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THE AUTHOR'S DEDICATION.
TO Sir JOHN EYLES, Bart. Alember of Parliament for, und Alderman of the city of London, aud Sub-Governor of the South-Sea Company.
If tragic poetry be, as Mr. Dryden has somewhere said, the most excellent and most useful kind of writing, the more extensively useful the moral of any tragedy is, the more excellent that piece must be of its kind.
I hope I shall not be thought to insinuate, that this, to which I have presumed to fix your name, is such : that depends on its fitness to answer the end of tragedy, the exciting of the passions, in order to the correcting such of them as are criminal, either in their nature, or through their excess. Whether the following scenes do this in any tolerable degree is, with the deference that becomes one, who would not be thought vain, submitted to your candid and impartial judgment.
What I would infer is this, I think, evident truth, that tragedy is so far from losing its dignity by being accommodated to the circumstances of the generality of mankind, that it is more truly august, in proportion to the extent of its influence, and the numbers that are properly affected by it, as it is more truly great to be the instrument of good to many who stand in need of our assistance, than to u very small part of that number.
If princes, &c. were alone liable to misfortunes arising from vice or weakness in themselves or others, there would be good reason for confining the characters in tragedy to those of superior rank;. but since the contrary is evident, nothing can be more reasonable than to proportion the remedy to the disease.
I am far from denying that tragedies founded on any instructive and extraordinary events in history, or wellinvented fable, where the persons introduced are of the highest rank, are without their use, even to the bulk of the audience. The strong contrast between a Tamerlane and a Bajazet may have its weight with an unsteady people, and contribute to the fixing of them in the interest of a prince of the character of the former; when through their own levity, or the arts of designing men, they are rendered factious and uneasy, though they have the highest reason to be satisfied. The sentiments and example of a Cato may inspire his spectators with a just sense of the value of liberty, when they see that honest patriot prefer death to an obligation from a tyrant, who would sacrifice the constitution of his country, and the liberties of mankind, to his ambition and revenge. I have attempted, indeed, to enlarge the province of the graver kind of poetry, and should be glad to see it carried on by some abler hand. Plays founded on moral tales in private life may be of admirable use, by carrying conviction to the mind with such irresistible force, as to engage all the faculties and powers of the soul in the cause of virtue, by stifling vice in its first principles. They who imagine this to be too much to be attributed to Tragedy must be strangers to the energy of that noble species of poetry. Shakspeare, who has given such amazing proofs of his genius, in that, as well as in comedy, in his Hamlet has the following lines:
“ Had he the motive and the cue for passion
And farther, in the same speech:
I have heard, -
Prodigious! yet strictly just.* But I shall not take up your valuable time with my remarks: only give me leave just to observe, that he seems so firmly persuaded of the power of a well-written piece to produce the effect here ascribed to it, as to make Hamlet venture his soul on the event, and rather trust that than u messenger from the other world, tho' it assumed, as he expresses it, his “ noble father's form,” and assured him that it was his spirit. I'll have, (says Hamlet,) grounds more relative :
- the Play's the thing, Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." Such plays are the best answers to them who deny the lawfulness of the stage.
Considering the novelty of this attempt, I thought it would be expected from me to say something in its excuse; and I was unwilling to lose the opportunity of saying something of the usefulness of Tragedy in general, and what may be reasonably expected from the farther improvement of this excellent kind of poetry.
Sir, I hope you will not think I have said too much of an art, a mean specimen of which I am ambitious enough to recommend to your favour and protection. A mind, conscious of superior worth, as much despises flattery, as it is above it. Had I found in myself an inclination to so contemptible a vice, I should not have chosen Sir John EyLES for my patron. And indeed the best written panegyric, tho' strictly true, must place you in a light much inferior to that in which you have long been fired by the love and esteem of your fellowcitizens, whose choice of you for one of their representatives in parliament, has sufficiently declared their sense of your merit. Nor has the knowledge of your worth been confined to the city; the proprietors of the South-Sea Company, in which are included numbers of persons as considerable for their rank, fortune, and understanding, as any in the kingdom, gave the greatest proof of their confidence in your capacity and probity,
* See a remarkable instance of this effect produced by this very Play, Preface p. 176. &c. EDITOR.
when they chose you Sub-governor of their Company, at a time when their affairs were in the utmost confusion, and their properties in the greatest danger. Neither is the court insensible of your importance. I shall not, therefore, attempt your character, nor pretend to add any thing to a reputation so well-established.
Whatever others may think of a Dedication wherein there is so much said of other things, and so little of the person to whom it is addressed, I have reason to believe that you will the more easily pardon it upon that very account.
I am, Sir,
The tragic Bard, sublime, delights to show
In ev'ry former age, and foreign tongue,