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ANON. in The Daily Gazetteer, 1737

ANON. in The Daily Gazetteer, 1737

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T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E



Rhimes at the Exit of the Player, which Mrs. Barry said she taught

Row, and that sort of Trap-Wit being forced and affected, and

consequently out of Nature, loses its Character in a Species of Poetry,

which is the Posture of human Life, and raises Laughter without

Pleasure. However some of these smaller Judges pretend that the

Wit of the Way of the World excuses the Lewdness. The last

Expression discovers them, for common Understanding, I dare not

use the Term Common Sense, since it has been so scandalously abused,

teaches us that the Tickling a Man’s Ear is no Excuse for corrupting

his Mind.



56. Henry Fielding in The Champion

1739



From The Champion: Containing A Series of Papers,

Humourous, Moral, Political, and Critical, 2 vols (London:

1741), I, pp. 15–16.

The Champion was a periodical which commenced

publication on 15 November 1739, and until the following

June was largely written by Fielding, its part owner.

Thereafter the bulk of the writing passed to James Ralph,

who finally acquired Fielding’s shares in 1742. The extract

below comes from the third number, for Tuesday 20

November 1739. The essay is unsigned, which is common

practice in the early issues of this paper; it has been attributed

to Fielding on internal evidence. See J.E.Wells, ‘The

“Champion” and some unclaimed essays by Henry Fielding’,

Englische Studien (1913), 46:355–66.



Wycherly, whom I have always esteemed one of the best of our comic

Writers, left the Drama, where he had acquired so great and so just

an Applause, to write some of the worst Poems that any Age hath

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WILLIAM CONGREVE



produced; and Congreve, who will always be esteemed by those who

have a polite Taste in Comedy, could not forbear attempting

Reputation, in a Manner for which he was so disqualified, that he

produced a Tragedy (notwithstanding its Success) little superior to

those of our worst Writers.



57. Samuel Foote in The Roman and

English Comedy Consider’d and Compar’d

1747



From The Roman and English Comedy Consider’d and

Compar’d (London: 1747).

Samuel Foote (1720–77) was a successful actor-dramatist, and

in his later years owner of the Haymarket Theatre.



(i)

No Writer more abounds with Characters of this Cast, than

Congreeve; and had his Execution been equal to his Imagination, he

would have had a just Title to be rank’d with the foremost of our

Comic Poets. All his Humourists are well sketch’d, and generally

well begun, but ill conducted. The Author, from an Impatience to

show his own Wit, throws it into the Mouths of Characters, who are

not, in Propriety, entitled to an Atom.

And this is, indeed, the Failing of all young Writers: They jump at

the Shadow, and lose the Substance: The main Article is neglected,

and their Pursuit directed after Point, Antithesis, and, what is called,

fine Writing.

Wit is not what it has been by many imagined to be, the Essence

of Comedy; so far from it, that it is of no Use, but as it is subservient

to Character.

And from this Mistake it happens, that the Quality which chiefly

recommends the Works of Mr. Congreeve, to the Observation of the

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Million, is the very Circumstance that diminishes his Excellence with

the Judicious.

(pp. 23–4)

(ii)

Ben Johnson is most successful in his Plots, Congreeve in his

Characters, and Vanburgh in his Dialogue. The former possessed

most Knowledge and Judgment, the second most Fancy and Fire, the

last most Propriety, Ease, and Elegance. The first, in order to preserve

Correctness, was often flat; Congreeve, too roving and unconfin’d;

and, Vanburgh, too immoral. Divest this last Writer of this Failing,

and his Comedies are unexceptionably the best in the Language.

(p. 26)



58. Edmund Burke in The Reformer

1748



From The Reformer, No. 2, Thursday 4 February 1748, pp. 2–3.

The Reformer was a weekly periodical published in Dublin

between 28 January and 21 April 1748. Its thirteen numbers

were edited and largely written by Burke, then 18 years old

and a final year undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin. The

essay from which this extract is taken begins with a complaint

that the manager of the Theatre Royal in Smock Alley, Thomas

Sheridan, has failed to improve the morality of the plays

produced there.

But he who seems to have shared the Gifts of Nature as largely as he

has abused them, was the celebrated Mr. Congreve, who, to the

Charms of a lively Wit, solid Judgment and rich Invention, has added

such Obscenity, as none can, without the greatest Danger to Virtue,

listen to; the very texture and groundwork of some of his Plays is

Lewdness, which poisons the surer, as it is set off with the Advantage

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WILLIAM CONGREVE



of Wit. I know ’tis said in his Excuse, that he drew his Pictures after

the times; but whoever examines his Plays will find, that he not only

copied the ill Morals of the Age, but approved them, as may be seen

in such Characters as he plainly proposes for Imitation; thus his

Angelica in Love for Love, (the chastest of all his Plays) he meant for

a perfect Character, and such perhaps as he would have wished his

own Mistress to have been; but the Rankness of her Ideas, and

Expressions, in the Scene between her and old Foresight, (as well as

in other Parts of the Play) are scarce consistent with any Male, much

less Female Modesty. Much of that Respect we pay the Sex is owing

to the Opinion we have of their Innocence; but if the Lady lets her

Lover understand she is as knowing as himself, a great Part of it

must necessarily vanish.



59. William Melmoth on Congreve’s

translations of Homer

1750



From The Letters of Sir Thomas Fitzosborne, on Several

Subjects, 3rd edn (London: 1750), pp. 270–5.

William Melmoth (1710–99), later known as a translator of

Pliny the Younger, won himself a high reputation with his first

book, The Letters of Sir Thomas Fitzosborne. It was first

published in 1742 and went through ten editions in his own

lifetime. Letter LII, ‘Some passages in Mr. Pope’s translation of

the Iliad, compared with the versions of Denham, Dryden,

Congreve, and Tickel’, was included first in the third edition of

1750. It develops the judiciously admiring criticism of Pope’s

translation in Letters XX and XLIII. Melmoth considered Pope’s

Homer to have surpassed all rivals, and Congreve’s ‘Priam’s

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Lamentation and Petition to Achilles’ and ‘The Lamentations

of Hecuba, Andromache, and Helen’ are roughly handled.



I shall close this review with Mr. Congreve; who has translated

the petition of Priam to Achilles for the body of his son Hector,

together with the lamentations of Andromache, Hecuba, and

Helen.

HOMER represents the unfortunate king of Troy, as entering

unobserved into the tent of Achilles; and illustrates the surprize which

arose in that chief and his attendants, upon the first discovery of

Priam, by the following simile:



xxiv. 480.1



Nothing can be more languid and inelegant than the manner in which

Congreve has rendered this passage:

But as a wretch, who has a murder done,

And seeking refuge, does from justice run;

Entring some house, in haste, where he’s unknown,

Creates amazement in the lookers on:

So did Achilles gaze, surpriz’d to see

The godlike Priam’s royal misery.

CONG.

[‘Priam’s lamentation etc.’, ll. 20–5]



But Pope has raised the same thought with his usual grace and spirit:

As when a wretch, who, conscious of his crime,

Pursu’d for murder, flies his native clime,

Just gains some frontier, breathless, pale, amaz’d!

All gaze, all wonder: thus Achilles gaz’d.

POPE.

[xxiv, ll. 590–3]



THE Speech of Priam is wonderfully pathetic and affecting. He

tells Achilles, that out of fifty sons he had one only remaining; and

of him he was now unhappily bereaved by his sword. He conjures

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WILLIAM CONGREVE



him by his tenderness for his own father to commiserate the most

wretched of parents, who, by an uncommon severity of fate, was

thus obliged to kiss those hands which were imbrued in the blood

of his children:



THESE moving lines Mr. Congreve has debased into the lowest and

most unaffecting prose:

For his sake only I am hither come;

Rich gifts I bring, and wealth, an endless sum;

All to redeem that fatal prize you won,

A worthless ransom for so brave a son.

Fear the just gods, Achilles, and on me

With pity look, think, you your father see:

Such as I am, he is; alone in this

I can no equal have in miseries;

Of all mankind most wretched and forlorn,

Bow’d with such weight as never has been borne;

Reduc’d to kneel and pray to you, from whom

The spring and source of all my sorrows come;

With gifts to court mine and my country’s bane,

And kiss those hands which have my children slain.

CONGREVE.

[ibid., ll. 64–77]



Nothing could compensate the trouble of laboring thro these heavy

and tasteless rhimes, but the pleasure of being relieved at the end of

them with a more lively prospect of poetry:

For him thro hostile camps I bent my way,

For him thus prostrate at thy feet I lay;

Large gifts proportion’d to thy wrath I bear;

O hear the wretched, and the gods revere!

Think of thy father, and this face behold!

See him in me, as helpless and as old!

Tho not so wretched: there he yields to me,

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The first of men in sov’reign misery;

Thus forc’d to kneel, thus grov’ling to embrace

The scourge and ruin of my realm and race:

Suppliant my children’s murd’rer to implore,

And kiss those hands yet reeking with their gore.

POPE.

[XXIV, ll. 622–33]



ACHILLES having at length consented to restore the dead body of

Hector, Priam conducts it to his palace. It is there placed in funeral

pomp, at the same time that mournful dirges are sung over the corpse,

intermingled with the lamentations of Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen:



There is something extremely solemn and affecting, in Homer’s

description of this scene of sorrow: a translator, who was touched

with the least spark of poetry, could not, one should imagine, but

rise beyond himself, in copying after so noble an original. It has not,

however, been able to elevate Mr. Congreve above his usual flatness

of numbers:

then laid

With care the body on a sumptuous bed,

And round about were skilful singers plac’d,

Who wept and sigh’d, and in sad notes express’d

Their moan: All in a chorus did agree

Of universal, mournful harmony.

CONGREVE.

[‘The Lamentations of Hecuba, etc.’, ll. 41–6]



IT would be the highest injustice to the following lines to quote them

in opposition to those of Mr. Congreve: I produce them, as marked

with a vein of poetry much superior even to the original:

They weep, and place him on a bed of state.

A melancholy choir attend around

With plaintive sighs and music’s solemn sound:

Alternately they sing, alternate flow

Th’obedient tears, melodious in their woe;

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WILLIAM CONGREVE



While deeper sorrows groan from each full heart,

And nature speaks at ev’ry pause of art.

POPE.

[XXIV, ll. 899–905]



THUS, Euphronius, I have brought before you some of the most

renowned of our British bards, contending, as it were, for the prize

of poetry: And there can be no debate to whom it justly belongs. Mr.

Pope seems, indeed, to have raised our numbers to the highest possible

perfection of strength and harmony: And, I fear, all the praise that

the best succeeding poets can expect, as to their versification, will

be, that they have happily imitated his manner. Farewel. I am, &c.



NOTES

1



2



3



‘As when overpowering blindness of mind seizes a man, who killing a

person in his homeland flies to another country, to a rich man, wonder

holds them who see him; so Achilles wondered when he saw godlike

Priam.’

‘For the sake of his being restored from you, I am now come to the

ships of the Achaeans, and I carry a ransom not to be reckoned. Stand

in awe of the gods, Achilles, take pity on me, remembering your father;

I am indeed more pitiable, and have endured what never yet any man

on earth endured, to stretch out my hand to the mouth of the man who

is the killer of my sons.’

‘Then they put him on an inlaid bedstead, and placed beside him singers,

the leaders of the funeral-song, who wailed a mournful lament, and the

women moaned in response.’



60. John Campbell and Andrew Kippis

in Biographia Britannica

1750 and 1789



From (a) Biographia Britannica; or, The Lives of the Most

Eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain and

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T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E



Ireland, 6 vols (London: 1747–66); (b) 2nd edition, With

Corrections by Andrew Kippis, 5 vols (London: 1778–93).

The ‘Congreve’ entry for the original Biographia Britannica

was written by the Scotsman John Campbell (1708–85), a writer

of historical and topographical works. The revised edition by

Andrew Kippis (1725–95), a nonconformist minister and tutor,

adds notes upon Campbell’s article. A comparison clearly

illustrates the decline of Congreve’s reputation as a nondramatic poet during the eighteenth century (see the

Introduction, pp. 27–8).



(a)

He had a fine taste for Musick as well as Poetry, which sufficiently

appears in his ‘Hymn to Harmony in honour of St Cecilia’s day

1701’, set by Mr John Eccles, his great friend, and one of the most

elegant Composers our nation has produced. To him also our author

was obliged, for setting several of his songs, which are very beautiful

in their kind, and have all that vivacity of wit which can give life and

lustre to such performances. His early acquaintance with the Great,

had promised him not an easy only, but a happy station in life, to

which it is very rare that either true genius, or any kind of literary

merit, recommends any man. This freed him from all obligations of

courting any longer publick favour, though it still left him under the

tie of gratitude to his illustrious friends. He acted in a manner suitable

to his situation, he very seldom risked the character he had obtained

for the sake of exalting it: but he never missed any opportunity of

paying his complements to his high patrons, in a manner worthy of

himself and of them. The death of the Marquis of Blandford, only

son to the Duke of Marlborough, which happened Feb. 20, 1705,

afforded him a melancholy occasion of endeavouring to soften, by

celebrating, the distress of that illustrious family, which he did in a

most beautiful Pastoral, inscribed to the Lord Godolphin, Lord HighTreasurer of England. The glorious successes of the British arms,

under the invincible Duke beforementioned, supplied a glorious theme

for an Ode to the late Queen Anne, in which he celebrates victories

most honourable to this nation, in numbers that justly entitle their

author to unfading reputation, as they cannot fail of preserving the

memory of those victories, as long as our memory shall last, or a

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WILLIAM CONGREVE



true taste in poetry remains. In another pindarick Ode he celebrated

that great Statesman, and true Patriot, the Lord High-Treasurer

Godolphin, taking occasion from that Nobleman’s great delight in

horse-racing, to imitate, or rather to emulate, the Greek Poet, in his

favourite manner of writing, by a truly elegant and exquisite

digression. We owe to him not only these two pieces in a kind of

poetry almost before unknown to our language, but also a very

learned and judicious Dissertation upon this species of poesy, which

contains a solid and just criticism on those sort of irregular pieces,

that hitherto have passed, though very undeservedly, for Pindaricks.

The clearness and candour of his criticism, ought to give him as high

a character in the Republick of Letters, as even his fine performances

in so many different kinds of poetry. His Birth of the Muse, and his

Dedication in verse of his poems when collected, both addressed to

his old patron Charles Lord Halifax, are equally grateful and pleasing,

though as different in their composition as any two pieces can be;

the former is solemn and sublime, the latter easy and familiar. We

see in one, how able the Poet was to rise to the greatest heights

without the least mixture of bombast or fustian; and in the other,

how finely he could unite the becoming liberty of a friend, with that

respect which was nevertheless due to his patron’s superior rank and

dignity. But as, in the earlier part of his life, Mr Congreve had received

obligations from persons of less exalted station, so of these he was

highly sensible, and never let slip any favourable opportunity of

returning. He wrote an Epilogue for his old friend Mr Southerne’s

fine tragedy of Oroonoko, and we learn from Mr Dryden himself,

how much he owed to his assistance in the translation of Virgil. He

contributed by translating the eleventh Satire to the translation of

Juvenal published by that great poet, and wrote an admirable copy

of verses on the version of Perseus performed by Mr Dryden alone.

He wrote likewise a Prologue for a Play of Mr Charles Dryden’s, full

of kindness for that young gentleman, and of respect for his father.

But the noblest testimony he gave of his filial reverence for that exalted

genius, was in that inimitable panegyrick upon his writings, contained

in the Dedication of his Plays to his Grace the Duke of Newcastle, a

monument that will for ever express, in the most lively colours, the

worth of him to whose honour it is consecrated, and the capacity,

candour, and critical justice, of the hand that raised it. His translations

have done him the greatest honour, in the sentiments of those who

were the best judges, and who have taken pains to compare them

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with their originals. The Hymn to Venus, and some of the most

moving passages in the Iliad, appear with all the spirit and dignity of

Homer in the English version, and as it is impossible for a learned

writer to peruse them without confessing his accuracy, so whoever

has a true taste for poetry must feel the effects of that art and force,

with which all the emotions naturally rising from the passions of the

human mind, are expressed in these nervous pieces. His imitations

of Horace have as much the air of that Poet as our times or language

will permit, that is, the same strength, vivacity, and delicacy, for

which, through a long series of years, they have been admired in the

original. The third book of Ovid’s Art of Love appears in our tongue

with all the sweetness and softness peculiar to that author, who was

perfectly acquainted with the passion, and knew how to describe it

with all the masterly graces of a great Poet, and what was admired

in the Augustan age, becomes excellent in ours, from the skill of Mr

Congreve, and the happy union of the most distant excellencies in a

translator, ease and exactness. He was the better qualified for an

undertaking of this kind, from the natural turn of his own temper,

for his Poem to, and his excellent epigram on, Mrs Arabella Hunt,

are entirely in the Ovidian strain, and are as pleasingly pathetick as

any Poems in their kind, in our own, or perhaps in any other language.

There is a strength and solemnity in his verses to the memory of

Lady Gethins, and in his Epitaph upon the two Huntingtons, that

makes one scarce conceive it possible that he should succeed as well

in lighter compositions, and yet the tales that he has told after a

celebrated French author, are so unaffected and natural, that if we

were not apprised of it we should never have suspected they were

translations; but there is one piece of his which ought to be particularly

distinguished, as being so truly an original, that though it seems to

be written with the utmost facility, yet we may despair of ever seeing

it copied; this is his DORIS, so highly and so justly commended by

Sir Richard Steele, as the sharpest and most delicate satire he had

ever met with. We must not omit, in this free catalogue of his works,

two pieces of the dramatick kind, which do him equal honour as a

Poet, and as a lover of Musick, viz. the Judgment of Paris, a Masque,

and the Opera of Semele. Of these, the former was acted with great

applause, and the latter finely set to musick by Mr Eccles. In respect

to both it is but bare justice to say, that they have the same stamp of

excellency borne by the rest of Mr. Congreve’s works, were considered

as master-pieces when published, and may serve as models to posterity.

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