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ART. III. The Battle of Haftings; a Tragedy. By Richard Curn-
F all the feveral dramas, tragedies, comedies, or farces, that have come within our cognizance for many years. paft, we do not remember one of fo extraordinary a complexion as the play now before us. It feems to have been intended and given by the elaborate Author as an abstract of all excellence. It afpires to the various characters of philofophical, political, poetical, and theatrical. It is all peacock's feathers. We will not attempt to ftrip the ftately Bard of his variegated plumage, but rather add to his honours and ornament by applying the tar of criticism, that his feathers may ftick fo much the clofer.
Dramatic poets, from Efchylus to Shakespeare, have often derived their fables from the annals of their country; and after having founded their plays on fome great hiftorical event, have been allowed to heighten and embellish it; but the great and leading features of the story were constantly retained, the character of the perfonages preferved, and the poet, who was indulged in probable fictions to fupport and adorn hiftory, was not how ́ever permitted grofsly to violate or contradict it.
Aut famam fequere, aut fibi convenientia finge.
Writers of tranfcendent genius overleap all rules. The hiftorical plays of that common mortal Shakespeare, are almoft regular annals, and his Romans or Englishmen are as faithfully delineated, and as eafily recognized, in the theatre, as in Plutarch or Holingfhed. The tragedy of the Battle of Haftings is raised on more fublime and eccentric principles. William is fcarcely mentioned, and never in terms of conqueft: Harold, the enterprifing gallant Harold, is reprefented as a monkifh bigot; while Edgar Atheling, whom hiftorians have almost marked with imbecility, is exalted into a hero, and even raised to that throne on which the battle of Haftings feated the Duke of Normandy. The death of Turnus clofes the Æneid. With fuch an authority, as well as hiftory, in his favour, a common poet might have fuppofed the death of Harold, which is recorded in this tragedy, a fufficient warrant for establishing the dominion of the conqueror; but our Bard very adroitly rallies his troops under Edgar Atheling, founds a retreat, and drops the curtain. In fhort, the Battle of Haftings like,
The ftory of the bear and fiddle,
Is fung, but breaks off in the middle.
The whole drama begins, continues, and ends, diametrically op-
But if the general structure of the fable be admirable, the detail is not lefs peculiar. The difcovery [avεywpiois] was, by the ancients, and their fervile imitators, confidered as one of the most important circumstances of tragedy, requiring the utmoft caution and addrefs. It was therefore frugally used, and fearfully conducted. The Drury-lane Euripides of 1778 has, however, dealt out the difcovery with fuch a lavish hand, that his prodigality in this inftance would be incxcufable, did it not palpably proceed from the inexhaustible riches of an exuberant imagination. First, a noble, in the intereft of the concealed Edgar Atheling, reveals him, without any apparent motive but the overflowings of a benevolent heart, to one of the warders of his caftle. To his fifter, however, to whom it feems more important that the real character of Edgar fhould be known, the fame noble does not reveal him, but Edgar himself makes her acquainted with it. Afterwards he very impoliticly makes the fame difcovery to Harold; and his miftrefs, who follows him in difguife to the camp, ftill more impoliticly and unexpectedly betrays herself to her rival. Ordinary characters would have conducted themselves on different principles, and ordinary writers would have given different draughts of them; but our Poet deals in the extraordinary; and this it is, Mr. Johnson, to elevate and furprize.
The language of this tragedy affords the most curious fpecimen of the modern-antique we remember to have seen. Here is no vulgar difcrimination of character, which affigns to maids and heroes, kings and peafants, a different ftyle. Our Author produces none but well-bred perfons, and they seem to have been all educated in the fame fchool of metaphor,-a prey at which each speaker greedily fnatches, and never quits till he has fairly run it down:
So eloquent, he cannot ope
His mouth, but out there flies a trope. We have the pleasure alfo of converfing with our oldest and moft intimate poetical acquaintance, who are perpetually brought before us, from Shakespeare down to Mafon and Gray, all of which are occafionally introduced by our Author, to whose work we would recommend this motto,
Such labour'd nothings, in fo strange a ftyle,
ART. IV. Fabulæ selecta. Autore Joanne Gay, Latine reddita. 8vo. 2 s. 6 d. DodЛley. 1778.
F Gay's Fables every thing is faid by their own celebrity. fmall
any thing, we shall give a specimen :
THE TAME STAG,
Now fafely hamper'd in the cord,
At first, within the yard confin'd,
Such is the country maiden's fright,
Dum juvenis tendit dumeta per afpera tervus,
Ille tenet laqueo, prædaque fuperbus opima,
Clauditur exigui cum primum in limite fepti,
Luminibus lacitis fingula cautus obit.
Mox efcam impatiens palma fibi pofcit ab omni,
Coccina cum primum percutit ora chlamys :
Nec preffam, graviter fert, retrahitve, manum :
Quippe metum fubigit mos, refugitque pudor.
The tranflation here is tolerably eafy, but not without faults. In fome places it is too literal to be elegant; in others not fufficiently fo.
Quippe metum fubigit mos, refugitque pudor.
In the Latin, fhame is reprefented either as flying from fear, or rejecting it; for the word refugit will bear both interpretations: but it is cuftom that puts fhame to flight; and fugatque pudorem, if the measure of the verfe had allowed, would have been the proper rendering. However, the verb refugio has fometimes a neutral fenfe, and the tranflation, though in this place not eligible, is justifiable.
ART. V. The Hiftory of England, from the Revolution, to the preJent Time. In a Series of Letters to the Rev. Dr. Wilfon, Rector of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, and Prebendary of Westminster. By Catherine Macaulay. Vol. I. 4to. 15 s. Boards. Dilly, &c. 1778.
HAT a phænomenon in the literary world is the Author of the compofitions now before us! To fee a lady ftep forth, in the affembly of learned fages, and affume the hiftorian's chair, is an object which was never beheld, in any country, till a Macaulay appeared! To hear her, too, with manly energy, with clear and nervous diction, and in a bold and animated ftyle, explain the principles of government, develope the ftatefman's views, and trace, with perfpicuity, the alternate progrefs of royal cr of popular encroachment on the legal conftitution of the ftate,-this is all unparalleled in the annals of literature !
We have, on a former occafion, obferved, that thofe females who have been ambitious of reputation in the republic of letters,
A full length print of the Author, elegantly engraved by Caldwell, is given, by way of frontispiece.
have generally diftinguifhed themselves by their vivacity and imagination; that topics which require investigation and labour, have been thought too ferious and important to engage their attention; that they have been deemed inferior in capacity to men; and that wisdom is an enemy to beauty. But, on the other hand, we have remarked, that their fuppofed narrownefs of understanding, is not to be afcribed to any deficiency of nature, but to the want of cultivation. Certain it is, that genius is not confined to either fex; and that where the improvements of education have been added to native ability, the inftances of excellence in the female character have been equally numerous, in proportion, to thofe in the male line, where the advantages of culture are more commonly beftowed. Accordingly, in the prefent example, we have heard it generally allowed, that our fair hiftorian hath acquitted herself with a degree of merit, not only equal to that of many celebrated writers in the fame clafs, but fuperior to most of thofe, in particular, who have treated of English affairs.
Of Mrs. Macaulay's Hiftory of England from the acceffion of James I. to the elevation of the house of Hanover, five volumes have already appeared; in the laft of which, the narrative pro ceeded to the restoration of monarchy under Charles II. The materials for continuing the work from that period, to the revolution which brought in William III. are, as the advertisements inform us, preparing, by the author, for the prefs. In the mean time, particular motives have induced her to publish her account of a later period, with fome variation of manner, from the continued gravity of hiftoric detail, to the more eafy and familiar form of epiftolary ftyle. What thefe motives are, may be collected from detached paffages in the letters themselves.
To Dr. Willon, this lady, it is well known, is under very great and uncommon obligations; fuch as, indeed, must naturally call for every poffible return of gratitude; and, accordingly, we are to regard the handsome manner in which he has addreffed the work before us, to her venerable and liberal friend, as one expreffion of that amiable principle.
In her first letter, after teftifying her defire of rendering the correfpondence worthy of her friend's attention, and the fource of his amufement, the thus proceeds,-fomewhat in the strain of an epifle dedicatory.
The virtues of your character, it must be owned, afford an ample field for literary eloquence: a detail of filial piety, in inftances the most trying to human fortitude; the supporting an independent temper and conduct in the midst of the fervile depravities of a court; the almoft fingular inftance of warm patriotifm united to the clerical character; your moderation in every circumftance of indulgence which regards yourfelf, while you