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Out of mere wantonness! Oh, the dull devil
-These are my fine conceits !
with a mischief to me!
It is with regret I feel myself compelled to protest against so pleasant an episode, as that which is carried on by Sir Politic Wou'd-be and Peregrine, which in fact produces a kind of double plot and catastrophe; this is an imperfection in the fable, which criticism cannot overlook, but Sir Politic is altogether so delightful a fellow, that it is impossible to give a vote for his exclufion; the most that can be done against him is to lament that he has not more relation to the main business of the fable.
The judgment pronounced upon the criminals in the conclusion of the play is so just and solemn, that I must think the poet has made a wanton breach of character and gained but a sorry jest by the bargain, when he violates the dignity of his court of judges by making one of them fo abject in his flattery to the Parasite upon the idea of matching him with his daughter, when he hears that Volpone has made him his heir; but this is an objection, that lies 7
within the compass of two short lines, spoken aside from the bench, and may easily be remedied by their omission in representation ; it is one only, and that a very flight one, amongst those venial blemishes
quas incuria fudit.
It does not occur to me that
other remark is left for me to make upon this celebrated drama, that could convey the slightest censure; but very many might be made in the highest strain of commendation, if there was need of any more than general testimony to such acknowledged merit. The Fox is a drama of lo peculiar a species, that it cannot be dragged into a comparison with the production of any other modern poet whatsoever; it's construction is so diffimilar from any thing of Shakespear's writing, that it would be going greatly out of our way, and a very gross abuse of criticism to attempt to settle the relative degrees of merit, where the characters of the writers are so widely opposite : In one we may respect the profundity of learning, in the other we must admire the sublizity of genius; to one we pay the tribute of understanding, to the other we surrender up the possession of our hearts; Shakespear with ten thoufand spots about him dazzles us with so bright a
lustre, that we either cannot or will not see his faults; he gleams and flashes like a meteor, which shoots out of our fight before the eye can measure it's proportions, or analyse it's properties--but Jonson stands ftill to be surveyed, and presents so bold a front, and levels it so fully to our view, as seems to challenge the compass and the rule of the critic, and defy him to find out an error in the scale and composition of his structure.
Putting aside therefore any further mention of Shakespear, who was a poet out of all rule, and beyond all compass of criticism, one whose excellencies are above comparison, and his errors beyond number, I will venture an opinion that this drama of The Fox is, critically speaking, the nearest to perfection of any one drama, co. mic or tragic, which the English stage is at this day in possession of.
N my foregoing paper when I remarked that
Jonson in his comedy of The Fox was a close copier of the antients, it occurred to me to fay fomething upon the celebrated drama of The Sampson Agonistes, which, though less beholden to the Greek poets in it's dialogue than the comedy above-mentioned, is in all other particulars as compleat an imitation of the Antient Tragedy, as the distance of times and the difference of languages will admit of.
It is professedly built- according to antient rule and example, and the author by taking Aristotle's definition of tragedy for his motto, fairly challenges the critic to examine and compare it by that test. His close adherence to the model of the Greek tragedy is in nothing more conspicuous than in the fimplicity of his diction; in this particular he has curbed his fancy with for tight a hand, that, knowing as we do the fertile vein of his genius, we cannot but lament the fidelity of his imitation; for there is a harshness in the metre of his Chorus, which to a certain
degree degree seems to border upon pedantry and affectation; he premises that the measure is indeed of all forts, but I must take leave to observe that in fome places it is no measure at all, or such at least as the ear will not patiently endure, nor which any recitation can make harmonious. By cafting out of his compofition the strophe and mtiftrophe, those ftanzas which the Greeks appropriated to finging, or in one word by making his Chorus monoftrophic, he has robbed it of that lyric beauty, which he was capable of beftowing in the highest perfection; and why he hould stop thort in this particular, when he had otherwise gone so far in imitation, is not eafy to guess ; for furely it would have been quite as natural to suppose thofe ftanzas, had he written any, might be fung, as that all the other parts, as the drama now stands with a Chorus of such irregular measure, might be recited or given in representation.
Now it is well known to every man converfant in the Greek theatre, how the Chorus, which in fact is the parent of the drama, came in process of improvement to be woven into the Fable, and from being at first the whole grew in tiine to be only a part: The fable being simple, and the characters few, the striking part of the fpectacle refted upon the singing and dancing of