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called The Abbé De L'Epée, a play I had never either seen or read till I saw it performed here last October twelvemonths by the Norwich Company; and I can with truth say, that I have seldom been so much interested and affected with any performance as I was with that. There is but little in the play which is exceptionable, and even that might be omitted or altered with great ease. *
The following work has been undertaken with a view to promote this desirable object. It has been gradually attaining its present state during a period of upwards of four years. While referring to and reading several plays, when employed upon my Discourses, I commonly read with a pen or pencil in my hand, and either expunged or altered such passages as struck me to be objectionable. Some of the plays thus altered were lent to friends, some of them read by me to them, and some tried by that excellent test, the reading them aloud to ladies'; when they have seemed to be very generally approved, and wishes have been expressed, that they should be printed.
As it appeared to me, that printing one or two plays would not serve as a sufficient specimen of the thing intended ; and that a few single plays might soon sink into obscurity ; I was anxious that they should make their appearance in a form which might carry respectability and consequence with it; that, if they should not meet with much notice now, yet the work might find a place
* Since writing my Preface to Rosina, (Vol. III. p. 270. Note,) I have obtained a copy of the translation of The Englishman in Bour. deaur. Svo. 1764, which I have read, and am greatly vleased with. It does great credit to the author, and to the public who approved it; for we are told in the citie, that it was "'Acted with universal Wapplause, at the Theatre-Royal, in Paris. Where it has had a ** more extraordinary Run than any other neu Piece, in the Memory # of the present frequenters of the French Stage.” It was acted March 14, 1763, just after the conclusion of a peace between France and England. The object of the play is to do away natioval prejudices, and to promote good-will between the two nations. It is highly complimentary certainly to the French; but it is so likewise to the English. There is very little that is exceptionable in the play. It is not divided into acts.
in Collections and Libraries, where, perhaps at some future and more favourable crisis, it might be found and brought forward with greater effect.
The expence of printing a work of any size being too great for me to undertake myself, and thinking it both of literary and moral importance, (though not what could be called a learned work,) and therefore not altogether unworthy of obtaining the patronage of the Syndics of the University Press, I applied to some of the leading members of it, submitting some of the plays to their inspection ; but I could not obtain any assistance in that quarter. Neither could I find Booksellers willing to run the risk of a work, which might, after all the pains bestowed upon it, meet only with neglect. It remained, therefore, either that I must relinquish the design, or appeal to my friends and the public at large to help me to bear a burden of upwards of three hundred pounds. To this latter course I was urged by the friend to whom I had dedicated my Discourses, and who obtained for me some names of great respectability. Having once already troubled my friends in a subscription to my first Collection of Songs, I certainly felt unwilling to make a second application to them, and especially as I am aware that some prejudices exist against such appeals, and that a subscription is sometimes stigmatized as a genteel mode of begging.
But, as it has not been my way to be deterred from any thing which I may consider right or honourable, merely because the world may have formed an erroneous opinion upon the subject, I thought that, if I set my terms low, both with respect to the price of the book, and the number of subscribers required, (being myself willing to run no small risk, and even almost certain loss) forbearing to solicit any, I might reasonably expect to meet with friends, who, either from personal regard, or from a wish to promote a work of such a tendency, would willingly lend their assistance. The result is now before the reader; and, if my List is not so numerous as I wished and expected, it has far exceeded my warmest hopes in the respectability of the names which there ap.
pear, a respectability which determined me not to wait to obtain the number of names I had specified in my proposals, as wishing to obtain before I committed the work to the press; but at once to hazard the publication; and, in so much as I came short, to consider it as my offering and pledge to the world of my good will, and of my earnestness in the cause in which I have engaged.
With respect to subscriptions, I must confess, that, for any good purpose, I am so far from seeing or feeling any ojections against them, that it appears to me not to be unreasonable or mean to hope to find the many willing to assist one ; and the contemplation of a list of respectable names is in some degree the same kind of pleasing sight as an assemblage of valued friends. As to the offering and accepting contributions, the subscriber, it is to be observed, does not give the money, but has (as the world, and as books go,) his money’sworth for it. The statement of the case is, that it does not answer to an Author to print a work unless a number of copies is printed off, his Proposals are as much as to say, Will you assist me by taking one ? Even were the money a gift, for a good purpose, I can see nothing disreputable in it. Do not most of us subsist by subscriptions? Does not the Clergyman live by the subscriptions of his Parishioners, the Physician by those of his Patients, and the Lawyer by those of his Clients ? The fees of office are subscriptions, and the Place-man who is paid out of the public revenue, accepts the subscriptions of even the lowest of the subjects.
In preparing this work for the press, and in its progress through it, I have spared neither expence nor labour in procuring books for reference, and in consulting them when obtained; and I am under great obligations to several friends who have afforded their assistance in various ways. To one friend, in particular, , whose name I wish I were at liberty to mention, as it would give credit both to my work and to myself, in a moral, as well as in a literary, point of view, I am indebted for his remarks upon all the Dramas here presented to
the reader. The plays were sent to him, some nearly completed, some with only my casual marks made in hastily reading them, and some before I had begun to make any alterations at all. These he went attentively through, making his own remarks and suggestions in writing, both upon the plays and on my alterations. These I have invariably considered with attention, generally adopting his very suggestions, sometimes modifying them, and sometimes, but not very frequently, abiding by a different decision of my own. Thus have I had the advantage of his advice and suggestions; but the whole of the responsibility for the propriety of the sentiments rests with myself. In my Prefaces and Notes, I have not been able to enjoy this advantage.
In the first volume, the Reader is presented with five tragedies, selected from the general mass after much consideration, making the election at last for reasons which it is not perhaps necessary to lay before the reader. They are all, in the theatrical phrase, stock pieces; valued highly in their original state, and I trust not likely to forfeit any portion of their popularity on account of the alterations which have been made in them. The plays, as they have been printed off, have been put into the hands of some of my friends of various tastes and talents; and, I believe I may say with truth, that they have invariably met their approbation, and are not considered as having lost any portion of their genuine spirit and interest. One of the plays, The Conscious Lovers, has heen highly approved by some theatrical persons, and is, I believe, at this time, actually in rehearsal at the Norwich Theatre. The play of George Barnwell was shewn to the Performer* who was to represent the principal character here in October last; when I had the satisfaction to find that the alterations were approved by him, and that several of my omissions had actually been anticipated by the Manager and Performers of the Norwich Company.
Should any, however, who are acquainted with the originals, think that these plays have suffered by the
* Mr. Vining.
alterations, I will suggest to them, that, in the days of Congreve, Vanbrugh, &c. when objections were made against the profligacy of the stage, and Addison and Steele, &c. wrote plays more conformable to the laws of decency, probably the admirers of the loose plays would cry out, that the more decent were tame and insipid. Yet the plays of Congreve, &c. (in all their indecency as then acted) would not now be endured. So, we will hope, it will be in another age; however the proposed amendments of the stage may be censured now by some as rendering it tame and dull. The rising genera. tion who may be acquainted with the plays in this edition only, will not have the disadvantage (if such it can be called in any respect) of judging of them by comparison.
Of the five pieces in the first volume, the first is a story of domestic woe of the present age, written in prose, the language of nature, appealing to the heart, and affording a lesson of great importance in a moral point of view. The second is a story of former times, partly formed on the sufferings of domestic life, but with a mixture of the characters of noble and royal distinction. In the third, we again descend, even a step lower than the first, and are interested for a youth seduced from the paths of virtue, and falling from sin to sin, till an untimely and ignominious death makes him an awful warning to the rising hopes of the nation. In the fourth, the maternal and the filial sympathies are excited for a mother and her son meeting after a separation ever since his birth, and we have an exhibition of the times of chivalry. In the fifth play, we are interested for an accomplished and pious female, young and beautiful, leaving, with reluctance, at the instigation of others, the pleasures of retirement for the cares of ambition, and falling a victim to the ill-founded attempt.
In the Second Volume, through a lighter medium, that of Comedy, we are presented, in the first play, with the picture of a dissipated woman in high life, warm in the pursuit of pleasure, but finding dissipation insufficient for the purpose, and quitting it for the sober and