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Examen of the Silent Woman.
To begin first with the length of the Action, it is so far from exceeding the compass of a Natural day, that it takes not up an Artificial one. 'Tis all included in the limits of three hours and an half, which is no more than is requir'd for the presentment on the Stage. A beauty perhaps not much observ'd; if it had, we should not have look'd upon the Spanish Transla∣tion of five hours with so much wonder. The Scene of it is laid in London; the latitude of place is almost as little as you can imagine: for it lies all Page 51 within the compass of two Houses, and after the first Act, in one. The con∣tinuity of Scenes is observ'd more than in any of our Playes, excepting his own Fox and Alchymist. They are not broken above twice or thrice at most in the whole Comedy, and in the two best of Corneille's Playes, the Cid and Cinna, they are interrupted once apiece. The action of the Play is intirely one; the end or aim of which is the setling Moroses's Estate on Dau∣phine. The Intrigue of it is the greatest and most noble of any pure un∣mix'd Comedy in any Language: you see in it many persons of various characters and humours, and all delightful: As first, Morose, or an old Man, to whom all noise but his own talking is offensive. Some who would be thought Criticks, say this humour of his is forc'd: but to remove that objection, we may consider him first to be naturally of a delicate hearing, as many are to whom all sharp sounds are unpleasant; and secondly, we may attribute much of it to the peevishness of his Age, or the wayward autho∣rity of an old man in his own house, where he may make himself obeyed; and this the Poet seems to allude to in his name Morose. Besides this, I am assur'd from diverse persons, that Ben. Iohnson was actually acquainted with such a man, one altogether as ridiculous as he is here represented. Others say it is not enough to find one man of such an humour; it must be common to more, and the more common the more natural. To prove this, they in∣stance in the best of Comical Characters, Falstaffe: There are many men re∣sembling him; Old, Fat, Merry, Cowardly, Drunken, Amorous, Vain, and Lying: But to convince these people, I need but tell them, that humour is the ridiculous extravagance of conversation, wherein one man differs from all others. If then it be common, or communicated to many, how differs it from other mens? or what indeed causes it to be ridiculous so much as the singularity of it? As for Falstaffe, he is not properly one humour, but a Miscellany of Humours or Images, drawn from so many several men; that Page 52 wherein he is singular in his wit, or those things he sayes, praeter expectatum, unexpected by the Audience; his quick evasions when you imagine him surpriz'd, which as they are extreamly diverting of themselves, so receive a great addition from his person; for the very sight of such an unwieldy old debauch'd fellow is a Comedy alone. And here having a place so proper for it I cannot but enlarge somewhat upon this subject of humour into which I am fallen. The Ancients had little of it in their Comedies; for the 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, of the old Comedy, of which Aristophanes was chief, was not so much to imitate a man, as to make the people laugh at some odd conceit, which had commonly somewhat of unnatural or obscene in it. Thus when you see So∣crates brought upon the Stage, you are not to imagine him made ridiculous by the imitation of his actions, but rather by making him perform some∣thing very unlike himself: something so childish and absurd, as by compa∣ring it with the gravity of the true Socrates, makes a ridiculous object for the Spectators. In their new Comedy which succeeded, the Poets sought in∣deed to express the 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, as in their Tragedies the 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 of Mankind. But this 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 contain'd onely the general Characters of men and manners; as old men, Lovers, Servingmen, Courtizans, Parasites, and such other per∣sons as we see in their Comedies; all which they made alike: that is, one old man or Father; one Lover, one Courtizan so like another, as if the first of them had begot the rest of every sort: Ex homine hunc natum dicas. The same custome they observ'd likewise in their Tragedies. As for the French, though they have the word humeur among them, yet they have small use of it in their Comedies, or Farces; they being but ill imitations of the ridiculum, or that which stirr'd up laughter in the old Comedy. But among the English 'tis otherwise: where by humour is meant some ex∣travagant habit, passion, or affection; particular (as I said before) to some one person: by the oddness of which, he is immediately distinguish'd Page 53 from the rest of men; which being lively and naturally represented, most frequently begets that malicious pleasure in the Audience which is testified by laughter: as all things which are deviations from common customes are ever the aptest to produce it: though by the way this laughter is onely acci∣dental, as the person represented is Fantastick or Bizarre, but pleasure is essen∣tial to it, as the imitation of what is natural. The description of these hu∣mours, drawn from the knowledge and observation of particular persons, was the peculiar genius and talent of Ben. Iohnson; To whose Play I now return.
Besides Morose, there are at least 9 or 10 different Characters and hu∣mours in the Silent Woman, all which persons have several concernments of their own, yet are all us'd by the Poet, to the conducting of the main design to perfection. I shall not waste time in commending the writing of this Play, but I will give you my opinion, that there is more wit and acute∣ness of Fancy in it then in any of Ben. Iohnson's. Besides, that he has here describ'd the conversation of Gentlemen in the persons of True-Wit, and his Friends, with more gayety, ayre and freedom, then in the rest of his Comedies. For the contrivance of the Plot 'tis extream elaborate, and yet withal easie; for the 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, or untying of it, 'tis so admirable, that when it is done, no one of the Audience would think the Poet could have miss'd it; and yet it was conceald so much before the last Scene, that any other way would sooner have enter'd into your thoughts. But I dare not take up∣on me to commend the Fabrick of it, because it is altogether so full of Art, that I must unravel every Scene in it to commend it as I ought. And this excellent contrivance is still the more to be admir'd, because 'tis Comedy where the persons are onely of common rank, and their business private, not elevated by passions or high concernments as in serious Playes. Here every one is a proper Judge of all he sees; nothing is represented but that Page 54 with which he daily converse••: so that by consequence all faults lie open to discovery, and few are pardonable. 'Tis this which Horace has judiciously observ'd:
Creditur ex medio quia res arcessit habere
Sudoris minimum, sed habet Comedia tanto
Plus oneris, quanto veniae minus.—
But our Poet, who was not ignorant of these difficulties, h••d prevail'd himself of all advantages; as he who designes a large leap takes his rise from the highest ground. One of these advantages is that which Corneille has laid down as the greatest which can arrive to any Poem, and which he himself could never compass above thrice in all his Playes, viz. the making choice of some signal and long expected day, whereon the action of the Play is to depend. This day was that design'd by Dauphine for the setling of his Uncles Estate upon him; which to compass he contrives to marry him: that the marriage had been plotted by him long beforehand is made evident by what he tells Truwit in the second Act, that in one moment he had destroy'd what he had been raising many months.
There is another artifice of the Poet, which I cannot here omit, because by the frequent practice of it in his Comedies, he has left it to us almost as a Rule, that is, when he has any Character or humour wherein he would show a Coup de Maistre, or his highest skill; he recommends it to your observation by a pleasant description of it before the person first appears. Thus, in Bartholomew Fair he gives you the Pictures of Numps and Cokes, and in this those of Daw, Lafoole, Morose, and the Cellegiate Ladies▪ all which you hear describ'd before you see them. So that before they come upon the Stage you have a longing expectation of them, which prepares you Page 55 to receive them favourably; and when they are there, even from their first appearance you are so far acquainted with them, that nothing of their humour is lost to you.
I will observe yet one thing further of this admirable Plot; the business of it rises in every Act. The second is greater then the first, the third then the second, and so forward to the fifth. There too you see, till the very last Scene, new difficulties arising to obstruct the action of the Play; and when the Audience is brought into despair that the business can natu∣rally be effected, then, and not before, the discovery is made. But that the Poet might entertain you with more variety all this whille, he reserves some new Characters to show you, which he opens not till the second and third Act. In the second, Morose, Daw, the Barber and Otter; in the third the Collegiat Ladies: All which he moves afterwards in by-walk, or under-Plots, as diversions to the main design, least it should grow tedious, though they are still naturally joyn'd with it, and somewhere or other sub-servient to it. Thus, like a skilful Chest-player, by little and little he draws out his men, and makes his pawns of use to his greater persons.
If this Comedy, and some others of his, were translated into French Prose (which would now be no wonder to them, since Moliere has lately given them Playes out of Verse which have not displeas'd them) I believe the controversie would soon be decided betwixt the two Nations, even ma∣king them the Judges. But we need not call our Hero's to our ayde; Be it spoken to the honour of the English, our Nation can never want in any Age such who are able to dispute the Empire of Wit with any people in the Universe. And though the fury of a Civil War, and Power, for twenty years together, abandon'd to a barbarous race of men, Enemies of all good Learning, had buried the Muses under the ruines of Monarchy; yet with the restoration of our happiness, we see reviv'd Poesie lifting up Page 56 its head, & already shaking off the rubbish which lay so heavy on it. We have seen since His Majesties return, many Dramatick Poems which yield not to those of any forreign Nation, and which deserve all Lawrels but the English. I will set aside Flattery and Envy: it cannot be deny'd but we have had some little blemish either in the Plot or writing of all those Playes which have been made within these seven years: (and perhaps there is no Nation in the world so quick to discern them, or so difficult to pardon them, as ours:) yet if we can perswade our selves to use the candour of that Poet, who (though the most severe of Criticks) has left us this caution by which to moderate our censures;
—Vbi plura nitent in carmine non ego paucis offendar maculis.
If in consideration of their many and great beauties, we can wink at some slight, and little imperfections; if we, I say, can be thus equ••l to our selves, I ask no favour from the French. And if I do not venture upon any particular judgment of our late Playes, 'tis out of the consideration which an Ancient Writer gives me; Vivorum, ut magna admiratio ita censura difficilis: betwixt the extreams of admiration and malice, 'tis hard to judge upright∣ly of the living. Onely I think it may be permitted me to say, that as it is no less'ning to us to yield to some Playes, and those not many of our own Nation in the last Age, so can it be no addition to pronounce of our present Poets that they have far surpass'd all the Ancients, and the Modern Writers of other Countreys.
This, my Lord, was the substance of what was then spoke on that occa∣sion; and Lisideius, I think was going to reply, when he was prevented thus by Crites: I am confident, said he, the most material things that can be said, have been already urg'd on either side; if they have not, I must Page 57 beg of Lisideius that he will defer his answer till another time: for I con∣fess I have a joynt quarrel to you both, because you have concluded, with∣out any reason given for it, that Rhyme is proper for the Stage. I will not dispute ••ow ancient it hath been among us to write this way; perhaps our Ancestours knew no better till Shakespeare's time. I will grant it was not alto∣gether le••t by him, and that Fletcher and Ben. Iohnson us'd it frequently in their Pastorals, and sometimes in other Playes. Farther, I will not argue whether we receiv'd it originally from our own Countrymen, or from the French; for that is an inquiry of as little benefit, as theirs who in the midst of the great Plague were not so sollicitous to provide against it, as to know whether we had it from the malignity of our own air, or by transpor∣tation from Holland. I have therefore onely to affirm, that it is not allowable in serious Playes; for Comedies I find you already concluding with me. To prove this, I might satisfie my self to tell you, how much in vain it is for you to strive against the stream of the peoples inclination; the greatest part of which are preposses'd so much with those excellent Playes of Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Ben. Iohnson, (which have been written our of Rhyme) that except you could bring them such as were written better in it, and those too by persons of equal reputation with them, it will be impossible for you to gain your cause with them, who will still be judges. This it is to which in fine all your reasons must submit. The unanimous consent of an Audience is so powerful, That even Iulius Caesar (as Macrobius reports of him) when he was perpetual Dictator, was not able to ballance it on the other side. But when Laberius, a Roman Knight, at his request contended in the Mime with another Poet, he was forc'd to cry out, Etiam favente me victus es Liberi. But I will not on this occasion, take the advantage of the greater number, but onely urge such reasons against Rhyme, as I find in the Writings of those who have argu'd for the other way. First then I am Page 58 of opinion, that Rhyme is unnatural in a Play, because Dialogue there is presented as the effect of sudden thought. For a Play is the imitation of Nature; and since no man, without premeditation speaks in Rhyme, neither ought he to do it on the Stage; this hinders not but the Fancy may be there elevated to an higher pitch of thought then it is in ordinary discourse: for there is a probability that men of excellent and quick parts may speak noble things ex tempore: but those thoughts are never fetter'd, with the numbers or sound of Verse with∣out study, and therefore it cannot be but unnatural to present the most free way of speaking, in that which is the most constrain'd. For this Reason, sayes Aristotle, 'Tis best to write Tragedy in that kind of Verse which is the least such, or which is nearest Prose: and this amongst the Ancients was the Iambique, and with us is blank verse, or the mea∣sure of verse, kept exactly without rhyme. These numbers therefore are fittest for a Play; the others for a paper of Verses, or a Poem. Blank verse being as much below them as rhyme is improper for the Drama. And if it be objected that neither are blank verses made ex tempore, yet as nearest Nature, they are still to be preferr'd. But there are two particular excep∣••ons which many besides my self have had to verse; by which it will ap∣pear yet more plainly, how improper it is in Playes. And the first of them is grounded upon that very reason for which some have commended Rhyme: they say the quickness of repartees in argumentative Scenes receives an ornament from verse. Now what is more unreasonable then to imagine that a man should not onely light upon the Wit, but the Rhyme too upon the sudden? This nicking of him who spoke before both in sound and measure, is so great an happiness, that you must at least suppose the persons of your Play to be born Poets, Arcades omnes & cantare pares & respondere parati▪ they must have arriv'd to the degree of quicquid co••abar dicere: to Page 59 make Verses almost whether they will or no: if they are any thing be∣low this, it will look rather like the design of two then the answer of one: it will appe••r that your Actors hold intelligence together, that they per∣form their tricks like Fortune-tellers, by confederacy. The hand of Art will be too visible in it against that maxime of all Professions; Ars est celar•• artem▪ That it is the greatest perfection of Art to keep it self undiscover'd. Nor will it serve you to object, that however you manage it, 'tis still known to be a Play; and consequently the Dialogue of two persons understood to be the labour of one Poet. For a Play is still an imitation of Nature; we know we are to be deceiv'd, and we desire to be so; but no man ever was deceiv'd but with a probability of truth, for who will suffer a gross lie to be fasten'd on him? Thus we sufficiently understand that the Scenes which re∣present Cities and Countries to us, are not really such, but onely painted on boards and Canvass: But shall that excuse the ill Painture or designment of them; Nay rather ought they not to be labour'd with so much the more diligence and exactness to help the imagination? since the mind of man doe•• naturally tend to, and seek after Truth; and therefore the nearer any thing comes to the imitation of it, the more it pleases.
Thus, you see, your Rhyme is uncapable of expressing the greatest thoughts naturally, and the lowest it cannot with any grace: for what is more unbefitting the Majesty of Verse, then to call a Servant, or bid a door be shut in Rhime? And yet this miserable necessity you are forc'd upon. But Verse, you say, circumscribes a quick and luxuriant fancy, which would extend it self too far on every subject, did not the labour which is requir'd to well turn'd and polish'd Rhyme, set bounds to it. Yet this Argument, if granted, would onely prove that we may write better in Verse, but not more naturally. Neither is it able to evince that; for he who wants judgment to confine his fancy in blank Verse, may want it Page 60 as much in Rhyme; and he who has it will avoid errours in both kinds. Latine verse was as great a confinement to the imagination of those Poets, as Rhime to ours: and yet you find Ovid saying too much on every subject. Nescivit (sayes Seneca) quod bene cessit r••linquere: of which he gives you one famous instance in his Discription of the Deluge.
Omnia pontus erat, deerant quoque Litora Ponto.
Now all was Sea, Nor had that Sea a shore. Thus Ovid's fancy was not limited by verse, and Virgil needed not verse to have bounded his.
In our own language we see B••n. Iohnshon confining himself to what ought to be said, even in the liberty of blank Verse; and yet Corneille, the most judicious of the French Poets, is still varying the same sence an hundred wayes, and dwelling eternally upon the same subject, though confin'd by Rhyme. Some other exceptions I have to Verse, but being these I have nam'd are for the most part already publick; I conceive it reasonable they should first be answer'd.
It concerns me less then any, said Neander, (seeing he had ended) to re∣ply to this Discourse; because when I should have prov'd that Verse may be natural in Playes, yet I should alwayes be ready to confess, that those which I have written in this kind come short of that perfection which is requir'd. Yet since you are pleas'd I should undertake this Province, I will do it, though with all imaginable respect and deference both to that person from whom you have borrow'd your strongest Argu∣ments, and to whose judgment when I have said all, I finally submit. But before I proceed to answer your objections, I must first remember you, that I exclude all Comedy from my defence; and next that I deny not but blank verse may be also us'd, and content my self onely to assert, that in serious Playes where the subject and characters are great, and the Plot un∣mix'd with mirth, which might allay or divert these conce••nments which Page 61 are produc'd Rhyme is there as natural, and more effectual then blank Verse.
And now having laid down this as a foundation, to begin with Cri∣tes, I must crave leave to tell him, that some of his Arguments against rhyme reach no farther then from the faults or defects of ill rhime, to conclude against the use of it in general. May not I conclude against blank verse by the same reason? If the words of some Poets who write in it, are either ill chose, or ill placed (which makes not onely rhime, but all kind of verse in any language unnatural;) Shall I, for their vitious affectation condemn those excellent lines of Fletcher, which are written in that kind? Is there any thing in rhyme more constrain'd than this line in blank verse? I Heav'n invoke, and strong resistance make, where you see both the clauses are plac'd unnaturally; that is, con∣trary to the common way of speaking, and that without the excuse of a rhyme to cause it: yet you would think me very ridiculous, if I should ac∣cuse the stubbornness of blank Verse for this, and not rather the stifness of the Poet. Therefore, Crites, you must either prove that words, though well chosen, and duly plac'd, yet render not Rhyme natural in it self; or, that however natural and easie the rhyme may be, yet it is not proper for a Play. If you insist upon the former part, I would ask you what other conditions are requir'd to make Rhyme natural in it self, besides an election of apt words, and a right disposing of them? For the due choice of your words expresses your sence naturally, and the due placing them adapts the rhyme to it. If you object that one verse may be made for the sake of ano∣ther, though both the words and rhyme be apt; I answer it cannot pos∣sibly so fall out; for either there is a dependance of sence betwixt the first line and the second, or there is none: if there be that connection, then in the natural position of the words, the latter line must of necessity flow from the former: if there be no dependance, yet still the due ordering of words Page 62 makes the last line as natural in it self as the other: so that the necessity of a rhime never forces any but bad or lazy Writers to say what they would not otherwise. 'Tis true, there is both care and Art requir'd to write in Verse; A good Poet never concludes upon the first line, till he has sought out such a rhime as may fit the sense, already prepar'd to heighten the se∣cond: many times the close of the sense falls into the middle of the next verse, or farther of, and he may often prevail himself of the same advan∣tages in English which Virgil had in Latine. he may break off in the Hemy∣stich, and begin another line: indeed, the not observing these two last things, makes Playes which are writ in verse so tedious: for though, most ••ommonly, the sence is to be confin'd to the Couplet, yet nothing that doe▪ perpetuo tenore fluere, run in the same channel, can please alwayes. 'Tis like the murmuring of a stream, which not varying in the fall, causes at first attention, at last drowsiness. Variety of cadences is the best rule, the greatest help to the Actors, and refreshment to the Audience.
If then Verse may be made natural in it self, how becomes it im∣proper to a Play? You say the Stage is the representation of Nature, and no man in ordinary conversation speaks in rhime. But you foresaw when you said this, that it might be answer'd; neither does any man speak in blank verse, or in measure without rhime. Therefore you concluded, that which is nearest Nature is still to be preferr'd. But you took no notice that rhime might be made as natural as blank verse, by the well placing of the words, &c. all the difference between them when they are both correct, is the ••ound in one, which the other wants; and if so, the sweetness of it, and all the advantage resulting from it, which are handled in the Preface to the Rival Ladies, will yet stand good. As for that place of Aristotle, where he sayes Playes should be writ in that kind of Verse which is nearest Prose; it makes little for you, blank verse being properly but measur'd Prose. Now Page 63 measure alone in any modern Language, does not constitute verse; those of the Ancients in Greek and Latine, consisted in quantity of words, and a determinate number of feet. But when, by the inundation of the Goths and Vandals into Italy new Languages were brought in, and barbarous••y mingled with the Latine (of which the Italian, Spanish, French, and ours, (made out of them and the Teutonick) are Dialects:) a new way of Poesie was practis'd; new, I say in those Countries, for in all probability it was that of the Conquerours in their own Nations. This new way consisted in measure or number of feet and rhyme. The sweetness of Rhyme, and ob∣servation of Accent, supplying the place of quantity in words, which could neither exactly be observ'd by those Barbarians who knew not the Rules of it, neither was it suitable to their tongues as it had been to the Greek and Latine. No man is tied in modern Poesie to observe any farther rule in the feet of his verse, but that they be dissylables; whether Spondee, Trochee, or Iambique, it matters not; onely he is obliged to rhyme: Neither do the Spanish, French, Italian or Germans acknowledge at all, or very rare∣ly any such kind of Poesie as blank verse amongst them. Therefore at most 'tis but a Poetick Prose, a Sermo pedestris, and as such most fit for Come∣dies, where I acknowledge Rhyme to be improper. Farther, as to that quotation of Aristotle, our Couplet Verses may be rendred as near Prose as blank verse it self, by using those advantages I lately nam'd, as breaks in a Hemistick, or running the sence into another line, thereby making Art and Order appear as loose and free as Nature: or not tying our selves to Couplets strictly, we may use the benefit of the Pindarique way, practis'd in the Siege of Rhodes; where the numbers vary and the rhyme is dispos'd careles••y, and far from often chymeing. Neither is that other advantage of the Ancients to be despis'd, of changing the kind of verse when they please with the change of the Scene, or some new entrance; for they con∣fine Page 64 not themselves alwayes to Iambiques, but extend their liberty to all Lyrique numbers, and sometimes, even to Hexameter. But I need not go so far to prove that Rhyme, as it succeeds to all other offices of Greek and Latine Verse, so especially to this of Playes, since the ••ustome of all Nations at this day confirms it▪ All the French, Italian and Spanish Tragedies are generally writ in it, and sure the Universal consent of the most civiliz'd parts of the world, ought in this, as it doth in other customs, include the rest.
But perhaps you may tell me I have propos'd such a way to make rhyme natural, and consequently proper to Playes, as is unpracticable, and that I shall scarce find six or eight lines together in any Play, where the words are so plac'd and chosen as is requir'd to make it natural. I answer, no Poet need constrain himself at all times to it. It is enough he makes it his general Rule; for I deny not but sometimes there may be a greatness in placing the words otherwise; and sometimes they may sound better, sometimes also the variety it self is excuse enough. But if, for the most part, the words be plac'd as they are in the negligence of Prose, it is sufficient to denominate the way practicable; for we esteem that to be such, which in the Tryal oftner succeeds then misses. And thus far you may find the practice made good in many Playes; where you do not, remember still, that if you cannot find six natural Rhymes together, it will be as hard for you to produce as many lines in blank Verse, even among the greatest of our Poets, against which I cannot make some reasonable exception.
And this, Sir, calls to my remembrance the beginning of your discourse, where you told us we should never find the Audience favourable to this kind of writing, till we could produce as good Pl••yes in Rhyme, as Ben. Iohnson▪ Fletcher, and Shakespeare, had writ out of it. But it is to raise envy to the living, to compare them with the dead. They are honour'd, and almost ador'd by us, as they deserve; neither do I know any so presumptuous of Page 65 themselves as to contend with them. Yet give me leave to say thus much, without injury to their Ashes, that not onely we shall never equal them, but they could never equal themselves, were they to rise and write again. We acknowledge them our Fathers in wit, but they have ruin'd their Estates themselves before they came to their childrens hands. There is scarce an Humour, a Character, or any kind of Plot, which they have not blown upon: all comes sullied or wasted to us: and were they to entertain this Age, they could not make so plenteous treatments out of such decay'd For∣tunes. This therefore will be a good Argument to us either not to write at all, or to attempt some other way. There is no bayes to be expected in their Walks; Tentanda via est qu•• me quoque possum tollere humo.
This way of writing in Verse, they have onely left free to us; our age is arriv'd to a perfection in it, which they never knew; and which (if we may guess by what of theirs we have seen in Verse (as the Faithful She∣pherdess, and Sad Shepherd:) 'tis probable they never could have reach'd. For the Genius of every Age is different; and though ours excel in this, I deny not but that to imitate Nature in that perfection which they did in Prose, is a greater commendation then to write in verse exactly. As for what you have added, that the people are not generally inclin'd to like this way; if it were true, it would be no wonder, that betwixt the shaking off an old habit, and the introducing of a new, there should be difficulty. Do we not see them stick to Hopkins and Sternholds Psalmes, and forsake those of David, I mean Sandys his Translation of them? If by the people you understand the multitude, the 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 '••is no matter what they think; they are some∣times in the right, sometimes in the wong; their judgment is a meer Lot∣tery. Est ubi plebs rectè putat, est ubi peccat. Horace sayes it of the vul∣gar, judging Poesie. But if you mean the mix'd audience of the populace, and the Noblesse, I dare confidently affirm that a great part of the latter Page 66 sort are already favourable to verse; and that no serious Playes written since the Kings return have been more kindly receiv'd by them, then the Seige of Rhodes, the Mustapha, the Indian Queen, and Indian Emperour.
But I come now to the inference of your first Argument. You said the Dialogue of Playes is presented as the effect of sudden thought, but no man speaks suddenly, or ex tempore in Rhyme: And you inferr'd from thence, that Rhyme, which you acknowledge to be proper to Epique Poesie cannot equally be proper to Dramatick, unless we could suppose all men born so much more then Poets, that verse should be made in them, not by them.
It has been formerly urg'd by you, and confess'd by me, that since no man spoke any kind of verse ex tempore, that which was nearest Nature was to be preferr'd. I answer you therefore, by distinguishing betwixt what is nearest to the nature of Comedy, which is the imitation of common persons and ordinary speaking, and what is nearest the nature of a serious Play: this last is indeed the representation of Nature, but 'tis Nature wrought up to an higher pitch. The Plot, the Characters, the Wit, the Passions, the Descriptions, are all exalted above the level of common converse, as high as the imagination of the Poet can carry them, with proportion to verisimi∣lity. Tragedy we know is wont to image to us the minds and fortunes of noble persons, and to portray these exactly, Heroick Rhime is nearest Na∣ture, as being the noblest kind of modern verse.
Indignatur enim privatis, & prope socco.
Dignis carminibus narrari coena Thy••stae. (Sayes Horace.)
And in another place,
Effutir•• leveis indigna tragaedia versus.
Blank Verse is acknowledg'd to be too low for a Poem, nay more, for a paper of verses; but if too low for an ordinary Sonnet, how much more for Tragedy, which is by Aristotle in the dispute betwixt the Page 67 Epique Poesie and the Dramatick; for many reasons he there alledges ranck'd above it.
But setting this defence aside, your Argument is almost as strong against the use of Rhyme in Poems as in Playes; for the Epique way is every where interlac'd with Dialogue, or discoursive Scenes; and therefore you must either grant Rhyme to be improper there, which is contrary to your asser∣tion, or admit it into Playes by the same title which you have given it to Poems. For though Tragedy be justly preferr'd above the other, yet there is a great affinity between them as may easily be discover'd in that definition of a Play which Lisideius g••ve us. The Genus of them is the same, a just and lively Image of humane nature, in its Actions, Passions, and traverses of Fortune: so is the end, namely for the delight and benefit of Mankind. The Characters and Persons are still the same, viz. the greatest of both ••orts, onely the manner of acquainting us with those Actions, Passions and For∣tunes is different. Tragedy performs it viva voce, or by action, in Dialogue, wherein it excels the Epique Poem which does it chiefly by narration, and therefore is not so lively an Image of Humane Nature. However, the agree∣ment betwixt them is such, that if Rhyme be proper for one, it must be for the other. Verse 'tis true is not the effect of sudden thought; but this hinders not that sudden thought may be represented in verse, since those thoughts are such as must be higher then Nature can raise them without premeditation, especially to a continuance of them even out of verse, and consequently you cannot imagine them to have been sudden either in the Poet, or the Actors. A Play, as I have said to be like Nature, is to be set above it; as Statues which are plac'd on high are made greater then the life, that they may descend to the sight in their just proportion.
Perhaps I have insisted too long upon this objection; but the clearing of it will make my stay shorter on the rest. You tell us Crites, that rhyme Page 68 appears most unnatural in repartees, or short replyes: when he who an∣swers, (it being presum'd he knew not what the other would say, yet) makes up that part of the verse which was left incompleat, and supplies both the sound and measure of it. This you say looks rather like the confederacy of two, then the answer of one.
This, I confess, is an objection which is in every ones mouth who loves not rhyme: but suppose, I beseech you, the repartee were made onely in blank verse, might not part of the same argument be turn'd against you? for the measure is as often supply'd there as it is in Rhyme. The latter half of the Hemystich as commonly made up, or a second line subjoyn'd as a reply to the former▪ which any one leaf in Iohnson's Playes will suffici∣ently clear to you. You will often find in the Greek Tragedians, and in Seneca, that when a Scene grows up into the warmth of repartees (which is the close fighting of it) the latter part of the Trimeter is supply'd by him who answers; and yet it was never observ'd as a fault in them by any of the Ancient or Modern Criticks. The case is the same in our verse as it was in theirs; Rhyme to us being in lieu of quantity to them. But if no lati∣tude is to be allow'd a Poet, you take from him not onely his license of quid∣libet audendi, but you tie him up in a straighter compass then you would a Philosopher. This is indeed Musas colere severiores; You would have him follow Nature, but he must follow her on foot: you have dismounted him from his Pegasus. But you tell us this supplying the last half of a verse, or adjoyning a whole second to the former, looks more like the design of two then the answer of one. Suppose we acknowledge it: how comes this confederacy to be more displeasing to you then in a Dance which is well contriv'd? You see there the united design of many persons to make up one Figure: after they have seperated themselves in many petty divisions, they rejoyn one by one into a gross: the confederacy is plain amongst them; Page 69 for chance could never produce any thing so beautiful, and yet there is nothing in it that shocks your fight. I acknowledg the hand of Art appears in repartee, as of necessity it must in all kind of verse. But there is also the quick and poynant brevity of it (which is an high imitation of Nature in those sudden gusts of passion) to mingle with it: and this joyn'd with the cadency and sweetness of the Rhyme, leaves nothing in the soul of the hearer to desire. 'Tis an Art which appears; but it appears onely like the shadowings of Painture, which being to cause the rounding of it, cannot be absent, but while that is consider'd they are lost: so while we attend to the other beauties of the matter, the care and labour of the Rhyme is carry'd from us, or at least drown'd in its own sweetness, as Bees are sometimes bury'd in their Honey. When a Poet has found the repartee, the last per∣fection he can add to it, is to put it into verse. However good the thought may be; however apt the words in which 'tis couch'd, yet he finds himself at a little unrest while Rhyme is wanting: he cannot leave it till that comes naturally, and then is at ease, and sits down contented.
From Replies, which are the most elevated thoughts of Verse, you pass to the most mean ones: those which are common with the lowest of houshold conversation. In these, you say, the Majesty of Verse suffers. You in∣stance in the calling of a servant, or commanding a door to be shut in rhyme. This, Crites, is a good observation of yours, but no argument: for it proves no more but that such thoughts should be wav'd, as often as may be, by the address of the Poet. But suppose they are necessary in the places where he uses them, yet there is no need to put them into rhime. He may place them in the beginning of a Verse, and break it off, as unfit, when so debas'd for any other use: or granting the worst, that they require more room then the Hemystich will allow; yet still there is a ch••ice to be made of the best words, and least vulgar (provided they be apt) to exp••ess such Page 70 thoughts. Many have blam'd Rhyme in general, for this fault, when the Poet, with a little care, might have redress'd it. But they do it with no more justice, then if English Poesie should be made ridiculous for the sake of the Water Poet's Rhymes. Our language is noble, full and significant; and I know not why he who is Master of it may not cloath ordinary things in it as decently as the Latine; if he use the same diligence in his choice of words.
Delectus verborum Origo est Eloquentiae.
It was the saying of Iusius Caesar, one so curious in his, that none of them can be chang'd but for a worse. One would think unlock the door was a thing as vulgar as could be spoken; and yet Seneca could make it sound high and lofty in his Latine.—
Reserate clusos Regii postes Laris.
But I turn from this exception, both because it happens not above twice or thrice in any Play that those vulgar thoughts are us'd; and then too (were there no other Apology to be made, yet) the necessity of them (which is alike in all kind of writing) may excuse them. Besides that the great eager∣ness and praecipitation with which they are spoken makes us rather mind the substance then the dress; that for which they are spoken, rather then what is spoke. For they are alwayes the effect of some hasty concernment, and something of consequence depends upon them.
Thus, Crites, I have endeavour'd to answer your objections; it remains onely that I should vindicate an Argument for Verse, which you have gone about to overthrow. It had formerly been said, that the easiness of blank verse, renders the Poet too luxuriant▪ but that the labour of Rhyme bounds and circumscribes an over-fruitful fancy, The sence there being commonly confin'd to the couplet, and the words so order'd that the Rhyme naturally follows them, not they the Rhyme. To this you answer'd, that it was no Argument to the question in hand, for the dispute was not which way a man Page 71 may write best; but which is most proper for the subject on which he writes.
First, give me leave, Sir, to remember you that the Argument against which you rais'd this objection, was onely secondary: it was built upon this Hypothesis, that to write in verse was proper for serious Playes. Which supposition being granted (as it was briefly made out in that discourse, by showing how verse might be made natural) it asserted, that this way of wri∣ting was an help to the Poets judgment, by putting bounds to a wilde over∣flowing Fancy. I think therefore it will not be hard for me to make good what it was to prove: But you add, that were this let pass, yet he who wants judgment in the liberty of his fancy, may as well show the defect of it when he is confin'd to verse: for he who has judgment will avoid er∣rours, and he who has it not, will commit them in all kinds of writing.
This Argument, as you have taken it from a most acute person, so I co••∣fess it carries much weight in it. But by using the word Judgment here in∣definitely, you seem to have put a fallacy upon us: I grant he who has Judgment, that is, so profound, so strong, so infallible a judgment, that he needs no helps to keep it alwayes pois'd and upright, will commit no faults either in rhyme or out of it. And on the other extream, he who has a judg∣ment so weak and craz'd that no helps can correct or amend it, shall write s••urvily out of Rhyme, and worse in it. But the first of these judgments is no where to be found, and the latter is not fit to write at all. To speak therefore of judgment as it is in the best Poets; they who have the greatest proportion of it, want other helps than from it within. As for example▪ you would be loth to say, that he who was indued with a sound judgment had no need of History, Geography, or Moral Philosophy, to write cor∣rectly. Judgment is indeed the Master-workman in a Play: but he requires many subordinate hands, many tools to his assistance. And Verse I affirm Page 72 to be one of these: 'Tis a Rule and line by which he keeps his building com∣pact and even, which otherwise lawless imagination would raise either ir∣regularly or loosly. At least if the Poet commits errours with this help, he would make greater and more without it: 'tis (in short) a slow and pain∣full, but the surest kind of working. Ovid whom you accuse for luxuriancy in Verse, had perhaps been farther guilty of it had he writ in Prose. And for your instance of Ben. Iohnson, who you say, writ exactly without the help of Rhyme; you are to remember 'tis onely an aid to a luxuriant Fan∣cy, which his was not: As he did not want imagination, so none ever said he had much to spare. Neither was verse then refin'd so much to be an help to that Age as it•• to ours. Thus then the second thoughts being usu∣ally the best, as receiving the maturest digestion from judgment, and the last and most mature product of those thoughts being artful and labour'd verse, it may well be inferr'd, that verse is a great help to a luxuriant Fancy, and this is what that Argument which you oppos'd was to evince.
Neander was pursuing this Discourse so eagerly, that Eugenius had call'd to him twice or thrice ere he took notice that the Barge stood still, and that they were at the foot of Somerset- Stairs, where they had appointed it to land. The company were all sorry to separate so soon, though a great part of the evening was already spent; and stood a while looking back upon the wa∣ter, which the Moon-beams play'd upon, and made it appear like floating quick-silver: at last they went up through a crowd of French peo••le who were merrily dancing in the open air, and nothing concern'd for the noise of Guns which had allarm'd the Town that afternoon. Walking thence toge∣ther to the Piazze they parted there; Eugenius and Ly••idei••s to some plea∣sant appointment they had made, and Crites and Neander to their several Lodgings.