERE's wonderful talents, though he could speak nothing but a provincial jargan called Patois, no more like French than Erse or Irish is to English, at thirteen, and had then first to learn to write, and afterwards to chuse what language he should write in.

[Page 352]It was not long, however, after he came to PARIS, which was in 1651, before he taught himself to write and speak French elegantly; and, what may appear very extraordinary, without knowing a word of Greek or Latin, his style was fraught with the native purity of the ancients. But I cannot find any thing irreconcileable in this. Nature taught them, nature taught him. Neither they nor he had been tainted with the foppery of the schools.

His conception was so strong, his ideas were so true, and his fancy was so pliant, that he had nothing to do but to think and write. His happy genius accommodated itself to every style. His tragedies manifest a firm mind and a strength of conception equal to a description of the noblest passions. His comedies contain lively pictures of men and man­ners suitable so all ranks, all ages, and all times. He is serious, comic, moral, and lively without vio­lating the rules of taste.

It must now be recollected that I am speaking of his best and latest productions. In his early ones, there is certainly, and it would be wonderful if there were not a great deal of trash; but there are traits of genius every where, and he arrived at last to a taste so pure, and a style so chaste, that ‘"he was [Page 353] correct without affectation,"’ to use the words of various French writers, ‘"and ought to be considered as the literary lawgiver to the language of that nation."’

There is something so peculiar in a character of this description that I cannot help dwelling on BOURSAULT a little longer. His fame soon reached the court, and having at the express desire of LOUIS the Fourteenth, written a book called La Veritable Etude des Soverains, by the way a bold undertaking, the king was so charmed with it that he appointed him preceptor of Monseigneur, but he could not ratify the appointment because BOURSAULT knew nothing of Latin, an indispensible qualification for that post.

The Duchess of ANGOULEME made BOUR­SAULT her secretary, and engaged him to write a Weekly Gazette in verse. LOUIS and his court were greatly entertained with this work, but BOUR­SAULT having aimed some satiric tracts against the Franciscans in general, and the Capucins in parti­cular, the queen's confessor used such powerful in­terest that the Gazette was suppressed, and the au­thor's pension of two thousand livres taken away, and had not very high friends interfered this poetical newsmonger would have gone to the Bastile.

[Page 354]All the time BOURSAULT had this controversy with MOLIERE, in which there is certainly a great deal of the vivacity and folly of a young man, he had besides his Portrait du Peintre, brought out three pieces, all which succeeded. They had, however, glaring faults, but gave wonderful promise of some­thing better.


AS MOLIERE's career for the next ten years, at the end of which he died, makes up a very brilliant interval in the French dramatics, I shall follow it unmixed with any other circumstances but such as result from it, in order to do every justice to a man of such uncommon merit.

La Princesse D'Elide was performed in 1664, and made up a part of those superb entertainments which LOUIS the fourteenth, in compliment to his mother and his own queen, gave under the title of Des Plaisirs L'Isle enchantée. These fetes, which continued seven days, and were conducted with great magnificence and taste, united all that could be got together of the true and the marvellous, in short, a kind of entremets regulated and disposed so as not to outrage the understanding. The Italian VIGARANI, an ingenious mechanist, furnished the decorations, the celebrated LULLY composed [Page 356] the music, the President de PERIGNY wrote the complimentary odes, BENSERADE produced a va­riety of light and lively eulogiums, and MOLIERE introduced this comedy, all which, with the assistance of various appropriate devices and well timed ap­plications, contributed to render this fête very celebrated.

The king gave MOLIERE but a very short time to prepare his comedy. He borrowed the fable from Augustin Moreta, and was so pressed that he could only put the first act and part of the second into verse.

Le Mariage Forcé was performed in 1664. This piece originally came out at the Louvre, ac­companied by a ballet under the same title, in which LOUIS the fourteenth danced*.

[Page 357] Le Festin de Pierre made its appearance as written by MOLIERE in 1665. This strange sub­ject has been so often treated, and in so many lan­guages and shapes, that it is unnecessary to say much about it. It was first brought out on the Italian stage, afterwards on the Spanish, then on the French, by at least five authors, MOLIERE and T. COR­NEILLE two of them, and at last the English, whose good sense would have revolted at witnessing a re­presentation of it in dialogue, have contented themselves with seeing this abominable subject danced throughout the kingdom from the opera to all the puppet shews. MOLIERE has nevertheless thrown great strength and beauty into this horrid piece, on purpose, one should imagine, to shew that the worst subject may be treated well by a good master of his art.

L'Amour Medecin came out in 1665. MOLIERE all his life had been an enemy to all the tribe of GALEN. His motives have been variously attri­buted, but it is most probable that they originated from his inveterate hatred to every species of hy­pocricy. [Page 358] He defines a physician to be a man who chatters nonsense in the bed-chambers of the sick either till nature has cured, or physic killed the pa­tient. To give this piece all the effect he could, MOLIERE had masques which were likenesses of all the court physicians, and those he wore as he repre­sented different medical characters.

The names also pointed out who were meant. Desfonandres, which signifies man-killer, was meant for De FOUGERAIS, who always prescribed violent medicines; Bahis, which signifies to yelp, was de­signed for M. ESPRIT, who stuttered; Macraton was pointed at GUENAUT, because he spoke remarkably slow; and Tomés which means a bleeder, was le­velled at D'AQUIN, who upon all occasions ordered phlebotomy.

Le Misanthrope in five acts, and in verse, was performed for the first time in 1666. This piece failed at its first representation; but MOLIERE with­drew it and brought it forward again in a month preceded by the Fagotier, or Médecin malgre lui; which had such success that it was performed three months in succession, but always with The Misan­thrope. The farce saved the comedy.

This play, however, soon made its way by its [Page 359] own proper merit. It has not only been considered as the best of MOLIERE's productions but the best comedy ever written; but enthusiastic praise is in general an injury to authors. MOLIERE's enemies who could not bear this warmth in his adherents, set themselves to work every way to lower his piece in the opinion of the public. Ridiculou [...]y enough, however, and without success*.

Melicerte, a heroic pastoral, made its appearance in 1666. MOLIERE wrote only the first and second acts of this piece, and in that unfinished state it was performed at St. GERMAIN. It was afterwards en­larged by GUERIN, son to the actor of that name, but neither then, nor before, was it considered as a dramatic production of much consequence.

Le Tartuffe, a comedy in five acts, and in verse, came out in 1667. Nothing, perhaps, ever made more noise than this comedy; nor was ever thea­trical representation more severely persecuted. Fops, physicians, misers, fools, and other general [Page 360] characters, were even seen to laugh at themselves, and kiss the very hand from which they received their castigation; but hypocrites are a species of men, more vindictive and more numerous, conse­quently more severe and more powerful.

The hypocrites took this comedy as a decla­ration of war against human nature; for where is there to be found, said they, a body of men among whom hypocricy is not practised? In short this ex­position was a crime not to be pardoned, and the piece was beset with an industry and severity incre­dible. It was artfully insinuated that it attacked re­ligion; that the Tartuffe was an impious insult against GOD himself; that it was abominable, and that it ought to be burnt by the hands of the hangman.

The three first acts of the Tartuffe having been privately represented before the king on the twelfth of May, 1664, his majesty defended MO­LIERE against his persecutors, and that this might have the better colour, he ordered that the piece should be examined by the most celebrated writers of the time, whose determination in its favour he bespoke by saying that he himself sound nothing in it but what was perfectly harmless, and, indeed, meritorious.

The hypocrites finding MOLIERE so greatly [Page 361] supported, were indefatigable to procure a cabal against the Tartuffe; for they insisted, after all, that neither kings nor learned men, but the public alone, were to judge of dramatic representations.—Devo­tees were consulted, who being generally weak men, joined sincerely in a cause which they thought did honour to religion and virtue. A poor infatuated curate undertook, at all hazards, to pronounce that it was a work full of profaneness and impiety, and that in quality of priest he had a right to anathema­tize the author.

The king, on the other hand, permitted the piece to be performed, but in order to qualify the matter—for though he disapproved of his people's folly, he wished to conciliate their affection—he advised that it should be called L'imposteur, and that the prin­cipal character should appear as one of the laiety*.

[Page 362]MOLIERE read the Tartuffe, before its repre­sentation, to Madam NINON DE L'ENCLOS, who tasted its drift in a very sensible and competent manner. She said that this species of hypocricy had been her particular study, that nothing could be so meritorious as to detect it; and enlarged upon the subject with so much judgment and ex­perience, that MOLIERE declared she was more ca­pable of treating it than he was*.

[Page 363]Though MOLIERE founded his character of the Tartuffe upon hypocrisy and bigotry in general, yet it is universally allowed that the Abbe ROQUOTTE, Bishop of Autun, sat for the portrait, and that those particulars in his character, of which MOLIERE was ignorant, were furnished by DESPREAUX, not imme­diately in communication to MOLIERE, but through a letter, written however expressly for his informa­tion, and addressed to Monsieur GUILLERAGNES.

On the second representation of the Tartuffe, there came an order of parliament for its suppression. The court, for probably political reasons, did not imme­diately interfere; but, however, two years afterwards, the king gave a peremptory order that it should be performed, which order was never after disputed.


[Page 364]MOLIERE was now flattered by his enemies. The opposers of the Tartuffe either pretended to espouse its interest, or retired discomfited, and in disgrace.—While, however, the public clamour ran high, it is inconceivable how loudly this comedy was repro­bated. The famous Father BOURDALOUE preached against it, and as such a circumstance has something uncommon in it, I shall extract a passage from his sermon*.

‘"As,"’ says he,

"true and false devotion have great similitude in their outward appearance; as the same raillery that attacks the one prima facie attacks the other; as it is impossible to know the true from the counterfeit, without an examination of the hearts of men; as hypocricy cannot be censured without raising unjust suspicions against true piety, all virtuous men ought to decry such a work.

"What has this author done? He has represented on the stage an imaginary hypocrite, who, by his actions, turns the most holy things into ridicule; who appears scrupulous on matters of no conse­quence, [Page 365] but in affairs of importance is guilty of the most enormous crimes; outwardly a penitent, he is inwardly a profligate; and under an appear­ance of the most austere piety, he practises the most consummate villainy.

"Who will point out in the world this particular man? It is impossible, and it cannot be applied but by an unworthy suspicion of religion in ge­neral, and the principles of its possessors in par­ticular. This is cruel and immoral, and no go­vernment ought to tolerate it."

To the confusion, however, of those priests who wrote against the Tartuffe, many others countenanced it as a most valuable work, which placed virtue in its right light, and censured none but those who felt themselves pointed at as hypocrites and bigots.

But nothing can prove so strongly the absurdity of this conduct as the toleration given at this time to other dramatic pieces, which were really full of impiety. In a piece called Scaramouche Hermite, an anchoret, dressed like a monk, pays a visit to a married woman's bed-chamber by a ladder of ropes, and, like RANGER's ‘"Up I go,"’ as he ascends, re­peats very ludicriously Questo per mortificar le carne.

During the suspension of the Tartuffe, this piece [Page 366] was one night performed in the presence of the king, who, on quitting his box, said to the great CONDE, ‘'I should be glad to know why those who think themselves so scandalized by MOLIERE's Tartuffe, should so quietly suffer, nay even loudly applaud Scaramouche Hermite?'’ ‘"For the best reason in the world, Sire,"’ answered the prince, ‘"Scara­mouch only laughs at religion, which these holy gentlemen do not care a farthing about; but the Tartuffe laughs at themselves, which they can never forgive."’

Le Sicilien was performed in 1667, and written by MOLIERE to retrieve that reputation which he fancied he had lost by joining with BENSERADE and others, as we have seen in the productions of such pieces as were merely written to assist machinery and decoration. The Sicilien is a charming trifle, and was greatly received.

Amphitrion appeared in 1668. This subject, which had been frequently treated since PLAUTUS, and by ROTROU in particular, with great judgment, proved, even in the hands of MOLIERE, of an un­favourable nature. We have seen it on our stage, and every body knows its indelicate tendency. Even in FRANCE it revolted the audience, though every body admired the poetry. Madame DACIER wrote a disertation to prove that the Amphitrion of PLAU­TUS [Page 367] was greatly superior to that of MOLIERE; but upon hearing that MOLIERE intended to produce his Femmes Sçavantes, she thought proper to sup­press it.

George Dandin was brought out in 1668; first before the king at VERSAILLES, with airs and music, and afterwards at PARIS merely as a comedy. This piece, which was irresistably laughable, had consi­derable success*.

L'Avare, in five acts, made its appearance also in 1668. This celebrated comedy had very nearly been damned because it was written in prose, the very reason which ought to have ensured its success; for as no man wrote more naturally than MOLIERE, so his verse, though admirable for French poetry, took off all the spirit and warmth of the dialogue; a fault attributable, without exception, to all the French writers of comedy in verse. L'Avare, however, after a time became a great favourite, and was variously translated for the purpose of exhibition in other countries.

[Page 368] Pourceaugnac, in three acts, was performed in 1669. It was interspersed with dances and songs. The music by LULLY*.

Les Amans Magnifique, in five acts, in prose, made its first appearance in 1670, with singing and dancing. The music by LULLY.

BENSERADE had attacked MOLIERE on account of the jealousy that had taken place at the time of the Fete at VERSAILLES in 1664. This begat a quarrel, which at different times broke out and sub­sided; till, at length, MOLIERE determined to take a pleasant revenge. BENSERADE was protected by a nobleman of the highest rank, who had often scornfully insisted that MOLIERE could not write such verses as BENSERADE. When, therefore, MOLIERE brought out his Amans Magnifique, he wrote one entire scene so much in the manner of BENSERADE that his patron, believing it absolutely to be his, declared that MOLIERE did well to court the assistance, of a writer so superior to himself. In the interim, BENSERADE, conscious that he had no hand in it, did not know how to act. At last he bra­zened it out and received the compliments of all his [Page 369] patron's friends with as much satisfaction as if he had really been the author of the scene; till MOLIERE, who watched for this opportunity, declared publicly that BENSERADE had neither written, nor been con­cerned any way in the piece, and thus held up both the poet and his patron to public ridicule.

Psyché, a kind of tragi-comedy, in five acts, in­terspersed with songs and dances, was performed in 1670.

MOLIERE wrote only the first act, part of the second, and part of the third of this piece, the rest was written by the great CORNEILLE, QUINAULT, and other friends. The music was composed by LULLY. It was written for the king, and there was so little time allowed, that MOLIERE was obliged to call in the assistance of these allies.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme first appeared in 1670. It had prodigious success, and has always been con­sidered as one of the most celebrated plays on the French theatre*.

[Page 370] Les Fourberies de Scapin, in three acts, and in prose, was brought out in 1671. This piece is no­thing more than one of those farces improved, which MOLIERE wrote in PROVINCE, under the title of Gorgibus dans le Sac. The wits were very severe against MOLIERE when this piece came out. BOI­LEAU, who seems never to have been pleased in his life, inserted in his Art of Poetry these lines:

Dans se Sac ridicule, ou Scapin S'enveloppe,
Je ne reconnois plus L'auteur du Misanthrope.

This piece was taken partly from the Phormio of TERENCE, and partly from one of the pieces of a farce writer called TABARIN, with which circum­stance in another place BOILEAU reproaches MO­LIERE in these words: ‘D'avoir, a TERENCE, allie TABARIN.’

He was also accused of having stolen two scenes from the Pedant Joué of CYRANO; but he answered [Page 371] to this that he originally lent these scenes to CYRANO, and that it was lawful for a man to take his own goods wherever he might find them. The fact is, by intro­ducing prose, he endeavoured to introduce nature; and, therefore, displeased a people who delighted in every thing artificial.

Les Femmes Sçavantes, a comedy in five acts, and in verse, was produced in 1672, and very shortly be­came celebrated. A combination of circumstances induced MOLIERE to write this play. He had been pestered with so many ignorant and vain strictures, which were levelled at him entirely from malignant and envious motives, that he resolved to revenge him­self; a propensity, by the by, that he oftener in­dulged than was either wise or prudent*.

[Page 372] Le Comtesse D'Escarbagnas, a piece in one act, was brought out in 1672, and intended as a pleasant ridicule of provincial manners. It revolted those who, like COTIN, affected to have taste, but the public in general admitted it as a fair and merited laugh against peculiarity and absurdity.

Le Malade Imaginaire, the last production from the pen of MOLIERE, and generally allowed to be the most perfect, appeared in February 1673. Its success, which had been warm and universal, was in­terrupted on hits third representation by a most fatal accident; indeed nothing less than the death of the author. MOLIERE had been long afflicted with an asthmatic complaint which he encreased by intense application to the duties of his situation*. He was [Page 373] more than usually incommoded on the day he died, and his friends entreated him, his wife, and his friend BARON in particular, to take repose. ‘"What,"’ said he, with that philanthrophy which was the peculiar mark of his private character, ‘"is to become of so many poor wretches who scarcely get bread by my means? I should reproach myself were I to neglect them for a single day."’

He grew better about noon, and prepared for the performance; and by the time he appeared on the theatre, the concern of his friends was a good deal dissipated. His efforts, however, to give effect to his part, visibly augmented his complaint; and when in the divertissement in the third act, he pronounced the word juro, he fell into a strong convulsion. He was immediately carried home; where, in spight of every assistance and attention, he grew worse; till having fallen into a violent fit of coughing, he irrupted a vessel and was instantly suffocated with blood.

MOLIERE being dead, the actors were deter­mined to bury him with unexampled magnificence. HARLAI, archbishop of PARIS, would not, however, consent to his having christian burial. The wife of MOLIERE, as soon as she heard this, went to VER­SAILLES and threw herself at the feet of the king, [Page 372] [...] [Page 373] [...] [Page 374] and complained in the bitterest terms of the injury done to the memory of her husband, who, she said, deserved an altar raised to him, for that he had served the cause of morality more than a hundred bishops. The king gently reproved her, and told her that the matter depended entirely on the archbishop, but pro­mised to see what could be done; which promise he so well kept, that HARLAI the next day revoked his decree, upon condition that the ceremony should be performed privately and without eclat.

Two priests were appointed to conduct the fu­neral, but forbid to sing, lest the matter should be made too public. This injunction, however, had no effect, for a prodigious concourse of friends with flambeaux attended MOLIERE to the grave, his wife at their head exclaiming as she went ‘"No wonder hypocrites should refuse the rights of sepulture to a man who was all his life a scourge to hypocrites*.’

Exclusive of the pieces enumerated here, MO­LIERE wrote, at the time his company performed at PROVENCE, several farces, the matter of which, how­ever, or at least a great part of it, he took into his different comedies.

The rank MOLIERE held in literature has been [Page 375] long estimated and decided. We have nothing to do but to compare his works with whatever we know of, perfect and admirable, in the ancients, and we shall find him in every point of view rising greatly superior to them all. He has all the pointed severity of ARISTOPHANES, without his wickedness and his malignity; he has to the beauty, the fidelity, the por­traiture of MENANDER, added higher and more finished graces of his own; he has the nerve and strength of PLAUTUS without his grossness and his obscenity; and he has a thousand times more ele­gance from nature and genius, assisted by philosophic observation, than TERENCE.

Nature, and the absurdities of the age in which he lived, supplied him with an inexhaustible source of materials. Comedy took a new form in his hands, and became a scourge for the vices and follies of all ranks, to the truth of which all were implicitly obliged to subscribe; and there can be but little doubt, if he could have written independantly, and have been independantly attended, but he would have carried comedy, true comedy as correct as it can be defined, to a higher degree of perfection than any author has done either before or since.

MOLIERE, however, was a reformer; and reformers in any way dare not innovate all at once. Could he have done this, he would have written no dialogue in verse, he would have made his characters at once [Page 376] speak the language of nature. But there are higher crimes to accuse him of. Pure morality would proba­bly have been laughed at by a people full of intrigue and given up to every licentiousness; on this account, and I most sincerely believe on no other, did MO­LIERE introduce his naive and natural humour, his strong remarks, and his sterling truths, through me­diums which neither his heart nor his understand­ing at all times approved.

To make children ridicule their parents, deride their observations, laugh at their age, and insult their infirmities, are circumstances true comedy should re­ject with contempt; to introduce adultery, and en­deavour, by subtle devices and insinuating persuasion, to imprint on young minds a love of vice, is revolt­ing to true comedy; to recommend knavery, by giv­ing it a fashionable air, and permitting it at last to triumph over simplicity and honesty, has nothing to do with true comedy; ‘"but,"’ says a French author, ‘"MOLIERE, though truly honourable, was an actor and a manager. It was therefore necessary he should think of the receipt of the house, and this receipt too often imposed silence on his veracity, and of course diminished his real glory. It was necessary to make the pit laugh. Oh that so great a genius should be sunk to so low a degree of humiliation."’

If, however, vice, through MOLIERE, became at times winning and seducing, he did not fail at other [Page 377] times to expose it to contempt and ridicule; but, whenever he did so, it was sure to raise him up a host of enemies. This, in his dependent situation, as we have seen, gave him throughout his life a thousand vexations, and induced him sometimes to conform to the age rather than revolt against it. In short, when he considered himself merely as a poet, he fell into the errors of poets; when as a philosopher, he shone with all the truth of a moralist, and the dignity of a man.

For the rest. As an actor he possessed a noble figure, a marking and an expressive face, and a clear and commanding voice; through these he conveyed the utmost force of comic expression into his cha­racters, regulated by an understanding correct, powerful, and commanding. As a manager he made it the study of his life to consider the interest of all those who were embarked with him in his under­taking, according to their respective abilities. He tempered authority with indulgence, determination with affability, and considered himself at the head of his company, as the father of a family by whom he was beloved and revered.

As a man, he was an affectionate husband and a warm friend; honest, punctual, and just. He was admired by the great, esteemed and valued by his equals, and almost adored by his inferiors, to whom as far as his abilities permitted, he was a generous benefactor.


AS RACINE ran the principal part of his career during the life of CORNEILLE, it would be totally out of regularity to omit an account of that ad­mirable poet and his works in this place; especially as the new turn he gave to dramatic productions, inclined, in some measure, his fluctuating country­men to neglect his great competitor, whose infinitely superior abilities had created what remained for RA­CINE to perfect.

JEAN RACINE was born at FERTE-MILON, De­cember, 1639. At what age he went to school his­torians are not agreed upon; but one should sup­pose not very young, for it is insisted that in less than a year he read Sophocles, and Euripides, with taste in their own language. He is said to have manifested early in life an extraordinary genius for poetry, and that his memory surpassed any thing that ever was heard of*.

[Page 379]The poetic merit of RACINE appeared evidently in a variety of minor productions, though his Latin poetry injured his reputation, thanks, probably, to those pedants who are the only judges of the beauty of a language no longer spoken. At length, in 1660, the king's marriage set all the poets at work; and upon this occasion RACINE produced a poem called La Nymphe de la Scine, that bore away the palm from all its competitors. RACINE from this time deli­vered himself up entirely to poetry, except when out of complaisance to his uncle, with whom he lived, he dipped into theology. Neither that study, how­ever, nor logic, to which he had deeply attended, could prevent him from giving way to his poetic propensity; and becoming acquainted with MO­LIERE, and afterwards with BOILEAU, he deter­mined to try his hand at the drama.

Thébaide, RACINE's first piece, came out in 1664, for which piece MOLIERE is said to have furnished him with the materials. This, however, cannot be true, for when it appeared it was little more than a revision of L'Antigone of ROTROU, which RACINE had adjusted to the theatre, thinking he could not do better than rescue a good performance from obscu­rity. Afterwards, however, he altered it considera­bly, and with the assistance of his verse, which was at all times correct and harmonious, it became ce­lebrated.

[Page 380] Alexandre appeared in 1666. RACINE read this tragedy to CORNEILLE, who told him very honestly, for CORNEILLE was incapable of jealousy, that he saw in it wonderful talents for poetry, but not for tra­gedy. RACINE brought out this piece at MOLIERE's theatre. It was damned. He was afterwards pre­vailed on to offer it to the Hotel de Bourgogne; where, with assistance of Madmoiselle PARC, one of MO­LIERE's best actresses who was enticed away from him upon this occasion, it had good success. This treachery begat a coldness between MOLIERE and RACINE which lasted as long as they lived, though it has always been allowed they upon all occasions did each other justice as authors.

Andromache came out in 1667. This tragedy is re­markable for having occasioned two extraordinary cir­cumstances. Madamoiselle CHAMPEMELE, of whom RACINE had a very indifferent opinion, so won him that he fell violently in love with her; and MONT­FLEURY, in endeavouring to personate ORESTES in his madness, which required the most strenuous ex­ertions, was taken so ill that he soon after died.

Les Plaideurs, a comedy in three acts and in verse, made its appearance in 1668. This is RACINE's only attempt at comedy. A domestic circumstance is said to have given rise to the story, and the characters, as we are told, are all from real life. This comedy had little success at first. MOLIERE, however, did it [Page 381] justice, and said, that those who railed at that co­medy ought to be railed at themselves. At length the king saw it and spoke favourably of it, after which it did tolerably well.

Britannicus was performed in 1669. This piece in spight of its merit failed on its eighth representa­tion. RACINE ushered it into the world with a pre­face in which he very imprudently treated COR­NEILLE with severity; he, however, became sensi­ble of his error and afterwards suppressed it.

Bérénice came out in 1671. The sister in-law of LOUIS the fourteenth, induced RACINE to write a piece on the parting of TITUS and BERENICE, that circumstance having a resemblance to the separation of her and her brother. RACINE engaged too hastily to comply with this request, and BOILEAU told him that if he had been on the spot he should not have given his word. The subject certainly was not a sa­vourable one; and though, perhaps out of deserence to those whom it was intended to compliment, it was pretty well followed, yet it was parodied and quoted so ludicrously that RACINE, always very irritable, became truly sorry he had written it.

Bajazet was brought forward in 1672. This tra­gedy had good success, but there is scarcely an in­stance in all RACINE where character is not sacri­ficed to versification.

[Page 382] Mithridate made its appearance in 1673. The Pulchérie of CORNEILLE, performed the year be­fore, which fell in spight of its author's great name, lifted RACINE into considerable fame; he brought out Mithridate when this great man, who had per­fected every species of dramatic entertainment in FRANCE, was ungratefully shunned and neglected. He might have said with POMPEY, ‘"Dost thou not see that all eyes are turned towards the rising sun!"’

Iphigene was performed in 1674. RACINE, and the new taste he had introduced here gained ground and so completely conquered CORNEILLE and na­ture, that on the following year that great writer re­tired from the theatre. I shall, therefore, now take him up where I left him, and employ the short re­mainder of this volume to speak of him and his works.

Othon appeared in 1664. ‘"In which,"’ says FON­TENELLE, ‘"CORNEILLE has fairly placed TACITUS on the French stage."’ The Marshal de GRAM­MONT said, ‘"that in Othon CORNEILLE was the the breviary of kings."’ BOILEAU, however, who was at this time attached both to the writings and the person of RACINE, was not contented with this tra­gedy because, perhaps, it had none of that tinsel with which he and others at that time corrupted the French taste.

Agesilas was performed in 1666. This piece is said [Page 383] by some not to have been written by CORNEILLE, but FONTENELLE contends that it was, and points out a scene that he says could not have been written by any body else. The controversies about it, how­ever, prove that it came from no other pen*.

Attila came out in 1667. CORNEILLE piqued at the preference given to RACINE by the company of the Hotel de Bourgogne, carried this tragedy to the Palais Royal, where MOLIERE received it with great satisfaction. The celebrated THORILLIERE performed Attila, and Madame MOLIERE repre­sented Flavie. It was well received at first, but the gout for RACINE and declamation carried every thing before it, and Attila was soon neglected.

Tite et Berenice, represented in 1671, yielded [Page 384] the victory to RACINE's tragedy under the same title. They were both written to please the vanity of a wo­man, and RACINE, being a perfect courtier and a young man succeeded best. It was impossible any thing but nature could dictate to CORNEILLE; RA­CINE perpetually suffered himself to be dictated to by the reigning taste and his friend DESPREAUX.

Pulcherie, brought out in 1672, gave RACINE an­other triumph. There is, however, a strength of cha­racter in it which RACINE never reached; but the tide of prejudice was now so strong against COR­NEILLE that he ventured but one more play and then retired.

Suréne was that play. It was performed in 1674, and has some strokes of the master which, perhaps, has not been since equalled; but it failed, and COR­NEILLE determined to retire from the busy world and make up his mind to die like a man and a christian*.

CORNEILLE was at the height of his glory when he retired in 1653. The advantage taken of his ab­sence to model the theatres to the rules of art, so enervated the drama, that what it gained on the side [Page 385] of taste and refinement, it lost on the side of sim­plicity and nature. The grandeur of tragedy in par­ticular sunk after MOLIERE had taught them how to admire true comedy, and the softness and effiminacy, introduced by RACINE, which, in proportion as it sunk to mere style and regularity lost sight of the sublime, enchained the theatre in the shackles of complaisance and servility; till women, the univer­sal rulers of French fashions, became the arbiters of dramatic excellence, and the courtier bore away the victory from the philosopher, who was now in derision called Old CORNEILLE.

He, however, proudly disdained to adopt this new taste. Not because he could not have excelled RA­CINE, nor because his age had enfeebled his mind—both of which observations have been urged against him—for in those scenes of Psyche, which he wrote, but did not acknowledge, he has purposely aban­doned himself to an excess of tenderness which RA­CINE would have found it difficult to imitate.

CORNEILLE was of a portly stature, he had an agreeable countenance, a large nose, a handsome mouth, and eyes full of fire; the whole effect lively, and marking, and proper to be transmitted to pos­terity either in a medal or a bust. He knew, as a perfect master, Les Belles Lettres, history, politics, and every other elegant and erudite study; but his great and favourite object was the theatre; for any [Page 386] thing else he had neither leisure, nor curiosity, nor much esteem. He spoke, even on subjects he well understood, diffidently, and to know the great CORNEILLE he must be read.

He was grave, but never sour; his humour was plain, but never rude; he was a kind husband, a fond parent and a faithful friend. His temperament in­clined him to love, but never to libertism. He had a firm and independent mind, without suppleness, but was little calculated to make a fortune at a French court*, whose manners he despised. He was sensible of praise, but he detested flattery; diffident of his own merit, and forward to encourage the merit of others. To great natural probity, he joined a fervid but not a bigotted love of religion; and, indeed, such was his public talents, and his private virtues, that it is diffi­cult to say which was predominent in this truly great and justly celebrated character, the man, or the writer.


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