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MR. ADDISON'S TRAGEDY OF CATO.
The Tragedy of Cato itself, is a glaring instance of the force of party; so sententious and declamatory a drama would never have met with such rapid and amazing success,
line and sentence had not been particularly tortured, and applied to recent events, and the reigning disputes of the times. The purity and energy of the diction, and the loftiness of the sentiments, copied, in a great measure, from Lucan, Tacitus, and Seneca the philosopher, merit approbation. But I have always thought, that those pompous Roman sentiments are not so difficult to be produced, as is vulgarly imagined; and which, indeed, dazzle only the vulgar. A stroke of nature is, in my opinion, worth a hundred such thoughts, as
“When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
The post of honour is a private station.” Cato is a fine dialogue on liberty, and the love of one's country; but considered as a dramatic performance, nay, as a model of a just tragedy, as some have affectedly represented it, it must be owned to want action and pathos; the two hinges, I presume, on which a just tragedy ought necessarily to turn, and without which it cannot subsist. It wants also character, although that be not so essentially necessary to a tragedy as action. Syphax, indeed, in his interview with Juba, bears some marks of a rough African; the speeches of the rest may be transferred to any
of the personages concerned. The simile drawn from Mount Atlas, and the description of the Numidian travellers smothered in the desert, are indeed in character, but sufficiently obvious. How Addison could fall into the false and unnatural custom of ending his three first acts with similes, is amazing in so chaste and correct a writer. The loves of Juba and Marcia, of Portius and Lucia, are vicious and insipid episodes, debase the dignity and destroy the unity of the fable. Cato was translated into Italian by Salvini ; into Latin, and acted by the Jesuits at St. Omer's; imitated in French by De Champs, and a great part of it translated by the Abbé du Bos.
The prologue to Addison's Tragedy of Cato, is superior to any prologue of Dryden ; who, notwithstanding, is so justly celebrated for this species of writing. The prologues of Dryden are satirical and facetious: this of Pope is solemn and sublime, as the subject required. Those of Dryden contain general topics of criticism and wit, and may precede any play whatsoever, even tragedy or comedy. This of Pope is particular, and appropriated to the tragedy alone which it was designed to introduce.
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MR. ADDISON'S TRAGEDY OF CATO*.
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art, To raise the genius, and to mend the heart, To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold, Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold: For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage, 5 Commanding tears to stream through ev'ry age; Tyrants no more their savage nature kept, And foes to virtue wonder'd how they wept. Our author shuns by, vulgar springs to move The hero's glory, or the virgin's love;
10 In pitying love, we but our weakness shew, And wild ambition well deserves its woe.
* This Prologue, and the Epilogue which follows, are the most perfect models of this species of writing, both in the serious and the ludicrous way.
The former is much the better of the two; for some of Dryden's, of the latter kind, are unequalled.
Ver. 7. Tyrants no more] Louis XIV. wished to have pardoned the Cardinal de Rohan, after hearing the Cinna of Corneille.
Ver. 11. In pitying love,] Why then did Addison introduce the loves of Juba and Marcia? which Pope said to Mr. Spence, were not in the original plan of the play, but were introduced in compliance with the popular practice of the stage.
Here tears shall flow from a more gen'rous cause,
NOTES. Ver. 20. But what with pleasure] This alludes to a famous passage of Seneca, which Mr. Addison afterward used as a motto to his play, when it was printed. W.
Ver. 27. Eo'n when] The twenty-seventh, thirtieth, thirty-fourth, thirty-ninth, and forty-fifth lines, are artful allusions to the character and history of Cato himself.
Britons, attend : be worth like this approv'd, And shew you have the virtue to be mov'd. With honest scorn the first fam'd Cato view'd Rome learning arts from Greece, whom she subdu'd; Your scene precariously subsists too long 41 On French translation, and Italian song. Dare to have sense yourselves ; assert the stage, Be justly warm’d with your own native rage : Such Plays alone should win a British ear, 45 As Cato's self had not disdain'd to hear.
Ver. 37. Britons, attend :] Spence told me that Pope had written it-“Britons, arise;" but that Addison, frightened at so strong an expression, as promoting insurrection, lowered and weakened it by the word, attend.
Ver. 42. On French translation,] He glances obliquely at the Distrest Mother of his old antagonist Philips, taken, evidently, from Racine. Cato's last soliloquy is translated with great purity and elegance by Bland.
It is a little remarkable that the last line of Cato is Pope's; and the last of Eloisa is Addison's.
Ver. 45. Such Plays alone] Addison, having finished and laid by, for several years, the first four acts of Cato, applied to Hughes for a fifth ; and Dr. Johnson, from entertaining too mean an opinion of Hughes, does not think the application serious. When Hughes brought his supplement, he found the author himself had finished his play. Hughes was very capable of writing this fifth act. The Siege of Damascus is a better tragedy than Cato; though Pope affected to speak slightingly of its author. An audience was packed by Steele on the first night of Cato; and Addison suffered inexpressible uneasiness and solicitude during the representation. Bolingbroke called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for defending the cause of liberty so well, against a perpetual dictator.
Ver. 46. As Cato's self, &c.] This alludes to that famous story of his coming into the Theatre, and going out again, related by Martial. W.