صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

On the part

them, like my correspondent Rusticus, will get nothing but disgust by the information : every man's work is fair game for the critic; but let the critic beware that his own production is not open to retaliation. As for our late ingenious biographer of the poets, when I compare his life of Savage with that of Gray, I must own he has exalted the low, and brought down the lofty; with what justice he has done this the world must judge. of our authors now living, whom the learned gentleman in the letter condemns in the lump, I have only this to observe, that the worse they fare now, the better they will succeed with posterity ; for the critics love the sport too well to hunt any but those who can stand a good chace; and authors are the only objects in nature, which are magnified by distance and diminished by approach : let the illustrious dead change places with the illustrious living, and they shall escape no better than they have done who make room for them; the more merit they bring amongst us, the heavier the tax they shall pay or it.

Let us suppose for a moment that Shakspeare was now an untried poet, and opened his career with any one of his best plays: the next morning ushers into the world the following, or something like the following critique.

• Last night was presented, for the first time, a tragedy called Othello, or the Moor of Venice, avowedly the production of Mr. William Shakspeare, the actor. This gentleman's reputation in his profession is of the mediocre sort, and we predict that his present tragedy will not add much to it in any way. -Mediocribus esse poetis--the reader can supply the rest-verb. sap.

As we profess ourselves to be friendly to the players in general, we shall reserve our fuller critique of this piece, till after its third

night; for we hold it very stuff of the conscience (to use Mr. Shakspeare's own words) not to war against the poet's purse; though we might apply the author's quaint conceit to himself • Who steals his purse, steals trash ; 'tis somethiny; nothing. In this last reply we agree with Mr. Shakspeare that 'tis nothing, and our philosophy tells us ex nihilo nihil fit.

• For the plot of this tragedy the most we can say is, that it is certainly of the moving sort, for it is here and there and every where; a kind of theatrical hocus-pocus; a creature of the pye-ball breed, like Jacob's muttons, between a black ram and a white ewe.

It brought to our mind the children's game of—I love my love with an A-with this dif. ference only, that the young lady in this play loves her love with a B, because he is black-Risum teneatis ?

• There is one Iago, a bloody-minded fellow, wbo stabs men in the dark behind their backs; now this is a thing we hold to be mos' ve and ever-to-be abhorred. Othello smothers his white wife in bed; our readers may think this a shabby kind of an action for a general of his high calling; but we beg leave to observe that it shews some spirit at least in Othello to attack the enemy in her strong quarters at once. There was an incident of a pocket-handkerchief, which Othello called out for most lustily, and we were rather sorry that his lady could not produce it, as we might then have seen one handkerchief at least employed in the tragedy. There were some vernacular phrases, which caught our ear, such as where the black damns his wife twice in a breath-Oh damn her, damn her !—which we thought savoured more of the language spoken at the doors, than within the doors of the theatre; but when we recollect that the author used to amuse a leisure hour with calling up gentlemen's coaches after the play was over, before he was promoted to take a part in it, we could readily account for old habits. Though we have seen many gentlemen and ladies kill themselves on the stage, yet we must give the author credit for the new way in which his hero puts himself out of the world: Othello having smothered his wife, and being taken up by the officers of the state, prepares to dispatch himself and escape from the hands of justice ; to bring this about, he begins a story about his killing a man in Aleppo, which he illustrates par example by stabbing himself, and so winds up his story and his life in the same moment. The author made his appeara ance in the person of one Brabantio, an old man, who makes his first entry from a window; this occasioned some risibility in the audience : the part is of an inferior kind, and Mr. Shakspeare was more indebted to the exertions of his brethren, than to his own, for carrying his play through. Upon the whole, we do not think the passion of jealousy, on which the plot turns, so proper for tragedy as comedy, and we would recommend to the author, if his piece survives its nine nights, to cut it down to a farce, and serve it up to the public cum mica salis in that shape. After this specimen of Mr. William Shakspeare's tragic powers, we cannot encourage him to pursue his attempts upon Melpomene; for there is a good old proverb, which we would advise him to bear in mind-ne sutor ultra crepidam-If he applies to his friend Ben, he will turn it into Eng, lish for him,'

NUMBER LI.

Ulcera animi sananda magis quam corporis.

EX SENTENT.
Caust thou not minister to a mind diseas'd?

MACBETH.

It seerns as if most of the antient writers of history thought no events worth recording to posterity but accounts of battles and sieges and the overthrow of empires ; as if men were to be celebrated only in proportion to the devastation they had made of the human species. As iny respect, on the contrary, is directed chiefly to those peaceable characters, who have been the benefactors of mankind, it is with pleasure I discovered an anecdote of an antient king of Egypt of this description, named Osymanduas : This good prince, amongst other praiseworthy actions, has the credit of making the first public library in that learned nation, before books were collected at Athens by Pisistratus: Osymanduas made no scruple to convert one of the chief temples to this generous use, and gave it in charge to the priests belonging to it to digest and arrange his collection ; when this was done, he laid it open to the public, and by a very apposite and ingenious device, which he caused to be inscribed upon the front of the edifice, invited all his subjects to enter in and partake of his benefaction : He considered it as the duty of a good king to provide against the mental as well as bodily ailments of his people ; it appeared to him that books were the best medicines for the mind of man, and consequently that a collection of books, such as his library contained, might well be entitled-a magazine or warehouse of medicines for the mind; with this idea he directed the following words to be engraved over the door of his library in conspicuous characters-Yog ñs latçētov. There is a beautiful simplicity in the thought, which seems to give an insight into the benevolent design of the donor; and as I hold it a more noble office to preserve the mind in health, than to keep the body after death from corruption, I cannot hesitate to give Osymanduas more credit for this benefaction of a library, than if he had been founder of the pyramids.

As the distempers of the mind inay be figuratively classed under the several characters of those maladies, which are incidental to the body, so the several descriptions of books may very well be sorted into the various genera of medicines, which practice has applied to those respective distem pers. A library, thus pharmaceutically disposed, would have the appearance of a dispensatory, and might be properly enough so called ; and when I recollect how many of our eminent collectors of books have been of the medical faculty, I cannot but think it probable that those great benefactors to literature, Ratcliffe, Mead, Sloane, Hunter, and others, have had this very idea of Osymanduas in their minds, when they founded their libraries. If therefore it should be thought agreeable to the will of the donors, and a proper mark of respect to their memories, so to arrange their collections, now in the repositories of Oxford and the British Museum, it will be necessary to find out a different set of titles, and ina stead of sorting them as they now are into the compartments of The Historians ; The Poets ; The Die vines, it will be right to set up new inscriptions in their places, and intitle them, The Alteratives ; The

[merged small][ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »