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second the precepts of our religion. By the harmony of words we elevate the mind to a sense of devotion, as our solemn musick, which is inarticulate poesy,
does in churches; and by the lively images of piety, adorned by action, through the senses allure the soul; which, while it is charmed in a silent joy of what it sees and hears, is struck, at the same time, with a secret veneration of things celestial : and is wound up insensibly into the practice of that which it admires. Now if, instead of this, we sometimes see on our theatres the examples of vice rewarded, or, at least, unpunished; yet it ought not to be an argument against the art, any more than the extravagances and impieties of the pulpit, in the late times of rebellion, can be against the office and dignity of the clergy.
But many times it happens, that poets are wrongfully accused; as it is my own case in this very play; where I am charged by some ignorant or malicious persons,
with no less crimes than profaneness and irreligion.
The part of Maximin, against which these holy critics so much declaim, was designed by me to set off the character of St Catharine. And those, who have read the Roman history, may easily remember, that Maximin was not only a bloody tyrant, rastus corpore, animo ferus, as Herodian describes him; but also a persecutor of the church, against which he raised the Sixth Persecution. So that whatsoever he speaks or acts in this tragedy, is no more than a record of his life and manners; a picture, as near as I could take it, from the original. If, with much pains, and some success, I have drawn a deformed piece, there is as much of art, and as near an imitation of nature, in a lazar, as in a Venus. Maximin was an heathen, and what he speaks against religion, is in contempt of that which he professed. Ile defies the gods of Rome, which is no more than St Catharine might with decency have done. If it be urged, that a person of such principles, who scoffs at any religion, ought not to be presented on the stage ; why then are the lives and saying's of so many wicked and profane persons, recorded in the Holy Scriptures? I know it will be answered, That a due use may be made of them; that they are remembered with a brand of infamy fixed upon them; and set as sea-marks for those who behold them to avoid. And what other use have I made of Maximin? have I proposed him as a pattern to be imitated, whom, even for his impiety to his false gods, I have so severely punished? Nay, as if I had foreseen this objection, I purposely removed the scene of the play, which ought to have been at Alexandria in Egypt, where St Catharine suffered, and laid it under the walls of Aquileia in Italy, where Maximin was slain; that the punishment of his crime might immediately succeed its execution.
This, reader, is what I owed to my just defence, and the due reverence of that religion which I profess, to which all men, who desire to be esteemed good, or honest, are obliged. I have neither leisure nor occasion to write more largely on this subject, because I am already justified by the sentence of the best and most discerning prince in the world, by the suffrage of all unbiassed judges, and, above all, by the witness of my own conscience, which abhors the thought of such a crime; to which I ask leave to add my outward conversation, which shall never be justly taxed with the note of atheism or profane-.
In what else concerns the play, I shall be brief : For the faults of the writing and contrivance, I leave them to the mercy of the reader. For I am as little apt to defend my own errors, as to find those of other poets. Only, I observe, that the
great censors of wit and poetry, either produce nos thing of their own, or what is more ridiculous than any thing they reprehend. Much of ill nature, and a very little judgment, go far in finding the mistakes of writers.
I pretend not that any thing of mine can be correct: This poem, especially, which was contrived, and written in seven weeks, though afterwards hindered by many accidents from a speedy representation, which would have been its just excuse.
Yet the scenes are every where unbroken, and the unities of place and time more exactly kept, than perhaps is requisite in a tragedy; or, at least, than I have since preserved them in the “Conquest of Granada."
I have not everywhere observed the equality of numbers, in my verse; partly by reason of my haste; but more especially, because I would not have my sense a slave to syllables.
It is easy to discover, that I have been very bold in my alteration of the story, which of itself was too barren for a play; and that I have taken from the church two martyrs, in the persons of Porphyrius, and the empress, who suffered for the Christian faith, under the tyranny of Maximin.
I have seen a French play, called the “ Martyrdom of St Catharine :” But those, who have read it, will soon clear me from stealing out of so dull an author. I have only borrowed a mistake from him, of one Maximin for another; for finding him in the French poet, called the son of a Thracian herdsman, and an Alane woman, I too easily believed him to have been the same Maximin mentioned in Herodian. Till afterwards, consulting Eusebius and Metaphrastes, I found the Frenchman had betrayed me into an error, when it was too late to alter it, by mistaking that first Maximiņ for a se
cond, the contemporary of Constantine the Great, and one of the usurpers of the eastern empire.
But neither was the other name of my play more fortunate ; for, as some, who had heard of a tragedy of St Catharine, imagined I had taken my plot from thence; so others, who had heard of another play, called “ L'Amour Tyrannique,” with the same ignorance, accused me to have borrowed my design from it, because I have accidentally given my play the same title ; not having to this day seen it, and knowing only by report that such a comedy is extant in French, under the name of “Monsieur Scudery.”
As for what I have said of astral or aërial spirits, it is no invention of mine, but taken from those who have written on that subject. Whether there are such beings or not, it concerns not me; it is sufficient for my purpose, that many have believed the affirmative; and that these heroic representations, which are of the same nature with the epic, are not limited, but with the extremest bounds of what is credible.
For the little critics, who pleased themselves with thinking they have found a flaw in that line of the prologue,
And he, who servilely creeps after sense,
Is safe, &c.*, as if I patronized my own nonsense,
may reasonably suppose they have never read Horace. Serpit humi tutus, &c. are his words : He, who creeps after plain, dull, common sense, is safe from committing absurdities; but can never reach any height, or excellence of wit; and sure I could not mean, that
* See the prologue to this play.
any excellence were to be found in nonsense. With the same ignorance, or malice, they would accuse me for using-empty arms, when I write of a ghost, or shadow ; which has only the appearance of a body or limbs, and is empty, or void, of flesh and blood; and vacuis amplectitur ulnis, was an expression of Ovid's on the same subject. Some fool before them had charged me in “ The Indian Emperor” with nonsense in these words,
And follow fate, which does too fast pursue ;
Which was borrowed from Virgil, in the eleventh of his Æneids,
Eludit gyro interior, sequiturque sequentem +.
I quote not these to prove, that I never writ nonsense; but only to shew, that they are so unfortunate as not to have found it.
+ We may be allowed to suspect that this resemblance vas discovered ex post facto.