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Sir Hans Sloane called this fruit vegetable marrow; and a very proper appellation it was: but how does our Author deprave the idea, by larding it with a word of grofler implication!
In imitation of our younger brethren of the magazines, wha frequently entertain the public with an ænigma, a rebus, or an acroftic, we fhall here oblige our ingenious Readers with a myfterious couplet, for the exercife of their imaginations:
Thus freedom cheers, 'midft indigence of woe,
Nor feels the happy wretch one fharp luxurious throw.' p. 16., Thofe who can develope the meaning of thefe luxurious throws, have, we freely confefs, greatly the advantage of us,unlefs the throes of an Author in labour, be the fpecies of agonizing pleafure here alluded to.
We have obferved that we think more highly of our Author's humanity than of his poetry; but even virtue is not always free from error: especially when it runs to excefs. In the overflow of his benevolence toward the poor negro flaves (who doubtlefs, are very proper objects of human commiferation), the young moralizer indifcriminately involves the Jamaica planters in a feverity of condemnation, which ftri&t juftice will not warrant. Here, then, let the voice of impartiality be heard; and, perhaps, it will appear, that Jamaica is not a fettlement only for flaves and tafk-mafters, but that a confiderable degree of felicity may be found with the one, and of humanity with the other. Let us take a comparative view of the labourer in London, and the flave in Jamaica:
The hod-man in London works beyond all comparifen harder than the plantation negro in Jamaica, without the confolatory reflection of having a fingle friend who has an intereft in his preservation. The London labourer has fcarcely a room to helter himself from inclemencies unknown in Jamaica; the negro has a comfortable cabin for himicif and his family; befide his peculium, or parcel of land, which he cultivates for his own profit and fo liberal is this allotment, that the tender, affectionate, induftrious negro, will fave as much money from the fale of the produce, as will purchafe the freedom of his children. And, further, we have been informed, by a very fenfible fpeculator, that the current cafh, circulating among the negroes, did not amount to a fum lefs than twenty thousand pounds! It may perhaps, not unreafonably be quetioned whe ther all the hedgers and ditchers in the three kingdoms, with all their advantages of liberty, can raife fuch a fum.
As the English labourer enjoys his nine-pins, and, generally, his mifchievous frolics, when he has finifhed his day's work; to the negro-flaves, when the toil of the day is over, have their feftive dance, accompanied with the national muc of their refpective countries; in which, as in a itate of nature, they exL 4 nibit,
hibit, it is true, thofe attitudes and geftures which are exceedingly obnoxious to our ideas of delicacy; but which, in them are void of all wicked intention, and are perhaps, more confiftent with innocence and fimplicity than our refined imaginations may be able to comprehend.
The negroes have the Saturday afternoon, and Sunday, for their own amufements; with their breakings up at Chriftmas and Whitfuntide.-When they are difeafed in body, they have a doctor and a nurse to attend them; and when they are idle and refractory, the whip is the ufual remedy for the diforders of the mind have not we, too, our Bridewells and our whipping pofts? And is not fociety the better for them?
But the negroes who live in towns, and partake of the vices peculiar to them, are frequently, we are told, expofed in the itreets, the bloody victims to a fevere but neceflary police: but is this peculiar to our fettlements in the West Indies? Do we not frequently fee men, and even women, flogged, in the like manner, through the streets of London, without any reproach to our civil government? And have we not known Brownriggs, and others, exercifing barbarities never heard of in Jamaica, on poor, innocent, deferted children, their indented fervants, without any impeachment of the humanity of the nation? Monsters of cruelty may, no doubt, be found in all climates; but, in gene al, the English, and their defcendants, are characteriftically the fame in every country,-whether distinguished by the name of Britons, or Creoles.
After all, while we are honeftly defending a people against the injuries of mifreprefentation, we would not, on any account, be deemed advocates for the flave-trade, of which we have often expreffed our warm difapprobation; nor do we wish to have it thought that we are defirous of palliating, or excufing, in any degree, the dreadful punishments fometimes, from motives of ftate-neceffity, and felf-prefervation, inflicted on the flaves in our colonies, for the fuppreffion of infurrections, &c. Both the trade and the severities are fo interwoven in the very conftitution of the colonies in queftion, that reformations, in thefe refpects, can only, perhaps, be effected by those total REVOLU TIONS in human affairs, which Time, fooner or later, produces in every habitable part of the globe. D. & G.
ART. XII. Alfred; a Tragedy. As performed at the TheatreRoyal in Covent Garden. 8vo. I s. 6 d. Becket. 1778. TH
HIS tragedy, though published anonymoufly, is well known to be written by the celebreted author of Douglas, From the motto, and prefatory advertisement, it appears that the poet expects more candour from the gentle reader, than he met with from the fpectator. He appeals, therefore, from the
reprefentatives of the people, collected in the theatre, to the people at large. His advertisement, which contains much found doctrine, runs thus:
The fuccefs of a dramatic piece on the ftage, depends, fays Voltaire, upon accidental circumftances, but the day of publication decides its fate.
• Perfuaded of the truth of this remark, the author of the tragedy of Alfred would have fubmitted his performance to the final judgment of the reader, without preface or apology, if he had not been advifed, and indeed urged, to make a reply to fome hoftile criticisms, which appear to have been founded upon prejudice and opinion, rather than reafon and argument.
It has been alledged, that the character of Alfred, in the tragedy, does not agree with the character of Alfred in history: "That the hero, the legislator, is degraded to a lover, who enters the Danish camp, from a private, not a public, motive, and acts the part of an impoftor."
In tragedy, if the fubject be hiftorical, an author is not permitted to introduce events, contrary to the great established facts of hiftory; for inftance, in the tragedy of Alfred, the hero muft not be killed, nor driven out of England by the Danes; but preferving those ancient foundations, as the piers of his bridge, the Author may bend his arches, and finish the fabric, according to his tafte and fancy, for the poet is at liberty, and it is the effence of his art, to invent fuch intermediate circumftances, and incidents, as he thinks will produce the most affecting fituations. In this department, the poet's fancy is controuled by nothing, but probability and confiftence of character, the barriers of dramatic truth. Let us apply this principle to the point in difpute.
Alfred was a young man, when he fought the battle of Ethendunc. The victory, which gave him poffeffion of the kingdom, must have been gained before he begun to model the ftate. Is it improbable to fuppofe, that a young hero was in love? Is it inconfiftent to reprefent the perfon, who was a legiflator, when advanced in years, as a lover in his youth! Does it degrade the character of a hero to fuppofe, that he was in love with the princefs, whom he afterwards married? Is it not rather injurious to his heroifm to conclude, that he chose a confort whom he did not love? If this reasoning is juft, there will be no difficulty in vindicating the fubfequent conduct of the hero. The dramatic and the real Alfred, are both involved in the charge of impofture; both enter the Danish camp in difguife; the previous events, as narrated in the tragedy, are nearly the fame with thofe mentioned in hiftory. Alfred, for almoft two years, had wandered through England, concealing himself nder feigned names and characters. He lived in the midft of
his enemies, by being fuppofed to be dead. Emerging from this obfcurity, he appears in the tragedy, and is informed of the alarming, ambiguous fituation of Ethelfwida; his usual stratagems prefent themfelves, one would think, naturally to his mind, extremely agitated, and prone both by temper and habit, to the mot daring and romantic enterprizes. He refolves to enter the Danish camp, to learn the fate of Ethelfwida, and obferve the frength and order of the enemy's army, before he ventures a decifive engagement.
The continued artifice is inevitable. The conduct of Alfred, in the camp of Hinguar; the manner in which he deceives the Dane, is extremely fimilar to the conduct of Oreftes in the Electra of Sophocles, which no critic hitherto has blamed. Oreftes enters the palace of gifthus, as the meffenger of his own death, carrying an urn, which contains (he fays) the afhes of Oreftes, whofe untimely fate he moft circumftantially relates. The Grecian hero practifes the deceit with an intention to kill the perfons whom he deceives. The English hero deceives Hinguar only to gain accefs to Ethelfwida, without meaning to hurt the perfon of his enemy. To praife Sophocles, and blame the author of Alfred, for the fame conduct, feems a direct contradiction, which can only be accounted for, in one way; an imaginary idea has been formed of the character of Alfred as an old mortified, afcetic fage, of fpirit too fublime and æthereal to defcend to human paffions or human actions. But the real as well as the dramatic Alfred was a young hero, a bard, a winner of battles, brave and magnanimous, but compelled by the preffure of thofe defperate times, in which he lived, to practife a thoufand arts, to exiit by fiulation and diffimulation. Whoever recollects and weighs theie circumftances, will, it is prefumed, readily pardon the artifice of Alfred, in the tragedy, and acknowledge that the feigned incidents of the picce are altogether confiftent with the true. If not, the author must be contented to labour under the imputation of an erroneous judgment, for he meant nothing lefs than to degrade the character of Alfred; on the contrary, finding in the records of a remote and barbarous age, a hero of great renown, but from the defect of his hiftorians, involved in clouds and darknefs:
Qui caput inter nubila condit,
he was tempted to feize his name, and difplay his character in new fituations connected with the old and well known events of his life and fortune. The play is printed as it was performed. An alteration has been made, in one feene, and fent to the theatre, which, if the tragedy fhould be refumed or revived, may perhaps contribute to heighten its effect.'
Among the feigned incidents of the piece," the counterfeit madnefs of Alfred's bride, Ethelfwida (by the bye, we do not admire the name, Ethelfwida) is not the leaft beautiful. It is, we think, happily imagined as the means of fhielding the captive princefs from the amorous importunities of the victor Hinguar; and gives full fcope to the fancy of a poetical dramatist. We have felected this paffage, therefore, as a fpecimen not unworthy the Author of Douglas:
(Enter Ethelfwida, with two women attending, fantastically dreft.) Alfred. How beautiful fhe is! O, piteous fight!
Her frenzy's high.
Did ere thine aged eyes
(Ethelfwida pajes them, and advances to the front) Eagles of the rock,
Behold her equal?
Lend me your founding wings; cherubs of heaven,
Ethelfwida. The crefted fwans were heard to fing
A fad lamenting ftrain;
As floating with the ftream, his corfe
Hinguar. Still of a lover loft. I never heard
My heart fwells in my breast,
(To Hinguar.) Thou keeper of the keys of death and hell,
Unlock the iron gate, and fet me free.
I will not call him.
Hate not him,
Whofe heart is tun'd to fympathize with thine.
A conftant inmate of the house of forrow.
(Whilft he speaks Ethelfwida gazes and knows him.)