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CHARACTER OF COM US.

[From the fame Work. ]

WE

E must not read Comus with an eye to the ftage, or with the expectation of dramatic poetry. Under this reftriction, the abfurdity of the Spirit peaking to an audierce in a folitary foreft at midnight, and the want of reciprocation in the dialogue, are overlooked. Comus is a fuite of fpeeches, not interefting by difcrimination of charac er; not conveying a variety of incidents, nor gradually exciting curiofity: but perpetually attracting attention by fublime fentiment, by fanciful imagery of the richet vein, by an exuberance of picturefque defcription, poetical allution, and ornamental expreffion. While it widely departs from the groefque anomalies of the mafk new in fashion, it does not nearly approach to the natural conflituton of a regular play. There is a chaftity in the application and concuct of the machinery and Sabrina is introduced with much addrefs, after the brothers had imprudently fuffered the inchantment of Comus to take effect. This is the first time the old English mafk was in fome degree reduced to the principles and form of rational compofition. A great critic obferves, that the difpute between the lady and Comus is the most animated and affecting fcene of the piece. Perhaps fome other fcenes, either confifting only of a foliloquy, or of three or four fpeeches only, have afforded more true pleasure. The action is faid to be improbable because the brothers, when their fifter finks with fatigue in a pathlefs wilderness, wander both away together in fearch

of berries, too far to find their way back, and leave a helpless lady to all the fadnefs and danger of folitude. But here is no defertion, or neglect of the lady. The brothers leave their fifter under a fpreading pine in the foreft, fainting for re frefhment: they go to procure ber ries or fome other fruit for her im mediate relief, and, with great probability, lofe their way in going or returning. To fay nothing of the poet's art, in making this very natural and fimple accident to be productive of the diftrefs, which forms the future bufinefs and complication of the fable. It is certainly a fault, that the brothers, although with fome indications of anxiety, fhould enter with fo much tranquillity, when their fifter is loft, and at leifure pronounce philofophical panegyrics on the myfteries of virginity. But we must not too fcrupuloutly attend to the exigencies of fituation, nor fuffer ourselves to fuppofe that we are reading a play, which Milton did not mean to write. Thefe fplendid infertions will please, independently of the ftory, from which however they refult: and their elegance and fublimity will overbalance their want of place. In a Greek tragedy, fuch fentimental harangues, arifing from the fubject, would have been given to a chorus.

"On the whole, whether Comus, be or be not, deficient as a drama, whether it is confidered as an epic drama, a series of lines, a mafk, or a poem, I am of opinion, that our author is here only inferior to his own Paradife Loft."

GENERAL

of an English mob around their fellow-creatures, when engaged in furious battle, in which it is poffible, that fome of the combatants may receive a mortal blow, and be hurried, dreadful thought! in this awful ftate, to the bar of his Judge.

"Let us furvey the multitudes which, in every part of the kingdom, always attend an execution. It may perhaps be faid, that, in all places the vulgar have little of the fenfibility and tenderness of more polifhed bofoms. But, in the fat mentioned inftance, an execution, there is no exultation in the fufferings of the poor criminal. He is regarded by every eye with the most melting compaffion. The whole affembly fympathizes with him in his unhappy fituation. An awful fillness prevails at the dreadful moment. Many are wrung with unutterable fenfations: and prayer and filence declare, more loudly than any language could, the intereft they feel in his diftrefs. Should a reprieve come to rescue him from death, how great is the general triumph and congratulation! And, probably, in this multitude you will find, not the mere vulgar herd alone, but the man of fuperior knowledge, and of more refined fenfibility; who, led by fome ftrong principle, which we with to explain, feels a pleasure greater than all the pain, great and exquifite as one fhould imagine it to be, from fuch a spectacle.

"The man who condemns many of the scenes we have already mentioned as barbarous and fhocking, would, probably, run with the greatet eagerness to fome high cliff, overhanging the ocean, to fee it fwelled into tempeft, though a poor veffel, or even a fleet of veffels, were to appear as one part of the

dreadful fcenery, now lifted to the heavens on the foaming furge, now plunged deep into the fathomlefs abyfs, and now dashed upon the rocks, where they are, in a moment, fhivered into fragments, and, with all their mariners, entombed in the wave. Or, to vary the queftion a little; Who would not be forward to stand fafe, on the top of fome mountain or tower, adjoining to a field of battle, in which two armies meet in defperate conflict, though, probably, thousands may foon lie before him proftrate on the ground, and the whole field prefent the most horrid fcenes of carnage and defolation?

"That, in all thefe cafes, plea fure predominates in the com pounded feeling, is plain from hence, because you continue to furvey the fcene; whereas when pain became the stronger fenfation, you would certainly retire. I was lately in company with a gentle. man, who defcribed to me, in very glowing and picturesque colours, an engagement between two priva teers, of which he had been a fpectator from one of the cliffs on the eaftern coast of England. Several lives were loft; and the conteft was long, doubtful, and severe. Having this fubject in my thoughts, I asked him, whether he felt ple fure in the fpectacle. He answered with great energy, that he would not have miffed the fight for a very confiderable fum. His tone and manner proved that he spoke from his heart.

"Cultivation may, indeed, have produced fome minuter differences in the tafte and feelings of different minds. Thofe, whofe fenfibilities have not been refined by education or fcience, may feel the pleasure in a more grofs and brutal form. But do not the most polished na

tures

tures feel a fimilar, a kindred pleafure, in the deep-wrought diftreffes of the well-imagined fcene? Here. the endeavour is, to introduce whatever is dreadful or pathetic, whatever can harrow up the feelings, or extort the tear. And the deeper and more tragical the fcene becomes, the more it agitates the feveral paffions of terror, grief, or pity-the more intenfely it delights, even the most polifhed minds. They feem to enjoy the various and vivid emotions of contending paffions. They love to have the tear trembling in the eye, aud to feel the whole foul rapt in thrilling fenfations. For that monent, they feem to forget the fiction; and afterwards commend that exhibition molt, in which they most entirely loft fight of the author, and of their own fituation, and were alive to all the unutterable vibrations of strong or melting fenfibility.

"Taking it, then, for granted, that in the contemplation of many scenes of diftrefs, both imaginary and real, a gratification is felt, let us endeavour to account for it, by mentioning fome of thofe principles, woven into the web of human nature, by its benevolent Creator, on which that gratification depends.

"Dr. Akenfide, with his accuftomed ftrength and brilliancy of colouring, defcribes, and accounts for it in the following manner. I will make no apology for the length of the quotation.

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Of this existence, that thy foftening foul
At length may learn, what energy the
Of Virtue mingles in the bitter tide
Of Paffion, fwelling with diftrefs and pain,
To mitigate the fharp, with gracious drops
Of cordial Pleafure. fk the faithful
youth,

loved,

Why the cold urn of her, whom long he So often fills his arm? So often draws His lonely footsteps, at the filent hour, To pay the mournful tribute of his tears? O! he will tell thee, that the wealth of Should ne'er feduce his bofom to forego That facred hour, when stealing from the

worlds

noife

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For fuccour, fwallowed by the roaring furge,

As now another, dashed against the rock, Drops lifeless down. O deemeft thou in

deed

No kind endearment here, by nature

given,

To mutual terror, and compaffion's tears? No fweetly melting softness, which at

tracts

O'er all that edge of pain, the focial powers.

To this their proper action, and their

end?"

The Poet purfues the fentiment in the fame animated imagery, defcribing the strong, but pleaturable

fenfations

painter, but has no reference to any particular perfon. It will perhaps be found, that not any very new remarks are introduced on a fubject, relative to which fo much has been written; but the rules and obfervations are at least delivered with taste and perfpicuity.

"The opening is poetical. From funny Adria's fea-furrounded From Tyber's vales and Arno's viny bowers,

towers,

The Mufe of painting fecks Britannia's plain, And leads to Thames's bank her favourite

train.

"His obfervation is very just on the fuperiority and permanence of the reputation acquired by the higher ftyle of painting and poetry, in the fublime and the pathetic, compared with the lower clais of humour and common life.

"Tis general nature, in thy art and mine, Muft give our fame in future times to

fhine: Sublime and pathos, like the fun's fix'd flame,

Remain and pleafe thro'every age the fame: Humour's light fhapes, like vapours in the sky,

Rife, pafs, and vary, and for ever fly: Hogarth and Swift, if living, might deplore

Half their keen jokes, that now are jokes

1

no more.

"Among several subjects pointed out as proper for the pencil, he inftances the Maria of Sterne, which paffage, at the fame time that it

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REMARKS on DYER's GRONGAR HILL.

[From the late Mr. SCOTT's Critical Effays on fome of the Poems of feveral English Poets. ]

"The volume is closed with a few fonnets, and other copies of verfes written on temporary fubjects, fome of which are of a very early date (1766), and one dated as far back as 1756."

have re prefented an extenfive and beautiful profpect in fo agreeable a manner.

But

term. How agreeable it is, to have the foul called forth to exertion and fenfibility, let the Gamefter witnefs, who, unable to endure the laffitude and famenefs of unanimated luxury, runs with eagerness to the place where, probably, await him all the irritation and agony of tumultuous paffions.

"Again; it a law of our nature, that oppofite paffions, when felt in fucceffion, and, above all, when felt at the fame moment, heighten and increase each other. Eafe fucceeding pain, certainty after fafpenfe, friendship after averfion, are unfpeakably ftronger than if they had not been thus contrafted. In this conflict of feelings, the mind rifes from paffive to active energy. It is roufed to intense fenfation; and it enjoys that peculiar, exquifite, and complex feeling, in which, as in many articles of our table, the acid and the fweet, the pleasurable and painful pungencies are fo happily mixed together, as to render the united fenfation amazingly more ftrong and delightful.

both as to its nature and degree, ac cording to the scene and characters before us. The fhock of contending armies in the field, the ocean wrought to tempeft, and covered with the wreck of fhattered veffels, -and a worthy family filently, yet nobly bearing up against a multitude of furrounding forrows, will excite very different emotions, becaufe the component parts of the pleasurable fenfation confift of very different materials. They all excite admiration; but admiration, how diverfified, both as to its degree and its caufe! Thefe feveral ingredients may, doubtlefs, be fo blended together, that the pleasure fhall make but a very small part of the mixed fenfation. The more agreeable tints may bear little proportion to the terrifying red, or the gloomy black.

"In many of the inftances which have been mentioned, the pleafure muft arife chiefly, if not folely, from the circumitances, or accompanyments of the fcene. The fablime feelings excited by the view of an agitated ocean, relieve and foften thofe occafioned by the fhipwreck. And the awe excited by the prefence of thousands of men, acting as with one foul, and difplaying magnanimity and firmnefs, in the moft folemn trial, tempers thofe fenfations of horror and of pain, which would arise from the field of battle.

"The gratification we are at tempting to account for, depends alfo, in a very confiderable degree, upon a principle of human nature, implanted in it for the wifeft ends; the exercife which it gives to the mind, by routing it to energy and feeling. Nothing is fo infupportable, as that languor and ennui, for the full expreffion of which, our language does not afford a

1785.

"We have not yet mentioned. the principle of curiofity, that bufy and active power, which appears fo early, continues almost unimpaired fo long, and to which, for the wifeft ends, is annexed fo great a fenfe of enjoyment. To this principle, rather than to a love of cruelty, would I afcribe that pleasure, which children fometimes feem to feel from torturing flies and leffer animals. They have not yet formed an idea of the pain they inflict. It is, indeed, of unfpeakable confequence, that this practice be checked as foon and as effectually as poffible, because it is fo important, that they learn to connect the ideas of pleafure and pain, with the motions and actions of the animal creation. And, to this principle may

H

we

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