« السابقةمتابعة »
charge he had preferred against the author touching his right of citizenship, which was awarded and secured to him by the same inftrument,
Such was Aristophanes in person, manners and character: As a poet I might refer the learned reader to his works, which speak fo ably for themselves; They are not only valuable as his remains; but when we consider them as the only remains, which give us any complete fpecimens of the Greek comedy, they become inestimable through the misfortunes of all the reft. We receive them as treasures thrown up from a wreck, or more properly as one passenger escaped out of a fleet, whose narrative we liften to with the more eagerness and curiosity, be. cause it is from this alone we can gain intelligence of the nature of the expedition, the quality of the armament, and the characters and talents of the commanders, who have perished and gone down into the abyss together.
The comedies of Aristophanes are universally esteemed to be the ftandard of Attic writing in its greatest 'purity; if any man would wish to know the language as it was spoken by Pericles, he must seek it in the scenes of Aristophanes, where he is not using a foreign or affected diction, for the purpose of accommodating it to 2
fome particular or extravagant character. The antient authors, both Greek and Roman, who had all the productions of the Athenian ftage before them, speak of him with such rapture and admiration, as to give him a decided preference before all other comic poets, with an exception as I believe of Plutarch only, who brings him into comparison with Menander, and after discussing their different pretensions decides peremptorily for Menander : This criticism of Plutarch's I shall reserve for future consideration; and when I said that he is single in his preference of Menander, perhaps I ought to recal the expression, as that poet has his ada mirers, but none that I know of, who have deliberately given judgment in his favour upon a critical comparison with Aristophanes, except Plutarch above mentioned, | The drama of Ariftophanes is of a mixed species ; sometimes personal, at other times in clining to parody, according to the character of the middle comedy: He varies and accommodates his stile to his subject and the speakers on the scene; on some occasions it is eleyated, grave, sublime and polished to a wonderful degree of brilliancy and beauty; on others it sinks and defcends into humble dialogue, provincial rusticity, coarse naked obscenity, and even puns and quibbles : The versatility of his genius is admirable ; for he gives us every rank and description of men in his scenes, and in every one is strictly characteristic. In some passages, and frequently in his chorusses, he starts out of the ordinary province of comedy into the loftieft flights of poetry, and in these I doubt if Æschylus or Pindar have furpassed him: In sentiment and good sense he is not inferior to Euripides, and in the acuteness of his criticisms equalled by none: In the general purport of his moral he feldom, if ever, fails; but he works occasionally with unclean tools, and, like Juvenal in the lower ages, chastises vice by an open exposure of its turpitude, offending the ear, whilst he aims to mend the heart. This habit of plain speaking was the fashion of the times he wrote in, and the audience demanded and would have it; that he may be studied by the pureft readers we should conclude, when we are told he was the pillow companion of a Christian faint, as the wellknown anecdote of Chrysostom will testify. If we cannot'éntirely defend the indelicacy of his muse, we cannot deny but that a great share of the blame rests with the spectators : A dramatic poet cannot model his audience, but in a certain degree must of neceffity con
form to their taste and humour: It can be proved that Aristophanes himself laments the hard talk imposed upon him of gratifying the public at the expence of decency ; but with the example of the poet Cratinus before his cyes, who was driven from the stage because he scrupled to amuse the public ear with tawdry jests, it is not to be wondered at, if an author, emulous of applause, should fall in with the wishes of the theatre, unbecoming as they were: Let me add in further palliation of this fault, that he never puts obscenity but in the mouths of obscene characters, and so applies it as to give his hearers a disgust for fuch unscemly habits. Morality I confess deserves a purer vehicle, yet I contend that his purpose was honeft, and I dare believe went farther towards reforming the loose Athenians, than all the indecisive positions of the philosophers, who being enlifted into fects and factions scarce agreed in any one point of common morality.
This part of his defence would have been very easily handled a century or two ago ; Ben Jonson for instance could have helped his argument out with his own example, if oca cafion had required; but the task falls very heavy upon an advocate in this age, which is of purer ears than to listen to obscenity; and
though my particular difficulties have thereby been encreased, I shall never repine under the weight of any burthen, which the merit of my contemporaries lays upon me.
His wit is of various kinds; much is of a general and permanent stamp; much is local, personal and untransferable to posterity: No, author ftill retains so many brilliant passages, yet none has suffered such injury by the depredations of time : Of his powers in ridicule and humour, whether of character or dialogue, there might be no end to instances : If Plautus gives us the model of Epicharmus, he does not equal him; and if Ter nce translates Menander, his original does not approach him in these particulars : I doubt if the sum total of wit and humour in all their stage-lacqueys would together balance the single character of Cario in the Plutus. His fatire, whether leveiled against the vices and follies of the people at large, against the corruption of the damagogues, the turpitude and chicanery of the philosophers, or the arrogant felf-sufficiency of the tragic poets, cuts with an edge that penetrates the character, and leaves no shelter for either ignorance or criminality.
Aristophanes was author of above fixty comedies, though they are erroneously stated under