« FöregåendeFortsätt »
solid happiness of domestic life. In the same play we have also a proof of the folly of a person leaving a situation where he may be useful and respectable, for one for which he has no talents, and instead of gaining honours and emoluments, suffering mortification and disappointment. The second play exhibits a delicate picture of virtuous love, and gives a truly valuable example of that firmness of soul, which can rise superior to the evil customs and opinions of the world, regulating its conduct by the law of God. That weak good-nature, which defeats its own purpose for want of discretion and firmness in chusing its objects and executing its designs, is exposed in the third. The fourth condemns those libertine principles, which, in seeking their own gratification, would plunge others into the deepest misery. The fifth shews the imprudence and misery of a Clandestine Marriage; and exposes the too-frequent practice in higher life of forming marriages for interest, or to gratify ambition, rather than on the true foundation of mutual affection and virtuous principle.
The Third Volume presents an assemblage of pieces, which, had I consulted my own taste only, I certainly should not have brought forward in preference to many tragedies and comedies, compositions of far superior merit. But as my object was an attempt to amend the stage in its present state, and as After-pieces form a constant part of every evening's entertainment, I was willing to attempt a few specimens of that species also, and which have certainly, I think, a considerable portion of merit, though of an inferior degree to the pieces in the former volumes. The Comic Opera, pretends merely to be considered as a corrected specimen of an unnatural species of entertainment. The Toy-Shop is a pleasing specimen of polished satire. The King and Miller, with its Sequel, is an Historical outline filled up by the fancy of the dramatist, but containing some useful instructions both for the great and for the lowly. The same may be said of The Blind Beggar. A complete specimen of laughable farce containing a useful lesson is given us in Sancho; and a very pleasing picture of rural life appears in the loves of Belville and Rosina.
If it should be inquired, why I have not given any of Shakspeare's Plays in this Collection, as many of his are the best productions of the English Stage, and require less alteration than most others, my excuse must consist of several reasons taken together; a very princi. pal one is, that I really have not been able to make up my mind as to what should be done in respect to Shak. speare's Plays. It did not appear to me advisable to publish one or two of them only; and the limits of this work would not allow me to give several. Some of what are considered his best plays, as Macbeth, Hamlet, and The Tempest, require so much alteration to render them what I consider as proper for stage representation, that I judged it too bold and arduous an undertaking for the present. Were a selection attempted, and a series of his llistorical plays given, several of those are not perhaps well suited to the present taste for stage representation, and one great object of this work was to give plays which might be acceptable on the stage. Shakspeare too requires more Notes than the limits of these volumes would allow. Besides this, something has been done already for this author in The FAMILY SHAKSPEARE, a work of which I have given my opinion in the Notes to my Discourses on the Stage, (p. 222.) so that I determined, upon the whole, to pass Shakspeare over for the present, and especially as I shall have occasion to consider his works very attentively, should I ever proceed in my intended Ilistory of the Stage.
Objection has been made to the word Purified in the title to my work by friends who feared that it might have somewhat of a puritanical sound with the adversaries of stage-reform. This objection had certainly occurred to myself at the very first; but, on talking it over with a friend, we agreed that no other word would answer the purpose, as neither altered, corrected, amended, nor any other we could think of, would describe the precise kind of alterations intended; and, if the word be good
in itself, the having become in some measure unpopular need not prevent its being used in a proper sense, especially as there seemed to be ample authority for such an application. It occurs repeatedly in different forms in the Bible, that book which should be our accustomed and daily source of sentiment and expression; the terms in which should be
* Familiar in our mouths as household words." In the third verse of the third chapter of Malachi, (part, of which is adopted as one of the Choruses in the Oratorio of The Messiah,) it is said “ he shall sit as a refiner and
purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and
purge them as gold and silver,” &c. Again, in Psalm XII. 7. “ The words of the Lord are pure words;
even' as the silver, which from the earth is tried and « purified seven times in the fire.” See also James iv. 8. and 1 John 11. 3. It is, moreover, a word to which dramatic writers are not unaccustomed. In the account of Southerne's play of The Fatal Marriage, in The Biogr. Dram. (Edn. 1812, Vol. II. p. 230.) speaking of the faults of it, the writer says, Mr. Garrick, how
ever, has since purified this ore from its dross, by "clearing the play" &c. and, in my Preface to The Conscious Lovers, (p. 153,) I have quoted a passage from Blair's Lectures, in which it is used by that elegant writer. The principle also is admitted by several stage· writers. For instance, in the Prologue to introduce the first woman who acted on the stage, about the year 1659 or 1660, (see Malone's Iistory, p. 109.) we have these
“ We shall purge prery thing that is unclean,
“ Lascivious, scurrilous, impious, or obscene.' In the Prologue, written by Garrick, to A Trip to Scarborough, he says
" As change thus circulates throughout the nation, “ Some plays may jusily call for alteration ;
* See Heory V. A. IV. S. ill.
“ At least to draw some slender covering o'er
" We hope to fiod in you, their Stage Asylum. * When, moreover, it is considered that the Stage in any form is completely anti-puritanical, I hope I shall be indulged in the use of a word which is freely granted to the venders of the best sort of Spanish Liquorice and of Windsor Soap.
It will not, I think, be necessary to adduce authorities to shew, that, according to the received laws of the stage, it is perfectly allowable for a writer to take the works of a former author, and alter them according to his own ideas. The greater part of the immense mass of plays is perhaps merely alteration, adaptation, or modification of former productions. I may, therefore, I trust, with. out scruple, be indulged, for the highest purposes, in what is allowed to others on far inferior considerations.
Whether my Notes will be considered as too numerous or too few, will probably depend much upon the peculiar taste of each reader. One friend has already suggested an objection against my frequent citation of passages from Scripture. Here, again, I have done no more than the Commentators on Shakspeare, whenever they have been aware of any allusion to the sacred writings, either intended or accidental. As, in the state in which they appear in these volumes, I see no variance between these plays and the Scriptures, no reader will, I trust, be offended at seeing a quotation from the Bible at the bottom of a page of a moral drama. It appears to me that the making so wide a distance between the Bible and a book of amusement, between a sermon and a drama, is one principal cause why the one is so frequently in opposition to the other. The pious Bishop JEREMY Taylor, in that admirable work, his Life of Christ, refers without scruple to the Greek and Roman Dramatists; and there are sometimes phrases adopted
* " And Van wants Grace, who dever wanted Wit,
from our own Dramas in the incomparable Discourses of the no-less pious Bishop, HORNE. Dr. Knox in his Essays, Vol. II. No. CLIV. On the advantage which may be derived to the tender and pathetic style, from using the words and phrases of Scripture, says,
poet, therefore, who means to produce a tragedy, “ which shall be able to stand its ground even after the “ first nine nights, without the aid of puffing, and with“ out filling the pit and boxes with orders, should some
times to the same fountain, and drink the waters of “ poetical inspiration of which Sterne drank so copiously. “ He will improve greatly by studying the language and “histories of Joseph, Saul, and Jonathan, of Ruth, of « Job, of the Psalms, of Ísaiah, of Jeremiah, of many “ single passages every where interspersed, and of the
parables in the New Testament. Judgment and taste “are certainly necessary to select; but he may depend
upon it, that a word or two well selected will gain “him the truest applause, that which is conveyed in “ sighs and tears. Let him fully persuade himself, that " the only method of operating powerfully on the feel
ings of nature, is to renounce art and affectation, and 66 to adhere to truth and simplicity.”
It is usual in printed plays to put those passages which are omitted in representation between single inverted commas.
The reader will find many passages in these plays so marked. I have in general followed the play-house copies; but I have sometimes restored passages before omitted, and sometimes put other passages between single inverted commas to be omitted, which were not so in the original.
As customs introduced into plays from length of time, and change of laws, become obsolete and unintelligible; -as for instance that respecting marriage, mentioned in à note to The Provok'd Husband, (Vol. II. p. 103, see also p. 16. of the same volume,) it appears to me that it would be advisable sometimes to have new Prologues or Epilogues spoken, as occasion may require, to explain that such customs are changed, and that the play is a representation of the manners of former times.