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though in the eleven that are still remain- of all the seeming inequality of style, which ing, there is much more than could be wished.
puts Plutarch in a rage. These censures can never be just upon a poet, whose style has always been allowed to be perfectly Attic, and o. an Atticism which made them extremely delightful to the lovers of the Athenian taste. Plutarch, perhaps, rather means to blame the chorusses of which the language is sometimes elevated, sometimes burlesque, always very
Plutarch censures him in the second place for playing upon words; and against this charge Frischlinus defends him with less skill. It is impossible to exemplify this in French. But after all, this part is so little, that it deserved not so severe a reprehension, especially since amongst those sayings, there are some so mis-poetical, and therefore in appearance not suitable chievously malignant, that they became prover- to comedy. But the chorus which had been bial, at least by the sting of their malice, if not borrowed from tragedy, was then all the fashion, by the delicacy of their wit. One example will particularly for pieces of satire, and Aristobe sufficient: speaking of the tax-gatherers, or phanes admitted them like the other poets of the excisemen of Athens, he crushes them at the old, and perhaps of the middle comedy; once by observing, non quod essentraal sed whereas Menander suppressed them, not so Amal. The word lamia signified walking spi- much in compliance with his own judgment, as rits, which, according to the vulgar notion, de-in obedience to the public edicts. It is not,
therefore, this mixture of tragic and comic that will place Aristophanes below Menander.
voured men; this makes the spirit of the sarcasm against the tax-gatherers. This cannot be rendered in our language; but if any thing as good had been said in France on the like occasion, it would have lasted too long, and like many other sayings amongst us been too well received. The best is, that Plutarch himself confesses that it was extremely applauded.
The fifth charge is, that he kept no distinction of character; that, for example, he makes women speak like orators, and orators like slaves; but it appears by the characters which he ridicules, that this objection falls of itself It is sufficient to say, that a poet who painted, not imaginary characters, but real persons, men well known, citizens whom he called by their names, and showed in dresses like their own, and masks resembling their faces, whom he branded in the sight of a whole city, extremely haughty and full of derision; it is sufficient to say, that such a poet could never be supposed to miss his characters. The applause, which his licentiousness produced, is too good a justification; besides, if he had not succeeded, he exposed himself to the fate of Eupolis, who in a comedy called "The Drowned Man," having imprudently pulled to pieces particular persons more powerful than himself, was laid hold of, and drowned more effectually than those he had drowned upon the open stage.
The third charge is, a mixture of tragic and comic style. This accusation is certainly true; Aristophanes often gets into the buskin; but we must examine upon what occasion. He does not take upon him the character of a tragic writer; but, having remarked that his trick of parody was always well received by a people who liked to laugh at that for which they had been just weeping, he is eternally using the same craft; and there is scarcely any tragedy or striking passages known by memory by the Athenians which he does not turn into merriment, by throwing over it a dress of ridicule and burlesque, which is done sometimes by changing or transposing the words, and sometimes by an unexpected application of the whole sentence. These are the shreds of tragedy, in which he arrays the comic muse, to make her still more comic. Cratinus had before done the same thing; and we know that he made a comedy called "Ulysses," to burlesque Homer and his Odyssey; which shows, that the wits and poets are, with respect to one another, much the same at all times, and that it was at Athens as here. I will prove this system by facts, particularly with respect to the merriment of Aristophanes upon our three celebrated tragedians. This being the case, the mingled style of Aristophanes will, perhaps, not deserve so much censure as Plutarch has vented. We have no need of the Travesty of Virgil, nor the parodies of our own time, nor of the Lutrin of Boileau, to show us that this medley may have its merit upon parti
The same may be said in general of his obscurity, his meauness, and his high flights, and
The condemnation of the poignancy of Aristophanes, as having too much acrimony, is better founded. Such was the turn of a species of comedy, in which all licentiousness was allowed: in a nation which made every thing a subject of laughter, in its jealousy of immoderate liberty, and its enmity to all appearance of rule and superiority; for the genius of independency naturally produces a kind of satire more keen and delicate, as may be easily observed in most of the inhabitants of islands. If we do not say with Longinus, that a popular government kindles eloquence, and that a lawful monarchy stifles it; at least it is easy to discover by the event, that eloquence in different government takes a different appearance. In republics it is more sprightly and violent, and in monarchies more insinuating and soft. The same thing may be said of ridicule; it follows the cast o genius, as genius follows that of government.
ed it, for the same reason that Horace is more delicate, and Lucilius more pointed. A dish of satire was always a delicious treat to human malignity, but that dish was differently seasoned, as the manners were polished more or less. By polished manners, I mean that good-breeding, that art of reserve and self restraint, which is the consequence of dependence. If one were to determine the preference due to one of those kinds of pleasantry of which both have their value, there would not need a moment's hesitation, every voice would join in favour of the softer, yet without contempt of that which is rough. Menander will, therefore, be preferred, but Aristophanes will not be despised, especially since he was the first who quitted that wild practice of satirizing at liberty right or wrong, and by a comedy of another cast made way for the manner of Menander, more agreeable yet, and less dangerous. There is yet another distinction to be made between the acrimony of the one, and the softness of the other; the works of the one are acrimonious, and of the other soft, because the one exhibited personal, and the other general characters; which leaves us still at liberty to examine, if these different designs might not be executed with equal delicacy.
Thus the republican raillery, particularly of the like that of Socrates, takes possession of the age which we are now considering, must have mind. The mind is the freest part of man, aud been rougher than that of the age which follow-the most tender of its liberties; possessions, life, and reputation, may be in another's power, but opinion is always independent. If any man can obtain that gentle influence, by which he ingratiates himself with the understanding, and makes a sect in a commonwealth, his followers will sacrifice themselves for him, and nobody will be pardoned that dares to attack him justly or unjustly, because that truth, real or imaginary, which he maintained, is now become an idol. Time will do nothing for the extinction of this hatred; it will be propagated from age to age; and there is no hope that Aristophanes will ever be treated with tenderness by the disciples of Plato, who made Socrates his hero. Every body else may, perhaps, confess, that Aristophanes, though in one instance a bad man, may nevertheless be a good poet; but distinctions, like these, will not be admitted by prejudice and passion, and one or other dictates all characters, whether good or bad.
As I add my own reasons, such as they are, for or against Aristophanes, to those of Frischlinus his defender, I must not omit one thing which he has forgot, and which, perhaps, withont taking in the rest, put Plutarch out of humour, which is that perpetual farce which goes through all the comedies of Aristophanes, like the character of Harlequin on the Italian theatre. What kind of personages are clouds, frogs, wasps, and birds? Plutarch, used to a comic stage of a very different appearance, must have thought them strange things; and yet stranger must they appear to us who have a newer kind of comedy, with which the Greeks were unacquainted. This is what our poet may be charged with, and what may be proved beThere is a motive of interest at the bottom yond refutation. This charge comprises all the which disposed Elian, Plutarch, and many rest, and against this I shall not pretend to jusothers, to condemn this poet without appeal. tify him. It would be of no use to say, that Socrates, who is said to have been destroyed by Aristophanes wrote for an age that required a poetical attack, at the instigation of two shows which filled the eye, and grotesque paintwretches, has too many friends among goodings in satirical performances; that the crowds men, to have pardon granted for so horrid a of spectators, which sometimes neglected Cracrime. This has filled them with an implacable tinus to throng Aristophanes, obliged him more hatred against Aristophanes, which is mingled and more to comply with the ruling taste, lest with the spirit of philosophy, a spirit, wherever he should lose the public favour by pictures it comes, more dangerous than any other. A more delicate and less striking; that, in a state, common enemy will confess some good qualities where it was considered as policy to lay open in his adversary; but a philosopher, made par- every thing that had the appearance of ambition, tial by philosophy, is never at rest till he has singularity, or knavery, comedy was become a totally destroyed him who has hurt the most haranguer, a reformer, and a public counsellor, tender part of his heart; that is, has disturbed from whom the people learned to take care of him in his adherence to some character, which, their most valuable interests; and that this comedy, in the attempt to lead and please the people, claimed a right to the strongest touches of eloquence, and had likewise the power of personal painting peculiar to herself. All these reasons, and many others, would disappear immediately, and my mouth would be stopped with
We shall know this by a view of the particulars; in this place we say only that the reigning taste or the love of striking likenesses, might justify Aristophanes for having turned, as Plutarch says, art into malignity, simplicity into brutality, merriment into farce, and amour into impudence; if in any age a poet could be excused for painting public folly and vice in their true colours.
It is not certain, that Aristophanes did procure the death of Socrates; but, however, he is certainly criminal for having, in "The Clouds," accused him publicly of impiety.
a single word, with which every body would agree: my antagenist would tell me that such an age was to be pitied, and passing on from age to age, till he came to our own, he would conclude flatly, that we are the only possessors of common sense; a determination with which the French are too much reproached, and which overthrows all the prejudice in favour of antiquity. At the sight of so many happy touches, which one cannot help admiring in Aristophanes, a man might, perhaps, be inclined to lament that such a genius was thrown into an age of fools: but what age has been without them? And have not we ourselves reason to fear, lest posterity should judge of Moliere and his age, as we judge of Aristophanes? Menander altered the taste, and was applauded in Athens, but it was after Athens was changed. Terence imitated him at Rome, and obtained the preference over Plautus, though Cæsar called him but a demi-Menander, because he appears to want that spirit and vivacity which he calls the vis comica. We are now weary of the manner of Menander and Terence, and leave them for Moliere, who appears like a new star in a new course. Who can answer, that in such an interval of time as has passed between these four writers there will not arise another author, or another taste, that may bring Moliere, in his turn, into neglect? Without going further, our neighbours, the English, think he wants force and fire. Whether they are right, or not, is another question; all that I mean to advance is, that we are to fix it as a conclusion, that comic authors must grow obsolete with the modes of life, if we admit any one age, or any one climate, for the sovereign rule of taste. But let us talk with more exactness, and endeavour by an exact analysis to find out what there is in comedy, whether of Aristophanes and Plautus, of Menander and Terence, of Moliere and his rivals, which is never obsolete, and must please all ages and all nations.
Remarkable difference between the state of Comedy and other works of genius, with regard to their duration.
XI. I now speak particularly of comedy; for we must observe that between that and other works of literature, especially tragedy, there is an essential difference, which the enemies of antiquity will not understand, and which I shall endeavour palpably to show.
All works show the age in which they are produced they carry its stamp upon them; the manners of the times are impressed by indelible marks. If it be allowed, that the best of past times were rude in comparison with ours, the cause of the ancients is decided against them; and the want of politeness, with which their works are charged in our days, must be generally confessed. History alone seems to claim
exemption from this accusation. Nobody will dare to say of Herodotus or Thucydides, of Livius or Tacitus, that which has been said without scruple of Homer and the ancient poets. The reason is, that history takes the nearest way to its purpose, and gives the characters and practices of nations, be they what they will; it has no dependance upon its subject, and offers nothing to examination, but the art of the narrative. A history of China well written, would please a Frenchman as well as one of France. It is otherwise with mere works of genius, they depend upon their subjects, and consequently upon the characters and practices of the times in which they were written; this at least is the light in which they are beheld. This rule of judgment is not equitable; for, as I have said over and over, all the orators and poets are painters, and merely painters. They exhibit nature as it is before them, influenced by the accidents of education, which, without changing it entirely, yet give it, in different ages and climates, a different appearance; but we make their success depend in a great degree upon their subject, that is, upon circumstances which we measure by the circumstances of our own days. According to this prejudice, oratory depends more upon its subject than history, and poetry yet more than oratory. Our times, therefore, show more regard to Herodotus and Suetonius, than to Demosthenes and Cicero, and more to all these than to Homer or Virgil. Of this prejudice, there are regular gradations; and to come back to the point which we have left, we show, for the same imperceptible reason, less regard to tragic poets than to others. The reason is, that the subjects of their paintings are more examined than the art. Thus comparing the "Achilles" and " Hippolytus" of Euripides, with those of Racine, we drive them off the stage, without considering that Racine's heroes will be driven off, in a future age, if the same rule of judgment be followed, and one time be measured by another.
Yet tragedy having the passions for its object, is not wholly exposed to the caprice of our taste, which would make our own manners the rule of human kind; for the passions of Grecian heroes are often dressed in external modes of appearance that disgust us, yet they break through the veil when they are strongly marked, as we cannot deny them to be in Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The essence then gets the better of the circumstance. The passions of Greece and France do not so much differ by the particular characters of particular ages, as they agree by the participations of that which belongs to the same passion in all ages. Our three tragic poets will, therefore, get clear by suffering only a little ridicule, which falls directly upon their times; but these times and themselves will be well recompensed by the admiration which their art will irresistibly enforce.
is a common understanding in all times and places, which is never obsolete; but that there is another kind of beauty, such as we are now treat · ing, which depends upon times and places, and is therefore changeable. Such is the imperfection of every thing below, that one mode of beauty is never found without a mixture of the other, and from these two blended together results what is called the taste of an age. I am now speaking of an age sprightly and polite, an age which leaves works for a long time behind it, an age which is imitated or criticised when revolutions have thrown it out of sight.
Comedy is in a more lamentable situation; for, not only its object is the ridiculous, which, though in reality always the same, is so dependant on custom, as to change its appearance with time, and with place; but the art of a comic writer is, to lay hold of that species of the ridiculous which will catch the spectators of the present hour, without regard to futurity. But though comedy has attained its end, and diverted the pit, for which it was written; if it goes down to posterity, it is in a new world, where it is no longer known; it becomes there quite a foreigner, because there are no longer the same originals, nor the same species of the ridiculous, nor the Upon this incontestable principle, which supsame spectators, but a set of merciless readers, poses a beauty universal and absolute, and a who complain that they are tired with it, though beauty likewise relative and particular, which it once filled Athens, Rome, or Paris, with mer- are mingled through one work in very different riment. This position is general, and comprises proportions, it is easy to give an account of the all poets and all ages. To say all at once, contrary judgments passed on Aristophanes. If comedy is the slave of its subject, and of the we consider him only with respect to the beaureigning taste; tragedy is not subject to the ties, which, though they do not please us, desame degree of slavery, because the ends of the lighted the Athenians, we shall condemn him at two species of poetry are different. For this once, though even this sort of beauty may somereason, if we suppose that in all ages, there are times have its original in universal beauty carcritics who measure every thing by the same ried to extravagance. Instead of commending rule, it will follow, that if the comedy of Aris-him for being able to give merriment to the most tophanes become obsolete, that of Menander refined nation of those days, we shall proceed to likewise, after having delighted Athens, and re- place that people, with all their atticism, in the vived again at Rome, at last suffered by the rank of savages, whom we take upon us to deforce of time. The Muse of Moliere has almost grade, because they have no other qualifications made both of them forgotten, and would still be but innocence and plain understanding. But walking the stage, if the desire of novelty did have not we likewise, amidst our more polished not in time make us weary of that which we manners, beauties merely fashionable, which have too frequently admired. make part of our writings as of the writings of former times; beauties of which our self-love now makes us fond, but which, perhaps, will disgust our grandsons? Let us be more equitable, let us leave this relative beauty to its real value more or less in every age: or if we must pass judgment upon it, let us say that these touches in Aristophanes, Menander, and Moliere, were well struck off in their own time; but that, comparing them with true beauty, that part of Aristophanes was a colouring too strong, that of Menander was too weak, and that of Moliere was a peculiar varnish formed of one and the other, which, without being an imitation, is itself inimitable, yet depending upon time, which will efface it by degrees, as our notions, which are every day changing, shall receive a sensible alteration. Much of this has already happened since the time of Moliere, who, if he was now to come again, must take a new road.
Those who have endeavoured to render their judgment independent upon manners and customs, and of such men there have been always some, have not judged so severely either of times, or of writers; they have discovered that a certain resemblance runs through all polished ages, which are alike in essential things, and differ only in external manners, which, if we except religion, are things of indifference; that wherever there is genius, politeness, liberty, or plenty, there prevails an exact and delicate taste, which, however hard to be expressed, is felt by those that were born to feel it; that Athens, the inventress of all the arts, the mother first of the Roman and then of general taste, did not consist of stupid savages; that the Athenian and Augustan ages have always been considered as times that enjoyed a particular privilege of excellence, though we may distinguish the good authors from the bad, as in our own days, yet we ought to suspend the vehemence of criticism, and proceed with caution and timidity before we pass sentence upon times and writers, whose good taste has been universally applauded. This obvious consideration has disposed them to pause; they have endeavoured to discover the original of taste, and have found that there is not only a stable and immutable beauty, as there
With respect to unalterable beauties, of which comedy admits much fewer than tragedy, when they are the subject of our consideration, we must not too easily set Aristophanes and Plautus below Menander and Terence. We may properly hesitate with Boileau, whether we shall prefer the French comedy to the Greek and Latin. Let us only give, like him, the great rule
for pleasing in all ages, and the key by which all the difficulties in passing judgment may be opened. This rule and this key are nothing else but the ultimate design of the comedy.
Etudiez la cour, et connoissez la ville:
L'une et l'autre est toujours en modéles fertile.
In truth, Aristophanes and Plautus united buffoonery and delicacy in a greater degree than Moliere; and for this they may be blamed. That which then pleased at Athens, and at Rome, was a transitory beauty, which had not sufficient foundation in truth, and therefore the taste changed. But if we condemn those ages for this, what age shall we spare? Let us refer every thing to permanent and universal taste, and we shall find in Aristophanes at least as much to commend as censure.
Tragedy more uniform than Comedy.
XII. But before we go on to his works, it may be allowed to make some reflections upon tragedy and comedy. Tragedy, though different according to the difference of times and writers, is uniform in its nature, being founded upon the passions, which never change. With comedy it is otherwise. Whatever difference there is between Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; between Corneille and Racine; between the French and the Greeks, it will not be found sufficient to constitute more than one species of tragedy.
The works of those great masters are, in some respects, like the sea-nymphs, of whom Ovid says, "That their faces were not the same, yet so much alike that they might be known to be sisters."
Facies non omnibus una, Nec diversa tamen, qualem decet esse sororum.
The reason is, that the same passions give action and animation to them all. With respect to the comedies of Aristophanes and Plautus, Menander and Terence, Moliere and his imitators, if we compare them one with another, we shall find something of a family likeness, but much less strongly marked, on account of the different appearance which ridicule and pleasantry take from the different manners of every age. They will not pass for sisters, but for very distant relations. The Muse of Aristophanes and Plautus, to speak of her with justice, is a bacchanal at least, whose malignant tongue is dipped in gall, or in poison dangerous
• Boileau, Art. Poet. chant. 3.
as that of the aspic or viper; but whose bursts of malice, and sallies of wit, often give a blow where it is not expected. The Muse of Terence, and consequently of Menander, is an artless and unpainted beauty, of easy gayety, whose features are rather delicate than striking, rather soft than strong, rather plain and modest than great and haughty, but always perfectly natural.
Ce n'est pas un portrait, une image semblable: C'est un fils, un amant, un père véritable.
The Muse of Moliere is not always plainly dressed, but takes airs of quality, and rises above her original condition, so as to attire herself gracefully in magnificent apparel. In her manners she mingles elegance with foolery, force with delicacy, and grandeur, or even haughtiness, with plainness and modesty. If sometimes, to please the people, she gives a loose to farce, it is only the gay folly of a moment, from which she immediately returns, and which lasts no longer than a slight intoxication. The first might be painted encircled with little satyrs, some grossly foolish, the others delicate, but all extremely licentious and malignant; monkeys always ready to laugh in your face, and to point out to indiscriminate ridicule, the good and the bad. The second may be shown encircled with geniuses full of softness and of candour, taught to please by nature alone, and whose honeyed dialect is so much the more insinuating as there is no temptation to distrust it. The last must be accompanied with the delicate laughter of the court, and that of the city somewhat more coarse, and neither the one nor the other can be separated from her. The Muse of Aristophanes and of Plautus can never be denied the honour of sprightliness, animation, and invention; nor that of Menander and Terence the praise of nature and of delicacy; to that of Moliere must be allowed the happy secret of uniting all the piquancy of the former, with a peculiar art which they did not know. Of these three sorts of merit, let us show to each the justice that is due. Let us in each separate the pure and the true from the false gold, without approving or condemning either the one or the other in the gross. If we must pronounce in general upon the taste of their writings, we must indisputably allow that Menander, Terence, and Moliere, will give most pleasure to a decent audience, and consequently that they approach nearer to the true beauty, and have less mixture of beauties purely relative, than Plautus and Aristophanes.
If we distinguish comedy by its subjects, we shall find three sorts among the Greeks, and as many among the Latins, all differently dressed; if we distinguish it by ages and authors, we shall again find three sorts; and we shall find three sorts a third time if we regard more closely the subject. As the ultimate and general